Monsoon in Moira #nofilter

Our trips to Goa began in the early 80s. Summer holidays were spent driving from Hyderabad to Goa with Papa in his Maruti van. We went to the same hotel, stayed in the same rooms, and spent our weeks between the pool and the beach with several coconut waters to break up the day. Post-childhood trips didn’t stray much from this formula, until now.

My last trip to Goa, a few weeks ago, involved a cursory walk on the beach and only one dip in a pool. A Goa of monsoon and the Mandovi, and villages lush with lazy; it was a Goa I never imagined I would experience. And now, the only kind of Goa I want to visit.


My generous host left no King’s bottle unopened to make sure we experienced the real susegad life. When we could bear to tear ourselves away from rain-watching on his verandah, there were Friday nights at Cavala, breakfast at Baba au Rhum, Saturday dancing at Cohiba, fish thalis at Anand Restaurant & Bar, and an explosive lunch at Gunpowder.

Located on a meandering street in the picturesque village of Assagao, Gunpowder’s kitchen serves coastal food from Goa, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, in a stately Portuguese home saved from ugly redevelopment. A Delhi restauranteur gave up the city in favour of laid back living; and the result is most delicious. Sharing the home with an ethical and fair trade boutique (People Tree) and several dogs, Gunpowder’s food is often fiery, partial to coconut, and always excellent. Unlike most Goan restaurants the vegetarian options are plentiful and not restricted to mushroom and paneer.

We ate for hours, then sat around for a few more, intoxicated by the breeze blowing through the open courtyard, or perhaps it was just the Goan spirit…

The superhit dish of the day was surprisingly, potatoes and generous chef Jaan Gohain didn’t hesitate a moment before sharing the recipe with me!



Having just rid myself of a shell fish allergy, I enjoyed the juicy prawn masala immensely.


When in Goa, eat choriz.


I Instagrammed these photos a few weeks ago and as always was surprised at how easily smart phones and their never ending supply of apps have made a Henri Cartier-Bresson of the most undeserving of us. A moody choice between Amaro and Lo-Fi, depth of field inserted with a tap on the screen, and I can turn the most ordinary bowl of bhel into a 100-like worthy piece of envy. I’ve learnt to drench my world in filters to alter every mood, drowning out reality with the push of a button. Filters have become my friend and I wonder, are photographs all I use them on?

Then comes along a near-full moon to save me from myself. The night arrives unannounced, at the end of a spectacularly ordinary day, and burns away with the next morning’s sunrise. I rush to shoot the moon, only to have him look back at me, untouched.

These nights are reminders – of midnight kisses real and imagined, of promises never made. But mostly they are a reminder that its time to experience life without the filter of expectations. Its time to love life #nofilter.



Filed under Beach, Cafe, Goa, India, Indian

Bombay, a canteen & a pop up

I had several reasons to leave Bombay when I did nine years ago. None of which however were to get away from the city. I come back often, desperate for a breath of Bombay, and over the years have witnessed a vehement disillusionment with the city amongst my friends. I don’t judge them, nor the city. How can I? I come for a few weeks, starry eyed and still completely in love with the Bombay that gave me the confidence to walk away. It just hasn’t been possible for me to hate the weather, traffic, corruption, noise. At this very moment a few bats are practicing for Indian Idol right outside my window… what can you do?!

I’m not all tolerance and Om though. Take me to the new crop of Bombay restaurants and watch my zen disappear into menus still fascinated with Indianising international cuisines. I’m sorry but Mamagoto is more masala than maki, Starbucks is not coffee, and anything that is remotely authentic is wildly out of reach of most pockets. And don’t get me started on the likes of Monkey Bar.

Then I dined at The Bombay Canteen. And again at Le Kitchen’s pop up. I love Indian food best. So to come home to two gloriously Indian menus has been such a win.

