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!

Luna Gusta, The St. Regis Mumbai

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We were invited to have dinner at the newly launched Luna Nudo Gusta, The St Regis Mumbai’s modern European restaurant and bar. Luna means the moon in Italian and Spanish; we were informed that the name reflected the charismatic energy of the moon and how it influenced the tides. Romantic as it may seem, it was apparent how well Luna Gusto – the restaurant and Luna Nudo – the bar got their guests captivated with great music, amazing food and enticing cocktails.

We were already in awe of The St Regis as a hotel. Mumbai’s quintessential sanctum of luxury, it’s bespoke services and rituals would make anyone feel like royalty. Their Butler service being the first in the country, and with award winning restaurants and bars; we knew we were in for a great time.

Located on the 37th floor of the St. Regus hotel, Luna Nudo Gusta has two levels. Luna Nudo – the bar, is on the lower level with a stairway that leads up to Luna Gusta – the restaurant.

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Luna Nudo looks really chic with vertical neon tube lights that give everything in the room a blue and pink hue. The place was bustling with people while the band that played some really good live music.

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On the other hand the décor at Luna Gusta is luxurious and glamorous, while the lighting sets a very intimate tone. Wooden frames suspended from the ceiling create an optical illusion as if they are floating, and among them are golden shade chandeliers add a very opulent feel to the overall ambience to the restaurant. With a mosaic-tiled wall, marble tabletops and gold-blue-green plush upholstery, the décor was absolutely stunning. One couldn’t miss the Moet & Chandon champagne rack that had the classic and the pretty white Ice Imperial series of our favorite bubbly. Sticking to the moon theme, the charger plates were black and were teamed with black serviette and matte black cutlery. We couldn’t wait for our meal to begin.

The menu starts off with a “Graze & Share” section comprising of salads and appetizers, followed by soups, then mains and sides. Don’t be confused if you don’t find the dessert section on the menu. Your server will promptly hand you the dessert menu after you’re done with your meal.

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We started off with a red wine sangria and the amuse bouche of the day. We were served a tray of freshly baked in house bread with herbed and black garlic butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We also ordered the “Unusual Classics”, Crescent Fashioned and Luna Mary. The Crescent Fashioned came with a lot of theatre. It was Luna’s take on the classic Old Fashioned and their twist was to use an in-house infusion; Bourbon infused with Kashmiri Kahwa with bitters and orange marmalade. The drink was brought to our table in a smoked glass cloche. Thanks to Ferran Adria who started the trend of adding smoke to food, it just took the drink to a whole new level. It was delicious.

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We really liked how the drink was presented, but what the bartender did with the next drink was pure genius. The Luna Mary was made with Bacon infused vodka and had in-house chili bitters. With a strip of smoked bacon and olives on a stick, this drink just made my day. It was spicy and was flavoured with smokey bacon.

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Our first dish at Luna Gusta was the Artisanal Burrata & Florentine Fennel. Served on a bed of shaved fennel with orange and grapefruit wedges, basil, romaine hearts; it was drizzled with pomegranate molasses and sprinkled with volcanic black salt. It was refreshing and well balanced. The burrata was fresh and creamy and who doesn’t love citrus in their salad. We were off to a good start.

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Then came the crowning glory of the menu, one of Luna Gusta’s signature dishes – Highland Venison Carpaccio! I’ve had Beef Carpaccio but this was at a whole other level. I love the process of how beautifully the thinly slices of meat are arranged. The meat is lightly seared to seal in the juices and then frozen so that it can be cut thinly; once it’s arranged on the plate it is allowed to defrost and is then served. It’s a cold dish, but the contrast of flavours and textures is what makes this dish an epicurean’s delight. The meat was lean and was served with shaved Pecorino cheese, baby greens and extra virgin olive oil. It disintegrated as soon as it hit my palate. A definite must-try.

