My stomach rumbles every time I pass by a tiny Kebab corner with garlicky smoke or a Shawarma grill on the street. Even when my neighbours light up their charcoal grills for Kebabs in February, I am tempted to go over and say Hello!
There’s something about Middle Eastern food that brings people together to eat. Passing a over platter of hummus & pita or crowding around a plate of freshly grilled kebabs, and even wiping off that last smudge of Tzaziki from the mezze platter is what Arabic feasts are all about!
Just like that, last night the food of Lebanon, Egypt and Iran brought together people from Kolkata, Hyderabad and Delhi together at one table in Courtyard Marriot, Hinjewadi. There were some quick intros and some laughs interspersed with Mmmmz of the succulent Kebabs.
In my experience as a food consultant, cooking and experimenting with food I know how difficult it is to deal with chicken to make succulent kebabs. Very few can nail the technique, as it depends not only on the quality and freshness of meat but also the cut of the meat and technique used to cook it. It is not easy to make chicken mince or tikka kebabs evidently juicy, cooked and evenly spiced through the meat. And I have to say, Chef K.K Gopalkrishnan nailed it!
In my opinion the best part about the Middle Eastern Food Festival at Courtyard Marriott was its subtlety. It is commendable how the cumin and lemon flavours in a flavourful chicken stock were pronounced and balanced in the Soup – a – Murg. I do not know if such a soup actually exists in Arabic cuisine but the combination of flavours do, and they were beautifully balanced and rounded by lemon.
The Joojeh Kebab and Joojeh Kobideh were my favourite on the tasting menu. While joojeh kebab was a tikka style kebab, it was lightly spiced with very understated flavours that were highlighting the freshness and flavor of the thigh meat rather than taking away from it. Similary, the Joojeh Kobideh minced chicken seekh kebab was very lightly spiced and fresh, and I have no idea how the Chef managed to make it so juicy and well cooked. Above all, the kebabs were not oily and very light on the stomach.
The Chelo Kobideh seekh that is mutton seekh was also flavourful and tasty, but because I know how challenging it can be to cook chicken right, the chicken kebabs won it for me.
If I were a vegetarian, I would go to the festival for the dessert. While the hummus, pita and falafel were satisfactory, they weren’t as delicious as the non-vegetarian fare. I know it is cliché to say this in a Kebabs and grills place, while I enjoyed the falafel, it isn’t something I’d go back for.
The main course too was enjoyable, but in some ways I felt like I had already enjoyed the high point of the meal in the form of the amazing Kebabs. The meat and aubergine stew was non spicy yet very refreshing and flavourful, the aromatic rice gave it an oomph that was even better than the stew itself!
Even though, on a regular day I don’t save my appetite for dessert, there’s no way I can miss the rare Baklava that oozes with syrup as you bite into the crispy richness of nuts. The date ice cream is oh-so-creamy it is criminal to serve just one scoop. The hot om ali pudding was similar to a Halwa with rabdi on top, but a richer, nutty version of it. I’d totally make a second trip here for the dessert.
Although it wasn’t a part of the Food festival I was invited for, I must mention the Golden Martini that I tried with this meal. It was flavoured with elder flower and it is by far the yummiest, most aromatic cocktail I have had in a long long time, and I’ve had a lot of cocktails! It is worth mentioning that this drink alone, with or without the food festival is likely to bring me back to Ignite in Courtyard Marriott for a drink with friends. If you are visiting Ignite, don’t miss their Golden Martini, I am not surprised their Mixologist was awarded by the Times Food Guide this year because this drink at the bar tasted very promising.
I would recommend the Courtyard Marriott Arabian Nights Food festival to all those who love Kebabs and a good drink. The food festival is on till 9th February and there is an extensive a la carte menu with a variety of Kebabs and mezze to choose from. Ignite has a lounge like feel, with canopy seating areas made for groups. I think it is a great place for an evening out with friends. Let me know if you end up trying some of their other dishes and share your experience in the comments below.
If there is a new place or a cuisine you would like to try, or a variety of food you are trying to find in Pune or Mumbai, mention it in the comments and I’ll do my best to find it for you.