August Moon Festival, China Inc – Taj Santacruz Mumbai

 

Having celebrated Joash’s birthday a week ago, dining at China Inc at Taj Santacruz was a perfect way to end what was already an awesome week. We were so happy to be back, this time, to kickstart the mid-autumn festivities. Interestingly, the August Moon Festival is the second most celebrated festival in China after the Chinese New Year. Taj Santacruz Mumbai have once again come up with a promotion that celebrates just that.

The menu for this festival is specially designed to showcase the seasonal ingredients with a few favourites that everyone absolutely loves at China Inc.

We started off with an amuse bouche, which gave us a preview of how the rest of our meal was going to pan out. Here’s what we had and we highly recommend you to try these too.

Vegetable and Cheese Dumpling

Spinach and Crab Crystal Dumpling

Crispy Pumpkin Roll

Who doesn’t love a box of steaming hot dimsum? This menu has a clever mix of dim sum, with steamed dumplings, deep fried rolls and pan fried options. It would be difficult to pick out a favourite as they were all equally outstanding. At China Inc, we definitely saw more refinement in the way dumplings were made than before and boy they were sumptuous! The Crispy Pumpkin Roll and the Spinach and Crab Crystal dumplings are an absolute must have!

Crispy Supreme with Lemon Sauce

Lotus Root stuffed with Glutinous Rice

Silken Tofu with Tangy Peanut Sesame Dressing

Mountain Chilli Chicken

Mushroom in Black Pepper Sauce

Turnip Cakes

Winter Melon and Morel Broth

Peking Chicken Soup

Crispy Prawns with Oats and Curry Leaves

For appetizers, the Crispy Crumb Supreme served with Lemon Sauce had us weak at the knees; and the Lotus Root stuffed with Glutinous Rice left us wanting more. Both these dishes definitely stood out from all of the appetizers we tried. If you fancy soups, the light Winter Melon and Morel Broth is a clear winner. We just couldn’t stop ourselves from smiling when our favourite Prawns with Oats and Curry Leaves was served, some temptations are just hard to resist! If you haven’t tried this dish at China Inc, then we just gave you another reason to visit this beautiful restaurant.

Sautéed Crab with Snow White Bean Threads

Stir Fried Udon Noodles in Burnt Chilli, Black Bean and Vegetables

Wok Tossed Sticky Rice, Marbled Egg served in Lotus Leaf

Seasonal Vegetables in Lemon Chilli Sauce

The mains were simple yet so brilliantly put together. What we love about China Inc is how they treat each ingredient and showcase it’s honest flavours without being heavy on spices or sauces. The Wok-tossed Sticky Rice with marbled Eggs served in Lotus leaf is perfumed with a hint of truffle and simply elevates eating each spoonful a pure delight. The Sticky Rice went really well with the Chilli Hoisin Chicken and the seasonal vegetables in Lemon Chilli Sauce. Another favourite of ours for the evening was the Sautéed Crab Meat with Snow White Mung Bean Threads. Sublime!

We paired our meal with a bottle of ‘Nik Weis St Urbana-Hof’ Riesling.

King Longans

Mooncake

Sago Pudding

What’s an August Moon Festival without Mooncakes?! We enjoyed Moon Cake, which was a part of the dessert trio. It was simply scrumptious; crumbly on the outside, and dense with red bean goodness on the inside. (We’ve got a soft spot for moon cakes 😀 ) The red bean filling makes it perfect for those who enjoy their dessert with just a hint of sweetness. The King Longans were nice and the delicate flavours of the Coconut Sago Pudding was just the perfect way to end our meal.

This special menu is a perfect blend of the flavours of authentic Chinese cuisine during the harvest season. Chef Vikram Milhoutra’s team have yet again done an amazing job in executing these dishes. Every dish not only looked picture perfect but tasted absolutely delicious; Rarely do we have a meal where we’ve been impressed with every single dish that we’ve eaten. QWe highly recommend you to try the August Moon Festival at China Inc, Taj Santacruz. It lasts till the 9th of October, 2017.

Golden Dragon, Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai and Ming Yang, Taj Lands End Mumbai are also celebrating this festival with a special menu.

By The Mekong, St. Regis Mumbai

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Firstly, we’d like to start with congratulating Chef Shi Xilin and his team at By The Mekong for winning the Times Food & Wine award for the Best Thai Fine Dine Restaurant.

In the first week of February, we were at By The Mekong to try the special menu that was curated by Chef Shi Xilin– Chef de cuisine; showcasing the choicest recipes from his family that celebrated Chicken in the best way possible. It was fun chatting with Chef Xilin about his experience with The Taj hotels and how his cuisine combines traditional and regional flavours served to suit the Indian palate. He’s had an amazing culinary journey over twenty years yet has the most humble demeanour. He also absolutely enjoys talking about his passion for food.
We also tried a bunch of dishes from the main menu and a few personal favourites that Chef Xilin recommended. Here are a few snippets of our meal.

We were the first to try out the new menu at By The Mekong. Simply put, it is outstanding and our taste buds were left tantalized. What a transformation!

The new menu has been revamped and the new format is a welcome change. Earlier the menu was divided into three parts – Chinese | Thai | Vietnamese, but now it’s all combined and it reflects the best of the three cuisines. It is designed to keep things simple, yet give guests a unique culinary experience of authentic flavours presented in a fresh, modern and contemporary way. We were pleasantly surprised and had no idea how much we’d end up enjoying our meal. 🙂

Chef Himanshu Taneja, the newly appointed Culinary Director was there to ensure we had a great time. Spearheaded by Chef Xilin, the team really surprised us with the food that was served. There was a stark contrast in the look; the appeal and the combination of flavours, and we were really impressed.

We started off with dumplings. We had the Chilean Sea Bass dumpling with Polenta, Prawn with Ossetra Caviar and Spic Sichuan Chicken with Green Onion Oil. The Chilean Seabass dumpling was delicious. We expected it to be a lil fatty and wondered how it would taste in the dumping as the fat could be a little overwhelming. But it was perfectly made and was not at all fatty.  The dumpling wrapper was topped with Polenta, which gave it a nice textural mouthfeel.

We also really enjoyed the Prawn dumpling topped with Ossetra Caviar and the Spicy Sichuan Chicken dumpling, also topped with Ossetra Caviar. The Ossetra Caviar, made it extra special. One thing is for certain, caviar paired with a dumpling, absolutely works. 🙂 We loved the bright red color of the chicken dumplings. What would really visually elevate the experience of eating these two dumplings is if the server garnished the dumpling with the caviar using a mother of pearl spoon at the table instead them arriving at the table already topped with caviar.

