Monday, October 22, 2012

GoodFood at Kebabs & Kurries, ITC - a singular lesson in the gap between conceptualization and execution

Good Food Magazine had organised a Good Food Day today, 21st October, at the ITC Grand Central, Parel, Mumbai. Now, the ITC restaurants rank quite high among the 5 Star hotel restaurants in my personal opinion and that made me buy a ticket to a lunch at this event. A blogger friend had been invited and I thought it would be nice to accompany her as the food would be good. I duly bought myself a ticket for Rs. 1,500 and waited for today to arrive.

Since S had opted to have lunch at Hornby's Pavillion I chose the same. Funnily, when I saw the print out of my ticket it said I was booked for lunch at the Kebabs & Kurries restaurant instead. As it turned out S and I would not be attending the same session any way because her session was fully booked. If I was to dine on my own I was quite happy to do it at Kebabs & Kurries because sumptuous food from the erstwhile royal kitchens of India rates very highly on my list.

I was booked for lunch at 1.30pm and I arrived well in time. I was told I was too early and to come back at 1 or 1.15. They looked hassled and I didn't want to bother them further so I sat in the main lobby and thanked God for smart phones and 3G connectivity so I could keep myself entertained. I went back at 1.15 and confirmed my registration. I was informed that the sessions were running a little late and I could wait in the bar, Dublin. I did. Eventually, an hour later I was finally informed that the session, the 2nd of the day, was ready to begin. I was shown to my table and I joined five other ravenous diners, waiting to be served.

We were seated at 2.35pm. Our server confirmed our preferences for vegetarian and non vegetarian and we eagerly waited for the food to begin. 3 green water goblets that looked like they were props from the Harry Potter movies were set in front of the vegetarians. I thought, ugly glasses but a nice trick to make it easy for the servers to identify veg/non veg eating guests at the table. Now anyone would have expected similar glasses in a different colour for the non vegetarian guests, right? Wrong! The rest of us were given regular clear glass water glasses. Not that it is such an earth shattering issue but one would expect them to have matching glassware at the ITC.

I will not bore you with details of how long it took for all 6 guests seated at the table to get a water glass and then have it filled with water.

The first course arrived. Jhinge ki Kurkuri. 2 phyllo cigars stuffed with spiced prawns served with a drizzle of mint chutney. There was a strong 'prawn-y' whiff as soon as I bit into the first cigar and a dominant taste of cheese. I found this amouse bouche singularly underwhelming. My bouche was not amused.

The second course was Mahi Angbin, Stuffed fish with spices and mince, cooked to perfection. It was far from perfect. Overcooked and then dehydrated because it was probably sitting for too long, I didn't eat more than the first mouthful. I was still optimistic and opted not to fill up space with something I didn't really like.

The third course was a Gosht ke Galouti kebab. Every Avadhi chef worth his salt wants to show off his skills with a Galouti. I was not impressed with this one. There was so much salt that the delicate flavours of the spices had no hope of shining through. The texture however was like silk. I was wondering why they served just a single kebab but after tasting it I was relieved that there was only one.

I was still hopeful. This is the ITC. I've had plenty of Good Food experiences at their restaurants. There will be something I like. I was sure.

The fourth course was Murgh Angara. The menu card said Salan Chillies Stuffed with chicken mince and flavoured with spices. It sounded interesting enough. When it arrived I saw a crinkly browned surface of what looked like deep fried chicken with bits of chillies peeking out from within. It seemed to me that a chicken escalope had been wrapped around the chilly filling and then shaped to look like a chilly with the stalk in place and everything. Maybe I'm wrong. I ate the smaller piece and found the surface difficult to chew though the inside was soft enough. I couldn't eat the second piece as it was too big to eat whole and I could not cut it with the knife. The surface just would not 'give'.

I must mention here that my fellow diners didn't look impressed with what they were eating and the vegetarians seemed to be even less impressed than I was.

Then came the fifth course. It was finally time for the mains and the menu looked promising. Kundan Kareli, lamb shanks stewed overnight in spices and served with warqi paratha. The lamb was served in a miniature serving bowl, one single lamb shank with a generous amount of meat on it in a fragrant and flavourful gravy. It was sublime!

Don't assume things had improved. They hadn't. Things turned distinctly peculiar. There were  no dinner plates. None arrived. So there we were, with these little bowls of lamb and gravy and parathas in a basket and no china to eat it out of. We struggled with a fork that wouldn't fit in the bowl and ate whatever we could. There was no place to park the paratha so one was permanently struggling to hold the paratha, keep the bowl steady, skewer a piece of meat on the fork without lifting the entire piece out and of course, making sure one didn't spill the entire lot onto one's lap.

I ate what I could without embarrassing myself and abandoned most of the dish.

Meanwhile the biryani, the sixth course had been plonked on the table. It looked beautiful and had the khushk parda type of dough seal across the top. I broke it open and there was a luscious aromatic Avadhi lamb biryani. I was drooling. Biryani is my most favourite preparation and I can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But even I cannot eat it out of a serving vessel. In spite of asking for dinner plates none arrived. I ate what I could because I was hungry. But I had lost interest and was so sorely disappointed with the abysmal food at the beginning and then the abysmal service that even the most delicious food would not have made a difference. In fact, it was there, right ion front of me, but 6 disappointing courses down the road I couldn't care less.

