Sunday Brunch at JW Marriott: A Soothing Affair

I am an avid bruncher – everything about a weekend afternoon meal that stretches for hours, is lazy yet luxurious, and where a wide variety of food and drink are available, speak to me – it’s soothing, happy, and everything good about the weekend. My latest Sunday brunch sojourn was at the JW Marriott’s JW Kitchen. A themed affair, this is a Monsoon Sunday Brunch, with a vast menu of curated dishes that appeal during the cool rainy months. You know, pakodas, chaats and jalebi, hot-off-the-grills meats and veggies, kebabs, freshly tossed pastas and a whole lot more. Because aside from the monsoon specials, there is a whole slew of dishes and counters to whet your appetite and satisfy even the pickiest eater! The brunch offerings encompass the restaurant as well as the outdoor section – and there is a big play area for kids, as well as a separate menu for them. Live counters rotate, and each specialty restaurant of the hotel sets up shop one week – it was Spice Terrace when we visited – and showcases a couple of dishes from their menu. The stuffed chicken kebab was superb!

After walking around and getting a tour of the offerings, I started off with an order of Malaysian Roti Jala and Goan Ros Omelette Poi. Both these were spectacular, and had I not run out of space by the meal’s end, I would gladly have ended with these, too! The silky Malay curry, along with the crisp honeycomb style roti, and the delicious Goan masala ros elevated the humble omelette to another level. The drinks options were plentiful, with a bar set up outdoors and another indoors. We began with a glass of sparkling and then I decided to stick with wine, enjoying a smooth red wine sangria while my dining companion tried out a couple of cocktails. We then enjoyed a round of freshly grilled meat from the BBQ station including fish, pork, prawns and chicken.

Although I was too busy eating to take pictures of each and everything I ate from the various counters, indoors and out, I definitely remember them! There was a nice mezze spread with hummus and various other Middle Eastern dips, a salad counter where one of the chefs s making Caesar’s salad to order, a variety of cold cuts and picked and grilled veggies, and of course, extensive mains, including Indian and Continental. We absolutely loved the honey glazed ham, and there was also an interesting ham/spam cutlet with peas and mash. There was a good spread of desserts of course, and between us we sampled a fair number of gateau, mousse, cake, pudding (the hot chocolate pudding was very rich and delicious) and more. I had to end with hot jalebis from the live counter, and had really run out of space for any more, of anything, and we called it, after a solid two hours of gorging, while enjoying the gorgeous, windy Bangalore weather. The special Monsoon Sunday brunch will be available for a couple months, and it is a wonderful way to spend one’s Sunday. The attentive, warm service was a definite plus!

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Details: JW Kitchen, JW Marriott Hotel, Vittal Mallya Rd; Sunday Brunch; INR 2450 plus taxes/INR 3400 plus taxes for non-alcoholic/alcoholic options.

Sula Wine & Indian Food – Rotarian Wine Fellowship Dinner at The Conrad

Finding time in the midst of the work week tends to be a challenge, but there are certain events for which one most definitely makes an exception. An invite from a dear friend to be a part of an exclusive private evening – a Rotarian Wine Fellowship dinner at one of the city’s newest star hotels, The Conrad, for Indian food paired with Sula wines, did not go unanswered! Starting out at The Conrad’s rooftop pool, we gathered to enjoy some bubbly – Sula Brut, and take pictures a-plenty, before we headed to our sit down dinner at Indian Durbar, The Conrad’s specialty Indian restaurant. With the co-founder of Sula, Kerry Damskey, and the brand’s chief wine maker, Karan Vasani in attendance, we knew we were in for an evening that would be both educational and delicious! I hadn’t realized that Sula has been around for close to 2 decades, or that it as one of the earlier vineyards in the country. And did you know that Sula is the brand that brought Zinfandel to India?

