27 July, 2015

Rajasthani Food Festival - Aloft at Cessna Business Park

The Aloft at Cessna Business Park recently concluded their Rajasthani Food festival last weekend. I was quite fortunate to be able to savour the spread on the last day before the chefs went back home. The two-week festival was aimed at introducing new flavours from India to the hotel's target audience which mainly focuses on the employees of the nearby tech companies.

Being the last day, I was able to calmly savour all the dishes and take my time with the pictures. The meal began with a refreshing aam panna which was accompanied by some Rajasthani knick-knacks that included the famous Bikaneri bhujiya, dhungari pyaaz and chana daal ke papad which went fabulously with the assortment of pickles that were served.



Normally, I'm not a big fan of pickles and tend to be overly critical of the taste. The big plus points of the assortment of pickles that were served was the fact that none of them were overly heavy or aggressive in taste and actually complemented the papad. I rather enjoyed the aam kalonji (mango pickle) and the haldi ki chutney (turmeric chutney). Also as a part of the appetizers, we had some kota kachori with saunth ki chutney.





Until this day, Rajasthani cuisine to me has meant daal-bati-churma. I'm not the biggest fan of this dish. However, there was an interesting twist to the dish that was served with the rose churma. This particular mix was had two contrasting flavours that came out; the saltiness of the daal-bati which was followed by a sweet flavour of the rose churma which was made out of crushed rose petals and rose essence. This gave it an almost chaat-like finish which I thoroughly enjoyed.


The main course was an elaborate thali with more dishes than I can remember. After sampling all the servings, I found a few favourites and focused on those. The laal mass (mutton curry) was the best among the non-vegetarian. The flavours were stronger and had just the right amount of spice to wake up my taste buds. In contrast, the chicken was mild. I'll be candid here and admit that I did not know that non-veg was an integral part of the Rajasthani fare. Another dish that I rather enjoyed was the pitod. This was the second Rajasthani dish, aside from the daal-bati that I was familiar with. The superstar of the meal and the one dish that blew the mind of taste-buds apart was the ker sangri. The ker sangri is a delightful bean and berry mix unique to Rajastan. The flavour was very unique with the sweetness coming from the ker berry and the herbal yet tangy flavour coming from the sangri bean. The very light tinge of spices was enough to add some more punch to the dish without over powering the taste of the natural elements. It's not every day that a vegetarian dish impresses me. And this is a perfect example to every restaurant that vegetarian does not mean either paneer or aalo. there's a whole world of brilliant vegetarian food out there.



I was warned that I would not be able to finish the thali. Taking this as a personal challenge, I did try to, though unsuccessfully to complete what was placed in front of me. I had to eventually throw in the towel. I honestly had no space for desserts, but the glutton in me took two really small helpings of the malpua and ghevar.


If this was the fabulousness of the meal on the last day, I can imagine the fare throughout the festival. I'm rather grateful to the chefs at Aloft for introducing me to a new vegetarian dish that I love and hope that when the festival comes back to town next year, I can come over and order an entire bowl of Ker Sangri.

24 July, 2015

Vikas Khanna launches 'Shaken and Stirred'

Anyone who has been in the ‘food circle’ in India is aware of Vikas Khanna, one of the few Indian chefs with a Michelin Star to their name. One can only imagine my delight at the opportunity to meet him. I was invited to the book release of Vikas’ 20th book titled ‘Shaken not stirred’ which took place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Electronics City in Bengaluru. This book focusses completely on non-alcoholic beverages; but as Vikas said, one is always free to make them more exciting. 



The idea for the book came around when he noticed that most of the people at restaurants who didn’t enjoy a wine or something stronger like a whiskey with their meal, ended up ordering a coke because the mocktails weren’t particularly enticing. Keeping this audience in mind, Vikas put together a book that brings a lot of natural elements together to put out some very enticing drinks.




I was quite fortunate to receive a signed copy from Vikas. Mum and I are looking forward to spending the next few weekends putting together drinks from the book. I will obviously be adding the required secret sauces.

'High on Power' - at the High Ultra Lounge, B'lore

I’m in love with the view from the High Ultra Lounge and personally think it’s one of the best views the city has got. Couple that with some cocktails made by Guru, their bar director, and you’re all set for a great evening. A few folks from the social media space and I were invited to one such evening last Sunday to experience some of Guru’s magic for a festival called ‘High on Power’. Sponsored by Jim Beam, this festival uses politics as the main theme and offers patrons cocktails created around some renowned global and local political figures.


We kicked off the evening with a cocktail called From Russia with Love. No guesses needed on whom this cocktail was themed on. This frozen concoction consisted mainly of vodka and elderflower. This cocktail was probably one the most delicately balanced drinks I’ve had in a long time. With the taste of vodka just coming through, the lasting taste was that of the elderflower. While I personally prefer my cocktails to be a lot stronger, this is definitely apt for someone looking to try out new flavours and not necessarily look to get sozzled.