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Next we had the Crumbed Diver Scallops, another house favourite and highly recommended dish. This dish looked really pretty as it was served in scallop shells with corn puree and apple. That Scallops and apples are a match made in heaven is a known fact, and these were perfectly crumb fried and the julienned apples added just the right amount of crunch and freshness to this dish. The creamy corn puree brought the whole dish together. We absolutely loved it. The Gremolata Jumbo Tiger Prawns with Chili Aioli that we tried was good too; but the Scallops stole the show. 🙂

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Our next drinks were not from the “Unusual Classics”. Joel, the bartender wanted us to try something that he had been working on with his in-house infusions. We had the “Harvest of the Moon” – Bourbon infused with honey and cinnamon, and smoked with Apple wood. It came in a pretty wooden box. We also tried a Gin cocktail that was infused with rosemary and lemon. Superb stuff.

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Moving on to the next dish, Bouillabaisse. I remember watching Masterchef Australia: Season 2 Episode 28, where contestants had a taste test to identify all the 23 ingredients of a Bouillabaisse. But this was Luna’s version of the Provençal dish. It had shrimp, red snapper and squid. The tomato broth was full of seafood flavour and richness of saffron. The toasted Focaccia that was mentioned in the description was missing but we enjoyed every bit of the hearty soup.

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For mains we had Spiny Lobster Risotto and Peppered Lamb Rack. The risotto was perfectly made with chunks of lobster and baby spinach leaves. The flavour of the lobster with Parmesan cheese complemented each other. It was delicious. The plump rack of lamb from New Zealand was perfectly seared and cut in perfect cutlets; served with roasted veggies and green peppercorn jus. It was a classic dish and I wouldn’t want to change anything about it. It was really good and is most certainly fit to be listed among Luna Gusta’s best dishes.

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Dessert time. Our server got us the dessert menu and as always we ordered two from the menu. The White Chocolate Parfait and Gusta’s Cake for Two. Little did we know that we had bitten off more than we could chew, but it was all worth it. The White Chocolate Parfait was served with Beetroot sponge, Beetroot Coulis, Beetroot that was brunoised, and was topped with Goat’s Cheese Ice-cream that completely blew our mind. This dessert wasn’t overtly sweet and we loved how it balanced the flavours of each component. The parfait was light, and the three textures of beetroot added a subtle earthiness. We were happy with the dessert and were waiting for the second one. We had no clue what was in store for us. 😀

We then see two chefs walking towards us, and two servers walking with them, with a table and a bunch of ingredients. Lo and behold! The orchestrated concept that was birthed by Grant Achatz, of Alinea fame was about to unfold before our eyes. The Gusta’s Cake for Two was Luna’s way of creating a theatrical experience that would leave one wide eyed and smiling ear to ear. Chef Garima spread out a sheet of paper that had the logo of Luna Gusta over the table. She placed a 7-layer cake that was finished with a rich Chocolate Ganache and topped with gold leaf. She then began swirling around chocolate sauce and raspberry coulis, crushing meringue kisses, and dropping mango puree. She also added some chocolate chips, blueberries and red currants. The chef assisting her then piped in some chocolate mousse, which she froze with a canister of liquid nitrogen! Finally she cut the cake into four quarters revealing the layers of the perfectly made cake. What a grand finale! It’s an experience that we recommend to everyone who visits Luna Gusta.

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The Bittersweet Chocolate Cake was rich with complex textures and the raspberry jelly in the cake added a bit of sourness to offset the overall bittersweet taste of the cake. We could scoop up just the right amount of chocolate sauce or mango puree depending on our individual preference. The crunchy bits of meringue and chocolate chip added even more texture, and so did the berries that were scattered randomly around the cake. It was sinfully indulgent. 🙂

What we love about Luna Gusta is apart from the amazing food, the vibe and the eagerness of the staff to ensure that each guest has a good time. Kudos to service team, they were very attentive and the service was par excellence. The food is fabulous and drinks are unique. Their in-house infusions and concoctions are highly recommended. We had an amazing time and we can’t wait to be back for more, even if it’s just for Gusta’s Cake for Two! 🙂

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.

Grand Hyatt Mumbai

2015 was a fun year!

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We were awarded the IFBA award for Best Restaurant Review Blog, we got married (woohoo), and finally kicked off something we’ve been waiting for for a long time… We added in a ‘Travel’ section to our blog. 🙂

We started off with Goa in January, and we’ve got Calcutta, Chennai, Pune and Kerala on our calendar this year.

