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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I have loved cashews ever since I can remember. Roasted, plain or in marzipans. I love them in any form. Being married to a Goan, of course I am now well-versed with the importance of cashews in Goa and its popularity, but it was only recently that I rediscovered the fruit, apart from the nut, I am so familiar with.
Park Hyatt Resort & Spa Goa’s Cashew Trail beckoned us to Goa. I am ever willing to go to Goa, just as most of us are. But in reality, it was the cashew related itinerary, which intrigued me.
As a food and beverage writer, I was keen to know more about feni and urak, the drinks made from cashew apple and of course cocktails made with these. I was equally curious to see how Chefs infuse the cashew into a variety of dishes across cuisines. And that’s exactly what the culinary wizards at Park Hyatt Goa did. I was mesmerized.
I was in for a surprise at Casa Sarita, the Goan restaurant at the Hotel. The special five-course menu was paired with urak, feni aged one year, an Oak Cask 2012 edition feni and a Port Oak Cask 2010 edition feni. These feni selections were specially presented by the Vaz family for Cashew Trail 2015.
I loved the passion with which Mac Vaz painstakingly explained each feni as we got ready to sip it with each course. I have great regard for Chef Edridge of Casa Sarita, who is a master of his craft. He loves his Goan cuisine and knows it really well. Well enough to, give it his own contemporary twist. And yet, the dishes are authentic. That’s what makes him a class apart.
We began with the Assiette of seafood peri peri and Cauliflower tondak served with first pressed coconut milk and salted cumin biscotti. Exquisite flavours enveloped my mouth, as, I savoured each morsel. The spices used were 100% Goan and the modern twist to it was laudable. Light and flavourful, I relished the cauliflower tondak. The cumin biscotti added the right amount of zest to the course, in terms of the crunch. Never knew Vegetarian Goan food could be so appeasing. The Cinnamon feni sorbet meant to be our palate cleanser, was so delicious that it well could have been my dessert. Smooth in texture, it almost had a creamy feel to it.
The highlight of the evening was the Alle Belle Cold Cheese cake with Cashew Jam. It had me spellbound. A traditional sweet of Goa, Chef had presented and served it so interestingly. It looked so appetising that my heart broke to upset his presentation on the plate. The base of the dessert was crispy and crunchy, juxtaposed perfectly with the smooth and creamy cheese cake on top. The highlight undoubtedly was the cashew jam, which I tasted for the first time ever. Chef Edridge had yet again proved his mastery. This was an example of innovation at its best.
The gourmet dinner and exquisite fenis proved to be a heady experience.
If the dinner, was an extraordinary experience, so were our subsequent meals, where cashews were so skillfully integrated into various dishes. Pulaos, curries, lentils, soups, chutneys and dips. Yes, there was cashew in all of these and more. And yet, the palate never did tire of it, even though we relished this cuisine for three days, albeit in different forms. The Cashew Trail finale brunch replete with cashew based dishes is something I will always remember and cherish. Each dish stood apart from the other. The chefs’ creativity knew no bounds today.
What can I say about the cocktails created with feni and urak? any of these were a revelation for me as I discovered several spices and seasonal fruits which were cleverly used with feni and urak to create the innovative Buenisima, Orange Sunrise and Fenirinha among others.
Apart from savouring myriad cashew creations in various forms, the picking of the cashew apple at the Cashew farm in Valpoi and watching the feni being distilled, is something which made this trip so memorable and the experience unparalleled.
And as I sit at home in Mumbai and bite into my cashew chikki and relish the cashew nut and mango chutney, so generously provided by the Hotel, as our lil’ giveaway, I get nostalgic about the 4th Cashew Trail at Park Hyatt Goa. I had embarked on a guilt-free, hedonistic journey, but I am not complaining. For this one, once is clearly, not enough.
It was European food at its best. Chef Conrad D’Souza of Pali Village Café fame, in conjunction with Chef Xavier Fernandes and Chef Mrinmoy curated a meal at Abode, that was truly memorable.
