once upon a time : a culinary marvel

by chef vignesh ramachandran

green park, begumpet

               Irrespective of delectable food fests and events buzzing all across the Hyderabad, a foodie like me craves for a complete meal that blows you out in terms of innovation or culinary complexity or the overall experience or taking Indian cuisine a notch above. I think the Foodie Gods answered my prayers to have it all in one shot. Green Park Hotel known for its legacy in fine dining places was more known towards their haleem and midnight buffet. The brand has its own loyal patron base and has been known to be consistent in their service, hospitality, and other offerings. Their restaurants like Marigold again has its own loyal base. To stay in the competition and be in social media buzz, they have come up with re-vamping the menu of their in-premise restaurant - ONCE UPON A TIME - a contemporary Indian fusion restaurant. Hearing that a young Chef has come from my own state and dishing out some real classic twists, I was so excited to meet him in person. Chef Vignesh Ramachandran who has recently joined as Culinary director for the property invited me to come and relish their new twisty tasting menus in offering and man I would not miss such calls.

       As I entered into the property, the class Indian songs invited me to a peaceful and well maintained fine dining aura. Perfectly spaced tables and ample space to move around and well-planned seating arrangements made the initial feel to be fabulous. As we sat down with Chef Vignesh and started our conversation, he explained behind the thought process of these new tasting menus, in addition, their already crowd favorite buffet and ala carte menu. As he explained, it was evident that this Chef is not beating around the bush and means business as his in-depth vision was super exciting and he never settles for usual. So apart from their simple, classics driven ala carte menu, they have come up with 3 tasting menus (also available in their zomato page including the dishes) as below:

1) "GREEN FABLES" a vegetarian only set menu and is priced at 1100 + taxes.

2) "DECCAN TALES" a non-vegetarian focussed menu with items from classic Hyderabadi cuisine at 1550 + taxes 

3) "INDIAN EPICS" a fusion based special menu with a twist on each dish on the menu priced at 1300 + taxes.

    Excited to taste their offerings beyond a menu, we decided to do one menu trial per person and we were delightfully surprised to get some out of menu items as well from Chef. Let's check out what we had that made us go gaga.

    We started off with some drinks and I preferred to keep it summery and chili and got myself a "Mango Chilli Margarita" which btw turned out exactly I wanted and the magic behind the bar was evident. Now often when it gets to tasting menu, I always feel the quantity is finger bite and I'm normally a hogger and I feel unsatiated most of the times. On enquiring this with Chef, he assured that I should feel pretty full if we try all the dishes from a single menu and I had to testify this.

        By the time appetizers came in, we got ourselves Amuse Bouche in the form a chilled cucumber ring tossed with masala yogurt and desi scripts. Simple, rustic and does the job effortlessly and full score on the presentation. First in the offering was Smoked Baingan chaat. Made from smoked aubergine, baingan raita and chutney, this was a classic hit.  This one-biter turned out to be exactly what you expect from chaat. Next came in soups "Lasooni Murgh Shorba" and "Nandu Rasam". The former was simple garlic based chicken soup that was exceptionally well balanced while the later one is from my region was my biased favorite with soft shell crabs served alongside crab infused rasam and was a well-balanced dish with spicy-tangy flavors coming through nicely. 

                           I always feel nostalgic if dishes are from my region and the next one got me there. "Nadan Chicken Fry" made out of Kerala style pepper chicken served over a bed of idiyappam along with coconut cream and coconut shavings as a garnish. Simple pepper flavors making this dish again a favorite.  Next one got me off guard as I wasn't expecting a simple prawn dish would turn out spicy and awaken my palate. "Khatta Jhinga" made with gongura prawns over hari mirch chutney bed. This was super tangy and yummy to the core.  Veg came into our menu in spite of being meat lovers but change is always good. This "Dahi Ke Kebab" looked very pale but on tasting it, it threw in a burst of flavors. A classic Gujarati chunda (Rava fried) with smoked red chilly chutney on top alongside micro greens and okra crisp fries. AS each dish include this dahi ke kabab though single bites, kept impressing me as Chef was explaining what flavors to expect. The dishes kept delivering exactly per his description and it wasn't even prepared by him.

 

                                Next came in another veggie to impress us "Lasooni Palai Chop" a traditional Bengali appetizer took a twist with palak filling and it was super delicious. As my meat craving kicked in, came in the savior in the form of "Lamb Shikampuri Kebab" A perfect bit size kebab which was made with hours of mincing meat to get that super silky and layered meat texture along with super balanced spices. Next dish was the surprise superstar of the night easily. "Chicken Donut Makhani" yes, you read it right a donut. A crispy donut style made with butter chicken filling and to give you the donut ka partner cappuccino feel, the hot and flavorful makhani was served with foam. This dish definitely scores for making a twist of a classic and notch it up a level above - MUST TRY. 