We started off with an amuse bouche of a miniature sized dhokla topped with a mint foam – quite living up to the name of the course! This was followed by the soup course, which was a lamb broth, simmered overnight, served with pickled lemon and tomato relish. Our appetizer was Kandhari Murgh, a wonderful spring chicken marinated with red chili spiced curd and dried pomegranate and served with dollops of the sauces. It was interesting how the combo tasted citrusy rather than having the sweetness of pomegranate. The Sula Riesling was the accompaniment for the early courses. Now if you’re a Riesling drinker, you’re likely to find this one mild, but it, as the winemakers pointed out, makes for a perfect starter wine for someone who has just begun to drink wine. And it’s unassuming nature means that it pairs well with a variety of food.

With the breaking out of the RASA wines from Sula, the evening got even more interesting. To accompany our Kashmiri Lagan ki Seekh, which had a charcoal sauce, we we were served Rasa Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine I will definitely look out for on the shelves, as too the Rasa Shiraz, which was the next pour, to accompany the main course of Hyderabadi Dum ka Nalli or Seabass Polichattu for the non vegetarians. I am usually a fan of Shiraz, and this time was no exception, offering the anticipated body and flavor. And I learned that decanting it for a bit before serving to open it up and release the aroma. While the Nalli – my choice for mains – was nice, it was the accompanying da-e-durbar and tadka saag that packed a flavor punch. A variety of naan and paratha made dipping into the gravies all that more enjoyable.

Our dinner ended with a dessert trio: Belgian dark chocolate kheer, Sonpapdi, and Kerala vanilla pod kulfi, decorated with gold leaf., and the wine poured was the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. I must admit to not being a sweet wine fan, and usually avoid dessert wines. Sula’s Chenin Blanc was no exception, and registered quite high on the sweetness notes. So definitely for my palate, it was the two reds that worked, over the two whites served that night. Rasa Shiraz is definitely making an appearance in my drinking at home wine collection! Getting to hear first-hand, the story of Sula, the expanding team of winemakers on board, and break bread with the co-founder and chief winemaker made for a memorable experience, in the recently opened Conrad Hotel’s opulent surroundings.

 

 

Celebrating 35 years: The Royal Afghan, ITC Windsor

Before it was ITC Windsor, it was Windsor Manor, a hotel my parents and I visited for special occasions when I was a child. I remember at least one meal at The Royal Afghan. So, when this restaurant, which has never changed its menu, dishes, or recipes, turned 35, and decided to celebrate with a month long special, I had to join in!
The special signature chef’s choice menu, crafted by Chef Riyaz Ahmed and team gives diners a chance to try almost all the restaurant’s North West Frontier offerings – so be prepared to eat a lot, and really well! The menu at Royal Afghan isn’t vast, but curated, presenting the best dishes, with special spices and techniques handed down and honed over the last three and half decades and with the aim of maintaining the exacting standards and flavors. Now, here’s a pictorial journey of our beautiful lunch, for day or night, the poolside setting affords a lovely ambience.

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Tandoori Jhinga – Tiger Prawns farmed by ITC Foods itself, this was heavenly!

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Kadak Seekh Kebab – you won’t be able to stop eating this!

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The delectable Tandoori Chicken (made with yellow chilli powder)

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The rich and smoky Barrah Kebab

 

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A medley of the vegetarian starters: Subz Seekh Kebab, Tandoori Aloo, Tandoori Phool, Paneer Tikka, Tandoori Simla Mirch

 

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Indian Breads, including a Khasta Roti, a family favorite

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Dal Bukhara and Butter Chicken – traditional dishes that complete the meal

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The Sikandari Raan – the restaurant’s specialty and a favorite with diners

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Kulfi – oh so good! Light in flavor and consistency, this was

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Gulab Jamun – need I say more?

Details: The Royal Afghan, ITC Windsor; Anniversary signature menu INR 3300 plus taxes (non veg) & Rs. 2800 plus taxes (veg) per person; Available through Sunday, 30th November, 2017.

