Tuesday, 14 June 2016

It’s that time of the year when piousness and festivities go hand in hand. Yes, I’m talking about the Islam’s Holy month of Ramadhan where Muslims across the world indulge in fasting from Dawn to Dusk. One of the key events during one’s fast is the Iftar, which is the breaking of the fast at the moment of Sunset. The Iftar is often a celebrated time every evening with households trying to dish out their best dishes to be savoured after about 14 hours of fasting. And for those who would like to indulge out of their homes, this is the perfect time with restaurants all over Chennai having Iftar Specials.

A trend that is catching up over the last few years across Chennai is with many 5 star properties curating their own Iftar menu. The latest to catch the bandwagon is a restaurant from one of the jewels of Chennai, the ITC Grand Chola. 


The Iftar Menu is served at Café Mercara Express, the coffee shop at ITC Grand Chola. In my opinion, Café Mercara Express seems to be the idealistic choice as the décor reflects a lot of middle eastern touches albeit not being designed to look like a middle eastern restaurant. The subtle lighting also provides the perfect ambiance to reflect back on the true intention of the entire fasting and the importance of this Holy Month.


As is customary, the Iftar starts with some Dates fruit. Dates is a fruit that looks appetizing enough in its natural form, then how do you make it more elegant? The Chefs wowed me by topping each of the dates with some edible gold leaf. This was just out of the box and was quite unexpected. To quench the thirst, a concoction of Sherbet and Roohafza was poured into a magical looking glass. The drink had both the richness to fill the tummy while at the same time the freshness to wake up your senses after a tiring fast. I just couldn’t get enough of the drink as I kept asking for more and more servings, which the waiting staff obliged with a big heart. To prepare the body for a more indulging meal that was to follow, a platter of assorted fruits aesthetically cut were brought to the table.
(Gold Leaf topped Dates)
(Sherbet Drink)
(Assorted Platter of Fruits)
With the fast being broke and the body getting the much need refreshments, I took a small break to complete my prayers before the next course of the Iftar was served. Gosh, that break really helped me to whole heartedly relish the dishes that followed. First up was the famous Hyderabadi Haleem that has now become completely associated with fasting in Chennai. While Haleem is usually available in most of the stand-alone restaurants, it being served in a 5-star property is the first I’m hearing of. This is mainly due to the process that goes in making it as a lot of physical work is involved in breaking down the lentils and mutton. So I was quite sceptical when it was served because a Haleem has to be perfect in many sense especially the spice and texture. 
(Hyderabadi Haleem)
After garnishing the bowl of Haleem with the regular condiments, the first spoon sealed my opinion. There was no need to give work to my taste buds as this was clearly by far the best Haleem I’ve ever tasted in my life. Yup, I’m sorry to say but honestly I felt this to be much better than the original ones from the streets surrounding Charminar. I just couldn’t stop wiping the bowl down and was even prepared to ask for a second serving. But I wanted to hold back as I was keen on what the other dishes were.

The Haleem was followed by another phenomenal dish, the Classical Gosht NIhari. Served along side a bread of your choice, the Nihari was fantabulous as the spice levels were perfectly matched to a palate of a person who just opened his fast. Not too spicy or choked with Masala but just enough to have a good hit of the flavour. The mutton on the other hand was falling out of the bone and was absolutely stunning. The curry was so Yumm that I resorted to spooning the remaining curry as I didn’t want to gorge on more breads.
(Gosht Nihari)
With such richness in the dishes, I was wondering on how the next dish is going to turn out. Well the next up was indeed the King of Rice dishes, our own Mutton Biryani. Although I’ve had biryani’s before for Iftar, for once it was always least preferred by me because the spice levels tend to be a little harsh on the system after the fast. But that was not the case this evening. The Chefs were precautious to this fact and balanced the biryani in a way that is completely spot on for the system. With absolutely zero oil and a very refreshing aroma of the spices, the biryani was in one word, Perfect. I was so engrossed in savouring the Biryani that I didn’t even bother to click it. That’s how delectably it was cooked.
With a full and content stomach, we moved on to desserts. A known fact is that gorging on huge amounts of sugar is ideally not good for the system after such a big break. Taking this into account, the dessert on the menu was a simple Phirni. A scrumptious way to end the Iftar, desirable yet content. To give my honest verdict in a single sentence, this is by far the best Iftar I’ve ever had outside in a restaurant.


Keeping in line with the 5-star standards, the Iftar is priced at Rs. 1250 plus taxes with all the dishes served as a square meal. The square meal by itself is completely filling however if you would like to indulge in any of the dishes more, they would be more than glad to serve them again.


Café Mercara Express is located at the Ground floor of the iconic ITC Grand Chola in Guindy. The Iftar special is available everyday till the end of the Holy Month of Ramadhan which is around the 7th of July. The best part is its just not available at the time of Iftar but is available all through the evening from 6pm till 4am, which is the time of Suhoor (the Pre-Dawn Meal before the fasting begins again).

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