Food Story Pune is located in the City Point Mall which I know more as a foodie destination than anything else. The Bombay Bronx opened there in Spring this year, and Food Story soon made its royal debut.
Food Story features Hyderabadi cuisine, the royal cuisine of the Nawabs of the Deccan. Opulence and leisure are the things that come to mind when you think of royal meals. And that is exactly the kind of experience you can expect at Food Story. The spacious premises have an open floor plan so the whole place appears to be large and airy. Seating is comfortable. Wait staff is courteous. And you gradually settle down to a Nawabi experience.
Hyderabad has always been close to my heart. And the place I grew up in had a lot of Hyderabadi influences in the cuisine. Then I was blessed with many friends from the Hyderabad/ Andhra region. I associate certain foods with Hyderabad, and honestly, I no longer eat many of them since turning vegetarian. So apart from the Mirchi Ka Salan, my long time favorite, I was going in with a clean slate. And I was ready for anything.
I have been following the Food Story account on Facebook and Twitter for a few months now. And I had drooled over a lot of their creations. Chef Arif has worked in big brand hotels like the Leela, Grand Maratha, Zest (Delhi) and abroad. I was actually very curious to see what a vegetarian could enjoy when it came to Hyderabadi cuisine. Then one sleepy, rainy day, I headed over for lunch at Food Story.
I settled down with Summer Calling, a cool mocktail with cucumber, mint and lemon. It was just zesty and tangy enough to make my mouth water with anticipation at the veritable feast I was in for. A platter of chutneys and complimentary breads was served, and so were some munchies and crudités with a creamy apple dip. The ‘sticks’ tasted like mathri and I loved the manner in which they were served. The peanut roti was smoky.
I loved the tomato chutney, very much like my Madras Tomato Chutney recipe here on the blog. The white chutney was made with radish and cashews. I am not really a ‘mooli’ or radish fan, but hats off to the chef for using in-season vegetables to prepare something as simple as a dip.
Appetizers were brought in and I was spoilt for choice. Now I will share one funny thing about tasting food. You cannot really eat more than a few bites of everything because you need to pace yourself through a large meal. But sometimes, it turns out you liked item 1 more than item 5, but then you can’t go back to item 1 which has already been cleared away. Thankfully, nothing like this happened here.
The Subz Ki Galawat was a finely minced veggie kebab that melted in the mouth as expected. The spice was just right. The Subz Navratan Kebab was a veggie’s delight. As the name suggests, it is made with nine different vegetables. The veggies were finely chopped and visible, and you could make out what they were. There were generous pieces of cashew which provided a nice crunch. What I loved most about these two kebabs was that they were not heavy with any kind of flour or breading. Neither did they seem heavy on the potatoes.
The Lahori Paneer Tikka was a bit fiery, but very tasty. The marination was well infused in the paneer. The Tandoori Bharwan Khumb or Stuffed Mushrooms were just awesome. Sauteed spinach was stuffed between two mushroom caps and grilled creating a hearty vegetarian dish. Who can miss meat when eating this?
And the star appetizer for me – Malai Broccoli! I have only seen this on a few menus and never actually tasted this in a restaurant. The Malai Broccoli at Food Story is stuffed with cream, nuts and maybe some Khoya or cheese and then grilled. The broccoli was served with two kinds of radish dip which was a nice contrast to the creamy and rich broccoli. Roasted broccoli has a taste of its own, and when combined with decadent stuffing and nutmeg, it takes on a different character. You simply must try this at Food Story!
Main courses started with Khumb Kachha Palak or a dry preparation of mushrooms, baby spinach and peppers. Vilayati Subz Desi Andaz was another winner. Fresh crunchy veggies like carrots, French beans, broccoli, mushrooms and baby corn were tossed together and flavored with coriander seeds and black pepper. I loved the simple taste of this vegetable dish. The Mirchi ka Salan was infused with chili flavors but was creamy with the peanuts, sesame seeds and coconut paste and tangy with tamarind. Curry leaves added the final touch.
The piece de resistance of the meal was the Narangi Biryani. This is not on the menu yet, and is a super special dish created by Chef Arif. Ever since I saw a photo of it on Facebook, I knew I wanted to taste it. Chef Arif was kind enough and enthusiastic enough to cook this special dish just for me. Sometimes, I am just so totally overwhelmed by such gestures. It is hard to express my feelings, and I am sure a simple Thank You sounds pithy. But that is all I can say on such occasions.
How can I explain the Narangi Biryani? Narangi stands for orange so I was expecting citrus flavors. I did not know what to expect beyond that. The citrus or orange flavors are the star, but not like in an Orange Chicken or Orange Stir fry sauce which is sweet and almost syrupy. The Biryani was cooked perfectly and fragrant with subtle spices like saffron. It had different nuts like almonds and raisins, and orange segments that were cooked within layers of rice. The fried onions added a touch of caramelized sweet flavor. The orange raita that was served with this biryani was the perfect accompaniment. Overall, I simply loved this biryani.
The Chef plans to introduce it in the upcoming months.
I was almost too full for dessert. Almost, I said. When I think Hyderabadi food, Double Ka Meetha, Shahi Tukda and Khubani Ka Meetha come to mind. I was lucky to try the Khubani Ka Meetha. Made with apricots that are soaked overnight, this was slightly sweet and served with a dash of cream. The Gil-E-Firdaus was like a rabdi with Lauki or bottle gourd.
Remember Nagesh Kukunoor’s Hyderabad Blues? The easy affection between friends meeting after a decade, the slow pace of a smaller town, the feeling that time has stopped still? Call it the warm hospitality or the lavish food spread, Food Story won my heart and made me slightly nostalgic for days bygone – in a good way.
I was pleasantly surprised by the vast vegetarian menu. In fact, there is even a separate seating section for pure vegetarian people in case they don’t want to be around meat eaters. There is a simple glass partition between the two areas, which gives a seamless feeling and the whole ‘big space’ feel is still maintained.
I was accompanied by some carnivore companions who made small work of the nonveg delicacies. Some of the dishes tried and loved were Shikampur, Pathhar Ka Gosht, Machli Rubayat, and chops among the starters. Nalli Nihari, Haleem and Kacche Gosth ki Yakhni Biryani, all Food Story specialties got top marks too.
Whether your family is pure vegetarian or has mixed eating preferences like mine, Food Story is a place that will appeal to everyone. They have set executive lunches on weekdays and brunch offers on the weekend. You know where to head over the next time you want to eat a real Hyderabadi Biryani in a fine dining setting.