We got married on the 26th of December 2015 in a very private ceremony with just 12 people on the guest-list. So we were really happy that Grand Hyatt, Mumbai decided to host us for three days just a day after our wedding. We’ve had some of our most memorable dining experiences at their restaurants, so this just made it extra special.

We were won over with all the attention and warm greetings we got from the Hyatt associates upon our arrival. From day one we were made to feel like we were the only occupants in the entire hotel. But it was not just us, the staff there made sure that all the guests were treated warmly in a genuine way.

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Let us take you through the property! First, the ascending stairway to the lobby gives you a glimpse of how ‘grand’ it is going to get. Modern architecture fused with contemporary art makes for some really cool décor; all while fulfilling that expected 5-star flair. I have always wished to be around the team that handles the interiors; would love to watch them list, buy and place the beautiful pieces that adorn a 5 star hotel. Grand Hyatt, Mumbai has an impressive collection that of over 100 pieces of art. The hotel’s public area, sections of the lobbies and restaurants sort of transform into unique art galleries with specially commissioned installations curated by various artists.

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Our room. We were put up at a Grand Executive Suite. As you enter, you find yourself in a very cozy living room with a work desk and a window that gives you a good view of the city. The bath area looked really neat with the bathtub and shower, robes, toiletries, and everything required to ensure that you feel pampered at any given time of the day. Ah the Himalayan Bath Salts just works wonders if you just want to soak in and relax.

To our surprise, Grand Hyatt had a lovely bottle of Champagne placed in a bucket of ice, with two slender flutes and a platter of yummy chocolate cupcakes at our arrival. There was also a box of assorted chocolates that made us smile. We had three lovely days ahead of us and we couldn’t wait for it to begin.

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First stop! Lunch at Fifty Five East. Fifty Five East (FFE) remains one of our favourite restaurants in the city for brunches and buffets. With Indian, Thai, Lebanese and Japanese cuisine, you are spoilt for choice when you’re dining at FFE. The Big Brunch Sundays are the best thing to happen to any food lover. With a 50% discount on the rates, one can really enjoy their Sunday with a large group of friends or colleagues. They’ve also got a 20% off on online reservations all through the week. This time we had a light lunch though, had some amazing Sushi and Japanese food. Their Miso soup is to die for.

After lunch and a quick nap, we headed out for a tour of the hotel. We were mesmerized by the expanse of the property and how simple, yet artistic and modern the architecture was. The pieces of art in this hotel will have art lovers thoroughly engrossed; it is so beautifully showcased without disturbing the theme of the hotel. We were impressed to find out that the Grand Hyatt Plaza shopping center is spread over 100,000sq.ft. Be it haute couture, fine watches, exquisite jewellery and accessories, international fashion brands and lifestyle products, the Grand Hyatt Plaza opens doors to a whole new world of shopping. And hey, there’s an ATM too!

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We passed by the Gourmet Store and reminded each other to stop by later for their Signature Cold Coffee. We were told that it was something we had to try during our stay. We came back. Wow! We really recommend the Signature Cold Coffee. Their salads and sandwiches are hearty, healthy and delicious. The deli is stocked with an amazing selection of cheeses and cold meats; and even buy flowers. The choices seem endless. I reminisced of the time I used to rush to the Gourmet Store after work to pick up chocolate truffles for Joash. It made us smile. 🙂

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The next day started off with breakfast at Fifty Five East. Our first big breakfast as a newly married couple. It was GRAND! They really know how to bring their A game when it comes to serving kick ass breakfast. I think almost everyone who knows us knows how picky we are about breakfast, and we do take it pretty seriously; but one look at the beautiful roasted Ham and we know we are going to be defeated by that alone. J Here’s a picture of what went down that day, there were eggs, sausages, mushrooms, hash browns, cheese, ham, bacon, fresh fruits, juices, freshly baked croissants; the works. We were so full that we skipped lunch and ate dinner at around 11pm. #FoodComa

Our day was spent exploring the hotel. Climbing the 127 stairs that lead to the executive accommodation was one of the feats we accomplished. Here are a few pictures of the beautiful suites that you can check in to  and the lovely view of the Grand Hyatt Hotel–

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It was time for dinner, and Grand Hyatt’s Celini was on our mind. Celini opens for dinner at 7:30pm. Funny story, we had been trying to get our hands on the Paan Ice Cream that’s available at Grand’s Hyatt’s Indian restaurant, Soma, for a really long time. We inquired at Soma, but their kitchen would close at 11:55pm. So, we wouldn’t have been done with dinner at Celini by then, so we told them, maybe another time.

