A Hyderabadi colleague of my husband’s, whenever he’s trying to describe something or someone that he thinks very highly of, uses the adjective ‘pista’. “That means ‘excellent’,” he once explained to my husband. “Something that’s the best is pista.” Which is probably why this highly popular chain of eateries in Hyderabad calls itself Pista House: because it considers itself the best. We’d certainly be recommended the place by several people, so we decided, on the day we visited Charminar and Chowmahalla Palace, to stop by here for lunch.
Pista House near Charminar (on Shah Ali Banda Road) sprawls across a fairly large three-storeyed building, even spilling over into adjacent buildings (one of which apparently serves as Pista House’s catering office: a sign outside proclaimed that they cater for a minimum of 5 people, up to a maximum of 10,000. Impressive.
The restaurant itself is in the main building. On the ground floor is the Pista House sweet shop, crowded with display cases of different types of traditional Indian sweets, alongside iced cakes, eclairs, biscuits and more. We were instructed to walk right through and then go upstairs to the ‘family section’. The staircase was rickety in places and grimy (a shortcoming throughout Pista House, which is in dire need of a really good scrub down). It led up to a large vestibule—with the toilets bang next to the door leading into the family dining hall.
This was just about as barebones as can be: large windows, rather spotty and dusty; grubby red-and-yellow tiled pillars; tables covered with black-and-red checked tablecloths with food stains on them, and mismatched chairs, some of wood and others of plastic. Ceiling fans are suspended over only some of the tables, the only vacant ones being those nearest the toilets—so we seated ourselves as close as we could get to a fan without being near the loos.
The menu at Pista House is geared for the meat-eater, even though there are some vegetarian options. If you are a fan of kebabs and tikkas and tandoori chicken and biryani, this is the place for you. We’d been keen on having their famous haleem, but were informed that this is made only during Ramzan. We settled, therefore, for their special mutton biryani, which our cab driver had assured us was the best in town. Along with that, two diet Pepsis.
It took about 10 minutes for our meal to arrive: the biryani in a huge, domed-lidded bowl, with a quarter plate alongside with three large slices of raw onion and a couple of wedges of lime. On its heels came a bowl of mirchi ka salan, and another of a cooling raita, mixed through with grated cucumber.
While we were eating (and that, after my husband had to ask for a change of plate, since his plate had some ominous orange-yellow stains on it), the electricity went kaput, so much of our meal was eaten in relative discomfort. The waiter did come by and open the windows, but it still remained hot, and a rather vile smell began wafting in through the open door—I suspect an errant draught coming through the toilets.
The food, to compensate, was excellent. The biryani relied on spice for fragrance rather than heat, the rice so delicious that it could even be eaten on its own, no meat or anything. The meat was well-cooked, the mirchi ka salan had a mild nuttiness to its sauce, and the raita was good, without any spices marring the simple combination of yoghurt, cucumber, salt and green coriander. The portion size of the biryani, however was so huge that we couldn’t come anywhere close to finishing it.
Both my husband and I have a sweet tooth, so we ordered rabri malai once we’d finished our main course. We sat around for 15 minutes waiting for this to arrive (how long does it take to dish up rabri malai?) and eventually got it only after my husband, in a fit of annoyance, asked for the bill. The rabri malai, thankfully, did justice to the biryani that had come before: it was rich and creamy, mildly sweetened, and with a sprinkle of chopped almonds and pistachios as garnish.
The best part? The bill, which was an unbelievable Rs 270. For the quality and quantity of food we consumed, this was superb value for money. Pista House isn’t a place I’d recommend if you’re finicky about cleanliness and prettiness, but if you can look away and focus only the food, you should give them a try.
Opposite Asra Hospital
Shah Ali Banda Road