16 April 2015

Deconstructing JW Sahar's Sunday Brunch - JW Cafe, Review

Ohh God, I love brunches. I love brunches as much as I love chocolate. And Sundays. And all-you-can-eat buffets. This particular brunch had all of these - a Sunday Easter buffet brunch. Good food, on a laid-back Sunday afternoon, with wonderful company and conversation brings me lots of joy. This post has all of those. Read on.

The occasion was Easter Sunday. The location was JW Cafe at the newly launched JW Sahar. This fine dining cafe cum restaurant is situated in the newly launched JW Sahar, on the international airport road, and I was there to try their Sunday brunch. Sprawling, green manicured lawns greet me, leading me up to the palatial hotel which was buzzing with people even before they had officially launched. 

I had read and heard so much about the magnanimity of the brunch spread at JW Cafe from fellow bloggers and the internet, that I had come all prepared. Skipped breakfast, wore Joey's 'thanksgiving pants', and I had my game face on. But no amount of pre-reading or starving could have prepared me for the variety of food I was about to witness. This one's the big daddy of all Sunday brunches. Counters of food, fitted into any space available at the restaurant, what I found noteworthy was the presence of different cuisines, along with different chefs specializing in those cuisines, manning the counter.

At one point I lost count of the number of food counters, and so will you. This post is my shortlisted recommendations of all the live counters I think are absolutely worth your appetite and your money at the Sunday brunch at JW Cafe. After all, there's only so much that stomach space that one has. There are some things money can't buy....

Cheese? Yes, please!
Pro-tip: The best place to get your money's worth at any brunch buffet, is at the cheese counters. Because sitting here are some of the best and most exotic cheeses that you can find. The JW Cafe cheese and cold cuts counter sits temptingly next to the ignored salad bar, and is a good place to start your meal. Cut yourself some gouda, or brie, or pecorino, or all three, if you are like me. Pair them with some freshly baked bread, and delicious could cuts on the side, and you've mastered Level One of the brunch.

13 April 2015

Flipping Over Flipkart's Home Store Section - The Makeover Edition

We all have that one corner in our house that we just don't know what to do about. A space that is either blank, or too cluttered and just does not fit in with the entire scheme of things. I've been experiencing the same with this one corner in my living room. A blank area that is not that small to ignore. And not that big to fit anything productive in. So basically this space was like a gaping hole, just lying there, staring at me every time I spent time in the living room. 

And then we all have those relatives who need an excuse to critique, pick, and grumble about the smallest things. The aforementioned relatives were planning to stay over for a couple of days at my place, and I was going all paranoid over what I would feed them, how I would entertain them, and most importantly how the house would look. (I sincerely hope the aforementioned relatives do not read this post). Out of sheer frustration and desperation, I decided to give the living room a make over of sorts, so that it would at least look presentable to the guests I was expecting over.

My dull and drab corner in my dull and drab
living room

I was looking at overcoming three major hurdles here. 
1. Limited Budget: This was not only 'month end', but also 'financial year' end. I was looking at doing up the living room space on a shoestring budget.
2. Limited Time: With a full time job, working six days a week, nine hours a day, I had no time on hand to go shop for home decor. I also needed to re-decorate in a limited time, since the guests were expected home in a few days.
3. Limited Creative Skills: With my knowledge of decor or interiors limited to that of a third grade child who flunked in art class....I was doomed. This was going to be the trickiest hurdle to over come.

10 April 2015

Branded Bawi Reviews: Oakroom, Juhu

A friend and I were driving around in Juhu recently, looking for a place to stretch our legs, sip a beer, and eat a leisurely meal. Not wanting to repeat any of the places either of us had dined at before, we had run out of all options. Until we passed Hotel Oakwood Premier situated in a leafy Juhu bylane, and a quick run through the good reviews on their Zomato page ushered us inside. 
The Oakroom is the Hotel Oakwood Premier's restaurant cum bar that is open all night long. Walk through the hotel's marble patio into the restaurant that is open to all. The entire space was beautifully done up - the inside section screaming elegant vintage with plush armchairs, opulent lights, elaborate sofas, and an illuminated wine rack. 

But we made our way to the outside patio like space, that was slightly more modern in decor, with a huge bar in place. But the best part was the entire area was glass paneled and air conditioned, making it perfect for the hot summers, and lunch dates. The server insisted we sit outside, since it was 'Monday Retro Movie Night' that a large screen on one side of the al fresco space was screening. We sifted our way through their menu, with 'Pretty Woman' Julia Roberts and Richard Gere for company.