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We ordered our meal and completely lost track of the time; it was about 12:30am by the time we had finished dinner. As we were leaving Celini, our waiter asked us… “I heard you wanted to have the Paan Ice-cream at Soma. Their kitchen’s closed for the day now, but would you like us to send you the Paan Ice-cream to your room?” We were impressed. The restaurant manager at Soma had probably spoken to the manager at Celini about the Ice-cream. That’s excellent customer service. So we made our way back to our room, only to find a big bowl of Paan Ice Cream garnished with gooey Gulkhand at our door soon after we got back. We loved it. It was perfect for our late night movie marathon.

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At Celini we were left completely in awe of the décor. With paintings of moon dominating the interior, the cozy yet contemporary look makes for an ideal place for a romantic candlelit dinner. Known for it’s traditional Italian food with a modern twist, Celini tops as one of the best Italian restaurants in the city for us. The restaurant after operational hours transforms into an all night café. Here’s a gist of the meal we had.

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Besides Celini and Soma, the China House restaurant and lounge has won over many hearts with their spectacular food, great ambience and music. Chef Hermann Grossbichler does an excellent job overseeing all the kitchens at Grand Hyatt and ensures that the quality and the variety of dishes available are better every season.

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We also had a really good meal at the Lobby Lounge. They have premium selection of Eau de Vie and Indian single estate teas. We tried the Herbal Infusion Egyptian Camomile Tea with Herbs and it was unbelievably relaxing. We also had the Spanish Garlic Prawns and the Baked Cannelloni stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta cheese; and it tasted nothing like we’ve ever had before. Very impressive.

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A staycation is not complete without spending quality time at the spa. The Club Oasis Fitness centre & spa ensures that one is pampered and rejuvenated with their extensive range of relaxing treatments. The fitness centre is functional 24/7 and has the best equipment in the industry. The spa area includes beautiful spa suites, private showers, changing areas, steam and sauna rooms and whirlpool baths. They have various packages and some are exclusively for couples. We enjoyed 60 mins of pure bliss followed by some soothing ginger tea. We were transported to a place of complete tranquility.

Looking back at the time we spent at Grand Hyatt, Mumbai; I can only think of the lovely memories we made during our stay there. It’s a beautiful combination of excellent service, great food and warm people that would always bring us back. What truly touches your heart are the lil things, the attention to details, in everything they do that sets them a class apart. We love the spirit at Grand Hyatt and are happy to have experienced that first hand. Here’s to many more Grand memories at Grand Hyatt.

The Spare Kitchen, Juhu

Things change when you’re eating at a restaurant that’s run by someone you know personally. Being brutally honest sometimes back fires but when you know that the foundation of your relationship is based on true passion of good food, you know that a tasting session would just be nothing short of a fun affair.

It’s a thrill to come back to where it all started! My first review was about The Spare Kitchen. It was then when I had got super excited to have food served on a black slate (one of the first restaurants to start quirky serving techniques.) I guess it was Chef RakeshTalwar’s food that got me writing, coz I had to express the joy of dining here somehow. Well, years later I had to come back with Joash to add TSK to our blog.

It was a Friday night and when we got there, it was packed with guests. We thought a private party was on but that wasn’t the case. You know a restaurant is good when it’s hard to get a table. We had no complains and soon got seated. We knew that Chef RakeshTalwar would have something up his sleeve for this tasting session. It was kinda a surprise to know that Chef Talwar was taking a back seat and would allow his protégé to take care of us. We were introduced to Chef Rajesh D’silva, who had been trained by Chef Talwar to take on the reins in his absence and we gotta tell you, he’s pretty good at what he does.

We started with our first course – Soup.