The next dish was one of our favourites. Roasted Prawn with Thai Chilli Paste. A dish with amazing textures and was a perfect combination of spicy, sour and sweet. The prawns were cooked to the T. Usually Tiger prawns can end up rubbery and tough if overcooked but this was oh so tender and juicy, and we loved the crunch of the raw onion slices. Chef Himanshu shared with us the long list of ingredients that went in to making this dish. While some may be put off by the lemongrass and red chilli slices and may want to take it off the prawn; TRUST US you really want to savour every single ingredient in the prawn shell. This dish was executed really well. Kudos to the Chef!

The Barbecued Black Pepper and Kaffir Lamb Chops were brilliant. Served with roasted Asparagus, Shimeji Mushroom and Snow Peas, the lamb had a beautiful char and glaze. It was the first time we had it flavoured with kaffir lime leaves. Loved how both the dishes were served on a mini grill. I love my red meats medium rare, and these were well done, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. 🙂

Next, we tried the Banana Leaf wrapped Himalayan Trout, Chef’s Special Sauce. Perfectly cooked with an amazing smoky flavour, we loved how fresh and spicy it was and it absolutely got our taste buds tingling. Glad to see that it was deboned as dishes that are served with bones; makes it messy to enjoy. We had it with Udon Noodles with Vegetables and it went really well.

By The Mekong has really upped their game with their dessert! Chef Yogendra served us two desserts, Chocolate Textures and Ms. Berry. Not revealing what the dessert would look like or how it’d taste; we were in for quite a surprise. Both desserts looked stunning.

The Chocolate Texture, as the name suggests, had a mélange of textures that celebrated Chocolate on a plate. This dessert had a perfect quenelle of chocolate ice-cream, a cold molten chocolate surprise, chocolate cigars, pieces of chocolate cake, chocolate and Feulletine kissed with more chocolate. It was any chocolate lover’s dream come true.

Ms. Berry was one of the prettiest desserts we’ve ever seen. Vibrant colors and berries made it look picture perfect. It had blue berries, black berries, red currants and meringue kisses strategically placed on both sides of the blueberry mousse. It was refreshing and the tart berries helped cut through the sweetness of the dessert. Both desserts were plated excellently. Kudos to Chef Yogendra.

We’re fans of the new menu. Not just from a cuisine point of view, but we also like how there’s a certain freshness about the dishes being featured. Without pulling away from authentic flavours, Chef Xilin and his team have managed to make it modern and contemporary. It’s a welcome change and we’re sure By The Mekong will attract foodies looking for a change from the classic Asian fare of gravies and stir fries which can get boring at times. The plating is fabulous and we love everything about it. We wish Chef Xilin and his team all the very best with this new menu!

Thai Food Festival, JW Marriott Sahar

It was way back in 2006 that I remember falling in love with Thai cuisine. It was relatively new to the city, at a time when Thai food meant having Thai Green or Red Curry Rice, Pad Thai Noodles, Som Tam or Thai Pot Rice (which wasn’t really authentic but boy it tasted good). I’ve always enjoyed watching Ian Wright, Bobby Chinn and Janet Hsieh have a blast travelling around the world, and I have learnt so much through their food expeditions. Merrilees Parker hosted an episode of Planet Food that piqued my interest of Thai food. I still remember her walking through the streets of Bangkok, tasting various street food, hopping on to a boat at the Floating Market on the Chao Phya river to try piping hot flat rice noodles. I promised myself that day that I would definitely travel to Thailand to try all those dishes, particularly a crispy pancake like dessert that had a coconut filling. Little did I know that I’d get closer to the amazing food experience that I had hoped and wished for when we went to the Thai Food Festival hosted by JW Marriott Sahar Mumbai.

We’ve been to JW Café a bunch of times, but being fans of Thai food, this time was extra special. 🙂 Chef Rungtiwa Sorlae, with Executive Chef Vishal Atreya, and a few food enthusiasts were just back from a short trip to Thailand. It was to showcase food that was close to Chef Rungtiwa’s heart. They sampled various dishes and even had an elaborate meal at her home.

Once they got back, Chef Rungtiwa had to bring back true flavours of Thailand with her, to showcase the hidden gems of the Thai Cuisine. In collaboration with the Royal Thai Consulate General – Mumbai, birthed a flavourpacked extravaganza that started on the 14th of October, and went on till the 29th of November.

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The invite that was sent to us was really special. It had Khanom Dok Jok, a traditional Thai dessert shaped like a Lotus, and an invite for the event with a booklet that gave us an insight to Chef Rungtiwa’s life and passion for Thailand and Thai cuisine. It also had snapshots of the trip and had two recipes that are close to chef’s heart; Kang Phed Sab-Pa-Rod Goong (Pineapple Curry Prawns) and Phad Thaw Ngxk Tao Hu (Home-Style Stir Fried Bean Sprouts with Tofu.)

We knew that this was going to be memorable experience.

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When we walked into JW Café, our eyes went straight to the Thai Snake Boat that was filled with flowers. There were around 5-6 counters that high various types of Thai food.

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The first one was a live counter by the Royal Thai Consulate General – Mumbai. We had the pleasure of meeting Consul – General Mr. Ekapol Poolpipat who was there with his team and chefs showcasing two dishes – Sticky Rice with Egg Custard and Steamed Rice with Toasted Coconut in Banana Leaves. The counter looked so colorful. We had no idea that Thailand had such a vast variety of rice. In this counter there was a plate with three variations of sticky rice. One was cooked with only coconut milk, the second one was made with Pandanus leaves that rendered a hint of green color to the rice and the third one caught everyone’s eye as it was blue. 🙂 The chefs and Mr. Poolpipat explained that a flower called Butterfly Pea is used to add the bright blue color. It doesn’t flavour, just adds vibrancy to any dish that it’s used in. We tried both the dishes and also saw how it’s made. The Egg Custard isn’t the usual custard that you’d expect, but it has a light green tinge and it’s thin in shape. It was served on top of the sticky rice with toasted Coconut that was also made in-house. We loved the savoury version too. There was one that had sticky rice served with Egg Floss and another that was mixed with a dried shrimp mixture that tasted delicious. The texture that the Egg floss gave to the dish was something made it all the more enjoyable. 🙂

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The next counter was one of our favourites – Som Tam Salad. There was a chef who would make you a fresh portion of the now world famous Thai Raw Papaya Salad at your request. The counter looked really pretty with herbs and vegetables and a huge wooden mortar and pestle. There were sauces and bird eye chilies laid out so that the spice levels and the taste could be adjusted to the guests liking.

Both these counters were used when Chef Rungtiwa held a workshop to show how the dishes were made. She pointed out that Thai cuisine is a complex interplay of 4 to 5 fundamental taste senses; sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy. Creating a balance of all these tastes is very important in making Thai food. While making Som Tam she added chilies for the spiciness, tamarind for sourness, salt for saltiness (fish sauce can also be used) and a lil bit of palm sugar for sweetness in the dish. She then mixed and pounded all the ingredients in the wooden mortar and pestle. It was fun to learn about a dish that I like so much, and see how it’s originally made.