The menu is pretty basic and limited to salads, mains, a sandwich-burger section, and dessert. And then there's an Indian section too, but we steered clear of that. We sipped on our beers and an orange-grenadine mocktail, waiting for the food to arrive, and ogling at Richard Gere on screen.

7 April 2015

A MasterChef Worthy Meal with a MasterChef Himself - Dining with Brent Owens

I love it when an under dog wins. And Brent Owens's journey on MasterChef Australia was just that. A dark horse if you may, running stealthily and silently towards the finish line without anyone noticing. A dark knight if you may, performing his tasks and challenges quietly and perfectly to the best of his abilities. While everyone cheered for Sarah because of her Indian roots, or Laura because we were all amazed at this young girl's ability to perform magic with Italian cuisine, or 'panna cotta' lady Emilia and her no-nonsense demeanour, a man in the foreground began to steal my heart.

I first noticed Brent Owens for the same reason every woman noticed Brent Owens...he was so darn cute! And every time I saw that half ponytail on his head while he cooked my heart skipped a beat. A bobcat driver, who gave up his job after being forced to audition for the sixth season of the world's most popular cooking show courtesy his girlfriend of many years; his was the turn-around, success story that was guaranteed to grab eyeballs and warm hearts. On his recent visit to Mumbai, to promote the upcoming seventh season of MasterChef Australia premiering in May, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet him thanks to The Grand Hyatt and Food Bloggers Association of India (FBAI). 

Greeting us wearing folded khakhis, rolled up shirt sleeves, and a mysterious glint in his eyes, Brent is effortlessly good looking. But when you get talking with him do you actually realize what a warm, friendly person is. Easy to talk to, patient enough to answer all of our randomest questions, and generous enough to oblige all the ogling women at the table with a peck on the cheek, I was floored. And then I tasted the meal he had especially curated for us at Celini, and I was floored so bad that I never wanted to get up.

His First Impression of India: This is Brent's maiden visit to the country, and he was taken back by the sheer amount of people on the streets. He was also amazed at how popular the MasterChef show is here.
His Take on Indian Food: 'Spicy' is the word he uses to describe Indian cuisine. During his entire stay in the city, he's been brave enough to try local street food. Pav Bhaji from Juhu beach, Vada pav off the street, and tons of chaat, his favourites being Dahi Batata Puri and Falooda - 'the drink with noodles in it'. On asking how his stomach is holding up, he gives us a grin and a thumbs up sign.
On What The Future Holds: Apart from his cook book deal, he plans on visiting newer countries and taking the MasterChef brand along with him. Though the ultimate plan is a restaurant of his own, which I hope to visit someday.

The Many Moods of Brent Owens
His specially curated four course meal that evening was absolutely MasterChef worthy. The technique, presentation and produce used in each dish was exquisite, something that would make even George, Gary and Matt nod in appreciation.

Course 1- Appetizer: Lobster and asparagus garden with parsley pesto potato
Put pesto on anything, and I'll like it. This salad was a surprising medley of a bunch of micro greens, a juicy piece of lobster, asparagus stalks and a potato chunk seasoned in the most beautiful pesto. Individually distinct elements, but so beautifully cohesive, a true mark of a good salad.

Course 2- Soup: Cold sour topinambur, leek cream with smoked salmon and caviar
I'm weary of cold soups, but I am a proud convert after tasting this one. Artichokes blended into a broth so fine, topped with a flavorful leek cream, this was a soup made with the finest of ingredients. The addition of smoked salmon and a topping of huge pearls of caviar, provided not only texture but also a taste of seafood that lingers on in your palate long after.

Course 3- Main Course: Bread crust lamb rack with ginger balsamic reduction and berries relish
Two medium rare racks of lamb look at me lovingly, swimming in a swamp of a relish made of berries, that perfectly accompanies and provides a tart taste to offset the ginger reduction. I look back  at the lamb lovingly, thanking him for his sacrifice, and shed a silent tear at how pleased my stomach was going to be. #FoodPorn

Course 3- Main Course Vegetarian: Beetroot and port wine risotto with crispy parmesan flake
A bright, pink risotto that looked like it belonged in Barbie world, but tasted like it belonged in a Michelin star restaurant. Creamy, al dente risotto rice, coated in a beetroot and port wine cream that had an overpowering taste of neither. And that crisy parmesan flake on top was so delicious, it left us fighting over who would get that last bit. A vegetarian dish that stands out, and how!

