Category Archives: Open kitchen

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

Koya Bar. Living in is-ness

I left London three months ago; in as much as I could leave a city that had become part of me over the seven years I lived there. As I began to map my two weeks back, around meals and friends I would eat them with, I realised that I have spent a lot of my life going back. Back to the same cities, back to favourite restaurants, back to old lovers. It’s never the same though.

The city doesn’t change, a favourite meal still tastes good, and old lovers are just as happy to see me – but it’s never the same. I remember London as picture perfect, sans the years of lonely meals and freezing walks in the rain. I am excited about dinner with a lover, having clearly forgotten his refusal to commit any feelings. I order cocktails in my favourite bar, and then…. reality kicks in.

The truth is that today rarely matches up to my airbrushed memory of its yesterday. And yet, I spend so much time trying to recreate perfect experiences; seldom focusing instead, on what is.

On a day when London was especially bleak, I abandoned the temptation of puncturing the memory of a comfortable old favourite with its reality. Not convinced I could revisit a place without “going back”, I chose somewhere new. I walked into Koya Bar – a cosy collection of 24 low stools arranged around an open kitchen. The noodle bar almost forces you to eat in the moment, urging you to leave your baggage at the door.

I started with Otsukemono (homemade pickles), £2.90 and a delicious Kakuni (cider braised pork belly), £6.90 washed down with a chilled Kirin, £4.60. Then I waited patiently as the chef decided on the right moment to serve me Kinoko Atsu-Atsu (mushroom with walnut miso in hot broth), £11.60. The beautiful bowl arrived with hot udon noodles that are made in the traditional manner, dough kneaded by foot. “This is such a leisurely dish,” I said to myself several times as I mixed the large lump of walnut miso into the broth. After my first slurp I was lost in the dish, coming up for air only when the last mushroom had disappeared.

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Each dish is layered with complexity, but presented with such an effortless style, that you can’t help but pay attention to what is. This spirit of is-ness comes from the kitchen and its attention to detail. The dashi would not be as fresh and their umami-rich stock would not have the power to cleanse away your worries if the chefs were somewhere else in spirit.

I left inspired. Determined to not let would-ness and was-ness from taking over the is-ness of my life.

-p

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Filed under Communal tables, Japanese, London, Noodles, Open kitchen, Soho London

Nico Bombay. Style over substance

Me:                        “What is that white cream?”

Waiter:                 “One moment ma’am, I will send the manager.”

Me:                        “What is that white cream?”

Manager:            “It’s part of the dish ma’am.”

Me:                        “Uh… OK, but what is that white cream?”

Manager:            “It’s the aubergine paste.”

Me:                        “I think that is the brown smear under the white cream.”

Manager:            “It’s a clam paste ma’am.”

Me:                        “That would be another item on the menu.”

Are you exhausted yet? Multiply this with 100 and you may come close to my exasperation during lunch at South Bombay’s newest restaurant.  Just back from London, a restaurant serving non-Indian food would not have been my first choice; but I was going to meet a real Bombay food blogger, Prachi Joshi of Deliciously Directionless, and didn’t let the small matter of cuisine get in the way.

I had to read other reviews to understand Nico Bombay’s style of food – Modern European apparently – because neither the staff, nor a studious review of the menu, with an odd mix of roast chicken, Kadaifi wrapped prawns, and pizza, revealed anything.  Nico Bombay will focus on fresh ingredients (!), locally sourced (!!). Even though there is nothing local about Italian burrata or Hungarian salami I hope they are serious about the other ingredients being fresh.

We were welcomed with complimentary glasses of Zampa Sparkling Wine (if you haven’t tasted this yet I would recommend you stay far, far, away), but the restaurant had no filtered water for its guests. We were asked to buy a bottle – costing Rs. 150 – if we were thirsty. Not the kind of start I was hoping for.

We ordered three mezze and one Neapolitan flatbread (not to be confused with pizza, even though it arrived looking like one). And this is what we subjected ourselves to:

Smoked sardines, aubergine compote on sourdough toast (Rs. 375) of white cream fame. The white cream turned out to be a sardine paste, and so this dish which had such promise turned out to be a sardine overload on a piece of toast that was definitely not sourdough.

