28 November 2014

Jashn-E-Biryani Mubarak!

When I think of Indian royalty and the food they must have eaten one dish comes to mind - Biryani. The king of all rice dishes, is indeed a dish made for the kings. I think of meat, vegetables, dry fruits, ghee, spices laden in aromatic basmati rice. But the biryani has humble variants too - the pulaos and tehris - food of the common man. The biryani of Persian origin is such a versatile dish, with each region having their own adaptation. 

Highlighting biryanis across the country and showcasing the diversity of this dish is the Jashn-E-Biryani festival at the Neel restaurants in Mahalakshmi and Andheri. Chef Mukhtar Qureshi of Neel, who is a genius when it comes to Indian cuisine, has come up with an exhaustive menu of 12 biryanis (six vegetarian, and six non-vegetarian) that pay respect to this royal food. I got to sample the entire menu and I was left spell bound at not just the biryanis but the minute attention spent at even the accompaniments to each. Without further ado, here goes my biryani trail in random order!

Kareli ka Dum Doodhiya Pulao: (Rs. 885/-)
Appearances can be deceptive when it comes to the looks of this biryani. I was expecting it to be bland, but the rice is immensely flavored with the lamb stock and meat it is cooked in. It comes with the most well-done lamb shanks and spicy lamb koftas, that makes this one amazing pulao! The Gosht shorba that accompanies it was a spectacular meat flavored broth that would go perfectly on a cold winter night!

Kareli ka Dum Doodhiya Pulao
Jaituni Wadi Pulao: (Rs. 545/-)
The least favorite out of all the biryanis I tried that night, this pulao from Amritsar highlights the olives and urad dal wadis that are local to the place. The pulao was a tad bit bland for my liking, and even the Kashmiri Khatta Meetha Salan that accompanied could not redeem it.

Jaituni Wadi Pulao
Kheema aur Matar Ki Tehri: (Rs. 785/-)
The humble Tehri is an Awadhi rice preparation that is known to be a simple homely version of the biryani, characteristic for its yellow colour that comes because of the addition of loads of turmeric. This Tehri came with minced meat and peas, akin to a kheema pulao. The Gosht ka salan that came alongside helped take the biryani to another level.

Kheema aur Matar ki Tehri
Rampuri Katahal ki Biryani: (Rs. 545/-)
I was seriously considering giving this one a miss, since I'm not a fan of jackfruit one bit. This biryani cooked in the traditional dum method, stole my heart because of how well the jackfruit was treated, It looked like mutton when cooked, and tasted nothing like jackfruit does! 

Rampuri Katahal ki Biryani
Subz Chukandar Pulao: (Rs. 485/-)
Beetroot is another vegetable that comes on my hit list. And is another vegetable that wowed me that night. This pulao comes overdosed on beetroot along with mushrooms, peas and carrots, but is just the most fragrant vegetable pulao I've ever eaten. The Kashmiri Lauki Salan served alongside doesn't add to the dish at all, but the Gajar Kishmish Raita is a winner!

Subz Chukandar Pulao
Gajar Kishmish Raita
Jhinga Dum Biryani: (Rs. 685/-)
Oooh, prawn biryanis are my favorite. This one was decent, but nothing exciting to write home about. The prawns were cooked right, but the flavour of cinnamon was overpowering. Here, the Macchli ka salan that comes alongside stands out. The salan reminded me of the gravy of a Kerala fish curry, and is delicious enough to eat just by itself.

Jhinga Dum Biryani
Nizami Chutney Biryani: (Rs. 785/-)
This biryani comes with the much controversial potato! To potato or not to potato, in a biryani? The rice is coated with a delicious green chutney that is extremely aromatic, and the meat in the biryani picks up the chutney flavour too. The Burhani raita that comes alongside is a simple, spiced yogurt but so delicious I could eat a tub full.