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A splendid feast awaits: The Bohri Shahi Dawat at ITC Gardenia

Biryani and kebabs make for a splendid meal – of this there is no doubt. Each city/town has its own version of these dishes, and within the Muslim community, there are variations based on sect and state. Growing up, it was the Hyderabadi style of cooking that I was most familiar with. And I also got to try the goodies in the lunchboxes of two Bohra classmates, whose lunches, truth be told, were the most interesting amongst the group. From Khichida (which I called a white haleem in my head) to kebabs and always some sweet as well, and later attending a couple of events at their homes and experiencing the community style of eating for the first time – these then are my memories of Bohra food. Thus, when an invite popped into my mailbox, proclaiming an upcoming Bohri Shahi Dawat food festival at ITC Gardenia’s Cubbon Pavilion, I knew there was only one answer – yes! That the festival coincides with the closing week of Ramazan and the Eid celebration was an added bonus. And you too can enjoy the feast, which is available for dinner until the 2nd of July as part of their Kitchens of India – Unique Tastes initiative.

The Bohri Shahi Dawat at Cubbon Pavilion, ITC Gardenia

Young Chef Zohair, a Bohra from Mumbai (the community is predominantly from Gujarat, and with roots in Yemen and a touch of Mughal influence), curated and created every dish and detail for the festival, wanting to share his heritage and culture with diners, down to the Thaal – the giant plate that serves as the focal point of the meal, with the family sitting around it and then all partaking of the various courses off it. He had even sourced from his home town, the Chemlachi Lota – silver jug – that holds water that is used to wash hands before the meal. Tradition dictates that the youngest member of the family offers salt to every diner, since the meal is supposed to begin with a pinch of salt. Then it is time to dig into the successive courses, which will alternate between sweet (Mithaas) and savory (Khaaras). And Chef assured us that this is how they eat at home, every single day, with a multiple course sweet and savory menu! Since community style eating would present a logistical challenge, for the purposes of the festival, we were served individual “mini” thaals. Mini cause they were regular plates, not because there was any less to eat, I should add!

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We were offered two drinks, one sweet, one savory here too – a sweet tender coconut one (Coconut Malai with Elaichi) and Gol Paani with Sabja seeds, which featured lemon, tulsi and basil seeds and hit the spot with a nice tangy flavor. It is traditional to begin with dates in some form – Kharek was what we go that day – Dates soaked in rose syrup and stuffed with Khoya, pistachios and almonds. And then the real feasting started! And as there was a vegetarian at the table, we learned that there is an extensive range of vegetarian delicacies prepared in Bohra cooking, and a quick taste assured us that this was indeed the case! Our non-veg starters included divine Kheema Samosas – crisp, thin, fried casing encasing hand-pounded mutton mince, Kheema Pattice – mince stuffed potatoes, Chicken Cream Tikka – chicken nuggets with cream that make for the perfect comfort food on a cold evening. For the vegetarians the Nariyal Kebab (potato encasing coconut), and Dal Na Samosa, a lentil samosa would leave them happy. Before the mains, the Mango Malai was common to both thalis, and kept up the one sweet-one savory tradition.

And now it was time for the main course. For vegetarians, there was Patrel Soya nu Tarkari made with Cocoyam leaves; the non-veg version, Patrel Gosht combined mutton and the leaves. There was a Bohri Dal that used 5 lentils to great effect, and a rich Ghaker Roti which was layers of flaky pastry and ghee and didn’t need any accompaniment, though it was perfect to dip into the Kaari Chicken – a cashew gravy and gorgeous spice combination made this the dish of the night! No meal of this sort would be complete without biryani – and the Bohra Gosht Biryani (with mutton and potatoes and deep fried onions) served with a delectable Bhuna Baingan Raita, was stellar. This was one of those times when I rued not having more space – the Kaari Chicken and biryani should be savored in large quantities! Now of course the meal had to end on a sweet note, and obviously, given the season, Sheer Khurma was a must – and with the charonji and other nuts, it transported me back to Eids of childhood! For those who would enjoy ending the meal with paan, the Bohri Paan Goli is a sort of deconstructed paan ball rolled with dessicated coconut. All in all decadence and a rare glimpse into a food culture that is not easy to find locally…

