Kebabs and Kurries at ITC Grand Central

I have always visited ITC Grand Central for conferences and never for food. Hence this time when Megha and I were invited to get a taste of the new menu created by Kebabs and Curries, we were set to make a full night, belly up. Surprisingly pleasant weather was due and we came back home satisfactorily full but not choked!

ITC opened its first hotel in 1975 called the Chola Sheraton (My Fortune) at Chennai, what they also did at the time; was to order a Speyside Single Malt whiskey cast in oak barrels and brewed specially for ITC called ITC Glenfiddich! A taste of this smoothness can only be had at the ITC hotels and is highly recommended.

While you enter ITC Grand Central, do pay attention to the exquisitely carved snippets of which are engraved in the architecture of the hotel. From the clock tower to the fountain and the life size frame and photo album at the entrance, Mumbai has been set into this beautiful hotel. A walk through the corridor to the restaurant reveals a host of awards that the hotel has won from conservation to food.

At the end of the corridor, Kebabs and Kurries’ is setup as three divisions of seating called the quila, maidaan and kheema (community dining area). While the divisions are quite clear the comprehension may not be so pronounced. ‘Quila’ has bright lighting and comfortable chairs for a dinner and hence was a natural choice. The restaurant does have a lot of space and can accommodate a ‘daawat’ (meaning: invitation, historically to a wedding or large number of people to dine in).

ITC Kebab&Kurries

Chef Ishmeet Singh Kapoor takes us through the immense detailing in the menu; which has been broken down into the meaning of each category and makes it easy to choose, rather than go through an endless list of items which may need assistance to decipher, main course from aperitif. He also goes on to show us that the last page contains english translations and origins of each category of cuisine. I found this very useful to both Indians and foreigners who are still not acquainted with the origins of north Indian cuisine.

The restaurant offers a variety of dishes from tandoor prepared with an iron tandoor, and pather (stone) grills along with angethis and tawa to Quormas, Qaliyas, Do Piaza and Salan. Off course with Awadhi and Mughlai cuisine naans and biryani complete the meal.

We were initiated with a rose flavoured pomegranate welcome drink, refreshing taste, light and preferably sipped.

A platter of kebabs followed.

Starters at ITC

While my main attraction was the Sikandari Raan, I was pleasantly mesmerized with the Murg Shami and Dum Ke Bhole. Murg Shami is a chicken patty that is flavoured with sweet spices and stuffed with tangy raw mango cooked on a tawa. It melts in your mouth with a savoury feel but sweet taste with a crunch. Dum Ke Bhole, particularly important for vegetarians who visit, is a paneer roll stuffed with a blend of carrots, capsicum and cheese but not before dipping it in creamy saffron batter and cooked on a tawa. In short, I preferred the ‘tawa’ dishes to the ‘angethi’.

ITC Main Course

While the Sabut Lobster was quite an eye full, marinated in yogurt, black cumin and carom seeds, the flavours were hard to get while the lobster itself was a tad squeaky. I love seafood and was hoping this was not a perfect representation of the extensive seafood menu with Jumbo Jhinga, rohu and fillets, trust my experience was an aberration.

From the top RHS corner on the pic above.

Qorma: Koh-e-Awadh

The chef’s own recipe that is created by exposing lamb shanks dum cooked in their own cardamom tinged juices and marrow finished with saffron. This has been a succulently pleasurable experience. The bite is tender and flavourful; no, it does not melt but lingers in your mouth and every bite takes you closer to wanting more.

Do Piaza: Ghost Hari Mirch

Single bone chops tossed into green herbs and whole spices with garden chillies. A dash of lemon to vinegar the meat. I am rather sensitive to mutton and have always been skeptical of ordering mutton due to it being rubbery or less tender. The meat was a let down, but let that not cloud my judgement, the dishes were well cooked and definitely provide justice to the Hyderabad cooking techniques.

Guchhi Dara

Diced Kashmiri morels and green peas simmered in asafoetida flavoured golden yogurt gravy enriched with khoya! You cannot go wrong with a dish that uses khoya and yogurt gravy with green peas. Sounds just as good as it tasted. A perfect accompaniment for Warqi Paratha (prepared by flour balls layered into a tower of smaller flour balls and beaten down into a clay oven).

A special mention goes to the Dal Bukhara cooked overnight and beautifully crafted into a not to miss dish that butters your palate with the taste of great cuisine brought in by the Mughals from central Asia.

