Apparently there are two things that one must do in Agra; visit the Taj and eat at Pinch of Spice. I was dying to try out the place since there hardly seem to be any high quality local restaurants in Agra. The best are in the five star properties apparently – which, hopefully, I should go through one by one soon!
I was surprised to find on arriving at the Sanjay Place outlet that there was a 45-minute waiting. As we stood on the steps trying to decided our next course of action we were elbowed aside by an enterprising Anutyji, with a brace of malevolent chickens in tow, who tried to wrangle a table for ten with the disinterested maître d’ – Aaise kaise, kuch karo na…
Change of plans
We called up the Fatehbad Road outlet to find that if we could get there in fifteen minutes we could have a table. Not sure if they were just testing our resolve or this was a classic ‘pandhra minute mein hojayega’ we zoomed off through the Sunday night traffic towards the Taj.
Thankfully there was a table waiting for us and we settled down in a plush lounge style corner and called for drinkies: Bloody Mary and Tequila Sunrise. The wife had been here before and really liked their Fried Promfret so we wanted to have that and I wanted to sample their Galouti Kebabs. Sadly both were unavailable and we settled for Mutton Seekh Kebabs and Fried Chili Basa accompanied with some Butter Garlic and Cheese stuffed Naans.
The restaurant itself is pretty big, must have about 40 tables, and there was a mixed crowd of families, couples and tourists. The atmosphere was quite relaxed and some were deeply invested in the IPL match being shown on the several LCDs throughout the restaurant. People were closing their Sundays with chilled drinks and kebabs and it felt good to be there.
The servers are quite prompt but with the patent Agra brusqueness. The drinks were well mixed, not spectacular but satisfying. I scooped out most of the generous sprinkling of pepper on my Mary.
The Seekh Kebab cometh
The food arrived. We photographed. We tasted. We understood.
Restaurants are driven by their word-of-mouth referrals. Some get complacent and start serving drivel knowing well that a lot of their traffic is going to be one-time visitors in a tourist town. SO these local institutions churn out volume which will never live up to their legendary taste. I am happy to report Pinch of Spice is not one of them.
Good Seekh Kebabs are hard to find let alone great ones. These were really good. Big, chunky without being mushy and flavourful without being over spiced and just rightly grilled without being dry. With the tangy pickled onions and the mint chutneys this is game-set-match.
Coming from the other end of the spectrum the Fried Chili Basa was tangy and spicy. It was like elevated street food. The peppers and onion were crisp and it was a really good stir-fry.
The Naans were the perfect balance of crispness and softness. You can really tell how good a restaurant is by the way they treat their Naans. These came from a good home with a generous dousing of white butter.
And we did not stop there. The wife suggested that I try the Gulaab Jamuns and I didn’t really need any convincing. They turned out to be wonderfully soft and perfectly balanced with a little raisin at the center instead of the usual elaichi. These are must-haves in case you do go visiting.
We will be definitely returning to sample some more of Pinch of Spice – it’s renown is well deserved!