The seventh and eighth courses were desserts. I wanted to ignore both. However my wonderful dinner companions coaxed me into at least tasting each one.

The Seviyon ka Muzzaffar was interesting. Wheat vermicelli cooked to perfection with generous amount of ghee and nuts - not overtly sweet, nicely flavoured and surprisingly light considering it was supposed to have generous amount of ghee. However it was too dry to eat on its own and the copious quantity of powdered nuts only coated the back of the throat leaving one parched. A small shot of mildly sweetened milk would have been a good accompaniment.

The Paheli ke Ande -mock eggs made with milk and khoa was definitely beautifully crafted. A melon ball 'yolk' covered in a milk and khoa 'egg white' garnished with sabja seeds and a dash of falooda. I'm diabetic and so I avoid desserts and I'm therefore not going to comment on the taste, but it did look impressive.

There seemed to be something strange going on at Kebabs & Kurries vis a vis crockery and cutlery. While the flatware was not changed at all through the meal, we didn't get dinner plates even after repeated requests for the same. The pinnacle of absurdity was with the desserts. As you've read, the two desserts are quite different. The first dessert arrived with a tea spoon and the second one came without. When we asked for spoons the server actually said that we had to use the same spoon as was given with the earlier dessert! That is when one of my fellow diners lost her temper and snapped at the waiter asking him to get everyone at the table a fresh spoon NOW. For once, the server obliged.

At the end of this incredible fine dining experience one of us asked for a finger bowl. Our server looked at us in confusion and after a moment's hesitation, got the requested finger bowl. Once the rest of us had finished our meal we asked for our finger bowls. The server shrugged and that was that. It seems finger bowls were not on offer either.

I cannot write all this and not mention the fate of the vegetarians at the table. To cut a long story short their fate was worse. From what they said I gathered that two of their starters, the Subzi ki Shikampur and the Farmaishi Kebab left them quite underwhelmed. The Zafrani Paneer was nice but just that, nice. The colocasia cooked in tangy salan served with paratha was good but difficult to eat without dinner plates.

The Chulao with Sultani Daal was the piece de resistance of this meal. Described as traditionally cooked basmati rice served with an innovative yellow daal (which leaves you as ignorant of what to expect as you were before reading the description) turned out to be plain white rice with more or less plain boiled yellow daal. Of the three vegetarian guests at our table not one finished this course. They were angry and disappointed. And I was angry along with them.

The rice and the daal were each served in vaatis or small bowls, the same kind that you see lined up in your plate when you eat a Thali meal. And as you've correctly guessed, there were no dinner plates.

I'm wondering if any thought was put into the organising or execution of this event. Rs.1,500 is not small change for a single person to pay for a meal. Considering the occasion, the venue and the brands involved I expected a fine dining experience where the food, the ambience, the service, everything would be impeccable.

Here's what I got.

  1. Lunch began 1 hour late
  2. Apart from being seated at the Dublin no hospitality was extended to waiting guests. Not even a glass of water was offered. 
  3. There was no one keeping the waiting guests informed as to when they expected the second seating to begin
  4. Service was inconsistent, indifferent and shoddy. 
  5. There was one menu card at the table, not one for each guest
  6. No beverage was offered along with the lunch. Not a soft drink, not wine, nothing. 
  7. While the amouse bouches/starters were served in their own plates there were no dinner plates provided during the main course
  8. Cutlery was not changed once throughout the meal. 
  9. No finger bowls provided at the end of a meal that required guests to eat with their fingers. (remember the parathas and the balancing act with the lamb?)
  10. The food itself was badly prepared and there wasn't enough of it.
  11. No guest was offered a second helping of anything. 
  12. Not once did the server ask any guest if they needed anything
  13. Not once did anyone ask if the food was good or the guests happy/satisfied

I have never said this before after a meal at a restaurant. But today, I want my money back. 


Deeba PAB said...

I am completely gobsmacked at what you went through. The ITC must give you more than just your money back... this is shameful! You can begin to try and fix one wrong, but if everything was wrong, the ITC needs some introspection. I feel sorry you had to live through this. We recently had a horrid experience at Rose Cafe in Delhi, but it now pales in comparison to what you had to bear! Maybe Good Food mag {is that BBC Good Food} needs to know too!

Rekha Kakkar said...

What a horrible experience that is more so when its done by an institution like ITC. Looks like hospitality industry is no more same, as Deeba has mentioned we were also subjected to one such torture at Rose cafe recently.

Rhea Mitra Dalal said...

@Deeba and Rekha, The event was organised by GoodFood Mag, India, (BBC, Indian issue).
Many of my blogger friends also attended and they did have good experiences. But a common complaint seemed to be shoddy service, late sittings, and not even one person had an across the board good experience.
While the ITC has taken my phone number post this blog post, I'm still to hear from them.