   

                             The traditional "Roti pe Boti" also got a make-over served in a mini plater style with mini phulkas and malai masala and fried onions. More like DIY dish, the flavors were bang on. As we kept hogging, Chef decided to give us a break in the form of "Citrus orange sorbet" which looked so plain but packed a ton of freshness mainly due to it citrus nature and effortlessly cleansed our palate and prepared us for next round of delicacies. When I was just thinking is there less of seafood, in came "Scallops with prawn moilee". A Kerala style preparation it was served with mini uthappams which rendered the cuteness, the pan seared scallops along with prawn moilee sauce (made with coconut curry), it just gelled as a perfect married dish - MUST TRY.  "Chicken Kari Dosai" reminded me of the recent Madurai trip made and made me go into a food coma. This also had its twist element in being served with 63-degree egg ( egg boiled in a specific angle and format to get that soft guey texture and on breaking, just oozes its super-rich yolk). The dish was as such a perfect concoction of egg and chicken gry along with the pungent dosa batter. Another super regional dish. You cannot take the Hyderabadi in you and I was like "anything Hyderabadi?" and Chef smilingly brought in meat classic Nalli Nihari in Lucknow style. "Lucknowi Nalli Nihari" which was super soft lamb shanks and interesting combination with chatpata aloo to give the twist. The whole combination of mutton and aloo just worked for hands down :)   Then an off the menu  "Chicken Kebab Roulette" was also served which was tasty but wasn't WOW for me.  Then, chef brought us a brilliantly plated entree as "Dal Moradabadi". Typical dal getting a make-over with moong dal chat and chutneys alongside served with chur chur naan. The combination just worked simple and subtle flavors with super crispy chur chur naan. 

          Having a complete array of dishes taking our palates to a gastronomic journey, I was to ask "Biryani milegha? :)". Apart from their super hit green park biryani, Chef surprised us serving two different biryanis. "Parda Murgh Biryani" and "Gosht Safediya Pulao".  While the former was your typical dum style chicken biryani, spice balanced and typical one, the latter was more subtle lamb biryani served with Mirchi ka salan and raita platter. Mainly the salan made with a twist was perfect with this super rich and undertoned pulao. Both the dishes are definitely a breath of freshness than having your regular biryani.

             Just when we thought, we cannot savor even a morsel of food, Chef declared we successfully cleared the main course and now we get into desserts. This part made the foodie in me excited as always I look forward to desserts. 

                First came in two visually appealing and well-presented desserts to us. First one was "Rasgulla Tiramisu" - a complete makeover of a typical tiramisu. Again innovation played its beauty in this where filter coffee soaked rasgullas served alongside mascarpone mousse looked like a dessert cocktail. This could not your choice if you don't like bitter coffee. Rasgullas drenched with coffee was something first of its kind for me and the super smooth mousse was just perfect. Of course, if you like your desserts subtle, then this is not your cup of tea. The second one "Samosa aur Chai" to represent the typical Hyderabadi chai lovers' dream every day. Typical Irani chai served with crispy samosas get replaced with masala chai ice cream served with Khova samosa topped generously with peanut jagger pralines. The sweetness of the masala chai hits you but the super crispy khova filled pull balances it out and the jaggery praline brings in another whole texture. this is Hyderabad on a plate simply put :) 

           Just when I thought the food courses are over, in comes two more desserts to test our capacity. The classic Shadi ka "Shahi Tukda" was served with rasmalai ice cream sandwiched between crispy bread shahi. Too sweet even for a sweet lover for me but the chillness from the rasmalai was an interesting twist and definitely commendable. The last one was a long pending dish for me as it's not so often you get this in Hyderabadi. "Zaffroni Nimish" also known as "Makhan Malai" in Lucknow, Varanasi area, this was pure stellar simplicity. zaffroni milk form served with generous candied rose petals, almonds, pistachios, and saffron.  Super light that it just melts as it touches your tongue. You can keep gulping this not realising how much you can intake it.

        At the end of this overly humbling tasting menu extravaganza, I literally was lost of words for the culinary experimentation done without compromise to quality and not much on quantity. A skeptical hogger like me was fully satisfied in all terms from the finger size servings of each stellar dish and at the end felt just perfect kind of meal which would want to remember for ages to come. Chef Vignesh though young showed a lot of maturity and vision to throw in the contemporary twist on each dish and adamantly perfects stating his take as long as is flavorful there won't be any disrespect to the original classic. And damn he was right !!!! Each dish gave a new exciting twist from the original dish but yet elevated its flavor and texture in unimaginable dimensions.

        Such is his mastery and conviction in his thought and conceptualization on flavors, textures and overall binding profile of each dish so meticulously done. I mean, this chef at just 27 has knocked off some serious competition to bring in the fusion take on Indian cuisine so effortlessly and his ideas of upcoming food festivals and changes in Once upon a time restaurant is even more exciting to a foodie like me, post eating his master creations. 

       It might look hyped but after tasting many meals and menus, our foodie's palate knows when you get served something special but crystal clear on flavor elevations. Chef, a huge salute for you to be steadfast on your ideology and serving such a well-curated experience and giving us your valuable company. You have a long future to bring in a plethora of changes to this Hyderabad food scenes. You ROCK !!!!

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