The Rise of Experiential Dining

Funny, how sometimes work and hobbies end up going hand in hand. Just recently at work, I wrote about the rise of experiential dining and the trend of adding zing to the dining experience. And then last week, I attended a multi-course meal that two of our city’s passionate chefs, Kanishka Sharma (founder of The Tenth Muse culinary experience) and Pallavi Mehta, had put together based on their personal life experiences and with local ingredients and influences in every dish. Part of an on-going series (of a monthly sit down wine and dine, The Courtyard Food Project) at the lovely space on Double Road, The Courtyard, which serves as an al fresco restaurant and dining space for events such as supper club dinners and dining experiences as well as a community space with performances, on arrival I was greeted by a beautifully set table and a glass of Svami Tonic Water.

 

IMG_20190427_200828

These dinners bring together a diverse set of people, who share an interest in experiencing an intimate menu created especially around a theme. NAVU, which means ‘us’ in Kannada, was the name and context for our meal last week. This meant we heard Kanishka and Pallavi’s reasoning for creating a specific dish as well as felt local influences in the dishes, while their storytelling gave us a glimpse into their lives too. Kanishka talked about how a neighbor when she was growing up, would always ask if she drank tiger’s milk, since she was a fearless kid, and this translated into our appetizer course with coconut milk (Ice apple or Ceviche with coconut tigre de leche). And then there was Pallavi’s reminiscence of being the new member of a mainly Bengali staffed kitchen, and their reaction to her throwing out prawn heads rather than using them in her cooking, which led to her serving up the chutney made with prawn head.

 

We actually began the meal with a tangy Rasam and deconstructed Sabudana Vada. This was followed by the Tigre de leches appetizer and then a raw mango rice with mango salsa, topped by a fried papad. The next course was the prawn pickle and head chutney served on an amazing rice cracker that made me think of the rice apalam/papad I would eat as a kid in Chennai. This was one of my two favorite dishes of the night. And then came the other stellar dish, a beautifully cooked and seasoned pork chop served with sauteed local greens – this dish also incorporated 100% Karnataka single origin chocolate. Of course there were veg versions of both dishes, with veggies replacing the prawn and meat.

 

IMG_20190427_220202

And then it was time for dessert, which came in two rounds, the first being a jackfruit cremeux with fried cheese on top and black rice kheer topped with puffed black rice. I have never warmed to jackfruit, so left that one after a bite, but the gusto with which another diner accepted my offer of it, proved its appeal! And then out came a caramelized roselle flower and chocolate truffle made from Naviluna chocolate (formerly Earth Loaf – with their little factory space in Mysore). Our entire meal was accompanied by the always delightful wines from Big Banyan Wines. I loved all the local touches, from the chocolate to the wine, and it was a pleasure to spend an evening with a new set of folks. Just proved to me yet again, that a good meal is a great way to get people together, laughing, talking and relishing! Something that the team at The Courtyard and Kanishka have been doing successfully for some months – I met some folks who were on their third such dinners.

IMG_20190427_221947

Brunch at the New Radisson Blu Atria

We all love Sunday brunch, don’t we? Sunday being, for many, the only day of rest in the week, the idea of waking late, then heading out to a long, leisurely, luscious brunch, has quite an appeal. I’ve always been a Sunday bruncher – it was something my mother instituted at home when I was growing up, and living in the U.S, Sunday brunch for Mother’s Day and the like was a given. Over the last couple of years, almost all the hotels in the city have started serving up Sunday brunches – some extravagant, some elegant, all enjoyable. One of the latest additions to the scene is at the Radisson Blue Atria Bengaluru. The old Atria Hotel has had a facelift and a brand makeover, and now under the Radisson Blu label, has launched a lovely Sunday brunch, which can be enjoyed poolside or indoors in the restaurant’s air conditioned comfort (which is what we opted for on a sweltering May afternoon). Oh, and a dip in the pool is part of the package, so make sure to carry your swimwear!

