As soon as I opened the invitation for an ‘Independence Day Special’ dinner at Taj Krishna, I had an inkling that I was in for something quite memorable. It wasn’t an invitation to experience the newest gastronomic indulgences conjured by the Chefs at Taj. Rather, it was an invitation to turn back the clock and relive history. As India completes its seventieth year as a free nation, the Taj group is recreating the dinner served to its guests at Taj Mahal Palace (Mumbai) on the eve of India’s independence.
The surprises began even before the food arrived. As I walked past the shimmering lobby of Taj Krishna and stepped into Encounters, the last thing that I was expecting was consommes and roulades. Yet, that’s what the four-course menu laid out on the table promised. As odd as it might seem today, back in the day, the Taj Mahal Palace, much like other properties of its echelon, exclusively served French haute cuisine along with bits of other European specialities. In the colonial era, the Taj Mahal Palace catered to Indian royalties, aristocrats, and Europeans; and the cuisine of its signature restaurant Shamiana was in tune with the preferences of its guests.
No pictures or recipes from the dinner at Taj Mahal Palace exists. The menu is the only surviving artifact. “The 1947 festival is an earnest attempt to imagine and recreate what the dinner must have been like”, explained Executive Chef Nitin Mathur. The original menu had to be rationed per government directives, which mandated that a single person can only have a soup plus two courses. Of course, there is no such compulsion now, and Taj is offering a four-course meal. Vegetarian dishes have been added to the main course to ensure that there’s something for everyone.
The choice in the soups is between two polar opposites – a clear Chicken Consomme and a thick and creamy Almond Veloute. Consomme is a classic that’s both a test of technical prowess and patience. The Consommé al indienne infuses cardamom in the otherwise traditional chicken and vegetable stalk recipe to add a local touch to the dish. Per the classic recipe egg white, egg shells and chicken bones were also incorporated into the recipe. Veloute is one of the pillars of French cuisine, and the velvety Almond Veloute, prepared from butter and flour, didn’t disappoint.
Delicacies à l’Hindustan is the only dish with a clear Indian influence. Cottage Cheese is done three ways – in a spicy red chilly marinade, a creamy malai marinade, and a mild mint marinade. The Paneer was soft but had enough texture to lend a satisfying bite.
There are four dishes in the main course, and choosing among them is quite a challenge. If you’ve a soft spot for fish, the Salmon Roulade with Wilted Spinach and a Creamy Mash should be your pick. Poultry lovers can opt for the creamy Chicken Souffle that’s paired with an acidic Lemon Parsley sauce. Very rarely does a vegetarian preparation succeed in besting its non-vegetarian counterparts, but the Mushroom and Truffle stuffed Vol–au–Vent is quite mesmerising.
The dessert on offer is quite a mouthful, literally and figuratively. ‘Vacherin de peches liberation’ is peach infused apricot sorbet served in meringue cups with a side of cream. The abundance of Meringue makes this dessert a tad too sweet for the modern palate, but I found the ensemble to be quite enjoyable once I broke it up into chunks and made a mess.
The 1947 menu offers a rare opportunity to experience a slice of culinary history. While the facade of Taj Krishna will be lit up in the tricolours, Encounters will be offering a reminder of the colonial era and how far we’ve come as a nation. The 1947 menu will be available for dinner (7:00 PM onwards) till 15th August. It’s priced at Rs. 1947 (all-inclusive) per person.