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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

Sunday Brunch at The Hilton Bangalore

By now it is an established fact that I love Sunday brunching. Everything about it, from the late start, to the cocktails and of course, the food, which includes various cuisines and invariably an array of decadent desserts. Well then, that being my criteria for a good Sunday brunch offering and happy Sunday, the newly launched Sunday brunch at The Hilton Bangalore, Embassy GolfLinks, has checks in all the boxes, and then two additionally checked boxes too: live music and song with a mellow and quite melodious band, and pool-time for those thus inclined. Oh, and for parents – there’s a separate indoor entertainment area for the kids, and food for them too. So, you can enjoy your boozy brunch secure in the knowledge that they’re well taken care of.

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Spread across not one, but two of their restaurants, Salt Grill (the poolside venue) and the indoor Ministry of Food, this is one massive spread, and we probably only touched on around half the dishes during our visit. The bar was set up outside, and the bartenders were willing to make pretty much anything one ordered, as well as customize to suit individual tastes. We started with Cosmo and Mojito for round one, then it was party time and lots of made-to-ordering happened. The service was a little slow, though the bartenders were super nice, but there were so many people and the drink orders were pouring in (yes pun intended). A shout-out to whoever on the team came up with the idea of the Jello shots – these were passed around throughout the afternoon, and were fun and quite differently served in the rind of a watermelon – and they were quite strong too!

img_20170122_144559img_20170122_144531A range of Indian starters was brought to the table from inside, and there was plenty of both veg and non-veg options. The counter with cheese, bread and crackers, dry fruit and nuts had a lovely range of cheeses that we went back to a second time. Cold cuts and salads were aplenty, and the Chaat Counter was doing brisk business. I  liked the Watermelon Gazpacho served in test tubes and there was also a counter (indoors) of Middle Eastern dips including hummus, labneh and more. These items were all kept cool on ice, which meant that they remained fresh and creamy through the afternoon. The grill section had meats with gravies and veggies, including some great roast chicken and grilled pork, but more than the meats, the star was the Quiches, which were fantastic.

There was a live pasta counter as well as a Khow Suey one – both good. There were many options for Indian and Asian mains, but we were way too full to indulge (and keeping some space for the tempting desserts), so we restricted ourselves to the flavorful Biryani, though the different Parathas being made looked rather tempting! The desserts were numerous (take a look at the slideshow below to see the range!), and apart from the range of pastries, mousses, and more, there was also a Jalebi and Rabdi counter, and a Nitrogen ice-cream one! We were there at the launch of the brunch, and it was clear to us all that Hilton EGL has a winner on its hands. So here’s to many more brunches, and remember to pack your swimsuit!

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Details: Sunday Brunch; Hilton Embassy GolfLinks
Pricing: Alcoholic Brunch INR 1999 plus taxes; Non-alcoholic Brunch INR 1499 plus taxes; Kids Brunch (5-12) INR 749 plus taxes

Now at the Pavilions (Raj Pavilion New Menu)

Au revoir, 2016 – it’s was an all over the place year, but as always, dining experiences stood out and made for some very satisfying and good times with my food-loving, food-blogging gang. The time has come to end the year, my first as an independent food blogger, and this post on the new menu launch at ITC Windsor’s Raj Pavilion is a fitting end to a(nother) year of good food. One, it brought together the madcap group; two, it was an interesting and delectable lunch; three, it allowed us to wallow in the luxurious old world charm of ITC Windsor, and all that lovely glass at the Raj Pavilion. Which, by the way made for some lovely photographs, with the natural light streaming in from the side and overhead.