Food at The Bombay Canteen tastes like its coming from the heart of an old relative’s kitchen. The menu is generously sprinkled with influences from across India – a melting pot of regional flavours, much like the city the restaurant calls home. It was a relief to see that the dashing executive chef Thomas Zacharias has left behind any bad habits he may have been forced to adopt at Olive. And this is what I ate:

Kejriwal toast – while nobody does it like The Willingdon Club, this clever take on a Bombay classic (and addition of a green chilli chutney) with melted cheese makes it a luscious starter.


Crispy mandeli fry – I’ve never had this outside a home kitchen before and polished off the bowl in no time.


Pulled pork vindaloo on theplas – courtesy of the restaurant. I’d love a taste of the feni in this fab dish! The theplas, though delicious on their own were too dense as a combination. I would love to taste the pork with a steamed poi instead.

Bhavnagri chillies stuffed with good old Amul cheese – disappointed that I didn’t get a single hot one.

Brown butter and green chilli dosa – now my second favourite dosa in the city (still looking for No. 1 if you must know).


Shrimp and kairi biryani – subtle flavours and a generous portion. Totally loved the corny banana leaf thali.


Gulab jamun – an Old Monk drenched, boozy doughnut shaped dessert spread with pistachio cream. Heaven for any sugar lover.


I was very disappointed with the cocktails. The three I tried all tasted of fruit juice and/or artificial concentrate and flavours and it seems that my quest for a great cocktail in Bombay must continue.

A few days later I was invited to Ashish Glasswalla’s Le Kitchen pop up at The House of Tales. I first met Ashish two years ago when he catered a lunch at home. We still count his fantastic chaat, kulchas and jalebis amongst some of the best food we’ve ever had catered at home.

On the menu at the pop up – chilli cheese sev puri, tandoori prawns with crackling spinach, chicken keema lifafa, mutton biryani (one of the best I have ever had), jalebi with kulfi and meetha paan truffles. Ashish also gave us a taste of a masala chai chocolate mousse served with a sparkling Parle G. So clever and such fun!


I cannot recommend them highly enough. And at Rs. 1,200 for six sensational courses you can’t lose. Their dinner pop up is on at The House of Tales until 13th September. Book online here.

What I love best about The Bombay Canteen & Le Kitchen (in addition to their friendly prices and excellent service) is that they don’t mess about with fusion as we have seen so far. While not every dish is completely traditional, the flavours the chefs have brought together work really well.

Indian fused with India – now this is a trend I could get behind!


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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Bombay, Cheese, Cocktails, Dessert, Gymkhana, India, Indian, Open kitchen, Parsi, Pop-up, Restaurant, Small Plates, South Indian, Tasting menu

At the Chapel. A weekend for one

I’ve travelled on my own a lot. Buenos Aires, New York, Rome, Lucknow have all been solo adventures; each trip planned in excruciating detail down to where I would have my 4pm coffee and post dinner stroll. Bruton was different. The street I live on in London is possibly longer than the distance between the start and end milestones of this quaint village in Somerset. And save for long walks, an occasional cheddar cheese farm and a country outpost of a city art gallery there is little else to “do”. 

I packed my tablet with several movies, carried as many books as clothes, and took along more newspapers for this long weekend than I usually read in a month. I’m a city girl. What was I doing spending my birthday on my own in the middle of nowhere? Mad. 

Cold and windswept, I walked into At the Chapel in Bruton. Welcomed by muddy gumboots leaning cosily against each other, wafts of freshly baked bread, and the warmest smile I’ve been gifted in the longest time, I knew I had just made one of the better decisions of my life. Charlie swept me into the beautiful atrium restaurant, where I would return like a homing pigeon for the next three days.



I don’t make New Year resolutions, I never begin diets on a Monday… so the only way I can describe what happened in Bruton is ‘revelations’: 

Where you come from matters 

I imagine Somerset is beautiful in every season, but especially scenic as spring takes hold of its rolling hills and bustling coastline. A short drive from Bruton is Tom Calver’s Westcombe farm, where 280 cows graze their days away in lush fields, less than a mile from the dairy (something about not wanting to disturb the milk’s molecules with too much travel). A small group of men make this award-winning cheese by hand, carefully slapping and turning the cheese until it’s ready for a long sleep in the cave. Tom could have turned the family dairy into a “business”. Instead, he chose tradition. His commitment to artisan techniques has resulted in the best Cheddar anyone will ever taste.


