Monthly Archives: June 2015

Be Desi, Buy Desi : Desi Deli

I am a great one for lauding the efforts of home chefs. No wonder Lolita Sarkar, who is a home chef turned entrepreneur, intrigues me and we decide to visit her newly opened, lil’ eatery in Bandra Reclamation, called Desi Deli.

Lolita herself, greets us warmly and patiently explains the concept behind Desi Deli. An Advertising film maker turned entrepreneur in the food space. Impressive. She has always enjoyed cooking for large numbers at home parties and strived to create something new in her dishes. With friends and family, relishing her hot dogs, Lolita began taking baby steps in this direction. A few pop ups across the city, gave her the much needed confidence and then, Desi Deli happened. A logical outcome of her passion and talent.

Wild Thing

The eatery is ordinary, just a few tables, but the menu, excites you immediately. Her interpretation of Desi Deli, delicious Indiagenous food, is appealing. The menu clearly reflects the creativity of an Advertising professional. The choice of words is unmistakable

We decide to skip the Classic desi hot dogs- Amar, Akbar and Anthony denoting, vegetarian, chicken and Pork versions. . Globe trotting desi sound more interesting.  Sonorian, Venetian, Mexican, and yes, even The Goan Desi are some of the options. These come in Vegetarian, Chicken and Pork. Grilled pineapples in a tangy lemon sauce, with peppers et al catches our fancy. Lolita agrees to making a chicken version, as we are not keen on Pork.

Lamb burg

The burger, she suggests. The Tangy Chic Burger. Seems exciting enough. Our burger arrives. The presentation is neat, not extraordinary. A bite into it, gives us a taste of a succulent, juicy chicken pieces and oodles of tangy flavours. Delicious. The freshness of the ingredients is evident. We enjoy it thoroughly.The accompanying fries, more like the Bengali aloo bhaja made of finely shredded potatoes is delectable.

The Hot Dog pales in comparison. The Killer red sauce (so reminiscent of a Goan masala) and lemony sauce do not marry well. The flavours and textures are clearly mismatched. Maybe we should have tried something else? We decide to move on.

While the quality and creative twist in both these is unquestionable, the size of the burger and hot dog, given the price, is unappealing. These are not filling enough and at Rs 275- 300, these are far from pocket-friendly.

We skip the wraps or Tamales and settle for a Ghugni Souk with Mutton, a dish which has its origins in Bengal. Can I resist that? of course not. It has a Moroccon twist to it with the cous cous. I like that. I expect ghugni with couscous, but it turns out to be the opposite. The plate is full of cous cous with a a small helping of mutton infused ghugni in the centre. But the taste makes up for my disappointment, if any. Flavoursome and comforting. The cous cous complements the ghugni. A perfect example of creativity an imagination. Filling too. The house deli fresh salad along with it is crunchy and tingles our palate. This dish gets my vote.

The Usquebaugh blend ice tea that I am sipping is too mildly flavoured and watered down. The hint of tea is not enough even to tease my taste buds. Lolita has warned me of the delicate flavours, but being from Bengal myself, I am acquainted with those. However, this one does not fit the bill.

Screwpine Aam, Begum in crepe, Modak redux, Trucker tycoon. Yes, these are the interesting names of the desserts in the menu. Being a chocolate fanatic, Trucker Tycoon is quite obviously our choice. Tawa toast oozing with chocolate and mascarpone cheese, the dessert promises. I am taken by surprise. Two tiny pieces of toast with the filling. That too not generous, given the price. Reminiscent of what mothers make at home for kids with Nutella.

Lolita personally oversees every order and chats with her guests. Her central kitchen in Khar seems well managed and her staff here too is efficient.

Conceptually, Mumbai needs a Desi Deli with robust and unique hot dogs and thus, while Lolita’s efforts and creativity deserve a pat on the back, the pricing and portion sizes definitely need to be re-looked at to make it viable for customers.