We instantly felt at home in the cosy ambience, with warm, efficient service. The assorted canapes platter, were not only a visual treat, but a delight for the palate too. If this was the beginning of our four course menu – we sure had embarked upon an exciting culinary journey. The sparkling wine from Chandon perfectly offset the fare.
The cauliflower and potato soup with truffle oil, came next. Served in a cutting chai glass, it was very innovative I thought. And aromatic too. The flavours were subtle yet, pronounced. These two veggies never tasted better than in this form.
The wild mushroom salad with porcini was the highlight that evening. The contrasting textures teased our palates, as did the melee of flavours. It had the right amount of bite and crunch. We simply devoured it.
For mains, I settled for a roasted walnut gnocchi with red spinach. The gnocchi swathed in pureed red spinach was creamy and succulent. And the sauce delightful. The seared Sri Lankan Tuna steak too was well done and had a nice savoury flavor which was tantalizing. The kale chips and chestnut complimented and added to the crunch factor. It definitely enhanced the experience of the dish. For hard core meat lovers, there is Pistachio Crusted Lamb Shanks too.
The vanilla panna cotta with peppered strawberries and the espresso mouse with chocolate meringue, were expectedly sinful. The panna cotta was one of the best I have ever sampled. Full marks to the creamy texture and sweetness quotient. The mousse too had the right texture, not excess gelatine, as is sometimes the case. The crunchy meringue was the perfect partner for the decadent espresso mousse.
With his extensive food experience and technical know-how, Chef Conrad comes to Abode to create his magic with a menu which will be exclusively showcased in the format of a pop-up, available to customers for a limited period of time. The earthy, home style flavours of this meal set it apart from many others.
The week-long pop-up at Abode, an independent luxury boutique hotel in Colaba till December 17 is a not-to-be missed gastronomic experience. Open only for dinner, it has a limited seating capacity, so food lovers need to be quick and book in advance. I am so fortunate to have partaken this meal. Can’t wait to sample Chef Conrad’s cooking yet again some place else.
I was lucky to have attended the All You Need Is Ecuador Press Conference yesterday. Oh! It was such a revelation. Ecuador is such a beauty. A unique place with universal appeal. The 8th most bio diverse country in the world. Whew!
Pro Ecuador, the Institute for the Promotion of Trade and Investment of the country, were such gracious hosts. Consul General of Ecuador, Mumbai, Hector Cueva Jacome and Priscila Moscoso Meiller, Trade Officer were warm and ever willing to share information.
The cuisine sounded even more interesting. To a gourmand like me, the food has to be tempting. And it sounded extremely appetizing and varied. Most regions in Ecuador follow the traditional three course meal of soup, a course that includes rice and a protein, and then dessert and coffee to finish. Supper is usually lighter and sometimes consists only of coffee or herbal tea with bread. Wow! Sounded just like what I would enjoy. They also eat a lot of fish, shrimps and tuna in particular. Perfect, I thought.
We sampled Empanadas De Viento – A combination of the gooey cheese and onions inside a crispy fried empanada and topped with sugar. I relished them immensely, but could not help note the similarity between these and our own Rissois from Goa. These were definitely strongly reminiscent of Rissois. Those too are little envelopes, usually filled with prawns, onions and white sauce and deep fried. Of course there is no sugar on those. But there is no cause to be startled at the similarity, I thought. After all Rissois are delectable Portuguese turnovers, which we Goans have received as legacy and have incorporated in our cuisine.
These empanadas de viento are the perfect breakfast or afternoon snack with a hot cup of black coffee, I was informed. And the good ‘ol Goan Rissois can be savoured anytime too.
The other dish we tried during lunch was exotic. Pescado encocado or fish with coconut sauce. One cannot go wrong with fish. Not at least where I am concerned. This Ecuadorian fish with coconut sauce, called pescado encocado, is a traditional coastal dish of fish seasoned with citrus and spices and then cooked in a sauce of cilantro, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and coconut milk. As I tasted the flavoursome sauce, subtle yet, with a pronounced flavor, I was once again reminded of our Goan fish preparations with coconut milk. Gosh! The similarities were too many.
