Old School Chinese at Mahjong Room

ITC WelcomHotel recently opened a specialty Chinese restaurant called Mahjong Room, and a lunch there a couple weeks ago made for a delightful afternoon, what with the pretty interiors, the fun company, and the old school Chinese offerings. With an eeye to reminding us of childhood Chinese dining, Mahjong takes the old favorites out for a spin and adds some new touches, in a fine dine ambience. The Chefs and team have taken pains to bring an amalgam of Chinese dishes from regions known for their spicier food, like Sichuan and Hunan, and Canton, to suit the Indian palate. Literally every one of us at the table was moved to reminisce about going out to eat to a nice Chinese restaurant with parents and family!

Now as anyone who knows me, or reads the blog knows, I have a particular soft spot for Chinese cuisine – it is my comfort food, more so than Indian. In fact, my “Swiggy Memories” mail pointed out that it was wonton soup and noodles that featured rather heavily and very regularly, in my order list! So having a new restaurant that pays homage to the meals of our youth alongside offering comfort and staple flavors, is definitely on my winning list!

We began our meal a delightful, old school Sichuan Hot and Sour Soup, along with Crunchy Corn Kernals served in a edible cup, Crispy Lotus Stem with Sesame, Golden Fried Prawns (my absolute childhood fav!!) and Sichuan Chilli Pepper Chicken. This was followed by dimsum – an outstanding Chicken and Onion Sui Mai and Shrimp Har Gao. We also ordered some of the restaurant’s signature cocktails and were served a Butterfly Pea tea (that cool blue liquid that turns purple when you add some lemon!) along with our meal. Needless to say some amount of fullness was already being felt, and our mains had not even made an appearance!

Now the mains is where Mahjong Room’s food really shines – whether it was the vegetarian offerings of Ma Po Tofu with Black Bean and Chili Flakes and the Double Fried Beans with Mushrooms and Pickled Chilies – two dishes we would have all liked to continue dabbing our forks into if only space had allowed; or the Cantonese Lamb, Hot and Spicy Hunan Prawns and brilliant Gong Bao Chicken Dry Chili with Cashews. I know I will be heading back there so I can order just the beans and mushroom dish and the chicken with a side of their Lotus Leaf Wrapped Jasmine rice, and enjoy them fully!

Now whatever else you do or don’t do, you absolutely must leave ample space for dessert. Alongside the typical offerings of darsan and ice cream, date pancakes and all, Mahjong Room has a few boozy sundaes (but they are also available sans the alcohol) that are heavenly. The Hot Chocolate Cookie over Fudge was good, but it was the tart and coconutty, tropical paradise evoking Passion Coconut Lime Shortcake (tender coconut and passion fruit ice creams, sour lime drizzle, dry apricot compote) that elicited a series of oohs and aahs and the clashing of dessert spoons. The addition of a coconut liquor was rather literally the icing on the cake! Come to think of it, I might even just head back for some Butterfly Pea tea and dessert, next time I’m in that area!

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Details: Mahjong Room is open for lunch and dinner, and a meal for two will set you back around INR 2000 plus taxes. They offer both set and a la carte menus.

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A meal to remember at Memories of China (Vivanta by Taj)

There was a good run of Chinese New Year food festivals to bring in the Year of the Rooster in Bangalore this year, and I managed to catch three or four over the course of the 15-day long celebrations. Memories of China, Vivanta by Taj, M.G Road’s signature Chinese restaurant, helmed by Chef William Tong, was the grand finale to my CNY celebrations. Chef had curated a menu of special dishes, including a few from his main menu, and for that I am very thankful, since I can get my favorites even after the festival’s done! Memories of China has been in existence for a really long time, and it is heartening to see a place not just maintain its standards or rest on its laurels, but continue to deliver fantastic (and dare I say it, “authentic”) food and a wonderful dining experience. Now, without further ado: here are the dishes we tried at the CNY festival.

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Fried Prawn coated with Wasabi and Mayo and topped with Caviar! Now that’s how you kick off a celebratory meal!

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Haricots Vert with crushed Yellow Bean (Douchi): I could have kept eating this all night – crispy, tangy, and delicious!

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Shiitake Mushrooms with Bok Choy – the latter was cooked beautifully and retained its crunch, and the mushrooms were the perfect companion – not overpowering the delicate flavor of the bok choy.

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Singing Chicken – a sizzling chicken dish with dried red chillies, mushrooms, squash and more.

