Category Archives: Dessert

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.

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

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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).

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

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

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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!

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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

The White Owl. An addendum

I have so far never posted an addendum to a blog post. I have honestly never needed to. A recent revisit to The White Owl however was so underwhelming (for my guests) and embarrassing (for me) that I feel the need to share my second experience of their special menu.

We ordered six dishes, sent back three and barely touched what was left on our table. Given that it took them 45 minutes to bring out the appetisers we didn’t have the time (nor the energy) to request the kitchen to read up Nikhil’s recipes and fix the dishes. These were the low points of our meal:

Raw & Ripe Mango Salad – the version we got yesterday was bland, the dressing completely diluted with barely a hint of the soya and chilli. The salad was swamped with so much tasteless papaya that we had to hunt for the raw mango. I sent my half-eaten dish back. A few minutes later the chef was kind enough to send another – this had less papaya and a spruced up dressing. Much, much better – but still a far cry from what I tried at the tasting.

Shrimp & Water Chestnut Salad – the leaves were soggy and warm; the shrimp were neither cold nor hot and my guests did not enjoy the temperature nor texture of this dish in their mouth. This dressing too was diluted with no distinctive flavour of anything.

Sweet Bell Pepper Roulade – I had rated this as a real stand out dish in my first blog post. What arrived instead was a gloopy mess (see the before and after photos below). The pesto was bitter with none of the creaminess of the nuts I tasted the first time. The peppers were soggy, as was the barley. The barley filling which was such a hit at the tasting didn’t have any of the original bite.

IMG_7621               photo 1 (2)

 

 

 

 

Plum-glazed Chicken – the menu describes this to be accompanied with a “sauce”, however what arrived was a watery curry with the same uncooked and tart flavours that one gets from ready sauce pastes. We couldn’t taste any of the sweetness of the plums and the chicken was so rubbery we couldn’t chew it at all. The accompanying rice was meant to have a lemongrass flavour. If it was there it was so hidden that none of our palates could find it. This dish was sent back.

Baby Clam, Sugar Snap Peas & Grilled Chorizo in Saffron Broth – again, this dish was not a patch on the version served at the tasting. I remember the broth being light, fragrant and bursting with umami. What we got was an over-salted curry with no trace of saffron. The clams were not cleaned properly – we could barely chew it for the pieces of shell that kept coming in our mouth.

photo 2 Brioche Mac & Cheese – I cannot begin to express my disappointment with this dish. The menu describes it with “grana padano, gruyere, aged-cheddar, pickled cucumber & fresh jalapenos”. I was expecting a moreish, gooey mound of pasta in its cheesy sauce, piled onto a brioche. What arrived was an ugly mess of over cooked pasta with a bland cheese sauce dumped on top of it. The cheese had already started to congeal by the time the dish arrived at my table. This dish needs a lot more love – and some salt. The brioche was a disappointment as well – dry and stodgy. This dish was also sent back.

I am not a restaurant chef, and some may argue that I don’t have the experience to make comments on flavours. The chef argued that she cooked the exact same recipes that I had loved barely a week ago. I don’t want to argue – but the fact is that what the chef sent out yesterday was a far cry from the tasting that was organised for us.

We explained all this to the chef who was kind enough to waive the food bill. We didn’t have the heart to try our luck with dessert.

I can only conclude that the kitchen has not stayed true to Nikhil’s recipes, and that’s a damn shame because Nikhil’s flavours are hard to beat.

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My first impressions of this menu are here.

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Filed under Bistro, Bombay, Dessert, India, Mango, Mediterranean, Small Plates, Vegetarian

The White Owl. A friendly lunch

After seventeen years of jobs, I took back a year of my life – to sit still, to go places; to stop working, and to start working at living; to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. A year to put me first.

I travelled, made peace with change, accepted that I will never make peace with Bombay’s traffic, and a series of such-a-small-worlds later, found myself adopted by a most fun loving group of friends – a chef, a PR machine, a wine maker and photographer, a rockstar comedienne, a brand genius, a fair trade enabler… The fact that each one of us plans life around food also sort of guarantees that this is more than just a passing flirtation.