The Royal Thai Consulate General – Mumbai had standees showcasing the different kinds of rice that are available in Thailand. Thai cuisine is not just about Jasmine rice and Sticky rice. Chef Rungtiwa mentioned that some of these varieties of rice are only available in certain shops in the city, one just has to look for it, and know what to buy. Following is some info on a few rice varieties that were featured by The Royal Thai Consulate General that evening.

Khao Wong Rice of Kalasin – It is registered as a geographical indication or Gi Rice. This glutinous rice is planted only during the wet season in the paddy fields with silicon and calcium rich soil in Kalasin province in Northeast Thailand. The husk is brown; the grain is sticky and soft. It is fragrant when cooked, remains soft for a long time and does not stick to the finders.

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1.5 – 2 (with the electric rice cooker)

Pa-yah Leum Gaeng Rice – This glutinous rice is planted in Nam Nao district, Phetchabun province, Northern region as well as in some other provinces in the Northeastern region of Thailand such as Loei and Chaiyaphum. Special characteristics include soft texture and strong aroma when cooked. It also contains high protein content (8.16g)

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1.5 – 2 (with the electric rice cooker)

Hom Mali Rice (Thai Jasmine Rice) – This aromatic rice grows mostly in the Northeastern region of Thailand and is reputed around the globe for it’s premium quality rice grains, health benefits and it’s distinctive jasmine aroma that is released during the cooking process. When cooked it is soft and fluffy with a taste that enhances traditional spices of orient cuisine. It is also a good source of protein, carbohydrates, niacin, thiamine, iron, selenium, vitamin B1 and D. It is also our favourite kind of rice. 🙂

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1 – 1.5 (with the electric rice cooker)

Khao Leumpua – This dark purple glutinous upland rice belongs to the Mong hilltribe. The origin prior to the time of seed purification was the mountainous area 450 meter above sea level. The variety is normally grown in the wet season under upland condition. The variety is normally grown in the wet season under upland condition. Khao Leumpua contains high concentration of antioxidants substances such as anthocyanin and gamma oryzanol. Moreover, it contains high amount of nutrients and unsaturated fatty acids sucha as Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 9, Vitamin B, Vitamin B2, iron, calcium and manganese.

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1 (with the electric rice cooker)

Sangyod Rice – This variety of rice is originally grown only in Phatthalung province, in the Southern region of Thailand. Sangyod rice has beautiful natural dark red and violet colors. The grains are soft and aromatic when cooked. Sangyod Rice provides more nutrition benefits than other types of rice. It contains more fibre, Vitamin E, protein, iron and phosphorous. It also contains antioxidants such as oryzanol and gamma aminbutyric acid.

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1.5 – 2 (with the electric rice cooker)

We would really love to travel to Thailand just to see how these rice are cultivated and also try the dishes that are made/paired with them.

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The next station had Satay. Though originally from Indonesia, Satay is very popular in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and other neighbouring countries. This station had a variety of satays that were grilled as per each guests preference. They had Chicken, Fish, Prawns, Tofu and Pineapple. The raw ingredients were already marinated on skewers and were ready to be grilled. They came with a bunch of dipping sauces. Our favourite remains the sweet and spicy Thai Chilli sauce. The satays were perfectly cooked and the Pineapple one was refreshing. We loved it. 🙂

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If you followed Mark Wiens from Migrationology or EatingThaiFood.com you’ll know that there are way more dishes eaten as main course in Thailand than the usual Green, Red or Yellow Thai curry. Chef Rungtiwa accomplished just that by introducing a variety of main dishes during this festival.

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Phad Phak Rume or Ruam, a vegetarian stir fried Thai dish had kale, mushrooms, cauliflower, baby corn and carrots. Mixed with spicy red chillies, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves, this dish was flavourful and went really well with steamed jasmine rice. They even had a duck version of this dish that was really popular during the festival.

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We also really liked the Tofu Phad Prik Thai Dum that had cubes of Tofu that had been deep fried and tossed with garlic, shallots and green onions. What we loved about the Tofu was that it acted like a sponge and soaked up all the flavours of a sauce and ended up becoming these juicy pillows of Thai goodness. Delicious!

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There was a southern Thai chicken dish that had loads of spices and had bunches of Phrik Thai or Thai Green Peppercorn. These render a lovely mild peppery hint and can be eaten whole without having to worry about setting your mouth on fire. Being from the South of India (Kerala), I have enjoyed green pepper pickle and have had tasted it in curries that my grandmother used to make from the peppercorn that were plucked from our spice garden in Kerala. Brought back a lot of fond memories and we truly relished it with rice.

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Thai people know how to cook seafood and what Chef Rungtiwa and her team did with the next dish was absolutely brilliant. This stir-fried dish had prawns and mussels cooked with garlic, Thai red chillies and Kaffir Lime leaves, another dish that left us going for seconds. 🙂 Even though stir-fried, none of the dishes are oily. They are cooked and stir fried in their own juices making it super delicious and healthy. It’s safe to say that this was one of the favourites of almost everyone at the restaurant as we saw a lot people lining up for this dish! Prawns. Mussels, that yummy curry, what’s not to like!?! 🙂

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They also had pots of Green and Red Thai curry along with bowls of ingredients that could be added according individual preference. It was a live station where the chef would cook you the curry of your choice with your favourite ingredients.

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And now, the dessert counter! My eyes lit up seeing the Royal Thai style crispy pancake dessert Khanom Bueang. It was same dessert that Merriliees Parker had during her trip to Thailand. It was like a dream come true moment for me. 😀 Loved how beautifully and carefully the chef at the dessert station made each pancake. At first, a dollop of meringue is rhythmically spread on the pancake that is being cooked to a perfectly crispy texture. Then a filling is added, followed by toasted sesame seeds. There were three fillings – golden egg thread, salted coconut and sweet coconut.  It is then folded into the signature shape that looked like a dimpled taco. Loved it! Even the Roti Tord that we tried was interesting. It was roti that looked very much like the Indian Laccha Paratha or the Malabari Parotta that was deep-fried till it was golden brown in color. It was served with Pandanus cream and condensed milk. We also loved the coconut ice cream that was served in a young coconut shell with ribbons of tender coconut flesh, with rice vermicelli, jackfruit and water chestnut.

This meal brought us closer to Thailand with an experience that was so close to Chef Rungtiwa’s heart. Her passion for Thai cuisine is reflected in every dish that was meticulously served at JW Café. Even the chef at the Khanom Bueang counter was made to slow down her pace while making the pancakes and Chef Rungtiwa insisted she followed a specific rhythm to make sure they tasted exactly like the ones made back home. She brought with her, family recipes and made every guest at the restaurant experience the true flavours of Thailand. The I really think the Royal Thai Consulate General team did a brilliant job showcasing their culture and ingredients, and that is sure to entice everyone who dined at the Thai Food Festival to put Thailand high up on their list of places to visit. 🙂 JW Café and Chef Rungtiwa lured us with a droplet from the ocean of flavours that Thailand has to offer, and we can’t wait to head there for more.