Our caldeen is on these lines. And our basic Goan fish curry too. Of course we use prawns as well apart from fish. But so do the people of Ecuador. I was told that one should ideally use fresh coconut to make the sauce. Just as we Goans do. Both the coconut water and grated coconut flesh, but if you are in a rush, use canned coconut milk for convenience. Ah! The short cuts in modern rushed times, which we all resort to.
Back in Ecuador, Pescado encocado is typically served with rice and fried ripe plantains. You can also serve it with patacones or green plantain chips instead of the sweet ripe ones.
I was transported to heaven after my Ecuadorian meal of rice and Pescado encocado. You too must try it. It is really simple to prepare.
Pescado encocado or fish with coconut sauce
Recipe courtesy Pro Ecuador.
Yield: For 4-6 people
Pescado encocado or fish with coconut sauce is an Ecuadorian coastal dish of fish seasoned with citrus and spices and then cooked in a sauce of cilantro, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and coconut milk.
- 2 ½ lbs halibut or any other fresh fish, cut in medium size chunks
- ¼ cup lime juice, from about 2 limes
- Juice from 2 oranges
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 2 tbs sunflower or olive oil
- 1 medium sized onion, diced
- 2 bell peppers, diced
- 4 roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped
- 14 oz can of coconut milk
- 3 tbs cilantro, finely chopped
- Salt to taste
- Mix the lime juice, orange juice, crushed garlic, cumin, paprika, coriander powder and salt in a small bowl.
- Marinate the fish chunks for 1 – 2 hours.
- Heat the oil to prepare a refrito or base for the sauce, add the diced onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and salt, cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat.
- Add the coconut milk to the refrito, mix it in well and cook for about 10 minutes, if you prefer a thicker sauce you can thicken the sauce by adding ½ tsp of tapioca starch or corn starch.
- Add the fish fillets, cover partially and let simmer for about 20-25 minutes.
- Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with rice and fried ripe plantains.
Aqaba at Lower Parel’s fashionable corporate address, Peninsula Business Park is any gourmet’s delight. A sprawling, 3000 sq. ft. restaurant with 1000 sq. ft. al fresco section, high ceilings and elegant décor, this restaurant is named after the quaint and picturesque coastal city in Jordan.
Aqaba’s menu, both all day dining and the Aqaba specialty menu, is an amalgamation of dishes from Greece, Turkey and Lebanon with provincial specialties from Southern Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. Fairly exhaustive, it is an exercise in choices, given the variety.
The outdoor al fresco section (currently not operational owing to the Monsoons) offering world cuisine overlooks lush lawns and provides a peaceful sanctuary throughout the day to its patrons. At sunset, the space gradually morphs into a lively tapas bar. I cannot wait to experience that.
Tropical, the pineapple juice based drink with a hint of banana and lemon was refreshing and unique. An interesting blend of flavours and not cloyingly sweet.
Soup Harrira, was a simple, flavoursome Moroccan soup, with a lentil base and lamb pieces. Nourishing and nutritious. Loved it. The presentation was equally a fest for the eyes.
Our Spinach Roca salad cam next but was a bit disappointing as the quantity of goat cheese was highly inadequate. That in fact lead to the bitterness of the leaves in the salad getting accentuated.
The elaborate Mezze platter with six varieties more than made up for the salad. Shish touk the flame grilled chicken skewers were well-marinated. Samak Meswi, the grouper fillets grilled to perfection and served with tomato, preserved lime and garlic were mouth-watering. The fish was of a flawless texture, not disintegrating as in some places it does. But the highlight of the platter undisputedly was the lamb dolma. Grapevine leaves stuffed with rice, lamb, nuts, mint and garlic, steamed and served with a lip-smacking dip. I could satiate myself with these alone. The garlic tzatziki had the right consistency and ingredients and was one of the nicer ones I have tasted.
