Tag Archives: cuisine

Grand(eur) all the way

Visiting any place in Gujarat always excites me as the State is so rich in art and culture and the prospect of getting a glimpse of that, in itself is an attraction.

So when Vadodara, beckoned, as Surya Palace, the iconic hotel in the city of Vadodara was being rebranded to Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace, it was reason enough to pay a visit.

Chukh chukh chakh chakh Bombay se Baroda tak. Rishi Kapoor’s famous song from the film ‘Rafoo Chakkar’ was playing in my head as I travelled by train to Vadodora, albeit from Surat.

Surya Palace is synonymous with Vadodara and boasts of warm hospitality, great food and impeccable service. But of course I needed to experience it for myself. Add to that the involvement of the world famous AccorHotels now, so the expectations were really high.

The warm welcome and smooth check in won my heart instantly. But it was the lobby with a display of a plethora of art works that caught my attention. I was mesmerized.

From the sculptures by Nagji Patel in the porch and the ceramic works of P. R. Daroz, Jyoti Bhatt, along with display of Padma Vibhushan Prof. K G. Subramanium’s paintings, it was like walking into a beautiful art gallery. That itself gave me an insight into the rich heritage of this hotel and its connect with the city of Vadodara.

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My well-appointed room with warm earthy colours, beautiful paintings and replete with amenities, appealed to me instantly. The attention to detail struck me as outstanding. Bharat Kumar Gupta, the Front Office Manager and his team were omnipresent, always ready to assist and help at any time of the day or night.

Deluxe King Room - Gand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace

Jean-Michel Cassé, Chief Operating Officer, India & South Asia, AccorHotels rightly said, “Grand Mercure is a cultural touchstone in each destination, capturing guests’ imagination and bringing local stories to life.” It certainly held true for Grand Mercure Surya Palace Vadodara.

Piyush Shah, Managing Director, Jindal Hotels Ltd with Jean-Michel Cassé, Chief Operating Officer, India & South Asia, AccorHotels at the launch of Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace

The food, which is always the pivot of my existence, in more ways than one, surpassed my expectations. I expected to eat only Vegetarian food in Gujarat and perhaps only local delicacies, but Executive Chef Sudhakar Angre’s prowess in Non-vegetarian food at each meal surprised me at Azure, the all-day dining restaurant.  The quality of ingredients, the presentation and cooking methods used were impressive. No where was there an instance of spices overpowering the flavours. The ingredients were the hero. The sheer variety offered at each meal was amazing. From chicken quesadillas to lamb rogan josh and from panki to undhiyo, there was everything on offer. The Mediterranean offerings were equally lip-smacking. The local food was of course a treat for our taste buds- khaman, fafda, jalebis, sev tameta nu shaak etc

Vanilla the delicatessen, was hard to resist each time we stood in the lobby as the display of freshly made desserts, cookies, cakes, was alluring.

Just when I thought, I had sampled it all, the traditional Gujarati thali served to us for dinner on our last night there, swept me off my feet. The spread in the thali was expectedly varied, but the authenticity of the dishes and the manner in which it was served, left me awe struck. The local breads of Gujarat served were outstanding as were the aamras, kadhi, dal, undhyo, bhindi. It was a feast fit for royalty.

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The cultural function organsied by the Hotel giving us a peek into Gujarat’s rich cultural heritage was a treat as was the visit to places of interest like the Laxmi Vilas Palace and Fateh Singh Museum.

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Rajesh Gopalakrishnan, General Manager, Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace said, “Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace will provide a unique dimension for guests staying at the property. With a distinctive portfolio of accommodation, dining destinations and MICE facilities, we are set to define new standards of hospitality and look forward to cater to the city’s growing tourism and business activities.”

Well, if the launch and my personal experience was anything to go by, the 146 room, Grand Mercure Vadodara Surya Palace certainly was all set to achieve this and more.

