I tried the dal soup, which had too much salt while my colleagues who tried the tomato soup found it fine. The next course was the best one – chicken tikkas though I’m not sure if it was called that. It had the richness of a murgh malai kebab and the tangy-spiciness of a tandoori marinade. The paneer tikkas too were superb. The chicken was succulent and the paneer was the melt in the mouth variety.
Unfortunately from there on things went downhill. The Lamb in Barbecue Sauce at Earthen Oven comprised well cooked pieces of lamb drowned in a barbecue sauce. You could have mistaken it for lamb curry by its appearance. How were we supposed to eat it? As a main dish, with rice, bread or potatoes on the side, or like lamb curry with rice? Some of my colleagues found the fish in mustard sauce good, but for me it was over cooked fish floating in too much sauce, which would have been fine for a Bengali fish curry with a mustard base but this just did not work. The Chicken Curry did not have any character either; almost like boiled pieces of chicken in a thick, runny gravy. Amongst all these non-veg dishes, what was I supposed to eat my naans with?
Most restaurants these days manage an acceptable Dal Makhani, but Earth Oven fails there as well. They call it Dal Bukhara, and being part of the ITC Group, they have every right to do so. It however, had no resemblance to the Dal Bukhara which is a tomato and cream rich overcooked version of maa ki daal made famous by the Bukhara at ITC Maurya. The Bhindi wasn’t bad, and the Gobhi Biriyani was fragrant. Everything else in the main course didn’t elicit strong reactions from the diners either way.
The desserts were the worst part of the spread. The Kheer was watery and pink tinged with a ‘gulab ki…’ prefix that couldn’t do anything to salvage something that didn’t appear to have been thickened even for fifteen minutes. Moong Dal Halwa is one of my favourite desserts and it is one dish in which desi ghee is not only not an option but an abundance of which is essential. The chef probably decided on a cholesterol free version of the same. The chef would be well advised to visit the Churuwala Halwa shop off Chandni Chowk for a lesson in what Moong Dal Halwa should be like. If they venture into that area, a visit to Jamal Bhai for tips on making kheer wouldn’t be too much of a detour and perhaps even well advised. Even top of the line Indian restaurants screw up cakes and pastries so there was no surprise that the cakes and pastries on offer weren’t very good.
Ed: Siddhartha hasn’t said so in so many words, but it appears giving Earthen Oven a miss wouldn’t be a bad decision. The front page photo isn’t from the Earthen Oven, Fortune Inn Grazia, NOIDA.