Food festivals are always fun, especially when they showcase something that would otherwise not be on my plate. From July 19th to 24th, ITC Windsor, in association with Curry Life magazine, is playing host to Chefs from across Britain, and is holding not one, but two food festivals in the process, concurrently at Dublin and Raj Pavilion. Raj Pavilion’s buffet features a range of Balti and Curry (Brit style) food of the subcontinent, while Dublin has a special menu featuring dishes by Michelin star Chef Mark Poynton, who helms a restaurant (Alimentum) in Cambridge that I just happened to visit last summer (and didn’t even make the connection until we spoke!).
ITC got the festivities off to a grand start with a launch on Monday night, and the British Deputy High Commissioner was in attendance and gave a lovely speech. The evening also featured half hour enactments of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Taming of the Shrew by students of Christ University, Bangalore. It’s his 400th death anniversary this year – what can I say, the words endure and appeal evermore!
Now I must admit I was a tad skeptical about Indian food the British way, and thus on my return visit to taste the festival offerings, the plan was to stick to Chef Mark’s menu at Dublin. However, having walked into Raj Pavilion to check out the buffet, the spread of Balti and Curry was just too enticing, and we helped ourselves to some of the dishes (there was fish, chicken, lamb shanks, prawn, dal, biryani and more) and I am so very glad we did, because there were some real standouts – quite delicious! It was the handi of Mughlai Lamb Shanks that drew us in, and what a fantastic thing it was too. The Chichinga Chingri (Ridge Gourd and Prawn) Curry had a unique flavor that I really enjoyed. Both were eaten with the Gosht Anda Biryani that, for a biryani snob like myself, hit all the right notes.
There are four chefs on hand doing the currying, each of whom was chosen as representative of British Curry, and who has a restaurant of their own in the UK. The Curry Life magazine folks were on hand too, to explain the concept and their work – kinda cool, the initiative to pick which are the best places for Curry in the UK, and then showcase as well as help those establishments up their game.
We now settled in at Dublin to partake of Chef Mark’s menu – elegant and simple in terms of both flavors and ingredients. He has been working in kitchens for 20 years now, since his teens, and he has taught one of ITC’s Chefs, Chef Soni, the recipes on his special menu, and indeed, it was her doing the cooking under his watchful eye. Being in a group, we opted for tasting portions so we could try all of the menu. Of the four starters, my favorite was the Lamb Rump Tartar, served with crisp bread, a good sprinkling of Parmesan (I could actually smell this as it made its way to the table!) and a charcoal mayonnaise. The textures on this dish, alongside the flavor, were what kept me going back for second and third bites. The Blue Cheese, Broccoli, Pickled Red Grape & Almond Praline Salad and the Asparagus Veloute, Whipped Goat Cheese, Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Garlic brushed tomatoes (asparagus soup on one side, with the goat cheese and tomatoes next to it) were both wonderful bites too.
For mains, Chef served us the Sea Bass, Cauliflower Textures, Raisins, Champagne Veloute (loved the slight sourness that the Champagne sauce lent this, alongside the crispiness of the cauliflower and the sweetness of the raisins all offsetting the fish nicely) and a spectacular Roast Breast of Chicken, accompanied by a block of mashed potatoes and mushrooms, peas, asparagus in a Madeira Sauce. This is a dish I would want to reach for again and again – it’s good old comfort food, beautifully presented and with every note in place. Those mashed potatoes, and that beautifully roasted chicken are singing on my tastebuds even now! We ended our long and multifarious dinner with three desserts: Strawberries, Vanilla Cream, Lime Meringue & Strawberry Ice Cream; Baked Yoghurt, Vanilla Ice Cream, Poached Blackberries; and Mango Mousse, Passion Fruit Jelly, Mint and Pine Nuts. All good flavors, but the winner was, unexpectedly, the Baked Yoghurt, which I kept taking more spoons of!
We tortured the visiting Chefs to pose for us, and had a gay time clicking away. Having Chef Mark at our table, chatting about food, the UK, his visit to India (Chandigarh and Chennai preceded Bangalore in his itinerary), Brexit, the upcoming elections in the US – it was a very enjoyable night all around, from food to conversation to company.