Marut Sikka’s Kainoosh is as different from his Magique as a pot is from a pan or as pasta is from gatta. On the other hand, Di and I visiting Kainoosh for lunch are completely alike in our love for all things new when it comes to food.
This then was Sikka’s ‘labour of love.’ Recipes collected, innovated on, perfected and presented, a process that apparently took over a decade and took in many different parts of the country – Benares, Hyderabad, Old Delhi, Lucknow and countless others.
We start with the startlingly different bestselling cocktails. The Keya Magic completely brings out the Allahabadi in you no matter where you’re from! With a hearty paan flavour, it had betel leaf muddled with vodka and sambuca. And were those slivers of supaari floating along the length of the glass? Wonderful.
Aam Panna (all cocktails are Rs. 400) had a refreshingly different vodka twist. The Cucumber Caprioska had a icy, summery, fresh kheera flavour with actual pulp.
Meanwhile the dishes had started arriving. The kebabs were good. Each of the Trio of Tandoori Prawns (Rs. 550)was delicately laced with flavours – Coriander Fennel, Cumin – so delicate that even the indomitable Peri Peri was subdued. The Ajwaini and Kashundi pieces in the Trio of Tandoori Fish Tikka (Rs. 375) were superb with assertive mustard and ajwain overtones.
The Shad Rus is an assortment of six sauces each highlighting a different flavour—sweet, salty, bitter, sour, hot, astringent. Especially interesting were the soaked methi seeds coupled with raisins.
A glass plate was put before us and around it a circular assortment of six small bowls. This then was the Bespoke Thali (Rs.1100), a masterpiece for sampling-freaks like me. You could choose the dish in each bowl from the vegetarian menu or the non-vegetarian menu or you could flirt between the two. Or you could choose to go a la carte`. The portions are small enough and priced to induce you to try many different things.
Di told me that the delightful crispy okra raita tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves owed its origins to her home, Kerala. The prawns simmered in cinnamon, clove and cardamom infused tomato gravy were topped with cumin cream was good. The black Urad Daal cooked Makhani style was well, good Daal Makhani.
It was the lamb cubes cooked with roasted almond paste, saffron, cinnamon and cloves that was divine, the ingredients married seamlessly into a subtle yet rich-tasting dish – the kind of flavours that delight at the Dum Pukht in Maurya.
For me the piece de resistance was the Kofti Boti Biryani, aged basmati dum-cooked with nutmeg-gy lamb kofta, a very clever dish with a clear Kashmiri influence. And a dish which seduces your taste-buds, very, very gently.
The gentleness continued though to where it was not wanted – the chilli lachha paratha that disappointingly had no chilli in it. And there was no steamed rice on offer in case you felt like mopping up a bowl with some comfortably plain carbs.
Long after I left Kainoosh, the taste that stayed with me was the one that was loudest – the Aam Panna iced dessert – spicy, salty, sweet, it burst like a frozen churan ki goli in your mouth! In contrast, the kulfi was robust and heartily creamy.
The wonderfully inventive menu is what charms you into indecision. And when I go back, it will be for the dish that is now stuck in my imagination – lamb cooked with jamun?!