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.

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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Cuisine of the Navaithas: Food Fest

I enjoy the food festivals that the hotels in town put up as part of their buffets, for the simple reason that they are a departure from the norm – sure there’s a good meal to be had at any of the all day dining restaurants in the 5 stars, on any given day. But, add in a short term, week or ten day long food fest that takes over a section of the buffet and showcases a particular cuisine or culture, and you get that something extra. Raj Pavilion at ITC Windsor just hosted a festival that celebrated the cuisine of the Navaithas, a Muslim community from Gingee, brought to Bangalore during the British Raj, whose cuisine features a mix of Nawab and Mughal influences. That means kebabs and biryani, so snagging a dear friend visiting from Delhi whose heart always beats faster for biryani, we made our way over on the festival’s opening night to sample its wares.

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