Rating: 3/5

Australia’s Favourite Pizza Now Yours?

Eagle Boys Pizza, one of Australia’s largest pizza chains is now in India. Has been for a while with two outlets in Pune and four in Mumbai. The newest entrant, their fifth, is the Oshiwara outlet in Andheri West, closer home. Hence, I pay a visit on a rainy evening.

While the parent company offers a variety of products including gourmet pizzas, gluten-free, low fat and healthy options, the Indian franchise too boasts of fresh ingredients, including a dough made several times in a day. The state-of-the-art oven in their kitchen which gets a pizza ready in minutes sans any smoke, is praiseworthy.

The passion and dedication of the Director, Rakesh Nanda is evident. Settled in Australia for years and now back in India, he has started this chain and appoints franchisees who are equally passionate about pizzas.

The outlet of course is ordinary, with basic seating. As most pizza joints, it thrives on take away and home delivery.

A glance at the menu reveals a fair amount of variety. From a Basic Pizza to a Classic, and a Super to a Gourmet, with multiple toppings, they have them all. And yes in non vegetarian and vegetarian versions too. They also do two pastas – Tomato and Chicken Penne, desserts and a few drinks. Non alcoholic of course.

Our Green Apple and Exotic flavoured mojitos arrive. Refreshing, but a tad too sweet. But then a pizza place is not exactly known for its mocktails. As long as it quenches our thirst.

The spicy garlic scroll is served. I bite into it and a burst of cheese fills my mouth. The menu never mentioned cheese in this one. I am taken aback. The staff informs me this too has cheese as opposed to the cheesy garlic scroll. The difference? Only some more garlic and spice, I am told. The menu needs to explicitly mention the cheese bit, I suggest.

The taste of the scroll is flawless. Spicy and creamy. The garlic could have been a bit more pronounced though. Delicious nevertheless. This is their innovation in terms of Sides instead of the usual garlic bread, Mr. Nanda informs me.

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We opt for a Chicken Supreme pizza from the Gourmet section and a Aussie favourite chicken in 7″ each. Sadly, the person taking our order does not ask us about our base preference ( thin n crispy or deep dish or cheesy blast or big cheese). We are served the Deep dish which has a really thick crust, not something am too fond of. However, a bite into the first one and I have no regrets. The crust is soft, not chewy like many other pizzas one often have. The freshness of the dough here plays a role for sure. One can taste the difference. The toppings are generous and fresh. Good quality stuff. The pizzas are affordably priced and come in 7, 10 and 13 inches.

My vote goes to the Chicken Supreme. It is an interesting mix of several flavours. The cheese element is right too, not overpowering and yet, enough to make one enjoy a pizza. After all what is a pizza without cheese? The one with pineapples too is tasty but Chicken Supreme, emerges a clear winner.

These two varieties, albeit in a small size, prove to be filling and we are unable to try a thin crust pizza. They have run out of dessert that day and so we are forced to skip that too. The triple chocolate pizza that they serve as dessert, surely sounds inviting. Reason enough for me to go back.

The staff needs to be a little more adept at communication and be able to explain the menu better. The Pizza definitely scores over some other chains. They have some exciting offers too on Mondays and Wednesdays. Worth checking out.

Rating: 3.5/5

A ‘wok’ to satiate your taste buds: Wok Express

Pan Asian meals are sure shot winners. Most of us enjoy these and I am no exception. And with a new Wok Express opening in Bandra, I decided to pay a visit.  Reasonably spacious, with a no-frills atmosphere, Wok Express was packed on a weekday for dinner. A good sign for them, I thought.

The menu is varied enough with dim sums, bubble tea, and of course the Wok meal served in a box comprising a base of noodles (udon, flat wheat, ramen) or steamed rice,with veggies or chicken, fish, prawns and a delectable array of sauces. Sambal. Toban, Teriyaki, Pumpkin curry sauces sounded out-of-the-ordinary compared to the usual black pepper, chiili basil et al. There is a fair amount of vegetarian options too.

