Stomping & Sipping Sunday Scenes

A self-confessed Sunday bruncher, I am. Food, drink, merriment, leisurely pace – all the good things in life. And when one has worked hard through the week, there is a justifiable feeling of needing to take it easy and indulge a little, come Sunday. And what can make a Sunday brunch even nicer? How about flowing bubbly (pink and white) and a li’l grape stomping, as well as a live band playing Latin tunes and knocking it out of the park? This then, was the scene this past Sunday at Sheraton Grand Bangalore, with a spread that encompassed both, Bene and Persian Terrace, the hotel’s signature Italian and Persian restaurants. The weather too, is just right for al fresco dining and getting into a tub of grapes to squish them into submission – err, liquid, I mean.

IMG_20170611_140315IMG_20170611_135043The afternoon’s wine partner was Grover Zampa Vineyards, and featured both their sparkling wines, Zampa Soiree Brut Rosé and Zampa Soiree Brut. Light, crisp, dry and everything I desire for an afternoon of feasting and relaxation. The unanimous verdict from the group was that we preferred the Italian offerings to the Persian ones – a range of spicy kebabs and grills from the latter were nice, but it was, perhaps not surprisingly, the pasta, pizza, antipasti, breads and desserts from Bene that won our favor. A surprise visit from popular RJ, Nathan, who cracked jokes and made balloon animals and crowns and swords and shields and what not for kids and grownups alike, started the afternoon off nicely, with laughs and silliness.

IMG_20170611_140352IMG_20170611_140418Cold salads, seafood, cured meats, a delectable selection of fresh baked breads, and a pasta station where you had a choice of sauces, toppings, and pastas, tossed fresh and hot, were the order of the day. I tried a ravioli in white sauce that had a gorgonzola cheese filling and was delicious! A rustic specialty pasta called Cavatelli was also being prepared that day. Having gorged on the breads (especially that fantastic Focaccia!) and antipasti, I did little more than nibble on mains, and then headed for the table groaning under the weight of desserts. Gateaux, puddings, cream puffs, tarts, mousses, and more greeted me. There was also a Double Espresso ice cream that had a strong hit of coffee and was quite popular. For me, though, the dessert of the day was the cream puffs – airy and light, with a lightly flavored (caramel, hazelnut?) center as well as a generous whipped cream topping. I ate decidedly more of these than I should have, but then hey, what else is Sunday brunch for, if not a good reason to indulge!

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While this event was a one-off (and a good value at INR 2000 all-inclusive), Bene does have a Sunday brunch usually, named Grandmother’s Table, by Chef Giuseppe Lioce, Italian Head Chef for the hotel. All in all a lovely afternoon of stomping, chomping, and imbibing, and we ended by heading over to the props table and taking a bunch of photos with hats, masks, and more.

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Going Classic with coffee ‘o’ clock: A Tasting Session with Classic Coffee

Craft and artisanal coffees are all the rage these days, and a little exploration of the coffee expressions and variants available in India today show an expansion of the country’s coffee culture. South India, long the bastion of “filter kappi” and strong, dark brews, is now home to a wide range, and a growing appreciation of the various expressions of coffee. I am not a coffee drinker, but I am a curious foodie on the trail to new and interesting things related to food and drink, so an invite to a tasting of Classic Coffee’s new Premium Coffee Range that offer brews for different times of the day,  had me in attendance.

The cool coffee’o’clock invitation that was hand delivered suggested I would be in for a treat – and I figured with four craft coffees, created to suit different moods and palates depending on the time of day (morning, afternoon, evening, night), I would likely come across one I’d enjoy too! And indeed, that turned out to be the case – though much to my surprise the coffee that found favor with this non-coffee drinker was the morning brew, Blaze!

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The coffees come from estates owned by Classic in two of Karnataka’s well known coffee plantation areas – Sakleshpur and Chickmagalur, and comprise of both Arabica and Robusta beans. Mr. Purnesh, MD, Classic Coffee, the man who started the brand, took us through a talk on the brand’s premise, history, and offerings, and then we were all presented with a tray of the four coffees from the Premium Range along with tasting notes and little bites that paired with them, including a piece of cheese, dark chocolate, fruit, and cake.

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And because I am no coffee expert, let me leave you with the words from the brand (scroll to the end), so you can decide which coffee will suit your tastes – or you could give them all a try! Available both online and at our favorite grocery stores like Godrej Natures Basket, Westside Gourmet, Namdhari, and Nilgiris, the colorful packaging is sure to catch one’s eye! And it also makes each variant easily recognizable by the colors of the labels and packaging.

