26 April, 2016

The Kabab Studio at Goldfinch Hotel, B'lore

I was invited to try out the (somewhat) recently renovated Kabab Studio at the Goldfinch Hotel in Bangalore. While the invite was open since late February, owing to work, illness and travel, I finally managed to go last week. Sit-in barbecues seem to have become a bit of a rage, especially among the IT office crowd in Bangalore, a fact evident from all the various barbecue joints that have more or less the same format. That being said, I was eager to see how The Kabab Studio set itself apart from the pack.

Located at the terrace of the Goldfinch Hotel, the restaurant offers both an indoor and outdoor seating area. We were promptly shown to our table with the bearer asking us what we’d like to drink. Having heard about the cocktails of the place, we left it to the bartender to surprise us with his best five cocktails for the summer evening. In the meantime, the grill was put in place and skewers of prawns, chicken, mushroom, mutton followed. I’ll be honest in saying that the meats were marinated fairly well, probably a tad too spicy for some (so beware) and the portions were generous. The prawn margination was satisfying as was the Kalmi kabab. The mutton sheek lacked the juiciness one expected of the dish. However, delighting me was the Paneer tikka. Yes, you read that right – the Paneer Tikka. Marinated to perfection, the paneer itself was one of the softest I had had in ages in the city in any restaurant. Brought in from Mumbai, the paneer was as soft as a warm marshmallow and egged me on to request for more helpings. Another favourite was the spicy pineapple.

While I had no complaints regarding the non veg served, I couldn’t help but comment on the lack of imagination when it comes to vegetarian grilled food, across the city. Vegetarian for most equals paneer, mushroom, baby corn, pineapple, potato and capsicum. What about tofu, eggplant, peaches, halloumi, radish, beetroot…and so many more options? I’m sure the chefs need to just sit down and take the time to figure out what they can do. This is a reflection of the state of vegetarian food across most restaurants in the city, not just the Kabab Studio alone. I was appreciative of the fact that the team there were open to feedback and didn’t try to hide behind excuses. So that’s a step in the right direction. Also, chaats as a “live counter” is not very imaginative. There’s a lot more room for improvement there!

In the middle of all of this, our very first pair of cocktails arrived. Looking rather ominous with smoke spewing out of the kettle, the first cocktail was their version of the Long Island Ice Tea except there was no coke but actual tea. Christened, The Last Tea, the cocktail consisted of five white spirits with tea and dry ice, to give it that menacing look. Lacking the kick of the traditional LIIT, this drink was still quite refreshing and almost became a sort of palate cleanser.

The second cocktail served, again with dry ice, was the Lemongrass Curry Leaf Martini. One of the finer cocktails I’ve had in some time, and the best of the evening, this drink had very mild hints of lemongrass that was over powered by the flavour of curry leaves. With the punch of liquor coming at the end as one gulped this down, this chilled cocktail was an immediate favourite of the evening.

What followed was a barrage of cocktails including the Santa Banta Screw Driver which was just another Screwdriver; the TKS OK which was a strong citrus orange cocktail with chunks of orange that made it ideal for the summer and a Cucumber Basil Lemonade which despite being a tad sweeter than required was actually very refreshing with the basil and cucumber instantly cooling the system.

The final, and bonus, cocktail for the evening which was my second favourite was Spice Fusion, a concoction of chaat masala, green chillis, lemon, tobacco sauce, guava juice and vodka. While it’s not an entirely new combination, the contrasting flavours of the sweet guava juice with the spicy punch of the drink worked very well with the drink hitting different parts of your tongue as it went down.

The main course was a respectable spread with some of the usual suspects like veg kholapuri, pasta in cream basil sauce, ghosht hara pyaza, murgh kalimirch, methi daal, etc. What stood out were the dishes in the Asian section with Mixed Vegetables in a Plum Sauce and the Prawns in Thai Green Curry. The good mix of flavours on both made me go back for seconds. Desserts was a slightly more impressive affair with the cold stone ice cream where I combined vanilla with almonds and paan, followed by copious amounts (read three cups) of mishit doi which was very reminiscent of what one gets in Kolkata.