Lima, BKC

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Lima is Michelin Star Chef Atul Kochhar’s take on South American cuisine. Located right next to NRI, at Bandra Kurla Complex, the restaurant offers modern style South American food while keeping true to traditional flavours. The décor is simple yet chic, and looks very inspired by the interiors of a colonial Peruvian villa. The place would look amazing during the day. The amount of natural light that this lounge gets with it’s long windows would just make every plate of food pop with colour. We got to Lima at around 7:30pm though. The place was dimly lit and low light levels set a nice tone for our dinner.

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The first dish that was served to us was Ceviche Classico. Seabass, Sweet-Potato Confit and Leche de Tigre. Classic as it gets, this ceviche was a bowlful of varied tastes and textures that resulted in a stunning dish. The combination of buttery confit sweet potatoes, with chunks of fish cured in a citrus-based marinade, and the crunch of toasted chulpe corn topped with red onion slices, was a treat to our senses. Every bite transported us to Cevicheria and we found ourselves swaying to the music that was played in the background. Ceviche is to Peruvians, what pasta is to Italians; and this dish started off the evening with a bang.

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For drinks, we ordered Pisco Sour and Rosemary Passion Chili. Both these cocktails had Pisco, the Peruvian grape-based white spirit. It was a refreshing twist to the classic whiskey sour that had egg white, lime and sugar. The Rosemary Passion Chili was delicious, with the prominent flavour of Passion Fruit and a just a hint of spice with the chili. It went really well with our meal.

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We then had the Tuna Tiradito. A dish that had raw Tuna cut like Sashimi, which demonstrates the influence of Japanese immigrants in Peruvian cooking. Though Ceviche also has raw fish, the factors that differentiate a Tiradito and Ceviche are the style in which the fish is cut and also how it is prepared to serve. Ceviche is cured fish whereas in Tiradito, the sauce is poured over the fish just before it’s served. Here we had thinly sliced Tuna topped with bright Aji chili paste, Chia seeds, sliced red onions and toasted quinoa. The Aji chili paste is made out of yellow Aji chili or Aji escabeche. It is mild and the paste almost tastes like an aioli. The mature pods of the chili though are bright orange in color and ranges from 40,000-50,000 units on the Scoville scale, which is pretty hot! This dish however was really mild and delicious with crunch of the onion slices, the gelatinous texture of the soaked chia seed added another texture dimension to the dish. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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You won’t usually find us excited when it comes to salad. We weren’t expecting much of the next dish, which was a simple Quinoa salad. Well, actually, it was a multicolored Quinoa salad, with red, black and white quinoa, and Passion Fruit Leche. We were terribly wrong in underestimating Chef Jerry’s skills in bringing this salad to life. The salad was simple, but how Chef Jerry played with textures in the dish won our hearts. The crunch of the toasted quinoa was well camouflaged with the different colors of the seed, and that just lifted the dish and made the experience of eating such a simple salad truly enjoyable. Passion Fruit, as a fruit is so versatile, it can usually be used in a savoury dish or dessert and we really loved it in the Pisco cocktail too. It’s acidity and sweetness was brilliantly used in the dressing of this dish.

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Another salad that impressed was the Chicken Causa. Causa as a cold-layered salad/starter has a very deep history of how it came to being and there are various versions of it. Though it has evolved with time, the components of the dish have more or less remain the same. It has potato topped with fish (usually canned), egg with olives or avocado. We loved Lima’s version of this dish. Chicken Causa with Huancaina (wan-ka-eena) sauce. It had mini purple potato patties laced with the Huancaina sauce, topped with a quenelle of chicken salad, egg shavings and chives. Traditionally, Huancaina sauce is made of Queso Fresco, oil, Aji chili, evaporated milk and salt. It had a very creamy and rich consistency and it really brought the dish together.

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The next dish was Mushroom Ceviche. A mix of Enoki, Trumpet, Shimeji, Shitake and Button mushrooms served in a Ponzu reduction. A dish that celebrates Japanese influence in Peruvian cuisine. With Nikkei cuisine (fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine) Lima is subtly making the Indian palate aware of a new combination of flavours. Japanese cuisine is elegant and delicate and Peruvian cuisine is fresh and punchy; it’s a match made in heaven. We loved how the mushrooms had soaked up all the ponzu goodness and it added a lot of its earthiness to the reduction. It was delicious and the specs of sesame seeds made it look really good.

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Our meal would have been incomplete without tacos, so the next dish we tried was Prawn Tacos. We had the Garlic rubbed Prawns with Pica de Gallo made with green tomatoes. It was packed with flavour and had everything that a good taco should have. We would’ve really liked it if the prawns had a spicy kick to it. Just personal preference. And, our prayers were answered with the next dish.

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We had the Quinotto; a quinoa based risotto. What we loved about this dish was how the Aji Chili went well with earthy flavours of the mushrooms and the crunch of the popped quinoa seeds. A flavour bomb. Aji chili paste is used as the base of the sauce, in which the quinoa is cooked, which gives it the bright yellow color. The dish is finished with popped quinoa, that’s fried in chili oil, giving you a subtle hint of heat that makes this dish simply irresistible.

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And how could we end our meal without having Chimichangas! These deep fried Tortillas stuffed with lamb and refried beans will definitely be a crowd pleaser. We saw a table order multiple portions of them. Chimichangas are served with salsa and sour cream. One of our favourites of the evening.

We also sampled some more dishes that were part of the ongoing GR8 American Food And Beverage Festival that was organized by the USDA – U.S Dept of Agriculture to promote U.S products. Lima is one of the restaurants taking part in this promotion and has a menu designed especially for it. The promotion is on till the 26th of October, 2016.

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We loved the Poached Pear Salad with Toasted Walnut and Goat’s Cheese Crumble. This dish was specially created for this promotion. The poached pear was mildly flavoured and the toasted walnut and goat’s cheese crumble made it really scrumptious.

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We also tried the Chile Relleno, which was Bhavnagari Chillies stuffed with Cottage Cheese, Wilbur Prunes and Chipotle, served with caramelized walnut sauce. It was a revelation to taste bhavnagari chillies made this way. The chef brought out the essence of the chili flavour sans the spicy and sometimes unnecessary heat that these chillies are famous for. The prunes added a hint of sweetness, which went really well with the nuttiness of the sauce. It was brilliantly made. Another one of our favourites of the evening.

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The BBQ Habit Grilled Chicken that was also a part of the promotion menu was good too. We liked the smokey and juicy chicken thighs, and the Chili paste and honey added a twang to the dish.

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For dessert we had Belgian Chocolate cake. The best chocolate cake we’ve had in a while. The cake was moist and fresh. We would go back just some of the cake if we were craving some good chocolate cake. It was perfect.

