Rekindling ‘Ember’ With Chef Pawan Pal Singh!

Le Meridien takes you on a delightful culinary journey of the North West frontier cuisine  

Intricately hand embroidered Zari tapestries and an engaging collection of canvases adorn the walls of this fine dining restaurant. Wood carvings and handcrafted artefacts readily ignite the North West frontier element in the décor. From the bold hues in the Mughal printed table linen to the ethnic bronze cutlery – every detail echoes the spirit of ‘Ember’. The 32 pac restaurant that was relaunched at the Le Meridien hotel, Kochi, is probably one of the only exclusive North Indian fine diners in the city that’s hosted by a 5 star property. Ritz embarks on a culinary journey of the North West frontier cuisine that has delightful handpicked delicacies of Kandhar, Peshawar, Kashmir, Punjab and Lucknow!

Text: Riya Sonny Datson

Photography: Anoop Ajay

Venue: Ember – Le Meridien, Kochi

The smoking hot Tandoori skewers sizzle onto our table and I am told that the Peshwari Murg Tikka has arrived. The table tandoor is literally a miniature metallic tandoor with a wooden base that holds a small platter with hot charcoal. A dollop of butter is poured over the charcoal which makes it fume and sizzle inside the dish in which the skewers are placed. The process lends a rich Tandoori aroma to the meat. “The chicken is marinated with special spices and that is what adds to the natural flavour. The use of a spice called ‘Muga’, one that is popularly used in Punjabi cuisine is the specialty in this delicacy,” explains Chef Pawan Pal Singh, Executive Chef at the Le Meridien, Kochi.  Succulent and flavoursome, the chicken skewers served with salad and spicy mint chutney is one of the most popular starters in the restaurant and I wouldn’t agree more! Next, the Galouti Kebab is served on mini ashrafis, an appetizer that has been perfected for centuries by the house of Avadh. “The Galouti masala uses 21 different spices including coriander roots and Khus roots. The lamb meat is minced up to four times to get the soft texture,” explains Chef. Evidently so, these soft delicious kebabs garnished with malai and mint instantly melt in your mouth! The soft Ashrafis add to the texture and is in perfect sync with the Kebab.

The dum Biriyani is another specialty of Ember and a meal can never be complete without this treat, which, I must admit is a meal by itself! The Gosht Dum Biriyani is served with the accompaniment of four varieties of pickles (ginger, onion, fenugreek and mint), pappad and raita. As the dum is slowly lifted, the rich enticing aroma fills the air! “We serve the traditional Lucknowi biriyani here. The mutton is cooked separately and then layered with Basmati rice and cooked on dum. The predominant spices used in the preparation are Saffron and Kewra,” explains Chef. The luscious meat and the flavourful rice cooked to perfection is indeed a treat to the palate – a must have if you are visiting this restaurant!

Breads are a staple in the North and so, another signature dish, the Nalli Nehari, a perfect accompaniment for bread, makes its entry next. Chef explains that Nehari is a traditional preparation in Pakistan which uses beef shanks in the original recipe. “At Ember, we use lamb shanks instead, which is simmered with spices for over six hours to get a rich broth and also to make the meat tender. We then use gram flour to thicken the ‘Nehari’ (gravy) and use Kewra, saffron and caramelised onions for the flavouring,” he continues. With its rich gravy, tender meat and flavourful masala, one cannot mistake its evident origin!

Apart from the meat delicacies, Ember also has some enticing healthy choices for vegetarians. The Palak Paneer Ke Koftey is one of many such options which uses cottage cheese coated with cooked Palak. These dumplings are then put into the cashew based gravy that has a hint of spinach and tomato. This creamy rich gravy with the soft dumplings is healthy and best served with the Laccha Paratha or Roti. Finally, for the ultimate indulgence, the irresistible Kesari Malai Kulfi is served on Falooda, drizzled with saffron sauce and garnished with saffron and pistachios. I am bowled over by the texture and the tantalizing flavours. To which Chef reveals with a smile, “This is the signature dessert that uses a special traditional homemade recipe. It is made using 100% milk and follows an elaborate process wherein the sweetened Kulfi is frozen for couple of hours, taken out of the freezer, churned and frozen yet again. This is repeated several times to ensure that there are no ice crystals. The Falooda made from corn starch is also made in-house using traditional techniques.” True to his word, the Kulfi was the best I had ever tasted. A perfect finale to a rich meal fit for a King!