27 December, 2014

Gig Pix: Aghor, Aloft Whitefield

As a part of their ‘100 days of music’ celebration, the Aloft Hotel at Whitefield had organized an evening of music featuring the fusion band-  Aghor. This was the first time I was seeing this band. Whatever I read online said that this is a five-piece band, but only three people played that evening. Their music was a mix of jazz, funk, hindustani, sufi and flamenco. Despite having recorded drumbeats (which I really despise in live gigs), the band was fairly tight. But there's only so much one can do without a drummer to keep the beat going. It puts too much pressure on the bass player to keep the beat instead of focussing on pulling off some good bass riffs. Here are some pictures from the gig.

26 December, 2014

Guest Column: Deccan Chronicle

Yours truly was featured in the Deccan Chronicle. I wrote about five of my favourite Christmas songs that weren't carols.

You can read the epaper version here.

17 December, 2014

Food Mood: Sufi, B'lore

Sometimes, good things are right in front of you but you never tend to notice them. Sufi, in Koramangala is one such place. Having spent many really late inebriated Saturday nights chomping down kababs at the Empire restaurant, I’ve never noticed Sufi which is located in the very same premises. But I am glad that I know of the place now.

For the uninitiated, Sufi predominantly offers a Persian spread (or Iranian spread if you want to be more specific). There are Indian dishes on the menu, but why would you go to a Persian restaurant to have Indian food?  We started the evening with a glass of Doogh. This is a cold carbonated drink made out of yogurt. While it is quite refreshing, it is also rather filling. One can easily get tempted to have another glass. However, experience has taught me to stop at one and try out a more items from the menu. 

For food, we started the evening with a hulk-sized Persian naan. One was enough for three people to share. Accompanying the naan was a Kashk-o-Bademjaan. This dish was a tastier cousin of our very own baingan bharta. Cooked in a mild spicy gravy and garnished with a sauce, mint and roasted garlic, the eggplant (or ‘aubergine’ if you’re fancy) comes out in a nice paste with a texture similar to hummus. While I do not enjoy eggplant at all owing to the taste, this variant was not bad at all. The otherwise dominating taste of eggplant was muted which is a big plus point in my mind. While I may skip this the next time for something new, it was comforting to know that eggplant can be made into quite tasty dishes as well.

Persian Naan

Next up were two kabab appetizers. The first was the Kabab-e-Makhsoos. I’ve really got to hand it to the chef on this one. This was a skewer of tender boneless marinated chicken with a skewer of minced mutton on top. This was topped by a layer of onion and capsicum and grilled. The juices from the vegetables and the meats fused together perfectly to make this one fabulous tasting dish. This is my recommendation to anyone who goes there. This is a rather heavy dish, so do take reinforcements with you to help. 

We also tried the Joojeh-Kabab-e-Halazooni Makhsoos . Not to be confused with the previous dish, this consists of eight pieces of tender boneless chicken marinated with spices, filled with zereshk (a berry native to Iran) and garnished with vegetables. It did seem to have a slight dominating taste of saffron. While a good preparation on its own, I was already in love with the previous dish. 

Joojeh Kabab-e-Halazooni Makhsoos
For the main course, we had the Khoresht-e-Ghormeh Sabzi with Chelo. Cooked in a tomato gravy base, this dish consists of lamb pieces with kidney beans (raajma), vegetables and sun-dried lemon. The first thing that will hit your taste buds is the overwhelming citrus taste of the sun-dried lemon. The lemon mutes out a lot of the flavour of the meat and tends to linger on for quite a bit. Since I’m accustomed dishes with a dominating taste of lemon, I did enjoy this. However, I know of a few friends who would not appreciate the taste. It’s completely your choice to try this one. Most Iranian dishes are generally accompanied with either rice or a naan. 

Khoresht-e-Ghormeh Sabzi with Chelo

Chelo (Rice)
We closed the meal with Ranginak. Folks who don’t have much of a sweet tooth or diabetes are requested to stay away from this dish because it is one intensive sugar-rush. Dressed with dates and walnuts, the dish is made of finely roasted maida with sugar in pure ghee. Having cut down sugar from my diet over the last many years, this dessert hit me almost instantly making me quite giddy. Sweet lovers will relish this dish for sure.

