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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

 

 

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Celebrating the flavours of Bandra

When a cosy cafe opens in Bandra to celebrate the salient features of Bandra and its food, it certainly merits a visit. This latest entrant into Bandra beckons you immediately. The warmth is unmistakable.

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There are two seating areas- one a dining only and the other has sheesha too. The decor is interesting and the metal head is artistically done.

The menu is a clear tribute to all the food we love in Bandra.  Soups, salads, mains, desserts, this menu offers a wide selection of all with global offerings as well. The bar menu is equally exhaustive.

Trio Fungi Risotto

Sriracha prawns and chicken harissa skewers in the non-vegetarian appetizers prove to be a good choice. The portions are hearty and the food well-presented and unpretentious.  The harissa skewers are well-spiced and robust. The coriander relish sweet potato among the vegetarian options, bowls me over completely. The inherent sweet flavours of the sweet potato are cleverly used and juxtaposed with the spices and red pesto.

Chicken Harissa Skewer

Our zuppa de funghi, a creamy mushroom soup is well-made and appeases our taste buds immediately.

The flavours tease our palates and we look forward to our mains. The classic crepes sound inviting as does the spaghetti bhuna ghosht, but we settle for the Pollo ala Indiana instead. The herb scented pilaf rice with creamy cubed chicken is strongly reminiscent of a stroganoff and thus naturally comforting.

There are vegetarian options too although the menu leans in the favour of carnivores. Chef Roshan has crafted an interesting menu and plays around dexterously with flavours and textures. The clay oven section dishes are worth a try as well.

For desserts, we gorged on the chocolate lava cake, which simply melt-in-the-mouth.

Cafe Bandra has the potential to become a fun, hang out place for the younger crowd, given its location, ambience, array of cocktails and affordably priced food. Only, the service staff needs to be a tad better trained.

Rating : 3/5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun Times Back in Bandra

People in Bandra are going to be excited this Friday. Café Basilico, one of Bandra’s hotspots, returns in a new avatar at a new location on Hill Road. Reason enough to celebrate. I missed it terribly, for the short while that it was away.

I was lucky to get a sneak preview. The menu clearly looked interesting with a strong focus on local produce, I noticed.

Not surprising, as the produce is going to be sourced directly from Farhan’s Bhiwandi farm. I am all for seasonal produce and fresh ingredients. Makes a world of difference to flavours in food.

Fig and Goat Cheese Salad

The roast organic tomato soup was comforting, more so as I chatted animatedly with a friend. The smoky flavour was distinct and soothed my taste buds. The slight piquancy enhanced the flavours.

The fig and goat cheese salad was hearty and the ingredients, fresh and crunchy. The Mozarella and Chicken croquettes salad too was interesting and had unique contrasting flavours. We were off to a good start.

Mozarella and Chiken Croquettes - Salads

 

The signature Mediterranean Platter was a treat and the baba ghanoush and hummus particularly appealed to me.

One can rarely go wrong with prawns and the peri peri sea food prawns were fresh and succulent, with a dash of spice to them, just enough to tingle our palates.

The assorted vegetarian tempuras too were well made. I did not enjoy the falafel in comparison.

But it was the Harissa Chicken which got my vote. The chicken was grilled to perfection and swathed in the harissa sauce, it simply melt in the mouth, leaving the taste buds crave for more.

The Basa too was well-marinated, and surprisingly I enjoyed it. And that is a huge compliment considering I dislike Basa immensely. Only creative chefs can turn that around and make it tasty and appealing. Chef Das certainly managed to do that.

What struck me as interesting was the fact that Café Basilico boasts of an extensive menu with several vegan options curated by Ayesha. That truly is much needed today. Kudos!

For people like me who love breads, this place is a haven.The Sandwiches and burgers section  is exhaustive. Hummus & Iceberg or the Chermoula Grilled Chicken sandwiches and the Blue Cheese Beef Steak or the Soya, Barley & Mushroom Burgers, there is something for every palate.

Café Basilico’s pizzas are all prepared from their traditionally organic tomato sauce with  vegan options too. That’s not all. There is an array of pastas to choose from too.

 

 

 

 

One can be experimental and enjoy one’s meal with seasonal fresh fruit juices, flavoured coolers or refreshing lemonade, iced teas and coolers like Tropical Guava Cooler or Cucumber Cooler.