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Traditional Lamb Belly served in a clay pot – strong flavors and tender meat.

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Our Dish of the Night: Stir Fried Sliced Fish with Egg white. This really was something else, flavor wise! Egg white with Grouper fish and then finished with chillies – a new combination and a deadly one!

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A perennial favorite: Burnt Garlic Fried Rice. The portion was large enough for feed five of us!

Celebrate Chinese New Year at Ginseng (Hotel Royal Orchid)

Gong hei fat choy! Happy Chinese New Year! The Chinese Zodiac works on a Lunar calendar, and each year is represented by an animal, repeated every twelve years. Tomorrow, January 28th heralds the start of the Year of the Rooster. And some of the fine dine Chinese restaurants in Bangalore are creating special menus to celebrate, and the first one I got to experience is the festival menu at Ginseng, the Pan Asian restaurant at The Hotel Royal Orchid Hotel, which runs for just the week, ending Saturday, January 28th.

The menu is a compilation of Chef Neeraj’s favorite dishes and was quite expansive, considering the duration of the festival! There was plenty to choose from for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. While everyone who knows me knows that I am a dedicated carnivore, this is one of those occasions when the seconds I went back for all ended up being the veg dishes. The Crispy Waterchestnut Honey Mustard was unusual and it’s not often that one gets waterchestnuts on the menu here, so that was a total winner, as was the Stir Fried Chinese Greens with Burnt Garlic. A special shout-out to the man behind the bar – the cocktails we ordered (from the regular menu) were all really good, well-balanced, and with nice flavors. The fortune cookies we ended the meal on was a nice touch, and again, something that’s rare to find locally. And now, here are the photos from the lovely meal we enjoyed a couple of nights ago.

Staycationing at Howard Johnson

I love hotel rooms! The bouncy bed, the fluffy pillows, the feeling of being on holiday (even when I go away on work), and the change of scene, and some much needed pampering  – these are all the reasons I love settling into a hotel room, even if it’s just for one night. Well, living as we do, with Bangalore’s ever-burgeoning traffic, sometimes a staycation means going to a part of the city you generally don’t get to, and enjoying the hospitality and new surroundings of a nice hotel. This is exactly how I spent my last weekend, staycationing at the Howard Johnson, a four star establishment in Hebbal. Located on a busy street, right next door to a mall, from the outside the glass facade does not give you an inkling even, into the lovely interiors and decor that the hotel boasts of. A lot of thought and attention to detail has gone into the creation of the interiors, and I found something to admire and click a pic of, at nearly every spot.

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We checked in on Saturday noon, and were shown to our rooms, which were of the Executive Club category (INR 7500 plus taxes per night), one level below the seven suites the hotel has. A large, well appointed, pool-facing room was mine, with the usual accoutrements of desk and chair, armchair (with footstool, a nice touch!), a big bed that was the perfect amount of soft, and had pillows too, that were just right (nothing worse than the rock hard or sinkingly soft variety!). The bathroom made me super happy – from the rainshower to the magnifying mirror that made makeup application oh-so-easy, to the good amount of space on the sink counter to spread my stuff out, and of course the toiletries provided, from shampoo and conditioner (something that many a hotel omits), and shaving/vanity/dental kits. Pristine, fluffy white towels and a robe completed the picture.

 

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A highlight of our 27-hour stay was a visit to the onsite spa, one of the Sohum Spa chain. Small, but perfectly maintained, and with massage and facial services, this is one pampering you really should go for! I am not a massage person, so I opted for an Express Facial, though two of my fellow guests got massages and the combination of bliss and lethargy on their faces and in their demeanor, said it all! My facial too was just fantastic – the young woman had serious magic in her fingertips. The soothing music and peace and quiet in the small space all added to my feelings of contentment. Equipped with a shower stall right there as well, even non-hotel guests can avail of the spa facilities in comfort. Located on the same floor as the pool, there is also a well equipped gym next door.

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At present, the hotel has one multi-cuisine restaurant, called Nest. It serves Indian, Asian (mainly Chinese with a Thai curry or some sushi at times), Italian and Western fare. Chef Dev Bose, who has been a part of the team since the hotel opened nearly three years ago, says that Italian and Mediterranean cuisine is his forte (I chose to cook what I love to eat, he told us), but of course justice is done to all the cuisines served. Nest offers not only a daily lunch and dinner buffet, but also an a la carte menu, and Chef Bose and his team are always willing to customize and create something to a guest’s particular fancy, given a little advance notice. Considering this is a business hotel with lots of long-stay clientele, this is a lovely gesture indeed, for those who might not want to be faced with a buffet at every meal, are fussy eaters, or who develop a hankering for a simple meal from home. There is also a bar space, which too had  an eye-catching decor and seemed to be well stocked. LIITs are apparently a specialty, but we stuck to the safer and much less potent Mojitos for our Sunday brunch.