Next up was the BARlusconi which was more to my liking. Put together on the lines of a Negroni, this strong mixture of Campari, grapefruit and Jim Beam whiskey hit all the right spots and is definitely something I’d recommend for someone with stronger taste buds. This was followed by a rather weak invention known as the Italian Duddu. With cream, milk, white rum and other flavours thrown in, this drink felt like a watered-down version of the Bailey’s Irish Cream. The only difference in flavour came from the star aniseed. This concoction was a big thumbs down from everyone present.



This was soon forgiven with the SourKozy which whose simple blend of gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar restored a good flavour to my mouth. The drink was a refreshing summer drink. We were also served the Drinktator made out of Soju and plum; I didn’t enjoy the taste of this either. But then, I’ve never been a big fan of the Japanese brews, Sake included.




We also tried some interesting cocktails designed around prominent current Indian politicians, but I’ll just put up the pictures and refrain from commenting on the same. Hurt sentiments followed by mobs demanding a public apology whilst burning my effigy is not really my thing.




The final two cocktails of the evening were themed around two of the more popular American presidents.  The Monica Blewinsky brought together Jim Beam Whiskey, Caramel and Campari with roasted nuts. While the drink itself wasn’t too bad in terms of taste, I preferred the roasted nuts. The final drink of the evening was the Potus Passion that combined passion fruit, lime, ginger juice, beer and Jim Beam. Another summery drink, the classic combination of lime and ginger left a very refreshing taste. The taste of the beer was almost muted but I really did not mind that.



Accompanying the cocktails were some lovely eats including momos, crispy chilli potato and others. Keeping the evening fun was stand-up comedian Sundeep Rao who had everyone in splits with his witty responses and tasteful humour.





The ‘High on Power’ festival is on till the 6th of August. With the average price of the cocktail at INR 450, do take the time to head out to the High Ultra Lounge and see which politician suites your palate (I know in real-life, none of them do). My top three recommendations would be the delicate From Russia with Love, the stronger BARlusconi and The Muffler.


22 July, 2015

Guest Column: Deccan Chronicle

In the column that came out on 21st July 2015, I write about how it's been almost three years since Bangalore hosted a really big band and is the city's infrastructure failing to attract large acts?


Guest Feature: Celebrate Age

A picture that I had taken in this year's Ode to the Blues was featured in a magazine - Celebrate Age.



And here is the original picture. ....


21 July, 2015

Guest Column : Deccan Chronicle

In the column that appeared on 14th July 2015, I wrote about how rock music should not be synonymous with only the English language and about bands in India who are taking Rock and Metal to audiences in local languages.



Guest Column: Deccan Chronicle

In the column that appeared in the Deccan Chronicle on 7th July 2015, I wrote about how consumers are caught in the middle of a battle between technology providers and musicians when it comes to streaming music




02 July, 2015

Gig Review - Thermal and a Quarter, opening act - Mad Orange Firework, Blue Frog, B'lore

You read it right, Bangalore finally has a Blue Frog. The venues in Mumbai and Pune are known to be the hotbeds of live music acts and introduce audiences to new bands and artists. This particular Friday at the Blue Frog saw it’s first ‘Rock act’ take the stage. The evening featured Bangalore’s veterans – Thermal and a Quarter, with the opening act by Mad Orange Fireworks.

Mad Orange Fireworks
Mad Orange Fireworks is one of the few bands in Bangalore, whose gig I have never managed to catch. While I’ve seen Michael Dias play solo, I’ve actually never seen the band play live. This three-piece act got off to a slightly slow start and the audience seemed to be getting restless. While the sound itself was not bad, and I do enjoy listening to their album, something was amiss in this gig. If I had to guess, I would say it was probably the set list. 

Mad Orange Fireworks

Mad Orange Fireworks

Mad Orange Fireworks

A venue like Blue Frog demands that one comes darting out of the stable, but Mad Orange Fireworks seemed to have gotten themselves off to a slow trot instead. The dedicated fan base was in awe and the band itself was tight and sounded pretty close to the album. Having heard their sound, I’m going to write this gig off as a slow-night with a tough-crowd. I look forward to the next gig to see if it was just a question of stars not aligning and what not, because no one gets as far as Mad Orange Fireworks has by sounding poor. More up tempo numbers the next time at the start maybe?

Mad Orange Fireworks

Putting aside some technical trouble with the monitors, Thermal and Quarter came blazing out the stable and kicked off their set with Like Me from their latest album. Almost immediately, the crowd were upfront and grooving to the music. The band went on to play a whole bunch of songs from  their repertoire of albums and some excellent covers.