Dessert: Shaan-e-Aam

Alphanso mangoes, the king of fruits is pureed and frozen onto a rasgulla that floats in rabdi and crowned with a golden leaf served on a glass filled with crushed ice.

Could not resist re-ordering the dessert even after this wholesome meal. This is a must have dessert and ITC Kebabs and Kurries prides itself with this dessert that obviously sells like air-conditioners in summer.

Thanks to Arundhati Ghosh for making the evening a pleasant experience with opulence and grace.

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Dum Pukht

There is a distinct difference between being ‘called’ and being ‘invited’.

The ITC Maratha – exudes a radiance of being an establishment that services opulence with a touch of royalty. One has to experience the subtle nature of minor acts that create the word “royalty” to completely comprehend its difference.

When the staff is able to mark a slight change in goblets that look alike, with only a few millimetres of height to mark them apart! or to have personalized menu cards. Service is a game to the staff at Dum Pukht at which they seem to be winners all the way.

Rushina from a perfect bite graciously invited Megha and me to a dinner at the ITC Maratha restaurant, Dum Pukht which has been recently renovated. A few hours later I received a personalized invite to which a confirmation was necessary to attend. At no point did Rini and Aishwaria (our hosts for the evening) allow us to believe that we were less than royalty.

Source: Saee Khoranne Khandekar

Image Courtesy: Saee Koranne Khandekar

Dum means to breathe in and Saee Koranne-Khandekar did exactly that when she saw the cutlery. Pukht means to cook, and this is done by trapping aromas and flavours by sealing the cooking utensils and ensuring slow cooking over a low flame. Dum pukht style of cooking is traced to Awadh in Lucknow, north India. Kurush and Rhea quite familiar with history and geography of Awadhi cuisine gave us quite an account of its history and corrugated by Rashmi Uday Singh, attribute it to a famine in Awadh that brought about this style of cooking!!

Our plates were decorated with Dum Pukht Kakori and Sheek Nilofari – Mix of puffed lotus seeds and lotus stem, falovoured with fresh herbs, mace and green cardamom, grilled on a skewer and sprinkled with aromatic masala. Sounds as delectable as it tasted. Nikhil Merchant kept clicking away with his DSLR at everything that swayed below the aromatic smoke. This was not an obsession with pictures but one that captured quite a culinary atmosphere.

 

shorbaThe nawaabi cuisine is exemplified in the entire menu from shorba, qorma, salan to biryani and meetha. It is quite a challenge to compete the menu. I recommend the Shorba, one spoon in and lift your head only once the plate is empty. While the Hyderabadi Biryani may have biased me against the Biryani, it is still a beautiful sight to watch the bubble of flour covering the biryani.

Sankarson Banerjee, more acquainted with north indian nawaabi cuisine points out the variety available with nawaabs when compared to the Nizams. We both agree that classical music cannot be a substitute for ghazals in Dum Pukht.

 

Image courtesy: Rhea Mitra Dalal

200 years of mastery in slow cooking can fill you up like the Bara Imambara without a resentment. Now all you need is a great dessert, but the desserts leave me wondering if the middle class exists? Either too sweet or hardly any – perhaps  meant for a more western dinner.

The joy of a great dinner comes with great company and intelligent conversation. Thanks Rushina, Rina and Aishwaria for organising a blessed evening.



Review: Cafe Casa Mia–Italian at heart

Casa Mia’ which means “my house” in Italian is an Italian restaurant which may well be worth making your home!

A step out of the usual western line, is one restaurant that makes the central line and R-Mall in particular worth a visit. Catch a movie at Big Cinema’s latest movie multiplex but do not have a single bite of those ‘big offers’ if you really want to dissect your palate on some mind crunching Italian delicacies.

The huge glass doors with one that forms the entrance to a three part restaurant welcomes you into a cafe with off course, …coffee and books while the second part seats you in a Mediterranean diner from where you can see a lounge with a bar tucked in the corner.SchoolPizzaMartini glass

While the Cafe gives you a pedestrian sit out feel with a view to passers-by peering into the warm yellow inside, your coffee can keep you engrossed in the Italian culinary section or the reference books that are housed in the magazine rack.

”, says that he started Casa Mia with authentic Italian cuisine that Italians would find sourced out of an Italian la casa. However, the Indians are overwhelming; when it comes to exerting their alimentary influence and Casa Mia now serves Italian cuisine which has increased Indian patronage.

