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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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.


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.

Mezzaluna’s new Italian flavors

Mezzaluna, the Italian fine dine restaurant at the Mövenpick Hotel & Spa is definitely one of my favorite Italian eateries in town. However, the fact that the hotel is far, far from home, means my visits are few and far between. In fact, when I was there a few weeks ago, some quick calculations and thinking back made me realize it had been, horror, a year and a half since my last visit! Under the genial and capable hands of Chef Armando di Filipppo, who has been with the establishment for about three years now, and has relocated to India en famille, Mezzaluna is always  a delight. I prefer afternoon dining over dinner here, for the simple reason that the sunlight from the windows and the charm of the life size prints of Italy (almost floor to ceiling in height) comes through better in the day, and also because there’s somewhat less traffic at 1pm than at 6pm!

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I liked the interiors of checkered floor and life size Italian ‘scapes so much, I even posed for a pic!

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