 

In keeping with their mandate of “responsible luxury”, the menu gives diners information on the danger level of the fish so they can make informed choices, alongside having symbols against the different dishes that mark them as locally sourced, gluten free, containing nuts/pork, etc. Did you know that ITCs serve water that’s zero mile and purified in-house? Just another way they do their bit to reduce carbon footprint. #TrendingAtPavilion was the hashtag of the day, as this luncheon was not a solitary affair, but held across multiple ITC Pavilions all over the country, with bloggers and food writers participating and posting on their social media.

As we waited for the new menu to be brought forth, we were served Pulled Lamb Cornettos and Tomato and Feta Wonton Cups along with two mocktails. The first dish to make an appearance was the Burrata with Anise-poached Pears, and what a grand start this was! Father Michael (Vallombrosa Cheese Shop), a local priest who is known in food circles for his fantastic cheese making, was the source of the Buratta. The anise spicing on the pears was judicious and in combination with the creamy cheese and the bread and salad greens on the side, it was a great set of flavors. Next up was another cheese starrer, Molten Brie with Pretzel Crusts, accompanied by roasted beets and a green apple chutney that had some heat to it – this dish had a number of elements, but they all came together wonderfully.

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The next dish was a seemingly simple Shrimp Cocktail, but elevated to unusual with a Curry Leaf and Kokum Mayo, which gave it an interesting color and most delicious and unexpected taste – the boiled eggs on the side added a certain something too. Soups were next, and both the Singaporean Laksa and the Mushroom and Barley were packed with great flavor. The mushroom soup is one I would want to reach for on a cool winter day, and the injection of celery and leek that came in a little plastic tube was a fun element. The Laksa won more favor at the table, with its shrimp, chicken, fish , noodles, boiled egg, tofu, and coconutty broth.

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Next up, mains – four dishes were presented and shared by the group. From the local love section there was Bisibele Bath, which was served with half a dozen sides including expected ones like boondi and pachadi, and more unusual ones like Parmesan cheese and dried carrot shavings. The dish was appreciated by everyone, especially the unique cheese topping. Personally, Bisebele Bath is not something I like, so after a tiny taste, I moved on. The other and biggest hit of the mains was the Slow Cooked Mushroom and White Bean Soup, with crusty bread and garlicy broccoli on the side – again, this was a soul satisfying soup for a winter’s night.

The other two mains, unfortunately, didn’t translate well to the plate. The Gratinated Meatballs in a Makhani sauce with cheese was actually lovely – didn’t expect to like Indianized meatballs but it worked. However, the accompanying spaghetti had been tossed in curry leaves and that marred the overall taste – somehow, the curry leaves in a pasta dish just didn’t resonate with any of us. The Lamb Rib and Broad Bean Tagine, served with couscous and stewed apricots, was actually the most anticipated dish of the main course, and its presentation in a Tagine was flawless, as was the couscous. Unfortunately the lamb and stew itself was altogether over spiced, and the overpowering cinnamon taste made it difficult to eat. We of course passed our feedback on to the kitchen and Chef, and I am sure that there will be a lot more care in the making of this hereafter.

The piece de resistance of the meal was the desserts, courtesy ITC’s pastry chef, Chef Alrich. I am a cheesecake lover, through and through, so the fact that I took just a couple bites of the beautiful cheesecake that came to the table and concentrated on the other two offerings should give you an idea of just how good those desserts were! Milk Chocolate Parfait with Darjeeling Tea Namelaka and Raspberry sorbet was beautifully plated and presented, and the finishing touch of a rich chocolate sauce poured at the table. I actually went back on New Year’s eve for lunch to Raj Pavilion, just so I could order and once again savor this dessert. From the halved hazelnuts to that decadently delicious chocolate sauce, the tart raspberry sorbet and the parfait – this was all kinds of awesome!