I settled for Har gau prawns, as I can never resist prawns. And this classic is my favourite. Steamed to perfection with a moist and tasty prawns filling, i was off to a good start. My Thai Bubble tea was a bit of a disappointment. Attractively presented, the flavours sadly were not so exciting. Some how never enjoyed the tapioca pearls. Have tasted better ones in Bangkok.

The crystal dumplings too were well-made. Had a bite to them and the texture with the right amount of crunch, was appeasing to my taste buds.

The staff appeared a wee bit confused with the orders. Probably teething problems so typical of a restaurant of any stature or size.

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My wok with Udon noodles (my favourite),  fish and prawns, the sweet and spicy sambal sauce, a generous amount of veggies and roasted peanuts, cilantro, friend onions, as condiments was a flavourful and wholesome wok. One selects one’s own ingredients and ticks them on the box. The person behind the counter then prepares it as per your selection.

As I picked up my wok (it is self service), it struck me that the quantity was enormous. Absolute value for money, given the quality of the ingredients and the generous helping. I was blown away by the medley of flavours in my mouth. The sambal sauce offered the perfect balance of sweet n spicy flavours. Textures too were plenty- crunchy, smooth, melt-in-the-mouth. The bell peppers, zucchini and carrots, added the health quotient to my meal.

Good stuff. It reminded me so much of the meals I had in Bangkok eons ago. Finally, India had places to match that quality of Pan Asian food. The medium sized wok itself was so filling, could well imagine what the large one would be like. Priced between Rs 190- Rs 240 for a medium sized wok, it is really easy on the wallet and something which will go down well with the youth too.

What is nice is that the menu keeps changing every few days, so one never gets bored. The day’s special is highlighted on a black board.

The Tab Tim Grob aka water chestnuts in syrup n coconut milk though refreshing in summer is not something I enjoy, so decided to give it a miss. Wish there were more options.

Wok Express is the perfect place to devour a good meal, in a jiffy and head back to work or pick it up and relish it while you are on the go. Just what this fast-paced city of Mumbai needs.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Aromatic Flavours of Kerala @Lotus Cafe, JW Marriott Mumbai

All day dining places hosting a food promotion- a particular cuisine, no matter which one, Indian or global, are somehow never my idea of savouring a cuisine. As part of a regular buffet, these dishes get lost. Their flavours get subdued, the appearance low key, as these dishes are often resting on the buffet table for hours. But Chef Saji Alex proved me wrong. Hosting a Kerala food promotion at Lotus Cafe, JW Marriott Mumbai, he managed to retain the flavours and keep the textures and presentation intact. The hallmark of a good chef.

He had carefully and painstakingly created a menu wherein gourmets could relish traditional delicacies from North, South and Central Kerala- something every foodie year for. I was truly going to have the best of Kerala cuisine. Sadly, Biryani was not a part of tonight’s menu as some of the dishes are changed everyday.

Chef Saji Alex, Master Chef, Kochi Marriott

Mutton Pepper Fry, Malabar Fish Curry, Prawns masala, a delectable dry Pork preparation et al. The array of dishes was mouth-watering.  Vegetarians too could not grumble as he had taken care of that too. Vazhappu Cutlet, Manga Curry, Avial, Vegetable Korma, Ghee Rice  and Nadan Choru  were a part of the spread.A traditional meal  from Kerala is incomplete without a generous helping of Payasam.  Pal Payasam, Pal ada Payasam and Godambu payasam. One could taste all three.

Attukonchu Piralan

Fennel, curry leaves, pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, were spices which were omnipresent in most of the dishes, being the mainstay of Kerala cuisine. Coconut either in milk or paste form too found a way into most of the dishes. Not that we were complaining, as all the dishes were cooked to perfection and had subtle flavours, which one could enjoy course by course, pairing the right curries and dry dishes with the Malabar parotha, idiappams or red rice.

