Genting Dream, Hong Kong

Passports, check! Travel Documents check!
Camera, battery packs, wallet, check! check! check!

We left home excited and were looking forward to our first trip to Hong Kong. We’re big fans of all things Asian, so visiting a part of Asia closer to Mainland China had us excited. After a 60 minute ride to the airport, and breezing through security and immigration (carry on baggage for the win!), we sat down at the Cathay Pacific lounge waiting to board our flight. A short while later, we hear the boarding call and we hopped on board! Fast forward 6 hours later, we landed in Hong Kong and checked in to the Premium Plaza Lounge to charge our phones, have a quick shower, snacked on the breakfast buffet at the lounge and then headed out to the city center for a while since we had a few hours to kill before we could board the cruise. 🙂 A few dimsum and a couple of bubble waffles later, we were all set to head to the Kai Terminal to board the Genting Dream.

It was a bright sunny day and the thought of cruising through the Southern China Sea was beginning to get real. We couldn’t contain ourselves, we were inching closer to our first stay onboard a cruise ship, The Genting Dream by Dream Cruises.

Next stop, the Kai Tak Terminal. 😀

The old Hong Kong Airport (Kai Tak Terminal) has been repurposed to now serve as the terminal for ships and was the boarding point for our cruise. We reached the terminal earlier than expected, the ship hadn’t reached port yet, so we had to wait a while before could go through security and immigration.


Then the moment arrived, we could see the Genting Dream sail closer to us. It was surreal. The ship was huge and breathtakingly stunning. Vibrant and oozing with style, it was mammoth! 😀 No one could take their eyes off her. Soon people flooded to the glass walls of the terminal to take pictures and selfies. And by sunset the cruise just transformed into a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors and visual effects; thanks to the sophisticated lights that were setup on the balconies on board the ship.

DreamCruises ensured that we were given special attention for smooth embarkation. There were several entrances to board the ship and every gate was perfectly manned by the crew to ensure each passenger clears the guest list and made their way to their respective cabins. We were smiling from ear to ear as we entered the ship with staff welcoming us and guiding us to the right deck.

The entrance to the ship was spectacular and don’t even get us started about the decor. We were simply awestruck by the scale of everything on board. A destination on it’s own, the Genting Dream opened to us a doorway and a whole new perception of grandeur. Specced out better than most five star hotels, the attention to detail was immaculate. Starting from the carpeting, where floral designs guided you to front or the back of the ship to larger than life chandeliers. This ship was huge! 18 decks high, the Genting Dream really impressed us with its decor and we could hardly wait to find what all was in store for us during this trip.

Quick fact: The Genting Dream is 335 meters in length and 40 meters wide. It houses 1674 beautiful staterooms with an unbelievable capacity of 3352 guests and with 2016 crew. (No wonder we were so well taken care of.) WOW!

After checking into our cabin, we headed out for dinner. With 44 restaurants, bars and eateries to choose from; we found ourselves spoilt for choice! Soon we decided to try the buffet at Dream Dining.

Dream Dining (Upper Deck)

Dream Dining (Lower Deck)

Dream Dining is a multi cuisine restaurant that can be accessed from the 7th and the 8th deck. The upper level served a set menu for lunch and dinner while the lower level served buffet style. We decided to try Dream Dining (lower). The dining area is huge and it accommodates over a 1000 people. The spread looked amazing! It had meats, seafood, noodles, soups, rice and also had a western section that served pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, a variety of bread, salad, fruits and dessert. It also had a bar that was located in the middle of the dining area.

Here’s what we had.

Noodle Soup, Tofu, Prawns, Rice and Veggies

Virtually everything we tried was delicious. We were pretty skeptical on how food on a cruise would taste like but we were not disappointed. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal. We were pleasantly surprised to see Indian servers who specially made Indian food for some of the guests on board. We tasted some of the Indian fare and it was really good! So all those who think they’ll crave Indian food on board can be rest assured, you’ll be well taken care of. 🙂

We know a lot of our Indian friends who are strict vegetarians and are apprehensive of venturing to a Eastern Asia or South East Asian country because of the food. But on Genting Dream even the breakfast buffet had an elaborate Indian (veg) spread that even the Chinese patrons seemed to enjoy! So one need not worry about the food onboard. They will spoil you silly!

The next day started off with an elaborate breakfast at Lido, one of Genting Dream’s big all-day-dining restaurants. We saw guests enjoy some healthy and delicious breakfast delights with a massive spread of Western, Chinese and Indian breakfast options. They also serve lunch, dinner and a late night supper for the guests on the ship.