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Saturday night was the launch of Nest’s new menu – an annual affair, where Chef Bose and his team add some new items to their menu based on guest feedback as well as Chef’s inspiration. This year, he chose to use figs as his muse, and many of the new dishes had that element present, from a fig salad, to a fig cheesecake. That night, what stood out for us was the main course: chicken roulade, salmon infused with chilli/paprika, and a delicious mushroom risotto. After a mini dinner of the new items on the newly launched menu, there was also a buffet spread, where we loved the live counter of appams, which were a great accompaniment to the freshly made kheema, boti and bheja fry. I am not a big spare parts fan, but the treatment here was super.

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In fact, having partaken of both the Saturday lunch buffet, as well as the Sunday brunch buffet, I came away with the feeling that the Indian food was what shone. Whether it was a paneer gravy, or the Kuthu Paratha or Kheema Pav (these last two were the live counters at Sunday brunch, along with an appam station and pasta station), it was all done well and tasted good. The Chinese and pasta/roast chicken/au gratin dishes were decent, but not outstanding. The buffet, whether for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch, is set up with a counter for desserts, one for breads, salads/cold cuts/appetizers, and hot dishes comprising Indian, Asian and Continental fare. Sunday brunch has hot appetizers brought to the table, along with some live stations, but otherwise it is a similar spread to the weekdays.

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When you visit, definitely make it a point to stop by the third floor, where there is a Knowledge Center/library area which has a treasure trove of knickknacks and items like a beautiful, unique, hand-carved chess set and an old-style station clock. Oh, and don’t miss the gramophone! Nest too, has some really cool design elements (note the mounted plates at the restaurant’s entrance, which feature numerous trees – places where birds “nest”), faux marble finish columns that also become lights in the evening, and a private dining space with a beautiful chandelier. In the lobby area there are light fixtures that draw the eye, and the honeycomb patterned partitions are worthy of a second look too. As a business hotel, HoJo finds itself quite full on weekdays, with Saturdays seeing a bit of a lull. The pool is of a decent size, the rooms as I have already waxed eloquent on, are very comfortable, and the staff are attentive and smiling. Complimentary WiFi and free pickup/drop to and from the airport are part of the tariff.

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Details: Howard Johnson Bengaluru Hebbal; INR 1500 plus taxes for a meal for two; INR 999 plus taxes/INR 1500 plus taxes (with alcohol), per person for Sunday Brunch.

Chef Gary Mehigan’s 7 Culinary Wonders

What does one do when one gets an invite to partake of a 7 course dinner conceptualized, curated, and cooked by Gary Mehigan, MasterChef Australia judge and restaurateur? Well, one says yes with alacrity! Grab the friend for whom meeting Gary is akin to meeting Amitabh Bachchan for a Bollywood fan (his own words!), get ready and head over to The Ritz Carlton Bangalore in anticipation of a great meal and an exciting Thursday evening.

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The one off event was the launch in India of the CEO Series 2016, presented by American Express in association with BMW and Etihad Airways. Held across three cities – Bangalore, Mumbai, and Delhi, we in Bangalore were the first on the list. In attendance were well-known CEOs including Nandan Nilekani and Chetan Maini, a few of us from the food blogging community, and other influencers. The premise of the event was to bring together folks from technology, media, business, and finance, and have them interact over a sit down dinner presided over by a favorite celebrity chef, Gary Mehigan.

_vds6008Chef Gary created the Seven Wonders of the World Menu inspired by his travels and focused on seven different countries, and even though we traversed India, Peru, Italy and more, the meal came together like a pitch perfect song – there was not one discordant note to be found. I am honestly not one to be bowled over by someone’s celebrity status, but I sure was bowled over by this man and this meal! It was a spectacular dinner, one none of us in attendance will likely forget in a hurry, with every course making an impression.

dish-inspired-by-peruWe started in Peru, with Scorched Salmon, caramelized miso mayonnaise, ceviche pickles, edamame. The salmon was out of this world, and so was the miso mayo. Peruvian cuisine has influences of Japanese alongside its South American roots, which made the ceviche and salmon dish a beautiful representation of the food culture. Staying that side of the world, the soup course was a gorgeous Brazilian Moqueca, a fish soup that literally brought the aroma and taste of the ocean to the table.

