25 November, 2015

A culinary sojourn with The Phoenicians at Raj Pavilion, ITC Windsor

Before the food, it’s important to understand a bit of history around the theme for this particular dinner. Phoenicia was an ancient civilization composed of city-states which lay along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea through what is modern-day Syria, Lebannon and northern Israel. The civilization flourished through maritime trade between c. 1500-322 BCE. As far as the food goes, I read that they made porridges, breads and flat cakes that grew in popularity and crossed the borders  and survived for centuries. They also had vegetable gardens where they would grow peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans and fruits like fig, pomegranate, apple, lime and more. A lot of these ingredients find a prominent place in what we know as the Mediterranean cuisine. This is the theme for the food festival at the Raj Pavilion.

This sort of cuisine is among my favourites because besides being quite nutritious and healthy, one can work magic with the vegetarian dishes that tend to get ignored in a lot of food festivals. The salads are always where I find my favourites with Mediterranean food. Among the dozen salads that were on the fare, I found my palate favouring the Tamarind Tossed Papaya Salad and the Herbed Poached Shrimps with Salsa the most. Hitting similar spots on my tongue, the tanginess of both  brought out some fabulous flavours that beckoned me to go back for seconds… and thirds.



Some of the other salads like the Marinated Watermelon with Brined Artichoke and Gherkins, the Chargrilled Pineapple with Pickled Onions exemplified the rich Mediterranean flavours far better than some of the other non vegetarian salads that were on display.




I moved on to one of my all-time favourite meals – hummus and pita bread. Accompanying the hummus were other Mediterranean dips such as Taboulleh, Babaganosh and Beet Labneh. I will have to exercise my bias towards good old plain hummus as the hero of that section.




The main course of the meal consisted of vegetarian and non vegetarian food in equal variety. First up were the Greek Style Stuff Peppers. The capsicum (yes, we call them capsicum) with fillings of fruit, zucchini and a light layer of cheese. I’ve not had enough Greek food to say that it was authentic, but all I know is that I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Unlike the more familiar mughlai styled stuffed capsicums I’ve had, this was quite light on the tummy and the interesting mix of all the fruits and vegetables left me wanting more. (Which I did go back and help myself to). Also served was the Imam Bayildi – a stuffed eggplant (or aubergine for the fancy people), my aversion to all things eggplant didn’t allow me to relish the dish.



In the non vegetarian section, I took a liking to the chicken wings with preserved lime. Although this tasted more like a summer dish to me, I wasn’t complaining as the wings were done tender enough to have the meat come off the bone effortlessly as I chomped away. The Agean Kakvia Fish dish was a tad too bland for what I’m used to when it comes to Mediterranean seafood, so I left it at a single helping. The Greek Lamb with Orzo was another dish that had me going back for seconds with the lamb cooked quite tender, and a light peppery sauce to accompany the rice made this a good dish.




Before I hit the dessert stand, we were served Shish Tawook – A twist on the popular Shwarma Roll, this had extremely tender Shish Kababs with zesty sauces and sliced veggies which made this a superb roll. I was wishing that I had started off the meal with this roll rather than ending it. I wanted to have another one, but had absolutely no space to tuck it in.


Dessert was a rather simple affair with a Baklava dumpling. While the taste of the chopped nuts and honey on the inside was good, the overall pastry was a bit heavier than what I was expecting. 


Full marks to the folks at ITC Windsor for bringing a nice historical twist to the familiar.
Mediterranean that I absolutely love. The top three picks of the meal for me would have to be the Herbed Poached Shrimps with Salsa, the Greek Style Stuff Peppers and the Shish Tawook. The food festival is on throughout the month of November. Do go and check it out.



23 November, 2015

Guest Column Deccan Chronicle - Rock the world over!

In the column that appeared on the 10th of November 2015, I wrote about how songs like Hotel California, Sweet Child of Mine and Summer of 69 have universal appeal across the globe and can make anyone sing along.


22 November, 2015

The Seafood Sensation at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park

After the very enjoyable American Food festival at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park a couple of months ago, I was looking forward to trying out what Chef Sandeep Kumar has put together for their Seafood sensation festival. And it turns out, quite a lot. As an addition to the regular buffet, the seafood section had an impressive display of catfish, prawns, red snapper and more. I kicked off the evening with a tiny assorted platter of prawns, calamari and fish with a variety of sauces including mayonnaise, tomato, chilli-honey, and a very new flavour which was yellow mustard with green apple. Chef Sandeep is turning out to the ‘sauce guy’ for me. While it didn’t top the chocolate mole from the last time, this sauce was the best of the evening and became the staple dip for almost everything. The recent Thailand trip did have me using a little more chilli-honey sauce than usual.
While we waited for the next course I tried some of the seafood salads on display including fish and fresh fruits salad. With contrasting sweet and citrus flavours, the salad came across as something I would have probably had an entire bowl of during the summer. 




