Category Archives: Indian cuisine

Tea Tales & Winter food

Winters are somehow all about indulgence. Given the weather when the temperature drops, one can getaway by giving in to one’s guilty pleasures. More calories are needed to generate body heat, we are told, so we all gladly embark upon that task. Sadly, Mumbai does not gift us real winters, yet, we unabashedly gorge on some winter delicacies.

Another thing which is synonymous for everyone with winters, is a hot brew-tea or coffee. I love my tea and  when a winter menu is about tea and food, naturally I am ecstatic.

Brooke Bond Taj Mahal Tea House (TMTH) has curated a new Winter Menu, using the most exotic and fresh produce of the season.  TMTH has handpicked season’s popular ingredients and created an interplay of flavours to intrigue the diner’s taste buds.

Irresistible this sounded, so I set about to explore it one evening.

As I settled in, I discovered each item on the cleverly crafted menu, was aptly complemented by one of their signature tea blends.

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The falafel chaat arrived on the table and was paired with  a pink guava and kaffir lime tea. The tangy chaat with palate-teasing flavours, was delightful. After a sip of the light tea, the flavours came alive with a vengeance. I was off to a good start.

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Next was the salad with paneer and the tea to go along, was a delicate Oriental Jasmine and rose. A unique blend of the East and West- a romantic tea, which uplifts your mood instantly. It did just that. It perked my taste buds and I found myself enjoying the hearty and crunchy salad even more.

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Teas being paired with every course, I thought was an exciting thing to do in order to enhance the dining experience. And it really worked wonders.

Risotto infused with Sambar was served next but the watered down version did not entice me enough. The silver needle and berries tea paired with it though, took me by surprise. Fruity and flavourful, it was comforting all the way and yet, added zest to my palate with its intoxicating flavours. Who needs wine with teas like this around?

The Idly Crust with Pomfret was the piece de resistance. Fresh fluffy soft fish with a delectable crust was a treat for the taste buds.

What can I say about the matcha semifreddo. It bore ample testimony to Chef’s mastery over his craft. The matcha tea flavours, lend themselves seamlessly to this dessert and in fact enhanced the taste. Layers of Matcha cream and cake covered with grilled almond slivers and served with chocolate sauce. Truly decadent. Paired with the robust mocha tea this course was truly memorable. Assam chai with a rich coffee cream crown and finished with cracked roasted coffee beans. Whew! I had tasted nothing like this ever before.

There is Chai cheese cake tart too, for dessert lovers, which I have to head back to try.

This menu is truly innovative and offers something for every palate. A special treat for the Vegans is using the winter staple Ragi in a contemporary Vegetable Quiche. Vegetarians can relish the Multigrain Hari Matar Burger, while carnivores will enjoy the Baked Irani Lamb Kheema – Aubergine parceled shells baked with lamb kheema inspired by Dhansak flavor and glazed with Béchamel sauce, among others.

I left the place with a smile as the manner in which teas had been paired with food,  especially the fish course was a true revelation. And I had sampled the very best of teas and food. It does not get any better than this. Winters had set in for me this evening, and I was not complaining.

Rating : 4/5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Progressive, Yet Indian

A visit to Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, is always a coveted experience. The cutting edge techniques used to showcase progressive modern Indian cuisine is after all, make the food here unique and memorable. 

The prospect of sampling the all new sixteen course Tasting Menu, seemed both intimidating and exciting. 

Comfortably seated in this elegant restaurant, I was ready to embark upon my journey. Plated with molecular magic, the dishes looked appetizing and boasted of the characteristic flamboyance of this place.

I was ready to surrender myself to Chef Vaibhav’s culinary magic and expect the unexpected on my table. In keeping with Masala Library’s philosophy, Chef Saurabh Udinia has passionately and artfully designed the new menu, reflecting the vibrancy and diversity of traditional Indian fare with innovation and progressive presentation techniques.

My Amuse Bouche – mango egg, which looked like egg yolk in shells arrived. Of course they were not. Mango cream was what we were served and one could just gulp it down. I was off to a delicious start.

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The Deconstructed Samosa did not remotely resemble a samosa but was true in all its elements in terms of ingredients. The Charcoal Bhajjia, did not impress me. The lotus stem crisp with radish dip was exquisite to look at and in terms of flavours too. The lamb galouti was a pleasant surprise as it did not look anything like the usual one we normally savour. But the texture and flavour were perfect. The laccha paratha and Gujarati kadhi I thought were a bit too mismatched.

