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The best of Punjab

Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra is the best venture yet by the grand old man of north Indian cuisines

By Anoothi Vishal

 For years, Jiggs Kalra’s grouse—and joke—with me use d to be “Anoothi, kyon roothi?”. (“Anoothi, why are you upset with me?). It started of after I wrote a piece that he didn’t quite agree with and continued because of the irrestible (for him!) rhyme and also because I would not be seen at most of the usual restaurant launches or festivals, spending my time, instead, cooped up at work, trying to bring out the pages… That, of course, is another story.

Last week, however, many months after it opened up, I finally had a meal with Jiggs and his son Zorawar at Punjab Grill, a chain venture spearheaded by Zorawar that showcases some of Jiggs best research and innovation. Here’s the review:

 If you are in Delhi, and in need of some soul-warming, hearty northern fare, there can be no better place than Punjab Grill, sitting right atop Select Citywalk in Saket. A brain child of Jiggs Kalra, the grand old man of well-researched restaurant food in India, the place (as also its sister establishments in Gurgaon and, lately, Mumbai) has Zorawar, Jiggs entreprenueral son at its helm. And what a lovely venture it has turned out to be.

 Make sure that you find a place on the terrace, open on just one side, with gentle sunlight streaming in during the mild Delhi days of this season. Once you are comfortably ensconsed, the spectacle unfolds with a waiter placing a small peppermint-like pellet in a bowl in front of you. As he pours water from a jug in that bowl, this “pellet” will grow before your startled eyes—well, into a disposable napkin to use and throw before the meal begins. No clumsy ablutions here. There is enough showmanship to keep you hooked. Amuse bouche is by way of a cheese-filled cracker, presented in a shot glass with a garlicky chutney to go with it. It’s a fine beginning.

 During is long and often tumultuous career, Jiggs, of course, has been associated with some of the biggest brands in Indian culinary lore—right from Bukhara and Dumpukht. As a researcher into the country’s most elusive regional cuisines, he claims credit for having brought the likes of Avadh’s fabulous galawat ke kebab and even the Punjabi staple Dal Makhani (a la Bukhara) into the mainstream. But his finest achievement is undoubtedly by way of unearthing the legendary creations of Amritsar and Patiala (and the rest of Punjab, including the part that is now in Pakistan) and putting them on five-star menus. His recipes for the likes of bhatti ka murg, Meat Beliram and so forth bear testimony to the fact. At Punjab Grill, you get to sample most of these — albeit in refined or quirky avatars and under different names.

 We begin with a superb salmon tikka, now famous the world over, but ostensibly first developed by Kalra. Done like Amritsari fish, this comes without the strong flavours of ajwain. Instead, the seasoning is delicate, preserving the taste of the fish. Dahi ke kebab are a must for the vegetarians oozing with delicately flavoured yoghurt. The Raunaki kebabs are seeks topped with a seasoning of fresh green coriander, onions and (in season, even mint) with a layer of cream smeared on top. The bhatti ka murg , charcoal grilled, is tender and tangy, done to perfection, and quite the masterpiece. And even other staples of Punjabi restaurant food – paneer makhani in a fine tomato and cream gravy assume sophistication in their execution with the gravy having been strained multiple times to achieve the creamy consistency of its texture. But what you will certainly marvel at is the gucchi pulao—with pricier-than-gold morels in it—where each grain of rice is imbued with flavour. Above all, for a quintessentially Punjabi restaurant, the mild level of chillies may surprise you. Yet, each dish has its own flavour doing away with the myth that Indian food is “hot”. Finally, paan is served in a unique way too—in a liquidized form, in a shot glass! Spitting entirely not necessary.

 As a veteran of many five star festivals, Jiggs, even now, dreams about piping his favourite chevee into skewered chicken tikkas. For all those flavours and more, do visit this one. This is Jiggs’ best yet.

Punjab Grill

2nd Floor, Select CityWalk, Saket, New Delhi

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