Nowhere did the use of spices overpower the key ingredients- meat, fish or vegetables. An absolute delight for the taste buds. Each dish had an aroma of its own. All the masalas had been prepared in house by the chef. The authenticity of the dishes was evident. There was a home-style feel to his cooking. That’s what set is apart. The soft and succulent pieces in the mutton preparation, wrapped in dry spices, surpassed my expectations as did the mildly flavoured, tapioca dish. It was a sublime experience.

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Chef Saji’s passion is hard to miss. Personally supervising the food and ensuring each guest was satisfied with the food, he is a master of his craft.

Interestingly, even though Kerala cuisine and Goan food have so many similarities, yet, each is so distinct.

It was easily the best meal I have ever had at the Lotus Cafe. Chef Saji took this place to new culinary heights.

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Being a Friday evening, the chaos and lapses in the service were understandable. Yet, Sumit, taking care of our table did a commendable job and was alert and helpful.

I left Lotus Cafe in a better mood than I had entered. Chef Saji had floored me with his culinary expertise. On till June 18, if you are a fan of Kerala cuisine do not miss this opportunity.

Rating: Food- 4/5

Let there be light in your life!

An entry into Light House Cafe Khar, Mumbai transports you into an eclectic and pulsating place. The decor is chic and the bulbs all over add an interesting element to the place. The vibe is unmistakable. You know at once you are in a happening place.
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We did not like the sound of the two Mocktails that were on offer the preview night and they were kind enough to serve us one of our choice- Italiano. This apple juice based mocktail was refreshing and had the right amount of zing. We loved it. We were off to a great beginning for sure.

Pepper and Lime calamari came next. One can rarely go wrong with Calamari. Delicious. But the size of the calamari struck me as too small which deprived one of the real joy of relishing this sea food delicacy. Furthermore, it was a tad over- fried. But the flavours were good nevertheless.

The Murg Sonali Kebab, was a treat for the palate. King sized chicken pieces, well marinated and grilled to perfection. Ignited our palate.

The music was getting louder and the place was buzzing. A closer look at the menu revealed that the offerings both drinks and food are so affordably priced. Really pocket- friendly.

The cocktails sounded exciting with unusual names n unique ingredients but we decided to give it a miss.

In the mains we tried the Udon noodles first. Soupy n light these had a subtle, Palate- tickling flavour. The Masala chickpea tagine was a pleasant surprise. With just a hint of spices, one could actually savour each ingredient. Only wish the portions were a wee bit bigger.

The Grilled BBQ Chicken had a delightful presentation and an equally tantalising taste. The pairing with cous cous gave it an edge.

Sadly no desserts in the menu. Sorely missed and shouldbe included in the menu I feel.

Interior Image, Light House Cafe

Light House cafe is definitely a place which is going to pick up and be a hot spot. The service staff could do with some more training and finesse.

Food n Mocktails Rating : 3/5

A Fruity Extravaganza: Cafe Mangii Summer Menu

What is summer without the king of fruits- Mangoes? One enjoys them in every form, as a fruit, in milk shakes, smoothies, ice cream and aam ras. And we never tire of them. And when you know that it has even been incorporated in the Summer Menu of one of your favourite Restaurants, you are just plain ecstatic.

Cafe Mangii, the Italian chain of Restaurants offers great food always. Throughout the year. Have been a huge fan of this place since years.

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I decided to check out the new menu. The service as always, was impeccable. Suhas the Khar outlet Manager, at his politest best and the staff attentive and alert.

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Seated on a  table overlooking the window, I took a look at the new menu. A bright, sunny mango stared at me, and bought a smile to my lips. Yes, it was the menu in the shape of a sweet and smiling mango, with shades et al. Kids would love it am sure.

