My darling “foodie” sister suddenly lands up in the evening from Mumbai and commands, “Let’s go to Blue Nile!”
“You sure?” I ask, a bit incredulous.
“Yes,” she says peremptorily, “I’m in a mood for a nostalgic Biryani!”
And soon we are sitting in Blue Nile – a quaint, old-world, down-to-earth, high turnover, no-frills, old-world "heritage" eatery of Pune located near the GPO opposite the Nucleus Mall. This is no fancy restaurant for stylish gourmet dining in air-conditioned comfort, soothing tranquility and refined classy ambiance. Blue Nile is certainly not the ideal place for a discreet tête-à-tête meal or a romantic candle-light dinner. The moment you enter your nostrils may experience wafts of “aromatic pleasures” of the overpowering “mughlai fragrance” emanating from the open kitchen in front of you – so be prepared for a quick, hot, sweaty, hustle and bustle meal amidst din and hullabaloo.
There is no bar – that’s good – for they focus on the food, and the tipsy types come in only late at night. And you’ll always find an assorted crowd, students, office-goers, travelers, a sprinkling of families, foodies, young and old – and you will notice almost all of them gorging into a plate of Blue Nile Biryani. There are two halls and they have put the molded chairs and tables in the corridor too, maybe for the late night crowd, where we found onions being peeled. It’s quite a large place with a canteen-like atmosphere – a place for quick businesslike eating – not a place to hang out.
We order – a Mutton Biryani for me and, surprisingly, my sister orders a Chicken Biryani. I look at her in disbelief – “I’m off red meat,” she says.
Sad. Real sad! A pity. Chicken is ubiquitously boring – it’s put on the menu for those masquerading as non-vegetarians and those who don’t know what to eat.
And tell me, Dear Reader, tell me, doesn’t the word “Biryani” imply Goat Mutton? Can there be such a thing as Chicken Biryani, Fish Biryani or, just imagine, Veg Biryani?
Think about it. Just think about it. And while you think I’ll eat!
The food arrives in a jiffy – dumped matter-of-factly on the table with a few onion rings.
I feast my eyes hungrily at the tempting dish of Mutton Biryani in front of me, my mouth waters, I dig in, pick out a piece of mutton, pop it on my tongue, close my mouth and my eyes, focus my senses inwards, press the soft, tender, succulent well-cooked meat between my tongue and palate, gently roll it all over, imbibing the heavenly flavours as the mutton releases its delicious juices, then a delicate squeeze, a gentle bite, allowing the scrumptious meat to dissolve, savour the delicious taste and appetizing aroma, as the medley of flavours permeate deep within me.
On first impressions, how do you judge a Biryani? There are four tests.
First I try the “spread test”. I pick a little Biryani in my fingers and sprinkle it on the side dish. The grains of rice must not stick together but remain separate. The pieces of meat too must be succulent, clear and dry, not greasy.
The Blue Nile Biryani passes the “spread test” – not ten out of ten, maybe eight out of ten.
Then I lift the plate and smell the pieces of meat. The Biryani must be pleasantly aromatic [the sweetish fragrance and appetizing aroma of marinated spices] – not sharp or piquant. Again, it’s eight on ten. The Biryani has passed the “aroma test” with flying colours!
I taste the mutton – it’s excellent, succulent, superb – a perfect ten on ten! I roll some rice on my tongue – a wee bit too spicy, the slight hint of greasy aftertaste – maybe eight on ten. Overall nine on ten in the “taste test”!
A Perfect Biryani? Let me see! The fourth and final test! The “Potato Test”.
I search for the potato. The potatoes must taste as well as the meat – that is a hallmark of a good Biryani. I search for the potato. The potatoes must taste as well as the meat – that is a hallmark of a good Biryani. I dig deep, search – there is no potato. Just imagine – a Biryani without a potato! Can there be a perfect Biryani without a potato which tastes as delicious as the mutton?
My sister forces me to taste the Chicken Biryani. I wish I hadn’t – the chicken is quite tasteless with a sour tinge; certainly not well marinated, maybe they use a common stock of pre-boiled chicken for all the dishes.
Dear fellow Foodie – that’s my assessment of the famous Blue Nile Biryani – a fine deliciously tasty wholesome Mutton Biryani, maybe not “perfect” connoisseur cuisine, but certainly a trencherman’s delight.
And the Chicken “Biryani”? Well it’s quite run-of-the-mill. Nothing special at all.
You will find all the usual fare to fill up the menu card at Blue Nile. Like every restaurant Blue Nile has its own version of the ubiquitous “Chinese” Chopsueys and Hakka Noodles and a few “Standard” vegetarian dishes, besides tea, soft drinks, jelly, caramel custard, shakes and ice cream.
Dear Reader, please don’t experiment. Remember the “signature dish” of Blue Nile is Biryani, so when you go to Blue Nile make sure your relish their inimitable Mutton Biryani. At a hundred and twenty bucks, it’s reasonably priced, certainly value for money.
Blue Nile is simple, no nonsense, unpretentious, high turnover eatery focusing on food with a down-to-earth, commonplace, earthy atmosphere – a place for the gluttonous trencherman, certainly not for the refined epicure. If you are one of those high-falutin, snooty gourmets finicky about suave ambiance, classy dining, elegant décor et al, try the Blue Nile Take Away – their “parcel” service is so fast that you’ll have your food parcel in your hand almost the moment you place your order.
Dear Punekars – can someone please tell me where I can relish a “perfect biryani” in Pune.
By the way, can someone please tell me the difference between a Biryani and a Pulao?
Of course, I know the answer – just trying to cross-check!
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2008
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.