For those of you who loved the rustic fare of Dhaba by Claridges, there's a replacement that is just as heartwarmingly desi. The grain-brushed, informal yet very deliberate decor of Paranda in Vivanta by Taj, Surajkund, retains most of the elements of its former avatar.
Apart from the menu, that is. We landed there the day before Baisakhi to find a perceptible air of bustle and bales of wheat fetchingly arrayed around corners.The decor is a curious mix of striking kites, handheld fans and charpoys neatly wrapped into a package of warm hospitality. The overall feel is that of a welcoming home, accentuated by patterned floor tiles and a rickety record player that makes an allusion to sepia-tinted memories and large happy families. It's infectious; you feel encouraged to put your feet up and dig into the delectable fare with your fingers.
From the chai glass stand in which aam panna and rooh afza are served to the shining thalis, every element reeks of nostalgia. The papdi chaat was a lovely opener to the meal - it's layered, light and crunchy and more on the sweet side - something I appreciate.
The vegetarian platter has an assortment of paneer pakoda, kurkuri kebab and broccoli chilli kebab, an interesting crunchy blend of kale channa and broccoli. The kurkuri kebab is a dense Indianised version of the spring roll with a prickly exterior.Succulent and moderately seasoned, the mutton kebab and chicken tikka are raised a notch by the array of chutneys, including pineapple, tomato and coriander garlic.
It's evident that a lot of thought has gone into the dips. The surprise in the non vegetarian platter is the deep-fried river sole. A hint of limey goodness and contrast of textures makes this a must-try.
Moving on to the mains, if I had to pick a favourite, it would be the Mutton Tariwala. Rich and fragrant without being cloying, it is perfect paired with the Namak Mirch Paratha.The gravy itself is so good and the meat even more so. The Murgh Makkhanwala is a deliciously faithful rendition of butter chicken. The Aloo MIrchi Vadi is refreshingy light and stands apart from what is typically identified as Punjabi cuisine.
The flavourful gravy is complemented by the chewiness of the vadi. Move on to the baingan and paneer for a taste of lavish fare that doesn't need to try too hard. Try the melt-in-the-mouth paneer in a thick tangy curry with the garlic naan. The dal makhani is expectedly creamy and goes well with the fragrant jeera onion pulao.
Paranda sticks to the basics and rustles up traditional fare, but not so when it comes to dessert. Gulab jamun floating in a flaming sauce of whisky sprinkled with pistachios is an exotic twist on syrupy goodness. Head to the restaurant for an authentic taste of Punjab and a good dose of reminiscing.