It is rather difficult to be able to stand your ground as a Pan-Indian cuisine restaurant in a city where people take as much pride in being able to cook food as they take in eating it. And this is why, I would like to give brownie points to Baluchi at The Lalit in Chandigarh, for it lays equal emphasis on food innovations, ambience, service – to be able to stand out from the crowded market of eateries serving the routine dal makhani, chicken tikka and naan.
Moving away from and beyond the formula of a typical ‘Indian’ restaurant that usually caters only to lovers of tikkas and dal makhanis, Baluchi is Pan-Indian in the real sense of the word. We had a very Bengali Dhaabh Chingri (prawns cooked in coconut cream), an Anjeer Gatta Curry from Rajasthan (the Gatta or besan dumplings were stuffed with ripe figs) and a Kachchi Mirch Ka Chicken (inspired by Pepper Chicken Chettinad, tempered with green pepper but minus the curry leaves). Chef Shibiraj Saha is ambitious enough to plan food festivals from various states of India from time to time.
Baluchi, the signature Pan Indian restaurant has set the bar when it comes to authentic Indian curries and meats, marinated with rare herbs and exotic spices. I thought the meats would be something to write home about. And while I loved the Gilauti Kebab served on top of miniature sheer-maals, what blew me away was the vegetarian starters.
The Malai Artichokes are a revealing innovation – marinated with cream and yoghurt and drizzled with vinegar; the artichokes are grilled in a tandoor – not to drying point – but to leave them juicy and succulent. Similarly, the Subz Ki Seekh, which incorporates nuts is also amazing paired with the apple chutney.
Food from undivided India, which is the theme of the award-winning restaurant, makes one think of heavy of curries, masala-laden and greasy meats and some overcooked vegetables soaked in thick gravy. But a meal at Baluchi will show you that using oil and spices with restraint can let you enjoy the flavour of the food rather than spices.
We were offered a watermelon pizza as a palette cleanser – simply a watermelon disc topped with a little beetroot relish and light sour cream.
The stars of the main course are the Nalli Nihari (a baby lamb stew simmered overnight in mace and yoghurt gravy), the Dal Baluchi (black lentil that is creamier than anything you would have had) as well as the Chicken Biryani.
A special attraction of the restaurant is the Naanery i.e. the bread bar offering a selection of artisanal breads baked the classic Indian way in an iron tandoor instead of the universally used clay tandoor. They provide four different types of naans/breads with four freshly made dips/chutneys. The idea is to be able to pair the breads with wines. Full-bodied to toasty, oaked to fruity – there is something to please every mood and taste. Picking your toast is easy. What will be hard will be refusing just one more bite!
To leave Baluchi without trying the Paan Kulfi is blasphemous – delicate slabs of this light green-coloured kulfi exude a fragrant betel leaf flavour, with the rich, creamy sweetness of a typical kulfi.
They also serve their cocktails in an interesting way. Watch this video to know more.
Text and images by Aarti Kapur Singh