Dear Eater, Hyderabadi Biryani & Chat In Queens Does Not Deserve Four Stars

14.10.2015

Last week Robert Sietsema, Eater food critic and “pioneer of outer-boroughs dining” caused much excitement at the bpb office by awarding four stars to a little Flushing restaurant called Hyderabadi Biryani & Chat. Our weakness for biryani is only rivaled by our love for bhel, so we had to check this place out. Not least because of the curious combination – Hyderabad is many things, but it’s not a city known for its chaat.

It turns out that Hyderabadi Biryani & Chat is a nondescript storefront huddled in between a Chinese restaurant and a pizza shop, where a group in scrubs occupied a single table, their eyes glued to’90s Bollywood tracks playing on a lone TV. The counter was manned by a diminutive, cheery aunty and a stoic young man, both of whom barely blinked when, taking cues from Sietsema’s review, a pair of Indian girls ordered enough food to feed the entire population of Telangana. 

Getting Our Goat

We settled in with two biryanis – goat (or mutton) and egg, both highly recommended by Eater. Right away, these didn’t look like any dum biryani we’d ever eaten. In traditional dum, meat and rice are layered in a vessel that is sealed with dough and steamed over coals. The end result is a fragrant, gently spiced dish, unlike its blazing Andhra counterpart, for instance.

In any event, we found the saffron-stained rice to be under-seasoned and oily. The mutton – gamier meat than many in the US are accustomed to - was overcooked and over-spiced. Ironically, this dish ended up being precisely the “greasy mountain of rice shot with tough morsels of meat” that Sietsema decried at other restaurants.

With our egg biryani we were promised a “tour-de-force”, but received a more anaemic version of the goat biryani instead. The mirchi ka salan and raita that were served in small containers alongside were equally unremarkable.

Eater’s review described the typical biryani garnish of birista or deep-fried onions as ‘caramelized’. In truth, the onions are meant to be crunchy, a textural counterpoint to fluffy rice and tender meat, not limp and seeping grease. Let it be said, no nizam would recognize this stuff. “This is a biryani you’ll never forget”, wrote Sietsema. Maybe, but for the wrong reasons. 

Fare Trial 

Eager to venture beyond our lackluster rice dishes, we moved on to Kerala pepper chicken, which Eater described as hot, historical and supremely delicious. They’d be right, except what Hyderabadi Biryani calls Kerala pepper chicken is definitely not it. The oily tomato gravy here bears no resemblance to the dark, slow-simmered, curry leaf-laden dish we know and love. Redolent with peppercorns it may have been, but it was continents away from the real deal. In fact, Kerala pepper chicken is not meant to be a curry at all; it is drier and usually referred to as a “fry”. (Also, a quibble that’s less culinary and more cartographical: it comes close, but the southernmost tip of the south Asian landmass is Kanyakumari, which resides firmly within Tamil Nadu’s borders, not Kerala’s.)

Vegetarians, you’re unlikely to fare better than the carnivores. We sampled Gobi Manchurian that appears on Eater’s list of sample dishes, but the less we dwell on that, the better. It was a soggy, unappetizing mess that tasted overwhelmingly of ketchup – you’ve made better Indian Chinese in your dorm room at 4 am on a drunken Saturday. Hyderabadi’s version of papdi chaat, however, was a passable approximation of the street food favourite, but had none of the chutzpah we were hoping for. The bold flavours of pudina chutney, tamarind, kala namak, all seemed muted.

It’s A Naan Issue

We do agree with Eater’s assessment that thejalapeño-studded bullet naan was hugely compelling and had a sharp heat to it. One bite silenced those no-carb-low-carb mutterings we’d been bandying about all week. Sietsema was also dead-on about the rose lassi served here: dear reader, it was unpalatable. He described it as “liquid dishwashing soap”; we thought it was more like that medicinal tonic your mom used to try to cloak with Rooh Afza back in the day. 

Our biggest disappointment: Eater’s review said there’d be Thums Up, but Hyderabadi Biryani didn’t have any. That magical cola of our childhoods may have been more of a clarion call than Sietsema’s four stars, but we’ll just have to wait a little longer to get our fix. 

Our verdict: 1 star

Getting there: 44-27 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, Queens. Call 718 353 5577. Last stop on the 7 train.

Amrita Gupta is a freelance journalist currently completing a Master’s in Food Studies at New York University.