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Blaze which is a blend best suited for the morning. This has been blended to create a heavy-bodied brew, intense and malty with a rich mouth feel. Blaze has been crafted to help create the morning kick with a nutty fragrance and pleasantly bitter aftertaste.
Matinee is the afternoon blend in the range. Its tasting notes indicate a mix of spice and sweet citrus acidity with hints of mild berry. This has smooth mouth feel and a light body and has been designed as a perk-me-up brew.
Sundowner is the evening offering of the range; and has been crafted as a blend to be enjoyed with company. It has clean notes with hints of sweet milk chocolate, rich mouth feel, which creates the ideal, mild better, aftertaste to act as precursor to dinner.
Afterhours is a night blend which has been carefully curated to soothe and help one wind down. It is a mellow and flavourful cup which has hints of spice and pleasant citrus to create a smooth body. As with the other three blends are 100% Arabica, Afterhours is blended using Arabica Plantation AA beans.

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Brunch at the New Radisson Blu Atria

We all love Sunday brunch, don’t we? Sunday being, for many, the only day of rest in the week, the idea of waking late, then heading out to a long, leisurely, luscious brunch, has quite an appeal. I’ve always been a Sunday bruncher – it was something my mother instituted at home when I was growing up, and living in the U.S, Sunday brunch for Mother’s Day and the like was a given. Over the last couple of years, almost all the hotels in the city have started serving up Sunday brunches – some extravagant, some elegant, all enjoyable. One of the latest additions to the scene is at the Radisson Blue Atria Bengaluru. The old Atria Hotel has had a facelift and a brand makeover, and now under the Radisson Blu label, has launched a lovely Sunday brunch, which can be enjoyed poolside or indoors in the restaurant’s air conditioned comfort (which is what we opted for on a sweltering May afternoon). Oh, and a dip in the pool is part of the package, so make sure to carry your swimwear!

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The live grills counter and a bar counter were set up outside – it’s an IMFL beverage package at INR 1950 plus taxes, which means you can drink and eat to your heart’s content – now that’s a nice way to spend Sunday afternoon! There was a nice spread, with Indian, Asian, Continental, and Mediterranean offerings across the salads, appetizers, and mains. What we were impressed with was the range of salads, the live grill counter, and the meats. The Papdi Chaat and Pani Puri (I liked the way it was served to the table) went down well – we all being chaat people. There was also Pav counter with both veg and non-veg, and dim sum and tacos, as also a pasta station and kebab corner.

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I always pile my plate with the fancy salads at buffets, and this time was no exception. The Prawn salad with tomato salsa, Pesto rubbed fish  with orange segments, Seared tenderloin salad with wild mushroom, roasted shallots and Dijon mustard, and the Tuscan pork and bean salad were all nice flavor combinations and made a good chilled start to the meal on the hot day. There were the Middle Eastern dips of Baba Ghanoush and Hummus and Tabbouleh salad too – but we couldn’t find pita bread to go with it, and made do with the fresh breads from the bread counter which was quite nice. There were also Oysters served on the half shell, which were dressed with onions, lemon juice, and cilantro, and we went for a couple of rounds of these – fresh, beautiful, and definitely a treat!

From the live grills, we loved the prawns which were large and fresh and simply prepared with a spice rub, letting the shellfish speak for itself. The Olive and Pepper Lamb Chops were also a big hit – perfectly cooked and again, with balanced spicing that did not overwhelm the meat. There was also a Mustard Marinated Fish, and Pesto Chicken. The Barbecue Pork Belly from the carving station was another item we went back for seconds off – the jus, the pork belly with the soft fat and the crackling skin – so good! There was also a selection of fairly typical mains – paneer, fish and chicken curries, biryani, dal makhani and more for those wanting Indian food, and Thai green curry chicken, an Oriental fish prep, veggies, fried rice, and noodles for those wanting Asian.

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Such was the heat of the day that we stuck to beers and fresh juices, but were told they have some nice cocktails – next time! Dessert was not as vast as one sees in buffets, but everything was nicely put together, with around 8 pastries/puddings/mousses, and half a dozen Indian sweets including Kulfi, Sandesh, Ladoo, and Moong dal halwa. There was also ice cream and fresh fruits. I chose to end with the live banana fosters counter – there were various toppings and sauces to choose from and it was a good ending to the meal. Pancakes and waffles were also being made to order. I noticed a kids section with items more in tune to little appetites, like burgers, fries and smileys. All in all, a very pleasant experience at a good price point, and everyone’s sure to find stuff to their liking.

