13 September, 2016

I've moved!

Hello, I've move to a different address. Apologies if you didn't get the memo, but you can now read about all my experiences with food, music and travel at www.nikhileshmurthy.com


31 August, 2016

Bangalore Cocktail Week - Whisky Cocktail Masterclass with Jamie Walker

After its successful run in Mumbai and Delhi, the ‘Cocktail Week’ property moves to Bangalore. Bangalore Cocktail week kicked off on the 27th of August. With a mix of bartending competitions, masterclasses by some of the best bartenders and a range of cocktails available at restaurants that have tied up with the team, the festival looks all set to make folks in the city fall in love with cocktails all over again.



Given my superficial expertise ( aka drinks a lot and reads Wikipedia) on whisky, I attended the Whisky Cocktail Masterclass at the Watsons pub in Bangalore, which featured Jamie Walker, Diageo's Reserve Brand Ambassador , along with Sebastian, from Watsons who kicked off the masterclass with a whisky 101 session. While I’ve attended a couple of these in the past, Jamie’s style of presenting was absolutely engaging. Successfully balancing the technical details with humorous anecdotes and history lessons, Jamie brought some excellent energy to what could have easily become a lazy post-Sunday lunch session. 


After sampling a variety of whiskies including the Black & White, Vat 69, Black Dog and the Johnnie Walker Red and Black labels respectively, we moved on to the fun part of the session to make cocktails. Sebastian started off with a cocktail called the Black & White Fizz. This was a crisp summer cocktail made with Black & White Whisky, lemon and cucumber and was absolutely refreshing. This was probably everyone’s favourite cocktail of the session. Next up was the Vat 69 Sour, an attempt at modifying the classic Whisky Sour by pushing up the citrus flavour with blood orange essence and lemon. The final product wasn’t my cup of tea…. Or glass of cocktail. (Is that even a saying?). Folks who enjoy strong citrus flavours took a liking to this. The third cocktail, I’m unable to recollect the name, heroed the Black Dog whisky with the flavour of apricots. While I enjoyed the aroma of the cocktail, the sweetness of the drink was a bit too much for my taste buds. 





Next up, running the bar, was Jamie Walker who kicked off with his own blend of Johnnie Walker Red Label, Angostura bitters, red and white vermouth, elder flower and green apple. A very aromatic cocktail with both citrus and earthy flavours coming through, I would have preferred Double Black instead of the relatively weaker Red Label, but that’s predominantly from a memory of another cocktail that I has tasted which heroed the Johnnie Walker Double Black and green apple.



The final cocktail for the evening had yours truly helping out behind the bar. The concoction contained a mixture of (a very generous amount of) Johnnie Walker Black Label, almond and cherry flavours with a Talisker and Black Label spray. For those who love the flavour of plums (not me), this is your cocktail of choice.


Picture Credit - Pravin Menon, at http://phenomenal-cuisines.throodalookingglass.com/ 

The masterclass set the pace for Bangalore Cocktail Week. With workshops focused on Gin, Beer and other alcohols, not to forget the Pub Crawl come Thursday; it looks like the Bangalore Cocktail Week is here to become an integral part of the city’s food and beverage landscape. 

30 August, 2016

Sunday Brunch at My Place, at the Mövenpick Spa and Hotel

This post has been sitting on my ‘must go live’ list for quite some months now. I was invited by the folks at the Mövenpick Spa and Hotel, on Father’s Day to bring the folks along and to try out their Sunday brunch. While I’ve had my fair share of brunches, this was the first time that I was taking my parents along to experience the same. Besides the high expectations from Movenpick, there was the added pressure to ensure the parents were impressed as well. 

As we made our way through the reception to My Place, on the ground floor of the hotel, we were greeted with what can only be described as an 'arsenal of desserts'. Ranging from cake, to tarts, to ice cream (obviously), the mere sight was sufficient to get us salivating. I guess someone on the organizing committee took the phrase ‘life is short, have your dessert first’ a little too seriously. But more on the dessert later on. I began the meal by exploring the Asian section which had a variety of sushi and dimsums, with their respective dipping sauces up on display. I focused on the sushi, more specifically on the prawn and crab sushi. It was a satisfying start to the meal. While I didn’t try the dimsums, the outer skins did crumble when it was being served to the other folks.