I really enjoyed every dish we ordered but beating them all was the Joojeh Kabab-e-Halazooni Makhsoos. I am going back just to have an entire plate of that all to myself. (Joey doesn’t share food). The ambience of the restaurant is excellent with a lot of hard work going into making it feel truly Persian. From what I know, a lot of the older patrons stopped coming after the restaurant relocated to the new location in Koramangala. The ban on hookahs cut out a significant part of the Persian experience. The restaurant is popular among a lot of the Iranian expatriate crowd. The menu seems highly skewed to suit non-vegetarians so please don’t yell at me on the blog if you didn’t find anything veg to your liking. Service is on the slower side but that’s because the dishes take time to prepare. I definitely recommend you try this place out for a very different dining experience from all the usual cuisines one is used to.

09 December, 2014

Gig Pix: Dinosaur Pile Up at Indigo Bar, B'lore

Dinosaur Pile Up - One of my new favourite bands. I caught the last two songs of their set at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune and was blown away. The energy of the crowd was something else. I was very fortunate they played a few days later at the Indigo Bar here in Bengaluru. I was also fortunate to have a friend who met them in Pune introduce me to the band. They are some of the nicest blokes around. Excellent gig that evening.

07 December, 2014

Food Mood: Amrut Whiskey Tasting Session at The Glass House

My father is one of the greater influencers of my taste in beverages. It is from him that I was introduced to my first glass of Scotch whiskey and have thoroughly enjoyed the taste of a good Scotch ever since. Considering my love for whiskey, I was very thrilled to be invited to a whiskey-tasting workshop by Amrut Whiskey. And to make the entire experience a lot better, this was organized at The Glass House – Deli bistro Bar at Lavelle Road in Bengaluru.

This was definitely the first time that I was attending a session which wasn’t just a mere whiskey tasting workshop, but was to be an elaborate experience in how to savour and appreciate whiskey in general. We were offered six different whiskeys and were not told which of them the Amrut brand was. Through the course of the workshop, one was to savour each of the six and rate the same based on criteria such as smell, balance and taste.

To guide us through the workshop was   Ashok Chokalingam, Rakshit Jagdale and Mr. Vikram from Amrut. Ashok was in fact the Whiskey Ambassador for the year 2012, voted by the Icons of Whiskey. Ashok expertly guided everyone through the proper way to appreciate a whiskey in its entirety. His experience was clearly showing as he exposed everyone to the simple nuances of the smell of a whiskey and how simple things like temperature drastically change the aroma. Ashok even shared tit-bits of what were the ingredients of certain whiskeys that gave them a unique smell, ingredients such as peat, barley, berries, caramel and others.

Ashok Chokalingam explains the right way to taste a whiskey

Practical experience on the effects of temperature on the aroma of a whiskey
We were also helped to sample and savour a whiskey the right way to ensure we are able to taste all the ingredients and ensure the intended taste hits the intended spots on the tongue. It was extremely educational to know how to correlate the spot the whiskey hits on the tongue can be used to identify the region from which the whiskey possibly comes from. Ashok went on to explain certain myths about whiskey making and differentiating the marketing from the reality. He also shared the history behind how Amrut whiskey came to be. What started out as a project challenge during his MBA in Newcastle for Rakshit Jagdale, Amrut whiskey has grown to become one the most reputed whiskey brands coming from India. 

As we sampled the various whiskeys, we kept rating them on various factors on a scale of 1-10. At the end of the workshop, the scores were tallied and everyone was eager to see which whiskey was what and which made the top choices among the six. The most popular choice was in fact Jim Beam. The next two winners of the blind test were in fact from Amrut distilleries - The Amrut Fusion and the Amrut Peated Single Malt. Both these beat the likes of the ever popular Johnnie Walker Black Label and surprisingly even beat Glenmoraingie which is the third highest selling whiskey in the world. (Please don’t beat me up if I got that stat wrong). The blind test gave great credibility to Amrut as a brand and gave me great pride that it’s being distilled here in namma Bengaluru.

The Amrut Fusion Whiskey
After the whiskey-tasting workshop, we had Rohinton Mottahed from The Glass House who explained about the concept behind the restaurant and the ambitions they have for the place. It was evident that the venue aims to position itself as one the classiest joints in the city and offer patrons the best of everything right from alcohol, to food and an overall great experience. They even have their own labelled wine and artistic cutlery that spells out the name of the venue.

We had Chef Preetesh who explained his take on the dishes served on the menu and were offered some of the dishes to sample. We started off with the Goat Cheese Lollipops. This was goat cheese with chopped dates and jalapeno stuffing served on a breadstick. I rather enjoyed the milieu of flavours on this one. The saltiness of the goat cheese, the sweetness of the dates and the spice of the jalapeno were three distinct flavours that played around with my taste-buds with no one flavour dominating the other. I recommend this to folks who enjoy the taste of goat cheese. And this is quite light on the tummy too. This was followed by a Beef Carpaccio. The beef had been cured in some red wine but somehow neither offered the taste of the wine nor the taste of the beef. While the dish was presented quite well, I really was not sure of what to make of the dish in terms of taste. 