For the Love of Big Brewsky

I have a secret – I’ve developed quite a crush, one that has made me grab every opportunity to be with said crush – to the tune of four visits in one month! I’ve battled cabs and traffic and distance to be close to my new favorite, and indeed, even now am plotting ways to return. And no, this is no human love interest, but a place. Big Brewsky had been on my radar for well over two years now, but its location on Sarjapur Road meant that a trip from Jayanagar just never happened. Until a couple of months ago – and then the spell was cast!

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The space itself is the perfect foundation – the lighting is amazing and I really don’t think there can be a bad picture taken there in the daytime; the Koi Pond with numerous fish swimming about dominates the central part, like an old fashioned home where the courtyard is open to the sky in the center; there is an imposing three storey building where all the eating, drinking and partying happens; a special area set apart and again, off the ground, for a DJ or live band; a garden area which makes for a cozy private party; bars on more than one floor, and just an all-round expansive feeling. Plus it has some well-known and old hands in the F&B industry in charge of the place now – so you’re assured of being in good hands.

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My first visit was by invite, to check out the new menu the brewpub has launched, bringing in Chef Saby Gorai to plan and implement the overhauling. Chef Saby’s fame precedes him – he has restaurants in Pune and Delhi and after having met him a couple times now, it is safe to say his food and his charm are both swoon-worthy! The next trip was for their Sunday brunch, since a dear friend’s band was playing. And then one just-like-that visit happened. And the last one was the epic party they had to celebrate the new menu launch. Details of that evening remain a tad fuzzy, shall we say? 😉

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Sunday brunch, by the way, is an expansive feast set across two floors, including chaats, grills, pizzas, biryani, and with an entire car of desserts (that hacked off teal blue ambassador does serve a purpose!) and there are options for food only, food+beer, and food+cocktails, which makes it a really good deal and a good way to spend your Sunday afternoon – live music, DJ spinning tunes, loads of good food and drink, all in a very convivial atmosphere!

In addition to Saby, who flies in quite often to check on things, they have a brilliant man behind the bar, Karthik Kumar, who is weaving magic with his innovative cocktails, including using Kashmiri Kahwa! Must try that, along with The Great Pretender, which is a potent purple drink featuring tequila, tropical juice, egg white, and a homemade purple syrup that gives it the color; the gin based Pink Orchard; The Yellow Jacket with Bourbon and a turmeric syrup made in-house; and if Karthik has the popsicles in place, then the beer cocktails with a stout or blonde and a corresponding cola or orange popsicle in them are perfect for a hot summer day. My only kvetch is that the beers need some work, and I am looking forward to their pulling their socks up in this respect – the 3-4 beers I tried on my various visits were all kinda blah.

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One thing that really blew our minds was the sushi – better than what is served at some of the city’s Asian restaurants, even, rolled just so, and we couldn’t get enough. The Avocado Maki Roll, Vegetable Black Rice California Roll, Non-Veg California Roll with Salmon Roe and Tuna, and the Tempura Prawn Roll were what we had on that first visit and even though the Sunday brunch doesn’t have so many, if you’re there for it, don’t pass up on whatever sushi is on offer. The Shine Crystal Dumplings, vegetarian, taste as good as they look and are also a great inclusion amongst the Asian fare – delicate translucent wrapping without and crunchy veggies within.

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The Stir Fried Beef Chilli, Iranian Seekh Kebab, and Hot Black Prawns are all quite delish and pair perfectly with a cold one. Then there’s this absolutely brilliant, flavorful African spiced chicken, the name eludes me but its a must order! There are also salads, pizzas, pastas, mains including a bacon wrapped chicken, and more to choose from. If you’re a Risotto and Mushroom fan like moi, then the Black Rice Mushroom Risotto will also make your repeat order list – mushroom pate, truffle essence, parmesan cheese – need I say more?

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Desserts are good too – so if you can find the space, order the Asura’s Devil Chocolate Mud Cake with its rich center and gooey topping of cream cheese frosting, or the Chocolate Fondant, a lava cake with vanilla ice cream accompaniment. It is quite an expansive menu for a brewpub and we as a group had nothing against anything we ate, so there!

