Tag Archives: local

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

A little British, a lot Bengali

The majestic grandeur of The Sahib Room & Kipling Bar at St. Regis, Mumbai, replete with a colonial feel is unmistakable. The aura this place exudes, befits the kind of food that is served here.

Currently running a special British Raj menu available for lunch and dinner till 31st May, the offerings celebrate Anglo-Indian cuisine, albeit with Chef Gopal Krishna’s twists. From JW Marriott Kolkata, this chef’s menu naturally leans heavily on Bengali cuisine, so he is serving the Anglo Indian cuisine of Bengal.

Anglo Indian cuisine may have common roots, but differs subtly in each state in terms of spices and the usage of local ingredients, incorporated over a period of time. Being from Kolkata myself, I was of course not complaining.

The Anglo-Indian cuisine which evolved in the Dak bungalows, Army canteens (Mess), gentleman’s clubs and the Indian Railways kitchens has been faithfully included in this menu.

The Daaber Jol which was nothing but fresh coconut water, rejuvenated me, as we settled down. Later, with my meal, I relished the Gondhoraj lebu shorbot – a refreshing cooler made with lemon and sugar, for which I have a tremendous weakness.

A Yellow lentil soup with apple, curry powder and cream, was what I began my meal with. A creamy texture, yet one, which offered a bite. It was absolutely comforting and a great way to begin a meal. There was an option of the celebrated Mulligatawny Soup too.

Dhungari Murgh Tikka

Kumro phool bhaja aka Crisp Fried Pumpkin flower, Dimer Devil Crumb or fried potato filled eggs, Betkir Paturi Mustard, poppy and coconut flavoured steamed Bhekti fish, were some of the starters, characteristic of Bengali food, that I sampled.  The essence of the flavours was captured to perfection. The dimer devil boasted of the right amount of masalas in the crust, just as the way it should be.

Subz Dum Biryani

What blew me off completely was the simple, but fragrant Dak bungalow chicken curry, a mildly spiced chicken curry from Anglo Indian cuisine. It was the quintessential Anglo Indian curry, I have grown up eating in erstwhile Calcutta. It opened a floodgate of memories for me. The only thing missing was simple steamed rice. Rotis and parathas don’t do justice to this preparation.

Dimer Dalna – an Egg curry with potato and spices, was equally authentic and well-made. Balanced flavours all the way.

Vegetarians need not despair. Mochar ghonto or Banana flower cooked with potato and coconut, is delightful and mildly flavoured. The core ingredient was intact and nowhere overpowered by spices. There are several other dishes to choose from as well.

The menu also includes few of Sahib’s signature dishes like the Satwar piste ka shorba  orToasted pistachio and asparagus cream soup, starters  like Broccoli dak bangla  and kasundi mustard.

We rounded off our meal with Bengali desserts like the Ledikeni – a cottage cheese dumpling fried and soaked in sugar syrup, Mishti Doi or the Jaggery flavoured homemade yoghurt.

A meal I would not describe as strictly Anglo-Indian, but inspired by the cuisine nevertheless. What struck me as praiseworthy was Chef’s tribute to the flavours of Bengal in an authentic manner. And I was pleased as punch at having savoured one of my favourite cuisines- Bengali.

Rating : 4/5

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

A Perfect Lakeside Retreat

Getting away from Mumbai is something we all look forward to, given the stressful lives we lead. And I am no exception. Saj by the Lake, a new resort at Malshej Ghat, seemed like the perfect place. Just three hours away or a bit more, from Mumbai, this cute little resort is tucked away amidst sylvan surroundings by a vast expanse of lake.
Driving through the Sahyadris with a short tea break at Murbad, I was all set to relax at Saj by the Lake on the weekend.
A quaint little resort with a beautiful, well-maintained garden, an aquamarine swimming pool, play area and cosy rooms welcomed us.
With an unobstructed and breathtaking view of the lake from the balcony,  the spacious and well-furnished room beckoned me, after the drive.
Of course the gourmand in me was eagerly awaiting the lunch experience at Maati Baani, the Vegetarian restaurant. Local delicacies, is what that place offers in abundance and nothing could be more inviting than that. The simple but rustic decor offered elegance and was replete with local elements, including the tableware.
Restaurant - Day
Mini Besan chillas or pancakes with doodhi were like flattened fritters. Absolutely melt in the mouth and spicy too. Those definitely got our taste buds tingling. The paneer, mawa and spinach tikkis came next. Delightful again. The textures were so well enmeshed.
Dudhi Hara Masala
Methi Pithle and Baingan Bharta slow-cooked in earthen pits, was what we began our main course with. The bharta had the quintessential smoked flavour and was replete with onions and tomatoes, just the way I love it. The  Kala Vatana Ussal was fiery and added zest to my palate. The array of rice, nachni and jowar bhakris paired perfectly well with this. The creamy mushrooms in a piquant gravy were well made too. Equally palate pleasing was the spicy but rustic methi matar and the simple varan(dal) bhat (rice)
The food struck me as unique, both in methods of preparation, as well as flavours. The ingredients were fresh and the flavours, rustic. No oil or artificial colours could be seen as is commonly the case with restaurant food. One never felt uneasy after such a lavish meal.
The moong dal halwa was a good way to round off the meal, but the texture was a bit sticky. Perhaps owing to the addition of atta or whole wheat flour?
After a siesta, I was raring to go in the evening. Local sightseeing done, where we visited an ancient Shiva temple and the mouth of the lake, we sat by the serene blue pool and enjoyed the India Pakistan match on a big screen. Life couldn’t be better.
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The chef made some delicious kebabs in the khad or pit, right before our eyes. Creamy paneer with a spicy marinade, cauliflower, mushrooms, potatoes. There was a lot to choose from.  If that was not enough, we gorged on crisp pani puris, with the most tangy and spicy water. Moong dal pakodis were fried to perfection and a bit of indulgence was in order as it was a Saturday. A day of guiltless pleasure.
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The kothimbir wadis were quite different from the ones I am used to in Mumbai. These were crisp and light and not chewy at all. The Bharele Ande, fried on the outside with a spicy masala, was an absolute treat and paired well with our mocktails.
Kothimbir Pakoda
Dinner had to be skipped after this gourmet trail. But not before I sampled the decadent, spongy gulab jamuns and seviyan kheer.
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The body and mind never felt more rested, than after a night’s sleep in the tranquil and comfortable room.As the birds chirped around the lake and in the resort garden, I woke up rejuvenated next morning.
The breakfast again was unusual fare. Thalipeeth, a boiled egg preparation with fried onions at the base, Missal pav et al. Each item was well prepared and boasted of unique local flavours.
Satiated by the sights and delectable local flavours, I was ready to bid adieu to Saj by the Lake. Overwhelmed with the warm hospitality, comfortable rooms, lip-smacking food, pristine surroundings, I drove away with a promise to return.

Rediscovering Cashew-The wonder fruit of Goa

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.

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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.

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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.

Chef Edridge Vaz - Casa Sarita

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.

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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.

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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.