Eggs, Bacon, Sausages, Waffles, Pancakes, Ham, Mantao Buns, Dumplings, Scallion Pancakes, Baos, Soy Milk, Noodles and Juice

The pictures will show you the wide variety of food served and we really enjoyed trying the Chinese breakfast. We absolutely loved the Scallion Pancakes, Youtiaos aka Chinese crullers and Mantao Buns with soy milk, the plump Pork and Chicken dumplings and baos.

We knew our day would be fun and that it would be spent well exploring the gigantic ship and made the most of the time we had on board. Our onboard tour guide gave us a tour of the main areas of the ship. She was courteous, well trained and happened to be from Mumbai too. It was virtually impossible for us to complete touring the whole ship on foot in a span of 3 hours; however she managed to give us a glimpse of all the important, interesting and must visit areas of the ship. Some were even given exclusive access meant for VVIPs. It was amazing how a ship could house so many recreational areas. There was literally something for everyone.

As food bloggers, we wanted to ensure that we had enough time to showcase the best restaurants and the absolute must haves. So for lunch we chose renowned Australian Chef Mark Best’s restaurant to dine at.

Mark’s Bistro is a haven for diners who sophistication, elegance and truly great food. Our dining experience at Chef Mark Best’ s first restaurant at sea was nothing short of extraordinary. The concise and to the point menu boasts of the culinary artistry of the internationally acclaimed Chef Mark Best and promises to give you his contemporary rendition of western favourites.

We were really thrilled to have our meal there. The highlight of dining at this restaurant is that they serve Miyako Beef – the finest and one of the best tasting wagyu beef from Miyakojima, Japan. It is also called the Phantom Wagyu Beef, known for it’s melt-in-your-mouth texture and succulently distinguished flavour. A definite must have!

We started off by breaking bread. Quite literally as they served one of our favourite flavour combinations on bread – Parmesan and Paprika! It was crusty, chewy and so flavourful. This simple Parmesan and Paprika bread was an indicator of the level at which this restaurant operates. Brilliant! The amuse bouche that was served to us was Parma Ham wrapped in thinly sliced Melon. Classic, light and very delicious.

Our entree was a warm bowl of Cauliflower Soup with Spring Onion Oil. It was mild, the spring onion oil added freshness and definitely amped the flavour of the cauliflower. It was a brilliant Asian touch to the soup. We also had the Alaskan King Crab Salad, which was served on baby Lettuce leaves that acted as wrappers. The salad was simple, with generous portions of chunky crab meat. The lettuce leaves were fresh and added that perfect crunch. It was everything you want a simple salad to taste like. Fresh, and full of natural flavours.

For main course we had the Grilled Iberico Pork Chop and and Australian Flank Steak. Both were served on a bed of sautéed mushrooms with a side of a potato gratin slice. The meats were cooked perfectly. 😀 The mushrooms were a really good addition, the Jus was rich and flavourful.

Our dessert was a bowl of the most perfect Panna Cotta we’ve ever had. It was served with a blueberry Coulis. Simply superb! This restaurant is a must visit when you cruise through the Southern China Sea on the majestic Genting Dream.

For dinner we opted for a more theatrical experience with Umi Uma, Genting Dream’s Teppanyaki restaurant that serves amazing Japanese food! The whole experience of Chefs juggling food, making music with knives, interacting with the guests while cooking delicious food is an absolute sensory treat! We had the Teppanyaki Combo ‘Dream Ocean Shinto’ (Sea Scallops & Jumbo Shrimp). Starting with a miso soup and crunchy cucumber salad, we were really excited for our live teppanyaki experience. The chef began by introducing himself and how he would use simple ingredients like salt, pepper, garlic, soy sauce and butter as seasoning for our meal.

His comic timing and choreography on the grill maintained the smiles on our faces and had us clapping and cheering throughout the meal. He started off by grilling Prawns and Scallops followed by vegetables and then made fried rice that was shaped like a heart. 🙂 The eggs were rolled into a “snake shape” before it was added to the rice. The whole experience was delightful and the food was so delicious that it still makes us want to go back for more. This meal was perfect. 🙂

The dessert was exceptional! We had the coconut Pancake with Icecream and a Matcha Cake.