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With Karthik Kumar and Saby Gorai

Details: The Big Brewsky, Sarjapur Road. INR 2000 plus taxes for a meal for two, including drinks. Sunday brunch packages start at under 1k a head all inclusive, and go up to INR 1600 (depending on the drinks package).

The Big Fat Mango Harvest at Fatty

A whole month since I posted – oh dear! Time to make amends, and I can’t think of a better way to than writing about The Fatty Bao’s on-going Big Fat Mango Harvest festival, featuring both mango laced cocktails and delicious mango infused food, including, but of course, sushi! The festival menu from Chef Prashanth is on until the 28th of this month, and I am plotting to make it back there so I can have another go at my favorites from the menu. I like but don’t love mango by itself – you won’t find me eating mango after mango during the season. But I do love the flavor of mango and an Asian menu like this, which incorporates both green and ripe mango into dishes and drinks, is right up my street.

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The Sushi was, but of course, the first offering of the afternoon. Mango and Avocado Sushi was a delightful flavor combo and Fatty’s sushi is always perfectly rolled. What came next was a fantastic summery, ceviche-esque Green Mango and Prawn Salad, with green mango and a tender coconut gel acting as the base on which perfectly poached prawns, cilantro and a black sesame brittle were artfully arranged. This was so good that we asked for a second round at the table, knowing full well there was a lot more food to come.

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Pork lovers – the Stir-Fried Pork Tenderloin with mango, chillies, and peppers is a delicious mouthful, particularly with a mango-licious cocktail to wash it down. The Sriracha Glazed Chicken Wings are another great finger (and finger licking good) food that pairs well with a mango cocktail. Of the drinks, the one that I loved was the Smokey Joe, which pairs whiskey, Lapsang souchong tea, and smoked raw mango. The combination of the smoky flavors of the tea and whiskey worked oh so well. The Asian Beet, with gin, mango pulp, beetroot juice and lemongrass was the drink I started the afternoon with, and the other popular ones at our table were the vodka, raw mango, dill leaves, mango syrup and lime concoction named By the Bay, and the Hula Coolah, also vodka based.

IMG_20170513_145436The next dish was another stunner – a tray appeared bearing Thai Mango and Seafood Curry with Jasmine Rice – squid, fish, prawn in a silky coconut gravy and the accompaniments of peanuts, rice crackers, fried onions on the side in little bowls so you can doctor the dish to suit your taste. This is a must order, and pair it with the Smokey Joe for a real party of flavors on the palate! Fatty’s desserts are always art on a plate, and this time was no exception – the two mango desserts were outstanding. Order both the Mango Pannacotta and the Mango and Yuzu Meringue and share with your mates. The latter is served in a scooped out half of a mango’s skin, with a collection of mango bites (someone had fun with the melon baller/scooper in the kitchen!) and some tart raspberry jelly – you’re unlikely to stop until the mango skin is staring back up at you! The rectangle set Pannacotta, with basil seeds, mango, caramel is prettier to look at but my vote goes to the Meringue this time. Fatty’s festival is on for a full week more, so get thee to my favorite of all the mango festivals of the summer 2017 lineup!

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Expanding my horizons – Of a coffee tasting with The Flying Squirrel Coffee

As I get older, it is becoming increasingly important to me that I don’t get stuck in my ways, or too settled. To this end, I try to grab every chance to learn or try something new, and not shy away from things outside my personal comfort zone. Quite bad enough that my hot shower and first cup of black tea have become sacrosanct, and I will not leave the house without the former, even if it makes me late. I would rather not get entrenched in other ways, and especially, not be closed to trying things. And well, that cuppa is part wake up ritual and part addiction. But it has to be a cup of tea, never coffee, unlike so many folks who can’t start their morning right without some.

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This mantra is what saw me, a couple of Saturdays ago, at The Flying Squirrel Micro-Roastery  and Cafe in Koramangala, participating in an experiential session where a group of bloggers and writers were taken through the coffee making process, the various beans and brews The Flying Squirrel Coffee offers, and of course, tastings! In case you’re wondering what makes this in any way an out of the box experience, it is for the simple reason that I stay far away from coffee – the smell bugs me, and I don’t even enjoy desserts with coffee, much less actually drink the stuff. But this was a chance to learn more and explore the world of micro-roasteries, where artisanal coffee is produced in small batches, and offers a freshness and flavor quality that is way different from mass produced brands. The Flying Squirrel Cafe is a very recent and lovely addition to the Koramangala cafe scene, but their 7 types of gourmet coffees have been available for the last three or four years, through their website and at stalls I’ve come across at markets and events in Bangalore, and today retails in multiple cities across the country.