Nikhil Merchant is a food writer, flavour master, and all round sweetheart. It was love at first food-chat for Nikhil and me, and over the past few months he has become my go to guy for all flavour dilemmas. Nikhil’s cooking is instinctive, his food combinations imaginative and cocktails sublime. Under his foodie brand Nonchalant Gourmand, Nikhil recently collaborated with a Bombay bistro – The White Owl – to create a menu of his favourite flavours of the season. I was invited to his first chefs table where we previewed his culinary collaboration with the bistro’s chef Kshama Prabhu.

WallAs a recent vegetarian I have to admit that eating non-Indian food in Bombay’s restaurants has been uninspiring and often unpalatable. Unimaginative chefs either flood the menu with iterations of potatoes, or force paneer and tofu to play substitute to their original choice of non-vegetarian protein. Nikhil and Kshama’s menu is encouragingly different, with over 50% of the menu letting a vegetarian food take centre stage.

I started with Purple Yam Batons, fried crisp and wrapped around a stick of sugarcane.

See what I mean? When is the last time you saw either yam or sugarcane as the star of a restaurant dish? The appetiser is let down by an overly eggy herb aioli, and I would have preferred a fresh, non-creamy dip to balance the buttery, sweet yams. Next on my plate is a French classic – Oeufs en Meurette. The eggs are perfectly poached, and served with moreish slices of garlic toast. I did not like the red wine they chose but was in the minority on this one.

As we soldiered through the menu I realised that my moans about the starters would be my only grouse that afternoon.

The salad of Raw and Ripe Mangoes is my absolute favourite mango dish of the season. Fresh Alphonso and slivers of green mangoes were dressed in a zesty combination of soy, red chillies and peanuts. The salad alone is reason enough to revisit the awkwardly located White Owl.

IMG_7619The main course veggie choices were Blue Cheese Quiche and Bell Pepper Roulade. My choice (of the quiche) was a no brainer; blue is my favourite cheese, and besides who wants to eat a roulade? How wrong was I!

IMG_7620The quiche was perfect – a herby, blue cheese topping lovingly baked on a flaky pastry. But the revelation of the meal was the roulade, served with a generous dollop of an inventive arugula pesto. The sweet bell peppers, unrolled a filling of cheesy barley, and crunchy greens. Never again will I judge a book by its old fashioned cover.

IMG_7621The non-vegetarians on our table were most impressed with the Shrimp & Water Chestnut Salad and Baby Clam, Sugar Snap Peas & Grilled Chorizo in Saffron Broth.

Not for one moment did I wish I were eating meat, nor did I feel that the chefs had made grudging allowances for veggies on their menu. I want to come back for the Green Apple Galette, Brioche Mac and Cheese, and Pumpkin Gnochhi Casserole.

I don’t have a sweet tooth but the table was was mighty impressed with the offering. The Fig, Chocolate & Kaffir Lime Mille-Feuille is a perfect display of Nikhil’s love for playing with flavours and Kshama’s pastry skills. The Kaffir Lime cream is rich and lends a heady scent to the dessert; but I wonder if it would have worked better with a different fruit? One that was lighter than the dense combination of fig and cream. I preferred the Alphonso Crepes – totally scrummy.

photo 1Nikhil’s menu launches at The White Owl from June 2nd for two months.

I hope this is the beginning of many such adventures in India where we will see menus that let the ingredients shine; restaurants that don’t give in to gimmicks; and chefs that find the courage to cook with their heart. Here’s hoping I meet more chefs like Nikhil and Kshama, chefs that put food first.

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Disclosure: The meal was a preview and I was a guest of the restaurant. Neither their generosity nor my friendship with Nikhil has compromised my opinion on their food in any way.

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Filed under Bistro, Bombay, Dessert, India, Mango, Mediterranean, Small Plates, Vegetarian

Game changer. La Folie

When a young chef is promoted at a Michelin-starred restaurant in one of the leading hotels of the world, the last thing one expects them do is resign. That is exactly what happened when Sanjana Patel was asked to take charge of the chocolaterie at Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris. She says, “If I could get promoted there, then why couldn’t I start my own?” And so began the inspiration for pâtisserie La Folie which will open its doors in Bombay’s Kala Ghoda art precinct next week.