Post dinner we left to witness the mystical love story of an Astronaut and a Mermaid with the spectacular show – The Voyage of a Lover’s Dream at the Zodiac Theatre. It was simply magical! The production quality and the larger than life performance left us in awe. The sound and light, it was nothing like we’ve ever experienced before. Even though the show was primarily in Cantonese, we could understand every scene. The artist performed with such flair. A must see for everyone onboard. It was out of this world. 🙂

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay onboard the Genting Dream. Being our first experience on a cruise ship, it surpassed all our expectations with regard to hospitality, service, food and entertainment. The Genting Dream is a beautiful cruise ship and feels nothing short of a luxurious 5 star hotel at sea. Its decor oozes sophistication, style and luxury, giving guests an experience they will cherish for a lifetime. We enjoyed every single meal we had on board. With cuisines like Chinese, Thai, Malay, Japanese, Western and Indian, we were spoilt for choice with amazing selection of restaurants to choose from. So Indians who are apprehensive about travelling without the comfort of Indian food can be rest assured to be well taken care of. The variety of Indian food options at breakfast alone will put a smile on your face at the start of your day!

Genting Dream, is another world on its own where the sun never set and the fun seems to fade. We saw people of all age groups enjoying themselves with recreational activities, games, music, casinos, shopping and the list goes on and on. We had an amazing time and would encourage everyone to try it, as it’s worth every buck spent. You’re not only transported away into the calmness and serenity of the ocean but also into an experience that you will cherish forever. 🙂

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.

Yuuka, The St Regis Mumbai

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Dining at Yuuka with a meal prepared by none other than Chef Ting Yen was a dream come true. We had heard so about him and his son Kevin’s feat at St. Regis Mumbai’s Japanese restaurant and were delighted to be invited to review their new menu.

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We started our meal with one of Yuuka’s signature dishes – Salmon on Fire! Strips of raw salmon are placed on a lemongrass stalk that is suspended on a bed of coffee beans. The salmon is encrusted with bits of deep fried onion pieces and petals of edible flowers. Once brought to the table, the server sets fire to the coffee beans, lightly scorching the meat rendering a smoky char that adds immense flavour. It was served with a dipping sauce, but the salmon itself was so delicious; you don’t really need the sauce to enjoy the dish. Our meal was off to a great start.

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For drinks we had the Yuuka’s signature cocktails – Ginger Manhattan (Jim Beam, Martini Rosso, Ginger Falemum and Sour Mix) which was a very asian version of the classic cocktail and Ting’s Sushi Companion (Cucumber infused Sake, Mint, Cucumber Lime), a refreshing cocktail that really added to the dining experience. Later we also tried the Samurai – Yamazaki (12YO) Whisky Orange Juice and Togarashi powder. The whisky is Suntory’s (Japan’s first commercial distillery) flagship single malt whisky, multi-layered with fruit and Mizunara aromas, combined with Orange and Togarashi it gave a lovely fruity punch with some heat. All three are a must try!

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The next appetizer was the Avocado Tartare; a dish with a million textures (or at least that’s what it felt like). It is served cold in a frozen martini glass. The avocado tartare is placed on Perilla leaves or Shiso and served on ice. A layer of ice separates that from the Corn Dashi. The server breaks the ice to mix both leaving us with a chilled glass of creamy deliciousness. We loved the way the dish looked and the having it cold made it really enjoyable.

Chef Ting Yen is known for his restaurant Oishii in Boston. Being born in Japan, and raised in Korea and Taiwan, Chef Yen uses the experience and passion he has for Japanese food to craft a truly impressive menu at Yuuka. Using influences from his childhood and elements from family recipes, he carefully crafts each dish with refinement and a myriad of flavours and presents it in a modern way. His son Kevin who is equally passionate, adds to the symphony.

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The next dish was presented to us by the duo. Chef Yen brought to our table a hot infusion siphon. The first time we’d seen one brought out onto a restaurant floor. It’s an amazing tool to make hot broths or cocktails, even tea and coffee at the table. Chef Yen called it the ‘5 min Mushroom Dashi’. Made with Kombu, dried Bonito flakes and a variety of mushrooms, the dashi is most certainly a flavour bomb of umami. We were served chunks of prawns, oyster and shiitake mushroom with scallions, and medallions of semolina cakes that were seared for a light caramelized exterior. The semolina cakes were sweet and give a contrast to the rich umami flavour in the dish. Elegant and delicious.

We also tried the Chilean Sea Bass that was packed with deep soy flavour which was followed by a train of Maki Rolls.

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Our favourites of the evening, The Truffle Maki and the Lamb Over Fire Maki. It’s hard to resist truffles when paired with creamy avocado, cucumber and a generous shaving of black truffle; each morsel becomes a moment to cherish. If you love the truffles, this maki roll is a dish you can’t afford to miss.