The restaurant offers a variety of wines, beers and cocktails. The specialty that day was Martini. Mum ordered a Kiwi Martini, that she instantly fell in love with; and meekly asked for a second a bit later on. And here I thought we were celebrating Father’s Day. Not being in the mood for cocktails, Dad and I stuck to beer. I was there to focus on the food.


Continuing on my addiction to salads with every meal, I was sufficiently satisfied with the commendable spread of salads available. From Roasted Beetroot with Mustard Mayonnaise, to Cucumber with Garlic Yogurt to the Prawn Cocktail Salad,  I soon found myself in a happy place and was all set to hit the meats sitting on the grills. The immediate attraction was the beautifully grilled red snapper (if I remember right) that was served with a spicy orange sauce. Seafood and citrus, that’s a classic combination that is tough to mess up. The fish was grilled perfectly with all the natural flavours coming through, complemented fabulously by the sauce (which also served as a dip for the perfectly grilled prawns). Needless to say, I did go back for seconds. While the fish and prawns were grilled perfectly, there were inconsistencies with some of the other meats which were slightly overcooked.





I soon spotted one of my favourite reasons to endure traffic to go to all the way to Movenpick, Chef Armando, was manning the Italian section. Chef was kind enough to make an all veg pasta from scratch for mum which she wasn’t too pleased to share with me. I served myself some of the cheese from the platter, and a couple of slices of the rich vegetarian pizza.


I honestly had very little space left for the main course, dessert beckoned. I took really small helpings of the biryani (which was cooked really well), the Murgh Patialia, the Palak Paneer and the Malabar Meen Curry. I didn’t do enough justice to the main course to pass judgement. A word of caution, do browse through what’s on the menu before you attack everything else so that you know what not to miss out on. And the main course does have a lavish spread.




Desserts - The crescendo of every brunch. From the extensive spread of thirty odd desserts, I still remember the Thyme Crème Caramel, the Alphonso Tart and the Raspberry Pina Colada Mousse. The only disappointing dish from the desserts I picked was the Caramel Profiterole which was heavy and hard. It’s the Movenpick, needless to say, Ice cream was a part of the menu.





We wound up a little after 4 in the evening. With two very satisfied parents, I can safely say that the Sunday Brunch at My Place at the Movenpick is among the best in town. With a wide variety of dishes and cuisines, each dish cooked perfectly, the trip was worth it. Priced at INR 1500 (plus taxes) for the brunch without alcohol, INR 2100 (plus taxes) for the brunch with IMFL and INR 2900 (plus taxes) if you want to get fancy and order champagne, the brunch delivers on all counts and more. They even have a separate rate of INR 750 (plus taxes) for kids. 

22 August, 2016

A new world of coffee, courtesy the Classic Group

For those who know me well, I’m a bit of a stubborn mule when it comes to my coffee. My undying love and devotion to the traditional South Indian coffee doesn’t allow me to appreciate the other flavours available. Putting a dent in that armour, are the folks from the Classic Group. Building on five generations of coffee growers, the group are trying to spread awareness about the intricacies of coffee and how it’s a lot more than the morning cup we have at a local eatery.



I was invited a couple of weeks ago to the groups office in Bangalore, where they have a slightly intimidating chemistry lab like setup, to understand some of the different styles of coffee, the different flavours and the aromas, as well as what food could be paired with the same.  The workshop began with their Classic Mountain brand which is a 100% Arabica variant. We went through three different styles of brewing. The ‘Pour Over’ technique, which is a slightly longer procedure (and a bit intimidating for those who didn’t quite enjoy chemistry at school, thanks to the chemex filter) yielded a very light bodied coffee that was flavourful yet didn’t coat the mouth. The flavour of the coffee was complemented fabulously with the lemon curd and apples that were served. This particular brew makes for those looking for something ideal for the evening, where one can nibble on some fruits post work. 




The ‘French Press’ technique was something a lot more familiar. Yielding a Medium bodied coffee, the brew was paired with madeleines. While I thoroughly enjoyed the latter, the coffee didn’t quite tick all the right boxes with me. While I tried complementing it with the lemon curd, it still didn’t hit any of the right spots. While I’m not for that brew personally, the recommended flavours that could be paired with it are soft cheeses and anything mildly citrus. 



The final technique for the workshop was the ‘Aeropress’, a high pressure technique that extracted maximum flavour from the coffee powder. Given my bias towards stout beers, this particular technique was my favourite as the coffee was full-bodied and had the same feel and aromas of a good stout beer. Despite being paired with strong elements like caramel, chocolate and nuts, the coffee retained its original flavour and ticked all the right boxes in my book. 



