Zambar is going places!!
That's right, the hugely popular South Indian restaurant, known for its delicious, home-styled cuisine from the regions of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu has recently opened a new restaurant in Cyber Hub, Gurgaon.
On a number of occassions, me and my husband have frequented Zambar at the Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, especially to relish their Appams, Malabar Chicken Stew and Achamma's lamb curry, which till date remain the best that we have tasted. So, when we heard that Zambar, has opened at Cyber Hub, the new mecca for food enthusiasts, we were delighted as this new outlet was much closer to home now and more easily accessible (Especially now, as the u-turn on the expressway for the Ambience Mall has closed after removal of the toll plaza).
Not only has the new restaurant been done up with a more colorful, modern interiors, it is also strikingly different to the traditional ornate decor of the all the other Zambar outlets. Here they also have a new addition to the menu comprising of dishes from neighboring states like Pondicherry, Goa, West Bengal and Maharashtra.
On reaching the restaurant, we were greeted by the smiling face of Chef Arun Kumar, a filmmaker turned journalist, who followed his heart to pursue his passion for cooking. Chef Arun looked incredibly fresh, inspite of having just returned from Mumbai, where he had gone to oversee the launch of 15 new outlets by Lite Bite Foods at Mumbai's new Terminal 2 at the Chhatrapati Shivaji international Airport. The company brands include Punjab grill, Zambar, Fresco along with handling the franchisee for KFC, Pizza Hut and CCD at the airport.
Chef Arun spoke to us about how the interiors at the new Zambar were kept simple and given a modern, colorful style keeping in mind the younger clientele of DLF Cyber City.
To attract the corporate crowd, they have also introduced Thalis (Both vegetarian and non- vegetarian) for the lunch menu which are a great value for money and according to the chef is the fastest moving item on the menu and is a big hit at lunch time. Another difference is that here, to attract more crowds, they serve Idli- Dosa all around the clock, unlike that in Ambience Mall, where it is served only between 5 p.m and 7 p.m.
The interiors inspired from the Chettiyar houses in Tamil Nadu, are vibrant, colorful and gives one a warm and welcoming feel. The chef explained that the Chettiyars were a thriving business community in Tamil Nadu who traveled extensively and thus expensive decorative items, furnishings, porcelain and colored glass were brought back from Europe and East Asian countries. Hence the use of colored glass windows and decorative glass items strewn across the restaurant. In keeping with the colorful theme, huge brightly colored movie posters adorn the wall around the restaurant which really brighten up the place.
The restaurant also offers Al fresco sitting where one can sit and enjoy your meal outside while watching the people go by.
Right in the middle of the restaurant is the open show kitchen, where you can enjoy watching the chef making Appams and having them served hot right to your table.
We began with piping hot Rasam served in khullars (small clay pots). Tangy and spicy it was the perfect start to awaken our taste buds.
Next came the Non-Veg platter which consisted of Kerala Chai Kada Chilli Chicken, Chicken 65 and Mutton Kola Urundu.
The Kerala Chai Kada Chilli Chicken (Kerala tea shop version of chilli chicken) were flavorful pieces of bite sized chicken. It was juicy and spiced lightly with just the right amount of chillies which thankfully did not leave you all fired up.
Chicken 65 for long has been a favorite of mine. What has always intrigued me about the dish is that how does a chicken dish end up being called 'Chicken 65'? First introduced in Chennai, there are several mundane theories attached to this classic dish. One suggests it was the 65 items on a dish, another suggests a chicken cut into 65 pieces (unlikely), the chicken marinated for 65 days (absurd), 65 chilli peppers (are there that many spices?), and yet another source claims that the north Indian soldiers visiting a military canteen in Chennai could not read Tamil, and simply asked for the chicken dish 'number 65', thus making it popularly known as Chicken 65.
Whatever the theory might be, I have always enjoyed its taste. Here too, the flavors of Chicken 65 were spot on.
Mutton Kola Urundu were small balls of minced meat which were deep fried. Crispy and succulent they were the right blend of spices and aroma.
The Non-veg platter was served with hot Appams and crispy Malabar Parothas. The Appams were soft and fluffy and crispy on the outer edges. What made them more enjoyable was seeing them being prepared right in front of you in the open kitchen.
Next came the sea food platter consisting of Kerala Fish Fry, Mangalorean Crab Cakes, Gunpowder Prawns and Squid rings with Seafood filling. Each dish on the platter was beautifully prepared and had a distinct taste of its own.
The Sea food Platter was delicious and definitely something that I would be returning to Zambar for. What I loved amongst all was the Calamari Squid rings and the Mangalorean crab Cakes. The Calamari squid rings stood out stuffed with a sumptuous seafood filling. I also immensely enjoyed the Gunpowder Prawns, crispy and succulent, spiced with gunpowder which lent it a beautiful flavor. Having tasted the sea food platter, I now know exactly why it is so popular.
Mangalore Pork Sukka were tender pieces of pork tossed in spicy masala tempered with red chillies. I have had this before at the Ambience outlet and I must say it tasted as good if not better than what I remembered. Highly recommended.
Chicken stew cooked in thick coconut milk made by day. Lightly spiced with small cubed pieces pf chicken and vegetables, it is a complete meal in itself. Served with hot Appam it made a winning combination.
Next served in claypots was the Achamma's Lamb Curry and Pondicherry Mint and Coriander Chicken. Achamma's lamb curry was delicious with lamb cubes simmered in coconut milk and spices. I must say I found the preparation here much better than what I had in Ambience, where on our last visit we found it rather too spicy.
I think keeping the local palate in view, the chef has deliberately toned down the spices making one actually relish the flavors in the food.
The taste of the Pondicherry Mint and Coriander Chicken was unique, something which I hadn't had before. It had fresh flavors from the mint and coriander.
From the neighboring coast of Maharastra came the famous Sali Boti served with buttered Paav. It was basically a meat curry served on a bed of Sali (juliennes of fried potatoes). Meat simmered on a slow fire for hours in a tomato gravy is what lends the dish a rich flavor. It is one of those comfort food that leaves you totally satisfied.
Usually one to skip desserts, I found the Coconut and Jaggery Custard, steamed South Indian Souffle irresistable. Sarkari Pongal, a rice and jaggery kheer and Rava Kesari (like a halwa) too were worth a mention.
Can a meal in Zambar be complete without their filter coffee?
Zambar lends a whole new meaning to South Indian food proving that the cuisine is much more than the ubiquitous Dosa, Idli and Sambar. Their unique food and an extensive menu will ensure that you will keep coming back for more. Atleast I will definitely be returning.
Thanks Chef Arun Kumar and Zambar for a wonderful evening.