After enthralling foodies with the annual Iftar food carnival ‘Zaiqa-E-Ramzan‘, Food Krafters & Services (FKS) has launched its flagship restaurant ‘Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad’. Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad is amongst the new breed of restaurants that are introducing the traditional Hyderabadi khana, hitherto restricted to scruffy old city cafes and Hyderabadi family kitchens, to a wider audience.
The decor of Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad is minimalistic, but it succeeds in capturing the essence of Hyderabad. A vintage-car replica, which reminds you of the Nizami collection at Chowmahallah, is stationed at the entrance. An enormous Charminar graffiti adorns the boundary of the property. The ceiling of the restaurant is decorated with vintage lampshades, while a wall is dedicated to showcasing the Nizami heritage of Hyderabad. Zaiqa has two floors; however, only the ground floor is currently operational. Mr. Khalil Ahmed, Managing Director of FKS, informed me that the terrace will be used in the future for live grills and more.
The kitchen at Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad is helmed by veteran chef Pradeep Khosla, who was previously the Executive chef of Taj Krishna. Chef Khosla has kept the menu deliberately small as he wants to focus on perfecting the essentials first. Hyderabadi cuisine is known for its resplendent non-vegetarian fare; nevertheless, the Zaiqa has added green variants of the popular dishes like Lukhmi and Chicken 65 to ensure that the vegetarians have a fair representation in each section of the menu. The only exception is the Soups, which only features one dish – Marag. The Hyderabadi Marag can be a tough beast to nail. A perfect Marag is rich and teeming with flavours yet light and refreshing. Chef Khosla’s team was up to the task. The Almond, Pistachio, and Saffron lent the soup an inviting aroma and a comforting sweetness while allowing the real star of the dish – the slow cooked tender chunks of lamb – to shine. Pair the Marag with a couple of bread and it can turn into a complete meal.
After slurping up my soup in record time, I dug into the smattering of appetisers laid out for the blogger’s table. Lukhmi, a local take on Samosa that features a minced-meat stuffing, is the perfect accompaniment to the afternoon tea but also works as a starter. The stuffing was well spiced and delicious; however, the dish was let down by the inconsistency of the kitchen. The first Lukhmi I bit into was quite wholesome, while the second was had too much pastry and too little stuffing. The Chicken 65 was a far cry from the violently red, greasy snack dolled out at bandis across the city. Chef Khosla explained that he avoided dousing the chicken in cornflour and artificial colour and wanted to let the dish flaunt the flavour and texture of the marinated chicken chunks. While I’m a fan of the unabashedly deleterious bandi Chicken 65, I also loved Mr. Khosla’s interpretation. However, I suspect that Zaiqa’s Chicken 65 will be divisive in a city that is so passionate about its 65. Shikhampuri Kebab is a delectable treat from the royal kitchens of Hyderabad. A shallow fried (sometimes also deep fried) kebab made from tender minced meat and stuffed with hung curd and onions. One of the things that makes a Shikhampuri so distinctive is the moist, tart centre that brilliantly balances the overall richness of the kebab. While Zaiqa nailed the overall flavour and texture, there was very little curd to be found.
The menu proudly proclaims that “Making Haleem (meat and pounded wheat) is considered an art, and we deliver a masterpiece”. Making the perfect Haleem is an extremely laborious task as the meat needs to be cooked for hours and constantly churned with wheat, spices, and ghee to produce the perfect amalgamation of flavours. This is one of the reasons why, outside of the month of Ramzan, Haleem remains a rare sight in the city. SodaBottleOpenerWala was the first restaurant on this side of the town to add Haleem to its daily menu without sacrificing on quality. Zaiqa now joins this elusive club. The Haleem at Zaiqa is a tad different from the one at SBOW and an entirely different beast from the one available commercially during Ramzan. The Zaiqa Haleem is meat heavy with a wonderful elastic texture yet more porridge-like than most. The flavour of the meat dominates the dish that’s luxurious yet restrained. This is a masterpiece indeed.
After lapping up a bowl full of Haleem, I mostly sat out the mains, tasting minuscule portions with a spoon. The curries felt a little underwhelming after the spectacular Haleem, but the creamy, dry fruits laden Dum ka Murgh and the unique Asaf Jahi Gosht Korma with mutton and potato chunks were noteworthy.
One of my pet peeves with most Hyderabadi establishments is the skewed meat to rice ratio in Biryanis. A single plate of Mutton Biryani inevitable comes with a mountain of rice and barely any meat. Thankfully, Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad portions are much more balanced. Each plate has about a quarter kilo of meat and rice that’s sufficient to satiate a generous appetite but not that of an entire family. While the Biryani was among the better ones you’d get in the city, it didn’t quite do enough to become a personal favourite. The initial teething issues of the kitchen became apparent again as the mutton pieces that I received were a tad rubbery, while the second portion that was served on the table was on the mark.
I’m not a fan of traditional Hyderabadi desserts like Qubani ka Meetha or Double ka Meetha, but I was pleasantly surprised by Zaiqa. The Qubani was quite enjoyable as it wasn’t repugnantly sweet, while the Badam ka Kund that was loaded with saffron and almonds was absolutely fantastic. Gajar ka Rishta, which Chef Khosla explained is similar to Gajar ka Halwa but with a noticeably smoother texture, is also a dessert that you shouldn’t skip while at Zaiqa.
Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad set out to capture the essence of Hyderabad, and it succeeds in that. The kitchen was slightly inconsistent. Hopefully, these are just teething issues that will be ironed out soon. Another concern is that in spite of the presence of quite a few vegetarian dishes in the menu, there aren’t any must-try dishes to entice a vegetarian. However, for meat lovers, Zaiqa pulled off a couple of masterpieces. The Marag and Haleem were sublime and reason enough for me to head back to Zaiqa soon enough.
Update (26/06/17): Since my initial review, I’ve gone back to Zaiqa-E-Hyderabad several times it has grown to be one of my favourite restaurants in the city. The restaurant has successfully conquered its teething issues. The curd in the Shikhampur Kebabs is now more pronounced, and the Mutton Biryani is among the very best you’ll get anywhere in the city. I’m revising my rating to 9/10.