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The prawns with thayir sadam  or curd rice, were delightful and the contrast in the textures enhanced the experience manifold. The chicken tikka looked most ordinary when it arrived on the table but wowed me completely with its spices and marination. It simply melt in my mouth.

The desserts were an absolute treat, in keeping with the entire dining experience. The jalebi caviar with rabdi is something no one can tire of and I am no exception. Executed with precision and bursting with flavours, it is the stuff dreams are made of. 

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Each dish surpassed the previous one and I could not really decide which one my vote go to that evening. The food was carefully crafted, skillfully plated and cleverly executed. Many a time it could leave you guessing long after you had a bite of it. There were elements of drama but no unnecessary gimmicks. Everything only to enhance the dining experience and pulled off with panache. 

Impeccable service, articulate staff. And of course a superlative dining experience. Masala Library always spices up my meals.

Rating : 4.2/5

 

 

A haven of rest and relaxation

Getting out of Mumbai is always an exciting prospect. We all need short breaks at least when we live in big cities and lead hectic lives. My excitement knew no bounds as Alibaug is a place I love. What added to the charm was that I was to experience Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Alibaug, a hotel, which has been around for a while but revamped and refurbished recently.

As our car rolled into Radisson Blu Resort & Spa Alibaug, the vast expanse over which this property is spread, caught my eye.  A warm welcome and quick check in made me feel truly welcome.

The prospect of a stay at Radisson Blu Resort & Spa Alibaug with its famous Aparanta, the all-day dining restaurant and Kokum & Spice, the specialty restaurant, serving coastal fare, a spa, recreation facilities, suddenly seemed more thrilling.

Spread across several acres of land, this hotel is a haven of luxury, rest and repose. Shown around the hotel by the affable Aparup Biswas and Hemang Parmar, Director F&B, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Time had just flown as I was soaking in all the information.

The 156 rooms comprise deluxe rooms, superior rooms, executive suites, deluxe spa villas and executive spa villas. With beautiful views, each of these offers understated luxury.

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I entered my vibrant and comfortable villa. The elegant and aesthetic décor appealed to me instantly. My villa spelt comfort and all the possible needs of a guest were anticipated and taken care of by Radisson Blu Resort & Spa Alibaug. Their attention to detail impressed me. The duplex villa was designed aptly with effective usage of space. The living room with a dining space was on the lower floor with a spacious bedroom on top.

After settling down in my room, I enjoyed my lunch at Aparanta, where chef had created unique delicacies. Punjabi food acquired a whole new meaning here as chef gave it a contemporary twist in presentation without altering the flavours. The food was hearty and the flavours robust. Even the vegetarian dishes boasted of exquisite flavours and bore testimony to the chef’s creativity.

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After a restful afternoon, I moved to the Escenza Spa, where I was booked for a spa treatment. The spa, I noticed, had a tastefully done up reception area, treatment rooms, steam room and sauna. Other amenities of the hotel include a gym, a library, outdoor and indoor games. One need not step out of the property as there is something for everyone to relax and keep busy.

The spa room was tranquil and I felt relaxed immediately. The serene environment, the expert therapist using the best possible range of products were enough to pamper me.  The Swedish massage with aromatic oils, sounded just like what my tired body needed. The therapist firmly but gently removed all the knots from my muscles and massaged me deftly. I was rejuvenated beyond words. The music however could have been a bit softer. Nevertheless, a surge of well-being enveloped me as I left the Spa recharged ready to enjoy my evening.

Dinner was at Kokum & Spice. We experienced coastal food at its best. The chic but understated elegance of this place impressed me. The spacious seating and mood lighting added to the charm of this traditional restaurant.

Chef had curated a menu for us, giving us a glimpse of the signature dishes from Goa, Mangalore, Maharashtra and we had a lot to choose from. Mangalore fish curry, bombil fry, rawas, prawns, vade. The food was delectable and offered a melange of tantalizing flavours, characteristic of the coastal belt.  The freshness of the sea food and the quality of ingredients used struck me as outstanding. The spices used were authentic and the outcome was an aromatic experience which lingered on my palate. This restaurant was going to  henceforth top my list for coastal food.