For our third dish of the evening, Chef took us to Jordan – and I think a lot of folks who were there that night would agree, this dish was the Dish of the Day, though that itself is like picking a first among equals! Compressed Watermelon, that was served as a block, had been infused with spices, citrus and a touch of rose, and served with Jordanian almonds and labneh. The latter two ingredients added some interesting crunchiness and softness to the textures, and the flavor of rose and watermelon worked oh-s0-well!

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Now there just had to be an India inspiration on the menu, and this was the Butter roasted cauliflower, a deceptively simple sounding and looking dish that had a depth of flavor. The addition of green fennel seeds and golden raisins gave this a slightly sweet taste, the lovely crunch of the thinly sliced cauliflower on a bed of mash cauliflower worked brilliantly. I also liked the way Chef set up the courses – two seafood, two veg, followed by two non-veg. The Glenlevit Founder’s Reserve was served with this dish, and smooth and just that little bit fiery it was.

Chicken from China was the next to appear, and he elevated a simple White cooked chicken into a gourmet dish. Served with garnishes of spring onion, celery, ginger jelly, and black sesame, and seasoned with soy sauce, ginger and garlic, this was comfort food at the highest level. Our second meat course was Slow cooked lamb, served in a tagine. Shoulder of lamb, toasted grains, daal and pine nuts and kohlrabi made this dish exotic and familiar all in the same mouthful. The lamb had been slow cooked for 14 hours and was suitably tender and delicious. Chef mentioned that biryani was an inspiration for the dish, and it certainly was a one pot wonder! Glenlevit 15 was the scotch to accompany this course.

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Conco d’Oro, the Italian dessert, was what we finished with. Given the reference to gold in the name, Chef had used edible gold leaf atop each of the meringues, turning them “golden”. I love all things citrus-y, and especially after a big meal, this dessert of lemon curd and olive oil semi freddo with an orange syrup and both candied and fresh citrus, was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal, and the glass of Jacob’s Creek Sparkling brought it all together beautifully.

Unlike when I met and watched Gary in action during his last visit to Bangalore a few months ago, he was visibly more relaxed, enjoying himself and having fun. We were seated close to the kitchen entrance and he would keep popping his head out to check on the proceedings, as well as interacting with the diners. He offered to pose for photographs, and went a step further, taking people’s phones and orchestrating selfies! I came away from the event marveling at the food, the Chef, and what a fun evening it was…

Dragon Boat Festival at Yauatcha

Yauatcha, of Soho London and Michelin star fame, has been on the Bangalore scene for nearly three years now. It’s location, on what I think of as the “restaurant floor” of the 1MG Road Mall, means that good food and some shopping can go hand in hand, any time of the day! June is the month of the two millennial old Duanwu aka Tuen Ng aka Dragon Boat Festival, which Yauatcha is celebrating with a month-long food festival featuring the specialty dish of the festival – Zongzi – sticky rice and meat/veggies wrapped in bamboo leaves. Eating Zongzi, racing dragon boats, drinking a special rice wine (Realgar wine or Xionghuang wine) and mingling with family and friends – that’s what the festival boils down to, whether celebrated on the mainland (China), Hong Kong, Taiwan or anywhere else, for that matter.

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Sunday Brunching in Style: Movenpick Hotel & Spa

Sunday brunch brings back memories of awakening late, fighting the pater for the Sunday newspaper and drinking tea out on the balcony at home. Sitting in my PJs until way past decent, and finally only being goaded into showering and dressing with the promise of mum’s brunch. Some weeks it would be Indian – parathas and egg bhurji or the Hyderabadi egg dish Khageena, while other times it would be sausages, eggs, bacon, baked beans and toast. Whatever the main course, a fab dessert was always there to end on. Oh man, those were the days! The grown up me has to either prepare the brunch herself, or else head out to one of the many restaurants in town that offer a special brunch on the day of rest. When an invite to such an afternoon comes along, gathering with the fellow food writer pals and our other halves makes it all the sweeter. Such was the occasion a couple weeks ago, when four couples and two munchkins arrived at The Movenpick Hotel & Spa for their 250 dish and cocktails/beer/wine/champagne Sunday brunch.

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Sushi to start us off

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