|(From top) Interiors of Flavours of India; an assortment of dishes at the restaurant; a kebab platter on offer. Pictures by Rashbehari Das
The different ways in which different chefs will prepare the same dish is often comparable to the different interpretations musicians will give to the same song. For example, I have seen four recipes for the celebrated Mexican Chilli Con Carne and all of them are variations on a theme; the variations are quite stark in some cases.
Two of the recipes incorporate red kidney beans along with the meat; a third recommends that the beans are served as an accompaniment and another ('This is the way Chilli Con Carne is made in northern Mexico') doesn't even mention beans. Two use lots of tomato, two don't use any. Two say the meat should be minced; two say 'bite-sized cubes', and of course there variations in the herbs and seasonings as well, and there is the option of to use or not to use wine.
For the gourmet, the more the merrier ' it just enriches the culinary experience. Coming closer to home, the famous Rogan Josh, an item of Kashmiri origin, is found on almost every menu offering north Indian fare and yet in taste and preparation it is very diverse. In some restaurants, this excellent mutton curry is served with meat-on-the-bone pieces, specifically the shin, so there is marrow. In others, they are not so particular.
Rogan Josh should have the important ingredient ratan jote, a dried petal from Kashmir, which gives it a rich red colour. But most chefs make a compromise on this. One method is to cook red chili powder in oil with ginger and garlic, strain the oil and use this for cooking this dish. Variations in seasonings for Rogan Josh of course exist as well, and to use or not to use tomatoes is a consideration.
When I visited Flavours of India, a four-year-old place at 6/3A AJC Bose Road, just around the corner from Kala Mandir, I saw Rogan Josh on the menu, but I also saw Lal Mans, the Rajasthani red mutton curry, and opted for this, as I had not had it often.
But to start at the beginning. It is probably the most extensive menu for north Indian items you will see. Tucked away on a busy street, from the outside it is not possible to imagine the spacious restaurant on two floors that you see when you enter. The building is about 100 years old and the stairs, the walls and the panelling suggest this but in general it has been well done up, neat and inviting ' a 120-cover place with facilities for private bookings and a take-away counter as well. And a bar.
We started with Murgh Shorba, one of the two Indian soups on offer. Not exactly Indian, because it combines the cream of chicken soup approach as well. Very tasty; strong chicken stock with aromatic herbs and spices such as star anise, parsley and leek served with cubes of chicken.
For starters there was Kastoori Kebab, Patiala Machhi and Tarkey Aloo. Kastoori Kebab is breast pieces of chicken marinated in cream and ingredients such as fenugreek leaves, caraway seeds and white pepper, grilled in the tandoor and when half done, they are removed, coated again with a mixture of cream and cheese and finished in the tandoor.
Chicken is not my favourite meat, ever since the broiler invasion, but I find it acceptable in kebab form and this was a good item, not commonly found in the city.
Patiala Machhi is healthy chunks of bekti marinated overnight with ingredients such as the dried and then ground petals of nutmeg flowers, star anise and a paste of coriander leaves, and cooked the next day in the tandoor.
Tarkey Aloo is baby potatoes scooped out, stuffed with a tangy mixture made with coriander leaves, mint, green chillies and dried pomegranate seeds and then cooked in a tandoor. A particularly tasty item.
In the main course there was Miloni Sabz Saagwala (a combination of seasonal vegetables ' lots of peas ' cooked in a spinach puree). I like the way they use palak up north, and this was no disappointment.
And there was Chicken Reshmi Butter Masala, just to see how they do it. I have had a smoother, more buttery gravy elsewhere but here I liked the slight tanginess to the Reshmi Kebab pieces themselves, which were made with minced chicken.
And, of course, the Lal Mans of Rajasthan. The boneless pieces of mutton are marinated with crushed coriander seeds, ajwain and cumin seeds (dry cooked on a griddle first) combined with ginger and garlic and made into a paste. Red chilli powder is also used. The marinated meat is then cooked in a tomato and onion-based gravy, and is really tender.
All the items were had with thin, crisp tandoori roti. A word of caution for those who expect the food at Flavours of India to be cooked in ghee and have a healthy dose of spices, like grandma used to cook in the old days. They have toned it down in deference to the health conscious, and the result is that it is friendly to non-Indian palates as well. But it is eminently tasty food.
They also have a Chinese selection, but this reads like a straight ahead top of the charts listing.
For the adventurous, fusion items like Potatoes stuffed with corn, cheese and onion cooked in the tandoor and served in hot garlic sauce or Tandoori Pomfret in Chilli Oyster Sauce are there for the taking.