Seafood Salads
Next at the table was a fish platter that consisted of tuna, sea bass and snapper all lightly fried. Among the three, the tuna was the best in terms of how much of the flavour it retained and how it blended with all the sauces. This was the second time I’ve had the red snapper, the last being at a restaurant in the US quite some time ago. While that particular dish had a predominant and predictable citrus punch, this snapper was far milder in flavours. All the fish flaked superbly. 

Fish Platter
Next up was a very attractive looking plate of sardines and prawns. The sardines aren’t my first choice for a fish to be honest. That being said, while the dish was supposed to offer a masala sardine, it somehow didn’t make it all the way in terms of the spice levels leaving me a bit disappointed. The prawns however, were cooked perfectly. More mustard and green apple sauce!!!

Sardines and Prawns Platter

Sardines and Prawns Platter

The main course was the best part of the meal. First up was the seafood biryani with the Prawns Salan. The biryani was cooked really well, despite having all that seafood thrown in, it did not have an overwhelming seafood smell - a problem with numerous seafood biryani’s I’ve had in the past. The flavour was rich and had spices in excellent proportion. The biryani was a hero by itself. But truly bringing all the flavours to life was the prawn salan whose tangy taste of mustard made my evening. Fresh hot biryani with a tangy prawn curry on a cold wet rainy evening, it couldn’t get any better.

Seafood Biryani

Prawn Salan



I also tried the fish curry with plain rice, which was a very homely dish and reminded me of something similar with chicken that a friend’s mother would make. But unfortunately, in front of the prawn salan, this dish was a distant second. After a single helping of the fish, I went back to the seafood biryani and the prawns. It was just so sad that I had but one stomach and a mere above-average appetite, for I would have finished the biryani entirely. Also, it would have been quite uncouth if I had asked for a doggy bag. Dinner ended with a helping of pista kheer as I had absolutely no space for anything more.

Fish Curry


Rice Kheer

The Seafood sensation at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park is on till the 27th of November. My recommendation is definitely for the tuna with the yellow mustard and green apple sauce, and of course for the seafood biryani with the prawn salan. If I weren’t travelling, I’d definitely go back just to have those two again.

16 November, 2015

Mikkeller Bangkok... 30 brews and a 12-hour Braised short rib.

Besides food, a new addition to my ‘must-try’ list whenever I’m in a new city is a local microbrewery. On my first day in Bangkok, as a small celebration of my first ever solo backpacking trip in a foreign country, I decided to indulge myself and went over to Mikkeller Bangkok (MB) in the evening. Located in a more fancy part of the city, MB impressed me from the moment I stepped in. The first thing that hits you is the chalk board that showcases thirty varieties of home-brewed beers. Yes! THIRTY! I knew I would be leaving a bit disappointed not having tried all thirty flavours. This is one of the drawbacks of travelling by oneself, no company to try out more food and drink.

30 varieties of beer
After a long day of walking around in the humidity of Bangkok, I ordered the strongest beer that they had on the menu. I started the evening with a glass of the Big Worster BA Chardonnay, a barley beer with wine, strength at 18.3%. While I give the beer full marks for being strong, the taste was a bit confusing as the brew combined the flavour of both beer and Chardonnay. Not the best thing I’ve had, but definitely the strongest. I switched to a more familiar flavour with the Georgen Imp Stout, 12.12%. Now this was something in familiar territory. With a dark cocoa flavour suppressing the previous brew, my evening was back on track. I ordered a plate of Pizza Dip, which was Paprika beef, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese with some nice crunchy bread on the side. The dish was essentially pizza made into a dip. While the quantity was a bit much for one person, I took my time as I let the flavours of the marinara sauce and the beer play around with my taste buds. It was early evening, and I had a long night ahead of me.

Big Worster BA Chardonnay

Pizza Dip

Georgen Imp Stout

The next beer I tried was the Nuclear Hop Assault DIPA, 8% which was a light Indian pale ale with a very refreshing taste. I ordered a salad which consisted of scallops, fresh watermelon and goat’s cheese dip. I’m not a big fan of salads; but I simply loved this particular dish. Absolutely refreshing in taste, the saltiness of the scallops with the fresh water melon just melted away in my mouth, cleansing it of the taste of the strong marinara sauce from the previous dish. Absolutely elegant in flavour, this simple salad got two thumbs up from me. 

Scallop and Watermelon Salad

While I waited for the main course, I got a little adventurous and sampled the Raspberry Tripleback, 13%. Let me put it this way, a bottle of beer got drunk one night and totally did it with a bottle of Raspberry Jam. Nine months later, the child of that one wild night was what this beer tasted like. I’m delighted that I took only a sampler and not an entire glass. Clearly, as far as experimenting goes, the night was not going my way.