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The Lamb Maki Over Fire. Each bite is nothing short of a mouthwatering amalgamation of flavours. The flames from the coffee beans and lemongrass lightly scorch the edges of the roll, rendering it smoky, with hints of the fragrant burnt lemongrass and coffee. A Ponzu reduction is drizzled over it while it’s still roasting, to add in a new dimension of flavour. Each roll is topped with a tiny slice of chilli and finely sliced scallions. The thinly sliced lamb that wraps around the Maki just seems to melt away as soon as it’s in your mouth. Stuffed with lamb and soy, this roll is a definite must-try from the list of dishes that have been added to the menu at Yuuka.

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We also tried a few of Chef’s specials like the Chef Ting’s Fried Rice and Stir Fried Udon Noodles with Dutch Porkbelly with Red Miso. We really enjoyed the fried rice as it had a spicy kick to it. Chef informed us that the noodles were not on the menu and were from the hidden menu at Oishii. Only a few patrons at Oishii knew it exists, as he doesn’t like to make it for everyone. It’s made just like how his father used to make it and the Chef took immense pride in sharing the special memory with us. You could tell that the noodles were handmade. They had a really chewy texture to them, I loved the light sauce and vegetables that it was tossed in. The pork belly was tender and was cooked to perfection.

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For dessert we had the Wine Poached Pear with Berries. It turned out to be a perfect way to end our meal. Sublime, not-too-sweet and quite literally a nice ‘fade to black’ as far as our evening went.

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Yuuka as a restaurant that celebrates modern Japanese food and Chef Ting Yen combines it with Nikkei cuisine with a few Peruvian ingredients. Chef Ting and his son, Kevin, only visit the restaurant at St. Regis, Mumbai twice a year. Kudos to the team of chefs trained by Chef Ting, who keep the torch burning strong and fierce when he is not around. We had the opportunity to meet the father-son duo in November and we had an amazing time dining there.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Mustard, Penha de Franca, Goa

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Our meal at Mustard not only made us fall in love with Bengali food but also gave us insight to the concept that is unique and very much needed in a melting pot such as Goa. Mustard specializes in Bengali and French cuisine. Although Goa has it’s fair share of French restaurants, combining it with a regional cuisine is a brilliant idea. Mustard introduces some really authentic flavours and the rich culture that is not fully explored in Goa.

It was a pleasure meeting Poonam Singh, the co-owner of Mustard, during our meal. She shared with us her vision and how the restaurant came into being. Mustard has always been associated with Bengali as well as French cuisine and that common factor binds both worlds. And this has been beautifully translated in their menu. With two separate kitchens functioning seamlessly, the variety of flavours and dishes that are churned out speak volumes of the contribution made by the chefs who handle each kitchen.

We also had the opportunity to meet Chef Pritha Sen, who is a renowned chef, and the mastermind behind the elaborate Bengali menu. Her experience as a food historian is vast and she’s got a deep rooted knowledge of Bengali cuisine. She sort of took us back in time narrating the history of Bengali cuisine and how different eras and circumstances have influenced it. And the food revealed her passion to serve this interesting cuisine in an innovative and creative way touching the hems of pure fine dine experience effortlessly.

Chef Gregory Bazire runs the French kitchen. He brings his expertise channeling innovation and simplicity to let you experience fresh and classic European cuisine at it’s best. We tried a few French dishes that were truly exceptional. It be unfair to pick our favourite between both the menus.

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We loved the décor; it is perfect for a romantic date. They share their space with Freedom Tree (The home décor store), hence a lot of installations and pieces are from them. It adds to the warmth and cozyness. The colors are light aquamarine and white with hints of pink. They have an outdoor garden space that looks like a picture taken out of a fairytale. Very dreamy! They also have a community table which is ideal for those who are not shy of making new friends. Interestingly, the micro-greens that are used as garnish, are grown in the same garden. They’ve also got live music every Wednesday; we love their choice of artists. Vamsee Krishna played the day we dined there and he did an amazing job with his primarily acoustic set.

