Until now, Jamavar at the Leela Palace only opened its doors at dusk, inviting diners to take a seat under Turkish glass chandeliers and dine on some of the best fare curated from both North and South Indian cuisines. Last Sunday, however, saw a shift. The 66-cover restaurant has rolled out Jashn-e-Jamavar, a lavish three-hour dining experience that not only gives you a lunch menu that offers a mix of six kebabs, four mains courses and two desserts, but also showcases chef de cuisine, Debdash Balaga’s culinary journey around the country (in a career spanning 15 years). Moving from Kerala to Rajasthan and Kolkata to Tamil Nadu, the flavours straddle spicy and sweet (and everything in between), but first there’s some crunch.
A beaming chef Balaga leads a trio of servers bearing drinks—masala chaas, shikanji and jal jeera (you can choose from beer and wines, too)—and a selection of seven condiments, six varieties of papads and four dips. That’s a mini meal in itself! I pace myself, trying a spoon of tongue-searing Rajasthani mirch ke tipore, then putting out the heat with some Bengali karela choda chodi and Maharashtrian kothimbir vadi. Meanwhile, the kebabs are trotted out. The flaky zafrani mahi tikka made with Scottish salmon is the perfect foil for the Spanish saffron, while the galouti kebab, as the menu boasts, literally melts on the tongue. My favourite is the raan e Jamavar. Marinated for eight hours before it is cooked in the lagan (a heavy-bottomed pan), the meat separates at the lightest touch and the caramelised bits reveal a subtle flavour, which I’m told is thanks to a dash of rum.
“I’ve gone back to the flavours I tasted, created and love, from the cities and states I worked in—from Awadh and Lucknow to Kashmir,” the chef tells me, explaining that even the meat and spices are sourced from the people he met while there. Like the lamb, which is flown in from Rajasthan, because “it has the softest, tastiest meat”. This attention to detail shines through in the indulgent main course. I scoop up the dal Jamavar (cooked for 24 hours, chef Balaga tells me) and the butter chicken with some mint rotis and garlic naans. The Hyderabadi lamb biryani is spot on, with the spices not overpowering the tender meat or the fragrant rice. As I feel myself slipping into a food coma, the desserts arrive. The freshly-made kesariya jalebis with lachhedar rabri wakes me right up, while the malai kulfi served on rose-scented glass noodles ends things on a cool note.
From 12- 3 pm. Rs 2,500++ (with soft beverages) and Rs 3,250++ (with alcohol). Details: 33661234
—Surya Praphulla Kumar