By now, our palates had been sufficiently wowed and could only get better, I was certain. And it did. Kotopoulo Stifado aka cinnamon flavoured chicken stew with mushrooms, potatoes, olives, tomatoes, onions served with an Aqaba pilaf was heavenly. Its aroma filled my nostrils as it arrived on the table. A spoonful of it and we were transported into another world. Absolutely delicious.
The food at Aqaba surpassed my expectations and the service was flawless too. I only felt that the food its great quality notwithstanding was a wee bit overpriced and thus not exactly value for money. Especially the Kotopoulo Stifado. The quantity was not extraordinary, neither the ingredients exotic, to merit that kind of a price.
We rounded off our meal aptly with a rose petal ice cream(again tiny, half scoops, albeit three) served with honey, pistachios and Cointreau(negligible Cointreau taste n flavour)
Overall, an enjoyable dining experience and Aqaba is definitely going to be the first choice of many a gourmand in Mumbai and visitors alike. Me included!
Dear Memsahib……my invite read. That set my pulse racing. It was like being transported to the style and elegance of the colonial era. I expected The Sahib Room & Kipling’s Bar at Palladium Hotel to be intimidating with a stiff-upper lip atmosphere, but I was wrong. The restaurant and bar are well-designed and exude bon-vivant chic, but, with a warm and friendly vibe, which immediately puts you at ease.
Sipping my Elaichi Daab- an interesting mix of coconut, almond and cardamom, I soaked in the ambience of this tastefully done up Kipling’s Bar. I couldn’t help notice a seat reserved for the famed writer Rudyard Kipling, with his spectacles, pipe et al who is supposedly away on a break.
A while later we shifted to the Sahib Room for the rest of our meal. A superlative menu with Awadhi and North West frontier specialities greeted us. There was style and sophistication even in the manner in which the food was served. Phalon ka shorba- the spiced mandarin orange soup could not have been a better start to our gastronomic journey. A unique, mildly flavoured, refreshing soup. Easily one of the best I have ever tasted. Dhungari Kumbh- Coal smoked forest mushrooms rubbed with fresh cilantro & ginger which came next, took my palate by storm. Melt-in-the mouth mushrooms with a smoky flavor were a never-before experience for my tastebuds. The idea of incorporating Philadelphia cream cheese in the Brocolli Dak Bangla appealed to me immensely. The cheese complimented the tart mustard flavor. We savoured each morsel in a relaxed atmosphere with attentive, but unobtrusive staff.
Jaituni Pomfret was equally a delight with simple, rustic flavours. Nothing overpowering to mask the taste of the fish. And that is what good cooking is all about. There was no scope to go wrong with the Gongura Jhinga either. Succulent prawns, marinated to perfection. My tastebuds had experienced Nirvana already, but there was more to come.
The zafrani taftan and tandoori naan paired well with the Murg Awadhi korma, which was strongly reminiscent of my grandmother’s cooking. Flavourful and comforting with freshly ground spices. The gravy was lip-smacking. Purvanchal saag was an amalgamation of fresh greens, with a hint of spice, just enough to tantalise your appetite. What can I say about the Sasranga meat? This Kashmiri preparation of lamb, with spices was the piece de resistance that evening. Cooked to perfection, the meat cubes were soft and creamy, meshed in a puree of aromatic spices, flavorful, yet, gentle on the palate. So delicious and satisfying was this, that we decided to skip the biryani, something I would normally never miss. Thanks to the fresh and quality ingredients, we did not feel uneasy after our meal.
It was time for some guilty pleasure. The Kolkata meetha paan ice cream had strong paan flavours in a velvety texture, with the right amount of sweetness. In the same vein, was the paan rasogulla, but with different flavours, which lent themselves beautifully to the soft rasogulla. Angoori rabdi was rich and creamy in texture with a burst of sweetness in the mouth. An appropriate finale to a royal repast. Chef Paul Kinny and his team ensure you will go back for more.