Where you are going matters too

Beginning with my first skinny, dry cappuccino, At the Chapel got everything right. And whatever they didn’t, they corrected with smiles so wide, and hearts so warm that I struggle to name any flaws in my stay. I was lucky to meet owners Catherine Butler and Ahmed Sidki who first bought this now fabulous restaurant, bakery, wine shop and hotel to convert into their home. Instead what they ended up doing was create a home for everyone who walks through their doors. A home with gorgeous bedrooms, outstanding pizza, and a team of inn keepers who look after you even before you realise you need looking after.  


Where you are matters most 

I have not stood still for a while. Always looking back and looking forward, I lost sight of the ground right beneath my feet. I weep for the loves I have lost, for the life that may never come my way. I weep a lot. The love and warmth at At the Chapel brushed away my tears long enough for me to realise that I am already surrounded by old friends and new strangers who love me today, now. Where I am, matters the most.


 This is how I spent my weekend in Bruton:

  • Stayed At the Chapel in a lovely room (£150) with South-facing views of The Dovecote (and not once felt the need to hide behind my collection of books and movies). Each hotel guest wakes up to a warm croissant left outside the door first thing in the morning. Best I’ve ever tasted.


  • Walked through muddy fields to the fantastic Hauser & Wirth gallery. 
  • Roth Bar & Grill makes a decent Negroni with the longest orange peel I have seen. I don’t recommend the food.
  • Spent all other meal times at At the Chapel.
  • Visited Westcombe Dairy and came back with a truck load of Tom Calver’s Caerphilly, Cheddar and Ricotta. Sipped on the local brew – Fresh by Wild Beer Co.
  • Walked to The Dovecote.
  • Promised myself to return to Bruton. Soon.




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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Breakfast, British, Cheese, Cocktails, Coffee, Hotel, Hotel restaurant, Pizza, Travelogue

The Petite Coree. Time to unblur the lines

Love. Passion. Compassion. Do you remember when these words started infiltrating job descriptions? It is no longer enough to be excellent. We must be empathetic, endearing, and enjoy the hours we spend in the office. Isn’t it ironic that we are expected to give our 200% at work, in the same breath that we are lectured on work/life balance?

If you love what you do, then it won’t feel like work.” I hear it all the time. I say it all the time. Doesn’t feel like balance to me. Fact is, for most of us who don’t work for ourselves, no matter how much we love what we do to make money, it still is work.

Did I just spend 10 days straight working more than nine hours a day? Yes.

Could I have done an excellent job in fewer hours? No.

Did I love every minute of it? Yes.

Do I love the exhaustion I feel right now? No.

All I could think of at the end of day 10 was that I did not have the energy to cook myself a meal, I did not want to go home to an empty flat, and for a very long minute, I questioned why I spent the last few days the way I did. I may not have anyone to speak to when I get home, but for the first time in my London life I have a local “where everybody knows my name”. Where my extra chilli sauce arrives even before I realise I want it.

The Petite Corée and I are unlikely friends. I was wary of a restaurant with an Asian chef and a French name. I can’t speak for them, but can only imagine what they must have thought of an Indian customer telling the Korean chef his kimchee wasn’t Korean enough. I’m glad we both moved past first impressions because tonight, there was no place more welcoming than my neighbourhood bistro.

This restaurant serves popular European dishes with a Korean twist. I have now eaten my way through their entire menu (several times over) and haven’t had a single bad meal.

No visit is complete without an order of Mandu (steamed pork & glass noodle dumpling, rocket, balsamic), £6. This dish is as Asian as they come, with the rocket and balsamic hesitant European sidekicks to the dumplings, the delicious stars of the dish.

Mandu IITheir version of arancini swaps the traditional filling for kimchee flavoured rice with mozzarella and served with gochujang dressing, £5.5.