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With TSK, you can always expect your food to be served with a twist. We were served soup in big mugs on a tray that had a fork attached to it. Chef said that he got it custom-made specifically for the restaurant. Each fork had an element that added texture that went really well with the soup. We had the Dhingri Cappuccino with Masala Pav, Smoked PepperRasam with Coconut Icecream and Dosa Crisps and Coconut Chili Lime with Chili Cheese Toast. It is rightly said that you eat with your eyes first. So when we had these yummy soups in front of us and we could hardly wait to get started. Our favourite was the Coconut Chili Lime Soup. It was nothing short of an ode to Thailand. We loved the subtle flavours that played with our palate, and the crunchy cheese toast just made it scrumptious. We have decided that we shall only have Mushrooms in Cappuccino form; the Dhingri Cappuccino at TSK was awesome. It was creamy and had thick foam on top; absolutely delicious. The Smoked Pepper Rasam lacked the levels of smokiness we expected but it sure had a peppery punch. The savoury coconut icecream and the dosa crisps completed the platter and added that south Indian touch in a progressive manner.

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TSK is about serving great Indian cuisine in a progressive and artistic way and the next dish just proves how creatively a dish can be served. We had the Tempura Fish “65” Margarita. It was chunks of fish deep fried in light crispy and crunchy tempura batter, tossed in the robust classic “65” sauce with curry leaves and the works; served in a tall Margarita glass. This is a great starter for a fun evening and would go great with drinks. We were in love with the Malta Twisted Orange Mojito and that kept repeating. Interestingly I just happened to mention that I was off sugar and didn’t want to have a sweet drink; they got me one made sugar-free! I was happy.

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With a couple more starters, we saw the classic black slate being used for plating and it looked stunning. We had the Tandoori Stuffed Mushrooms and Kolhapuri Thecha Chicken Tikka. We were taken aback with how yummy the Kolhapuri Thecha Chicken Tikka was. It was spicy and had that Kolhapuri heat in every bite. Loved how Thecha can be used in making Chicken taste awesome! I’m definitely gonna try this at home. The Tandoori Mushrooms were good too, they were stuffed with cheese and were cooked well but the Thecha won between the two. We also tried the Sea Food Platter – Kalonji Jhinga, Prawn Sambal Oelek and Tandoori Machhi. Every bit of it was awesome. Chef Talwar’s love for South East Asian cuisine can be seen in the Prawn Sambal Oelek. We loved it.

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Soon it was time for the mains. The server got us a board with tiny buckets of condiments, papad cones and whole onions with a knife and spoons. 😀 It was cute. We loved the bright colors that promptly reflected Chef Talwar’s personality and so did the condiments. We loved the mustard pickle from the lot, and I was obviously inquisitive about it as we had never tasted anything like that before. There were tiny pieces of vegetables like cauliflower and celery coated in pungent yet insanely tasty mustard paste. Chef Talwar informed us that the mustard paste is sourced all the way from Kolkata; from a family that specializes in mustard pastes. It was an insight to the lengths Chef Talwar would go to create something really delicious with normal ingredients handpicked to create a perfect condiment.

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I remember being the only one to guess this dish when Chef Talwar posted a pic of it on Facebook a couple of years ago. We had Fish Cooked en Papillote. En Papillote is French for “in parchment”. This dish sits proud in the “Global Pre Plated” section of the menu. The marinated fish is cooked in parchment paper with very lil or no oil and served with a salad and a silky olive caper sauce. We loved it. The fish was fresh and so was the salad, loved how this dish looked, the sauce was served in a small jar. We also had the traditional Rajasthani delicacy, Laal Maas made with red chili paste. It was delicious. We were served a basket of assorted breads but we opted for Jowar and Bajrabhakris. It’s not mentioned on the menu but if Chef Talwar has his personal stash of fresh dough made of these grains, he would gladly serve it to you. You gotta ask for it in advance and wait a while for it to get to your table. We also had Coorgi Chicken, which was chicken served in a green-ish sauce. Love the variety on the menu as you have the option to try dishes from all across India and the world. They have a mouthwatering Dal Ghosh which cannot be missed and The Mumbai “Better” Butter Chicken has fans all over the world who order tubs through people who are travelling.