Sensationally Sensory

“A good fragrance is really a powerful cocktail of memories and emotion.”  A wise man once said this and there is ample truth in his words.
Last night’s dinner at Romano’s JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar will remain firmly etched in my memory for ever. I can even close my eyes and recall all that I ate. Such are the memories. And this has a lot to do with the fragrances created painstakingly by Chef Roberto and his team after months of research and hard work.

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Aromas, as the promotion was rightly titled, was fragrant from word go. The ten herb and ingredients infused distilled edible fragrances like nutmeg, saffron, oregano, rosemary, coffee, orange, sage, thyme, vanilla, fennel were every diner’s playful kit for the evening. Bottled in delicate glass perfume bottles these were both enticing and inviting.

With the special dishes created by Chef Roberto using fresh ingredients of the best quality and keeping the flavours simple, not letting anything overpower those, one was to merely experiment with these fragrances. “Spray some on your fork as you taste a mouthful of the dish,” Chef Roberto explained with a smile. No, these were not paired with each dish, but one had the freedom to try these as per one’s preferences and tastes.

With the baby burrata and lychee I got adventurous  as I sprayed rosemary first and the burrata came alive with a myriad flavours. Of course nothing interfered with its distinct taste. Fennel, coffee, thyme. I was on an experimental spree, enjoying myself thoroughly. Even though no dish was particularly paired with the fragrances, the flavours complemented each other so well. I marveled at Chef’s thought process.

The snow beans and fennel carpaccio was simplicity personified. Once could taste each ingredient clearly and the freshness shone through.

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As my meal progressed, I realised how the flavours in each dish were kept subtle so as to experiment unbridled with the fragrances, which were meant to enhance the dining experience. And truly they were doing just that.

There were other exciting options for appetizers on the menu too. Parma ham with robiola cheese, heirloom tomato with buffalo mozzarella.

For mains, I was blown with the flavours and textures of the house-made tagliolini pasta with black garlic, chili and extra virgin olive oil. Simple and unpretentious. The black garlic actually added the zest to the dish. Flawless. And yes,  I was not missing my meats at all today.

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The Chilean sea bass with mild flavours but a distinct texture on a bed of eggplant was a delight for the taste buds. Here too I tried fragrances like rosemary, sage, and even nutmeg and they all passed in flying colours for my taste buds were tantalized sufficiently.

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What can I say about the deconstructed tiramisu? Apart from being a treat for the palate, it was perfectly executed. Avant garde in presentation but absolutely authentic and true to its classic ingredients. The chocolate mousse on meringue, surpassed my expectations as it was an amalgamation of flavours and textures which immediately satisfied your sweet cravings.

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Yet, again, as always, Chef Roberto had excelled. His offerings were unique, the execution, flawless.

I walked out of Romano’s with a smile as the whiff of those fragrances lingered on in my memory and always will.

On till June 4 for dinner, do try this if you want to embark upon a once in a lifetime food journey.

Rating: 4.5/5

Greco : Simply Greek in Goa

A cheerful vibe envelopes you as you enter the Greek cuisine restaurant Greco replete with pristine white and bright blue decor – quintessentially Greek. Although located at Radisson Blu Resort, Cavelossim in South Goa, the separate entrance with the menu placed outside, gives you an option to enter this place, without having to go through the Hotel.

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The striking decor actually transports you to Greece and you could well be in a taverna with a relaxed setting. An arch way leads you to the outdoor seating which is of the inimitable courtyard style and offers a spectacular view. Of course, there is ample seating inside too. In fact the plush interiors, with a swish, well-stocked bar and the mood lighting creates an unparalleled atmosphere.

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A  simple but complete menu largely representative of Crete island in Greece,  is palced before you. However, there are other specialities from other parts of Greece too, giving a diner an insight into this cuisine. The menu has been cleverly crafted by Chef Stelios, a native of Greece. Sea food expectedly abounds in the offerings.