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They have their roasting machine up front and center so customers can see the process first hand, and they also have on display their coffee beans and plants – very cool, especially for someone like me who despite being in Karnataka for five years and counting, has not yet made a trip to Coorg or experienced the coffee estates there. And indeed that is where TFSC comes from too, with Ashish D’Abreo and Tej Thammaiah, two of the founders, being experienced coffee aficionados. They led us on a tasting and making session of one of their special offerings, a cold brew coffee. And this is the one, actually, the only coffee, I drank and enjoyed, and have even brewed up at home as per their instructions. It is so perfectly refreshing for this hot summer, and I find a small glass (liberally dosed with condensed milk and milk) makes my day happier. And since I am not brewing it hot, I don’t find the smell overwhelming either, and the process of cold brewing makes for a sweeter and less pungent brew, so its a win-win!

The coffees come from Arabica and Robusta beans, which each have their own distinctive flavor palate, and length of growth as well (7 months before Arabica can be harvested; 9 months for the Robusta). The coffee is handpicked, duly inspected, and then sent through a variety of processes like pulping, fermentation, washing, sun-drying, and I learned that each choice will make for a different flavor profile (sweet, fruity, acidic, bitter) – fascinating! And that’s also why this is not the strong filter coffee that my grandparents brewed every morning that had me wrinkling my nose given the strong aroma, but a veritable bouquet of flavors and scents from the specialized treatments of the beans. For example, the cold brew that I, and indeed, most of our group took a shine to, is a blend of Honey Sun Dried Arabica and Arabica Peaberry and other beans, and had been roasted in such a way that it delays caramelization of the inherent sugars so they are released at the end – now that explains my affinity for it! Its lighter and sweeter than the average coffee and the resulting aroma, while roasty and rich, is not one I minded.

We tried a few more coffees, including the Nitro, another cold brewed coffee, which had liquid nitrogen added, something that is all the rage these days, be it in coffee or in beer, as it kicks up the flavors a few notches. Not for me, for that very reason! I also tried TFSC’s Vietnamese Iced Coffee, but found it too strong for my taste and added more condensed milk than was likely appropriate and definitely horrified some of the staunch coffee drinkers at the table. I found it interesting that I still couldn’t warm up to coffee in dessert – I usually avoid tiramisu or cheesecake with coffee, and after trying the Parama Infused Creme Brulee here, I realized that my heart belongs only to that one cold brew! Speaking of dessert, you should head to The Flying Squirrel Micro-Roastery and Cafe for a lot more than just their coffee. The desserts were really good! The Salted Caramel Cheesecake that comes with popcorn topping, the Chocolate Overload Cheesecake with Kit Kat and malted chocolate balls, or the truly zinging Old Monk and Coke Cheesecake, which had cola jelly – you must try them!

I also quite enjoyed the lunch we had, and given the size of our group, we managed to try almost all their offerings. So whether it is pasta, mains, a sandwich, or a salad, you will get a lovely meal here. They also serve breakfast all day, and I plan to check out those offerings on my next visit. The place gets quite packed and can be noisy, so it may not be the right venue for a meeting or to get work done, but whether it is coffee your heart beats faster for, or good dessert, this place is sure to leave you happy and content.

Dining at the Dhaba

Dhaba by Claridges is far from the dhabas you see on highways, for it is not a simple or rustic space, but it does give you an expansive menu of Punjabi cuisine, and is known for its specialty dishes like Balti Meat, Tiffin Chicken, and Kanastree Baingan, and a range of interesting cocktails. Residents and visitors to Delhi have long been familiar with the brand, ensconced in The Claridges Hotel, putting a fine dine stamp on dhaba fare. After nearly three decades in existence and with multiple outlets in the NCR area, the brand has spread its wings and taken flight to other Indian cities, including Chennai and Bengaluru in the South.

The Bangalore establishment is a small one, with around 40 covers, but with a  bright and colorful decor, defined by hand-painted walls of quirky images. The staff have gamely learned the dance moves to a few Bollywood songs, and perform them at intervals with great enthusiasm and dedication. Check out the video of them dancing at Dhaba! If you don’t find them performing during your meal, do ask and they will gladly put on a show for you! What makes this equal parts adorable and cool is that it is the staff in its entirety, from manager, to waitstaff, to hostesses, to chefs!