Nizami Chutney Biryani
Gobhi aur Hare Matar Ki Tehri: (Rs. 485/-)
This pulao made with cauliflower and green peas is something you'd be able to whip up in your kitchen. Nothing exceptional, except for the accompanying dahi kachumbar which I enjoyed.

Gobhi aur Hare Matar ki Tehri
Dahi Kachumbar
Hyderabadi Masaledar Murgh Biryani: (Rs. 585/-)
This one is the traditional chicken dum biryani that we have eaten innumerable times, but a classic taste that one doesn't grow tired of. What sets the Neel version apart is the Murgh ka salan and Burhani raita that comes alongside, and adds 'chaar chaand' to this traditional version.

Hyderabadi Masaledar Murgh Biryani
Hyderabadi Kabuli Biryani: (Rs. 485/-)
This green variant owes its colour to the chutney in which it is cooked, owes its taste to the mustard seeds and curry leaves. The protein source in this dish is the addition of chana dal, which gives the biryani an interesting twist.

Hyderabadi Kabuli Biryani
Nizami Subz Biryani: (Rs. 545/-) WINNER!
A classic Hyderabadi vegetable biryani with carrots, beans, potatoes, roasted nuts and tons of spice. Served with raita, this traditional biryani is what all good vegetable biryanis should be. I did not miss the meat one bit!

Nizami Subz Biryani
Afghani Murg Tikka Pulao: (Rs. 585/-) WINNER!
Smoky and soft reshmi kebabs cooked in spiced rice, where the rice itself carries a smokey flavor, this pulao is what dreams are made of. The salan and raita accompanying it are redundant, the well cooked chicken makes this biryani a star.

Afghani Murg Tikka Pulao
Twelve different biryanis, each delicious in their own way accompanied by wonderful company and the magical ambience that Neel at Tote on the Turf promises, this night was perfect! Even though this biryani binge eating has satiated my craving for a while, I suggest if you're a fan of biryanis do not give this festival a miss. Worth every penny because where else can you feast like royalty?

Neel - Tote on the Turf, Mahalaxmi Racecourse, Gate 4 & 5, Keshva Rao, Mahalaxmi, Worli, Mumbai.
Neel, Opposite The Charcoal Project, Off Veera Desai Road, Andheri West, Mumbai.

Neel's Jashn-E-Biryani festival is on from the 28th  November to 7th December.

(The author represented MumbaiFoodLovers for the preview of the Jashn-E-Biryani festival, and dined there on invitation.)

25 November 2014

I'm a Little Teapot

I love small restaurants with character. Ones with feeling. And a back story attached. Most of these places are run by families and have been in the business for generations. They are the ones that serve hearty food, in a cozy setting without pinching your pocket. One such tiny place we dined at the other day during our escapade into Fort's by-lanes was The Teapot Cafe.

Situates in a leafy lane, The Teapot Cafe is a tiny, blink-and-miss place. The sign board with a teapot dangling is what led us in. You feel like you've entered into someone's living room when you step inside. Old tiles, couches, mismatched chairs, curios and teapots! Tons and tons of teapots wherever you look. The smiling, bubbly Delna Palia who owns and runs the cafe, apart from pursuing a budding law career told us about her fascination for teapots and how she loves collecting them and receiving them as gifts. So when her father gave her an old office space to convert into a cafe, she could think of no better theme or name for it! The cafe has such a vintage, Parsi home feel to it, except that it wasn't as clean or spotless.

Teapots, Teapots and Teapots
And Some More Teapots
The Baap of all Teapots
The menu covers snacky dishes such as burgers, subs, sandwiches and meals such as pasta, salads, and a few Parsi dishes which excited me. The all-day, egg breakfast menu caught my eye, and I'll definitely try that the next time around. For some reason because the cafe is called Teapot, I expected them to serve loads of tea, but I was disappointed. 