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The desserts at TSK are nothing short of one of a kind plated wonders. Each has its own unique flavour and style that captures hearts instantly. We were in for a treat as the chef got us three desserts to try. The first one was the Thandai Panna Cotta with Benarasi Paan Macarons garnished with Fennel Glass, a combination that only Chef Talwar could come up with. It was the wobbliest Panna Cotta I have ever seen in Mumbai, the Rose Jelly on top with the fennel crusted glass was a perfect blend of flavours and textures. We thought that was the best at TSK till we tasted the Sea Salt & Caramel Kulfi with Spicy Rosogulla. The kulfi was smooth and the classic flavour combo made it even better. What we loved about this dessert is the spicy rosogulla. Spiced with green chilies, these rosogullas cut through the sweetness of the dessert. It was perfect. The best part about the third dessert was that it’s freshly baked as per the order. The Gooey Chocolate Brownie that is served with Vanilla Icecream and Chocolate Sauce clears every parameter of the conventional dessert for having  the perfect gooeyness, temperature and the glistening chocolate over the almost melted vanilla icecream. To add to it, there’s a shot glass filled with rich hot chocolate. Ah heaven,and every chocolate lover’s dream! It was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.

We really liked how we didn’t really miss Chef Talwar’s cooking as Chef D’silva worked exactly like him. It only goes to show how well he has shadowed Chef Talwar and how effectively Chef Talwar has trained him. TSK has an impressive menu and a variety that’s not available everywhere and most importantly one can customize their order according to their preference. What reflects in the service is Chef Talwar’s passion to serve good food to people, and as the TSK tagline goes, “You’ll not eat at home again”. A lil birdie told us that we can soon expect the second outlet of The Spare Kitchen in the Southern part of Bombay soon. We thank Chef Rakesh Talwar and his team for great food and awesome service. We actually feel super pampered when we are around Chef Talwar. Our best wishes will always be with him.

The Bao Haus Co.

We have seen a lot of restaurants that have sprung up in the last couple of years that have made eating out a whole new experience. And now, “eating in” seems to be the new fad that has hit the city; with home delivery becoming a convenient option for many foodies. We’re not talking about the run-of-the-mill food that many takeaway joints are offering nowadays. The Bao Haus Co. just got added to our list of some of our favourite eat-in food that this city has to offer.

So here’s a little background information about the place, and how this came into being. We had an interesting discussion with Chef Siddharth Somaiya to understand where it all started. Interestingly, before he got into The Culinary Institute of America, he signed up for a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration due to his parents insisting that he should. As destiny would have it, he couldn’t give up his passion for food, and he chose to pursue what he knew was his true calling. After interning at three-starred Michelin restaurants in Manhattan, (He recalls this as the time he learned some of his most important life lessons, and working at these restaurants taught him a lot about disciple, ingredients and organizational skills.) he came back Mumbai and the inception of the The Bao Haus Co. began.

The Bao Haus Co. as the name suggests, was partly inspired by the BaoHaus at 14th St. New York. Chef Siddharth knew that he wanted to showcase baos in ways that are completely new and that appeal to the growing appetite of foodies in Mumbai. It was natural for him to be innovative, and with his culinary experience, bring in internationally inspired, hand crafted Vietnamese steamed buns with a twist. The focus is to be versatile, fresh and deliver baos that play with your taste buds every time you bite into one. With ingredients that are unique, mostly made in-house and some imported, to be certain that the quality he wants is achieved.

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We started off with Hickory Smoked Wings with Garlic Yoghurt; man it was uber crispy and crunchy. There have been many restaurants in the city trying to get the good ol “Buffalo Wings” right, and have failed miserably. These are, by far, the best we’ve ever had. There’s a fraction of a second after you bite into a wing the first time, that makes your eyes pop and go wide, and then it’s easy to decide. It’s science. An instant connection. Your brain automatically decides, and you’re already going in for the next bite . Chef Siddharth realized that the ones he had served us were a bit too salty, but Garlic Yoghurt compensated for it. We had no complaints. This is a must have for every party. You’ll have people showing up for your parties just for these Hickory Smoked Wings. Haha! Moving on…

