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Does The Mughal Court at Avari Lahore truly live up to royal standards?

The Lakhnavi has renamed, reinvented and relaunched itself as a fine dining restaurant with a modern take on the Mughal era and I got to try it out.
Published 12 Jan, 2023 12:00pm

As you walk through the arched entrance, you’re greeted by smiling staff members, a whiff of roses wafting through the air and music from the classic Indian film Pakeezah almost whispering in the background. This is The Mughal Court, one of the restaurants at Avari Hotel on The Mall, Lahore. Formerly popular as Lakhnavi, the eatery had fallen prey to the Covid-induced economic crunch as did hundreds of businesses across the world. However, the management decided to reinvent, rename and relaunch it, and it reopened its doors once again a few weeks ago.

A fine dining restaurant, it reflects a modern take on the Mughal era through various elements — from the interior and names of the dishes to the servers’ wardrobe, the engraved copper utensils to the welcome gestures and the music — all lending legitimacy to the theme. The interior is minimalistic and very formal with a generous use of wood, a lot of arches to hark back to the Mughal era, sofas and tables organised across the marbled space, a large glass window overlooking the kitchen where chefs twiddle with BBQ skewers, and a large fountain flowing outside.

As soon as you’re seated, servers clad in burnt orange prince coats fill up your copper glasses with water from a traditional narrow-necked pitcher, while another offers to help wash your hands into a large bowl of rose water. The menu, containing dishes inspired by the royal kitchens — more BBQ, tandoor and dum-cooked items and fewer gravies — has been carefully curated by the executive chef who travelled to New Delhi, India to learn how to strike the right balance between spices to produce the kind of food the Mughals enjoyed.

The first thing on the table is a basket of Missi Roti as a starter. This tandoori besan roti with onion and green chilli kneaded in is slightly crispy on the edges and soft in the centre, served with imli and green chutneys and pickled veggies on the side. Make sure not to stuff yourself with these mouth-watering pieces of bread and leave some space for the rest of the meal!

The Murgh-o-Badam Soup is a lightly flavoured broth with chicken stock cooked in almond paste, fitting for the chilly Lahori winter.

Up next is the BBQ platter with a medley of kababs, tikkas, chops and prawns. The half mutton half beef Sangam Kabab is spicy, tangy and ever so tender that it melts in the mouth. Equally soft is the spicy, flavour bomb Kasturi Kabab, while the barbecued Tandoori Jheenga is cooked well and has an interesting little char to it. The Fish Tikka is light and spicy, but make sure you devour it as soon as it arrives or it starts to get tough and is anything but enjoyable. One of the highlights of the platter is the mutton chops that are juicy, spicy, tender and bursting with flavour as soon as you sink your teeth into them.

For pulao fans, the Bukhara Mutton Pulao is a treat. Topped with crispy fried onions, this plate of well-cooked rice contains a generous amount of flavourful mutton chunks that just fall apart as soon as you drive your utensil through them. And you know it’s come straight out of the pot when you’re engulfed by the aroma of the stock the rice is cooked in.

Next is the aromatic Roghan Josh — a staple in the Kashmir region where it is said to have been introduced by the Mughals. Braised mutton shins cooked on slow heat for hours in caramelised onions and yogurt gravy, flavoured with Kashmiri chilli and saffron are waiting to jump out of a pot of thick mildly flavoured soup with hints of sweetness — probably from the onion. The juicy meat is so tender and cooked so well that it instantly melts off the bone.

This classic comfort food tastes divine when The Mughal Court’s very own ‘royal’ Qandhari Naan — fresh out of the tandoor and sprinkled with pistachio, almonds and raisins — is dipped into the gravy and a bit scooped out.

I had some expectations from the Daal Mash, but it turned out to be a bit disappointing. Despite supposedly being cooked with Kashmiri chilli, turmeric, butter, garlic, ginger and onion, and garnished with green chilli and julienned ginger, it lacked flavour or any punch — it had a very basic, homely vibe to it, but then even at home there’s some spice that makes daal pop.

The culmination of this hearty ‘Mughal’ meal is the Lab-e-Maashooq — covered with a golden mesh, a little clay pot that carries a smooth rabri and kulfi chunk with clear hints of saffron. Overall, a very balanced, not too sweet, refreshing dessert to complement the food.

The Mughal Court may not be easy on the pocket for sure, but definitely is on the stomach despite the richness and the many meat options on the menu — light, subtle flavours, restrained with oil. The spices are balanced in such a way that the food is neither bland nor over-spiced, unless a particular recipe requires — which is as reflective of the royal cuisine as truly as possible. What’s conspicuous is how tender and juicy the meat remains and retains its flavour in any kind of dish, curry or BBQ.

We often tend to categorise all traditional fare as desi or Pakistani, but this is neither — it is Mughlai and has its own characteristics. Most of the spices used may be the same as found in every household, but it’s their combinations that make this cuisine discernible.