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Every city has its unique dining-out habits and peculiarities. Most restaurateurs and those in the hospitality industry, especially in Punjab, will agree that the first course in a meal is taken very seriously. It wouldn't be far-fetched to say that a Punjabi wedding's success rests on how succulent the murgh malai tikka is and the queue at the chaat stall. Chefs are happy to divulge that in today's times the hors d'oeuvre line-up in a restaurant menu has to be as robust as the main course itself. Chef Pallav Singhal, the executive chef at JW Marriott, Chandigarh looks keen to tap into the trend. "We have hosted many festivals in the past and have realised that the starters are given a lot of importance by diners. Many like to order starters extensively but will restrict the dishes in main course," shares Singhal.
Having given some thought to this, the hotel's Indian fine dine restaurant, Saffron, known for its flavours of the North West Frontier region (pre-Partition Punjab), has rolled out a kebabs and biryani food festival. One look at the menu and you know the kebabs are the king here with a line-up that includes Dahi Ke Kebab, Chukender aur Khumani Ke Kebab, Chapli Kebab, Kabargah and Bihari Murg Kebab, to list a few. Given how the weather has us reaching for warm, comforting food, we liked the fact that the complimentary welcome drink, which is badam kesar milk, is hot. Though most may find it an odd pairing with kebabs, we were okay with the combination.
For starters, we began with tikki served with a kachumber chutney. Served in earthenware, the tikkis made from multiple lentils and lightly toasted on the tawa made for a crunchy and non-greasy start. The chutney was tangy and truly the highlight. Though a kebab festival might suggest that the vegetarian options might be limited, that isn't the case here. While the tandoori paneer tikkas get an achaari flavour, it doesn't really get our vote. What is completely a winner and deserves full praise are the Chukunder aur Khumani ke Kebab. Don't let the name daunt you. This beetroot mince kebab flavoured with spices and stuffed with apricot comes in a unique oblong shape and is fiery red in colour (thanks to the beetroot). It's a must try. The Lasooni Murg Tikka was well done but another vegetarian delight is the Tandoori Bharwan Aloo with raisins and nuts stuffing. For those seeking seafood, the Nashelli Jheenga is an option but it's ho-hum. Don't expect to be blown away by it. The starters more than fill you up and if you are inclined towards going further, there's a delectable range of biryanis to choose from. But make sure you save up space for the Paan-Kulfi, Saffron's signature dessert that never fails to impress.
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