To anyone well versed in Indian cuisine dining out at the Sheesh Mahal can be a gourmet experience. For those not quite sure of their liking for the flavour of the East, it may present a challenge.
The Tandoori style of cooking is traditionally Indian but only in the past few years has it found popularity in this country. The method involves marinading the meat or fish in a mixture of about 12 spices and yoghurt and then cooking the meat on a spit in a clay oven over charcoal. The tremendous heat of the charcoal is intensified by the clay and reduces the cooking time considerably at the Sheesh Mahal the dish is finished with a light powdering of further spices. Tandoori Chicken- the best known dish cooked in this style is served with a delicious mint and yoghurt sauce that both cools and adds piquancy at the same time. Lamb or King Prawn Tikka are two other lightly spiced Tandoori dished. Yet another is the Mixed Kebab. The latest is a Sheesh Mahal speciality and includes a little of everything except the prawns.
The other speciality of the house is their Mogul dishes. These are recipes which were favoured by the Mogul emperors, and are indeed worthy of that connection. The owner Masood Haque has taken the idea for these dishes from an ancient Indian cookery book which was published around the turn of the country. The book is a treasured possession of its owner and the exact ingredients of the dishes are a closely guarded secret.
The essence of the Mogul dishes is that they are mild or medium curries often cooked with dry fruits or cream. The first I tasted included both these ingredients. Shahi Korma Murg was a special Kings favourite. Lightly spiced chicken is cooked in cream with dry fruits. This is an excellent dish for anyone being introduced to Indian cuisine, for although lightly spiced it is very mild. Another dish in that category is the Shahi Tukra Gosht-in this instance the lightly spiced meat is roasted and served with yoghurt and cream.
Two of the Mogul specialities which fall under the heading of ‘medium’ are the Kofta Musalam and the Murg Musalam. For the Kofta, the meat balls are stuffed with dried fruits and herbs and marinaded with spices. For the Murg, chicken is treated in the same way and the marinade includes tomatoes and egg. It was fascinating to sample thee dishes side by side and draw comparisons. Having a palate well used to the flavour of curries I found the medium dishes more to my liking but would have no hesitation in recommending the mild ones to those who like the flavour without the heat.
It goes without saying, that there is a full range of accompaniments to be served with the main dish and indeed there is an extensive list of mild, medium and hot curries for those who know exactly what they are ordering.
Indians do not normally eat a sweet course after a meal, but rather have it with tea some time later. Nevertheless, in order to present a complete menu, Masood offers fruit salad, ice cream or a choice of Indian sweets. These tend to be very sweet indeed. I sampled one called Rossogulla. Separated milk curd had been formed into a ball and was served in a very heavy syrup. It was a new experience and quite palatable, but to enjoy it you need to have a very sweet tooth.
There is no drink that traditionally goes with curry. However, a medium dry French wine, a Moselle or perhaps Liebfraumilch are popular accompaniments.
Masood has spent as much time and trouble on this décor as he has on his bill of fare. Purple and turquoise may seem an unlikely combination, but together with the cut our shapes of the dome of the Taj Mahal they set the seen and create an authentic atmosphere. A well known Eastern artist, Syed Husain, was commissioned to paint a series of pictures for the restaurant. His piece de resistance is to be found in the bar. This is an extremely detailed court scene showing Nawabs, Rajahas and Maharajahs paying homage to the great Mogul Emperor, Akbar, who ruled over all Indian for some sixty years during the 16the century. In total they provide a colourful glimpse of the many facets of Indian art.