Kimchi Rice, panéed kimchi rice, mozzarella, gochujang dressingAnother favourite is the Italian cheese appetizer with honey and a spicy Korean sauce, £5. I’ve had this with mozzarella, burrata, and most recently with pecorino cream cheese – all luscious, moreish and so very clever!

downloadFresh on the menu is a Smoked Sword Fish, £6, with fish chunks that come wrapped in gem lettuce, drenched in a zingy wasabi & lime dressing and shiso. Then there is a butter roasted “Kimchee”, £5. One could spend the entire meal just on their appetizers, as I often do.

Smoked Sword Fish, wasabi & lime dressing, shisoOn the rare occasion I order a main it is always the pork belly in Korean “BBQ jus” (£13.5). Chefy terms aside, this is one of the best preparations of pork I have ever had the joy of tasting. If I was one to make lists this would be on my London top 10 without any hesitation.

The modest bistro is run by Chef Jae and his lovely wife Yeon. Jae trained in the hallowed kitchens of Nobu and Hélène Darroze before choosing exhaustion for himself rather than someone else. Chef Jae chose to blur his lines between work and life; but each time I dine here too exhausted to cook for myself, I know its time to unblur mine.


If you live in London, get yourself down to The Petite Corée for Jae and Yeon’s heartwarming food and service. For added incentive they have BYO Tuesdays and Wednesdays!

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Filed under Bistro, Italian, Korean, London

Bocca di Lupo. About time

A man I love very much said to me, “If you were 30, I would give our relationship a go. But you’re 37 – if I go out with you, you will start expecting marriage soon.

I still haven’t found the words to respond to this, but I did add him to a long list of my people obsessed with age. Nobody I know seems to want to be their age at the moment – through mind-numbing food plans, bad hair dye jobs, inappropriate sexapades, and best-selling alter egos, I have found myself in the midst of a lot of people’s age-crisis. So it wasn’t quite by accident that I was drawn to the New Year Day release of The Theory of Everything – a film about Stephen Hawking and his theories of time. Hawking writes an equation to prove that there was a beginning of time. He then proposes the end of time. We go about our lives quietly accepting beginnings and ends of sunrises and sunsets, of days and meals, of relationships and jobs; and yet, we get so sensitive about our age. We fight it – everyday.

As I wandered around Soho and pondered my people’s preoccupation with age, I walked past a restaurant, I’ve always enjoyed visiting. Bocca di Lupo has a chef-owner who has written a wonderful book on pasta through the ages – The Geometry of Pasta. A book that was born of a preoccupation of a more delicious kind – of the Italian’s obsession with the right shape of pasta for the right sauce.

I love a little time travel as much as the next person. Especially if I can taste my way through the travel, as I did tonight.

Agnolotti dal plin

AgnolottiLike all interesting food history, the origin of the agnolotti, a semi-circle stuffed pasta from Piedmont, is attributed to several legends. Some say it’s name comes from the tool that was used to cut the pasta – the anolot. Other stories give credit to its stuffing – agnello (lamb). Or perhaps it was named after the chef, Angeloto, who first made these to celebrate the end of a siege? The version I ate – Agnolotti dal plin (£9) was pinched into delicate pleats and stuffed with pork and veal. Not the best bowl of pasta I have ever had, but tonight I wasn’t after excellence. Instead, reading about its history added texture to my meal – about how this pasta used to be made mainly for festive occasions, given the dainty pleating; or in the winter, when “housewives had to fill long winter evenings with some sort of activity.”

Wine: Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, 2012 (£7.70)

Pappardelle with venison ragú

Pappardelle“They are best served with a chunky, flavoursome, oily sauce in Tuscany; with a chicken liver or hare ragú, in the Veneto and Romagna with a pigeon one.” I had mine with a venison ragú (£9) – a wholesome sauce that lovingly attached itself to luscious ribbons of hand made pappardelle. The book talks about how this pasta has been around since the medieval times “when they were cooked in a game broth, thickened by blood.”

