29 January 2015

Punjab-Di-Shaan Comes to Mumbai

Very rarely when we go out for a fine-dine, gourmet meal in the city do we eat Indian food. It's usually the Oriental, Italian, Continental route that we pick instead of desi fare. There are a few establishments in the city that offer gourmet Indian fare may it be North Indian or South Indian food. Soma at the Grand Hyatt, Santacruz is one such restaurant that I've been wanting to visit since a while. 

Having eaten at all of the Hyatt's restaurants, each of which offer top notch food, Soma was yet to be struck off my list. I recently got the opportunity to dine at this restaurant that offers authentic Indian and North West Frontier province cuisine, as a part of their Punjab-Di-Shaan food festival. On from January 25th to February 15th, they're serving up some delicious, authentic Punjabi street food and ghar ka khaana. Makkhan maar ke!

Soma is done up in the most subtle neutrals along with contemporary art murals that highlight the walls here. Very classy and simple unlike Indian restaurants. Also they have an open show-kitchen so that you can see your kebabs and have them too!

As a part of this Punjabi food promotion they're offering a set menu for Rs. 2015 plus tax which gets you unlimited appetizers, soup, main course, Indian breads, dessert along with unlimited Black Label, domestic beers and wine. Worth it, if you're looking to celebrate on a special occasion. We decided to opt for a la carte and eat our way through the menu, only for you. Here are the top five things I liked about my Punjab-Di-Shaan experience:

1. Lassi Jaisi Koi Nahi
A specially crafted Lassi menu (each priced at Rs. 325/-) that includes basics such as Rose lassi and Kesar lassi to the unusual Plum-Walnut lassi and Papaya-Vanilla lassi. If you're in the mood for theatrics, ask them to bring out the lassi cart for you where the server creates a customized lassi concoction just for you. Imagine a lassi bar on wheels! After all no Punjabi meal is complete without lassi.

DIY Lassi 
Rose Lassi
2. Attention to details, Hanji!
The small things that matter to making a meal memorable were all taken care of. Servers that knew their stuff, perfect ambiance complete with candles and flower petals. And I enjoyed the complimentary papad and chutney platter that kept us busy till the food arrived. Not to forget the paan at the end.

3. Karaare Kababs
North Indian fare is incomplete without the meaty kebabs and spicy chaat, both of which I enjoyed eating here. Special mention to the Bhatti da Murg (Rs. 645/-) which was the most succulent char grilled chicken, and the fiery Tandoori prawns (Rs. 865/-). The vegetarian kababs were average out of which the Bhutte De Kabab (Rs. 625/-) which were skewered corn-potato kebabs, was the pick of the lot. And if you're willing to spend Rs. 550/- on a Dahi Bhalla, I promise you this will be the yummiest albeit most expensive dahi bhalla you would have ever eaten.

Veg Kebab Platter (Top to Bottom): Bhutte De Kabab,
Subz Paneer Tikka, Tandoori Kulhe
Non Veg Kebab Platter (Clockwise): Bhatti da Murg,
Amritsari Machhi, Tandoori Achari Jinga, Seekh Kabab
Dahi Bhalla
4. Maa Ke Haath ka Khana. Aur Dhaabe ka Khana
The mains we ate that night were hearty, robust flavors and typical Punjabi fare that we've all grown to love. Special mention to the Sarson da Saag (Rs. 725/-) which I've always found a bit overrated until now. I loved the creamy sarson which wasn't the least bit bitter, and when paired with the Makkai di roti toppped with white butter, it emerged a winner. The Murg Makhani (Rs. 815/-) and the Punjabi Kadhi Pakode (Rs. 675/-) were both typically Punjabi tasting dishes, but really delicious. The Pyaaz Kesar da Pulao (Rs. 525/-) was a simple onion flavored rice that looked bland but was delicious enough to be eaten on its own. I had high hopes from the  Dhabe di Dal (Rs. 435/-) but it ended up lacking the oodles of ghee that it should've had.