Food is served and plated on shining copper and stainless steel ware, giving it that ghar-ka-khana feel. This is rich, cream and butter laden fare, unapologetic in its excesses. So, keep that in mind when planning a meal there – we ended up in a food coma for the rest of our Saturday! And yes, in the name of tasting we clearly ate more than the norm. There are options a-plenty for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diners, and make sure you leave room for dessert! And start with a cocktail – the Paan Mojito, Toofan, and Imli Bai were my personal favorites, though the Gulaabo and Basanti were also nice. A little tip – order the Ganne ka Saaras, a lovely and refreshing mock sugarcane mocktail (and by that I mean it tastes and looks like sugarcane juice but actually isn’t!), and then if you want it spiked, get a shot of vodka on the side and voila – you’re all set, especially in the summertime!

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Now for the food – start with the Dhaba Prawn, seriously giant prawns marinated and grilled in their special dhaba masala. You need a fork and knife and a dining companion to get through a plate of these! The other must-order from the starters is the Galouti Kebab – yes, they are melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Vegetarians will enjoy the Dhaba Paneer Tikka or the Veg Galouti. The Amritsari Fish on the menu didn’t do anything for me – I expect a strong hit of Ajwain (carom/caraway) and flakiness when I think of an Amritsari Fish, but this one was heavy on the batter and low on the ajwain.

From the tandoor, the obvious choice is the Tandoori Dhaba Raan, for which, at present, the lamb is being flown in from Jaipur because the brand wants to maintain the quality and standard that has made the dish eponymous with Dhaba by Claridges. This dish too, meets all the drool-worthy and cliched thoughts you can muster, like fall off the bone and melt in your mouth. Cooked for many hours and spiced and presented just-so, again you will need a couple of dining companions at least, to do justice to this. From the Patila section, you will do well with any of these: Chitta Butter Chicken which has a yogurt and Kasoori methi gravy, the Tiffin Chicken served in – you guessed in – a tiffin carrier (which makes it worth ordering for the fun factor), or the Balti Meat (served in a mini bucket), one of their signature items. Get a Dal Dhaba (their version of the Maa ki Dal, the quintessential black lentil dish) and any of the Parathas or Naans (the Missi Tandoori Paratha stood out for me), and you have yourself a sumptuous meal.

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I did say to save space for dessert, right? Well you will be spoilt for choice, between the Tilla Kulfi, Matka Kulfi, Gulab Jamun (North Indian style), Rabri, Phirni, Rasmalai, and Badam Halwa – the last is a combination of moong dal and badam, and quite yum. A meal at Dhaba is both a rich and elaborate affair, and not light on one’s pocket, either. But it is to be experienced, both for its long standing fame, and for the ambiance and the show the staff put on!

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Details: Dhaba by Claridges; 12th Main Road, Indiranagar; INR 2500 plus taxes for a meal for two

Taste of Calabria Italian Food Festival

I always enjoy Italian food, and over the years, my interactions with a number of Italian chefs and winemakers has been a treat. I love the passion they bring to their craft, their (unfailing) reference to their Mama and Grandmama in whose kitchens they first began their culinary journeys, and their charm. And of course, the wonderful (and rich) food they always feed us! And this interaction with Chef Luigi Ferraro, on loan from Shangri-La Delhi, was no exception. He has created a special menu which is available until March 24th, for the From Capri to Calabria southern Italian Food Festival at Caprese, Shangri-La Bangalore’s Italian fine-dine.

We made our way over the weekend, and got to meet and chat with Chef Luigi, and try some of the dishes off the special festival menu. From Calabria himself, the menu is his interpretation and a modern take on southern Italian fare. Employing touches of molecular gastronomy, sous vide cooking, and deconstructed dishes, Chef Luigi presented us with a delicious multi-course meal, each course plated like a work of art.

Apart from a la carte (which will run you around INR 2000 a head), there is also a pre-fix menu, available paired with wine at INR 4500 all inclusive, or just the food at INR 3500 all inclusive. Considering you get three wines as part of the wine paired option, it is a great option for those who enjoy wine with their Italian repast. We sipped on a mellow and medium bodied 2013 vintage Soave Allgrini Corte with our meal. And now, here come the visuals!

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The Amuse Bouche that started us off: Potato croquette on a bed of Pecorino cheese that was somewhere between humus and foam in texture with microgreens and olive oil.