Wine: Primitivo Fatalone, 2010 (£7.50)

KitchenAs I watched 4 chefs cook traditional recipes for a 100 diners, I had to wonder if they ever stopped to think about how old they were. Working in unspoken conversations, the only place they could be was in the moment.

In this moment, it is exactly the time it is. We are exactly the age we are.



Filed under Italian, London, Pasta, Soho London

Poppaddum Sadya: A sumptuous lunch invitation

I don’t have any Mallu friends. It is the only reason I can think of for not knowing anything substantial about food from ‘God’s Own Country’. Further absolving myself of all responsibility, I also blame Bombay. With barely a handful of Keralite restaurants, the city is seriously lacking in culinary representation from the spice capital of India.

So when I heard about an economist from Kerala, living in Bombay, wanting to invite ten strangers to share a dining table for a taste of her traditional home cooking… I would have been a fool to say no.

Sneha Nair’s recipes and kitchen tricks are the result of long-distance phone calls with her mother and peering over her aunt’s shoulder as she cooked. Sneha may be a self-taught cook, but my introduction to this glorious cuisine could not have been more perfect. My first ever Keralite meal was – a sadya, the traditional, all-vegetarian feast served at festivals and celebrations.

That Sunday afternoon, ten strangers picked their own banana leaf to eat on, arranged themselves on the floor, and waited for feast to begin. Sneha served us each dish herself, suggesting the ‘correct’ way to eat each item but also encouraging us not to get too distracted by custom.

IMG_2220First came eight chutneys and sides including the raw mango chutney manga peraku, a sweet and sour puliyinchi, lime pickle vadukapuli achar, banana chips, raw jackfruit chips and the moreish banana and jaggery sarkara upperi. The crowd pleaser was most definitely the pachadi, pineapple, coconut and yoghurt transformed into a tangy creation.

Then arrived the vegetables, a riot of colours dancing on my bright green leaf – avial, kaalan, kootcurry, carrot and bean thoran, cabbage thoran; and olan, where two of my favourite ingredients – pumpkin and coconut milk – come together in a delicately textured mild curry.

IMG_2224Next we were served a daal with ghee, aubergine and okra sambhar and pineapple rasam. And last, the delicious payasam ada pradhaman a classic combination of rice flakes, jaggery, milk and roasted cashews.

I was lost in a trance of unfamiliar delicacies, each dish designed to coax the flavours out of the others. There was a time when a sadya used to consist of 64 dishes and I think I speak for everyone when I say we were relieved that Sneha only chose 20! The trick while eating a sadya is to eat the rice sparingly and my only disappointment was that Sneha chose basmati rice instead of rosematta (red) rice that I was later told was more traditional.

When the meal is completed, one is meant to fold the banana leaf. The direction in which we fold the leaf is a signal of our enjoyment of the meal – folding it away is a compliment to the chef.

Even though her mother grew up in a house with three kitchens and spent her summers making banana chips and jackfruit jam, Sneha never cooked in these kitchens. She may have dabbled in some cooking as a teenager, but it wasn’t until she moved to Scotland for a few years in 2010 that her tryst with Keralite food really began.

You never know when your calling hits you, and Sneha can’t pinpoint the exact moment when she thought cooking for others was a good idea. Whatever the reason behind Sneha’s Poppadum supper clubs, Bombay is certainly a better place for it.


This article was first written for burrp!

Photographs courtesy the lovely Vaydehi Khandelwal.

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Filed under Bombay, Foodie Events, Home-style, India, Indian, Kerala, Pop-up, South Indian, Vegetarian

Soleil by La Plage. The making of a restaurant

I spent the last weekend of my year-long sabbatical at Sula’s vineyards in Nashik; exactly 13 years after my first weekend there, as their first head of sales. It wasn’t until I left them to pursue a career in hotels did I realise that for my entire time at Sula I was always the only woman in the room. The office team, the restaurants we visited, the distributors we negotiated with, and the wine shops we cajoled – all male, everywhere.

