Shadab is not every other restaurant if (a) you like old city, (b) you love old city, (c) old city is in your blood.
That defines the leitmotif. Shadab is kind of like a poster for the old city. For a tourist on the high of anticipation, it presents an almost romantic experience - bustling native crowds, crowded seating, ambient temperature caused by whirring fans on a warm day, a buzzing chatter... it completely meets the expectations of visiting a developing country.
For a thoroughbred local from south of the Musi, it's, of course, home.
But for those who do not belong, it can't be much more than a one-off outing when on the prowl for some Hyderabadi biriyani that tastes good enough to want to trudge a bit in sad traffic - and into a neighbourhood reputed to be rough.
Indeed, it's quite easy to feel at home at Shadab, and quite easy not to. The actual dine-in is on the first floor, with the Irani cafe on the ground floor looking particularly downmarket (and that's being polite). The first floor itself can totally see through you when you enter it - the genes are still those of an Irani cafe. The best way to make your presence felt and try regaining your self-esteem in a busy hour is to announce yourself to a hurrying apathetic waiter and ask for help finding a place to sit. Yes, if you are not used to being in Irani cafes, there's a learning curve.
The seating is strangely rich in upholstery - you actually sit on sofas. A look at the false ceiling will tell you that the place has air-conditioners installed, but it doesn't feel that way - there are table fans whirring all around. Uniformed waiters scurrying about take up most of the meager aisles in this glorified cafe, and it's easy to get in someone's way if you are standing aimlessly or waiting impolitely beside a table for it to get empty. Yes, lunch and dinner can involve quite a bit of waiting, with no one guiding you through it.
Yes, Shadab, despite its reputation, is a place you visit mostly only if you are around, unless you have staunch reasons. Including memories.
There's a line of thought that nothing served anywhere else can be called biryani. Some of it extends to Bombay, Delhi and Dubai. That's a hard stance, of course, but there are enough people taking it to clearly identify the raison d'etre, and put it on a ppt.
Shadab specializes in Hyderabadi cuisine, though its North-Indian and Chinese cuisine are also feathers in the cap. It's par for the course to see a bowl of biriyani on every table, and names like Special Pasha Biriyani (costs Rs. 260, against Rs. 70 for a chicken biriyani), Paya, Sherwa, Jabda, Chicken Hyderabadi, Bagara Khana Dalcha, Chicken Nahari, Haleem and Qubani ka Meetha on the menu leave you in no doubt about what the specialty is.
Shadab has whole pages titled "Shadab Specialties", "Friday Special" and "Nahari", completely occupied by non-vegetarian dishes. The menu in general is mammoth in numbers - 40 Chinese and 20 Tandoori starters, 30 mutton dishes, 40 chicken dishes, 30 vegetarian dishes (all North-Indian, with all the usual paneer suspects), 8 types of chowmein and chopsuey, and even steaks and shaslik. Plus, of course, biriyani - with large portion sizes, too. The prices reflect the ambience and crowd - or the other way around, perhaps. Two persons could get a good meal plus lassi here in Rs. 200.
Some of the more exotic dishes include Chidrum Steals, Chicken Mazatick, Bhur Bhura, Dragon Chicken, Anarkali Chicken, Chicken China Don (please tell us what that means when you find out!), Shikampur, Apollo Chicken and Fosalad Ice (a dessert). Surprisingly, however, the desserts include only Qubani Ka Meetha from the array of sweets Hyderabad is famous for - not even Double Ka Meetha graces the meager list (though there are a fair number of ice creams, including a Fosalad Ice).
Downstairs is to cleanliness what muck is to cleanliness, but if you are willing to hazard it out, you also get great breakfast at Shadab's Irani cafe - Kheema, Bheja, Bhaji Gurda, Khichdi, Paya, Zubaan, Zabda - for less than Rs. 100 (Khichdi is Rs. 20, non-veg stuff costs more). A must for the complete Hyderabadi food experience, or, as for many people, just to stay alive.
Aside of the hard stances, opinion is divided on whether you come to Shadab when Madina
is full or the other way round. If you like one, you like the other. If you like the Charminar
area, you'll like both. If you like Hyderabadi biriyani, you'll like the Charminar area. There's something about all this that it's hard to put a finger on. It's best to stick to the biriyani.