Zaffran is one of the few Indian restaurants in Connaught Place that does not date back to the 1950s. Consequently, the relatively minimalistic décor has more to do with the revamped Hotel Palace Heights of which it is a part, than the likes of Embassy Restaurant two doors away. Fortunately, the owners have decided not to reinvent the wheel, so there is an honest-to-goodness Punjabi menu, with no pretentious flourishes. If anything, the menu harks back to a couple of decades ago: a refreshing novelty in a brand new eatery.
It is hard to find Shami Kebabs in a restaurant menu: if at all you find these gems, they are in pastry shops. Zaffran has a meaty version: mostly lamb, minimal dal that has more to do with Punjab than with Lucknow – they’re even called Shammi Kebabs on the menu – but it is welcome nevertheless. Other treats in the Tandoori section is the Adraki Gosht ki Champen (Rs 250), mutton chops marinated with whisper light spices, so that the taste of spring lamb comes through.
Somehow, chicken has overtaken lamb in North Indian restaurant cookery, so that most restaurants have a slew of good chicken dishes that outdo the mutton ones. It is just the opposite in Zaffran: the Murgh Lababdar did not impress me because of the high proportion of brown onion in the tomato gravy, and their version of butter chicken – Murgh Mumtaz (Rs 240) – lacked the creaminess of the best versions, but all the mutton preparations were excellent. The one chicken dish that is excellent is the Tangri Apna Andaz (Rs 210) which consists of chicken legs stuffed with ginger-garlic paste.
You cannot go wrong with lamb at Zaffran. The best one was the Roghan Josh (Rs 190) whose flavour is rich because of a hint of real saffron. Keema Kaleji (Rs 250), like Rarra Mutton, features mince cooked with just a hint of gravy, and the kaleji has none of the unpleasant aroma of organ meats that is common with a dish of this kind.
You will even find Mutton Saagwala (Rs 210) here, though it is not a very common restaurant dish these days. The palak is simmered for ages in lamb stock, so that one gets the taste of the other. The version at Zaffran is every bit as good as that at National, in the Outer Circle row of dhabas, without the grotty surroundings.
Zaffran is not the place to head if you are vegetarian. The vegetarian Charminar Seekh (Rs 155) had a medley of inexpensive vegetables, whose homely taste was masked unsuccessfully by cashew paste. Shabnam (Rs 140) was a desperate attempt to create one more vegetarian item so that there would not be an obvious bias in favour of non-vegetarians, and the Jeera Aloo (Rs 125) used floury potatoes instead of waxy ones. Some urgent revamping is necessary.
Like many other Indian restaurants, the desserts here could do with some creativity. Gulab jamuns and ice-cream have had their day in the sun, though Zaffran does have the excellent Parsi Dairy Kulfi.
D-26/28, Hotel Palace Heights, Connaught Place
Tel: 43582610, 20, 30
Open from 12.30 to 3.30 and 7.30 to 11.30
All credit cards accepted
Average cost of a meal for two: Rs 1200