Punjab Highway on My Plate
5. Meetha Sheetha, Hayo Rabba!
If you aren't bursting by the seams yet, because Punjabi food can be really heavy, make way for dessert. Because no Indian meal can be complete without mithai or barfi or halwa or kheer of some sort. I enjoyed the good ol' Gajar da Halwa (Rs. 475/-) and the Khajur de Kheer (Rs. 475/-). The latter may be too sweet for someone who is not a desert person. But my favorite was the melt in the mouth Amritsar di Barfi (Rs. 475/-) that came with creamy rabdi. Top notch!

(Clockwise): Gajar da Halwa, Amritsar di Barfi,
Khajur di Kheer
Contact: Soma,  Grand Hyatt, Off Western Express Highway, Santacruz East, Mumbai.

(The author dined at the Punjab-Di-Shaan festival on invitation, which is on from the 25th January to the 15th of February).

25 January 2015

The Food Week That Was

If you've been following me on social media you would have noticed me making a huge spectacle of my birthday week. I love birthdays, more so my birthdays. A week long celebration that includes family, friends, fun, shopping and of course food! Out of all the places I ate out at, here are three I visited for the first time and thought were noteworthy enough to share with you'll. These three places have been on my 'Must-Eat-At' list since a while, and I was glad I got to strike them out. In no specific order, here they are! 

I. Bombay Salad Co.
I've been dying to visit this place ever since it's launch because I've eaten Chef Karishma Dalal's food before and I know she's a maverick when it comes to making healthy food taste good. I'm the last to order salad at a restaurant, let alone celebrate my birthday lunch at a place that serves only salads, multigrain sandwiches, wraps, smoothies, and juices. But here I was, after having heard some wonderful reviews.

The 'Wow' Factors: The salad menu is exhaustive with tons of options for vegetarians as well. The items go beyond the basic Ceasar salad et al., and include a number of quirky ingredients you wouldn't imagine in a salad along with your healthy basics. There's also a salad bar, to mix and match your ingredients, if customization is your thing. Moderately priced, the salads come in a large or a small bowl, and the server gives you the option of eating it cold or warm.

The Samurai (Rs. 215/- for a small bowl) comes with lettuce, a bed of soba noodles flavored with teriyaki and a soy dressing along with mushrooms, brocolli, peanuts- and was my favorite of the lot. The Protein Overdose (Rs. 215/- for a small bowl) comes with egg white, shredded beef and assorted greens which makes it a must order if you're a meat lover. Our juices came freshly squeezed and barring any sugar. Our Goan Pork Sausage sandwich (Rs. 295/-) may not be a healthy pick, but upped the ante on the taste front. Ask for their Dark Chocolate sorbet which isn't on the menu, you'll be shocked anything healthy can taste that good!

Goan Pork Sausage Sandwich
Pomegranate Orange Mint Juice
Grilled Mushroom and Fava Beans
The Samurai 
Protein Overdose
Dark Chocolate Sorbet with Strawberries
The 'Ow' Factors: It's slim pickings here with nothing to criticize about. The space could have been a tad bit cleaner in my opinion. Also my Coconut - Cashew Milk - Cacao Dates smoothie (Rs. 255/-) tasted delicious but needed to be toned down on the sweetness front. 

Coconut- Cashew Milk - Cacao Dates smoothie
Would I return to the Bombay Salad Co.? Hands down, yes! Where else will I get wholesome, healthy, delicious salads at this price?
Contact: 2, Ground Floor, Rita Apartments, Opposite Syndicate Bank, 16th Road, Off Linking Road, Bandra West, Mumbai.

II. Burger King
I sniggered and laughed at all those who stood in a line on the inaugural day of Burger King in the city. I rolled my eyes at those who pre-booked their whoppers online so that they could eat them first. I know good things come to those who wait, and I patiently waited for a trip to a suburban mall so that I could finally try Burger King in India. 