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I rounded off my meal with the traditional ukadiche modak with ghee or thoop. And of course the paan freshly made by the cute paan kiosk outside the restaurant.

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Next morning, feeling rested after a good night’s sleep, after sipping my tea in my room which faced a  lake, I stepped down for breakfast at the all-day dining restaurant, Aparanta.

The breakfast spread was an exercise in choices. The expansive restaurant with several seating options and abundant natural light, was abuzz with activity. The live counters served dosas, eggs, parathas and more. The food was fresh and the offerings varied. The service was alert and exemplary.

After a lazy morning spent walking around the property, I checked out at noon.  I had been spoilt thoroughly by the warm hospitality extended to me. Radisson Blu Resort & Spa Alibaug, the contemporary luxury resort, so close to Mumbai, yet a perfect getaway, transports you to another world nestled in nature’s surroundings.

 

Zesty flavours of Assam : O’Tenga

Having been born and brought up in Kolkata, Assam is quite close to my heart. Literally too, a State not too far away. With several friends from there, I have often sampled a lot of their local dishes. But of course many of those were unknown to me.

Mumbai is not exactly a place where you expect to find Assamese food. Have on an odd occasion tried some dishes at a pop-up but found those hugely disappointing.

Naturally then, when I heard about O’Tenga a delivery outfit started by two young Assamese girls, Joyee Mahanta and Priyangi Borthakur, serving Assamese home style food, I was intrigued. Apart from a 24-hour advance pre-order, one can also order from Swiggy for both lunch and dinner. They also offer meals on a daily or monthly basis.

It was their passion for their cuisine and the lack of it in Mumbai that made them start O’Tenga. Working on recipes from their mothers and grandmothers, the duo perfected each dish through trial and error, as they gave up their full-time jobs and took the plunge.

The menu includes traditional food like khar (made by filtering water through the ashes of sun-dried banana peels), xaak bhaji (lightly seasoned green, leafy vegetables), dail (lentils), tenga (a tangy curry), pitika (mashed potatoes), besides fish, chicken and mutton dishes.

I start my meal with khar, owing to its alkaline nature. This dish gets your stomach ready for the rest of the meal. The last dish again must be with tenga as it is acidic in nature.

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My meal comprising massor muro or fish head khar, chicken with black sesame paste – til diya murgi mangxo, paaleng xaak bhaji, dal, lau bilahi tenga or bottle gourd tenga, pitika, mutton, rice, was a delightful journey of comforting flavours. Appeasing to the eyes as well.

Each dish was distinct and boasted of simple flavours. Tangy, fragrant, piquant, aromatic, dishes wowed my palate in turn as I tried each of these. The textures were equally varied. I loved the use of mustard oil which is achingly familiar for my taste buds. The ingredients were, as expected the hero in each dish.

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No overpowering spices in their food at all. No forced attempt to dress up the food or make it look fancy either. And that to my mind was what made the food outstanding. It was like eating food at a friend’s home.

What makes their food authentic are the recipes of course but the ingredients locally sourced from Assam make all the difference. From guti aloo to bhut jalokia and kajinemu, they try to procure these from Assam. Of course vegetables, are picked up locally from Mumbai and fresh seasonal ones are preferred by them.

Abundant pork dishes on the menu for pork lovers and of course plenty of mutton, chicken and fish too. The vegetarian options too are sufficient and in fact the offerings are unique.

I rounded off my meal with the customary payox or payesh but with the addition of camphor, which was new for my taste buds.

A thoroughly enjoyable meal, affordably priced and extremely varied.  I am certainly waiting to try the other dishes on their menu.

Rating : 4/5

 

 

 

 

 

Chronicles from Madras

Having grown up going to erstwhile Madras where my grandparents lived, I have developed great fondness for the local food. In fact I thoroughly enjoy the varied flavours of food across Southern India. While I am otherwise a carnivore, vegetarian delicacies in Southern food appeal immensely to my palate, perhaps more than non-vegetarian too.

Madras Diaries, naturally, conjured up images of lip-smacking South Indian fare and opened a floodgate of memories too. This new restaurant which opens tomorrow, Ocotber 11, 2017, is located in Bandra West Mumbai off Waterfield Road.

