The name conjures up the vision of a medieval Arabic story, and its indeed a restaurant that (also) serves Arabic cuisine. And just like the treasure, it makes itself very hard to find. Since we knew the rough location, we asked around until we reached there. Here’s a map for you. When coming from Coles road on Mosque road, take a left at the junction where Mosque Road meets MM Road (immediately after Empire Hotel). Then, Alibaba is at the corner of the first road to the left, on the first floor. The Charminar Kabab Centre opposite it is easier to notice. Parking is not much of a problem.
We got there late, well after 8, and were worried that we wouldn’t find a place. But the place started filling up only around 9. Its dimly lit, but the decor has a certain charm that deserves a special mention. There are red curtains, lots of dark wood – right from the main door, sheeshas, and Moroccan lamps. I read somewhere that the seating capacity is exactly 40, and that some of the furniture pieces are actually renovated bits and pieces from Navayathi furniture, including window frames, wooden chests and sewing machines! The seating is quite comfortable, but try not to take the stools without a backrest. Or maybe I was just wondering what exactly I was sitting on
Alibaba serves Bhatkali, Arabian and Persian cuisines. The link to the menu is right here. But that really doesn’t do justice to the extremely unique menu ‘card’. Its a bit like holding history in your hands, literally. Click on it, and read it, before you start reading the actual menu. It will tell you about Bhatkal, the Navayaths, their culture, their dialect and the evolution of their cuisine. Its not as though as i require a special reason to like food, but I’ve always liked the idea of giving a historical and cultural context to the food quite fascinating.
What it also does, is add to the desire of trying out as many samples as is possible from the different cuisines that makes up the fusion. With limited numbers – two to be precise, that is quite a difficult task. But try we did.
We chose the Joo soup, “Chicken cubes, carrot, oats, garnished with parsley”, from the Persian cuisine. Little did we know that it was an old acquaintance. I not-so-fondly remembered the ‘sambar’ from Sufi – Soup-e-Jo! We also missed the chicken cubes. Not really a great start, but we’d traveled quite a bit to get here and refused to be easily let down.
Next up was the Alibaba Special kebab “Chef’s special grilled chunks of boneless chicken and lamb”. That took quite a while and after a lot of fidgeting, we were told that it would be delayed. We were worried whether this was turning into a Arabian-Persian tragedy, but thankfully we got the chicken skewer in a couple of minutes. Very succulent stuff, but we were left to wonder whether the lamb had met with some alternate unfortunate fate. But just as we were about to enquire, the lamb skewer arrived. The vegetables in this were a bit burnt, but really, who cared, because the lamb was fine. Actually very good. Usually, this is served together, but apparently the lamb takes a while longer than the chicken to be convinced, so be prepared to wait a bit if you’re ordering this. The dish is a bit on the bland side, but tasty enough to give a try. If you’re a larger group, it might be a good idea to order other kababs too while you’re waiting for it, ones that will require less time. The service is very helpful and will help you with the choices.
We decided to start the main course with Bhatkali cuisine – the Sharwa Maas, “Chicken/Mutton pieces cooked with authentic green chilli masala”. We chose the chicken version after a longish debate on whether to go for the Sharwa Maas or the Laun Miriya Maas (the red chilli version). Glad that we did. If you like spicy food, this dish is a must have. Its really tasty and while the green chilli masala does make a solid presence, it actually goes well beyond that and makes an excellent combination with the Gawa Poli, “Traditional Bhatkally Roti prepared with Wheat”. Actually the khubus too, which we’d ordered just to check it out.
Up next was the Dajaj Machboos, “Middle Eastern Spiced Chicken served with Basmati Rice”. We asked for a half plate, but the guy who took our order told us that it would be too much and suggested two small portions. It turned out strange because the two ‘portions’ cost us more than the half plate (?!) But that doesn’t take away from the awesome rice. The masala was good too, and not really greasy, just like the rice, but it preferred the rice’ company over the chicken. Well, so long as we’re having it all together. D quite liked the tomato chutney provided with the dish, but i still hadn’t gotten over the earlier chicken dish. I think it’ll go with anything, it was that good!!!!
I was quite stuffed, but the desserts section did a mind-over-matter trick and I ordered a Shaufa Pana Pudding, “An exotic Bhatkali Pudding flavoured with Dil leaf Syrup”. The greenish color did scare me a little, but that vanished as soon as i tasted it. Excellent pudding with a very unique flavour, almost like a subtle mouth freshener. Must try.
Meanwhile D ordered a Saudi Champagne, which is a mocktail made mostly of apple soda, but with a twist of lime. It also has tiny apple bits floating on top. from the little I was allowed to have, great stuff.
All of the above cost us, including a 5% service charge, just over Rs.900. The service is quite good, and helpful, despite a few communication lapses. This place is a must visit, for a distinctly unique cuisine, decor and value-for-money fare that won’t cost you a treasure.
Alibaba, #69, 1st Floor, MM Road, Frazer Town Ph:40917163
PS. This week, the blog takes a break
Menu and Photos at Zomato