My Psarosopa is a medley of sea food flavours- subtle and comforting. The sea food stock has been cleverly used and is not overpowering. The Greek Mezze here is quite different from the various versions that are often passed off as the original mezze. The tzatziki is bang on in flavours and textures. The kalamata olive paste wows my palate as well, but it is the aubergine salad which unexpectedly stands out. With the warm pita bread dipped into these in turns, I relish every morsel I eat.

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The garides saganaki- a simple but flavourful prawns dish in tomatoes with a dash of ouzo (liqueur) perks up my taste buds. The prawns are fresh and of a superior quality. The tragani feta bursting with fresh flavours, encased in a crisp covering drizzled with honey, with a characteristic sweet and savoury flavour, was the piece de resistance for the evening. It clearly bore testimony to the chef’s mastery over his craft.

The gyros chicken is well-made too. Sea food and poultry apart, for hard-core carnivores, there is a fair amount to choose from. Vegetarians need not despair as there is ample variety too.

My dessert is special, yet, traditional. Galaktoboureko – a sweet and sour cream on a pastry crust immersed me in a food coma. A bite into the crispy phyllo and the creamy semoilna custard filled one’s mouth. Made to perfection, it was a dessert which left you satiated and yet, craving for more.

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I observed that nowhere in my entire meal, did the spices (although minimal) drown the flavours of the core ingredients and the chef had donejustice to all the ingredients by using simple cooking methods.

The use of extra virgin olive oil, ouzo and fresh authentic ingredients adds the right amount of punch and flavour to the dishes. The food is high on flavours and the quality of the ingredients, shines through. It is simple and uncomplicated fare.

If a cocktail is what you fancy, the bartender behind the glitzy bar will make you something to your taste. And of course the selection of wines will lure you as well.

The staff is well-informed about the menu and the service is quick and alert.

Greco truly surpassed my expectations and I felt that for the first time in India, I had a Greek meal which was an honest representation of this simple but flavoursome cuisine.

Rating: 4.5/5

Hop along for some Hoppers

Sri Lanka’s bowl shaped pancake- light, fluffy and delicious, is my new favourite. Quite similar to appams, hoppers are made with naturally fermented rice flour. They can be eaten sweet or savoury. A staple found primarily on every table in a Sri Lankan home.Of course, I first sampled it years ago when I went to Sri Lanka, and several time later at food festivals or five star hotels, but the novelty has not worn off. In fact, I am in love with these with renewed vigour. I prefer savoury ones any day.

Naturally then, I hopped over to Madeira and Mime, a new restaurant (opened 5 months ago) in Powai to sample some great hoppers. Known for their great food and drinks, I was sure I would get good ones here.And right I was!

The doughy centre and crisp edges with a filling in the centre, are enticing. And that’s exactly what was served to me here, one Hopper with chicken sukka and the other paneer makhani. There was a mutton version too, which I decided to skip.

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The highlight for me was the accompanying coconut pickle- spicy, well seasoned and with a great bite to it.

The hoppers were well-made, just the way they should be and the generous chicken sukka with an egg at the base made it even more delicious.The flavours of the chicken were lip-smacking and comforting. No spice was over powering and the pieces of chicken were succulent and well-meshed with the gravy. One could just roll it and bite into it effortlessly. The paneer makhani one which is obviously a twist in terms of the filling, was not so exciting, in comparison, but tasty nevertheless.

Made of rice flour and coconut milk, hopppers are light and pair well with just about anything. The slight sour flavour and a medley of textures is what sets these apart. Made in a special pan or appachatti, these are quite easy to make as well and quick too, but yes require a special skill.

Madeira and Mime is every bit your neighborhood bar offering unique drinks and delectable food along with great service by their always-smiling staff. I too left the palce smiling after having savoured palate-pleasing hoppers.

