Five star confidential. Dakshin, ITC Grand Maratha Mumbai

I’ve kept quite about this for almost a couple of months as I was superstitious and didn’t want to jinx it. But the blog was the best place to break the news.

All goes well then in two hours from now we begin shooting the Mumbai segment of the World Street Food show for an international TV channel. The most iconic around. 

Bohri Mohalla tonight. I am hosting it. Wish me luck folks. First time for TV.

Thanks Shanky for putting them on to me. I owe you a big big one.

My thing with five stars is that the food has to be really spectacular given the prices.

My thing with most South Indian non vegetarian restaurants at Mumbai is that the meat or fish here is battered beyond recognition. They are the Guantanamo Bays of sea food.

Imagine going to a place where both your favourite bugbears collide.

The proverbial Heartbreak Hotel.

IMG02013-20110913-2249 IMG02011-20110913-2229 IMG02012-20110913-2230

That’s what happened at ITC Grand Maratha’s Dakshin yesterday.

Dakshin is ITC Hotel’s South Indian styled restaurant chain. Honestly not the cuisine of choice for me at five star prices. So wouldn’t be a part of my stomping grounds normally.

I was there at a work do last night. So I wasn’t paying. It wasn’t one of those formal dinners where you mind wanders numbly across the universe as you wait for the small talk to end, the straw pails to be finished, speeches to be sat through as you wait for the night to end. We had a small group yesterday and the conversation was actually nice and with me, our guest who apparently is heavily into baking and a colleague who is into food too in the group, we hardly talked shop.

I guess it was for the food at Dakshin to make up for the lacklustre and un-memorable conversations of work dos which we missed last night.

The Dakshin menu is divided according to the states of South India. Folks at ITC told me about the ‘new’ seafood menu when they hosted the lunch at Pan Asian for us. I skimmed through the new menu. Saw the familiar ambotik and stuffed bombil. I thought the former was best left to Infantaria at Goa. The latter too the Jai Hind chain here.

The array of dishes at Dakshin were confusing. The waiters kept advocating us to take the thaalis or tasting plates. In a delightful burst of honesty one of them told us “it makes it much easier for us then to serve such a large table”.

Given the four times I had to ask for, and the ten minutes I had to wait for, to get a fork later, I got what he meant.

We decided to skip the thaali as the opinion was divided across the table. I wavered myself as the thought of a huge array of dishes was intimidating and yet tempting. I prefer fewer dishes at a meal so that I can do justice to them.

The usual ordering chaos that follows when you have a large group at a table followed. Thankfully a Malayali colleague took over. The one who was talking endlessly about food. She ordered and then menacingly looked at the waiter as he walked of and told us “now let’s see if this measures up to the real thing”.

Well did it?

The food at Dakshin got the scathing response from her that Bhojohori Manna got from me sometime back. The sense of hurt was so poignantly clear. She had “how could you?” written all over her usually expressive face. I could feel the pain. The pain of ordering on behalf of people and then finding things go so horribly wrong. When you can’t do anything yourself as you are not in the kitchen.

So how was the food?

Well as  the Late Erich Segal would have put it ”What can you say about a very expensive meal that died? That it was anything but beautiful and brilliant. That the only good things were the free papads,chutney and cold towel.”

chutney & papad

The lamb ishstew which I thought was coconut milky and pleasantly maternal had my colleague frothing at the gills. “This is not the way it is meant to be. The coconut milk is overpowering. No Malayali home would serve this”.

I found the lamb a bit too chewy which I must admit wasn’t an issue with my colleague who found it to be done well. The vegetarians at the table found their stew to be a coconut milk goop too.

lamb ishtew

The appams were fairly crisp which  had the non Malayalis going ‘these are not appams”. 

I tweet pic’d and got this:

meghmalhaar meenu: “@butsandifs @Finelychopped thats not an appam...”

Thankfully thin and crisp work for me.

Yes, the opening score: Ishtew not a, ishew. Appam not appams.

Authentic food 2        Five star dining 0

My colleague ordered prawns wrapped in banana leaves in a slightly tart marinade. She pronounced the name with aplomb. I have no idea with it was. Which, given the fact that the prawns were huge and yet tough and hadn’t taken in the flavours of the marinate, wasn’t a big loss to humanity.

