A visit to Hyderabad

Saturday, February 09th , 2013

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Hyderabad ("city of pearls") is India's fourth largest city (after Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore), the capital of Andhar Pradesh. The city (pictured) is located a little to the south of the centre India, with a population of around 7 million. It was historically a rich trading centre based around pearls and diamonds, its Golconda diamond mine being one of the world's earliest and most prolific diamond mines, the source of the 186 carat Kohinoor diamond now in the British crown jewels. Hyderabad was conquered by the Moghuls in 1687, and was ruled by a series of Nizams (local viceroys with a high degree of independence from the capital in Delhi) from 1724 to the present day, continuing from 1798 as one of the "princely states" of India under British rule. It actually briefly remained an independent state after the British withdrawal from India in 1947, and had to be invaded by the Indian army before becoming formally part of India in 1948.

The last Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan, was fabulously wealthy, the richest man in world in the 1930s with a personal wealth estimated at $210 billion in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars. He used the Jacob diamond (one of the largest in the world at 184 carats) as a paperweight, supposedly having found it hidden in his father's shoe after his death. He bought the Falaknuma Palace from his prime minister, who was bankrupted by the cost of the building work. Perched on a hill overlooking Hyderabad, after the fall of Nizam rule in 1948 the palace was abandoned for many years but has now been restored as a 60 room luxury hotel owned by the Taj Hotel group.

The main restaurant of Falaknuma Palace is Adaa, serving Hyderabad cuisine. I was able to try much of the menu over several meals, and it was consistently excellent. The biriani was, as expected, superb (Hyderabad is regarded as the home of biriani in India, though the dish has Persian origins). However other dishes such as tandoori prawns and chicken, and assorted vegetable dishes including bhindi and cauliflower florets, were also top notch. This is right up there for me with the best Indian food that I have eaten anywhere on my fourteen visits to India.

Bo London is the first venture outside Hong Kong of Alvin Leung, who runs Bo Innovation in Hong Kong. Mr Leung is a relentless publicist, and styles himself “demon chef”, his food “X-Treme cuisine”.  It is certainly X-Pensive, with the tasting menu in the evening priced above that of Gordon Ramsay at Royal h Hospital Road. The cooking applies modern cooking techniques to Cantonese cooking, so there are various unusual textures created through the use of chemicals, much as was pioneered at El Bulli when it was still open. However I found the ingredients ordinary, the flavours subdued and the technique far from cutting edge, albeit unusual in this cuisine. Some dim sum I tried was not particularly well-made, and other dishes merely decent. At these crushingly high prices there is no room for the merely ordinary: things need to be X-Ceptional, and the dishes that I tasted were a long way from that. It is particularly striking to compare this with the other recent high profile Chinese restaurant opening HKK, where the ingredients are top of the range and the technique flawless, all at a price way below that of Bo London.

Next week should see the release of the final Michelin 2013 country guide, the guide to France (there is also the Main Cities of Europe Guide, covering Scandinavia, and presumably also an updated Hokkaido guide, to come). So far there have been just four new 3 star restaurants globally in this season’s guides, so it will be interesting to see whether the recent restraint in dishing out stars continues.