Tag Archives: Indian

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

 

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.

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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.

Indulge your taste buds, luxuriously

One does not really need an excuse to bite into a piece of sinful decadence – chocolates, I mean. I can never say no to chocolates. But yes, it is not every chocolate that I enjoy. The percentage of cocoa solids and sugar, matters to me, as this indicates the quality and taste of the chocolate. After all, the higher the cocoa content, the less sugar it contains and the more ‘chocolatey’ it’s going to be.

The epitome of chocolate for most chocolate lovers is the indulgent chocolate cake. But today, there’s more to chocolates than just that. Having tasted  many a luxury chocolate across the world, when I tried, Fabelle, our very own desi luxury brand of chocolates,  from ITC, I could safely say they had raised the bar. From now on, it is going to be difficult settling for any other.

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A visit to the Fabelle, exclusive boutique at ITC Maratha Mumbai, was a revelation of sorts. Fabelle chocolates have been in the making for almost a decade, with extensive research and innumerable trials in the company’s pursuit to craft the finest luxury chocolates in India that  compete with the best in the world. Fabelle has been created by  international chefs together with ITC master chocolatiers. Small wonder then that the end product is a piece de resistance.

 

The range of Fabelle creations  I experienced, were overwhelming. Fabelle Elements – intricately crafted pralines inspired by the elements of nature, Fabelle Ganache – velvety soft cubes of exotic cocoas delicately churned with butter & fresh cream, Fabelle As You Like It – personalized chocolate cup creations offering myriad possibilities of fillings and toppings, Fabelle Single Origin Cacoas – single origin bars, crafted using cocoa from 6 different countries (Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Ecuador, Sao Tome and Ghana), each asserting its own distinct flavour and Fabelle Gianduja – recreation of an Italian delicacy from the Napoleon era fashioned with infusion of hazelnuts into rich, creamy milk chocolate.

 

I was in a trance, mesmerized and my palate awash with decadence. It was difficult to decide which one I had relished the most. But yes, my instant vote went to the apple and cinnamon ganache. Those flavours, so intricately combined, plunged me into a coma, hitherto unknown to me.

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The chefs at the Fabelle boutique enthralled us with their artistic creations, poetry on plate to say the least.

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A chocolate made from a single cocoa sourced from a single country, imparts a distinct characteristic and flavour which is unparalleled. Undoubtedly, chocolates made from blended cocoas cannot match this perfection. The cocoa % in these dark chocolate bars starts from 67% right up to 84% for the chocolate bar made from Ghana cocoa.The Fabelle Single Origins Cacaos – Rich Dark Chocolates were just that and stood apart, like none other. Each pack of Fabelle Single Origin Cacaos is a collection of 6 carefully crafted chocolate dark bars, each perfectly sized for a single serving. This is the most coveted box, a chocolate lover can possess.

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The chocolate boutiques also provide a range of exquisitely crafted desserts and cocoa beverages, created live by Fabelle Master Chocolatiers. Additionally,  one can pick up  the exquisite gift packs too for friends and family.

I left the Fabelle boutique, in a trance and of course with my dessert quota for the week. With the best around, there was no way I was not going to give into my guilty pleasures.

 

With the launch of the chocolate boutiques at ITC Maratha & ITC Central in Mumbai, Fabelle  is now present nationally across Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai & Kolkata.

So indulge all ye chocolate lovers!

Rating : 4.5/5

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Not My Cuppa Tea!

Today, Atithi Devo Bhava (The guest is equivalent to God), a code of conduct in the Indian society, acquired a new meaning. Wagh Bakri Tea, the Ahmedabad headquartered, brew giant, redefined it.

I was invited to the opening of their new Tea lounge in Juhu at 11 am. Punctual by nature, I landed up at 11 am sharp, as I never like to keep any one waiting and abhor the same too. There was no one at the gate and a guard rudely accosted me asking me where I was heading. Upon mentioning media, he just nodded. I made my way into the lounge. No one there too, to guide or welcome us. A gentleman was seated at the table talking to a lady, I introduced myself. They were apparently from the company, but nonchalant, immersed in themselves.

Tired of standing for a long time, I took a seat. There was no sign of the young ladies from the PR agency and at Wagh Bakhri  of course, no one knew what was happening. I kept observing, bloggers, media persons coming in, feeling unwelcome, as the company personnel continued to look confused. No tea was offered. So what if we had braved the Friday morning showers and made our way to the Juhu venue? Nothing till “Sir” comes, was being murmured in hushed tones.