The colourful and vibrant decor, with the Southern leitmotif conspicuously running through in the design elements, catches your eye immediately as you enter. The seating is cosy and offers sufficient privacy.

Neeti Goel of Nom Nom and Farhan Azmi of Basilico  have endeavoured to revive lost recipes and Chef Murugan and his team execute this with authenticity and precision.

The menu, looked inviting from word go and I was keen to try a lot of the delicacies from the South. The hint of innovation in some dishes on the menu enhances its appeal.

Cheese Chilli Jalapeno Idli in Masala Fondue was what we started with. The bite-sized idlis were delicious and paired well with the spicy fondue.

Jalepano Idlis with Cheesy Dips

The big idli swathed in the fiery podi got my instant vote. The ragi dosa, which came next, bore testimony to their efforts to cook with forgotten grains. The accompanying sambar is easily the best I have had in a long time in Mumbai. The podis- made with lentils and spices, packed a punch and the pachadis, were delectable and enhanced the dining experience. Some pachadis were curd based, others made from vegetables tempered with spices and curry leaves. The freshness shone through and I ate each one with relish.

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The food here struck me as authentic, clean and made with fresh ingredients. The contemporary twist in some cases was exciting and acceptable. The aroma of home-made ghee was evident in each dish. The options in each section- be it idlis, vadas, dosas or utthapams was tremendous.

Among dosas, Pesarattu made with green moong dal and Dhavangere Benne made with rice and urad dal were my other favourites. The coconut chutney was quintessentially home style and bursting with freshness.

If you happen to visit Madras Diaries during lunch, you can enjoy the light vegetarian meal  which showcases five treasured specials from the Southern region along with sambhar, rasam, curd, rice and the option of choosing two accompaniments from Dosai, Malabari Parotta, Appam & Chappathi.

Apart from dosas, idlis and vadas, there are a plethora of other options too. Choose from the crispy, flaky, soft Malabari Parotta, or the Kambu Roti made with pearl millet or the Chilly Parotta with Salsa and Onion Raita to be relished with vegetable kurma and raita. Pillowy soft ‘Appams,’  too are on offer and one can savour these with a hot vegetable stew or ‘ulli theyal,’ a gravy with onions and coconut.

How can you leave a South Indian restaurant without eating payasam? I too did not. I relished the tender coconut payasam as well as the chiku halwa or sapota kesari which was an absolute surprise.

Authentic Filter Coffee

You may enjoy the rasam shots during your meal, as I did, but a filter coffee at the end of your meal is a must.

Madras Diaries ensures you don’t necessarily have to trek to Matunga for authentic South Indian food. The fare on offer here is homely, rustic and mouth-watering.

I stepped out with a little bit of Madras on my palate.

Rating: 4/5

 

 

Pleasing my Palate in Pune

My foodie trails take me to several places and recently I found myself at Double Tree by Hilton, Pune, a hotel located in Pimpri-Chinchwad away from the hustle-bustle and yet, with all basic necessities a stone’s throw away.

The gourmand in me beamed with pleasure as a large, warm, chocolate chip cookie was handed over to me at the time of check-in. That is a Hilton tradition. The warm cookie was comforting after my journey and simply melt-in-my-mouth.

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3 Spices, the vibrant all-day dining place at the lobby level impressed me. It exudes an air of bonhomie and comfort. The cheerful and warm staff settled us in and we looked around the buffet spread for lunch. There was no run-of-the-mill stuff here. Food from around the world – Indian, Pan Asian, Global- something for every palate.  And attractively displayed. The bar at the entrance is well-stocked and the bartenders adeptly mix cocktails of your choice.

There was a live chaat counter too. Just perfect for this weather to perk up my taste buds.

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The roasted chicken with rosemary jus, the mangshor jhol or quintessential Bengali mutton curry with birasta pulao, struck me as outstanding. The bhakris, chicken in khada masala and stuffed okra that chef specially made for us to give us a taste of the local flavours took my taste buds by storm. The flavours were distinct and no where did spices overpower the ingredients.

The Pan Asian fare was equally well-made sans any additives and preservatives.

The a la carte menu here is exhaustive and boasts of everything from curry laksa and classic caesar salad to penne pasta genovese and chicken tikka pizza. The 6 seeti ka mutton and Kerala Pomfrt curry from the regional specialities are a must-try.