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Antipasti 1: Tomato tartare, buffalo Mozzarella, basil. Dehydrated capers and artichoke cream were the surprise elements, and that bell pepper sauce at the bottom went so well with the Mozzarella.

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Antipasti 2: Free-range chicken with bell peppers and Pecorino Romano cheese ice cream. Thinly sliced chicken and cubed beets, bell pepper sauce, and indeed, a cheese ice cream. Rich and decadent!

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Primi Piatti 1: Ravioli stuffed with parmigiano reggiano 24 months, sauce with morel mushrooms, green peas, asparagus and modena balsamic (in the form of pearls). Do I really need to say more? Just read that list of ingredients!

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Primi Piatti 2: Fagottini with burrata and lobster, green peas and amalfi lemon. Oh lobster heaven was achieved, though I overall found the dish rather salty.

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Secondi Piatti 1: Chicken breast and thigh, spinach, wild mushrooms, pumpkin with rosemary sauce and saracena moscato. Perfectly cooked chicken; diced pumpkin added great flavor and some texture to the dish.

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Secondi Piatti 2: Sea bass with saffron potatoes, amalfi lemon and black olives. Fantastically cooked sea bass with crispened skin, and look at that gorgeous two-toned potato crisp!

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Secondi Piatti 3: Involtino of vegetables with Fontina cheese. The obligatory eggplant vegetarian course.

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Dolci 1: A gorgeous citrus tart, deconstructed with the lemon curd and meringue pieces, and fresh strawberries for an extra pop of tartness!

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Dolci 2: Tiramisu parfait – another deconstructed dessert, which the coffee lovers at the table enjoyed. I contented myself with picking out the chocolate pieces and dust and stayed away from the coffee cream in the center.


The Obento Experience at Edo

A meal at Edo, ITC Gardenia’s signature Japanese restaurant is a feast in the truest form – a feast of the senses. From the beautiful setting, to the delicately balanced and layered food, dining at Edo is always a pleasure. And now, rather than waiting for dinner time to head there, Edo has opened its doors for lunch as well. You can get a la carte dishes, but what’s the inviting new thing is their Obento (Bento Box) lunches.

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An Obento meal, traditionally, is served in a lacquer box with partitions for different dishes, and portioned for a single diner. In other words, you get to enjoy a multi-course meal in one go, with everything presented together. I like this for a number of reasons. For one, I can eat my meal at my own pace. Secondly, I can eat the dishes in my order of preference – like you know, saving the Prawn Tempura for last, even though it technically is a starter item. Third, you get to experience a range of items at one time, and you get to be surprised by what Chef Kamlesh and his staff are up to in the kitchen. Fourth, when I have everything laid out in front of me at the same time, the meal is sure to go faster. And this, actually, is one of the reasons for a Bento meal – Edo wants you to be able to enjoy their food and ambience even if it is for a quick Obento luncheon rather than a more elaborate and leisurely dinner service.

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The Obento is available in both veg and non-veg, and can be customized to suit a diner’s particular likes and dislikes or dietary needs. So if you’re allergic to something, ask for a substitute. While waiting on our Obentos to make their appearance, we were treated to the fun that is a Sake Bomb. A small cup of Sake is placed atop chopsticks that are strategically arranged on a glass of beer. Now, in unison, everyone counts to three in Japanese: Ichi, Ni, San – and then bangs their fists on the table. Splash and pop – in goes the Sake cup into the beer glass, and then it is time to down the lot in one go!

With Sake coating our insides, and much laughter and story exchange happening, once the Obento trays appeared, loaded with a multitude of deliciousness, silence descended on the table, the kind that a great meal demands. And now for the burning question- what was our Obento luncheon? Rather than the boxes, this Obento meal is served on a large tray, with small trays and bowls of the various dishes. An up-scaled Bento Box, if you will. And the dishes are presented/meant to be partaken of in a certain order, though of course, one can do what they like. First up: pickled vegetables – Oshinko; the appetizer – Zensai – a delectable crab salad; Sushi and Sashimi – fresh and beautiful Tuna and Salmon.

Now was the moment for Miso Soup, but I decided to wait on pouring it out of the cute kettle it was in for a little longer – after all, there are few tastes more pleasurable than a perfect Miso – which I know from past experience, Edo’s is! I also reserved the salty egg custard, called Chawanmushi, for later. Instead I ate the beautiful Tempura of prawns and zucchini blossom (well, I saved one of the prawn ones for last), and then went for the Robatayaki or live grill, which featured a skewer of chicken and a beautifully cooked and sauced piece of fish underneath.