Veal tenderloin, tuna tonato (Rs. 400). I think they meant tonnato. Just as I’m sure the chef meant to add salt to the veal, and anchovies, capers and lemon to the tonnato. This classic Piedmontese dish arrived on a piece of slate, looking great and tasting of nothing.

Pulled goat meat, red onion, micro greens (Rs. 275) –   such a wonderful choice of meat, maybe inspired by a current global trend for pulled pork buns. It was not the most tender of cuts, but this was the best thing we ate today. And they weren’t kidding about the greens being “micro”.

Ciro: Bocconcini, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Hungarian Pic (k) Salami (Rs. 600) – where do I start with this pizza, uh… sorry, Neapolitan flatbread? I can rarely resist a dish that promises oven roasted tomatoes. A simple oven can coax even the most stubborn tomato into a luscious sauce so I am not sure why the chefs at Nico Bombay chose to create a tart, sloppy mess. We’re not sure if the bread was tough or the knives blunt, but had to throw in the towel a few mouthfuls later.

We left without dessert and treated ourselves to the fantastic coffee and cakes at Kala Ghoda Cafe around the corner instead.

I am quite willing to look past average food at a new restaurant, but when that is coupled with shoddy service, I find no reason to be kind. The waiters didn’t know their burrata from their elbow. We did not finish a single one of the dishes ordered but not one of the three waiters, one bartender, one manager, or two owners present in the restaurant at the time cared to check if there was a problem. Considering we were one of only four tables occupied, it could not have been because they were busy.

I should probably say something about the décor, but a designer we bumped into on our way out said it best, “It’s wonderful that the city’s Art Deco elements are brought into the restaurant; but the space is clearly designed as a bar for the evening.

Uncomfortable as we were in the director’s chairs, the meal wasn’t a total fail. I met a new Bombay person! Prachi and I, probably brought closer by the trauma of the meal, bonded over a shared disbelief over “food critics” who cannot cook, hilarious stories of Internet dating, and a mutual love for Italian holidays and Shah Rukh Khan.

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Filed under Bombay, India, Italian, Mediterranean, Open kitchen, Pizza, Restaurant

London’s Bombaywallahs. The chefs of Dishoom Shoreditch

London's Bombaywallahs

1993, Bombay: Ten-year old Yashpal Gusai begins plotting a career that would not involve mathematics or science.

1996, Gurdaspur: Rishi Anand peers into a tandoor that stands taller than him as he plays sous chef to his father in their back garden.

2005, Kathmandu: Tanka K.C follows a friend into a part-time job, cooking Indian food for tourists visiting the Pashupatinath Temple.

2011, Varkala Beach: Agra-born Saleem Khan gets on a plane to Heathrow, leaving the beach shacks of Kerala for the love of his life.

2013, London: Fourteen strangers work together as long lost friends, recreating the spirit of Bombay in a Shoreditch kitchen.

Fourteen chefs that were handpicked from across the Indian subcontinent by Dishoom’s Executive Chef Naved Nasir. With each one he was looking for three things – skill, personality and the talent to work a tandoor. “My chef interviews begin with making bread,” Naved shares. “The moment they touch the dough I know whether to take them or not.” As a result the kitchen has a strong team of tandoor experts that knead, roll, twirl and flip over 800 roomali rotis each week.

Growing up in Meerut, one of India’s most ancient cities, Naved never imagined he would one day be responsible for a team of chefs in London that serve 7,500 guests over 21,000 portions of food each week. Not even when he, at age five, took over his mum’s kitchen, cooking the family his favourite meal of mung daal khichdi with desi ghee and dahi. Naved fell into hospitality by accident. Adamant not to follow his father’s footsteps into medicine, he took up hotel management as a lark. Sixteen years later, as he begins to recounts some milestones – training in the hallowed kitchens of Dumpukht and Bukhara; working with Master Chefs Mohd. Shareef and Imtiaz Qureshi; leading a banquets team serving 3,000 guests a day; ITC Hotels’ youngest Executive Chef of the time – he almost sounds as if he is talking about someone else.