We waited for our Cheesy Carbonara and Tomato Arabiatta penne pastas (each Rs. 150/-) while we sipped on iced teas. The pastas were definitely not on the authentic side, but more like comfort pasta you'd find at someone's home. A creamy sauce with veggies and well done pasta topped with cheese - similar to old school pasta we were first introduced to before fine dine options entered the city. We coupled this with a portion of garlic bread (Rs. 70/-) which was yum, but a bit burnt around the edges.

Tomato Arabiatta Penne
Cheesy Carbonara and Garlic Bread
Don't forget to try the Rum Chocolate Mousse (Rs. 80/-) while you're here. This is a really good mousse, it gets the taste and consistency just right. And then there's the addition of rum swirling around that gives it that kick! We licked our spoons and the bowl clean.

Rum Chocolate Mousse
Teapot Cafe is a quaint place serving simple snacks and comfort food. It is absolutely value for money with our meal for two priced at Rs. 550/- with two iced teas. It's a place I'd come by again to grab a quick bite when I'm in the neighborhood. The free WiFi is an added perk. But what I really admired was the wait staff was all female - women from lesser privileged homes looking to earn for their families. Very commendable thought, indeed. 

The cafe may not be as well maintained as your commercial spaces, and the hygiene is definitely something that needs to be worked on, but that adds to the overall vibe and charm of the place. The Cafe reminded my friend of her time in New York, and how she'd spend hours at home-run cafes and restaurants there. The Teapot Cafe definitely has character and a personality, even if it's one of an old Parsi aunty. Take a sip out of this Teapot!

Contact: The Teapot Cafe, 15 A, Bansilal Mansion, Opposite Bombay House, Homi Modi Street, Fort, Mumbai.
Phone: 022 22654030.
(Open Monday to Saturday, 9am- 6pm)
Facebook page  - The Teapot Cafe

20 November 2014

Loco Chino. Minus the Chino

'So Cheap!', I exclaimed to Bee as we entered this month old eatery, and I read the menu on display at the counter. Loco Chino is Carter Road's latest entrant, where Shawarma is king, and eateries get replaced on a daily basis. Now you eat it, now you don't. Loco Chino sits pretty on a space which was previously occupied by a short lived bakery.  I sincerely hope it stays longer than it's predecessor because not only is it a welcome break from the Shawarmas and yogurts, but it's also very easy on the pocket. Read on for the full story!

The tiny place can seat twelve people comfortably, with a lot of their business operating via take-away as it was evident that night. The space is a burst of color with pretty, colorful caricatures of Mexican and Chinese characters painted on one wall. The tables have mosaic counters, and the salt-pepper shakers are shaped like sombreros. Ola! My favourite feature of the interiors were the dimsum baskets that got converted into overhead lamps. And if that is not enough, the servers insist on wearing huge sombreros. Ask nicely and they'll let you wear one and take selfies.

Dimsum Basket Lamp
Salt Pepper Shakers
As the name suggests, Loco Chino serves Mexican and Chinese, two cuisines that are rarely paired together. Thankfully, there's no Mexican-Chinese fusion dishes here! The menu is pretty basic and focuses on a few dishes - Dimsums, curries, khaoswey in the Oriental section and Nachos, Tacos, Quesedillas, Fajitas and Burritos in the Mexican. We stuck to the Mexican fare that night, because Mexican dining options are limited in the city compared to Chinese. And I was really craving nachos!

The Veg Fiesta Nachos (Rs. 149/-) was a merry mix of store bought nacho chips topped with guacamole, salsa, pico de gallo, jalapenos, and generous helping of sour cream. What I enjoyed was that the nacho chips were evenly coated with the toppings, and at no point did we eat a dry chip. The server also brings you extra salsa and guacamole if you ask nicely. I judge Mexican restaurants by how well they make guacamole, and Loco Chino does a lovely, chunky spread. 

Veg Fiesta Nachos
We ordered the Chicken Quesedilla priced at Rs. 119/-, not expecting much. But we got four pieces of tortillas filled with a spicy chicken and cheese filling. Not as cheesy as the one you'd eat at Sancho's, but still really good. Absolute paisa vasool dish considering the price point. I'd order this one again!