Goat Cheese Lollipops

Beef Carpaccio
Next up was the Chicken Fire Cracker. Tender chicken covered in a mix of mango puree and mustard was, as the name suggests, an explosion of tastes in my mouth. The sweetness of the mango and tanginess of the mustard left a long lasting taste. I definitely recommend this for the ambitious non-vegetarian. This was the best dish from the entire set of dishes we sampled.

Chicken Fire Cracker
For the vegetarians, we had a Stuffed mini-Eggplant Roulade with hummus. Despite my aversion to all things eggplant, I actually enjoyed the taste of this dish. The taste of eggplant that I normally do not enjoy seemed to have been completely muted thanks to the filling, which if I remember correctly, was ratatouille. The hummus was a nice touch. While most of the others frowned at the prospect of eggplant, I enjoyed this one. I also took a favourable liking to the Lamb Sliders.

Stuffed Mini-Eggplant Roulade

Lamb Sliders
We were also served a version of the popular British dish, Fish and Chips. Rather messy to eat, the taste of the fish was completely subdued thanks to the sauce that was used. This is something you could give a miss. The final dish of the evening - the Margarita Pizza, was rather different with the taste of pesto dominating everything else. The buffalo mozzarella made the cheese nice and stringy, not to mention very appetizing when one pulled off a slice from the rest of the pizza. This definitely falls in my list of dishes I would recommend to people heading to The Glass House. 

Fish and Chips

Margarita Pizza
The combination of an evening of great whiskey with good food was something to be remembered. I also got to meet a whole new host of fellow food and beverage enthusiasts which was really nice. I’m definitely going enrol myself for the distillery tour of the Amrut factory. Of all the whiskey’s we tried that evening, the Amrut Fusion was my favourite. Kudos to Ashok and the rest of the team for introducing me to this whiskey and more importantly, showing me the right way to truly start appreciating a good whiskey.

06 December, 2014

Launch: Smirnoff ICE

Earlier this week, Smirnoff officially launched a new premix in India - Smirnoff ICE. Smirnoff ICE comes in two distinct flavours – Smirnoff ICE Black and Smirnoff ICE Original. The company has some serious ambitions to promote this drink as the preferred beverage of choice among consumers, especially party goers. The drink was launched with the popular singer and actor Ayushmann Khurana and one of my favourite RJ’s Danish Sait.

RJ Danish Sait
Danish was the M.C for the evening and had everyone in the audience laughing away with his trade-mark sense of humour and voices. He called on stage Bhavesh Somaya, Marketing and Innovation Director for Diageo India to talk about Bacardi ICE and how he believes it will revolutionize how every party starts. He was also very excited from the very positive feedback the team had been receiving post the launch in Goa and was positive Bengaluru would have a great time with this drink.

Launching the Smirnoff ICE brand - (L-R): Danish Sait, Ayushmann Khurana and Bhavesh Somaya
Everyone was eagerly waiting for the star of the evening to take the stage. Danish Sait wasted no time in bringing Ayushmann who very cheerfully posed for all the cameras. The entire team then collectively introduced Smirnoff ICE to the audience present. Ayushmann patiently answered questions from the Danish and the audience on a variety of topics including movies, fashion, and his party-scene and even sang a bit for everyone. Once the formalities were done, the party began.

Ayushmann Khurana

Smirnoff ICE Original and Smirnoff ICE Black

The Smirnoff ICE counter made of ice
The bloggers with Ayushmann Khurana
Pic Courtesy: Nivedith G

Held at the Skyee Lounge in UB City, with music by Rohit Barker, everyone got to sample some great snacks and more importantly, the Smirnoff ICE variants. My personal favourite was the Smirnoff ICE Black. I really enjoyed the sharp taste. The Smirnoff ICE Original is a far more subdued citrus variant. Competitively priced at Rs.110, Smirnoff ICE is something you should give a try and see how it helps you break the ICE at your parties.

05 December, 2014

Food mood: Hunan, B’lore

I was invited to a blogger’s meet last week at the Hunan restaurant in Koramangala. We were greeted by the delightful Jagdish Menda, the CEO of Hunan. While we waited for the other bloggers to arrive, Jagdish explained some of the history behind the restaurant, the challenges faced by the restaurant industry in general and his ambitions for the restaurant. If all goes well, one can expect great things from the restaurant.