On a balmy Monday morning not so long ago, the exceptionally talented and unassuming Chef Naved treated me to a day with his chefs in their Shoreditch kitchen. This was my one chance to understand just what makes one of London’s busiest kitchens tick.

7am: I am assigned to Chef Sandy Shanmughan in the curry section, responsible for the daal, curries, biryani and chai. After “opening” the spotless kitchen, his first task of the day is to begin brewing the tea with Dishoom’s secret combination of masalas. He next turns his attention to the masterpiece on their menu – the Dishoom Black Daal. Their daal – the process for which begins at 6pm the evening before – takes nearly 24 hours to make.

Dishoom Black DaalBy the time Sandy has got to the daal this morning, it has been washed for an hour, boiled for a couple more, and then left to cook in its steam overnight. Without giving away much more of their secret recipe that I had the privilege of witnessing in action, he never strays too far from his vat of daal for the rest of day. It’s been a long journey for Sandy, from his mum’s Kerala kitchen to joining Dishoom three years ago. Listen to him explain the nuances of cooking his favourite dish on the menu – 50 litres every day – and it becomes clear how he is in the job destined for him.

9am: Breakfast service is in full swing and I adjust myself into a safe corner to watch Chef Tanka K.C expertly manoeuvre his way from fryer to grill to tandoor as he sends out order after order of Full Bombays, Bacon Naan Rolls and House Porridge.

11am: I now get to hang out with the only woman in Dishoom’s kitchens – Chef Sapna Macal – their powerhouse of a pastry chef. I aIMG_2930m mesmerised as Sapna swiftly kneads, cuts, measures and rolls 150 pillows of pau, whilst telling me about growing up in Hyderabad and spending afternoons watching Sanjeev Kapoor cook food on TV. Sapna barely pauses for breath as she tells me the story of how she earned her spot on the Dishoom team with her version of a chocolate mousse, all the while baking a Pineapple Crumble, piping cream on to a Memsahib’s Mess and serving up a dozen Mango Kulfis. (I compare this to how all the other (male) chefs had to stop what they were doing to answer my questions!)

More chefs begin joining the kitchen. Each one announcing himself with a distinct war cry. Each one flying the flag for a different part of the Indian subcontinent. Dishoom’s kitchen is a poster child for national integration – a lot like you see on the streets of Bombay.

Chicken Berry Biryani1pm and a food trial: Every Monday, Head Chef Yashpal Gusai, Manager Rob Ferne and Bar Wizard Carl Brown test a few dishes and drinks from the menu. The Chicken Berry Biryani didn’t quite cut it this week as the chicken pieces were too large. And the Chilli Cheese Toast lost a lot of points for “uneven browning”. This is a tough panel to please! From the cocktails we tried, my favourite was the Monsooned Cobbler (“Malabar espresso, bamboozled with spices, Cognac”) that you drink in two stages. First, black, as it arrives. Then you add cream, taste and pause as the drink transforms itself in your mouth. Genius!

I return to the kitchen with Yash. Even though he grew up watching his father cook, it wasn’t until he was faced with a potential career as an engineer that he considered a hotel management degree. A similar story to Naved’s, Yash shares, “I hated maths and science so decided to become a chef. Only, I didn’t realise how much time I would have to spend out of the kitchen and in the classroom!

The handsome chef towers over the rest on his team, taking in every station at all times, jumping in to help when the number of orders gets the better of a particular station. As the head of the kitchen Yash’s day is taken over by admin more than anything else. “I couldn’t change a light bulb before, but now am a mechanic and magician all rolled into one.” The only time he does cook is when he goes home to his mum’s kitchen, “but they don’t appreciate my restaurant-style cooking.” He was head hunted for Dishoom while working in Bombay’s Kabab Factory and almost didn’t go for the interview “because the name – Dishoom – was a bit weird.” But three years on he hasn’t once regretted his decision to move to London and Dishoom.