The overall verdict of The Kabab Studio, a good attempt at changing the template of the regular barbecue-themed restaurant, but expected more with the vegetarian section. Respectable portions of meat that have been marinated well will be a hit with any crowd. While the Asian sections of the main course scored big for me, the Indian sections could do with a  bit more imagination. But the biggest strength that sets the Kabab Studio apart from other players in the market is the cocktails. With a gamut of flavours and presentation styles, the cocktails were the champion of the evening. Excellent companions for a barbecue, other than the run-of-the-mill beers, IMFLs and unimaginative mocktails, make Kabab Studio worth visiting. Since the IPL is on, it may be a good time to head over there in the evening to catch a game and make the best of some excellent offers running at this time.

23 April, 2016

The Great Indian Coastal Food Festival at the Ministry of Food, Hilton Bangalore EGL

The Ministry of Food at the Hilton Bangalore at Embassy Golf Links is back with a brand new festival that showcases the diversity of food and flavours all along the Indian coastline. The Great Indian Coastal Food Festival features food from across the coasts of Kerela, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Mangalore, Goa, just to name a few. A few bloggers and I were invited on the second day after the festival opened to try out the spread. 

The one thing that immediately hits you is the sheer number of dishes that one can sample. While that’s a good thing, it can be a little daunting as a food connoisseur to have to sample as much as you can to truly appreciate the work that’s gone into curating the menu. We kicked off the meal with a selection of fish that were marinated in various styles from Goan to Chettinad and grilled. While most of the flavours were perfect enough to ensure the taste of the fish wasn’t lost, some of the marination had a tad more salt than required. That aside, the fresh catch brought in daily ensured top notch quality. If you lack the patience to pull out tiny bones from the fish, recommend you have a word with the chef and choose from the fairly large spread accordingly.

Accompanying the grilled fish were a variety of appetizers including sundal, fried calamari, Goan roast beef and Vada. I’ve got to call out the vada on this menu. It is one of the most supremely prepared vadas I’ve had in a very long time. Almost as soft as cotton, the mildly peppery vada simply melted when we popped it into our mouths. Needless to say, it was my favourite part of the meal. Folks I did speak to a day later thought I’ve lost my marbles as I was talking about a vada after a seafood festival. Two thumbs up for this. Following closely was the Fish Tikka which was tender, flaked beautifully while retaining the spicy flavour. Another favourite among the appetizers was the Banana Stem Salad of which I took at least three helpings.

After all the appetizers, and vadas, there was limited room for the main course. I had to be very choosy from the vast spread. I chose the Bengali styled mustard fish and was delighted that I did. Strong mustard flavours immediately took over my taste buds the moment I had a spoon. Almost as close to the real deal, this was one of my favourites in the main course. I also chose the Kosha Mangsho which was relatively muted compared to the original, but tasty nonetheless. All that was missing was some luchi, which would have sealed the deal for me. I next attacked the Crab Xec Xec, a Goan delicacy that did not disappoint. All though a soft shell crab might have worked a little better, I had no choice but to tuck my napkin into my shirt and go all messy with the crab. Let’s be honest, there’s no other way to appreciate the dish. Left with very little space, I sampled a bit of the Chicken Chettinad which could have been a little more impactful with the flavour. Alas, not everyone appreciates the strong peppery flavours of the dish. 

At times like this I wish I had two stomachs because I didn’t get to try a lot of the dishes from the main course. Dessert was a relatively peaceful affair with a light ellaneer payasum ( Tender Coconut kheer) that helped with the unusually hot weather of the city as well as the strong flavours we’d been experiencing all evening. The folks at Ministry of Food have indeed put together a very commendable food festival with four rolling menus that ensure you don’t get bored. Running till the 30th of the month, the Great Indian Coastal Food Festival is priced very competitively at INR 1399 plus taxes per person. The quality of elaborate spread was reflected by the fact that even on a weekday, the restaurant was packed, something I’ve not seen at food festivals in a long time.

22 April, 2016

An evening at Nimmiserie

Chef Nimish Bhatia, a veteran of the Bangalore culinary scene opened the doors to his dream project, Nimmiserie , on Christmas day last year. I was invited to the opening day lunch with other fellow food enthusiasts to see what culinary chemistry Chef Nimish Bhatia was working on. Unfortunately I had an afternoon screening of Star Wars : The Force awakens that day and had to leave lunch halfway. I was invited back at the start of March to try out the new Tavakerie which had opened up.