The 'Wow' Factors: This is fast food at it's best. Burger King's good ol' classics along with new introductions on the menu that cater to the Indian consumer. Out of these I loved the Chicken Tandoori Grill burger with the chicken perfectly spiced and char grilled. My next favorite was their thick Chocolate Shake, which fares even better than their rival McDonalds. Their Chicken Chilli Cheezos - chicken nuggets with cheese in the center- also make for a delicious snack.

Chicken Tandoori Grilled Chicken Burger
Chocolate Thick Shake and Icebolt Blue
Chicken Chilli Cheezos
The 'Ow' Factors: The Mutton Whopper. There, I said it. I found the whopper to be dry, and the patty far too small for the bread bun it was seated in. The meat was well cooked however, so they get points for that. But nothing like the original beef whopper that BK is so famous for.

Mutton Whopper
Would I return to Burger King? Maybe. If all the shopping in the suburban mall tires me out, and I'm looking for a cheap and cheerful place to grab a bite.

III. Jumjoji
If I had a dollar for everytime someone asked me where to get Parsi food in Bombay, I'd own a private island by now. Most Parsi restaurants are saturated on the other side of the sea link, with very few options in the suburbs. Jumjoji is a fine dine restaurant serving Parsi cuisine which I've heard mixed reviews about and been wanting to try.

The 'Wow Factors: The restaurant is simply done, classy and has a limited menu sticking to the Parsi staples. The dishes come with the cutest names which are really fun to read. Do try their Prawn Berry Pulao which is on their specials menu. The tanginess of the berry gets perfectly offset with the spice in the rice, and this comes with plump prawns, but not as good as Cafe Britannia. I also enjoyed the Patra ni Machi (Rs. 485/-) that had perfectly steamed pomfret topped with the green Parsi chutney that I love! Freni Aunty's Mutton Dhansak (Rs. 485/-) was a decent attempt at dhansak which may appeal to a novice Parsi food eater. 

Patra Ni Machi
Prawns Berry Pulao
Freni Aunty's Mutton Dhansak
The 'Ow' Factors: Shireen Zagros's Mutton Kebabs (Rs. 285/-) was far too satly and not worth the price we paid. Ms. Zagros needs to learn how to make kebabs from my granny. The Akuri (Rs.115/-) was average and lacking spice. The Chicken Salli (Rs. 345/-) could have toned down the spice on the other hand. The Lagan nu Custard was lacking the burnt, caramel top that we associate with a wedding custard.

Salli Chicken
Lagan nu Custard
Shireen Zagros's Mutton Kebabs
Would I return to Jumjoji? No. Not at that price. I'd spend that money to take a cab to Fort and eat at one of the age old, Parsi establishments there. 
Contact: 4, Ankleshwar Building, ONGC Colony, Near Lilavati Hospital, Reclamation, Bandra West.

(The author dined at all restaurants anonymously and paid for her own meals.)

22 January 2015

Product Review: iChef.in Gourmet Recipe Kits

Q. Your preferred excuse for not experimenting in the kitchen and cooking as much as you'd want to?
a. No time and energy to enter the kitchen and whip up something new after a hard day at work
b. Don't know the recipes and technical skills behind cooking all the cool dishes
c. Don't know what ingredients to buy and where to buy them from
d. All of the above

If you too fall in the final category, like I do, there's good news for us lazy slobs who want to experiment with cooking but don't know how to - iChef.in The website offers gourmet meal recipes and ingredients, hand delivered to your doorstep. Each kit comes with exact, measured ingredients, and a pictorial recipe all at 250 bucks for a meal for two.

What prompted me to order was the variety of dishes they had on offer - all International cuisine, with a decent mix of vegetarian and meat options. These were the dishes I could not easily whip up at home because my cooking skills were limited to the staples rice-dal-roti-sabzi. I ordered a basic Thai Green Chicken curry rice meal to start off with.