Taste of India

I was ecstatic when I first heard that Neel,  one of my favourite restaurants from deGustibus hospitality was opening a new outlet at Powai in the same premises, alongside an Indigo Deli. My joy doubled. But there was more. This was not the same Neel as the one in Mahalaxmi Racecourse. It was going to be an All day dining place offering simple, authentic Indian food from across the country. Much as I enjoy the lip-smacking Awadhi delicacies served at Neel, Tote on the Turf, I was relieved. I could indulge in my guilty pleasures, more than just once in a while now.

Sadly, I missed the buzzing opening party, but stepped in on the Monday after, for a leisurely lunch to experience Neel, Indian Kitchen plus bar, in its new avatar.

Whew! the plush interiors and the wooden staircase that led me up, seemed straight out of a European setting. The first part was obviously Indigo Deli casual and elegant with an air of bonhomie and the second part was Neel the Indian Kitchen and Bar. The natural light filtering in and the understated but chic decor,  the dash of blue to give it an eclectic touch, gave me a good vibe immediately.I felt naturally comfortable.

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I was privileged to get a sneak preview as the restaurant has not yet opened to guests and patrons. It opens doors officially on September 14.

Warm hospitality as ever. Chatting with Anurag Katriar, CEO & Executive Director, deGustibus Hospitality, JD, the Corporate Executive Chef and of course the Man at the helm of Neel’s Kitchen, Chef Mukhtar Qureshi, it promised to be a great afternoon.

Anurag informed me that,  at Neel Indian Kitchen + Bar  they have hand-picked culinary gems from various parts of India and put them together on a single gastronomic platform. An all-day diner with an eclectic bar, Neel, celebrates true Indian food amidst a contemporary setting. “Good Food-Served well”, was after all their hospitality credo.

Dhanewal murgh ka shorba (a light aromatic chicken broth flavoured with coriander) was served. The mild flavours of the spicy shorba, replete with coriander, was comforting and the perfect way to tease my taste buds. I was ready to savour the rest of my meal.

My Tellichery pepper chicken Kerala style, arrived. The aroma of the pepper filled my nostrils, as I was being served. A type of pepper which is aromatic and spicy, but not too pungent and rough, it enveloped the succulent pieces of chicken well and along with curry leaves and southern spices, was a delightful way to begin.

The stuffed mushrooms too were delectable given the cheese and spinach filling, but what made it stand apart was the apricot or jardalu chutney served alongside. It actually revved up the flavour quotient unimaginably.

I could not believe Chef Mukhtar Qureshi’s mastery over Indian cuisine as a whole. I was actually spellbound. Here I was tasting dishes from Southern India, Konkan, Bihar and all over, and each one was a masterpiece.  I had always known him for his lip-smacking Awadhi food, but this man was obviously full of surprises.

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The Sukka squid was swathed in a delicious coconut masala and an interesting texture, took my taste buds by storm. But the piece de resistance in the starters was the Konkani Jhinga, without a doubt. It resembled the Cafreal masala from Goa, as I first looked at it. It was pan seared prawns coated in a similar  green masala but yet, different and distinct, as I discovered upon the first bite. It wowed my palate beyond words and the moistness in the prawns even though they were pan-seared, impressed me.

The Allepey Aloo was flawless, but paled in comparison today to the other dishes.

My  gastronomic journey continued with the Mutton bhuna roast  and a Malabari parotha. The soft, flaky parotha paired well with the fleshy, melt-in-the mouth, robust, mutton which was well-spiced but not overly rich or oily. In fact nothing in the meal was greasy or heavy. That to my mind was the real achievement of the chef. Else going through so much of food would have been a daunting task.

The new Neel also offers an extensive array of chaats, tikkis et al,  if you want a filling evening snack or a light lunch perhaps, but of course I had to save that experience for another day.

The grand finale to round off my memorable meal was the gulkand paan ice cream made in house. The flavours of paan and gulkand were strong and appeased my taste buds. The element of sweetness was just right and the texture was creamy and smooth.

