Food review: Hamsa's Utsav menu elevates pure satvik dining to rarefied fine dining strata
Satvik meals have never had it so good. At the restaurant Hamsa in Gandhi Nagar, Adyar the idea of satvik food takes on a whole new dietary prospect, and culinary dimension.
Here, satvik food quite literally goes from the core Ayurvedic concept of clean, healthy cooking to fine dining with a royal touch and, indeed, even hits the rarefied strata of cuisine for high-preference diets, and super food-conscious diners.
One might even suggest that thanks to the kitchens of Hamsa, satvik food has now become accessible to the millennial crowds as a viable alternate option for urban, uber-aware, calorie-sensitive diners.
The new-age trappings apart, the food at Hamsa — prepared by longtime resident specialty Chef Robi Roy — still retains every satvik promise of food that clears up, nourishes and energises the mind and the body.
A subtle, playful way
The prized elements on the menu, meanwhile, are brought in courtesy the wandering gourmand’s eye of Rakesh Raghunathan, a trained former musician and travelling foodie (you can catch him on the TV show Dakshin Diaries on the Living Foodz channel) along with his restaurateur partner, Nithin K.
Getting straight to the heart of the matter, Hamsa’s ‘Utsav’ Navaratri menu is genuinely full of treats worthy of being documented on film (the regular ‘no onions, no garlic’ à la carte menu also remains on offer).
Consider the Paneer Shahi Gulabi that features neatly cut triangles of paneer (cottage cheese) stuffed with almonds and dried rose petals.
One bite of a triangle, and you’re left wondering how they ever managed to get those dried petals inside the blocks of paneer!
Then there’s the Annanas Ki Subzi, a refreshing dish of sweet and sour pineapples cooked in a subtly spiced coconut gravy.
To be certain, all the spicing you’ll ever find here is evenly coated and subtle — and you’re never likely to gasp in alarm at mouth-inflaming peppery heat, or come off a meal whistling for something sweet to wash away the aftermath of too many chillies.
The annanas curry, for its part, comes across as somewhat playful, in as much as it is unexpectedly flavourful and sets off bursts of saliva on your tastebuds; the dish seems like it was conceived in a fun-loving mood in the kitchen, which is to say, you’re left in a rather pleasant disposition after having licked up every last drop of its gravy.
Like autumn leaves
There is no rice or wheat on this festive menu — making it even more unique than you expected; instead, you’re given a choice of puris and parathas for breads — both versions lightly fried with the slightest hint of oil, and eminently golden brown, almost like edible autumn leaves that you can dunk in the gravy, and mop it all up with.
You do have the Vrat ka Pulao, for an option among the staples, of saamai (little millets) garnished with nuts and spices, which is a meal in itself.
For a cooking note, the Kuttu Aloo Parathas are made of buckwheat flour and stuffed with spiced potato crumble, while the Singhare & Kuttu Puris are made with a mix of water chestnut flour and buckwheat flour — a tad dry, and fairly coarse, but never heavy or overly filling.
The singhare or water chestnuts are a prominent element in the menu, though never quite Thai in treatment, as we’ve come to expect with the nutlike fruit.
They feature in the Singhare & Aloo Tikki — patties for starters that would work just as well with pots of tea, and the Dahiwale Singhare ki Sabzi of water chestnuts cooked in a spiced yoghurt gravy.
The latter is as uncommon a dish as any other and lusciously creamy, almost leading you to second guess its actual calorific value; turns out though, it’s as light a curry as you’ll ever taste — albeit, if you indulge in any of this too much, you’d be tempted to give into unannounced after-noon siestas or head-on-the-desk working power naps.
On the taste front, the chef clarifies his intention of shining the spotlight on the core, hero ingredients — so you only get the best of the ingredients over everything else, never once doused in overcooked recipes, or drowned out in a profusion of spices.
Natural fruit sugars
Among our pick of the starters — the Shakarkandi Tuk Chaat also makes stellar use of some special mint and sweet chutneys.
For asides, the menu also makes room for two unique chutneys — one of Tomato Khejur (tomatoes, dates and raisins) and another Farali Mint (peanuts, green chillies and lemon).
Both accompaniments work well in tandem, with treats such as the Kuttu aur Paneer ki Kachori (of buckwheat flour, stuffed with crumbled paneer) and the ever-popular Sabudana Moongphali Thalipeeth (pancakes of sago and peanuts).
The most homely items here have to be the slow-cooked Mathura Aloo (potatoes and fenugreek curry) that demands compulsive finger-licking, even as you look around and realise your table manners.
In as much as Hamsa makes satvik food available to more diners, it also elevates the experience to true fine dining.
And, you’d do well to soak in some of the atmosphere, especially in the red sandstone elements and jaali-work inspired by the Mughal architecture at Fatehpur Sikri.
The setting is ideal for the desserts — Sitaphal Basundi (custard apple, saffron and nuts) and Mewa ki Kheer (pudding of fox nuts or makhana, chironji, almonds, cashewnuts and raisin) — which come with every promise of royalty, minus the showy opulence of unnecessary garnishing and over-cooking.
Though there is a mild infusion of sugar in both desserts, the chef makes us note how the focus is on natural sugars of the fruits, over any artificial flavouring. And thus, with every scooped-up spoon of Chef Roy’s cooking, you’re given to appreciate the very basics of the culinary arts, in as much as you’d marvel his kitchen’s efforts to showcase such cuisine.
You’d have to agree, Hamsa’s festive menu has the season’s best blessings in food that you can try and pray for.
Meal for two INR 1,500+ approx.