Here is what I liked about my experience:
Same day delivery: I ordered my kit through via phone on my way to work in the morning, and it was home by the time I got back from work, ready to be cooked.

Cash On Delivery: They only have COD option which I'm more than happy about. Though that may be a hassle for some others who prefer using plastic money.

Packaging: The ingredients came in this adorable cloth bag (which my mother was most excited about). Each ingredient was labelled and packaged in separate plastic. No spillage, or leakage either.

Ingredients: Exactly measured ingredients, as per the recipe required made it really easy and convenient to cook with. Also the quality of everything right from the basil to the chicken was top notch.

Easy to follow recipe: The recipe came printed on a card with pictorial representation to help understand better. Also clearly and concisely written recipes that makes it easy for even a novice cook to follow.

Value For Money: At Rs. 250/- for a recipe kit that would suffice two, it was absolutely worth it. It's not only the cost of ingredients but also travel fare to the market, and the time you'd end up spending that I'm taking into account here.

Here is a step-by-step account that went into the making of the Thai Curry. The curry turned out really good, and it took me 30 minutes from scratch to get it done.
Step I - Basic prep work that included washing and cutting the vegetables that would go into the curry.

Step II-  Cooking the rice in a cooker, and setting it aside to cool.

Step III- Cooking the chicken and vegetables with the curry paste provided to impart flavor.

Step IV- Adding coconut milk and the rest of the curry paste, along with basil and kaffir lime leaves to the chicken and veggies and allowing to cook.

Step V- Plating and Eating! (My favorite step)

The only teeny tiny complaint I had about my entire experience was when I first tried ordering from them about three weeks ago, the kit I had ordered was out of stock. But I got an immediate text message apologizing and clarifying the same. I'd also love to see them expand their menu a bit more, Maybe introduce desserts and Indian dishes also?

I think this concept will definitely work in an urban set up like Mumbai where we have no time or energy to go shop for ingredients after a day at work. Also as our global food knowledge has expanded leaps and bounds (Thank you, Masterchef) the average cook wants to experiment with International cuisines in the kitchen. iChef definitely helps achieve on both these fronts. I know for a fact I'll be ordering from them again. Let me know if you do!

Contact: www.ichef.in

(The author ordered from the website anonymously and paid for her own meal.)

15 January 2015

The Millky Way

This is my first blog post of 2015. I know, it's been a while. I decided to take a mini sabbatical from eating out, was trying to be healthy and all that. Plus work and wedding season has taken up all my time. But, nothing, and I mean nothing, can keep me away from food for very long. And when I saw that no amount of cutting calories, and yoga class was helping me drop the pounds, I decided to follow the path to food once again. Of course, supplementing it with exercise. Bring on the carbs, I say!

Kamala Mills in Lower Parel has recently become home to Millk - a kiddie recreation center, spa, and cafe - and this was where I headed on behalf of Mumbai Food Lovers for a fun evening. Snuggled next to a bunch of watering holes and youth centric places - namely Please Don't Tell, Tilt, and Smaash, - Millk attempts to walk down a different path. No alcohol, no loud music, a massive play zone for kids, and a spa! And of course, there's food too. 

I trudge over to Millk not knowing what to expect from the place. The bright silver entrance gives off a night club like feel, especially after sunset. The entire space is clearly demarcated into three zones - the cafe, the kiddie recreation area + kiddie cafe, and a spa. This helps if you're like me, single with no child in sight, and yet want to enjoy a leisurely meal or spa session. The entire space gives off a colourful retro vibe with metallic techno elements thrown in for good measure. Also since the place is called Millk, be prepared for the cat figurines that blend into the decor. Meow!

The spa is monochromatic, noir, and has some kitsch elements that I loved. They do everything from mani - pedis, to haircuts, to elaborate rope massages.(I should go back and do a spa review someday.)