A highly skilled chocolatière, Sanjana’s resume lists the who’s who of the French pastry world – Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi, Pierre Hermé, Emmanuel Ryon and Jean-Charles Rochoux to name a few. Determined not to let trend come in the way of tradition, La Folie hopes the strength of its savoir-faire will snap Bombay out of its dessert cloud darkened by the likes of hotel pastry shops, red velvet cupcakes and endless macaron shops. In advance of its launch, Sanjana and her team of all-but-one female chefs took me on a tour of their kitchen, with plenty of stops for dessert.

IMG_5354First up is ‘Tart Folie Passion’ (Rs. 165), light-as-air, the dessert surprised me with the avalanche of flavours in each mouthful. The tartness in this seemingly simple passion fruit cream tart is beautifully balanced with the sweeter flavours of apricot. For added texture, the dessert is decorated with orange crumble-topped profiteroles. I reluctantly moved on to a Mille Feuille. La Folie’s ‘1000 Leaves’ (Rs. 245) served with figs is an honest tribute to the classic French dessert.

Sanjana rues how chocolate-mad Bombay is. I predict that her ‘100% Chocolat’ (Rs. 235), which I tasted next, will go a long way in deepening this craze. It is a decadent tower of chocolate custard, dark Venezuelan chocolate mousse and crispy praline feuilletine (thin flakes) blanketed in a dense chocolate fondant.

While working with Pierre Hermé she learnt how French pastry could survive in tropical climates. This training has come in good use as she begins operations in muggy Bombay. Not one to adapt traditional recipes for the sake of trend, Sanjana has made one innovation that will have the city’s vegetarians jumping for joy. Borrowing from the principles of molecular gastronomy, Sanjana has created several eggless desserts without compromising on taste or texture. The 100% vegetarian ‘Infinite Caramel’ (Rs. 215) is a layered wonder of milk chocolate mousse, caramel sea salt cream & a hazelnut praline crumble base.

The La Folie macaron flavours are a welcome change from the usual fare of coffee and passion fruit crowding pastry counters. The tastemaker in Sanjana comes to the fore with a macaron list ranging from blackcurrant and violet ganache, lemon grass and basil, to paan and gulkand. At Rs. 75 each, are they more expensive than any other in the city? Yes. Are they better? Most definitely. I first tasted a yuzu (Japanese lemon) macaron, followed by the caramel sea salt flavour and was left overwhelmed with their burst of pure flavours. Next up was a pop rock candy macaron oozing with childhood nostalgia, bubblegum marshmallow cream, and a strawberry jelly centre.

For smaller bites of enchantment, La Folie offers an assortment of caramel, ganache and praline chocolates (Rs. 175 for four) made from single origin Criollo beans from the same growers in Venezuela and Ecuador who sends Alain Ducasse his cocoa beans. The truffles and pralines are made by Sanjana each night, once all her chefs have gone home. “There are some secrets that I am not ready to share with anyone,” she smiles.

In addition to the desserts, petit fours, macarons and artisan chocolates, La Folie will also offer a selection of drinks that will include teas, traditional whipped hot chocolate, single-origin coffees and fruit juices.

The experience of a La Folie dessert begins from the moment you set your eyes on one. And with the exception of a cream too dense for the delicate Mille Feuille, the La Folie desserts I tasted were faultless. With not a cronut in sight La Folie makes its stand on desserts very clear. Still, as it starts finding its groove, I wonder if those prices won’t come down a bit. Then again, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise—because otherwise, I would be too tempted to start every mornings with a freshly baked croissant (Rs. 110-125) and spend my weekends devouring their Tarte Tatin (Rs. 325 and served with hand-churned Tahiti vanilla ice cream).

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IMG_5401This review was commissioned by the newspaper Mint Lounge and was first published by them on 25th January 2013. The edited version of the article can be read here.