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We then had the Belgian Pork Belly Burger with Caramelised Onions and Sriracha Cheddar. It may look small, and you will not find the usual slices of tomato, lettuce and onion, and it won’t be smothered with mayo or have a dilapidated slice of cheese. This is a simple pork belly burger, made in a way burgers are supposed to be made. The imported Belgian pork belly, is carefully ground just right to retain its optimum flavour, seasoned lightly, and we guess it’s broiled with cheddar that’s mixed with sriracha to form a lovely gooey blanket that envelopes the burger, which is then sandwiched in a Brioche Bun that’s made in-house. You really have to taste it to believe it. It’s the bomb! Their in-house Sriracha sauce is to die for. We saw the jar in which the next batch of chillies were being fermented. For a die-hard Sriracha fan like me, that was heavenly.

And now, it was Bao time! 🙂

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We tried the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Baos first. This soft and supple bao has thin slices of chicken that are deep fried and tossed in Honey Sriracha Glaze and it is topped with a sesame slaw. The sesame slaw was so fresh, we could tell the finely julienned veggies were hand mixed just before they were topped on the crispy chicken pieces in the steamed bao. The combination of textures, temperatures and flavours is what makes The Bao Haus Co. unique. We really loved the magic that was happening in our mouths with every single bite.

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The next Bao had its own melange of flavours that made us weak in our knees. We love Asian food, and Thai food is our favourite. The Coconut Shrimp Bao just hit the sweet spot! It was Thailand in a bao. The coconutty deep fried shrimp that had a lovely tamarind glaze oozed of Thai flavours. We could taste the shrimp paste in the tamarind glaze. It was sprinkled with a magic dust, Kaffir Lime Salt. We wonder how much time was taken to perfect this bao coz Thai flavours are strong and to see how these ingredients were added in perfect proportions to create that balance, just blew our mind. We even had the Kaffir Lime and Ginger Soda, it was different, not very sweet, just right.

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It was time to have the Bao that we couldn’t hear enough of. The Chocolate Bao. To paraphrase our Friend, Joey Tribbiani, “Brûléed Bananas, GOOD, Marshmallows, GOOOD, Walnut Crumble, GOOOOD!” This bao was just what we needed to end our meal. We were happy to know that the marshmallows were made in-house, would’ve loved it even more if they were torched.

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Here’s another thing! With Halloween being round the corner, Chef Siddharth Somaiya has created a special dish which can be relished by vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Inspired by fall vegetables, and the colors synonymous with Halloween, Chef Siddharth Somaiya presents the “Carrot Bao with Quinoa Patty, Arugula & Goat Cheese Salad with Beet Chips” It’s an ode to eating healthy, with a Halloween spin! The carrot gives the bao, the bright orange color; we can only imagine the lovely flavour combo of quinoa, arugula and Goat’s cheese with beet! Something worth trying!

We like the fact that the bread, sauces and accompaniments are made in-house. It just reflects how much the Chef respects the final product. Ingredients are available frozen now-a-days, and it may seem easy to start a delivery joint, but after trying The Bao Haus Co., we can tell the benchmark it wants to set. We saw his commitment with how he ran his kitchen while we were there. Attention to minute details and monitoring everything with precision, spoke volumes of where he wants his brand to be. Everyone who loves food to the point of obsession, and those who put textures and flavours at utmost importance in their dining experience, has got to try this! We wish Chef Siddharth all the best with this venture and we would definitely be back to try more.

P.S They’re limited to deliveries in South Mumbai for now.

Oktoberfest at JW Cafe, JW Sahar

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It’s Oktoberfest season, and every restaurant and hotel have geared up to do their best at celebrating it in a grand way. We’ve been to a few of them in the city, but were thoroughly impressed by the spread put together by JW Café at JW Marriott,Sahar. Their Oktoberfest is on till the 4th of October, and if you want to satiate your taste buds with some great German food, JW Café is the place to be. With 12 kinds of sausages, Sauerkraut, soft Pretzels, Spätzle and an impressive selection of international beer, you are sure to have an amazing time.