Chicken Quesedilla
 Another favorite was the Chicken Burrito Bowl (Rs. 169/-) which is basically a burrito without the outer tortilla wrap. We got to trek upto the counter and assemble our bowl from scratch. We got spicy Mexican rice to go at the bottom, refried beans, chicken, sour cream, pico de gallo, cheese, guacamole, chipotle salsa, and some more cheese. The result was a fun mix of all your Mexican staples, in a convenient container to eat on the go. 

Burrito Bowl
Assembly Counter
As our luck had it, their air conditioning had stopped functioning that night. Add the salsa sweats to a non functioning A.C., we were thirsty out of our mind. Loco Chino does not serve water. No! It is the second restaurant I have come across on Carter Road recently that refused us when we asked for a glass of water. (The first being Big Burger.) We were forced to buy a 50 rupees, tiny bottle of Mulshi spring water which we finished in one gulp. No Bisleri or Aquafina even! That was our only complaint in an otherwise fun meal. 

Budget Bites: We paid 509 bucks between the two of us, which is totally value for money considering the quality and taste of the food. Loco Chino has decent Mexican fare, and it's a attempt to  bridge between fast food Mexican outlets and higher end restaurants. Also considering how starved we are for Mexican options, this place may work.

Both Bee and I were sure we would stop by again, to try out the dimsums and KhaoSwey next and complete the missing half of this post. Except that I'll carry my own bottle of water. 

Contact: Loco Chino, 389, A Wing, Gagangiri Premises Co-Operative Society, Carter Road, Bandra West, Mumbai.
Phone: 022 65006544

(The author dined anonymously and paid for her own meal.)

17 November 2014

All Aboard: The #CoastToCoast Festival at Trident, BKC

I revised a bit of school Geography before attempting this post. I learnt that India has one of the largest coastlines, spanning across nine different states and measuring 7,517 kilometers in length. Along with this vaste expanse of land comes diverse people, languages, and of course food! This is why we are able to enjoy a variety of fish, seafood, spices, coconut and lots more, that are typical of coastal cooking. Paying respect to our coastal heritage, The Trident at Bandra Kurla Complex is holding a #CoastToCoast food festival, highlighting coastal cuisine from the nine different states - spanning from Gujarat in the west, to Kerala in the south, to West Bengal in the east.

022,The Trident, BKC is their all day restaurant which serves up a pretty elaborate buffet counter. Named after Mumbai's telephone code, 022 is a large space done up in neutrals, but it transformed the night we visited. From garlands adorning the door at the entrance, to diya stands, to flower decorations, the coastal feel was very evident. The food counters also had traditional influences incorporated - from coconuts to a sail boat. My table also had coastal elements as a centerpiece - some spices, coconut, and banana chips! I love when restaurants take the special effort to match the decor with the food. It converts a meal into an overall 'dining experience'.

Our Table Centerpiece
Live Kabab Counter
Buffet Counter
I surveyed the food counters with Executive Chef Ashish Bhasin of Trident, BKC before I began the serious business of eating. A decent variety of starters, mains and desserts focusing on coastal cusine and new options everyday. I was pleasantly surprised to see a large variety of vegetarian options too, in addition to the meat and fish. Of course, seafood was the focus, and the emphasis on some states more than the others. Maharashtra, West Bengal, Kerala were the winners here! 

Indian food is not too focused on salads. Here they tried to come up with certain salads with Indian flavours such as Bhunne Butte Ka Kachumbar (Roast corn salad) and Kori Roast and Anar Salad (Roast Chicken and Pomegranate Salad with South Indian flavours). What I really enjoyed was the Malabar Fish Curry Salad - Chunks of fish cooked in curry masala and tossed with greens. Rounding up my first course were the lip smacking, chicken, prawn and lime pickles, all made in-house. 

