As much as I love my kebabs, I find it rather difficult to just walk around the streets of Old Delhi and pop the ones that seem interesting. Sometimes I feel that the meat is suspect, or maybe it's just in my head.
But here's the thing, when you find a place that can match both taste and quality, then you know you've hit home run. Al Karam is something like that. It's a place where the palate meets hygiene meets authenticity. It's a place that you just have to go.
I must warn you though, if you're planning on visiting their SatyaNiketan outlet, you have to pass a rather disgusting and smelly dumpster which can put a damper on your mood. But worry not, once you've made it past the garbage dump and into the tiny eatery, you're going to be just fine.
The balmy Monday night that we visited, we'd expected the place to be nearly empty. How wrong could we be though! For the hour we spent there, we'd seen the restaurant fill up three times over, which was quite fantastic.
The awesome thing about Al-Karam is that it allows you to order half and even quarter plates. Which means you can actually try a whole lot of food in a matter of a few hours.
We started our meal with the Roasted chicken, which is an Al-Karam speciality. Drenched in butter, the chicken was absolutely melt in the mouth. It had a beautifully well-rounded mouth-feel which the cardamom only enhanced. What a cracker of a start!
The Gilafi Kebab was up next. Not my favourite since I actually really love the Seekh and Kakori, and this was neither. The meat was a lot more coarse and the flavours slightly lost in the yogurt sauce that been poured atop. This was followed by the Chicken Methi Tikka, a chicken tikka that was encompassed with yogurt and dried Kasoori methi. I found this very interesting, since it had a very unique aftertaste, almost bitter-sweet.
As the Roast Quail made it's way to our table, all we could do was marvel at its plumpness. For a game bird that's hardly got any meat on it, the quail here was robust and juicy and bursting with flavours. I loved the undertones of the cumin that made it taste so much more earthy.
But the piece de resistance was yet to come. Since I wasn't such a big fan of the duck, I was rather skeptical about it being a part of my meal. I really shouldn't have been. The Roasted Duck was just spectacular. Marinated in orange juice and Indian spices, the duck was so flavourful that you couldn't stop at just one bite. The jus that it ran made for a very tasty dip. And unlike Indian-style ducks that can get rather chewy this was so succulent. My only complaint would be that I wish it was served in all its glory, but I get it, maybe us Indians are just too lazy to carve.
Ofcourse, several might argue what a duck is doing on the menu of a restaurant that is trying to keep traditions alive, my argument is thus - game meats were very popular in the Mughal period while the British Raj ensured that shooting ducks became a past time - then why should duck not be a part of something that's calle Purani Dilli?
As we moved to our main course, we opted to eat the Haleem and the Nihari. This is not your average Hyderabadi Haleem, this is more of a Khichada, and as rich as it may be, I thought the accompaniments were a bit skimped on. I mean, who doesn't want an extra side of fried onions with their Haleem. Favour-wise, I felt that it could been a lot more in terms of the spices (not heat).
Nihari though was very nice. Contrary to popular belief Al-Karam's Nihari was a lot lighter and wasn't greasy on the palate, a win for them. And it paired beautifully with the Khameeri Roti.
The Chicken Stew was the last of our mains. And sadly the most missable of the lot too. It lacked that sweetness from the onions and was more on the sour side. Considering this is one of our all-time favourites, this was certainly did not make the mark.
Stuffed to the gills, we made our way to the dessert - Shahi Tukra and Karachi Halwa. The Shahi Tukra missed the bus completely. It was a soggy mess that, frankly, should not have been served at all. And while the restaurant says that this dessert will get better by the winter, as they will be able to get a halwai to make this sweet live for them, a reprise will then have to be made.
The Karachi Halwa which is one of my favourite and (perhaps one of two Indian sweets that I like) was lovely. Chockful of nuts, the chewy jelly-like texture seemed to be having a party in my mouth.
All in all, even though the food is rich at Al-Karam, it's a place that deserves the accolades its been getting. I'm going to go back, but only in the winter.