Friday, 10 July 2015 09:00

The Rough and the Romantic

By Purabi Shridhar

The romance with the legendary nuanced cuisine from the North West Frontier Province is never ending at the Frontier, The Ashok.

The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) by now has passed on into history, but the cuisine of the region known for it’s mild aromatic spices and relatively less oil is legendary. Thankfully, Frontier, The Ashok, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi keeps the flag flying loftily.

For first timers walking into Frontier, it can be quite baffling at the first glance at the spacious restaurant. The décor is ultra sleek, dominated by black on the walls, ceiling, furniture, linen and cutting edge lighting. The all pervading black is balanced by well lit white paths trailing all around, an enormous open kitchen, a bar and a huge, funky electric blue light mural blazing across one wall. It is like Gothic transported into a very, very futuristic world and bizarrely, after a point it seems perfectly in tune to be sitting down to dine on a cuisine from a region associated with romantic folklore, tales of valour and the sport of Buzkashi.

The evening begins with another unusual opening – a delicate light pink mocktail, delightfully named Pink Panther redolent with guava juice, salt, pepper, black salt and a dash of Limca. Like the ambiance, the refreshing drink grows on one. The punch comes later with another mocktail Kala Noor of Sprite spiked with Frontier’s secret Kala Noor spice. The drink is earthy, robust and a perfect accompaniment for the hearty yet delicious and somewhat delicately treated dishes. Every fine dining has its signature dishes and Pathar Kabab here leads the way, gently beaten squares of lamb rubbed with spices and cooked on hot stones takes succulence to another level. With Pudina Parantha, Keema Nan and crisp Tandoor Roti, it is a dish that evokes much heartfelt sighs of pleasure.

Pathar Kabab

The happy feasting continues with Kabab-e-Bannu, a name that immediately connotes playful aspects. It’s all about tender chicken pieces marinated in egg, vinegar and pepper and cooked in a tandoor. This is simplicity and sophistication at its best, no overpowering spices but subtlety all the way. And when that is combined with Dal Dera Ismail Khan, it is a potent combination. The dal once again reaffirms that that slow cooking deserves its place of pride. Dal Dera Ismail Khan is just black lentils with just regular seasonings and butter cooked for hours until the final outcome is a rich, luscious blend that one eat  spoonfuls by itself.

Kabab-e-Bannu

Dal Dera Ismail Khan

The second chicken dish, Murgh Daraanpur was another excellent example of how not to swamp the meat with overloads of spices and kill its basic character. Tender pieces of chicken breast packed with cheese, minced chicken and subtle spices and cooked in a tandoor, Murgh Daraanpur can easily be culinary elegance with the perfect texture and taste. Standing alongside the array of non-vegetarian fares was Moti-e-Zameen! If the name sounds lyrical, the tandoor salad really lived up to it.  Onions, capsicum, tomato, pineapple and cottage cheese slices, shaped like a loaf, treated with Frontier’s spice dressing and gently roasted , the salad is a complete meal by itself and not just delicious but wholesome and healthy. The two other signature vegetarian dishes – Bharwan Aloo and Khatte Baingan – the first with whole potatoes filled with delicately flavoured cheese and cooked in a tandoor and the latter a perky dish of eggplant with special spices (and an option of gravy) certainly proved that NWFP cuisine has more than what it takes when to comes cooking vegetarian fares too.

Moti-e-Zameen

Bharwan Aloo

The lyrical overtones carried over to the desserts too sectioned as Shireeni, both in taste and delivery. Intekhaab Sheer-e-Barf or the chef’s special kulfi was rich and creamy while the Sheer-e-Murmuri (phirni) had that slight gritty texture which enhanced its flavor.

It was an evening of discovering nuanced cooking and the impact of subtle aromatic spices in a cuisine that has its roots in rugged mountain region. And something that calls for repetition, over and over!

 

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