We were sure this was not a place for a date, not first, not second, not two hundred and thirtieth, I’m about to pop the question honey. We think that few have ever ask for a menu. Either they know what they wanted, or they're comfortable peering into the menus pinned under the glass on each table, reading the specials of the day…upside down. We reckon that no one had scrutinized the interiors earlier, the strange placement of a garbage can in front of a hand wash sink, or the bright grassy green of the synthetic tablecloth and the ceiling panels. We’d even go so far as to say that the interiors of Deccan Darbar had never really witnessed a female face before.
These are exactly the times when the frying pan in me is on…FIRE. [pronounced emphatically as FA-YAAR, if for some unfathomable reason, you’re reading my posts aloud.] I live for such places. They don’t try to be anything but what they are, and I always feel like I’m on the brink of a juicy discovery. It can sometimes work against me. I have walked out with very mediocre or even downright disastrous experiences, but it’s like going to the gym, I’ll emerge tired, scarred, broken to the bone. And then forget all about it and want to do it all over again. Except that unlike the gym, the only packs I’ll be taking home are leftover tubs of food.
Deccan Darbar is a restaurant in Hor Al Anz that serves my native cuisine—Indian Hyderabadi food. This is a man’s lair: you go out into the Dubai jungle to earn your meat, and then come home for dinner at Deccan. I caught a glimpse of the restaurant during my visit to the Big Turkish Burger, and left with a burger-bored tummy, a menu from Deccan Darbar, and a desire to run back to the area so I could try Deccan's kichdi, khatta, keema.
Kichdi, khatta, keema is a trio of Hyderabadi dishes typically served for breakfast or even lunch: rice cooked in turmeric and yellow lentils [kichdi], a clear sour [khatta] soupy dish with onions, tamarind, and the unmistakable nuttiness of sesame, and minced meat [keema]. The three are inseparable, you could never say kichdi keema, or khatta keema without being considered a KKK noob. You have to say the entire triple deal, kichdi, khatta, keema, and then proceed to mix the rice, the soup and the meat with your fingers, and slurp up the sour, salty, meaty flavours that Hyderabad is known for. Two of the three of us sitting on the table that day were children mollycoddled by Hyderabadi mothers, so it’s safe to say that our standards for the meal were…snobbishly high.
Had it not been for those lofty standards, we might have lowered our sceptical eyebrows back down and silently enjoyed a decently tasty meal that was only 60% authentic. The kichdi was not the best I’ve had, somewhat drier than the rice concoction we make at the home. The keema was pronounced to be a tad bit too wet by Hyderabadi standards. And the khatta – the khatta was not really khatta at all, they had basically served a sesame chutney that was more whitish pulpy than the orangish watery soup we were expecting.
Despite being the one major flaw in the kichdi khatta keema combo, the khatta itself was incredibly addictive. We couldn’t hate it for its inauthenticity no matter how hard we tried. This nutty toasty sesame paste actually became one of the highlights of the meal and we succumbed to a second bowl of the imposter, relieved to be an entire ocean and landmass away from a city that would be up in arms were it to see what liquid sham we were pouring over our kichdi and keema.
The other dishes were a mixed bag. The fiery pasty gravy and crisp curry leaves of in the chicken 65 were like starter fuel on my spice-scared taste buds, but once I had my first chunk, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the gravy fire again. The colocasia tubers and mutton in the arvi gosht weren’t half as exciting as I’d have expected them to be, with a gravy whose flavourful potential was choked under a sea of oil that I didn't dare penetrate even when armed with my fresh baked tandoori roti. The khatti (sour) daal was nothing close to the sour smooth lentils that I adore at home—it wasn’t just lacking all the authentic flavours, it lacked flavour, period. And the mutton biryani was nothing special, because of course mamma’s version could race it to Mars and back with a twenty light year handicap, and still win the race.
I’ll admit I’m being terribly harsh with most of the dishes and outrageously hung up on authenticity. Sometimes food needs to be appreciated simply as food, yummy or not yummy, and not dissected by the scalpel of preconceived notions. If I could obliterate my framework of exactly how Hyderabadi food should taste, I wonder if this review would have been more forgiving of the dishes that didn’t measure up to home…
The two dishes that I will wholeheartedly give credit to were the desserts. Hyderabadis are known for their desserts, and don’t even contemplate leaving Deccan Darbar without trying their Qubani ka Meetha and Double Ka Meetha. Qubani is a stew of slow simmered sweet apricots, one that is so sweet that it is never divorced from a pot of custard or ice cream or some other mellowing dairy influence.
We were sceptical at first of the cheap plastic container that the Qubani ka Meetha was served in—this is a dish associated with the Hyderabadi royals, one worthy of a glass bowl or at least a transparent saucer. Scepticism turned to shock when we realized that Deccan Darbar was serving the dessert unaccompanied, all alone by its promiscuously sugary self. And then shock melted into sighs of hedonistic indulgence—the Qubani was spot on. Here was a faultless container of soft plump stewed baby apricots glistening with their own rich juices. It was slightly less sweet than our homemade version, and with apricots left whole rather than blended down into a pulpy puree, but the taste was exactly that richy fruity essence that any Qubani worth it’s apricots would have.
The Double Ka Meetha is simply a bread pudding, with bread slices drenched in sweet spices, milk, thick cream, and the teasing kiss of ghee-smeared comfort. Deccan Darbar displays a mammoth steel bowl containing the the mushy, crisp-edged milky bread studded with nuts and chewy green and red candies right at the entrance. It's an open celebration of their commitment to sweet buttery Hyderabadi decadence, and the servers should make it their personal mission to not let any diner leave without ordering a well-heated up plate of the dessert.
I’ll be back to Deccan Darbar, if just to try their special haleem (slow cooked wheat and meat) on Thursday or for a takeout tub containing dessert. But when it comes to kichdi, khatta, keema, or biryani, I think I might just stick to mom’s version (…after I sample the second Hyderabadi restaurant I spotted in the same area on my drive out of Hor Al Anz.)
Deccan Darbar Restaurant [also called Saif Restaurant]
Hor Al Anz, coming from Maktoum bridge, take a right at clock tower, drive straight down until you see the United Hypermarket. Take a right after the Hypermarket, and drive down the road until you see Saif Restaurant/ Deccan Darbar.