Cucumber Cooler

The menu never ceased to surprise me. There were a plethora of coffees, green tea, premium teas and caffeine free herbal infusions  too. And yes desserts too.

The mini tarts- chocolate, mango and lemon that we sampled were delicious as far as the filling went, but the tart was too soft and crumbly.

Overall, the food is of a very good quality, as is the variety and presentation. The decor is elegant and subtle and gives you the feel of a global cafe, yet, providing you privacy, if you want.

Cafe Basilico lived up to my expectations yet again.

Fun times are back in Bandra and how!

Rating : 3.5/5

 

 

 

Of Teas and Treats

I felt like royalty on Friday evening last, as I sat at the Atrium Lounge at Taj Lands End Bandra, Mumbai sipping an aromatic  cup of Kenilworth Estates Midgrown and bit into a dainty chorizo sandwich and a creamy fruit tart.

Making Afternoon Tea a highly fashionable beverage, Portuguese Princess Catherine de Braganza brought the royal court’s favourite drink to Mumbai in myriad flavors and aromas. And Taj Lands End is celebrating that.

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Delving into the rich cultural traditions of the Western suburb of Bandra, replete with historical anecdotes, the Atrium Lounge at Taj Lands End recreates the family ritual of a rendezvous over a cup of tea.

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Chef Namit guided us to the buffet spread of the Hi Tea. Dainty sandwiches, freshly baked scones, Bebinca, the quintessential Portuguese dessert, Lamb croquette, custard tarts,  Bolo-d-arro – Rice and coconut muffin, Queijo Fresco – cream cheese tartlets, Chicken Cafreal Buns, Bifanas and a lot more,  were aesthetically laid out on the table. Oh! what a treat for the eyes and palate this was.

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I was glad that some Hotel in the city had taken the initiative to revive the fashionable afternoon tea. After all, from where I come, Kolkata, sipping tea in Bone china tea ware at 4 pm is indeed a way of life. To relax, enjoy your cuppa and chat, is a luxury, this fast-paced city of Mumbai is devoid of, but something we all need to indulge in, sometimes, if not daily.

Anirudhya Roy, Executive Chef, Taj Lands End said, “The most quintessential of customs observed by Bandraites have been acquired by the Portugal and European traditions. Inspired by the ceremonious means of enjoying a good time with family and friends, we have introduced a lavish menu of teas and delectable treats to make afternoons a memorable time of the day. ”

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An array of well brewed teas were on offer, apart from the delectable finger food and desserts, all faithfully representing Bandra and its rich heritage. The service was as always, impeccable and I loved the fact that interesting stories and bits of relatively unknown information was being shared, as we sat back and enjoyed our Hi Tea.

What elevated the tea experience further was Taj Lands End’s  association with Kulture Shop which showcased iconic pieces of art, at Atrium Lounge. Art and Afternoon Tea? I was actually transported to another era.

Affordably priced, given the variety and quality of food and teas on offer, this Bandra Hi Tea at Atrium Lounge is worth giving up your work for.

 

 

 

Mangii in the Morning

Breakfast options in Mumbai are severely lacking and I always long for interesting places to start my day. Unfortunately, not too many options. Naturally, then I was delighted to learn that Cafe Mangii has started offering breakfast. Well, they officially do so from tomorrow, January 7, 2016.

I was fortunate to get a sneak preview this morning. Cafe Mangii never fails customers in food and service, so I was quite sure the breakfast would be a good experience and it was.

My Sweet lime juice in a jar arrived. Fresh and citrusy. It perked me up instantly. The menu was really varied with exciting options for egg lovers and of course vegetarians too. And yes pancakes and waffles too apart from the muesli, cereal et al and juices.

Although the omelettes ( my weakness) sounded appetising and inviting, I decided to skip those for a change.

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Creamy spinach & truffle infused scrambled eggs is what I settled for. Aesthetically presented, the presentation won me over. A bite into it and I was clean bowled. The fluffy soft eggs, were scrambled to perfection. The layer of creamy spinach and truffle below, was flavourful and melt-in-the-mouth. A perfect complement for the eggs. The potato base offered the right amount of crunch and bite to this delectable breakfast dish. Needlessly, it passed in flying colours.