Raspberry Tripleback
The main course….oh, the main course! I’m drooling just thinking about it. My main course was a 12-hour braised short rib with pumpkin done three-ways with lentils. If one ever wants to appreciate the beauty of braised pork, this is the dish to have. Braised to sheer perfection, the pork could be had with a spoon almost as though it were some sort of a dessert. Yet, the juiciness of the meat once you pop it into your mouth was ….. OMFG, I died! Giving it a lovely contrast was the excellent pumpkin done three-ways. Nice salty pork with sweet pumpkin…. This dish is definitely among one of the best I’ve had. I paired that with a Beer Geek Imp Stout,10.9%, which had a lovely coffee bean after taste to it. 

12-hour braised short rib



If I thought the main course was going to be the highlight of the meal, I had no clue what was going to hit me when I ordered dessert. Yes, I ordered dessert. Yes, all that food and beer went into one person. I don’t care if you judge me. I was having a ball. Dessert was a recommendation from the owner – Warm doughnuts. While the name comes across as boring, the dish was the crescendo of the good food at Mikkeller. Filled with a dark beer chocolate that simply oozes out as you bite into it, this dessert had me forget all my table manners. I munched away at the doughnuts allowing the filling to run over my fingers as I shamelessly sucked on them to ensure that not a single drop made its way to the napkin. The sheer joy of having this dessert cannot be captured in words.

Warm Doughnuts


Before I hit the road, I chugged down a final glass of the Arctic Sunstone APA, 6%.

Amen...

Overall, this was a fabulous evening at Mikkeller and I only wish that I had familiar faces to experience all the great food and beer of the place. But not regrets of going there. Mikkeller Bangkok is on the pricier side and those on a budget vacation may want to rethink going here. But if you are going to spend good money on a night on the town, this place would be my first pick. Kudos to the folks for setting up this fabulous watering hole with some fantastic food which set the tone for the rest of my vacation.

12 November, 2015

Street Food in Bangkok

For those of you who haven’t been following me on other social media channels, I spent 12 glorious days backpacking all by myself through Thailand. And by through I mean that I went to more than one city. Besides being a budget destination, one of my biggest attractions to head to Thailand was obviously the food. I spent the entire four hours of my flight to Bangkok imagining all the delicious street food that I would get to savour and make inappropriate noises of appreciation. The moment, they let me into the country; my sole purpose for the day was to find some Thai street food. I freshened up and went over to the Reclining Buddha temple where I spent a few hours before I stepped out and sampled some of the glorious flavours of authentic Thai food. And by George, I wasn’t disappointed at all.

The Reclining Buddha

Tuk Tuk

I kick started my vacation with a Raw Papaya Salad. Coming from India, one tends to be a tad arrogant when it comes to one’s ability to handle spicy food. But I was quickly brought down to earth with the first bite of this salad. The first flavour that hit me was the sweetness of the papaya; I thought to myself that this was going to be a breeze. A couple of seconds in, the spice kicks in….and oh what a kick it was. Parts of my tongue were enjoying the sweet taste while the rest was on fire. And yet, I went back for more. This absolutely contradicting flavours of sweet and spice kept calling me back for more. Pretty soon, I was sweating and had water coming out of my nose, but I still kept gobbling away at that salad. What a way to start off my vacation. I cooled my senses down with a nice cold bottle of fresh pomegranate juice. 

Raw Papaya Salad

Fresh Pomegranate Juice

Next up was the grilled chicken which was cooked really tender. Fresh off the grill, the chicken was as soft as a lightly toasted marshmallow and wasn’t spicy at all. Just meat with the natural flavours of coal made this a super addition to the meal. 

Grilled Chicken

Grilled Chicken
I still needed some time to allow my taste buds to regain their sense of flavour, so I walked about for a bit before I came across this stall selling fresh crunchy banana spring rolls. While the spring rolls themselves were sweet, the chilli-honey—garlic sauce that accompanied it was the kicker. Lovely contradicting natural flavours hit all the right spots. 

Banana Spring Rolls
Lunch was the very famous Pad Thai noodles at an adjacent stall. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the flavour. I’ve had more impactful and aromatic Pad Thai back in India and this one was quite bland. Missing a lot of the spiciness, the only flavours that came through were that of the vinegar, palm sugar and the peanuts.  It could be thanks to a large group of Spaniards at my table who asked for no spice in their Pad Thai, and I got served from the same batch. But it wasn’t the end of the world. I was in Thailand where Pad Thai stalls can be found at almost every corner.

Shrimp Pad Thai

Shrimp Pad Thai
My vacation was off to the kind of start I expected it to be with regard to food. There’re a lot more blog posts coming up over the next few days.