Soups, salads, appetizers, mains and desserts, were all fruity. Yes a lot of summer fruits had been used in the menu. Plenty of mangoes too of course. But the menu was refreshing. Literally. Watermelon Gazpacho Shots, Watermelon Pizza (which is actually a salad), Pina colada chicken, Apricot glazed hen. Whew! Innovation at its best, I thought. It struck me though that there was no pizza on his menu.

Our Chilled Melon and fresh Alphonso with pistachio soup arrived. I loved the idea of crushed pistachio on the rim of the glass. Thought it was out of the ordinary. The soup was rejuvenating. Subtle flavours. The melon was more pronounced, but one could enjoy the mango too. Perked us up and we were ready for our salad and appetizer. Perhaps the rim should have had rock salt instead? I wondered.

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Mango & Calamari with cilantro aioli arrived. Great presentation again. Colourful and appetizing. The use of ripe and raw mango to give the sweet and tangy flavour was laudable. The calamari was steamed to perfection. Light and flavoursome salad. Our palates were teased sufficiently.

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The Crispy Chicken with Asparagus & Tomatoes was a pleasant surprise too. Light for an appetizer and the grilled chicken pieces melt in our mouth. The bacon bit were well fried and complimented the dish.

I could not help thinking how effectively and skilfully the chef had integrated fruits in each section to make the dishes light and flavourful.

We settled for Raviolo in Orange Paprika Butter sauce for our mains. Stuffed with Pine Nut, leeks & Fontina, Orange Paprika Butter Sauce, the sweetish taste made this dish unique, but we preferred the Salmon al Cartoccio. It was an absolute palate pleaser. Salmon fillet marinated in ginger soy and brown sugar served with roast almonds and snow peas, has subtle, but distinct flavours. The freshness of the salmon made it so delicious. It offered a medley of flavours to the palate. My vote goes to this one for sure.

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Satiated with such a perfect meal, dessert was plain greed. We succumbed. Mangoes with fresh cream we thought might be lighter than strawberry ravioli which was being recommended. Alas! we had erred. The presentation was wow. So much so that one felt guilty to dig  spoon into it. The mangoes were completely snowed under the cream, which was insipid. In fact the taste of the fruit was masked completely. Not sweet enough. A tad disappointing.

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I hurriedly ordered a Cappuccino to salvage my taste buds and that helped.

I walked out of Cafe Mangii pleased as punch after an enjoyable Sunday lunch. An eclectic summer menu. For once I was not complaining about the heat !

This Will Satisfy Your Sweet Cravings

I actually began my Sunday on a healthy note, even though it is a day meant for indulgence. I bit into a fleshy and fibrous date, instead of my Sunday breakfast. No, not the ordinary variety of dates. I felt like Royalty, as I savoured the King of Dates- a Medjoul date. Remember having these in Dubai, many eons ago. But these were different. These are a power-house of energy and I could really do with some.

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The size and colour itself of Medjoul dates is so appealing. The soft date, melts in your mouth and the toffee-like sweetness pervades your mouth completely. With a good quality date and so much sweetness, one can actually dispense with desserts. But alas! Better still use these dates in your sweets and desserts. Even our very own kheer can be made with dates instead of sugar.

I often use dates in my breakfast smoothie. With milk, yogurt, a dash of figs and dates, it makes a delicious drink. A perfect start to the day. Even shakes, cookies, muffins and pancakes can have dates added to them. That should satisfy my sweet cravings in a healthy manner.

Being unprocessed, Medjoul dates are really healthy and safe to consume. Even for children. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre et al, everyone can enjoy these. Ideally one should eat a maximum of 6-8 dates in day, staggered over the entire day, I was told.

What I love is he fact that one can carry these along anywhere, hassle-free and munch on them as and when one can.

Aren’t I glad that Medjoul dates have arrived in India and that too with a seal of authenticity?  Beautifully packaged, these are are now going to be available easily all over India. So now, one can indulge without feeling guilty. Taste bhi, health bhi!