Falaknuma Palace

Engine Bowl, Hyderabad, 500054, India

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Adaa is the flagship restaurant of the Falaknuma ("mirror of the sky") Palace hotel, the former Nizam of Hyderabad's palace, nestled at the top of a hillside overlooking the city. At dinner you can either eat in the main dining room, decorated with carved mirrors and portraits of the Nizam, or on an open-air terrace. The latter has a fine view over the bustling city but has the drawback (or advantage, depending upon your taste) of live Indian music being played at length during dinner. The hotel is magnificent in many ways, but one nice bonus of its location is that it is several degrees cooler perched up on the hill than the city below, a very useful feature in the Indian climate.

We had a week long stay here and so had the opportunity to try many dishes, including a few off menu dishes that the kitchen was happy to prepare with a day or two's notice. There is a new head chef since my last visit. Chef Arun Saundaraj has moved to Delhi, and in his place is Sajesh Nair, who formerly worked at the Taj Deccan. Starters were priced from INR 1,050 to INR 2,500 (£12 to £29), main courses INR 1,000 to INR 2,200 (£12 to £26), side dishes INR 300 to INR 750 (£3.50 to £9), bread INR 225 (£2.63) and desserts INR 650 (£8). There was a wine list, though India is not a great place to drink wine in restaurants due to high taxation and the markups often being barking mad, as they are here. Sample labels were MAN Warrelwind Sauvignon Blanc 2015 at INR 7,500 for a bottle that can be found in the UK high street for INR 684, Rolf Binder Shiraz-Grenache 2013 at INR 14,000 compared to its retail price of INR 1,075 (a mere thirteen times its UK retail price) and Louis Roederer NV Premier Brut at a mind-blowing INR 26,000 (£304) for a bottle that will set you back INR 3,029 in a shop. As you may imagine, I drank beer - Kingfisher was INR 350 (£4.09) a bottle. If you had a starter, main, side dish, bread and dessert and some beer then a typical cost per head would be about £60 a head.

I won't go through each meal dish after dish given the sheer number of meals that we ate here, but will instead talk about the highlight dishes and also those that worked rather less well. This being Hyderabad, biryani is a speciality of the kitchen (originally a Persian dish, Hyderabad lays claim to being the home of biryani in India). On a previous visit here I was shown the full process of making this elaborate dish, and the photos show this step by step. The end result is superb here, the basmati rice light, fluffy and fragrant, the delicate aromas released when the pastry cap to the dish is cut open at the table. Several variants are offered: vegetarian, lamb and chicken amongst them. The chicken one had large chunks of meat that retained their moisture well (dryness of content is the curse of the mediocre biryani), and the spicing was vibrant. This is pretty much as good as biryani gets in my experience (16/20). 

Not every dish worked so well. Scallops were dusted with garlic and lentil powder and pan-fried, alongside prawn sautéed in the pan and a tomato purée tempered with curry leaves and garlic. This all sounds good, and the prawn and purée were fine, but the scallops were rather overcooked and lacked inherent sweetness (12/20). I am very fond of cauliflower with spices, but the shredded florets here sautéed with onion, tomato and green capsicum just tasted of one-dimensional chilli heat (12/20). Fortunately there were plenty of better dishes to offset the odd slip. Halibut fillet was roasted and ripped with a spicy crust of chilli, curry leaves and lentils, served with broccoli and a spicy southern Indian tomato sauce. The fish was precisely cooked and the spices nicely judged (14/20). Tandoori salmon was generous in portion size and precisely cooked, the fish suffused with subtle but distinct spices, garnished with dill cream (15/20). Black dhal was superb, the lentils slow-cooked and with a smoky flavour note, their texture excellent (16/20). It is ironic that this dish, popularised by Bukhara in Delhi, is actually made better elsewhere (Jamavar in London also makes a fine rendition of this dish).

Seasonal vegetables (carrots, beans peas) in yoghurt gravy were sealed in a pot with a pastry lid, the dish scented with caraway and pomegranate seeds, the vegetables carefully cooked and gently spiced (14/20). One dish that I ordered off menu was a dry bhindi dish, the okra dusted with cornflour and fried with spices, served with chaat. This was excellent, and showed just what can be done with okra in the right hands, such a contrast to the slimy mess that appears when you order okra in most Indian restaurants in London (15/20).

Methi murgh was mild and creamy, a bit lacking in fenugreek flavour to my taste (13/20) but potato patties stuffed with mango preserve and served with mango chutney were very good (14/20) and a tandoori paneer was remarkable, ultra-light with a pleasing smoky charcoal note (16/20). Aloo anardana had new potatoes dusted with anardana (dried pomegranate seed) powder and fried; these were lovely, the potatoes retaining their texture and having nicely absorbed the spices (15/20). 

Thin slices of lamb imported from Jaipur (reputedly the best place in India for lamb) were marinated for two days and cooked on a hot stone and served with mint chutney; the meat was excellent, tender and with good flavour (15/20). Murgh kebab had slices of chicken in a herb marinade cooked in an iron press over an open charcoal grill and served with a red pepper sauce (14/20).

Tandoori broccoli was interesting, large pieces of broccoli being carefully cooked and retaining their texture, flavoured with cardamom and green chilliest and topped with a little cheese (14/20). Chicken Nellore is a dish from Andhar Pradesh, the chicken curry flavoured with tamarind and curry leaves, and I suspect a little vinegar for balance. This was full-flavoured, rich and enjoyable (15/20). Chicken drumstick was cooked in a brass pot and marinated with spices, the end result having plenty of flavour (14/20).

Breads are very good here, made fresh and pleasingly hot and supple; the tandoori roti was particularly good (so often these can be rock hard), but naan bread was fine too. However my favourite was the paratha, which was always made fresh and had lovely texture, with a hint of butteriness but avoiding being greasy (15/20 average, more for the paratha).

I didn't usually make it to dessert, but they can certainly make them properly. Rasmalai is a dish made of flattened balls of Indian cottage cheese (chenna) that are cooked in sugar syrup and then dipped in sweetened condensed milk and flavoured with saffron and garnished with nuts. This was a superb rasmalai, the saffron not too strong as to me metallic, the pistachios lovely, the texture impressive (easily 16/20). Breakfast here is also lovely, with very good uttapam, lacy appams and a variety of local dosa made with green flour. The best bit of all was the sambal, which had fresh tomatoes and superb spicing and flavour. Often sambal is just watery, but this was top of the range.

Overall, though the standard of the cooking seems a touch less consistent than at my last visit under the previous head chef, Adaa is still a very fine restaurant. The setting on the terrace overlooking the city is spectacular, service is attentive and the best dishes are very good indeed.

Further reviews: 06th Feb 2013

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