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We have been to JW Café and have tried their breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets and were really happy to try the German fare which is now a part of their dinner buffet till the 4th. JW Café is known to have one of the biggest buffet spreads in the city; they are also the first restaurant in Mumbai to serve Alaskan Crabs at a buffet. The selection of cheese at their cheese counter has been very popular among food lovers, and so has their sushi and waffles.

Saeid Heidari, the GM of JW Marriott, Sahar is a German, and he had a big role to play in the execution and selection of the kind of dishes that were featured at JW Café’s Oktoberfest. Everything looked festive and truly reflected a spirit of celebration. The décor looked great, with blue and white checkered table cloth covering each table. There were pretzel stands at each table that had big pretzels on it. We couldn’t wait to begin.

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We made our way to the Oktoberfest section of the buffet and boy, it was amazing to see buckets of sausages laid on ice with an cook at a live charcoal grill. All we had to do was pick what we wanted, and they’d send us our selection of sausages to our table. Some of the pork sausages were Bockwurst, Weiss Wester, Noremberg, Krauker, Bratwurst, Curlywurst, Cocktail and Cheese sausages. And in chicken they had the Noremberg, Skinless Chilly, Cheese & Bacon and plain skinless chicken sausages. We quickly selected our favourites and they were put to grill while we glanced through the rest of the section.

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We have had Spätzle and German Pretzelsbefore, but trying out other German dishes were a great experience. There were Potato Pancakes called Kartoffelpfannkuchen, Käsespätzle – a variety of Spätzle mixed with grated cheese, onion and cherry tomatoes, Sauerkraut and Blaukraut (red cabbage), Mushroom Ragout, Chicken Frikadel, Lamb Goulasch and a whole lotta condiments. It was fantastic.They also had a selection of breads and soft pretzel rolls that were kissed with salt crystals.

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We loved every single one of the sausages we tried. They were juicy and grilled to perfection. Loved the charred bits. We had the Käsespätzle with the Lamb Goulasch and Mushroom Ragout and it was a delightful. The Spätzle was light and fluffy, very lightly seasoned and the Lamb Goulasch went really great with it. The meat was cooked really well and we loved the stewey nature of the dish. The Mushroom Ragout aka Pilze in Sahnesauce was absolutely sensational. The umami blended with cream with a slight kick from the pepper made it lipsmacking. We wished there were Knödels – bread dumplings to have it with. 🙂 We enjoyed dunking the soft Pretzel Rolls in it though.

The Blaukraut also known as Rotkohl, is very similar to Sauerkraut and it’s made with red cabbage. We loved having it with the sausages. Kortoffelp or Kortoffelpuffer which are potato pancakes made for a really good snack to go with our drinks.  We truly enjoyed gorging on German food and couldn’t believe that we completely ignored the other food sections at the buffet. It was that good.

The Thai counter looked great with authentic Thai delicacies made by Chef Rungtiwa and so did the Indian section. We love the Grill section that serves grilled meat with fresh rotis that are made in hot tandoors. The Sushi counter, the Salads and the Cheese counter are not to be missed. They also have a Mediterranean cuisine counter that serves pita pockets with lamb kebobs and a variety of dips like hummus, babaganoush and a few others. There is an Indian chaat counter and live pasta station.

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One of the crowning glories of JW Café’s buffet is their seafood and cold cut station that spoils every guest for choice, it has Alaskan Crablegs, Shrimps, Clams and Mussels served on ice. Sadly the crab legs were not served that night. They also have fine Prosciutto and ham carved at the same station along with smoked salmon that are served with capers and pickled onions. It is a must try.

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The dessert counter has a lot of desserts both French and Indian. Ice creams are served separately with Jelly Beans, Gummy Bears, Marshmallows and fresh fruits. We didn’t know what to have for dessert but the Black Forest looked exceptional with shards of chocolate dusted with gold. We tried the Black Forest Cake and the chocolate mousse, and we went nuts with Jelly Beans and Marshmallows. 🙂 We had a great time. We really like the service here as well; the staff are polite and prompt ensuring excellent customer service.

If want to celebrate Oktoberfest in its truest form this year, then check out JW Café and feast on a superb spread of German delicacies to your heart’s content. It doesn’t get any better than this.