Salads and Pickles
Salad Counter
 Being cooked on a live counter in front of me were Prawns Koliwada from Maharashtra. Our first round of prawns were spot on, but we received an undercooked prawn in the second helping. The stunner of the night was the fish cooked in a banana leaf, traditional Kerala Style. (The Malayalam name of which I found too tough to remember.) The fish was cooked to perfection, and coated in this masala that was tangy, spicy and had the lovely aroma of curry leaves. From Gujarat for the vegetarians there was farsan - dhokla, handvo - which I obviously skipped and opted for a repeat order of the fish.

Prawn Koliwada - Maharashtra
Kerala style fish wrapped in Banana leaf
Farsan - Gujarat
The spread across the main course was pretty extensive, so I'm only talking about the significant dishes I tried. First up, an Ambur Chicken Biryani, which comes from the town of Ambur in Tamil Nadu, and is supposed to be a traditional South Indian type biryani. This tasted good, but like any other biryani I've eaten before. Moong Khichadi was comforting, and came with oodles of ghee. I'm a huge Undhiyu fan, but this one was lacking the river of oil and sweetish tinge that comes in a good undhiyu. I've eaten tons of undhiyu in my life, so I'm picky and choosy about what I call a good undhiyu. I enjoyed the Athu Curry Dalcha which is a South Indian speciality that combines curry, dals and mutton. It reminded me slightly of a khichada that Muslims eat.

Ambur Chicken Biryani - Tamil Nadu
Moong Khichadi - Gujarat
Undhiyu - Gujarat
Athu Curry Dalcha - Andhra Pradesh
The Thoran is a mixed vegetable stew containing carrot, beans and tons of coconut that comes from Kerala. The other significant vegetarian dish was this thinly sliced and simply cooked potato sabzi, with tons of flavour called the Kachri Batata which was my favourite vegetarian dish of the night. The Maharashtrian Chicken Kolhapuri was a spicy chicken gravy but came with tons of oil. I realized one thing, that the fish dishes were the stars throughout the meal, and understandably so for a coastal food festival. I enjoyed the Narkul Chingri which even though lacked the empowering mustard flavour of Bengali food, was absolutely delicious. The green coloured Nilgiri Fish Korma, even though was a bit too strong on the colour but tasted everything like a good fish curry should.

Carrot and Beans Thoran - Kerala
Kachri Batata - Maharashtra
Chicken Kolhapuri - Maharashtra
Narkul Chingri - West Bengal
Nilgiri Fish Korma - Tamil Nadu
The Indian desserts were restricted to the safe bets - Modak, Roshogulla, Cham Cham, and Dudhi Ka Halwa which all tasted decent. I would've loved to see certain unusual desserts that we don't come across that often, on the menu. I could eat the above desserts at any place, anytime I want.

Roshogulla - West Bengal
Modak - Maharashtra
Cham Cham - West Bengal
Budget Bites: The buffet is priced at Rs. 1975/- plus taxes, and fares decently well in the Value For Money department among five star establishments. The variety of food is immense. Along with the #CoastToCoast festival dishes, there were an equal number of dishes of International cuisine, which may appeal to the foreign palate. The buffet is not something I'd splurge on an everyday basis, but is worth a visit for celebrations and occasions. The festival attempts to highlight food of the coastal states of India, and I feel they have succeeded to a great extent. 

Contact: 022, Trident Hotel, C 56, G Block, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East, Mumbai.
The #CoastToCoast festival is on till the 22nd of November.

(The author was invited to sample and review the #CoastToCoast festival.)

P.S.: Completely off topic but if you ever eat at the 022 buffet pray to God they have a dessert called 'Textures of Chocolate' on their menu. I sampled some that night, and it was absolute heaven. Dark chocolate ganache, mousse, brownie crumble, cake, biscuit and more all created a wonderful contrast of texture in each bite. Simply divine!
(Left to Right): Creme Brulee, Textures of Chocolate