When I first visited Bangalore (now officially known as Bengaluru) in 2001, it was a city noted for three things: its mild climate, helped by being 949m above sea level, its burgeoning computer-related industries – India’s “Silicon Valley” – and its thriving “pub culture”.
Since then, it has doubled in size, from about 4.5m people to more than 10m, but its parks and gardens remain, as does Russell Market, where Bangaloreans shop daily for fruit, veg, fish and meat. Yogen Datta, executive chef of the ITC Gardenia hotel, gave me a tour, pointing out various exotica: banana peppers, cooked with peanut and tamarind to make mirchi ka salan; pearl-spot fish, a Keralan delicacy often grilled in banana leaf; and amla, plump gooseberries for pickling with salt, oil and spices.
He then took me for lunch at the splendidly shabby, woody, atmospheric Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, opened in 1924. We were served MTR’s classic Brahmin vegetarian specialities: puris (fried unleavened breads) with chutney and spiced potato curry (sagu); curd vadai, spongy, yoghurt-soaked savoury doughnuts; and foaming cups of local coffee. No trip to Bangalore would be complete without eating here – they have plans for a London outpost too.
Datta’s own restaurant – K&K (pictured), a smart dining room with an open kitchen in the Gardenia hotel – also serves splendid vegetarian food, but I was in the mood for something meatier, for which the fierce heat of the tandoor was amply suited. Murgh angaar, for instance: chicken marinated in ginger, garlic, onion juice, methi (fenugreek leaves) and chilli, grilled until smokily aromatic; kakoori kebab, the Mughal speciality of painstakingly finely minced lamb, warmly spiced, then moulded around a skewer; lamb chops, gloriously scented with herbs and green chilli, grilled, then doused in lemon juice; and the wickedly rich dal bukhara, black lentils simmered with ginger, garlic and tomatoes, then anointed liberally with butter.
K&K is popular not just with visiting businessmen, but with the new Bangalorean middle class, as was evident at dinner. It serves a variety of classic dishes with aplomb and there is even a very decent wine list.
The “pub culture” on my last visit to the city seemed restricted to a few hotel bars; now, though, they are everywhere. One, called Church Street Social, features bare bricks, exposed ducting and a huge range of cocktails.
I might have been in Shoreditch were it not for the crowd cheering the cricket on a huge screen: in India, I am glad to say, some things will never change.