Drawing a parallel with beer, and how it is important for any brewery to have gateway beers that offer up familiar flavours to non-beer drinkers and bring them into the big bad world of beer, the coffee brewed in the aeropress is my gateway coffee. It also brought back fond memories of the nitro coffee I had had in the US. For most folks looking to appreciate coffee a lot better, the first technique would probably be a good place to start.



We concluded the session by bringing some order back into my universe with a South Indian filter coffee made from the Classic Pride variant, a mix of Robusta and Arabica. As much as it breaks my heart to defy thirty odd years of tradition, I just might have to start cheating on my regular filter coffee with the aeropressed Classic Mountain.

I’m quite delighted to have found another avenue, with coffee, to continue my exploration of the seemingly infinite world of food and all things good that go with it. Folks looking to discover new flavours ought to check out either variant of coffee from the Classic Group. More details can be found on their website

A Taste of Israel, at the Aloft Cessna Business Park

One of the countries that is sitting on my list of ‘Places to travel’, with the driving force being the food of the region, is Israel. Israeli cuisine brings together flavours from the Mediterranean cuisine, the middle-eastern cuisine and the Levantine cuisine. While I’ve had my fair share at restaurants abroad, there’s nothing like having a chef from the region put together a festival in one’s own backyard. The Nook, at Aloft Cessna Business Park is playing host to Chef Shachar Aschengrau, a culinary expert from the port city of Haifa, who is leveraging local produce to put together a feast that showcases contemporary Israeli flavours.

Chef Aschengrau (L) with Chef Sandeep (R)

Along with fellow food enthusiasts, I was invited on the opening day of the festival to sample the food and interact with the Chef. While dinner was being set up, we were served appetizers that included Vegetable Shashlik, Chickpea dumplings, Mushroom Kibbeh and Fish in Beer. The stand out dish was the Cinnamon Sheekh, succulent meat on sticks of cinnamon that offered a lovely spicy flavour, leaving the lovely taste of cinnamon to take over one’s mouth. 

Cinnamon Sheekh




At the dinner table, we were served a variety of breads including the popular pita bread, the challah, the shabbat, and my favourite of the lot, the Jerusalem bagel; these were accompanied by an Israeli salad and a variety of dips each with a distinct flavour that covered everything from citrus, to mint, to spice. One of the stand-out dips was the Amba, a tangy mixture of mangoes, mustard, and spices. This popular middle-eastern condiment derives its name from the Sanskrit term for mango. 





While most of us were occupied with polishing off the bread and dips, we were served a rather large and gnarly looking cauliflower that I was certain had been mutated and would come alive at any point. This Baked Cauliflower was a simple dish of, as the name indicates, a baked cauliflower with spices on top. Despite its appearance, the dish actually tasted nice with the flavour of the vegetable with the mild spices on top working well together. This was followed by a rather tasty combination of grilled aubergines with Tabbouleh.




When one thinks of food from Israel, traditional dishes that immediately come to mind would be the falafel and hummus. Looking to showcase how hummus is consumed very differently back home, as compared to how most folks have the dish, Chef Aschengrau had a small master class where he demonstrated how hummus is had back home. With a variety of toppings including whole boiled chickpeas, boiled egg, chilli, pine nuts, onions, lemon-spiked tahini and more, hummus has evolved to suit the more contemporary palate that seeks out more flavour and textures. Soon enough, everyone in the room was looking make their own versions of the dish.

Hummus


The main course featured traditional dishes like Tahini , Baba ghanoush, Fattoush and more. Accompanying the Shwarma and the Falafel were Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, Stuff Chicken, Baked Fish and the Israeli Rice Pilaf. Dessert included a platter of various tiny desserts and candies that made one feel like a kid in a candy store. A favourite of mine among the dessert was the relatively simple yet satisfying dish of figs and fresh cream. I should have stopped at two, but no one seemed too concerned, so I had about four. The team at Aloft put together a bit of a show with putting together various little sweet knick-knacks like cake, macaroons, chocolate and candy and sprinkling it with dry ice. I hadn’t any space left to try that out.





Chef Aschengrau has a relatively extensive arsenal of dishes that one can try out during the festival that runs till the 28th of the month. Dishes from this menu will be available for both lunch and dinner along with the regular buffet at Nook. This is a festival I do recommend to the vegetarians especially for the tasty spread of dips, hummus, salads and bread from Israel.