The great Indian Kebab Festival is on. There are 20 new kebabs, repeat 20, at the Copper Chimney, each one more meaty and succulent than the last. These are in addition to the two pages of kebabs on the regular menu. And if it is kebabs you like to eat, then stop right here. Actually, there is a choice of three places to stop at, the Copper Chimney outlets at Museum, Worli and Bandra. However, since I have already written about the Worli and Bandra outlets, this piece is on the Fort Copper Chimney, on K. Dubash Marg (Rampart Row), behind the Prince Of Wales Museum.
This is the old Bullock Cart, which first was a restaurant, then a disco, then nothing. After Copper Chimney took over, it renovated and refurbished the place, top to bottom, with glass, ceramics, marble, a striking black and white floor, and lots of lights. This is in keeping with the new and most welcome trend of bright restaurants, where you can see the kebabs you are eating.
So what kebabs are on offer? First, from the festival: the achari murg tikka, which is like your chicken tikka or reshmi kebab, but different. For one thing, the chicken pieces are flavoured with mustard, and you can feel and taste the mustard in your mouth. And they are marinated in a pickle, the achar of the title. The achar is made of amchur, the dry mango powder which Gujaratis use to flavour their dals with, and sour lemon juice. It makes an unusual kebab, the meat juices mixing with those of the lime and the mustard, plus the tangy taste of the mango. A plate costs Rs.150. The murg nazmun nisha is also a chicken kebab and said to come from the bawarchi khanas of the Hyderabadi nizams. Mention Hyderabad, and thoughts turn to food. But it is more Andhra than nizam, with the amount of red pepper that is used, along with bhunao masalas. Naturally, the meat has a bhunao flavour to it. Have it in the early evening, with a few tots of whiskey. Also, Rs.150.
There are three other chicken kebabs for the festival. Murg haryali chops, which is chicken breasts, spiced and marinated in a mint flavoured yoghurt, and barbecued in a clay tandoor on order. The murg chandni kebab, in English freely translated as midsummer night's dream. Boneless chicken marinated overnight in a boneless chicken that is very subtly seasoned. Next day, on order, it is taken out of the marination, dripping with the yoghurt, skewered and tandoored. Extremely tender, even a man without teeth can eat it. Finally, the Kashmiri kalmi kebab, which brings you a full chicken leg.
The new introductions in the mutton kebabs are only two. Bombay prefers chicken and fish to lamb, so that's all right. You want lamb kebabs, you have to go north, Delhi, Kashmir, where the Sardars and the Jats live on lamb. They like their meat tough, not koftas, and if they do not have mutton, they say, Aaj khana nahi khaya.' Or, so I am told. The new mutton kebabs at the Chimney are kaalia kebab, which is mutton cubes seasoned with freshly ground black pepper, other spices, and cooked in the tandoor; and the Hussaini seekh kebab, which is a comparatively milder kebab, quite aromatic. In Muslims, children who are well behaved, who grow up to be quiet, proper gentlemen, are given the name Hussain. Hence Hussaini, the gentler kebab.
Kebab, essentially, is north Indian food, among the Moghlai classics. To the Copper Chimney, and its founders J.K. Kapur and Prem Chaddha, goes the credit of introducing them to Bombay. Yes, to the Kebab Corner at Natraj also, let's say they share the credit. Now the Chimneys, which have also opened in Delhi and Madras, are managed by Sunil Kapur. By a happy coincidence, he is one of the founder's son and the other founder's son-in-law. Sunil explained: "This is the 25th year of the original Kebab Corner, the one at Worli. We started as kebab people, we are known for our barbecued food, though along the way we introduced some curry dishes also. Now, in our 25th year, we felt we should reiterate our position as kebabis, hence The Great Indian Kebab Festival." Fair enough. What's for the vegetarians? There is the shahjahani paneer tikka, cottage cheese and pineapple, mixed with herbs and done in the clay tandoor. Yes, a little sweet. The malai paneer kebab, the cheese more creamy, grated and blended with spices, skewered over a slow charcoal fire. Plus, the tandoori gobi pitthe wali, cauliflower pieces, marinated overnight and barbecued 'Pithe' is the gram flour that is used on the cauliflower to get the yoghurt to stick to it. All the vegetarian kebabs are priced at Rs.125.
And there is barbecued pomfret, shrimps in tandoori masala, and tiger prawns, coated with a thick almond paste, before being tandoored. The last is Rs.400 and worth the price. And that takes care of the festival, except for the four chutneys that are served with the kebabs. I cannot tell you which chutney to have with which kebab, I say, try all, seperately and together. There is a fiery red chutney (red chillis, little garlic, amchur powder, chaat masala), a white chutney (yoghurt, chat masala, white and black salt, white pepper), a green chutney (green chillis, green pepper, amchur, lemon juice), and a mint sauce (green chilli, coriander, yoghurt, sugar, salt, and, of course, mint).
One more thing, the parathas and rotis come complimentary with the kebabs. Ask for the paratha stuffed with chopped baby onions and coriander, spiked with chaat masala and lemon juice. Also, the butter baby naans and the kandhari khulchas.
There are 20 kebabs on the regular menu, all done on coal, all with a lingering smokey flavour. Pick of the lot is the burrah chop, a juicy lamb chop which has been stood in curds till it is so tender that it is difficult to make out whether it is meat or fish. And the Peshawari raan, comes with the bone, 800 gms. in weight, three can share it in comfort. And, from the gravies, the murg musselum, the chicken first tandoored, then recooked in gravy, placed on a bed of basmati rice, garnished with mushrooms and lettuce. And a more tender chicken cooked in leafy spinach and a rich meaty gravy.
There is dessert, malai and ras malai, but I would rather finish with the dal maharaja. It is a combination of black lentils, the kali dal, and red beans, soaked in warm water and kept on top of the warm tandoor through the night. The following day, it is cooked with butter and cream. Eat it with roomali roti or steamed rice.