Lounge review: Grill 99, Bengaluru
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Sometime ago, there was consternation among the city’s cognoscenti over the imminent departure of Anupam Banerjee, executive chef of the Ritz-Carlton. Under his watch, the hotel’s various restaurants—Chinese, Indian and a multi-cuisine coffee shop—had achieved a certain popularity but lucky diners swore by his bespoke meals. Then, suddenly, the rumour mill ground to a halt: Banerjee was not only staying but putting his signature to a new restaurant. Now, one isn’t sure if the two are connected—after all, a new eatery is usually months, if not years, in the making—but Bengaluru obviously got lucky: It retained not only the chef but acquired a new restaurant specializing in grills.
The good stuff
The Grill 99 menu is classic Banerjee: A slim compendium of only the best meats and fish (or close to it) that the world has to offer (when you call for a reservation, you are politely informed that this is the focus). The salmon comes from Norway, the lamb chops from New Zealand, the beef from US Angus cattle, the sea bass from the waters off Kochi.
But I should go back to the beginning: to the Appetizers and Soups, to be precise. Or even earlier because the soft, buttery, Parker House rolls that arrive at the table first thing are dangerously more-ish, studded with sea salt crystals and served with a fresh tomato salsa. The first hunger pangs thus taken care of, it’s a toss-up between soups, salads and smoked salmon. The Grilled Scallop Salad (Rs1,200), three beautifully seared scallops with an apple salsa and caramelized cauliflower, and just a hint of an aged balsamic, was full-on umami: Even as it slides down the throat, you know it’s going to be a beautiful memory. The Smoked Salmon (Rs1,100) is a no brainer in comparison: Served with slivers of onions, halved cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of capers and cream cheese, it can do no wrong. The soups, on the other hand, are a bit of a mixed bag: The first time round, they were served lukewarm. The second time, they came piping hot but we felt both the Pumpkin and Rosemary Soup and the Heirloom Tomato and Garlic Soup could have been elevated immensely with textural crisp-fried bacon and croutons, respectively.
There’s no doubt though that this section is only the opening act. On our first visit (when we suspect Banerjee himself was at the grill), we asked for a Rib-Eye (Rs3,500) done rare, another done medium-rare, lamb chops and the sea bass. Despite some initial confusion over the orders, the steaks were impeccable: Perfectly seared on the outside (oh, those grill marks) and degrees of juicy pink inside. My Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chops (Rs2,100) were some of the best I’ve ever had, well marinated, properly Frenched, cooked to the specified doneness and adequately rested. The sea bass (Rs1,200), a tricky thick chunk, too, gave no room for complaints.
On our second visit, when we were the only guests on a Sunday night, the food was a notch less impressive. My co-diner’s Tenderloin (Rs3,200) was just over the desired medium-rare while my slab of Norwegian King Salmon (Rs1,500) was salvaged by the crisp, succulent skin.
The meats and fish come with a choice of accompaniments and sauces. The sauces were clearly redundant the first evening: The meat and fish were juicy enough on their own. At the second meal, the butter-fennel sauce didn’t add much to my salmon and the pepper sauce—to go with the tenderloin—tasted more of red wine than pepper. The sides though were excellent both times, especially the mashed potato with a generous dose of truffle oil, the creamed spinach, the sautéed mushroom and braised red cabbage.
In the desserts, we found the Caramel Choux Buns (Rs450)—four light pastry shells stuffed with a slightly salty caramel—far superior to the dense, chocolatey signature brownie (Rs450).
In a menu so spare, pork seems to be a bad miss. Also, the very minimalism of the menu makes the inconsistencies between the two meals pretty much unforgivable.
Other than that, our complaints had to do with the setting of the meal (and also the hopelessly dated name). Get out of the lift and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into the spa: It occupies much of the fifth floor and the heavy aromas of oils and candles envelop you as you look for the restaurant. It’s located by the rooftop pool, with tables nestled inside cabanas, separated by ornamental palm and bamboo. Even in the balmy Bengaluru evenings, warm clothes are essential, but they offer no protection against mosquitoes, or against the rapid cooling of the food. Our patience was further tested when the power went off and a giant generator kicked into life somewhere close by. Overpowering diesel fumes wafted into the area and clung to our clothes and hair long after we’d digested our dinner.
A meal for two, with two soups, two grilled mains and a dessert, cost us Rs7,471. The restaurant serves wines (glasses from Rs1,000) but beers, liquors and soft drinks are available on request.
Grill 99, fifth floor, The Ritz-Carlton, 99 Residency Road, Bengaluru 560025. Call 7829988086 for reservations. Open only for dinner, from 7-11pm.