IMG_20170507_132135DSC_5289

The live grills counter and a bar counter were set up outside – it’s an IMFL beverage package at INR 1950 plus taxes, which means you can drink and eat to your heart’s content – now that’s a nice way to spend Sunday afternoon! There was a nice spread, with Indian, Asian, Continental, and Mediterranean offerings across the salads, appetizers, and mains. What we were impressed with was the range of salads, the live grill counter, and the meats. The Papdi Chaat and Pani Puri (I liked the way it was served to the table) went down well – we all being chaat people. There was also Pav counter with both veg and non-veg, and dim sum and tacos, as also a pasta station and kebab corner.

DSC_5320DSC_5307

I always pile my plate with the fancy salads at buffets, and this time was no exception. The Prawn salad with tomato salsa, Pesto rubbed fish  with orange segments, Seared tenderloin salad with wild mushroom, roasted shallots and Dijon mustard, and the Tuscan pork and bean salad were all nice flavor combinations and made a good chilled start to the meal on the hot day. There were the Middle Eastern dips of Baba Ghanoush and Hummus and Tabbouleh salad too – but we couldn’t find pita bread to go with it, and made do with the fresh breads from the bread counter which was quite nice. There were also Oysters served on the half shell, which were dressed with onions, lemon juice, and cilantro, and we went for a couple of rounds of these – fresh, beautiful, and definitely a treat!

From the live grills, we loved the prawns which were large and fresh and simply prepared with a spice rub, letting the shellfish speak for itself. The Olive and Pepper Lamb Chops were also a big hit – perfectly cooked and again, with balanced spicing that did not overwhelm the meat. There was also a Mustard Marinated Fish, and Pesto Chicken. The Barbecue Pork Belly from the carving station was another item we went back for seconds off – the jus, the pork belly with the soft fat and the crackling skin – so good! There was also a selection of fairly typical mains – paneer, fish and chicken curries, biryani, dal makhani and more for those wanting Indian food, and Thai green curry chicken, an Oriental fish prep, veggies, fried rice, and noodles for those wanting Asian.

IMG_20170507_133529DSC_5311IMG_20170507_134338

Such was the heat of the day that we stuck to beers and fresh juices, but were told they have some nice cocktails – next time! Dessert was not as vast as one sees in buffets, but everything was nicely put together, with around 8 pastries/puddings/mousses, and half a dozen Indian sweets including Kulfi, Sandesh, Ladoo, and Moong dal halwa. There was also ice cream and fresh fruits. I chose to end with the live banana fosters counter – there were various toppings and sauces to choose from and it was a good ending to the meal. Pancakes and waffles were also being made to order. I noticed a kids section with items more in tune to little appetites, like burgers, fries and smileys. All in all, a very pleasant experience at a good price point, and everyone’s sure to find stuff to their liking.

For the Love of Big Brewsky

I have a secret – I’ve developed quite a crush, one that has made me grab every opportunity to be with said crush – to the tune of four visits in one month! I’ve battled cabs and traffic and distance to be close to my new favorite, and indeed, even now am plotting ways to return. And no, this is no human love interest, but a place. Big Brewsky had been on my radar for well over two years now, but its location on Sarjapur Road meant that a trip from Jayanagar just never happened. Until a couple of months ago – and then the spell was cast!

IMG_20170318_132230 (2)

The space itself is the perfect foundation – the lighting is amazing and I really don’t think there can be a bad picture taken there in the daytime; the Koi Pond with numerous fish swimming about dominates the central part, like an old fashioned home where the courtyard is open to the sky in the center; there is an imposing three storey building where all the eating, drinking and partying happens; a special area set apart and again, off the ground, for a DJ or live band; a garden area which makes for a cozy private party; bars on more than one floor, and just an all-round expansive feeling. Plus it has some well-known and old hands in the F&B industry in charge of the place now – so you’re assured of being in good hands.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My first visit was by invite, to check out the new menu the brewpub has launched, bringing in Chef Saby Gorai to plan and implement the overhauling. Chef Saby’s fame precedes him – he has restaurants in Pune and Delhi and after having met him a couple times now, it is safe to say his food and his charm are both swoon-worthy! The next trip was for their Sunday brunch, since a dear friend’s band was playing. And then one just-like-that visit happened. And the last one was the epic party they had to celebrate the new menu launch. Details of that evening remain a tad fuzzy, shall we say? 😉