TAAQ

TAAQ

TAAQ

Despite having his electronics go a bit wonky on MEDs, Bruce Lee Mani powered on to get everyone grooving in the house. The Daft Punk covers were fabulous and literally got everyone in the house dancing and head banging. There were also some very neat covers by Steely Dan and JJ Cale. The band also called on Tony Das to help out on guitars and powered on with Paper Puli, Meter-mele-one and a half , How Can I get your groove and Drunk.

TAAQ

TAAQ

TAAQ

The crowd really lost it when Bruce and Tony decide to have a bit of a duel on the lead bits. Overall, it was another stellar gig by TAAQ. The great part about having a ton of original compositions and super covers under one’s belt is that you can play around with the set list a fair bit and always have something new to show. TAAQ did just that; and despite the extended deadlines for venues to stay open on weekends, the crowd wanted more of the band.

01 July, 2015

The Backpacker's Feast at Ministry of Food @ the Hilton at EGL

This was my first invite to a bloggers meet at the Hilton in Bangalore. Naturally, I was quite excited and made doubly sure not crack any sex-tape jokes. I’m not sure what the hotel policy is on that sort of behaviour coming from guests. Put together by Executive Chef Anirban Dasgupta, the ‘Backpackers Feast’ at the Ministry of Food at the Hilton is themed around bringing the best street food from around the world together at one place. The major locations chosen are Central and South America, Turkey, Singapore and India (with a main focus on Mumbai and Bangalore).





We did a quick run through of all the dishes before we got down to tasting. Choosing to go from west to east, I kicked off the elaborate meal with dishes from Central and South America. This covered a variety of dishes including chimichurri chicken wings, squid and prawn ceviche, lamb empanada, tacos and more. Two particular dishes stood out for me that evening. The first dish was the Brazilian fish stew. I loved the explosion of flavour sin this dish with all the spices coming together and yet not dominating the taste of the fish. The fish itself was cooked to near perfection. The next dish was the chipotle spike slow cooked pork belly. Among one of the finer serving I’ve had, the meat was quite lean with the fat kept to a minimum just to infuse the taste as this went down. A little bit of star anise added to the chipotle gave the right amount of tanginess and spice to make this, and the stew, among dishes that I went back for seconds for.

Chimichurri Chicken Wings

Lamb Empanada

Prawn Ceviche


Brazilian Fish Stew

Chipotle Spiked Slow-Cooked Pork Belly

I have a weakness for hummus and pita bread. And shawarma. This was pretty much the Middle Eastern journey of the buffet for me. The pita came in both crispy and soft varieties, and was lightly toasted enough to perfectly balance the cold of the hummus. The shawarma was not a big hit for me. There were similar neutral responses from the rest of the folks at the table. We moved on to the Indian section which unfortunately did not impress me at all. Most of the dishes were pretty average in taste and did not play with my taste buds in a manner similar to the stew and the pork which had set up very high standards for the rest of the evening. The lowest point of the meal was the prawn vada pav. The prawn and the potato just did not go well together and I left my vada pav after a couple of bites. The one thing that I did thoroughly enjoy was the rava fried anchovies which were very close to some of the fish I’ve had on the beaches of Chennai and Mumbai.

The bread and hummus station

Shawarma

Prawn Vada Pav

The final section of Singaporean food was quite elaborate. Having seen the dessert spread, I served myself minimum amounts of momos (another weakness) and satay. What boldly stood out was the Singapore Chilly Crab. This dish hit all the right spots. We had a resident of Singapore at the table who acknowledged that the taste was very close to what one would get on the streets of the city. The spicy sauce of the crab went very well with the rice, forcing me to go back for seconds. I was glad I kept this section for the end as the Indian section had me quite disappointed.


Chicken Satay

Singapore Chilly Crab

The dessert section was elaborate and covered a whole variety of desserts right from kulfi to Turkish delight to lemongrass cheesecake. Staying ahead of the pack was the baklava and the muhallabia which were made to perfection. The baklava was probably the best I’ve had in this city. I also tried the Churros for the first time, so I really do not have a benchmark on whether it was good or bad. For a first time taste, it was quite neutral. Dinner closed with some excellent pan wrapped in rice paper that literally melted in your mouth and some good old South Indian filter coffee.

Baklava

Churros

Muhallabia


Overall, the spread of the buffet is quiet good and allows one to indulge their taste buds in a variety of flavours and spices. As far as the dishes go, there some super hits and some misses. Most of the latter was in the Indian section. While I see the appeal of the same to a foreign tourist, the local population might not be impressed. That being said, the fish stew, the pork and the Singapore chilly crab find a cosy spot on the winner’s podium.