If ever a restaurant gave off mixed signals, it would have to be Ananda’s in Sunder Nagar. Reportedly set up by one of the partners in Nathu’s Sweets on the ground floor, it could have easily been a less than classy venture by a halwai. One look at the menu, though, and you’ll change your mind. Whoever has put the menu together has a supremely inventive mind. And one visit later, I now know that the non-vegetarian section is where the real gems lie. I’ll go further. Just a little bit of care and the restaurant can become a force to reckon with.
I have never heard of Syane Kebabs (Rs 210) and tempted as I was to ask the staff about the etymology of the word, it has been my experience that such discussions draw attention to yourself. So I just ordered it poker-faced and had the surprise of the afternoon. You wouldn’t think that lamb could melt in your mouth, but the small tikkas that, according to the menu, were marinated in “half day old papaya juice did indeed dissolve on the palate.
There were several other tandoori and pan-fried kebabs and my mistake was not trying more of them, because the Syane Kebab turned out to be the best component of the meal. While waiting for the main course, I looked around. The restaurant bills itself as “Fine Dine”, so that should tell you something about its pretensions. The staff is strictly of the mithai shop variety: they yell out to each other, reducing the guest to “Saath Number” or “Gyarah Number” in full hearing. A buffet is laid out during lunch. The price is shockingly low and I can only imagine that the hungry diners that flock here to avail of unlimited food at cheap prices are being inveigled into the restaurant while it is new.
The main courses were all a huge disappointment. For a “Fine Dine”, that too, one that offers so many unusual dishes, the three gravy trick is unforgivable. It is usually the refuge of the basest level of Indian restaurant. When you make up all your gravy dishes from one bowl of boiled onion paste, another of fried onion paste and a third of tomato puree, you are falling back on the oldest trick in the con game.
Just for the record, the first main course I ordered was chandi malai koftas (Rs 195). It had the germ of an excellent idea: gulab jamuns were reconstituted in hot water, then mixed into a gravy that masqueraded as a cashew paste. With minimal rejigging, it could have been brilliant. The problem was that in its original form the dish is a horror. The gulab jamuns were sweet: they should not have been. They ought to have been reconstituted in hot water; they had not been. The gravy had more boiled onion paste than cashew. So, what was delivered to the table was hard-as-bullet gulab jamuns in a gravy that even nearby Pandara Road would have sneered at.
The do piazza mutton stew (Rs 240) was better, but not much because of the amorphous gravy. Just when I was ready to write off Ananda’s, along came the dessert: lemon soufflé (Rs 95). Light, not too sweet and with a whisper of flavour, it was a sophisticated conclusion to a meal that could have been great.
4, Sunder Nagar