Dining at Lima was nothing short of a gastronomical wave that has got us hooked on to Peruvian flavours and as we progressed with our meal, each dish just seemed to get better. Chef Atul Kochhar has done an incredible job of introducing what is just a droplet in the ocean of flavours that Peruvian cuisine has to offer. While a few of their ingredients are imported, recreating Peruvian food with local produce sourced from their farm at Ganeshpuri is remarkable. Chef Kochhar’s vision is brilliantly reflected in Chef Jerry Thomas’s work. The staff is prompt and attentive, and the best part is they are well aware of each ingredient that goes into each dish. Lionel, was our server for the evening, and he did a great job. We had really enjoyed dining at Lima and can’t wait to go back for more.

China INC, Taj Santacruz

Our first visit to Taj, Santacruz left us awestruck with its modern yet palatial decor with splashes of vibrant colors. Each restaurant here is uniquely designed keeping in mind the overall architecture of the hotel. Interestingly, the whole hotel celebrates light with chandeliers that are found in various shapes, sizes and colors throughout the building. We were thoroughly impressed with the double ceiling and the massive hand blown glass chandeliers at the lobby; it’s the first thing you notice the moment you walk into the hotel, and it made us go “whoa!”

We immediately reached for our phones to snap a few pictures. 🙂

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When you enter China INC, you are sure to be mesmerized with the Dragon that is suspended from the ceiling. Made out of hand blown glass bulbs, this piece is already finding it’s way to every selfie that is clicked at China INC. The restaurant surely has great lighting and the warm tones of yellow sets a nice mood. We were seated in the private dining area that had round tables. We were warmly welcomed by Executive Chef, Vikas Milhoutra and Executive Sous, Chef Nitin Minocha. We also met the General Manager Mr Pankaj Sampat. After a brief introduction we were shown to our table.

The theme our dinner at China INC. was to celebrate the flavours of Sichuan, known to be one of the four great traditions of Chinese cuisine. The prominent traits of Sichuan cuisine are best described as Spicy, Hot, Fresh and Fragrant. And our dinner reflected just that.

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We started off with a tall glass of IL Grigio Spumante that paired superbly with the dimsum and appetizers that were served. China INC has some signature cocktails that really complement the flavours of Sichuan cuisine. We tried a Rum based cocktail that had whole Sichuan pepper corns it; the hint of pepper made it irresistibly delicious. Even the wines that were served were paired keeping in mind the Indian palate and how it reacted with the cuisine. We had the Bibi Graetz Casamatta Rosso (red wine), Tenuta San Guido – Scaia (white wine) that the Sommelier recommended for our meal. It was impressive seeing an Asian restaurant pair wines so brilliantly to enhance an eating experience; even their signature in-house cocktails are flavoured with Asian spices and ingredients and complement the cuisine well.

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We were then served some delectable and lipsmacking dimsum and appetizers that created a riot of flavours and textures in our mouths. We absolutely loved how the food served had authentic Sichuan flavours yet were contemporary and modern. The menu at China INC sings of Cantonese & Sichuan flavours with dishes primarily from the Xiao Bao region of Shanghai. We loved the Chilli Butter Garlic Prawns and almost all of the of dimsum that we tried. We were impressed!

Two dishes that were definite stand-outs were the Edamame and Truffle dumpling and the Chilean Sea Bass dumpling. We also had Spiced Chicken dumplings and fluffy Spicy Coriander and Vegetable Baos. Good stuff. We then had a Chef’s special preparation called Crispy Fried Prawns with Oats and Curry Leaves; created to add in a new dimension of flavour, we felt it kinda missed the mark as an item on the ‘China INC.’ menu simply because the inclusion of curry leaves in an Asian dish felt quite out of place. But we absolutely loved it as a dish; the prawns were cooked perfectly and the oats made it super crunchy.

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Another crunchy appetizer to die for was the Calamari that was served with Roasted Garlic. Absolutely yum. The beautifully cooked Shimeji Mushrooms with Green Beans and dried Red Chillies would melt any mushroom lover’s heart instantly. We love subtle flavours that hero the main ingredients in a dish and this did just that. Even Chef Nitin Minocha mentioned how the food industry is progressing towards enhancing flavours in such a way that the vegetable or the protein used is showcased to its truest form. Every dish reflected that. The stories of his culinary journey and his insight about the ingredients, techniques and the cuisine spoke volumes of his rich experience at Taj.

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The next dish was Spicy Lemon & Coriander Soup; delicious, light and flavourful. The fragrance of lemon and coriander was refreshing and the balance of flavours was to the t. The oh so subtle hint of spice was comforting, and we really enjoyed the bold textures of the black and white fungus, pearls of edamame beans and goji berries with each spoonful. Perfect for a rainy day. We did notice that the Mantou Bun that was supposed to come with the soup was missing though.

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The mains arrived with a bang! Make some noise for the Chilean Sea Bass. It was perfect. The fish, served on a bed of fragrant red sauce, was steamed to perfection. Another favourite was the Stir Fried Sliced Lamb made in Yunnan style with Red Chillies and Chinese Celery. What a brilliant dish! The lamb just melts in your mouth, and your palate is coated with heat from the Chillies and you then taste the chinese celery which has very distinct flavour. Even the vegetarian dishes shone brilliantly, be it Seasonal Vegetable with Black Pepper Sauce or the Stewed Bean Curd “Ma Po” style with vegetable in Chili Bean Sauce. Packed with flavours and textures, these surely are definite must haves. You cannot leave China INC without tasting the Kai Lan, a chinese vegetable similar to Broccoli, also know as Broccolini. It has thin long stalks. The dish that was served to us was Kai Lan stired fried with chillies and garlic. It was treated so beautifully and carefully retaining all it’s natural flavour so that one enjoys the vegetable without it’s flavours being dominated with heavy sauces or spices. It was simple yet absolutely delicious. We were served Clay pot cooked rice with Assorted Mushrooms and Five Spice. So happy to taste our favourite Morels with a hint of Chinese 5 spice with the smokey rice. The Udon Noodles made in-house was strictly OK.

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For dessert we had Batter Fried Milk Cake with Chilled Rambutan and Condensed Milk. The milk cake was deep fried to a lovely golden brown color, was super hot and did manage to shock our tongues with the heat, but as soon as you tuck into the juicy and fleshy Rambutan that is chilled, you understand what the chef is trying to achieve. It has contrast of textures and temperatures; combine all three and you would taste a beautiful balance and intensity of sweetness. It was a clean neat dessert.

China INC truly celebrates the Land of the Dragon. Being fans of Asian food, this tasting was surely a treat to our senses. The courses definitely had a rhythm to it, balancing flavours and textures that hit the perfect note with every dish that was served. There were a few misses but can be completely ignored as the other dishes were simply mind blowing. The importance of treating each ingredient with respect and executing it in a way that showcases their true flavour is something that the chefs have achieved at China INC. We had a wonderful time and will definitely be back for more.