IMG_20170318_143356

Sunday brunch, by the way, is an expansive feast set across two floors, including chaats, grills, pizzas, biryani, and with an entire car of desserts (that hacked off teal blue ambassador does serve a purpose!) and there are options for food only, food+beer, and food+cocktails, which makes it a really good deal and a good way to spend your Sunday afternoon – live music, DJ spinning tunes, loads of good food and drink, all in a very convivial atmosphere!

In addition to Saby, who flies in quite often to check on things, they have a brilliant man behind the bar, Karthik Kumar, who is weaving magic with his innovative cocktails, including using Kashmiri Kahwa! Must try that, along with The Great Pretender, which is a potent purple drink featuring tequila, tropical juice, egg white, and a homemade purple syrup that gives it the color; the gin based Pink Orchard; The Yellow Jacket with Bourbon and a turmeric syrup made in-house; and if Karthik has the popsicles in place, then the beer cocktails with a stout or blonde and a corresponding cola or orange popsicle in them are perfect for a hot summer day. My only kvetch is that the beers need some work, and I am looking forward to their pulling their socks up in this respect – the 3-4 beers I tried on my various visits were all kinda blah.

IMG_20170318_132642IMG_20170318_133142IMG_20170318_132627

IMG_20170318_140023

One thing that really blew our minds was the sushi – better than what is served at some of the city’s Asian restaurants, even, rolled just so, and we couldn’t get enough. The Avocado Maki Roll, Vegetable Black Rice California Roll, Non-Veg California Roll with Salmon Roe and Tuna, and the Tempura Prawn Roll were what we had on that first visit and even though the Sunday brunch doesn’t have so many, if you’re there for it, don’t pass up on whatever sushi is on offer. The Shine Crystal Dumplings, vegetarian, taste as good as they look and are also a great inclusion amongst the Asian fare – delicate translucent wrapping without and crunchy veggies within.

IMG_20170318_140131IMG_20170318_135757IMG_20170318_153859

The Stir Fried Beef Chilli, Iranian Seekh Kebab, and Hot Black Prawns are all quite delish and pair perfectly with a cold one. Then there’s this absolutely brilliant, flavorful African spiced chicken, the name eludes me but its a must order! There are also salads, pizzas, pastas, mains including a bacon wrapped chicken, and more to choose from. If you’re a Risotto and Mushroom fan like moi, then the Black Rice Mushroom Risotto will also make your repeat order list – mushroom pate, truffle essence, parmesan cheese – need I say more?

IMG_20170318_160401

Desserts are good too – so if you can find the space, order the Asura’s Devil Chocolate Mud Cake with its rich center and gooey topping of cream cheese frosting, or the Chocolate Fondant, a lava cake with vanilla ice cream accompaniment. It is quite an expansive menu for a brewpub and we as a group had nothing against anything we ate, so there!

NSK

With Karthik Kumar and Saby Gorai

Details: The Big Brewsky, Sarjapur Road. INR 2000 plus taxes for a meal for two, including drinks. Sunday brunch packages start at under 1k a head all inclusive, and go up to INR 1600 (depending on the drinks package).

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_20170218_151521IMG_20170218_143116

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!

IMG_20170218_160458

IMG_20170218_151248

Details: Dhaba by Claridges; 12th Main Road, Indiranagar; INR 2500 plus taxes for a meal for two

The Obento Experience at Edo

A meal at Edo, ITC Gardenia’s signature Japanese restaurant is a feast in the truest form – a feast of the senses. From the beautiful setting, to the delicately balanced and layered food, dining at Edo is always a pleasure. And now, rather than waiting for dinner time to head there, Edo has opened its doors for lunch as well. You can get a la carte dishes, but what’s the inviting new thing is their Obento (Bento Box) lunches.