Over a decade later, I was thrilled to see a few more women at the helm of Sula’s operations – a winemaker, chief vegetable grower, the brand ambassador, a head chef and most recently, Florence Tarbouriech. Florence is one-third of the trio behind Goa’s La Plage, head designer and inspirer of all things genius at their new restaurant Soleil by La Plage at Sula’s vineyards.

Florence’s partnership with Serge Lozano and Morgan Rainforth goes back nearly two decades. Friends, lovers, parents and gastronomes, the trio clearly love their work, but they love life more. It is probably this that they have most in common with Sula’s Rajeev Samant. “We don’t want to create a fashion story,” said Serge. “If we had opened in Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore it would have been a fashion story.” In an industry where restaurateurs pursue private equity backed mindless expansion and chefs spend more time on television than in their kitchens it is heartening to meet a team that puts passion first.

IMG_8003I visited Soleil a few days before their soft launch and was allowed a peek into the making of the restaurant. Florence spent weeks walking around Chor Bazaar and scrap yards, in search of inspiration as well as scrap she could upcycle in the restaurant – so wine pallets and barrels turned into tables, and wine bottles dress the chandeliers. The restaurant has bold pops of colour, lush greenery, original artwork, and comfortable lounge areas. “I waited for the designs to choose me,” she said. This approach to design has been an eye opener for Sula as well. Rajeev shared, “My team are just loving this! After walking around the winery with Florence and Serge they have seen the potential of recycling. Also, instead of waiting around for the restaurant to open, Florence got the waiters to help with the interiors – they painted and scraped along with the workers and now the team have a sense of ownership for the place they will be working in.

IMG_7997Something else the four have in common is their desire for simple, sustainable living. Sula employs solar power and rainwater harvesting, vermiculture composting, and now with Soleil has ensured one of India’s first true farm to table experiences.

Chef Morgan, aka Guruji, is overjoyed, “I’ve been cooking awful chicken for 17 years and now I finally have the perfect free range gavthi chicken at my doorstep.” In addition to their own free range chicken farm, Sula also rears goats for milk and cheese, makes grapeseed oil and honey, grows its own fruit and vegetable, and fires the Soleil barbeques with wood from its grape cuttings. It’s hard to get more organic than this!

The trio are country kids at heart and it isn’t surprising to see some very hearty dishes at Soleil. Morgan’s menu features French classics as well as, for the first time, his take on Indian food. “I am trying to pare back, get to the heart of the spice in each dish. During my research I was also surprised to see some similarities between Indian food and some dishes from France. For example, you have ‘Gatte ki sabzi’; and I grew up with the French version of this – fried chickpea flour cakes! There is also the Indian version of French creamed spinach, or as we like to call it, palak paneer.

Soleil’s menu will change with the seasons and this monsoon they are serving dishes that include Mango and beetroot carpaccio, coriander and homemade feta cheese (Rs. 280); Crispy organic asparagus and grilled homemade paneer with creamy spinach sauce (Rs. 300); Barbecued Gangapur lake scampi, coral butter, saffron risotto with broccoli (Rs. 690); Free range chicken cooked in Sula Dindori Shiraz, potato puree with olive oil and caramelized baby onions (Rs. 540); and Soleil’s seasonal vegetarian thali (Rs. 310).

Two decades in India have sensitised the La Plage gang to working here – so they may not have beef on their menu, Morgan no longer asks why he cannot buy fish during shravan, and Florence isn’t surprised when the painting of the Pandav Caves is moved out of the loo ten seconds after she placed it there.

Even though Soleil gets the all-important big three right – great chef, great location, great concept – spend a day with Florence, Morgan, Serge and Rajeev and it’s clear that what they are committed to most is preserving their environment. As destination restaurants around the world are slowly making their way up most ‘Best Of’ lists, India can finally be proud to have one of her own.


This article was first written for BURRP! where I am a resident Food Expert.

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Filed under Design, French, India, Indian, Nashik, Restaurant, Seafood, Wine, Wine Bar