New Delhi, India
March 11, 2013
So my husband ate lunch at HACT, and liked it enough to want to introduce me to it too. We visited it one weekend for lunch. This is an informal place, very similar in style to KFC or Pizza Hut or other fast food stores. Plate glass separates the restaurant from the street outside. Inside, it’s all mostly white, with lots of panels covered with colourful, well-drawn (but not very funny) cartoons, mostly about India and its foibles. There is seating on both the ground floor and the first, with plain white tables, backless cushioned stools, and some sofas. The day we chose happened to coincide with a birthday party (you can book the space upstairs for dos like this), so all diners who weren’t part of the guest list had no option but to sit downstairs. We seated ourselves at a table, and (in a departure from the usual), were handed menus by a waiter, even though we were expected to go and place our orders at the counter.
HACT’s menu reads like an interesting cross between the typical kebab joint and an Indianised version of KFC. There are the usual suspects: the chicken tikka, paneer tikka, tandoori chicken, butter chicken, vegetarian shammi kebab and chicken seekh, but there are also some unusual items—peanut and tamarind chicken wings, Bengali mustard tangris (chicken legs), mustard chilli wings, and chutney murgh tikka. These are available by themselves, or as part of wraps, burgers, meals (with rice or roomali rotis). There are also sides—mixed salads, masala fries, daal makhani, and soft beverages, both aerated and not.
We decided to order a portion of adrak mattar ki tikki (fried ‘cakes’ made of mashed peas with ginger); a portion of peanut and tamarind wings; one two-leg portion of Bengali mustard chicken legs (an 8-piece bucket is also available; almost all items on the menu are available in different portion sizes). With that, we asked for a mixed salad—which the order-taker told my husband would come in a small bowl, about 3" across, so my husband ordered one each—and an iced tea each. He was told that the food would be served at our table.
Sure enough, within about five minutes, a waiter arrived with the iced tea (in plastic glasses), the adrak mattar ki tikki and the peanut and tamarind wings, served in stiff paper baskets. The salad didn’t arrive till after we’d sat around for another five minutes, and even then, only when my husband reminded the waiter that we were still waiting for it. The Bengali mustard tangris came a little after the rest of the food had arrived, and with it came a free roomali roti.
I don’t usually eat vegetarian food when I’m at a kebab place, but the adrak mattar ki tikki was really nice: crisp on the outside, soft and full of the flavour of fresh peas on the inside. If you adore ginger, you’d probably find this disappointing, because I really couldn’t taste any ginger in it, but that didn’t stop me from loving it.
I’d been expecting something along the lines of a chicken satay when it came to the peanut and tamarind wings, but this turned out to be quite different: the wings had been marinated in a lightly tangy tamarind marinade, and then rolled in coarsely crushed peanuts when being cooked. They were delicious, crunchy and tender—though my husband said that the first time he’d eaten at HACT, the same dish had far more zing; consistency, it seems, isn’t their strong point.
The ‘mixed salad’ was a disappointment: chunks of rather fibrous and dry carrot, tomatoes and cucumbers, tossed with salt and chaat masala, and not at all nice unless you perhaps were eating it with rice or rotis, daal and kebabs. With just the kebabs, its flavour was intrusive (and we’d been mislead about the portion size: the salad bowls were so large, two people could easily have shared one—we ended up unable to finish the salad).
The Bengali mustard tangri was what I’d been really looking forward to, since I love mustard the way the Bengalis use it (the shoot-up-your-nose variety!). This was a little disappointing in that respect, because there wasn’t enough mustard, and the chicken legs had been cooked just a little too much.
We realised midway through our meal that we might like to have some more, so we ordered a six-piece portion of ajwaini fingers: fish fingers, marinated with ajwain (bishop’s weed) seeds and spices. These were great, made from very fresh fish, and with just the right hint of ajwain—enough to not be overpowering.
So, by and large, we had a good experience. True, my husband didn’t care for the mint chutney (which—by texture and taste—seemed to have been mixed with mayo rather than the usual yoghurt), but I liked it. And, true, the loud and irritating music got on our nerves very quickly—but that was because of the party; the hosts were obviously not interested in being considerate to other diners.
On the other hand, the service staff were generally helpful (and apologetic for the loud music), and the kebabs were a refreshing change from the usual. We paid a total of Rs 710 (including an extra iced tea) for our meal, inclusive of VAT.
From journal Kabab Town: Finding Delhi's Best Kababs