This restaurant in the Taj Krishna hotel in Banjara Hills specialities in Hyderabad cuisine, but when I went there it offered a menu featuring the cuisine of Nellore, which I was curious to try. Nellore is 450 km south of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, and being in the coast has an emphasis on seafood and also makes plenty of use of tamarind and red chillies. The executive chef of the hotel is Nitin Mathur, a long time employee of the Taj hotel group. He started his career in Delhi in 1993 before moving to Taj properties in Jaipur, Kerala, Calcutta and then Delhi once again. He took up the top chef position at the Taj Krishna in 2009.
The dining room is on the ground floor of the hotel, with well-spaced tables and a central chandelier, and featured comfortable banquette seating. There was a wine list, though drinking wine in India is an expensive experience, partly due to high taxes that add around 80% to the cost of imported wine (the exact tax varies from state to state). Example labels here were Meerlust Chardonnay at INR 6,250 compared to a UK retail price equivalent of INR 1,370, Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuisse 2010 at INR 8,500 for a bottle with a retail price of INR 2,015, and Louis Roederer NV Brut at INR 17,500 compared to its current market price of INR 3,032. The beer served is Kingfisher.
Our meal began with golichina mamsam (mutton with black pepper) and miryala kodi (chicken with red chilli), along with dal wada (lentils) and cut murchi (chilli pepper stuffed with tamarind). We also tried royyala vepudu (dry cooked prawns) and chapa vepuda (dry cooked local catfish). I particularly liked the chilli stuffed with tamarind, which had an excellent balance of sweetness and spicy bite, and the chicken with chilli, but all the dishes were good, the mutton the one least to my taste (14/20 average). The only culinary misstep was a less than crisp popadom before we started the dinner.
We then sampled a variety of main courses, thali style. Royyala iguru was prawn curry, while chapala pulusu was fish curry with tamarind, tomato red chilli, which was particularly good. Kodi iguru was chicken curry and gongura mamsam was lamb with sorrel leaves, which feature a lot in Nellore cuisine. Jeedipappu kura was unusual: cashew nut curry, and one of the star dishes, the nuts having good texture and working really well with the curry sauce. Aloo gadda vepudu was dry-cooked potatoes, which retained their texture well, and vankayu kura was aubergine with dried spices. Finally there was tomato pappu, a dhal. These dishes were accompanied by slightly sour tamarind rice with chicken, which was excellent, and chapatis. In a nice touch of theatre, the chapatis were made in front of us table-side, on a little trolley with gas burners. This ensured that the bread was ultra-fresh, and they were indeed lovely. These dishes were all of a high standard (14/20) and were interesting and unusual. The meal concluded with chakkara pongali, a sweetened rice pudding, and some fruit.
I really enjoyed this meal, which showed the sheer variety of Indian cuisine. This was my twentieth trip to India, yet I had never encountered Nellore cuisine before. The chef was happy to patiently answer my questions, and service was charming very attentive. I had been asked to come here by a friend who had kindly taken care of the bill, but if you ordered from the regular menu and drank beer instead of wine then a typical cost per head might be £40 all in. The kitchen here is clearly very capable, and the table-side making of fresh bread is great idea.