I had met Chef Sakala Sankara of ITC, Kakatiya, Hyderabad online and often exchanged notes. . Then a few days later, we met in the hotel and recognised each other instantly. This ever smiling Chef strikes a chord with you in no time. He invited me to Dakshin, a South Indian restaurant in the hotel, where he has curated a “Chef’s Special” menu of Telangana cuisine as part of an ongoing festival. I had to and ,now I feel, I would have regretted if I missed that evening. It was a South Indian rare treat which is a story of symphony of flavours. As soon as two of us setttled down, typical of Dakshin (I love it), an array of Chutneys and a basket of Papad landed instantly on the table. They not only looked great, as usual, but also kept us delightfully engaged till the starters came in. I like the way the server would explain each Chutney while serving. And yes, crunchy Papads are always a flavourful pastime to enjoy with the chutneys while chitchatting (I have eaten at this restaurant quite a few times and have written earlier about my veg experience here).
Soon, the service started and the first one to arrive was Mokka Wada. A goldenish flat Vada which seemed a variation of Dal Vada was crisp, low on oil quotient and gave out a mild aroma of spices. The first bite told that it was crispy and had subtle flavours. The gram flour batter binding had basic spices interspersed with corn. This tickled the taste buds and we looked forward to the next surprise.
We were then sent Mutton Podi Fry. Reasonably big sized Lamb Morsels, wrapped in dark Podi Masala, having a slight glaze was the next dish to arrive. The moment it was served on to my Thali, a whiff of spices hit me. Surprisingly, the aroma of meat was very subtle. It took me time to appreciate the dark beauty. Having recovered from the looks, with the help of a fork, I cut out a bite sized morsel and it was easy. The meat was soft and succulent. On to the palate, and it gives you the flavour of the meat, followed by the tanginess of tamarind (imly). Surprisingly, the thick coating of Podi which was visible didn’t hit strongly. Wait !! It’s not over. The moment you are done with the meat, the strong flavours of the spices start appearing as an after taste. They were sharp and spicy. It was like a magic. You wanted more and more. The complex flavours appeared one by one and all as an aftertaste. By this time I was sweating with the heat of Podi but couldn’t afford to leave the flavourful morsels. To me, this was the hero of the evening.
Then came my favourite, the freshly made fluffy Appams and the Mutton Stew. Although, this is from the usual menu which Dakshin has and is not part of the Chef’s Special, I had to have it. This creamy looking pale white dish is a beauty in itself. Chunks of Mutton, interspersed with green curry leaves, peep out of the creamy thick gravy. Gives a nutty-spicy aroma. The moment you dish out few spoonfuls into you Thali, you know it’s rich, creamy and flavourful. The first spoon of the gravy on your palate tells you it is smooth, mildly flavoured with spices and has a predominant flavour and aroma of coconut. The Mutton chunks were tender and succulent. The flavours of spices and coconut milk had gone inside the meat. It is sort of melt-in-mouth and you don’t need to make an effort to chew it. This goes very well with Appams.
Finally, one of us had a surprise demand of Dahi Vada. Although not on menu, Chef assured us that he shall make it for us, specially. Soon, two bowls of Dahi Vada came to our table. Minimal spices, almost nil Chutney, flavourful Dahi and super soft Vada.
The food was wrapped up with an offering of South Indian Paan.
This onfoing festival has quite a few other dishes in Chicken, Fish, Veggies, and above all, a Prawn Pulao. In our case, the Mutton Podi Fry was so overwhelming and combined with the must-have Mutton Stew, we were so full that despite the desire to try more, we had to wrap up. If I am there again before the end of this month, I shall surely try the pulao.
Our experience was not only of the wonderful flavours. It was also powered by the affection and warmth of Chef Sakala Sankara who dishes out flavourful punches with his infectious smile.
Do you have similar experiences ? Do write in.