The wine list also took a turn from the docks to Nasik, albeit, not withstanding home grown vineyards are favoured over the commercial brands.  The lounge also houses rock bands to events that involve young artists entertaining the rest-o-folk on event days.

DSC_0316Casa Mia has a young and energetic design combined with culinary class all brought together next to Reliance Big Cinema on the 3rd floor of R-City Mall. The logo is colourful and a perfect blend, pretty much similar to how the flavours of the food are blended in Italian, Mediterranean and a few pickings from world cuisine. Gianfrancesco tells me his Indian wife helped design the place through her design experiences at London, which explains the amount of interest in the warmth you feel in this place which tells you to Eat, Drink and chill!

For starters, you might just pick the Cajun chicken if you like your masala toppings, else you could dig into a ‘Prawn Tempura’ to taste the Japanese perfection in the blade of herb manifestation. I chose a Wasabi prawns that was all prawn sans wasabi! Sad smile A starter is to apprise you of taste and not the meal. Casa Mia starters can do just that, choose carefully or take the suggestion of the young waiters.

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Check the table pop-ups for the ‘days special’ and offers, trust me they are specially made for this day. You can never go wrong with a ‘ or a ‘pizza’ that comes out a specially imported Italian pizza oven.

Gian loves his mozzarella and la casa cheese is always the best cheese. So sink your teeth into anything that hoists up on cheese and you will not be disappointed.

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Pastas, lasagnes or just plain stuffed capsicum can make you wonder what you did without Casa Mia!

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Whatever you choose Casa Mia has their makings of flavour that will give you a craving for italian cuisine. While Gian spent a lot of time with us explaining how he started Casa Mia and kept its change in line with customer delight, I found his musings truthfully Italian at heart. We even pulled a few italiano jokes on him but he was a true sport. Do not miss his dessert specials cause they may not be authentically Italian but definitely prove this Cafe’s culinary prowess.

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Casa Mia is not highly priced and ensures that a meal can be had within a movie goers budget. There is hardly a need for reservation on a week day, however a weekend may find you exploring R-City Mall to the last movie at the Cinema.


All Four Seasons without an Olive

My wife Megha, attended an event at Olive organized by Four Seasons Wines from United Breweries thanks to her new found friend Rushina (food blogger). While I usually write the reviews on Megha’s blog “Live to Eat!!!” now known as “I2Cook”, this was an all cooking blogger event with single representation and hence I gladly sat this one out. The event was a good one as brought out in the words of Vinda Dravid (food blogger): –

“Being an eager amateur at wine tasting and pairing, a recent Food Bloggers’ Dinner at Olive, Mahalaxmi Race Course, Mumbai, hosted by the acclaimed Four Seasons Wines of the UB group in India was an enlightening experience for me and most certainly a doorway into the mystifying yet alluring realm of wines.  It also gave me the opportunity to socialize with my fellow food bloggers.”

So what prompts me to write about an event that I never attended?

I am a digital marketing specialist and run campaigns for corporates through the digital medium. I have been a part of this trade for the past 6 years. So what happens when a corporate like UB is prompted to setup a PR event at an upmarket ‘Olive’ for bloggers. What do the stakeholders expect and are they getting it?

Why should we bother?

A blogger organised it and is a friend? Such events take a lot of work and co-ordination to setup as pointed out in the words of Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal (Blogger and organiser): –

“And what a crazy dew days it was getting it all together, with mails going back and forth between me and Melissa Serao of Grey, planning the where, when and how, planning menus and sending invitations. But it all came together in the end, thanks to Melissa who did all the groundwork and on the 19th about 18 bloggers (the most ever) settled down to a degustation dinner.”

It is human nature to look at the economic gain and react accordingly and bloggers are no different as pointed out in the words of Vishwas Kasat(Food blogger):-

“We were told to reach at 8 pm but I reached around 8:30 PM and as previous blogger meet at Indian Harvest I was almost the last one to reach. Settled down with fellow bloggers and then we were first given a menu which had a four course Salad, Starters, Main Course and Dessert (tea and coffee at the end but who is interested in that when one has wine)”

Kasat is really fond of food as his blog suggests and influenced by fellow writers but may be more interested in the wine than the olive.