Hunan, Koramangala
The evening feast began with some white wine. The first appetizer was the Dynasty Prawn. This dish is a blend of so many flavours ranging from citrus to honey to spice. Each flavour hits different spots on your tongue and throat as it goes down. The prawn itself was fresh and crunchy. Do try this out when you go to Hunan. We were also served a Crab and Asparagus soup. Compared to the prawn I had just had, the soup was alright. Nothing extraordinary to write about considering it was a single flavour that was a bit of a disappointment after the superb taste of the Dynasty Prawn. We were also served some dumplings. I tried only one because I tend to get carried away easily and then have no room for other dishes. The Chicken Pouch dumplings were really cute and tasted very nice as well. So far, the prawns were the best.

Dynasty Prawn

Crab and Asparagus Soup

Chicken Pouch Dumplings
I had tried the Musho Duck Roll (excuse me if I got the name incorrect) the last time I was here, so it was nice to have it again. The duck was cooked perfectly and the rolls were on the sweeter side thanks to the sauces that went in. Folks who enjoy duck should give this a try. We moved on to the Pan-fried Hunan Grilled Chicken. The taste of this dish was fairly unique. Eaten like a paan, the chicken is wrapped in the leaf along with a small portion of the rice and the sauce that comes along with the dish. The dish had an overwhelming vegetarian taste thanks to the wrap and the sauce that muted the taste of the chicken. Similar to this dish, was the Lettuce-wrapped Chicken. This is a very ‘Thai’ dish where one puts together a bunch of ingredients including ginger, lime, peanuts and sauces to the chicken wrapped in a lettuce leaf. 

Musho Duck Roll

Pan-fried Hunan Grilled Chicken

Lettuce-wrapped Chicken
On to the main course. (Yes, we were still on the appetizers). The next dish that came up is a definite must-have for all pork lovers. We were served a plate of spare ribs. These ribs were the best ever I’ve had. The meat was so soft that I was able to take it off the bone using just the standard knife and did not have to wrestle the same with a steak knife. The texture was fabulous and the sauce had evenly spread through the meat. This dish scored a perfect 10 on 10 in my books. Do NOT miss out on this if spare ribs are your thing.

Pork Spare Ribs
We also tasted a well-cooked Snapper with Shredded Ginger. Not for the squeamish, this well-sized fish is rather intimidating to look at. Besides the mild taste of ginger, the only other flavour that came through was that of the meat. A very sober dish indeed. The meat on the Lamb Sizzler was also very soft and easy to manage. The taste of the meat however did get a little lost in the sauces but that did not bother me too much considering the dominant sweet barbecue flavour.

Snapper with Shredded Ginger

Lamb sizzler
Accompanying all of the above was a well made Green Thai Curry with rice, vegetable noodles, Tofu in Bak Choy and plate of Spicy Prawns. One thing that did stand out was the Chicken Fried Rice cooked in Bamboo. The taste was refreshingly organic and reminded me of something similar cooked in a lot of the Indian villages. I’d definitely recommend that one tries this.

Veg Thai Green Curry

Tofu with Bok Choy

Chicken Bamboo Fried Rice

Spicy Prawns
While my mind was sufficiently blown apart by the amazing spare ribs, what happened at dessert was unexpected. Besides a serving of ice cream, a Chocolate Lave Cake and a Sizzling Brownie, we were served THE BEST EVER Red Velvet Cake that I have ever laid my hands on. The texture was just perfect. The cake wasn’t soggy at all and the knife simply fell through the cake. There was a synchronous sigh of content from every blogger at the table as we took our first bite. I am willing to go to war for this cake. If you’ve ever seen the Friend’s episode where Chandler and Rachel fight over a cheesecake, this particular Red Velvet Cake could induce that kind of madness. 

Red Velvet Cake

Ice Cream

Sizzling Brownie
I don’t remember seeing this on the menu when I had gone previously, but do not miss out on enquiring when this would be served and ensure you order a piece the moment you get to the restaurant. I did try some of the vegetarian dishes which were quite nice, but have focussed on the non-veg stuff that I loved the most. Hunan is definitely one of the favourites for Chinese cuisine among restaurant goers. Their awards are a testimony to the same. It was a great evening of great food. The three things I would recommend to everyone who goes there are the Dynasty Prawn, the Pork Spare Ribs and the Red Velvet Cake. I am looking forward to going back soon just to have an entire slice all to myself.