Hairdryer Chandelier
Rope Massage Room

The Salon
The kid's section is exactly the opposite - bright, colorful and fun! There's a huge play section, and a cafe for the kids that has a DIY counter for the kids to experiment with fun cooking.

Kiddie Cafe
We settled down at cafe and munched on the complimentary lavash and delicious mango salsa they put out in front of us, while we waited for our order to arrive. First up, the veg Tempura Melt (Rs. 295/-) - tempura fried veggie sticks that were a tad bit too oily for me, but the BBQ sauce accompanying it added heaps of flavour. The Spicy Rock Shrimps (Rs. 325/-) were chunky harrisa marinated prawns on a delicious five grain tostada. I actually preferred the tostada to the prawn, which is really unusual for someone like me.

Tempura Melt
Spicy Rock Shrimps on Five Grain Tostada
My 'Opposites Attract Milkshake' (Rs. 225/-) was a perfectly blended amalgamation of two of my favorite fruits - strawberry and banana - with neither overpowering. The Basically Basil (Rs. 175/-) was a tangy drink made of muddled basil leaves and orange, and is something I'd recommend hands down. Chilled, citrus and refreshing!

Basically Basil and Opposites Attract Shake
Our Pesto Marinated Vegetables Home Style Sandwich (Rs. 295/-) was a medley of assorted veggies smothered in a green, pesto  looking sauce; but tasted nothing like pesto. Slightly disappointed, considering how perfectly grilled and buttered the bread of the sandwich was. But immediately next up, the hero of the night entered - A Pounded Lamb Mince Burger (Rs. 390/-). The slightly dry and crumbly bread was redeemed by the moist and flavorful lamb mince that was neatly packed inside and not too messy. This comes with heaps of molten cheese, caramelized onions, and an egg on top, to make it worth every calorie.

Pounded Lamb Mince Burger
Pesto Marinated Vegetable Sandwich
The Pumpkin Parade (Rs. 410/-) was a mushy butternut pumpkin and chevre risotto, which my vegetarian friend did not care much for. The Spaghetti Solution (Rs. 375/-) was a perfectly cooked Aglio Olio, with luscious, al-dente spaghetti strands cooked in olive oil with garlic and chilli to season. It's amazing how many places go wrong with a simple aglio olio spaghetti, but this one we  completely approved of.

The Punpkin Parade
The Spaghetti Solution
The might of the meat was proved yet again, with the chicken risotto standing out as the clear winner. The 'Who Came First - The Chicken or The Mushroom?' risotto (Are you loving these whacky names, or not?) was a roast chicken and wild mushroom risotto. The risotto rice was perfectly cooked, flavoured in a creamy white wine sauce and topped with scamorza making it a really delicious dish. The menu mentions the dish as having corn, but we didn't get any on our plate. No complaints though, keeping it simple only elevated the flavors. 

Chicken and Wild Mushroom Risotto
The dessert menu features the staples - cheesecake, ice creams, and tarts. Our Blueberry Cheesecake (Rs. 295/-) tasted average and like a run-of-the-mill cheesecake you'd find anywhere. We particularly enjoyed the Hot Chocolate fondue (Rs. 510/-) with marshmallows, cake bits, brownie and fruit that made for a fun dish that our table could share.

Hot Chocolate Fondue
Blueberry Cheesecake
Millk works as a concept, and caters to parents who want a leisurely time at a spa or at a cafe, but don't know where to drop their kids off. Millk to the rescue! Dump them (pardon my language) at the kiddie play zone where they get supervised attention, and then set off for some much needed pampering at the spa or a bite at the cafe.  I just pray that they don't go down a 'Jack of all trades, master of none' route.

I'm hoping this concept sets off a similar trend where we get to see more restaurants that cater to the parent as well as the child in terms of child menus, and special dining sections for kids in a restaurant. Win- win situation!

Contact: Millk, Kamala Mills, next to Please Don’t Tell, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel.
Phone: 022 24954456

(The author represented MumbaiFoodLovers for the review, and dined there on invitation.)