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Filed under Bombay, Breakfast, Coffee, Dessert, French, Patisserie

Kolapata. Making peace with Bangladesh

Recent events have caused me to take stock of my life’s contents. Family (still mildly insane); cookbook collection (Amazon share prices on the up); Maggi Noodles (Ma will have to replenish stocks); and friends (97% foodaholics).

One such friend has wanted to introduce me to the “best Bangla restaurant in London” for ages. I finally agreed when he promised me it wasn’t on Brick Lane. And so on a particularly dreary Friday, we played hooky and made our way to Whitechapel in east London. We arrived only to discover that every kitchen was closed until namaz ended at 2pm. (This was clearly a much better plan in our heads.)

We spent the hour walking up and down a street of endless money exchanges, bras for £1.50, and sweet shops that wouldn’t serve us. When we finally saw crowds leave the East London Mosque, we began to make our way to Kolapata.

JhalmuriJust outside the mosque, flashing me a very toothy grin, was a tiny man making jhalmuri. Sheikh Bhai is a Bombaywallah who moved to Bangladesh in 1993 after the riots. My half-Bengali friend and I found it unbelievable that an Indian Muslim felt safer in Bangladesh than in his own country! Bangladesh gave Sheikh Bhai a safe home and the perfect jhalmuri recipe. My half-Bengali friend said it was as good as the muri he had on the streets of Calcutta. At £1 for a large cup, this was the best start to our several hours of eating.

Kolapata is where Bangaldeshi film maker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki goes to eat when he visits London. It’s where my friend’s mum said she had the best elish in town. It is also the only restaurant that will get my postcode snob companion to take three trains to a meal. We took all these as positive signs and ordered.

BorhaniThe Bangladeshi Borhani (£1) is far superior to anything from the lassi family I have ever tasted. Shafiq, who was serving us, made me a glass himself, with half milk-half yoghurt, mint, coriander, black salt, cumin, green chillies, and sugar.

Next arrived some unremarkable foscas (£2.95) followed by the rest of the meal. I was most looking forward to Shoirsha Elish (£5.50) – the national fish of Bangladesh. Even though Shafiq told me that the fish had arrived frozen, from his country’s Jamuna river, it tasted fresh, was soft, flaky, and so delicious. The mustard sauce it was prepared in was sweeter than I was expecting. Next time I will remember to ask for it spicy. The Bagun Bhaji (aubergine, £3.50) and Sag Bhaji (spinach, £2.95) are prepared in very little oil and a bare minimum of spices. I could taste the delicate flavours of the actual vegetable instead of packet masalas that usually assault one’s palate in such restaurants.

Bhaji ElishI strayed from the Kolapata Chef Special list of dishes and ordered a haleem (£3.75). Don’t.

KaalojaamOn our walk back to the train station we made an essential detour to the Moubon sweet shop. The original object of our affection (kheer kodom), was unavailable and we settled for a box of kaalojaam (£1.50 for two juicy pieces).

The incredulous story of a jhalmuri maker, a gentle request by a chef to come back for lamb chops, a drink that rocked my world… and I finally made my peace with Bangladesh.

I let my heart do all the eating. Now to let it guide all my other relationships…

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Kolapata on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bangladesh, Bengali, Dessert, Fish, London, Open kitchen, Street food

Pitt Cue. A whole lot of love

I wander about life starring in my own movie (yes, usually Bollywood and almost always a romance). When I am crushing on someone or in a one-sided love affair, my imagination kicks into overdrive and turns every conversation into a 70mm moment. Sometimes it gets to the point that even I find myself ridiculous. And on a day like this, I need to get myself to a place with zero possibility of romantic thought. I needed some Pitt Cue action. Nothing like beautiful chunks of meat to make you not turn your life into a movie.

Pitt Cue is the only food truck-turned-proper restaurant I can recall than has single handedly joined all of London’s food lovers into one big fan club. The only exceptions are either vegetarian or one of Time Out’s new food writers.

