Falaknuma Palace

Engine Bowl, Hyderabad, 500054, India

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Adaa (“elegance” in urdu) is the flagship restaurant of the Falaknuma Palace hotel in Hyderabad, owned by the Taj hotel group. The restaurant has a smart dining room with well-spaced tables, as well as terrace dining as an option. The terrace has a superb view, 2000 feet up on a hill overlooking the city of Hyderabad. The Palace itself is a magnificent building, constructed by the prime minister of Hyderabad in the late 19th century, and bought by the Nizam of Hyderabad when the building costs bankrupted the prime minister. The palace was abandoned for many years after 1948, before being taken over by Taj Hotels and in 2005 and meticulously restored, opening in late 2010. The palace is at such a height that red kites soar on the thermals just at eye level when you are looking out from the terraces.

The hotel kitchen has 26 chefs working, serving an average of 140 covers daily, though that figure includes the room service, separate Italian cafe, breakfast etc. The head chef is Arun Saundaraj, who has worked for over twenty years in many Taj properties before running things here. The Falaknuma Palace is one of four "Palace hotels" in the Taj group, the flagship hotels of the chain, with this being the latest. We stayed here just under a week and were able to try much of the menu across several meals. Various dish descriptions now follow from the assorted lunches and dinners.

A nibble of paneer was impressive, the paneer made with a vibrant marinade, the texture excellent: paneer is a difficult thing to do well, but this was terrific, as was a main course paneer tian tried at a later meal (16/20). Tandoori “scampi” had superbly tender large prawns, marinated and then cooked in a charcoal-fired tandoor. The spicing of the marinade was subtle and did not overwhelm the palate, and the seafood was beautifully cooked (16/20). Chicken curry with ginger had a nicely judged sauce with plenty of fresh shredded ginger, the chicken properly cooked (14/20).

Of course this is Hyderabad, so biriani was a key dish to have; biriani has Persian origins but, within India, Hyderabad is regarded as the home of the dish. Chicken biriani (I also tried the lamb version) is prepared in a large pot sealed with pastry, and then transferred to a smaller copper pan for serving at the table. The rice was superb, fragrant and light in texture, the grains well defined, the dish having a delicate blend of spices. The cardamom in particular brought lovely flavour to the dish, and the chicken was a revelation, very tender and completely avoiding the problem of drying out that afflicts many biriani dishes. This was genuinely top class cooking (17/20).

Prawn Malabar was superb, with tender prawns and an unusually good sauce that had a lively citrus freshness (16/20). Chicken tikka malai was tender and enjoyable, though not as good as the one at the Jamavar in Goa (15/20). I preferred the regular chicken tikka, large pieces of beautifully cooked chicken, the flavours of the spicy marinade coming through nicely and with a hint of smokiness from the charcoal tandoor: superb (17/20). Patthar ka gosht was extremely tender, the escalopes of kid lamb cooked on a granite block after two stages of marinating (15/20). Murgh dopiaza had a lively, spicy sauce, nicely caramelised onions and tender chicken (15/20).

Vegetables were also lovely throughout our stay. Aloo chollay was pleasant rather than exciting, though the chickpeas were carefully cooked (14/20). Mixed vegetables were prepared in a little copper pan topped with a layer of pastry to seal in the flavour, the pastry cut open at the table, releasing an attractive aroma. The vegetables were tender and lightly spiced (14/20). Cauliflower florets were excellent, cut into shreds rather than larger pieces, served with a lively sauce with plenty of curry leaves (15/20). Black dhal was also very good indeed, with firm texture (so many dhals can be watery) and a slight smoky hint to its flavour (15/20). I was very impressed with bhindi, a dish that very few Indian restaurants get right. So often it arrives as a sludgy mess, but here the okra was chopped fine and then lightly fried, arriving at the table with firm texture and good flavour; a superb bhindi (easily 16/20). Of the breads I most enjoyed the excellent paratha and tandoori roti, which had lovely texture, the roti having a smoky note from the charcoal tandoor (15/20). Naan bread was good, though not quite as light and fluffy as the very best I have eaten (13/20).

Also very impressive was a little sorbet of mango and passion fruit that would have happily graced the table of a top French restaurant, with lovely smooth texture but also tremendous fruit flavour; the sheer quality of the fruit here would make this difficult to replicate in Europe, where obviously the tropical fruit is less immediately fresh (17/20). Other sorbets (made in both a Pacojet and a specialist sorbet maker) tried during the week were also superb. As an aside, the croissants at breakfast were also remarkably good: the kitchen has a separate pastry room with temperature control usually kept at 16C, ideal for the butter used when making the pastry.

The only slight flaw in the operation was the service, which was unfailingly polite but a little disorganized, with top-ups of chutney or beer sometimes needing reminders. It certainly wasn't a major problem, but I would have hoped for a rather slicker service operation, especially given the high profile of the hotel: the service should be in keeping with the food, and except for one consistently excellent waiter (Jithin) it was not.

Overall, this was a superb experience. Over numerous meals in our stay here we were able to try most of the menu, and the standard of cooking was extremely high. The best dishes, such as the classic chicken tikka, the biriani and the bhindi were absolutely top drawer, and there were no real slips across a large number of dishes tried. This is as good Indian food as I have eaten anywhere. 

Further reviews: 16th Dec 2016

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