Half an hour elapsed, but there was no sign of anything starting. Meanwhile, eunuchs came, demanded money, the Wagh Bakri person replied, “nothing can be given till the Seth arrives and the inauguration is done.” Where then was the Seth aka Parag Desai, CEO Wagh Bakri, for whom, we were all supposedly waiting. Of course nothing was communicated to us, lesser mortals about His Highness’ arrival and the consequent delay.

Balloons were being put, the floor being swept, fans switched off. So what if we guests were sweating it out? We were inconsequential. We mattered the least to Wagh Bakri. The preparations of the event were well underway after  the invitees were there. Huh?

Minutes later we were unceremoniously shunted to the lobby of a small hotel next door and made to huddle up in the stinky lobby. If the company staff and others could be inside, on the other side of the red ribbon, why couldn’t we? Why were we invited in the first instance, if it was meant to be a company/ internal affair. Inaugurate it, settle down and then invite media some other day. You can’t have the best of both worlds and that too when you have no idea about hospitality ?

I was at the end of my tether. Called the PR lady who had just arrived. I stood out in the sun waiting. She tried to cajole me assuring me, saying it would start soon. His Highness had not yet arrived, after all, so how could it begin. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, were what we were being told repeatedly. Till 12 noon, nothing happened. Of course my patience wore off and I left, with a promise never to return again. Thank you, but no thank you, this is not Indian hospitality and if this is what Wagh Bakri stands for, I’d rather have nothing to do with their ilk future. Not my cup of tea, this!

Utterly Butterly Delicious!

A young, energetic chef like Saransh Goila, is someone who I admire, for his talent, individuality and simple, real food. His Goila Butter Chicken has been doing the foodie rounds for a while now and I have, for the longest time, yearned to taste it. Yupp! that’s the Punjabi in me speaking.

So when I was selected to be one of the lucky few to get a sneak preview of the Goila Butter chicken or paneer, I was ecstatic.

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Being a day when I was vegetarian, I opted for Paneer and no regrets at all. No, I did not miss the chicken as the Goila Butter Paneer was as good, if not better. All ye vegetarians, are you listening please?

Along with the Goila Butter Paneer came a delectable kali dal, anardana chutney and a roomali roti. My day, oops! dinner as made.

Saransh specifies that he does not use any cream in his Goila Butter Chicken/Paneer and that is a huge relief. Not a fan of it in my savoury dishes at all.

A spoonful of the gravy of the Goila Butter Paneer and I could vouch for its lightness. The texture of the gravy was creamy alright, but with the use of kasoori methi and cashewnuts, as Chef Saransh promises. The smoky flavour as equally distinct, and that’s what sets it apart. I loved the fact that there was not a very pronounced tart and tangy taste, but instead, well-balanced flavours. Not the usual rich and creamy, butter paneer, this!

A buttery feel, the gravy had, as it just disappeared from my palate, but not before leaving a delicious after taste. But no, I could not taste any heavy butter and did not experience the accompanying uneasiness, which is characteristic of such dishes. The quality of paneer used was unmistakably superior and fresh.

The dal reminded me of the one, I used to have back home, made by my mother. No overtly tangy flavours here too, as is the case with many, from restaurants. The texture was right and the dal grains, had a definite bite to them, yet, as soft and mushy, as they should be.

The Anardana chutney struck me as unique. It had an appealing appearance as well as interesting mild flavours of yogurt and mint.

Overall, my meal was a delight for the taste buds and even several hours later, I experienced no discomfort, as is often the case with a butter chicken/paneer, dal makhni kind of meal. This one was reminiscent of home style food, albeit with a bit of indulgence.

I was satiated for now, but not satisfied. This is the kind of meal, which teases your palate mercilessly and urges you to have more.

Like all food lovers and Chef Saransh fans, I too am eagerly awaiting the opening of Goila Butter Chicken, a delivery and take-away joint, started by Chef Saransh Goila and his partner, Vivek Sahni, on June 24 near the D.N. Nagar Metro station Andheri West.

I don’t know about all the dishes, but the ones I sampled are surely going to give several established players, a run for their money.

Good luck Goila Butter Chicken, keep going!

Rating: 4/5