The quest to find the perfect, most succulent kebab, can often lead one to some rather “interesting” situations. I thought I had found said kebab at a small little restaurant in Bombay. Upon tasting the dangerously delectable kebab, I triumphantly declared that I simply had to meet the executive Chef, to congratulate him on his meaty masterpiece! I marched into the kitchen, expecting to find a large, robustly fed kebab chef, his hands and apron covered in marinade, proudly brandishing his skewers as one would a sword.
This, however, was not the case.
Instead, I was confronted with a line up of glassy eyed goats, patiently awaiting their turn to be served up on a platter. I was instantly overcome with a wave of intense guilt, that I had just happily digested their brethren, and enjoyed every last bite of it (or rather, them). The worst part, is these poor little to-be kebabs seemed to understand, and accept, their ill-fated (but delicious) destiny, to be skewered, served and savoured. “They’ll do great things with you”, I whispered to the first goat in line, before scurrying hurriedly out of the restaurant.
Now here in Chennai, my quest to find the King Kebab of all Kebabs, has an equally interesting – but not quite so morbid – story. I found myself at a renowned little restaurant, with an equally apt name – The Great Kebab Factory. As the name denotes, the restaurant specializes in a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian kebabs, prepared in 7 different styles. The new outlet is located in the Radisson Blu Hotel Chennai City Centre in Egmore – my first destination, however, was not the restaurant – it was the kitchen.
Chef Neelkantan – executive Chef – and Chef Halim – Master Chef – were going to guide me through the fine Art of the Kebab. The kitchen team consisted of a crew of jubilant young sous chefs, who were all smiles, and seemed rather amused at the prospect of a young lady in their kitchen. We started with the ever renowned – and my favourite – Galouti kebab, which is a well known Lucknowi kebab, said to be a blend of 123 different types of spices. Legend has it, that the kebab was first created for a toothless nawab – Nawab Wajid Ali Shah - who, though toothless, still loved his meat. This tender piece of meat, (galawati literally means “melt in the mouth”), enabled the toothless Nawab to have his kebab, and eat it too.
The preparation process is quite straightforward, though few chefs reveal the true secrets behind the aromatic spice blend. “You must ensure the spices truly permeate the meat”, Chef whispered knowingly, as he kneaded the ball of meat and spice, as one would dough. And of course, a key secret to ensuring a truly, tantalizingly, tender kebab, is the tenderizing agent – “Raw papaya” – Chef declared, as he added a lump of the stuff, to the already sumptuous smelling meat. Once the meat is marinated and rolled into little flattened balls, the kebabs are cooked on the Mahi Tawa – a large, shallow cooking surface made of copper.
To accompany the Galouti kebab, is the ulta tawa paratha – which, literally translated, means “inverted griddle”. As it sounds, this paratha is cooked on a tawa that is upside down, or ‘ulta’. The paratha is flavoured with saffron, and often served with various kebabs and kormas.
With the kebabs cooked, the paratha ready, Chef whipped up a special little preparation – “it’s kind of like a Frankie”, he said jovially, as he rolled the galouti kebab up in the paratha, adding raw onion and a dash of mint chutney. One bite, and I was sold – the kebab itself melted in my mouth, like butter on a hot pan, its mouthwateringly tender texture, a treat for both the palate, and the soul!
I would recommend also trying the kebab on its own, to truly experience the subtleties of its aromatic flavour, and rich texture. Our other adventures in the kitchen involved paneer marinated in orange rind (the Narangi paneer tikka), and chicken in a rich, velvety almond marinade, cooked over a charcoal oven, on a skewer (Murgh Badami Tangri) – simply delectable!
With my taste buds teased, I decided to leave the Chefs to their own devices, and venture into the restaurant, for the full dining experience.
The restaurant – brightly lit and simply decorated – has a distinctly family restaurant feel to it, and doesn’t seem to place too much emphasis on creating an authentic, inspiring ambience. The ordering process at the restaurant is simple – simply choose whether you are vegetarian, or non vegetarian (or both), and the Chefs take care of everything from there, with the set menu. Kebab after kebab will arrive, in sequence, at your table, accompanied by an explanation of the kebab, and a chutney recommendation. A word to the wise – starve yourself, before taking on this meal. It is monstrous, and only one with a healthy appetite will be able to do justice to every course.
We started simply enough – a salad accompanied by a kiwi dressing, which I found a touch too sweet. But then, began the carnage. Just as you are swallowing the last bite of kebab #1, kebab #2 pokes its head around the corner and makes an appearance on your plate, followed eventually by a generous helping of biriyani, and an onslaught of delicious dahls and breads. The waiters, however, are accommodating, frequently checking in to ensure the pace is comfortable, the spice levels adequate. Though the wine list is generous, one down side for me was the poor availability of wines, and wines by the glass (a common dilemma restaurants in Tamil Nadu face) – but the quality of food did its job to make up for that. Not to be missed, is the pomegranate stuffed paneer – a wonderful blend of sweet and savoury – and the rasgulla, one of the best I’ve tasted.
Overall, the restaurant is worth a visit for the authentic flavours it offers, and the truly delectable (and ever famous) Galouti kebab. The new Egmore location of the Radisson Blu Hotel City Centre – being centrally located – is also a convenient drive from town. The lunch set menu will cost you 1100 rupees plus taxes, and the dinner set menu – 1300 rupees, plus tax.
For Chef’s kebab recipes, click on the link under the “Recipes” section of this blog. Happy kebab-ing !
Overall Experience: 8.5