It intrigued me to write when Megha explained the aftermath of the event and informed me that most bloggers felt that it may not be ethically right to write for free wine and is purely PR driven. This is not just her expression but is brought out in the words of Pranav Kacholia(food blogger) as well. The interesting part is the Disclaimer.

“What happens when you take a bunch of food bloggers and throw in a wine expert? You get the first Bombay Food Bloggers dinner of 2011. It was an event courtesy of the UB Group who wanted to introduce us to various wines, from their Four Seasons brand, that can be paired with the different parts of a full four course meal.

Disclaimer:
I have not reviewed any of the food or wines on this post. As this was a PR event it would not be ethical of me to do so.”

The disclaimer brings out the fact that the olive comes free with the wine. While I believe that the photos Pranav has put up are sweet wine which can be valued as payment for a good olive. I believe the PR guys would agree with me here.

Just to bring some perspective, the organising of olives costs wine that more than all the 18 bloggers present might sweeten or brew through their blogs to UB or Olive. It is a combination of several such olives that makes the wine worth the Olive for a corporate to brew bloggers.

So has the corporate or Olive made a mistake? I am sure that the PR agency would differ and call this more than an experiment. Digital media gives us the power to talk to specific people and bring affinities together. So who do you call for such an event? Was it incorrect to call Kalyan Karmakar for such an event?

“I was seated at a little table beside the main table. Caught up with a couple of old friends, Rushina and Jyotika. Wouldn’t have made it but for the earnest urgings from both of them.  Met some new folks – couple of charming ladies from the agency that organized the evening and a Chino German animator who was marooned in India after the film she came to make got delayed. I missed out on the wine lecture though. Well, as they say bad boys have all the fun.

Hopefully, looked enough of a ‘connoisseur’ to not make the sponsors question the organizers for inviting me.”

Kalyan like all the other bloggers present is a lover and promoter of good food as is brought out in his blog but could not bother differentiating between the non-existent olive and the wine on a no cash event.

The corporate invests in these olives to have influential bloggers taste their produce of wine and differentiate it from the olive for their readers who are waiting to choose. Has the wine turned sour? Not really. There are great bloggers out here in Mumbai and can write brilliant reviews on subjects that they know; like I believe Nikhil Merchant (food blogger) did who also attended.

As the 3 lakh odd bloggers in India evolve into a unified influential strength the corporates are bound to approach more bloggers to test, taste and affirm belief into their wine and olives. While these tests may seem free they should be obligatory to a blogger in the interest of the blogging community. PR is always going to be around to motivate you but should not influence your direction. That is what marks bloggers apart from the population. But you guys already know that because you have followers created out of sour grapes.

The bitter taste of not writing might be greater as the corporates will have less belief in the bloggers and may feel that they received less than their worth of olive. On the other hand the bloggers who did write will lose future wine.

While it is difficult for a PR agency or corporate to choose the right bloggers, we as bloggers must say NO when the subject does not auscultate a reaction to an olive. Will all the next four seasons remain without an olive is for bloggers to choose? Every olive counts and marks the growing strength of a blogger. I write reviews based on the feelings that the offering creates and will not be afraid to differentiate an olive from a wine or to call an olive the bitter taste of nature based on the nature of the barrel.


Michelin Star – What is the difference?

What is so special about a Michelin star chef? The cook at the local restaurant can cook without being rated by a Michelin Star! Read on to know if they really need to be marked or the star is just a media bubble.

So what is so different? Is it about small quantity and high prices, names in European lingua? Is it about the ambience or the presentation of food? All these questions get answered when one has the privilege to taste the food created and I repeat ‘created’ by chef Igor Macchio.

 
 Igor Macchio is a chef who runs an eatery in Italy called “La Credenza”. Chef Igor has been rated with a single Michelin Star which means that La Credenza is the best in its category of food creators of Italian food. This also means that Chef Igor caters to anonymous inspectors about 6 times a year and successfully assures them that his title of Michelin star is the basis of subjective and critical acclaim.
 
If not in Italy where can one taste the best Italian cuisine from a Michelin star chef?
 
VetroThe Oberoi (Left on the lobby) has a round door, which I thought was unique and confusing for a new visitor; because the glass and wooden door is completely spotless. Vetro means “glass” in Italian personifying its allegiance.