The menu here, is an amalgamation of  food from across India representing all the regions, ranging from the popular street foods of Kolkata & Rajasthan, to pure Kashmiri & Konkani fare. Chef Qureshi has painstakingly revived age-old, often forgotten spice blends like lazzat e taam, Baristha masala and using ethnic ingredients such Khas ka jadh, dagad ka phool, pan ka jadh, kebab chini, mulhatti, chandan.

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No wonder the food at Neel, is not run-of-the-mill fare but carefully crafted, to appeal to all palates.

I had almost traversed all of India in one afternoon, thanks to my epicurean journey at Neel. I left satiated, smiling, but with a promise to return.

 

 

 

 

Flavours of Maharashtra, Home Style

An opportunity to visit Taj Wellington Mews and Luxury Residences in Colaba, Mumbai and that too, to savour the local cuisine of Maharashtra? This invitation was accepted by me in minutes. After all Taj Wellington Mews is one of Mumbai’s best kept secrets. How many of us ordinary mortals get to enter its haloed precincts? I, for one, had never been inside.

We were welcomed warmly at the entrance by the General Manager himself, Mr. Anmol Ahluwalia. I was touched beyond words.

Over kokum sherbet, we were made to feel comfortable, till the other guests arrived and after an extensive tour of the property, which left me speechless, we sat down to enjoy a traditional meal. Their eye for detailing and ensuring guest comfort, is legendary.

Maharashtrian cuisine boasts of a wide variety of delicacies, ranging from subtly flavoured to tongue-twisting spicy. I was looking forward to my meal. This promised to be an exciting journey.

On a beautifully decorated table replete with orange marigolds, we were served our lunch on a silver thali at Weli Deli, the restaurant. Made me feel like royalty, actually.

Kothimbir vadi a popular snack of this region, made from coriander leaves and chickpea flour or besan was what I tried first. A bite into it and a plethora of flavours, burst in my mouth. It literally melt in my mouth.

There was a lot of food on my thali or platter- puris, chicken kolhapuri, batata sukhi bhaji, masala bhat, amti and shrikhand. It could not get more traditional than this.

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Goda masala, essentially consisting of onion, garlic, ginger, red chilli powder, green chillies and mustard, which is a bit sweetish, is what is typically used in Maharashtrian vegetable preparations or a black or kala masala.

This batatachi sukhi bhaji was the quintessential dry potato preparation from Pune, with the right amount of spices, curry leaves and crushed peanuts. It paired exceedingly well with the deep fried, hot and crisp puris.

The Chicken Kolhapuri was surprisingly a milder version, of what I expected. Not fiery at all. But it was luscious nevertheless and the taambda rassa or red gravy was lip-smacking. One could feel the lavish use of spices, yet,  these were not overpowering.

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The Masale bhat  or spicy rice, was well-made, with delectable, but robust flavours. The use of spices was apt. The sweet and tangy amti, or dal was just the way I enjoy it. Absolutely home made.

Each dish struck me as authentic and home-style. Nothing was oily or greasy or too spicy and the fresh ingredients were enhancing the flavours.

We rounded off our meal with shrikand, sweetened yogurt with cardamom and saffron. The creamy texture coated my palate and I was enjoying, every spoonful of this.

Over animated conversations about food, we had a thoroughly enjoyable and leisurely afternoon, where we were treated to authentic Maharashtrian cuisine spread over the entire state. These were truly flavours from home. At Rs 1500 all inclusive, this was a steal.

The service was impeccable, the hospitality, warm, characteristic of the Taj Group of hotels. I stepped out, with a smile. Satiated of course and my heart filled with the warmth of Indian hospitality. I felt privileged, this afternoon.

What’s more one need not be staying here to experience a meal at Weli Deli. One can just call and book and step in for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Trust me, this place is worth a visit.