Every review of the restaurant will tell you how small it is. It’s even smaller in real life. When I first squeezed into the door, past the crowds that were leaving and into more crowds that were waiting, I couldn’t see any furniture for the number of people in there.  I have never been happier to be a single diner as Lovely Blonde found me a bar stool in a corner. The restaurant also has a dining room downstairs. It’s dark, squashed between the kitchen, a staircase and the loo, and I hope I never have to sit down there.

Pitt Cue is so good I couldn’t believe I got through life so far without tasting such food.  I may have been trying to escape romance this afternoon, but there is no denying the love that has gone into everything they do, say, and feed you.

I ordered a Hair of the Pig (their yummier version of a bloody mary with scratchings, £6.50) and decided I love how easy the menu is to order from. You choose…

–          one meat (I chose the St. Louis Ribs (£9.50); other options are pulled pork, brisket, beef ribs and a daily special that keeps changing)

–          one side (I chose the awesome burnt end mash; there is also baked beans, braised sprout tops, hock and beet salad and vinegar slaw)

… and the good boys of Pitt Cue will put it all on one delicious tray.

There are naughty extras too. I couldn’t resist the hot wings (£4) or the crispy shiitake (£3.50). This is wayyyy too much food for one person but I couldn’t stop.

Lovely Blonde came back and recited the dessert menu and I had to go with a Snickers Mess (£4.50). It’s exactly what it says on the tin.

And if I hadn’t eaten enough reasons to return then there was always their perfectly reasonable bourbon and rye list to lure me back. Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Rittenhouse Blonde, Eagle Rare, Sazerac…  this is a lot more than a fleeting crush.

And so I come to terms with the thought that even on a day bereft of romance, one can still find love.

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Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

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Filed under American, Bar, Bar food, Cocktails, Communal tables, Design, Dessert, Diner, London, Whisky

da Polpo. And another one?

da Polpo is like the old friend you can rock up to anytime and are guaranteed a great conversation. Like the other restaurants in Russell Norman’s stable, da Polpo is cosy, easy and approachable. I find nothing more uncomfortable than a restaurant on edge – week one, new staff, new menu, forgotten service sequences, the smell of paint, and table tops that shine a bit too much. What I love most about Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino and now da Polpo is how they manage to look and feel lived in, even when brand new.

Most things about this place will remind you of Polpo. One has a Campari Bar, the other an Aperol one. Both bacaros use a lot of natural finishes, have distressed walls, tiled flooring and bar counters you can eat at – the single diner’s most favourite seat.

                     

I even got lucky with my waitress; Tajsa (am near certain I’ve got this spelling wrong) wasted no time in settling me in and starting me off with a glass of the Polpo Prosecco (£5) – OMG so delicious – and some complimentary sesame cream cheese and bread.  (I’m still not sold on the fashion of wine being served in non-wine glasses.)

The menu is also a lot like Polpo’s. I started with the arancini (£2.50) – the gooey cheese centre makes these crispy balls of rice divine, even if lacking a little something. Next was the asparagus, taleggio and parma ham pizzetta (£6.50). The cheese and ham may get too salty for some but I loved this baby pizza.

I finished with a fresh tomato salad (£5) and a glass of the Polpo Merlot (£2.75). Maybe the combination was wrong but I won’t rush to order this wine again.

    

I skipped dessert , promising the superb staff that I would return for some. Soon. Last week I wrote about Spuntino – THE ONE restaurant I knew I would have a long romance with. Today I walked into another ONE. Amongst too many other things, Bollywood is where I first learnt and loved the idea of THE ONE. (It was most likely Rishi Kapoor & Dimple Kapadia’s teenage romance Bobby.)

We’ve all grown up since then and while I may still look for the Bollywood moments in my life, I’ve changed what The One means to me – ever so slightly. I now have:

  • The One who got away – and Thai Green Curry
  • The One who was always going to hurt me – and Pytt I Panna
  • The One I still think about – and Vegemite sandwiches
  • The One I didn’t really care about – and strawberry cheesecake

And then there is THE 5months-14days-8hours- andafewminutes ONE.

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da Polpo on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Design, Dessert, Italian, London, Pizza, Restaurant, Tapas, Wine