We also tried the artful combination of poached eggs and salmon with hollandaise sauce, offering exciting flavours and textures juxtaposed in one dish. Well-balanced and a treat for the palate. We had obviously made the right choices. Filling and delicious, we were off to a great start.

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Sipping our coffee, we then relished our Belgian waffles with Nutella and banana. Of course there were options of chocolate ganache and vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and berry compote too, but we opted for this. Fruits and chocolate combo.

The waffles were crisp yet, soft and our topping, perfect. The sweetness quotient was just right to tantalize our taste buds and yet, let the taste of the previous savoury dishes linger

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Apart form individual dishes, one can settle for the Cafe Mangii tray which is absolute value for money,

Prompt service, warm hospitality and high quality ingredients always characterize Cafe Mangii and this breakfast sojourn was no exception.

Satiated after this sumptuous breakfast, I headed to work with a smile on my lips. Thank you Cafe Mangii!

Rating: 4.5/5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun, Frolic, Flavours Galore: Monkey Bar

It was not even a weekend and I could hear the buzz inside Monkey Bar Bandra, from the road, as I stepped out of my vehicle.

New in Mumbai, after making its debut in Bengaluru in 2012, this gastro pub is already the talk of the town. Oops! Suburbs.

The place was teeming with youngsters and even a few older couples and friends. I was almost transported to a pub in Europe. The bar counter was packed as many people stood there, sipping their beers or cocktails.

I settled for an Aam Panna strongly recommended to me, as I was not having any alcohol. My partner opted for a Masala soda. My aam pana was a bit too salty and synthetic. Nothing to write home about.

Our Peppered calamari rings arrived along with the prawn pickle and pao. The calamari was fresh and well fried, with a dash of garlic, curry leaves, spices et al, which was good to whip up an appetite. The prawn pickle was delicious, but not exactly a balchao. The kadak pao or brun pao was too kadak for my liking and a tad too chewy. These perked up our taste buds nevertheless.

The menu was quirky and unusual. Loaded Nachos, Butterfly Chicken, Tikki of Joy and Goan Chorizo Pao. Also Char-grilled burgers, a delicious selection of small plates, soul-satisfying main courses to cater to every palate, cocktails in Nutella jars and copper tumblers, as well as delicious desserts.

DAL PAKWAN

The pricing struck me as affordable and the dishes innovative with the right twist. Everyone seemed to be having a good time without a care in the world. A great place to unwind and relax.

I loved Chef’s value addition to the Indian dishes, as well as regional favourites like Laal Maas Phulkas, served with mirch achar, ker sangri sabji and coriander chutney or Aunty Pereira’s sorpotel pickle pot. Innovation at its best!

Even the mains were unique. We settled for a Butter chicken khichdi which was abundantly flavourful and comforting. Well presented too. But it was the Jackfruit biryani that was the star of the evening. Aromatic, with subtle flavours, it was appetizing to the core.  Good portions too. Well-prepared succulent pieces of jackfruit and the delicately flavoured biryani rice, were married perfectly. I am never going to miss a Mutton biryani again.

Butter Khichdi Chicken (1)  - Monkey Bar - Photo Courtesy Kunal Chandra

Other fun dishes were Chandraji’s Mutton Curry Balti (a succulent mutton dish served with Gobindobhog rice), Peshavari Chicken Chaapli and Via Amritsar (a really cool take on the humble aloo vadi); hearty meals for meat lovers like the In ‘N Out (Monkey’s version of Scotch eggs),Duck Boti Roti (Peking-inspired duck confit and egg baida roti served with onions and mint chutney), Crab Rangoon  etc.

Chef Manu Chandra has really let his imagination run riot and yet, kept his food so authentic and of great quality. No element of monotony at all in the menu. Absolutely laudable.

Jackfruit Biryani -  Monkey Bar - pic 3 Photo Courtesy Kunal Chandra

The Rasmalai Pannacotta was a bit of a dampner as the flavours were not upto the mark and did not appeal to us. The Chocolate popcorn proved to be our saviour. One can never go wrong there.

The exposed walls, cosy nooks and corners, mismatched, yet warm, lights and fixtures, all culminate in giving a fun, yet warm appeal to this place. It beckons you instantly, making you relax and enjoy. And we were no exception. We stepped out after a fun evening.

Rating : 4/5

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