The entire sundeck of the Garden restaurant at Soaltee Crowne Plaza has been transformed into a dhaba, the popular roadside eateries that dot the highways in India, for the annual Punjabi-flavoured Dhaba festival.
Visitors are greeted with the stage set straight out of Chandigarh: a mock garage with a cardboard truck that reads ‘Happy Singh Da Dhaba’, a paan stall, posters of Bollywood oldies, cooking smoke spiralling up and out of the stalls and tent names that remind you of Jallandar. Punjabi music plays in the background.
The festival caters to all tastes: meat lovers, vegetarians and those among both groups with a sweet tooth. We scanned the stalls and decided to go for drinks first. Arranged in a pyramid format, on offer were lassi, chas (butter milk) and lichee juice.
Both the lassi and chas were rich and frothy: the first a thick blend of curd and the other with a sharp taste, and both whet our appetites for the snacks. (Fresh seasonal juices are also available.)
Next: the food. We started with two varieties of Aloo Tikka, Bitter Gourd Tikka and Paneer Tikka. The crunchy Aloo Tikka, dipped in a green paste made from mint, green chili, raw mango and other spices, compensated for the bitterness of the gourd.
Having done the round of the veggies, we moved on to the carnivore carnival: Mahi Lahori (fish), Mutton Sheikh Kebab and Chicken Tikka. The meticulously prepared chicken (first soaked in spices then in curd) cooked in the tandoor was a delight. The first bite of the piping hot chicken was juicy and the spices seeped out.
The vegetarian spread had well known Punjabi items like Chole Bhature, Dal Makhani, Sarso da Saag, Paneer Lababdar, Methi Aloo, and more. An ample variety of rotis, parathas and kulchas provided an alternative to rice. The savory gravy paneer dish, flavoured with hints of cashews and spices, paired well with the deepfried bread (Chole). The bhature’s taste, however, was overpowered by the black pepper.
A sumptuous range of dishes greeted meat lovers as well. Be it Murg Kali Mirch (mutton), or Ghos Achari Korma (chicken) the variety of flavours and textures triggered the Pavlov Effect in us.
Dipped in gravy, the subtle flavours of the Murg Kali Mirch (mutton) blended well with the no-nonsense biryani and accompanying raita. The chicken was equally succulent, with the fish finishing a distant third. We are a long way from the sea here.
As they say in Punjab, by end of it we were “fulfilled” (or even perhaps “fed up”). But there was still the dessert to sample. After a heavy meal of spicy snacks and mains, we were delighted to taste hot Jalebis and Rasmalai, rounded off with a cup of chai.
As the guests shuffled and wobbled out, it seemed somehow appropriate that we were all humming snippets of Daler Mehendi that was the staple background music of the Soaltee Dhaba Night.
Until 30 April, Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Tahachal marg, (01)427399