Cotinga, The Tamarind Hotel, Goa

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We were invited to Cotinga at The Tamarind Hotel, at Anjuna, Goa. The first thing we liked about this place is the color scheme; turquoise & white with hints of yellow. We were intrigued by how silhouettes of a particular bird dominated the theme of their décor. Interestingly, when we met Ms. Param, the co-owner of the hotel; she shared a lovely story about how a turquoise Cotinga bird used to visit their property often. They fell in love with the bird and decided to incorporate the memories on their walls, and chose turquoise as one of the dominant colors in their décor. It was a pleasure meeting Ms Param who shared her vision for Cotinga cafe with us. We found her really passionate about hospitality, and her love for baking reflects in the huge dessert fridge that welcomes you when you enter Cotinga.

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It was a sunny afternoon. We were served refreshing Tamarind Sherbet that was served in Margarita glasses. The use of tamarind evokes your senses and brings you closer to the surroundings that have an abundance of tamarind trees.

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Our appetizers were selected from the Tamarind Specials. We had the Roasted Tamarind Fish, grilled fish glazed with a homemade natural tamarind paste. King Fish Steak that were grilled perfectly, and smothered with a thick chunky tangy sauce that left us salivating. Next was one of my favourites, Tomato and Pesto Bruschetta. The tomato and pesto mix was seasoned beautifully and served on toasted bread that was made in-house. We continued our lunch with some Crispy Honey Chicken. The menu aptly describes the dish as super crispy; and wow, it was. Every bite was scrumptious and the toasted sesame seeds added a lovely flavour. We definitely recommend this dish to be paired with your drinks.

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From the Tandoor section we were asked to try a classic; Fish Tikka. We were completely blown away by this simple dish. There was so much flavour. The fish pieces were marinated and cooked so well, it melted in our mouths. A true-blue Punjabi would truly appreciate this. We also tried the Tandoori Prawns. Really nice, but not as impressive compared to the Fish Tikkas.

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It was time for the mains. Ms Param suggested we try their Punjabi cuisine and we were glad we did. We ordered the Prawns Masala and Dal Makhani with our favourite, Butter Naans. We truly appreciate restaurants that churn out lipsmackingly good Dal Makhani, as it one dish that requires patience and proper technique. We loved it. Ms Param also shared a lil secret that they follow to make this dish extra silky. It was simply superb. The Prawn Masala Fry was OK-ish but another order of Rava Fried Prawns compensated for it.

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We were really looking forward to dessert as Cotinga takes immense pride in their sweet treats made in-house. We asked for the local favourite – The Banofee Pie. OMG! We’ve never tasted anything as good as this one. It was just awesome. We also tried the Baked New York Cheesecake, the Double Chocolate Decadence and the Irish Cream Tiramisu. They were all good but not as good as the Banofee Pie! It would be a waste of a trip if you missed having this at Cotinga.

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Our meal was followed by a tour of the hotel. Ms Param gave us insight on how some of the sections of the hotel were over 100 years old. It’s a beautiful property with stonewalls with highlighted hues of aqua blue, white and yellow. We loved the furnishings as well, Ms Param told us that each one of them were personally handpicked by her son and her. They have a big courtyard that has some cozy lounge seating. It looks spectacular, as it’s white in color amidst the trees. We also liked how the round white paper lanterns adorn the place. Do not miss the Free Bird Night every Wednesday where the place transforms into a musical extravaganza, with bands playing some good music.

Cotinga is a great place to unwind, with great food and relaxing music. The Tamarind Hotel has everything you’d look for for a perfect vacation. So if you’re in Anjuna, don’t miss this place. We’ve already recommended the place to a bunch of friends who’ve ended up enjoying their time here. It won’t disappoint.

Chef Workshop, JW Marriott Juhu

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You have probably often heard of chefs collaborating with other chefs to create great food; but seldom you have seen them throw food at each other, get competitive and go complete crazy in the kitchen. We had the opportunity to not just witness exactly that, but also be part off a cook off that we’ll never forget.

JW Marriott Juhu recently had an workshop called “Marriott India Chefs Workshop” organized for 30 JW Executive Chefs from all over India. Conducted by Toine Hoeksel – Director of Culinary Asia Pacific, Marriott International, with Chef Himanshu Taneja together they discussed the culinary trends of 2016 recognizing culinary innovation and evolving trends across the globe.

We were welcomed by Chef Toine and were introduced to all the 30 chefs. It was great to see chefs from Marriott hotels all over India under one roof. We were informed that all of us would be divided in eight teams. Each team was allocated Rs 2000/- to shop for the ingredients for the cook off. As a team, we had to make a three-meal course and one of the dishes was to be made by us bloggers. We had to cook traditional Indian cuisine that showcases the use of fresh local produce and it had to be something close to our heart.

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Soon we were divided in teams. I was teamed up with Chef Vishal Atreya, Executive Chef – JW Marriott Sahar, Chef Ravi Sharma, Executive Chef – Courtyard Marriott Mumbai and Chef Vikram Gakkan, Executive Chef – Courtyard Marriott Pune Hinjewadi. Joash was with Chef Avijit Deb Sharma Executive Sous Chef – The Ritz-Carlton Bangalore, Chef Yogender Pal Executive Chef – Hyderabad Marriott Hotel & Convention Centre and Chef Ajeet Kumar Head Chef – Fairfield Marriott.

Here we were with some of the best chefs in the country about to step into their kitchen and cook with them. It was all so exciting. We were then handed the money for our shopping and each team found a corner to huddle up to discuss their plan of action. We appointed Chef Vishal to lead our team. They were all so welcoming in hearing my ideas for our dishes. The theme of our courses revolved around my story. Soon Chef Ravi and I headed out for supplies; Chef Vishal and Vikram agreed to hold fort at the hotel to prep with the in-house ingredients. Our theme was flavours of Punjab and it was unanimously named Rangla Punjab! The story revolved around how my dad loves Punjabi food and our entry for this cook off was an ode to him. Our meal –

  1. Aperitif – Barfiwali Lassi
  2. Appetizer – Ambarsari Machchi
  3. Main Course – Murgh Makhani Medallion

While Chef Vishal and Vikram started with the prep, Chef Ravi and I left for Nature’s Basket to pick up all the ingredients. We were given 3 hours for our cook off. We already had a list prepared, so scouting out ingredients was easy. It was fun bumping into fellow participants and chefs. We met Joash as well, he was with Chef Avijit picking out ingredients for their dishes. Joash loves prawns so he had to include it in one of the courses. He was inspired to make his favourite dish Koliwada Prawns, a childhood memory he had of eating out as a kid and relishing on the deep fried prawn dish that he would have whenever he went out for a meal with his grandmother. Their courses –

  1. Appetizer – Prawns Koliwada
  2. Main Course – Chicken Pineapple Salan with Fragrant Rice
  3. Dessert – Double Ka Meetha

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After a fun rick ride and hunting for all the ingredients on our list we made our way back to the hotel. It was really cool to have Chef Ravi take me through the shortcuts in the hotel to get to our kitchen. He said he knew the hotel in and out as he had worked here as a chef. When we reached the main kitchen, Chef Vishal and Vikram had already prepped on our behalf. The kitchen was bustling with energy, everyone in their own element chopping, kneading, grilling, mixing. It was a treat to watch everyone at work. But it was not all work and no play, soon we had chefs teasing each other, stealing ingredients and we witnessed all sorts of crazy shenanigans. We were enjoying every bit of it. It was really cool to see all chefs take their phones out at every step of making the dish to click pics and post it instantly on Instagram and Twitter. Posing for whacky selfies, and clicking ‘food pics’ made for a superfun cook off.