Chef Mobarak2pm: I am at my favourite station – the tandoor. Chef Mobarak Sheikh wowed Naved with the technique and speed with which he made his roomali rotis. The Orissa-born roti genius is all smiles all the time and even humoured me with a lesson in roomali rolling. He is joined by Chef Purna Prasad. You can hear and smell this section before you see it. The two chefs work like magicians, filling each order that comes in with soft roomalis, crisp naans, and my favourite – the moreish cheese naan. Growing up in Kathmandu, Purna always wanted to work in Bombay one day. That he is today working in a Bombay Café in London is such a lovely irony!

5pm: Dishoom is one of the few restaurants that has a dedicated grill chef. A genius move considering the 2000+ portions of kababs they sell each week. As I helped Chef Jaffer Khan skewer over 20 kilos of the Dishoom Chicken Tikka (for dinner service) he told me about his life as a computer operator in Delhi before his career took a more delicious turn. When he isn’t prepping for the Murgh Malai and serving up mountains of Paneer Tikka, Jaffer is on Skype with his new bride, counting the days before she joins him in London.

I return to the curry section to meet Chef Saleem Khaan.  A Dishoom success story, Saleem began as a kitchen porter and in two short years was promoted to a section chef. He takes over from Sandy and begins the Black Daal process for the next day. Like every other chefs, he also made sure I was well supplied with chai and chat even as orders flew in.

The kitchen’s second in command is Chef Rishi Anand. At 24 he is one of the youngest chefs in the room, but comes with experience that belies his age. He grew up making tandoori chicken at home with his father but went on to specialise in Pan-Asian cuisine first with Indian hotel giants Oberoi and then at Tamarai in London. He joined Dishoom to open their Shoreditch restaurant but still misses cooking Chinese food sometimes. His Orient-inspired staff meals seem to be everyone’s favourite!

The next few hours are a blur as dinner guests flood Dishoom Shoreditch and the kitchen is enveloped in a melodic flurry of sounds – claps of rotis, hissing kababs, crackling calamari, bubbling daal, and the chefs secret language to make sure that every dish in an order is finished at the same time.

Naved ensures his team is always involved in the creation of new dishes, “They have to produce the dish for the thousands who walk into our doors – I need my chefs to be happy. My only instruction to them is to ‘Think of Bombay and dream up an honest dish’.”

Can I now explain what makes one of London’s busiest kitchens tick? Can I explain what “Bombay food” is? Probably not. Bombay has many foods, each with a distinct personality. Yet the city has made that food its own. A lot like the fourteen chefs who travelled the world to make the kitchen of Dishoom Shoreditch, their own.

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This feature was first published in the online magazine The Non-Resident Indian. Read the original post here.

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Filed under Bombay, Daal, Foodie adventures, India, Indian, London, Open kitchen, Restaurant, Shoreditch

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…

-p

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

Dock Kitchen. A find

A TV show I watched recently reminded me of something I studied at school. That no matter where we are in the Northern Hemisphere, if we face Polaris we face north. So we always know where we are.

But there are other ways of getting lost. Lost in a job that takes you far away from your dreams. Lost in a relationship that changes you into a person you don’t recognise. Lost, because sometimes it is safer to hide; especially from yourself. Less and less now, but I still find myself lost sometimes.  This time I didn’t know where to look. So I put on my favourite shoes, grabbed my favourite dining companion, and asked him to choose a restaurant for us to go to.

It’s not like me to let TM decide where we eat. Don’t get me wrong, TM is absolutely one of my favourite people in this world, but he isn’t exactly a curious diner. A creature of habit I half expected TM to choose Pizza East. Again. Boy was I wrong!

Dock Kitchen was exactly where I needed to be to unhide from myself. Brand new to me, with no past dining drama, no taste memories, and plenty of sunshine, Dock Kitchen’s home in a converted Victorian Wharf building is a charming retreat in the heart of town. The sunshine that bathed the restaurant’s open kitchen helps a lot, but I think Dock Kitchen has enough personality to even make it special on a dreary day.