The restaurant is designed to exploit natural lighting using a curtain of coloured glass. The interior designer obviously made a killing on creating lines of glass holders and filled them with randomly coloured glass (probably left over from a previous job) which lacks imagination. I would not speak much of the décor, as it only reminds me of the lounges in an international airport. However, there is a little corner that contains a wine library and wine tasting table that is perfect for a group session adorned with some of the finest Italian wines.

I walked straight into the clean and organized kitchen where Chef Igor was in the process of creating a lamb marinated in Xanata coffee and served with sweet corn sauce garnished with cress. If you can digest the real name for the dish, “Agnello marinato al caffe’ con ragu’ di mais dolce e germogli lamb marinated in coffee, sweet corn ragout and aromatic cress.”

The Italians speak with their hands and work their mouth on every word rounding off the ends with precision and Chef Igor did the same with “scho-cho-laat’se” and “baat-saar”. It is quite a fresh breath listening and watching the chef make a complicated recipe sound like a tomato toast. While the presentation is a la 5 star complimenting the real test has always been the taste. So we sat in the Vetro over a glass of divine white wine while the chef explained the veg dish; pumpkin ravioli created in amaretti milk known in Italian as, “Ravioli di zucca con schiuma agli amaretti e pesto homemade pumpkin ravioli, pesto and amaretti milk foam.”

The taste of melting pumpkin ravioli is so different from the ingredients in solitary albeit precatory, cuts your interest in the world around you while you digest each sense on your face. Some of the recipes are more than 24 hours in preparation time to serve up quarter of a plate of mind watering taste, aroma and experience. For instance the fine risotto topped with a swirl of anchovies.

The staff at the Vetro comprehends Italian cuisine and aspire to learn more. They work in the background interacting with you in the most subtle manner to make sure that you need not lift hand or open mouth for service. The air-conditioning keeps you comfortable shielding the sun’s heat rays.

The Mumbai based Nariman Point restaurant has all the requirements that an Italian restaurant may require. A perfect destination for Chef Igor through his world tour promoting his piedmont style promising cuisine of exceptional quality. Chef Igor does not use garlic unlike most Italian chefs and yet has a clear understanding of why certain things are done the way they are. He explains, “We always puts the dra-ssing on the top and the sauce at the bot-tom as the garnish may lose frashn-ass as the sauce may bees hotz!” The whole process of cooking is about precise measurements and precise ingredients and combinations, to make sure that food is tasted in perspective of the right combination.

I believe that such hard work and precision can only come with substantial skill and experience and deserves a star rating which is done with equal diligence. Vetro is worth a visit not just by Michelin Star chefs but also Italian savouring audience. Are you one of them?



 


Sea Princess Hotel Restaurant – ‘Shagun’

The waves of Juhu beckon the wealthiest to the nonchalant strides of mumbaikars. One such wave that has been on the shores of Juhu is the Hotel Sea Princess. A sea facing hotel that stands on the affluent fare Juhu Tara Road of Mumbai.

The sea princess has an entrance that is covered in short steps rather than a horizon stretch lobby that comes with old world charm.

 
Shagun: Shagun means a good occasion in Sanskrit. That is what it was when we walked into the restaurant décors with a rich moghul feel encased in a combination of red and gold. I particularly liked the live ghazal music that was neither too loud nor too soft. The songs were enchanting and what was even better, it was LIVE!

While the multi-page menu makes it difficult to choose, the food is a perfect theme fit into the moghul décor. The soup comes in great quantity with just the right spice. ‘Tomato Pudina soup’ can warm a tummy to anything that comes its way.

The food is served in regular white cutlery and clean white waiter sleeves to ensure hygiene as a compliment to the affable staff. The starters in veg can be quite a miss on the taste buds. ‘kebab e gulzar’ keeps your taste buds confused on feeling the warmth of the kebab and nothing else, while the ‘murg malai paan’ is a saviour on the starter platter.
The main course had really nothing that caught my attention except for stretching my muscles on a piece of roganjosh, resulting in more josh less mutton. ‘Paneer Lababdar’ can only be pronounced while munching on the less than sufficient flavour of this paneer.
Take a ‘dal peshawari’ for every bite of conversation as this is a great place for a family chat over a jal jeera or scotch. The scotch keeps you in the mood for ghazals and the inebriation will create a taste for less than spicy food.
If you would like to sweeten the ambience further try the ‘moong dal badam’ halwa that gives you a perfect blend of sweetness and satisfaction.