I had the prawns with Malabar parathas. Nice, thin and crisp. Again had the two Malayalis at my side shaking their head with a sense of being betrayed. This was very different from the greasy, solid, indulgent porotas that I had at Rahmanya at Fort.

prawn and malabar paratha

Oh yes. One of the two Malayalis ordered karimeen. The fish that features in every TV food show that  at Kerala. I had it sometime back at the humble Deluxe at Fort. Liked it there.

Here none of us could taste the fish through the overwhelming tangy marinate that had been used to incinerate the fish.

Karimeen. Where's amnesty internationa?

One of the vegetarians had ordered bisi bele bhaat which frankly was like the one I tried at Swagath except heavier. I guess the logic of pricey is equal to rich was followed here.

High society bisi bela bhaat

We called for a rice cooked in minced lamb with eggs.

No South Indians are not all vegetarians who eat only idlis and dosas.

I chose the dish as the description reminded me of the minced pork rice that we so love at Ling’s. For once our Malayali colleague passed the dish as being authentic. Pity that with its overpowering smell of lamb and monochromatic textureless spice the dish left me completely unimpressed.

stodgy rice with mince and eggs

I was the only one who had desserts. Basundi after my Malayali colleague warned me to steer clear of the South Indian desserts given the evening’s score.

The Basundi? Well order it chilled sour marginally thick milk appealed to you.


The sad part of the meal was that we had taken a visitor from overseas, a food enthusiast to boot there, with the best of intentions. I hope we can make it up to her next time she is back.

She’s a vegetarian so I’d probably look at the familiar pitches of Oh Calcutta then. If it works out then probably the good karma will take me across the seas for the cakes she bakes and is so famous for.


Anurag Mehrotra said…
I have eaten at the Dakshin in Bombay and Bangalore. I haven't as bad a meal as you describe but I totally agree with you in spirit (not a big fan of Dakshin). Interestingly, another blogger had quite a wonderful experience.
Anurag Mehrotra said…
PS: Congratulations and wish you all the luck for the TV show.
Gaurav said…
my experience at Daskhin was underwhelming as well.

Although i didnt know they had a thali/set meal option. must go back and give it a go.

although different i think Konkan Cafe thali is a very good VFM option for Southie/Konkani food.

Congrats on the tv show, cant wait to check it out.. our very own desi Bourdain in the making?
jjs said…
congrats on ur tv show.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks Anurag...shoot went off very well. Yes, I had read that post

@Gaurav...they do have a thali and you are right. One can normally bet on President's restaurants

and thanks....:)

Thanks JJS
lovely mouth watering dishes!
I have have tried bisi billi was good!
Amitabha said…
Congratulations on the TV thing Kalyan ... thats a gr8 news ..
Sharmila Gajria said…
The food pics look downright pathetic. Yew! You guys should have given a piece of your mind to the restaurant manager.I can imaginewhat you guys went through.
Kurush F Dalal said…
sour basundi!!!! yeukkk!!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Amitabha... thanks was an awesome experience

@Sharmila well to be fair the pics were with my BB & not camera

Prachi said…
Hey K! Been following your blog since the past 2 years now. Must say it has been a delicious journey...

All the best for the show. R we gonna get a glimpse of the show in India too? Which channel?
Anonymous said…
Hi Kalyan,

This is with reference to Renaissance Hotel,Mumbai would like to speak to you briefly about the same. Wouldn't take much of your time. It would be great if you could share your contact details with us on
Pradnya said…
Congratulations K! Hope it is the first of many...
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks prachi, Pradnya...really appreciate it. First on the Travel Channel US. A while from now
Miri said…
Im not surprised, I ate at the Dakshin in Delhi with my family on Tamil New Year - an expensive indulgence which we decided since we were homesick for authentic Tamil food. Terrible is the word. Do you know why the stew was goopy ? because they use coconut milk out of a can - more like a coconut cream. When we asked the chef how a Five star kitchen didnt use authentic ingredients, like real coconut milk extract- he just said they didnt. No apology.

The Dakshin in Chennai was very good, but defeats the whole purpose if they can only serve authentic food in the home state.

Zambar in Gurgaon and Delhi (Ambience Mall) is much better and much more affordable prices.
Miri said…
BTW, congrats on hosting the show - so much better than the pretentious peeps who popou;ate India cooking shows now
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Miri I guess good South Indian is best left to simple places and homes. Using canned products at five stars given their prices is a shame

and thanks a lot for your wishes on the show