 

A Melange of Traditions & Flavours 

My entry into the Bohri kitchen, well, not literally, but Nafisa Kapadia’s home, to experience its rich and lavish cuisine, needed destiny to intervene. Several times, family and friends, made plans to “do the experiential” Bohri thaal at The Bohri Kitchen, run by Munaf Kapadia in Colaba, offering his mother’s lip-smacking food, but somehow for me, it never worked out.

On Eid, this year, I was lucky. Yes, to receive a kind invitation from Burrp to celebrate Eid with other fellow foodies. the next day at The Bohri Kitchen. I was excited. Kept my fingers crossed, as I accepted the invitation.

And yes, on the stipulated Friday afternoon, I actually made it. A warm welcome from the lady herself, Nafisa and her son Munaf, and I got pleasant vibes as I entered their home.

A cooling drink made with nariyal pani (coconut water) and tender coconut, not only refreshed me, but made my stomach get ready to brace the onslaught of rich and spicy Bohri food. Or so I thought.

A large thaal or platter was placed on the table. Yes, Bohri meals are meant to be shared. Salt was passed around as that is how the meal begins. One must cleanse one’s palate so as to be able to taste and savour each distinct dish.

A date and almond chutney, a green chutney, pineapple and boondi raita and diced nimbus or lemons in a bowl were already placed, to enjoy with the various dishes.

Kheema samosas were served first. One dish is served at a time. Munaf instructed us to bite into the samosa, squeeze some lime to release the smoked flavours of the mutton. We did so and discovered how right he was. A dash of the green mint and coriander chutney, further tickled our palates. I was ready for the next.

Chicken drumsticks came next. Fried to perfection and well-spiced, these were equally delicious.

To my utter surprise, sheer kurma, or seviyan(vermicelli) replete with nuts et al in thickened milk, a sweet dish, came next. Apparently, that is how a Bohri meal is best enjoyed – Mithaas and khaaras, aka sweet and savoury must be contrasted,  to enjoy the meal, the Bohris believe.

Flawless, was the first word that came to my mind for the sheer kurma. The perfect proportion of milk, vermicelli and sugar. I generally don’t like the ones where the vermicelli swells up and enevelopes the entire bowl.

Each course was interesting and I was relishing this entire culinary journey with Munaf explaining how each dish was to be enjoyed and the reason behind the sequence.

Everyone went into a tizzy as the piece de resistance- the Raan was served. And that too in two contrasting gravies- a red masala, spicy and luscious and a creamy, white, cashew based gravy. The salli on top of the red masala version, added to the flavours and textures. My vote went to this one instantly. The mutton was succulent and melt in the mouth. It had been marinated for days and absorbed the spices, extremely well.

In between, we sipped the rose sherbet with sabja seeds. Again to cool our systems from the abundant red meat we were consuming.

Chicken bhuna paired with aam ras or mango pulp? This was a first for me. But a marriage made in heaven. No one did not have to dip the chicken in the aam ras of course, but eat both together, to bring out the best in each other. Complimentary?

What can I say about the Gosht biryani? Thsi was the jaman or the main course. It surpassed my expectations. Not oily or greasy at all. Well-layered and perfectly spiced, the mutton pieces, seamlessly mingled with the long grain rice and the potatoes. This dish rendered me speechless.

I was surprised at myself as I willingly helped myself to the accompanying paya soup (lamb trotters soup) something which I usually never venture to do. It was the appearance which made me do so. Light and appealing it looked. And it was. Absolutely mild and flavourful.

This was a never-ending gastronomic journey and yet, I was not complaining.

The sancha ince cream-litchi and mango, was the perfect finale to our meal. But today. even the desserts paled in comparison to the sumptuous repast.

The hospitality was fuss-free but warm, the meal, hygienically served and each dish, mouth-watering and authentic.

What is heartening to know is that The Bohri Kitchen does home delivery too.

This is a gastronomical experience no non vegetarian should miss. Of course you have got to be a hard core carnivore to devour this thaal.

Rating : 4.5/5