Monday through Friday, it's hard to get a table at Terracotta. On weekends, the pressure eases just a little, mainly because Bangaloreans head out of town. Set in the ultra-modern Vivanta by Taj, Whitefield and cheek by jowl with the International Tech Park Bangalore, a city landmark, the hotel is conceived around 'stone, glass and sky'. Terracotta is casually elegant, uncluttered, with a smart, open kitchen, well-spaced tables and a large clay oven that dominates one corner.
The first thing that strikes you, on every visit, is that most tables are occupied with diners from Bangalore's large expatriate community. Is this going to be a watered down version of Indian food, you wonder the first time. And then, there's the choice of cuisine - predominantly North-West Frontier, which appears to have lost some of its cachet of late. Terracotta quickly brushes aside all doubts, and springs a few surprises with lightly spiced, elegantly presented classics, and the occasional, unselfconscious innovation.
Executive Chef, Arzooman Irani, who arrived shortly after the restaurant had been set up, and has steered it through the last four years, explains that the dishes have been drawn from the cuisines of Sindh, Lahore, Peshawar and a few from Lucknow. Recipes, he says, are authentic, with a light, modern touch, and their specialty is clay-baked meat and vegetables that require 24 hours notice for preparation. Lightly marinated meats and vegetables are cooked in unglazed clay, at low temperatures, sealing in moisture and flavour. And this, possibly, explains part of the enormous popularity of this restaurant, where regular diners are reluctant to allow any changes in the menu.
Ordering wine to drink with your food is a pleasurable experience here - Terracotta's wine list, while not extensive, has 70 choices of red, white, rosé, sparkling wine and champagne presented on a tablet, a real advantage, as any labels that are unavailable or sold out are indicated clearly, making the process of selection quick and easy. About 24 wines are also sold by the glass, and regions, varietals and vintages are fairly well represented.
The food is almost always excellent. The Clay-baked Leg of Baby Lamb, for instance, is a signature dish. Slow-cooked for about six-and-a-half hours, it emerges encased in a thin crust of baked dough that you can break off and eat with the perfectly tender, lightly spiced meat. Meat eaters have a wide choice, including Potli Tangdi Kebab, a ballotine of chicken; Gosht Tandrook, lamb shanks sealed and cooked in a clay pot or Chargrilled Filets of Fish. The vegetarian selection, often the downfall of many good restaurants, apart from a nod at the ubiquitous paneer, offers an absolutely fresh and delicious Vilayati Subzi Khass, julienned vegetables in a gravy of cashew nuts, onions and saffron; juicy Tandoori Apricots; Bharwan Mushrooms, stuffed with dry fruits, bell peppers and cheese and Shakarkandi Kebabs, skewers of sweet potato, with a brunoise of vegetables, sesame and dry fruits. Spice shots of saffron and cardamom refresh the palate between courses. Pumpkin Shorba, or Murgh Narangi Shorba, flavoured with mint and orange peel, make it possible to dine very lightly, if one wishes. Rose Petal and Vanilla Ice Cream, and a subtle Garlic Kheer are some of the perennial favourites here.
Chef Irani, who trained in Australia, Baltimore and Switzerland, also comes up with creations like Grilled Chicken Breast with Pomegranate Vinaigrette, or the New Zealand Lamb Chops in Indian Spices. He has a supporting cast of motivated young chefs and, in addition, the skills of Anwar Ali Ansari, a multi-generation chef from Lucknow, who bring a special finesse to the food at Terracotta.
Shades of Terracotta appeared in Vol 9:Issue 3, June-July 2014, Sommelier India Magazine.
Image Credits: Chef Arzooman Irani