The Pavilion Chocolate Fudge with Jaggery Caramel Sauce was equally wondrous and wonderful – and we shamelessly took our spoons and dug into the tureen which held the sauce, unwilling to leave a single drop! We ended our meal thus in dessert bliss, and then spent a few enjoyable minutes takin in the beautifully decorated lobby, complete with working model train amidst the Xmas decorations.

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Farzified!

The buzz around Farzi Cafe started many weeks before the restaurant actually opened its doors to the Bangalore public. Word of the opening of this Massive Restaurants chain’s Bangalore branch (in UB City, no less!) evoked much excitement – in fact, now, many months later, it is still difficult to get a reservation on a weekend and the place is almost always packed. Calling itself a “Modern Indian Bistro”, Farzi Cafe is high on the jinks – molecular gastronomy is seen in quite a few of the drinks and some of the food too. The staff are knowledgeable, friendly, stylish, and attentive – across the board. I am quite a fan of one of their bartenders, Tejas, who creates fantastic drinks behind the bar.

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Oh the drama! A kettle with a billowing cocktail made from tea, vodka, citrus.

The food is decidedly Indian, with flourishes of fusion. After a couple of visits, and attending one of the slew of pre-opening parties, I came away with an appreciation for the drinks and desserts in particular – they’re cool, presented with more than a swig of theatricality, and with nice balance of flavors. In terms of the food, it came across as a mixed bag: some really great taste and presentation, as well as some that were flat. I think the latter happens with their vegetarian offerings – be it the bhajjis or chaat and such. Their non-vegetarian appetizers however, are very good. Now, since I happened to go for lunch, and since my camera was cooperative and the lighting kind, I have, for once, a number of good pictures, so am going to let them do some of the talking!

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At the behest of our server, we began with the Tomato Soup, served with a Pepper and Basil Rusk and micro greens, which was poured from a jug into a scallop-edged bowl – great taste and of course, presented well. The next dish is one that has become ubiquitous with Farzi – Tempura Fried Prawn. Now I like the taste of the dish, but every time I eat it, I find myself not sure of the texture – its gooey and the foam on top just adds to that feeling. The next appetizer however, erased any doubts – the Coorgi Pandi Ribs were divine – texture and taste wise. Suffice it to say, my dining companion, who usually desists from eating pork, kept pace with me, bite for bite!

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Coorgi Pandi Ribs

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Dal Chawal Arancini

The Dal Chawal Arancini is one of the fusion veg offerings that I do like – it is a pretty plate, and the arincini-ing of a simple dal and rice prep, with the teeny roasted papad rolls topping, makes for a crunchy and tasty morsel. The Chicken Changezi Quesadillas that came next were another interesting looking plate and tasted nice too, as did the Mutton Irachi Pepper Fry, served with Malabari Parantha. But the standout for us, surprisingly because neither of us usually go for this, was the Bheja Fry served on a an Appam – a must try for anyone who likes brain.

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Bheja khao!

We were full with both food and drink, but desserts were forthcoming and we were not going to send them away! If you’ve been to or been told of Farzi, their Bailey’s Lollipops are a cool innovation and much loved. Like the Hajmola Pops which are brought to the tables as a palate cleanser, these too are served in what looks like a ceramic tree. The brilliant finish to our meal, however, was provided by the Parle G Cheesecake: it was a perfect cheesecake filling encased between two Parle G biscuits – childhood nostalgia from the latter, with the sophisticated cheesecake flavors making for happiness. The other dessert was pretty with a sugar structure topping it – a Tres Leches Ras Malai. And then because we had to end with a real flourish, the most dramatic of all their desserts, called Milky Way, was served to us. Various sweet elements in the shape and aspect of the galaxy for which it is named, were set on a large slab, and then with the help of liquid nitrogen, literally brought to life! See the video here to fully appreciate this wonder! All in all, a meal at Farzi is as much about the theatricality and the presentation as it is about the actual food – and you’re sure to have a good time!

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…