Drunken, brutal Cossacks, thundering East to plunder and pillage, hurled rough curses at French innkeepers in the Dark Ages. The Russian word for "hurry", the story goes on, gave rise to the name "Bistro": a café that serves wine and quick, moderately priced, simple meals in an unpretentious setting.
The Little Penang violates every adjective in that definition. The food takes time to reach your table, the price is a little north of moderate, the meals are elaborate, and the setting shows unmistakable signs of meticulous and painstaking effort.
Thank God for all that. Good South-East Asian cuisine has finally come to Hyderabad.
The Little Penang audaciously offers a Pub, a Bistro, a Restaurant, Dessert 'n Cakes, Juices, 5 Chefs and 5 cuisines. But then, a restaurant that has 467 items on the food menu alone is not a restaurant whose audacity you want to question in a hurry.
The Pub's in a separate section, but the rest are a single room. One which is designed to recreate the atmosphere of a Singapore-style food court. The interior, though very well laid out, seems to recreate the clatter and babel of a food court too. When filled to capacity, the noise levels are very high indeed.
Dark wood walls are punctuated with sudden splashes of color. The bar is a stretch away from the ground floor tables. But not that you'll ever need to crane for anything - the service is excellent to the point of being well-nigh adulatory.
You'll certainly spend a lot of time on the menus – drinks and food – both of which fall a shade short of the visual standards set by the rest of the interiors. Which is a shame, since the food is uncommonly good.
The menu is color coded, but there's so much of it that it's unabashedly overwhelming. It's wise to choose a cuisine and go the distance with it – Indian/Tandoori, Italian or South-East Asian. The last is the best by far. The Chinese dishes are prepared in the "authentic" Chinese tradition, so expect slightly different tastes if you pick recognized names. Oh yes, don't be a Macho-Telugu and order "extra spicy" dishes - the chillies here are of the slow-burn variety. They wait till the morsels are firmly in your duodenum before launching their attacks in waves.
The house says seafood is its specialty, and has a daily off-menu "Day's Special". The same house recommends that Thai curries be eaten with plain, steamed rice, but ignore that as well. Our advice? Throw the recognized names out of the window and go for it. Exotic food tastes even better if you don't know what the names mean.
Soups and cocktails are extensive and good, but don't match the main course. Non-vegetarians will, of course, start with Satay. Vegetarians will find the Bruchista, with its sesame topping, a welcome change from spring-rolls. The Thai curries are easily the best choice for the main course. The steamed rice is a disappointment for Basmati-lovers, and the curries taste terrific with pretty much anything, so be firm in your resolve to experiment. The Indonesian Fried rice stands out, as do the Black Pepper Noodles. The Clay-pot Chicken and Malaysian Curry with Chicken are striking.
The dessert dilemma is easily solved. You must have either the Chocolate Suicide or the Chocolate Fudge. Simply sinful, these are the perfect form of the perfect pleasure.
If the current standards can be maintained, Hyderabad has a winner. A slightly expensive one, but well worth the experience.
2nd Floor, Prasad's Multiplex Complex, Beside NTR Gardens, Necklace Road (2.3km)
Near X-roads, Parklane (5.7km)
MPM Complex, Abids (0.9km)
8-2-672, G S Plaza, Road Number 1, Banjara Hills (2.0km)
9-1-167/168, In Hotel Baseraa, S D Road (6.2km)
Hotel Baseraa, Near Clock Tower, S D Road (6.2km)
H.No. 1-2-597/42, Near Indira Park, Ramakrishna Math Marg, Lower Tankbund (2.4km)
ITC Hotel Kakatiya Sheraton And Towers, 6-3-3-1187, Begumpet (4.1km)
Next to Qahwa Coffee Shop, Road Number 36, Jubilee Hills (6.7km)
Ohri's Cuisine Court, 5-9-30/16-20, Opposite Gandhi Medical College, Basheerbagh (1.4km)
Road No. 1, Banjara Hills (2.7km)
Next To OBC ATM, East Marredpally (7.2km)
8-2-602/E, Charan Pahadi, Road Number 10, Banjara Hills (3.6km)
3-5-907, Himayathnagar X Roads, Himayathnagar
102, 1st Floor, Sufi Chambers, Above Food World, Road Number 1, Banjara Hills (2.5km)
House Number 1177, Road Number 12, Near Lotus Pond, Banjara Hills (5.4km)
Road No. 1, Banjara Hills (2.6km)
217, Road Number 2, Opposite KBR Park, Banjara Hills (4.0km)
GPO Building, Street Number 1, Muralidhar Bagh, Old Kattal Mandi, Koti (2.2km)