The outdoor seating area at Imlie Tavern
Sarai means a traveller’s lodge, a place to slow down and take a breath. When Zain Rahimtula and his wife Rama Rahimtula wanted to start a restaurant, they wanted to offer an atmosphere that was laid-back. Everyone in his house and friends always used to go to sit under the shade of two old tamarind trees on his property. So, he decided that his restaurant would be under the trees and would be called Imli Sarai.
Rightly so, Imli Sarai at Ashiana Function Hall in Banjara Hills has been able to grab the attention of its diners from the very beginning. The open air seating arrangement is like sitting on one’s lawn. It’s simple with white painted wrought iron chairs and tables with garden umbrellas for shade. Given the cover that tamarind trees provide, most diners don’t bother to check out indoor seating.
Zain is a trained chef who was sure that he would serve the best of modern European and Indian food in the bistro setting that he has been trained for. Imli Sarai is his first project as a restaurateur. The menu, curated by Jain, is simple. It lists mostly Italian food. Admission options are limited. No finger foods, no fried items. The choice is between Kale Salad with Chickpeas, Roasted Seeds and Roasted Seeds with Tahini Lemon Dressing. Another option is a Nicoise-style salad with toppings: classic tuna, duck confit and avocado fan.
Zain obtained his bachelor’s degree in Development Studies and joined Swaraj University, following which he developed an interest in development/social issues as well as food and ecology. “My main interest is in the cuisine and its imports compared to the local culture and ecology. How can we invent and promote a cuisine that supports the Earth and the people/communities living in different ecosystems? What is the cuisine of the future – one that is balanced, sustainable and delicious?”
Kale Salad, Chickpeas, Feta Salad
Having trained and worked with chef Ritu Dalmia, Zain is particularly concerned about how the food at his restaurant is received by diners. Their staff walks through dinner selections before proceeding to place an order.
The main course selection in the restaurant is well thought out and is not a collection of all kinds of dishes. It is a choice between duck, lamb, mackerel and lamb cheeseburger. Vegetarians have the option of choosing between a choice of fettuccine pasta, black bean and feta burgers and pizzas.
Four Cheese Pizza
There is also a pasta section.
After the Nicoise Style Salad, I chose Crispy Duck Breast with Potato Salad and Braised Lamb Shanks. Zain suggested trying the four-cheese pizza.
Where: Ashiana Function Hall, Banjara Hills, Road No. 1, Opposite Hotel Taj Krishna,
Table for two: ₹1200 approx
Serves: Serves Italian specialties, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. no vegetarian
The salad was particularly meal-like as I opted for a topping of duck confit. Again this is not a hurried bowl of greens with some cherry tomatoes thrown in. I went for the second round of duck with the main course as it came with potato salad. The food here is not for those who like biryani and spicy curries. Nor is this the place to think about kebabs and fish fry.
Imli Sarai is a paradise for those who love to be amidst nature. When it comes to food, it is strictly for diners whose palates are used to European flavours. Of the three desserts on the menu, I had the Tarte Tatin: Caramelized Apple Tart with Vanilla Sauce.