Hotel coffee shops, I’ve learned from experience, are often not the best places to go to if you want a taste of the local cuisine of a city. In India, especially, most coffee shops tend to serve up pretty much the same mix of Punjabi-Mughlai food, sandwiches, burgers, salads and the like. I tend, therefore, to steer clear of coffee shops if I can.
After a day’s hectic sightseeing (including two of Hyderabad’s biggest tourist sights, the Golconda Fort and the Qutb Shahi Tombs), we were too pooped to step out of our hotel and go restaurant-searching. Looking through the room service menu at Lemon Tree Premier, however, we found an enticing selection of local Andhra and Hyderabadi dishes. On phoning to find out if we could eat these at any of the hotel’s restaurants, we were informed that yes, they were available at Citrus, Lemon Tree Premier’s coffee shop. So, for dinner, we went down to Citrus.
Citrus, at lobby level, is a large, high-ceilinged hall with large windows down one side which let in lots of natural light. This is an obviously informal dining space, with artificial plants, and with placemats printed with jokes and cartoons. It is also the area where the daily breakfast buffet is laid out (and which, we discovered over three days, is best for its South Indian dishes).
The bakery section, by the way, isn’t Citrus’s forte: every muffin and doughnut and piece of cake we had here was dry and stodgy.
The à la carte menu at Citrus encompasses a range of dishes and cuisines, all the way from club sandwiches to grilled chicken, pasta to Oriental dishes, North Indian staples like roganjosh to chana masala. We were keen on food from Andhra Pradesh, and all of this was featured on just one page. After a lot of dithering (everything on the page sounded delicious), we chose a gongura mamsam (mutton cooked with sorrel leaves); a bendakkai vepudu (a dish of fried okra), and a lemon rice.
To keep us occupied while we waited for our meal, the waiter brought us a plate of fresh undressed salad: tomato, cucumber, carrots, onions and sprouted black chickpeas. Along with this came a plate of paapads, both the usual spicy ones made from urad dal, as well as crunchy wheel-shaped ones made from rice flour.
It took half an hour for our food to arrive, and even then, it came only after a reminder. Fortunately, the food turned out to be worth the wait. The gongura mamsam, with a thick and slightly sour gravy (because of the puréed sorrel leaves which are a major constituent) and its rather fatty mutton pieces, was perfectly spiced: not too much, not too little. The bendakkai vepudu was a fabulous contrast: a very simple dish of sliced okra fried to a crisp with curry leaves, peanuts, and a dash of red chilli powder and salt. A very mild dish, and one I found utterly addictive. The lemon rice, tempered with peanuts, chana dal, and curry leaves, and with a sprinkle of lime juice added, proved a good base for the other two dishes.
By the time we finished, we were too full to have dessert, so we skipped that (though Citrus does offer sweets like khubaani ka meetha, brownies, ice creams, apple and cinnamon crumble, and so on). Our bill came to Rs 1,107, inclusive of all taxes and service charge. At least as far as local food is concerned, I can vouch for Citrus: their regional dishes are delicious.
Lemon Tree Premier
Plot No. 2, Survey No. 64