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The desserts were equally unusual. The beetroot halwa, Um ali- the Egyptian bread pudding, caught my fancy and both of them surpassed my expectations. The creamy texture of both desserts wowed my palate.

The varied fare at this buffet with unusual delicacies, certainly sets it apart from many others.

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Although for dinner, 3 Spices had an Awadhi food promotion, which looked immensely tempting, I decided to skip it as Miyuki, the small and cosy Japanese restaurant behind 3 Spices, beckoned me. Chef Nirmal’s work at the Teppanyaki griddle, mesmerised me as he treated us to an exotic meal complete with salads, sushi, sashimi, fried rice with chicken teriyaki and of course dessert. The flavours were simple and subtle, in keeping with Japanese cuisine and the ingredients fresh. The Sashimi particularly stood out for me in the entire meal.

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The service staff at all the F& B outlets is impeccable. Well-trained, courteous and most importantly well-informed.

My breakfast next morning was an enjoyable experience again. The live counters with eggs and waffles were fun to watch as chefs adroitly dished out waffles and eggs for diners a la minute. The ‘Kadak chai’ tapri or stall served piping hot masala tea, in keeping with the culture of Pune.

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Cereals, Pan Asian dishes, fruits, South Indian fare, bakery items. There truly was a lot to choose from. The array of fresh juices- mixed, watermelon, orange, carrot and ginger in glass bottles impressed me beyond words.

Chef Joy who is at the helm and his team of talented chefs ensure that the F&B offerings are unique and monotony never sets in for a long staying guest. They constantly endeavour to create new dining experiences for guests.  The attentive and affable waiting staff executes this to perfection and together, they contribute to a memorable dining experience for the guest.

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Tarta, the tiny and attractive bakery and patisserie in the lobby is hard-to-miss. Fresh breads, pastries and cakes galore, are on display and irresistible.

I have stayed at many hotels in India and abroad, but the F&B offerings here at Double Tree by Hilton Pune, Chinchwad are something I will long cherish and remember.

 

 

 

 

 

Indulgently Indian

Thalis in Indian cuisine, are my weakness. The sheer variety and sight of small vatis or katoris with different dishes in a glistening thali attract me. The Grand Thali Feast at Soma, Grand Hyatt Mumbai which begins today and goes on until July 23, daily for dinner, naturally was something which beckoned me. I was fortunate to get a preview last night.

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Curated by Chef Vinod Singh Rana of Soma and his team, the thali looked delightful and appetizing as expected. In fact I even witnessed the thalis being set in the spotlessly clean and well-planned kitchen.

I opted for the Non-vegetarian option with laal maas, a typical Rajasthani preparation of mutton which is lip-smacking. Naturally, that was the first dish I tried and it turned out to be one of the best lal-maas preparations I have ever had. Often hyped, it disappoints owing to too much spice and a rich and heavy gravy. But this one was a palate-pleaser. The yogurt was just right, as were the other spices and the texture of the succulent mutton pieces, slow-cooked, were just the way I enjoy mine.

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The other dishes on my thali included Rajasthani bhindi, sev tamatar, batata-nu-shaak, kadhi, dal, khichdi, thepla, rotla, puri, rice and of course lot of farsan in the form of khandvi, dhokla, samosa, patra made of arbi leaves, et al. Each dish was distinct in its flavours and textures and obviously painstakingly prepared. The taste of each Rajasthani and Gujarati dish was authentic with no room for compromise.

Desserts were the highlight of my meal with malpua and rabdi and of course the quintessential, moong dal halwa, as I have an incurable sweet-tooth.

The quality of ingredients was expectedly the best and the flavours shone through with ease. A sumptuous meal, perhaps difficult to finish, but enjoyable nevertheless. I was satiated. The meetha paan served in a traditional manner was the perfect finale to this grand thali meal.

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One can also enjoy an array of delightful cocktails and mocktails themed to compliment the menu from their a la carte beverage menu.

Given the variety and the fact that it is unlimited, as well as being priced at an all inclusive price, at Rs 999 for veg and Rs 1111 for Non-veg, this thali is a steal and every gourmand fond of the diverse flavours of Rajasthan and Gujarat must head to Soma soon. Furthermore, the thali has 4 rotational menus, so even if you land up more than once in the ten days, you are likely to experience a new set of dishes.

Rating: 4/5