Course 4- Dessert: Trilogy of Dessert
You know what I like more than dessert? Three desserts - A melange of a moist chocolate cake, milk chocolate mousse with oats crumble, and an olive oil ice cream. The chocolate cake could have been a tad bit more moist, but when it was paired with that stunner of an ice cream, everything was forgiven. The olive oil ice cream is Head Chef of Celini, Alessandro Persico's trademark dessert. An ice cream that came with a drizzle of olive oil on top, and a faint flavor of olives in it, it was savory yet sweet at the same time. Superb stuff, this!

Very rarely does a good meal play second fiddle to a chef, but on that night it did. Brent effortlessly floored us all, and I'm yet to meet a man of his caliber who is so down to earth, without a single starry air in him. We left Brent in the safe hands of two giggling, star struck ladies dining at the opposite table, who insisted on clicking a dozen selfies with him. And Brent being the gentleman he is, obliged. 

Meeting him made me realize he's a lot more than just a good cook which is evident on the show. He is a lovely person. I sincerely hope I cross paths with him soon someday. Maybe, at his restaurant in Australia. Or take him on a street food walk when he plans to visit the country next, which is soon. Brent Owens, you deserved that title. You truly did!

(The author dined at Celini, The Grand Hyatt on invitation, after winning a Twitter contest. Can you believe her luck?)

2 April 2015

The Tiny Taster's Fantasie Party. And a Wave of Childhood Memories

I am a 90's child. I grew up in an era where life was simpler, less commercialized, and cell phones were kept away at dinner tables. Where Happy Cow cheese was our idea of international Swiss cheese, and where you had to request your neighbor aunty to buy you Toblerone when she returned from the 'Gulf'. And chocolates in the country were limited to Dairy Milk and the likes. And then there was Fantasie - exquisite, gourmet, specially crafted chocolates - that seemed like such a prized catch back then. And in some ways it still is.

My introduction to Fantasie chocolates happened via an old family friend of ours. This lovely lady, a classmate of my grandmother, would come to visit us every six months. And everytime she visited, without fail, she would bring along a huge box of assorted Fantasie chocolates for the family. My grandmother knew I loved the chocolates so much that no one else was allowed to eat them. It was my first introduction to the world of gourmet chocolates, the first time I may have tried caramel, or praline, or mint in a chocolate. I  would guard the box with all my life, and sustain every bit of self control to eat only one piece from the box everyday after dinner. Aah, memories! 

The lovely Tiny Taster, one of my favorite bloggers of all times, invited me for a Fantasie Party recently at their Marine Lines store. We brought in the Easter weekend, devouring chocolates of every kind. It was such a pleasure to meet the warm and ever-smiling Zeba Kohli, owner of Fantasie chocolates and host for the evening. She's like our very own Willy Wonka, but definitely prettier. The air was permeating with the fragrance of chocolate, pretty pink and florals in sight, the sound of giggling cacophonous women....and chocolate!

A chocolate buffet if you can imagine. There was chocolate of every kind- milk, white, dark, bitter. Chocolate of every shape - round, flat, squares, liquid, slabs and more.Chocolate of every flavour - caramel, mint, coffee and more. Chocolate covered everything - almonds, cashews, coffee, granola and more. Molten strawberry chocolate fountains, hot chocolate to sip on....do you still want me to go on? Really, such a chocolate high!

What I really loved seeing was the chocolate art on display. A chess board made of chocolate. Chocolate handbags and shoes for the fashion conscious. And a chocolate Braille bar which I thought was just such a wonderful concept. They also do healthier chocolate options like granola, and chocolate for diabetics. And with Easter around the corner, can I miss out on Easter eggs and bunnies?

There really is a chocolate option for everyone! And if you're a chocoholic like I am, you'd love them all. Forget love, I'd rather fall in chocolate. And the Fantasie store is a love nest indeed. I left with memories. Memories of my childhood, and that Fantasie chocolate box I would await so eagerly. Aunty is no more, granny has moved onto another city but my love for chocolate remains. No matter how many newer, international brands hit the city, nostalgia and memories win hands down. Aunty R, thank you for making me a chocoholic.

Check out Fantasie Fine Chocolates on their web page here
They have five stores in the city - Marine Lines, Warden Road, Bandra, Worli, and Andheri.

(Thanks to the lovely Benaaz Pherozshaw, @benaazp and my mom @anahitairani1 for letting me use some of their pictures).