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Now, I dove into the Miso soup – the entire experience, from pouring it out and smelling it, to then partaking of it, with the morsels of seaweed and tiny cubes of tofu, was perfection. Chef had served a bowl of Udon noodles for the main course, and this was the one dish I felt didn’t go with the rest, so I stopped after a couple of bites and dove, with relish, into my Chawanmushi – this one had a piece of fish cake and some edamame atop, and prawn and chicken at the bottom of the bowl it was set it, adding some texture and flavor as I dug my spoon further in.  This dish is a definite acquired taste, and some found it better with some soy sauce added, but I for one, just love it the way it is.

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We of course ended on green tea and dessert (Mizugashi) – which didn’t come as part of the Obento tray, but later on. The fantastic Matcha (green tea) ice cream was served on a caramelized sesame infused cups that were crunchy and sweet – a perfect foil for the delicate ice cream. I happily ate my own portion and stole the half left by my not-blessed-with-a-sweet-tooth friend. A fitting cap to an altogether lovely meal! The meal, though planned for lunch time, will also be created for anyone who would like it as their dinner.

Details: Edo, ITC Gardenia; Obento Luncheon available between 12.30-2.45pm; INR 2250 plus taxes for non veg, and INR 2000 plus taxes for veg.

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Mugilu – An Escape from the city in the hills of Sakleshpur

A large part of wellness, for me, is maintaining my equilibrium and mental peace. When I am frazzled, my sleep, my eating habits, and motivation for exercise – it all goes for a toss. I have realized that a small vacation, just even an escape for one night from the usual scene, getting away to the hills or a lake or wherever, has immense powers of rejuvenation. I come back and can get back to the plodding daily grind for a few more months. And then it will be rinse and repeat time again.

One such place I discovered by word of mouth, having heard about it over and again from friends, is this peaceful, serene, and eco-friendly homestay in Sakleshpur, called Mugilu. About a four hour drive from Bangalore, and with decent highways and roads for a good part of the distance, it is only the last 10-15 kms that are on rough terrain and uneven roads. Mugilu is the last estate in a row of places, and you will be welcomed, first and foremost, by Shunti, one of the resident canines, who is incredibly friendly and will play tour guide when you walk around the estate or head to nearby fields. You can also take your own dog(s) along.

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Unlike a traditional homestay where everyone is in one building, there are four individual and very private cottages set across a verdant coffee and pepper plantation. The place has been designed and set up to go with the ecology – nothing jarring or post modern here, just stone and wood and earthy tones. Each cottage has its very own balcony that affords a fantastic view and the sounds of bird song as well as tiny visitors by way of flying insects and the like. Each cottage boasts a different colored theme, basic rustic furniture – rough wooden bed and chairs and table in the balcony, and stone floored bathrooms with big glass windows so you can commune with nature even while bathing. You will surely forget about your troubles here!

With no television or air conditioning, (forget WiFi), and limited phone signal, this place is all about getting in touch with nature and leaving gadgets, technology, and modernity behind. Even the hot water for bathing is heated on a fire and then piped into the rooms, for a limited period of time each day. The package per night includes three meals, with tea and snacks available for a little extra, that will even be brought to you room. But breakfast, lunch, and dinner are taken in the common dining and leisure area, and honestly, it’s so pretty and peaceful there, you will probably want to hang out late into the night, like we did, before taking the short walk back to your cottage.

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The food is hearty, local Kannadiga fare, and a real spread, with a good number of dishes and specialty items like Akki Roti served. The staff are really sweet, hospitable, and keep the place running smoothly, even with the owner-couple, Sapna and Chandan, who are major travelers, are not around. But when they’re around, you will be in for a treat in the form of conversation and stories around life, travel, adventure sports, and wellness. And of course you will learn more about the philosophy behind the way they run the place, and try to maintain balance with nature.

Don’t miss taking an early morning walk on the hillside behind the estate, and it also makes for a perfect spot to view the gorgeous sunsets. Of course, if you’re feeling too lazy or just not up to leaving Mugilu, you can hang out on your private balcony and enjoy the views, silence, sounds of nature, and find your center once more.

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For months of operation (they close during the rainy season because of flooding and the roads becoming inaccessible), tariff and booking information, go to their website: http://mugilu.com

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Note: This piece first appeared on the wellness blog I write for, Bindi & Beard