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The Food. We started off with Tentul Joler Sherbet, an in-house mock-tail shot made out of tamarind, flavoured with honey and mint. It’s best for a hot sunny day and helps digestion. Do not miss trying the Mustard Specials, their in-house concoctions.
Pritha ensured we had the best of both the menus so we started off with Smoked Fish. We loved how every dish has a story behind it, she explained how it came into being, and how it is made. The fish is marinated in mustard powder and mustard oil, and smoked in a traditional way with puffed rice, jaggery and husk. We were in awe of how simple ingredients used in a certain way could do so much to a dish. Served on banana leaf, the fish looked absolutely stunning. It was cooked to perfection. Smokey, tender and delicious! Loved how the presentation is minimal yet striking. This was just a start to an amazing evening at Mustard.

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We were then served the Prawn Cutlet. A crumb fried, butterflied and lightly marinated prawn, served with Kashundi or fermented mustard sauce. It is mentioned in the menu that this dish was made in the Bengali households during the British Raj and the fermented mustard sauce was used as a substitute for Tartare Sauce. We loved how the prawn cutlet was crunchy and fresh. The mustard sauce added the perfect zing; it was perfect.

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Then we had the Dimer Chop; a new entrant in the Jalkhabhar section of the menu. This famous Bengali street food, also called Dimer Devil, is made with hard boiled egg halves covered with potato mixture and crumb fried; again, served with mustard sauce. We liked the fact that the eggs were not over cooked; the yolk didn’t have a grey lining, so thumbs up for that. It tasted yum. Next, we had the Shammi Kebab. Made with ground mutton and flavoured with fragrant spices, this kebab just melted in our mouths. Served with mint chutney and onion rings, it was beautifully made and tasted really great. It was interesting to learn how Bengali cuisine has evolved with its influences from the British Raj, the Europeans and the Nawabs.

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After the appetizers from the Bengali menu, we sampled a few from the French menu. We started off with some warm crusty multigrain bread served with butter and two delicious mustards that were made in-house. It was brilliant and well made; the pungent characteristic in the mustard was well balanced and it didn’t have an unpleasant hit. The grainy mustard was sweet and we enjoyed it with a couple of slices of bread and a little butter.

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We tried BBQ Prawns on Fritters; grilled prawns beautifully flavoured with Thyme and Rosemary, served on a sweet corn fritters finished with a spicy, sweet and sour pineapple chutney garnished with toasted sesame seeds. The flavours were well balanced, loved how light the corn fritters were, and they added body to the whole dish, giving you a feel of a proper BBQ night with every bite. Next was Chicken Scaloppini, thin slices of chicken marinated in Dijon mustard pan-fried and served with long zucchini strips, finished with a mustard pesto dressing. It was nice. 🙂

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Our main course was an authentic Bengali Thaal served with a modern twist. The square white plate with just a strip of banana leaf and all the dishes served one after the other did more than just add vibrance to the table. The platter looked beautiful and every dish was made with such unquestionable finesse that only a true perfectionist could get what the chef accomplished that night. We were awestruck. Pritha passionately described the courses and how and in which order an item on the platter is meant to be eaten. The order of how the food is served is very important in Bengali cuisine and each dish is to be eaten separately with a little rice. The first item is the rice, which traditionally is served with ghee and salt. Then comes Shukto, which is a semi dry preparation. We were served Red Shards with peanuts. Then comes the lentil preparation, we were served a thick Cholar Dal garnished with desiccated coconut, it was so fragrant and soulful. Followed by Doi Begun and Aloo Jhinga Poshto, the most loved and relished part of every Bengali meal before the meats. We were served light fluffy Lucchis and Karaisutir Kochuri or Peas Puris that went extremely well with all the dishes that were served. Bengalis relish proteins like fish, chicken and lamb after this. We were served Chingri Maachher Malaikari, a golden yellow curry with King Prawns simmered in coconut milk and fragrant spices. We also had Kosha Mangsho, Bengal’s best known mutton curry and the star of any Bengali feast. Kosha Mangsho means “cooked in its own juices”, and it was cooked in mustard oil with onions, cardamom, cinnamon and clove. It was magical. We had an awesome time savouring these delectable flavours of Bengal.

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Dessert was Bhapa Doi and Crème Brûlée. It was the first time that we tried Bhapa Doi, we love Mishti Doi, but this steamed version stole our hearts with it’s luscious texture. The Crème Brûlée was good too, we were left stuffed and smiling as it had been a wonderful experience all along. We truly enjoyed our time at Mustard and recommend this place to all those who want great food, lovely ambience and excellent service. Would like to mention that the staff are trained immaculately to ensure that every guest is attended to, loved how they were positioned perfectly to ensure that every guest is at their line of sight to ensure prompt service. Mustard have great music on Wednesdays, so don’t miss it. We loved this place and recommend every food lover to visit Mustard when they are in Goa.