IMG_20170311_132533

An Obento meal, traditionally, is served in a lacquer box with partitions for different dishes, and portioned for a single diner. In other words, you get to enjoy a multi-course meal in one go, with everything presented together. I like this for a number of reasons. For one, I can eat my meal at my own pace. Secondly, I can eat the dishes in my order of preference – like you know, saving the Prawn Tempura for last, even though it technically is a starter item. Third, you get to experience a range of items at one time, and you get to be surprised by what Chef Kamlesh and his staff are up to in the kitchen. Fourth, when I have everything laid out in front of me at the same time, the meal is sure to go faster. And this, actually, is one of the reasons for a Bento meal – Edo wants you to be able to enjoy their food and ambience even if it is for a quick Obento luncheon rather than a more elaborate and leisurely dinner service.

IMG_20170311_152700

The Obento is available in both veg and non-veg, and can be customized to suit a diner’s particular likes and dislikes or dietary needs. So if you’re allergic to something, ask for a substitute. While waiting on our Obentos to make their appearance, we were treated to the fun that is a Sake Bomb. A small cup of Sake is placed atop chopsticks that are strategically arranged on a glass of beer. Now, in unison, everyone counts to three in Japanese: Ichi, Ni, San – and then bangs their fists on the table. Splash and pop – in goes the Sake cup into the beer glass, and then it is time to down the lot in one go!

With Sake coating our insides, and much laughter and story exchange happening, once the Obento trays appeared, loaded with a multitude of deliciousness, silence descended on the table, the kind that a great meal demands. And now for the burning question- what was our Obento luncheon? Rather than the boxes, this Obento meal is served on a large tray, with small trays and bowls of the various dishes. An up-scaled Bento Box, if you will. And the dishes are presented/meant to be partaken of in a certain order, though of course, one can do what they like. First up: pickled vegetables – Oshinko; the appetizer – Zensai – a delectable crab salad; Sushi and Sashimi – fresh and beautiful Tuna and Salmon.

Now was the moment for Miso Soup, but I decided to wait on pouring it out of the cute kettle it was in for a little longer – after all, there are few tastes more pleasurable than a perfect Miso – which I know from past experience, Edo’s is! I also reserved the salty egg custard, called Chawanmushi, for later. Instead I ate the beautiful Tempura of prawns and zucchini blossom (well, I saved one of the prawn ones for last), and then went for the Robatayaki or live grill, which featured a skewer of chicken and a beautifully cooked and sauced piece of fish underneath.

IMG_20170311_140541

Now, I dove into the Miso soup – the entire experience, from pouring it out and smelling it, to then partaking of it, with the morsels of seaweed and tiny cubes of tofu, was perfection. Chef had served a bowl of Udon noodles for the main course, and this was the one dish I felt didn’t go with the rest, so I stopped after a couple of bites and dove, with relish, into my Chawanmushi – this one had a piece of fish cake and some edamame atop, and prawn and chicken at the bottom of the bowl it was set it, adding some texture and flavor as I dug my spoon further in.  This dish is a definite acquired taste, and some found it better with some soy sauce added, but I for one, just love it the way it is.

IMG_20170311_145213

We of course ended on green tea and dessert (Mizugashi) – which didn’t come as part of the Obento tray, but later on. The fantastic Matcha (green tea) ice cream was served on a caramelized sesame infused cups that were crunchy and sweet – a perfect foil for the delicate ice cream. I happily ate my own portion and stole the half left by my not-blessed-with-a-sweet-tooth friend. A fitting cap to an altogether lovely meal! The meal, though planned for lunch time, will also be created for anyone who would like it as their dinner.

Details: Edo, ITC Gardenia; Obento Luncheon available between 12.30-2.45pm; INR 2250 plus taxes for non veg, and INR 2000 plus taxes for veg.

IMG_20170311_152323