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That was not all. We then had to present our dishes for Chef Toine and the judges to judge our work. It was a pretty sight to have all the participating teams display their work. There was creativity and a beautiful story that truly brought out the essence of this cook off. We had a great time being in the kitchen and cooking with chefs. They not only gave us tips and tricks to cook, well but also spilled some industry secrets that we could use in our kitchens. Finally, we were all winners. Our proud moment was when Chef Toine presented each of us with our own chef’s jacket. It was an fun experience that we will cherish for a long time.

Dine In The Dark, Alila Diwa, Goa

imageWe had fun on our trip to Goa in Jan and visiting Alila Diwa was one of the highlights of our trip. It really got us thinking about the important role our senses play when we’re reviewing a restaurant or critiquing a meal. Alila Diwa sent us an invite for their tried and tested concept – Dine in the Dark; something they started in 2014 during the International Earth Hour.

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We got there a lil earlier to check out the hotel. We were truly mesmerized by the expanse of rice paddies that painted a lush green canvas; so soothing to the eyes. The place was serene; the beautiful traditional Goan style architecture strum those unsung chords that pull you closer to the roots of the rich culture and history of Goa. The infinity pool is an amazing sight, with the rice paddies as the backdrop. The sun was at its best, melting into the horizon. It was picture perfect. We were in awe.

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The Dine in the Dark experience is hosted at Alila Diwa’s restaurant, Spice Studio. This restaurant is actually elevated and surrounded by water. With a huge banyan tree spreading its branches around makes for an absolutely magnificent sight. Spice Studio boasts of an extensive selection of seafood and culinary delights from all across India. Interestingly, every Thursday it is transformed into this (virtually) pitch dark, completely quiet place, where a meal is enjoyed in complete darkness. After sunset, you cannot see anything besides the moonlight touching the water; you can only hear the breeze brushing through the leaves and the gushing sound of the water fountains and the ripples that follow after.

We are not afraid of the dark, so it felt more like an adventure when we were escorted to the restaurant. It was pleasingly quiet, making us automatically lower our voices to a mere whisper. The waiters led us to our table. I suddenly realized I had closed my eyes to let everything around me take over my senses. Slowly our ears could hear more and our sense of smell quickly located the kitchen. Mission accomplished, the concept was now crystal clear. In complete darkness our sense of smell, taste and hearing had heightened. So when you are not able to see your food; you are more inclined to taste better (or more earnestly) and appreciate textures better. I was reminded of the scene from one of my favourite movies “Ratatouille”; where Remy, the rat chef asks his brother Emile to close his eyes and enjoy the beautiful combination of cheese and fruit. There were fireworks of flavours in the scene. That’s exactly what happens to you when you dine in the dark.

We were not informed about the details of the menu in advance. We were asked for our meat preference and if we had any dietary restrictions or allergies. We were relieved to know that the non-veg would be boneless. Soon the food arrived. We were served food in a thali. Rich aromas of spices and kebabs spread our table and got us salivating. It was pitch dark so we couldn’t see a thing. We laughed, as it was our first time that we didn’t lock horns with our opinions of how the food looked. It became a fun game of guessing the dishes that were served. We ate slowly savouring every morsel of food. There were different textures, different temperatures and tastes. Our palates were going through a great time tasting every element of the thali.

We were served a mix of Rajasthani, Punjabi, Maharashtrian and South Indian dishes. These were the dishes that were served in our thali –

Tawa Murg Tikka, Amritsari Macchi, Sabudana Vada with Khajoor Stuffing, Methi Neem ke Tandoor Aloo, Dhaniwal Korma, Murgh Methi Masala, BHarli Vangi, Vengaya Kuzhambu, Moong Masoor ki Dal, Gatta Pulao, Shrikhand Sandwich and Ada Payasam.

We were given the menu at the end of our meal. We were so curious to check if we guessed it right, and I am proud to say that I got 9 out 10 of the dishes right. We were asked to switch off our phones before we entered the restaurant so that we were able to enjoy the whole experience without any disturbance. Our habit of clicking pictures before every meal was thrown out of the window but we were not complaining. The food was not extraordinary at this meal but bringing together Indian dishes that are varied in terms of flavours, tastes and textures and still be able to present a well-balanced thali was commendable. We were impressed.

It was really interesting to see the staff work their way to every table, handle food and drinks; go in and out of the kitchen and handle service with ease; all in the dark. We loved the concept, and it is something that everyone should experience when they are in Goa. We leave this post with just a couple of pictures to let your imagination take over. Some things in life are better experienced in the dark and now we know eating is one of them. 🙂

Daawat-e-Saffron, JW Marriott Mumbai

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By popular demand Saffron, the Indian specialty restaurant at J W Marriott, which is operational only for dinner; has now opened its doors for patrons so that they can enjoy a lavish Thali experience.

Master Chef Shahnawaz Qureshi, the Sous Chef at Saffron, has curated an impressive Avadhi menu that will be served in the format of a Thali every Saturday. Being the fourth generation of the famous Qureshi family, his knowledge about spices and preparations is extensive. He brings in his experience and a lot of secret recipes from his family. Some of his recipes have been handed over by his ancestors for over 200 years.

We had the opportunity to savour the taste of the royal kitchens of the Awadhi Nawabs through his cooking. The Thali includes traditional dishes like the Galouti Kebab, Malai Jheenga, Nihari Gosht, Murg Baradari, Hare Mutter ki Tikki, Sarson ka Saag, Guchhi Mutter and Shahi Tukda, paired along with Indian cocktails. They’ve also got live Tabla and Sitar players playing Indian classical music.

The Thali. We have had authentic South Indian food at Saffron before but this was our first Thali experience here. We were excited and looking forward to it. Priced at Rs 1800++ for Non-Veg and Rs 1500++ for Veg, these thalis come with Appetizers, Main-Course, Assorted Indian Bread Basket and Dessert.

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For starters we had the Galouti Kebab, Lehsuni Jheenga, Seekh Kebab and a Chicken Kebab. Each one, better than the other. We found ourselves tucking in second helpings of the Galouti Kebabs as they were absolutely delicious. Melt-in-your-mouth and perfectly cooked just as it should be. It was served on a piece of buttered roti. The kebabs were moist, well marinated and perfectly charred. The meat was tender and cooked well. Every creation sort of projected the finesse of a seasoned chef. We also tried the Mutter Tikkas and a veg Galouti Kebab that was made of mushrooms. Nice. 🙂 We also loved sipping on Satvik, a refreshing drink made of freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup and Rooh-afza and Mint Sour made of fresh mint, lime juice and club soda.