After some table tango we found ourselves on the terrace between a dog, someone I can bet is on TV, and a quiet baby. (Also fortunately far away from the ditsy waitress who clearly didn’t know how anything on the menu was prepared). None of that mattered though, once the food arrived.

Prosecco Frizzante (£6.50) and and courgette and aubergine fritters drizzled with honey and chilli (£7) for TM; and a gorgeous Lammershoek  (£7.50) and chicken livers cooked in pomegranate molasses with a lavash bread (£7.50) for me. I love the Persian zeal in this week’s menu, but you cannot put Stevie Parle’s food in a box; with a CV that lists River Café, Petersham Nurseries, and Moro that’s no surprise. But its more than that… I can’t quite put my finger on it just yet, but its more than that.

And then TM chose the lamb biryani (for two at £17.50 each). It looked beautiful. When we broke the dough seal, the saffron floated out of the earthen pot – beautiful. And once we were ready to dig into the prettiness, it tasted… beautiful.

There is so much to come back for. To feed the ducks in the canal, try the cocktails in the Kitchenette Bar, stare longingly at the beautiful things in Tom Dixon’s shop on the lower floor; and collect the piece of me I left behind that day.

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Dock Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Brunch, Design, Indian, London, Mediterranean, Open kitchen, Outdoor dining, Wine

Culina. Just right.

You meet someone who lights up your life. You meet someone who darkens your day. You meet someone and take a leap of faith. You meet someone and wish someone else had stopped you from jumping.

What was I thinking?! And more importantly, how did I get to a place where I let someone else screw up the way I feel about myself? I’ve had a few what-was-I-thinking days in my life but this one honestly takes the cupcake. On a day when everything went wrong, as always, I turned to food… to find a place where everything promised to be right.

Culina, if hotel insiders are to be believed, is Four Seasons first foray into cool dining. These hoteliers are not exactly known for food innovation; but with this LA hotspot they definitely know what they are doing. Beverly Hills isn’t exactly the kind of neighbourhood you would think of as having a ‘local’. But if they had to have one, I vote for Chef Victor Casanova’s Culina. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at less than five star prices, and you are almost always assured of pretty diners in the room. (This is LA after all.) The restaurant is as fancy, or not, as you’d like it to be. An open crudo bar where you can see the chefs at work, servers that look like movie stars, a waterfall and a fireplace (for the two days of the year it gets cold in LA) – this restaurant definitely has the look.

I was seated at a table outside surrounded by beautiful foliage, hypnotised by the warble from the waterfall jumbled with gentle sounds of piped music. The menu was longer than I wanted to deal with and so let my perfectly capable server Caroline make most of my dining decisions, while I enjoyed their softest rosemary bread.

It is almost rude not to start with their crudo. First there was Tonno ($12), ahi tuna tartare delicately laced with ginger and lemon, and then Cappesante ($14), scallops with black truffle. Both arrived looking like jewels on a plate and disappeared before I realised. I resisted ordering the burrata and went with Granchio ($16) a dungeness crab salad with endives and grapefruit. I was tubing down the slopes in Vail not two days ago, and here I was eating a salad that was like summer on a plate. The glass of Erbaluce ($13) Caroline recommended couldn’t have been a more perfect accompaniment.

The menu also has a decent vegetarian section, pizzas, main courses (Kobe meatballs looked especially good), and of course dessert. But today was a day that deserved pasta. I ordered the Spaghetti alla Chittara ($17) – pasta, that was definitely not shop bought, with the most wholesome, delicious, perfect san marzano tomato and basil sauce.

It isn’t like I haven’t eaten better Italian food before. Nor is this the coolest/prettiest restaurant I have been to. A great meal, like a wonderful life, is rarely about one or the other. To quote a cliché, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. And so, at Culina, its universe – of food, décor, service, and spirit – comes together to create an experience where everything worked beautifully. Culina definitely got it right.

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Culina at Four Seasons Beverly Hills on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Crudo, Italian, Los Angeles, Open kitchen, Outdoor dining, Pasta