The evening began with everyone being seated on the lower floor at a large table with all the extravagance of Nimmserie up for everyone to see. The meal kicked off with a Reconstructed Chilled Samosa in a Melon Wrapper with Hibiscus Dust and a Fiery Nimbu Chutney. This take on a samosa gets rid of all the fried guilty pleasure of the traditional Indian samosa and replaces it with a healthier option of a melon wrap on the outside rather than the greasy fried outer layer that we all love. Being on my salad-quest mode the last few months, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavours of this dish. I’m not sure the regular palate would appreciate it though. 

This was followed by Cream Horns a La Galawat. This dish was a new addition from the last time I ate here. Personally, I’m a big fan of savory cornettos ever since I had a Mexican-flavoured chicken and red beans cornetto on one of my trips. I might be a bit biased in saying I enjoyed this dish with the simple flavours of galwati mutton kabab coming through. The play of textures was interesting, starting off with the crunch exterior to the slightly gamey kabab filling.

The soup for the evening pushed the envelope in terms of presentation where a hot flavorful vegetarian stock is poured in front of you into a bowl filled with tomatoes that have been engineered into bubbles that pop in your mouth releasing the citrus flavor of the vegetable. Accompanying the soup are distinct floral elements of marigold. The freshness of the soup was undone by the next dish, a dhokla disc with shrimp on top with a Moroccan Chermoula sauce. I wasn’t particularly impressed with either the innovation or the flavours. While the mix of chermoula with seafood is a classic combination, the addition of the dhokla messed both the flavours and the textures for me.

We moved to the upper floor where the restaurant does away with the formal ambience of the lower floor and offers customers a more intimate environment with one section offering  tepanyaki-inspired style live cooking counters, known as the Tavakerie, and slightly more private dining sections. The private dining sections are cordoned off by beads that are very reminiscent of the early James Bond movies and made me feel that we’re going to have a belly dancer come out at any minute.

While we waited for the live counters to heat up, we were offered a salad which consisted of Smoked Chicken Breasts with Arugula, Marigold Flowers, and Basil. Throwing out very earthy aromas, I enjoyed sniffing away at the salad a lot more than eating it. The aromas matched the flavor and the salad was an ideal palate cleanser for the strong flavours of chermoula left behind by the previous dish. One of my favourite dishes.

Our innings at the Tavakerie continued with a palate cleanser of Mushroom and Camomile Shots. Strong notes of chamomile when one takes a whiff of the shot with a complementing tastes of reduced mushrooms made this a favourite amongst everyone at the table.

Pushing the envelope of innovation in flavor and presentation, Chef Bhatia served us his take on the Doda. Cooked live, the doda was made of radish and maize. Served to vegetarians with a topping of fresh goats cheese cream and to the non vegetarians with a topping of minced lamb, the dish ticked all the right spots in terms of flavor. I personally enjoyed the vegetarian version more than the non veg as the flavours seemed to complement one another much better. The minced lamb was a tad too spicy for the flavours of radish in the doda. Other chefs, please note – Radish is yet another vegetable that one can cook good veg food with. Move beyond the usual unimaginative veg spread.

The main course had a very intriguing Grilled Mock Fish for the vegetarians. While it wasn’t spot on with the texture and flavours, it was quite close to the real deal. The non vegetarians were served a grilled chicken. Both these were accompanied by an superbly flavoured Kache Ande ki Biryani ( Biryani with Raw Egg). Cooked on the tawa, the biryani had a raw egg cracked into it and served. More than the meat, and the mock meat, the biryani had strong flavours and aromas that made one salivate and crave for more. I’ll be honest in admitting I tried this at home with less than desirable results.

Dessert was a relatively muted affair with  Tarte Tatin Mishti Doi Crème Brulee.  Call me conservative, but the Bengali in me wasn’t too appreciative of messing around with the hallowed mishit doi. While the flavours were all there, my mind and heart were not able to give the dessert the due justice it may have deserved.

Nimmiserie to me is best described as a modern day progressive rock album. It has elements that are new that you can’t quite wrap your head around sitting right next to elements that are old and familiar. This is accompanied by notes that your head tells you are familiar, but your taste buds say otherwise. But at the end of it all, it’s progressive. It’s a step in the right direction, and a move like that always means there will be moments that bewilder people and moments of applause. Overall, it was a rich-experience at Nimmiserie