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Then the Thali was served. Loved the silver thaal with bowls that made the whole experience more feel more royal. We were served the Gosht Ki Nihari, Murg Baradari, Dal-e-Khaas, Paneer Methi Makhan and Gosht Biryani. A bowl of Dahi bhalla was also added to our Thalis. What we love about Awadhi cuisine is how earnestly a recipe is followed. Known for its slow cooking process and the variety of spices, Awadhi cuisine has a place in every true food lover’s heart. We loved every bite of every dish we tasted. The Gosht Ki Nihari was creamy with the meat falling off the bone. The Dal-e-Khaas was thick and rich, just the way we like it. It was superb. The biryani was flavourful and each grain of rice was fluffy and aromatic. We were in food heaven. In a tete-a-tete with Chef Qureshi we came to know the history behind each dish and how each recipe has evolved. He took pride in letting us that all the spices and important ingredients are transported from Lucknow to ensure the authenticity in the taste of every dish. He said that every dish has its own set of spices that are ground together. The ratios/proportions are a family kept secret that is passed down to every generation. Can you believe, the garam masala he uses has a total of 46 spices? Wow! We were just amazed with how much he knew about spices. It was great to understand his way of cooking and where he comes from. His expertise and extensive knowledge of each ingredient showcased the passion with which his family is known for.

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It was time for dessert. We were awestruck with what was plated for us. A rich decadent piece of Shahi Tukda and pillowy soft Rasmalai laced with Rabdi, garnished with pistachios and strands of saffron. It was pure indulgence. You have to taste it to believe it. It was the best versions of these two desserts that we had ever tasted. We loved the spun sugar that added sophistication to the platter.

We enjoyed the Thali at Saffron and absolutely loved learning about Awadhi cuisine from Chef Shahnawaz Qureshi. It’d be a sin not to relish these delicacies, we will definitely be back for more.

Zayna – Uber Dining, Airoli

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We were invited to Zayna, for an uber dining experience early this month. It’s located opposite the Airoli Railway station and in the heart of the Reliable Cyber City, in Liberty Towers.

Now, you don’t usually think about food when you talk about Airoli. Apart from being a commercial hub and one of the busiest places after Vashi, it is evolving and now beginning to embrace the fact that people love good food. 🙂

We’ve been to Navratna, Sagar and Coral Lounge in Vashi; All legendary restaurants in their own way. Navratna and Sagar being pioneers, are synonymous with good food and prompt service. Keeping in mind that Navratna, Sagar and Coral Lounge are all run by the same owner, we were really looking forward to dining at Zayna. And it did not disappoint.

Now it’s not just Zayna the restaurant to look out for in AIroli, but they have also opened a fine dine version of Navratna and; a watering hole, and a place that could be your next go-to hangout place after work called the Bar Works Eatery & Bar. Three new ventures; all lined up in a row. So when in the area, you’re spoilt for choice.

To talk about our wonderful evening and Zayna, let’s start with the décor. As you step in, you feel like a million bucks as this place exudes sophistication and style. We loved how spacious the restaurant looked. The choice of cutlery and crockery were good. Loved how they tilted and rested the stemless wineglass looking water tumblers on the table. They looked great.

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The tasting menu looked impressive. We had a selection of drinks to choose from, we ordered the Cranberry & Basil Punch and Virgin Melon Sour, both good and refreshing.

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The soups were served next. We tried the Murgh Badami Shorba, a lovely chicken broth made from almond paste flavoured with green spices. Finished with a swirl of cream. This shorba was not just a usual bland shorba that you find at most restaurants these days. This was flavourful, the green chillies and pepper rendered an amazing kick to it, making it irresistible to stop sipping on. The right combination of heat and spice was just what we enjoyed.

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Then came the Nibblers. We were served Buddha’s Delight, cute lil steamed parcels stuffed with chicken, served in a hot garlic sauce and Bok Choy. It was delicious and cooked well. We loved it. We were also served the Chicken and Coriander dimsum, which were also good. But the Tandoori appetizers completely stole the show. All the dishes from the clay oven – Tandoor -e- Khasiyat were scrumptious.

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We started off with the Paneer Peshawari Tikka, which got us spellbound with it’s mild saffron based marinade; it was stuffed with a lovely cashew chili stuffing, and grilled to perfection. It was soft and well marinated, the flavours of the saffron sort of permeated through the plump paneer pieces. The paneer was followed by another superb creation called “Kabab e Khaas”, succulent chicken pieces stuffed with minced meat and cheese, marinated in a special tangy marinade and grilled in charcoal. Each portion of this speciality was served in handis with hot charcoal still smoking the delicious kabab on skewers. We were really amazed with how beautifully this kebab was cooked. It’s usually difficult to get the minced chicken stuffing fully cooked while ensuring the outer layer is moist and charred at the right places at the same time. This completely stole our hearts. It was truly khaas. The Tandoori Jhinga Basil Masala was OK, it was fresh but in comparison to the kabab e khaas this failed to impress us.

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We were served the mains soon after. Paneer Khurchan; Cottage Cheese Fingers cooked with three peppers in a rich tomato gravy. We preffered it to the Bhatti Ka Murgh Masala which was shredded barbequed chicken in the same kinda gravy. It was very similar in taste, but we found the Paneer dish to have better balance of flavours. We had these dishes with an assortment of tandoori rotis, naans and parathas, We also enjoyed some Missi Rotis.

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In the Asian menu we loved the Thai Herb Rice which reminded us of the Thai Rice that’s served at Wok Hei. It was served with shredded lamb in a gravy with red and green peppers. The Thai Chin Noodles, glass noodles stir fried with vegetables, were fresh and something we’ve not had in a long time. It was tasty and the flavours of the vegetables were not lost. The glass noodles were cooked perfectly.

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We were happy with the portions and how the food was served. The waiters were not as attentive as expected but we will choose to ignore it as it was their launch night and the good food made up for it. For dessert we had the Crispy Honey Noodles with Vanilla Icecream, one of the best we’ve had. Drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with cherry, it looked spectacular. The Kulfi Falooda Rabri was kind of a let down as it was a bit too messy. It was rich and had all the oomph expected in a decent Kulfi Falooda Rabri combo but we would prefer all the components to stand out and together make a symphony of fragrance, flavours and textures in the mouth.

No doubt would definitely like to go back to try other dishes, their menu looked very interesting. We also heard that they have lunch buffets and set menus which are ideal for team lunches and get togethers. Quality of the food and the presentation style makes them stand out compared to other restaurants and kind of dishes served casts its own spell that would make people come back for more.