Friday, January 23, 2009

The French Quarter

Notable magazines and press tend to leave out food reviews when the food is not worth writing about, rather than fostering bad media, having to either struggle or even lie to make a positive comment or be hurtful and rude if relating the actual experience.
While this has it's many benefits, the unfortunate diner that happens to roll into that particularly lousy joint often bears the brunt of this obvious oversight, not only on his wallet but his palate.
Upon discussion of the French Quarter with a foodie friend of mine, I related how I was utterly disappointed with the place. It had so much promise, a beautiful structure, interesting aesthetics and a definite sense of character. The menu however was another story. I'm not against menus that are concise, as long as they are all consistently brilliant. But to have a single red meat, poultry, fish and vegetable dish to choose from as mains, and with three out of four not meeting the standard is frustrating on the diner that took the time to travel halfway across the city in maddening Bangalore traffic, and a waste of a perfectly good evening that could have been relished elsewhere.

Crepes with Spinach and Prawns & Shrimp Gumbo
I particularly like the ambiance, the way the trees grow in between tables, the quaint French lampposts and the tiled floor.
The steak au poivre with pomme frites.
Expecting a rare steak I was more than disappointed with this overly cooked piece of meat and shocked at the freezer section fries that had been served on my plate instead of hand cut, thick potato chips.
To end I will borrow a quote from a friend:
"One quarter French and three quarters Kannidiga!"

Khansama: Royal Indian Cuisine of the Maharaja's

Ghost (Lamb Curry) and Methi Bheja (Fenugreek Seasoned Brain) Curry
Khansamas, while working in the stately palace kitchens, generated rare and flavorsome recipes to satisfy their Kings' gastronomic fancies. Religiously maintaining a record of every exotic ingredient, technique of preservation and even the art of presenting food, the Khansamas kept their recipes, a closely guarded secret.”

The BJN Group's most recent offering Khansama, boasts of a luxurious Royal Indian setting with the life size paintings of Birbal and Akbar and several Mughal emperors depicted in dramatic scenes running along the wall. The tables are adorned with copper plated water chalices and matching plates and cutlery. Several private alcoves full with plush recliners and divans make a great setting for a private luncheon or celebratory affair.
The menu is extensive and very impressive with a varied range of popular Indian dishes as well as several unusual chef creations, notably the pomfret with basil and olives and the Norwegian salmon tikka.

Masala Bheja Fry is a favourite order of mine, and the combination of fenugreek and brain in a moist curry was absolutely delectable.

A basket of butter-garlic naans and romali rotis (handkerchief thin)

Leg of Raan (Lamb) cooked with Indian spices and cooked Dhum style (under a naan trapping all the spices, allowing the meat's flavour to intensify, as well as tenderising the meat, so it is succulent.)

Since Indian meals are enjoyed best when eating with fingers it is customary to receive a finger-bowl of warm water and a slice of lime after the meal to cleanse.
Almond Kulfi with Phirini

UB City, 2nd Floor, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore
Phone 41114466, 41114499

Sunny's: Epicurean European

An age old favourite, Sunny's need no introduction to locals. It's the everlasting and dependable European restaurant that Bangaloreans flock to. With a successful run lasting more than a decade now, it's current location in Embassy Diamond on Lavelle Road means more space, more covers, heavy turnover and it has become the eternal 'it' place for the city's who's-who to chit-chatting over some classy continental cuisine.
The Almond Crusted Sea Bass with a Lemony Sauce is the perfect delicious treat if you have a light appetite.

Chicken Stragonoff, although just typing that is hard enough for me because in my mind it is so wrong. Stragonoff has to be made with beef and there was a mix-up with our order. However, I forgot to snap a picture of the beef when it came out. Not as creamy and heavy as the straganoff I'm used to, but not bad. Sameer stamped it with his seal of approval.

Carbonnara - Carb overdose, but I cannot resist this dish at Sunny's because it is oh, so fantastic a definite crowd pleaser!

Perhaps the most popular dish at Sunny's is the chicken breast fillets with sun-dried tomatoes, cream sauce and black pepper with rice or pasta. I know this is several friends standard order.

Lamb Chops

A good portion and yields more flesh than the rack of lamb, that I prefer in terms of lightness and doneness, however, since Indian sheep are scrawny this is a better option. The charred outside complements the contrasting moist meat once you cut in. With a side of bok-choy and creamed potatoes, it is an absolute delight.
Another favourite is the Fillet-Mignon with Bearnaise sauce. A classic dish that is perfectly executed here.
While Sunny's is undoubtedly a hit with most of the city, the menu is tired and old, forever imprinted on my brain! High time things were changed around a bit, why not open the doors to improvisation and innovation!
The appetisers leave a lot to be said, while the bar list is extensive and if you like trying new cocktails this is a great place. I especially love their fruit mojitos (strawberry and peach).
Sunny's ensures good quality food, time after time, the service isn't fantastic, but the prices are fair and the ambiance is relaxing, classy but comfortable.

Angel-hair pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms, finished with black pepper and Parmesan along with Sula's Late Harvest Chenin Blanc.
Paris Brest

My insatiable love for Paris Brest began at Sunny's. The classic option is filled with vanilla custard-creme or if you fancy a summery, strawberry twist, try it filled with it Fraise-creme? There is a long list of other options to choose from including Baklava, an interesting an odd feature on the menu, that is actually pretty darn good! The choc-ganache tart gets a thumbs-up, and if you are a chocolate aficionado do not hesitate.

#34, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore
+91 80 41329366

Sunday Brunch @ Ista

While most Bangaloreans enjoying brunching their Sunday's away, unperturbed by the sky-rocketing prices most restaurants demand, I'm not just ready to dip into my college fund to feed my extravagant cravings every weekend. After several calls, comparison of offers from every angle, there was little to discuss and debate. Since my partner Sameer does not drink alcohol it just did not seem fair to be paying the same levy of those drinking, a.k.a ME! The Ista Hotel was the only place offering a reasonable deal: Rs. 1250 inclusive of tax for the Vodka Brunch and Rs. 950 inclusive of tax for the Revitalise Non-Alcoholic Brunch.
It seemed tailor-made for us, and since the price did not dictate we mortgage any property we made reservations, skipped breakfast and slipped into something that could bare the food baby I would be carrying on the way out!
Settling in for a relaxing afternoon, enjoying specials ordered from the menu and picking on options from the soup and salad bar as well as a range of entrees.

Three-tiered aubergine with tzaziki, moutable and caramelised onion atop, poached fish on an orange segment, fig and asparagus wrapped parma ham, broccoli and bacon salad, pickled zucchini and roasted bell pepper with cherry tomatoes. Washed down with a refreshing strawberry mojito.
Did I mention the grill counter featuring a live BBQ station with lamb and beef cutlets, pork ribs and chicken fillets.

From the menu we tried the Asian style tenderloin in black bean sauce with haricot-verts and a thin crust pork and pepperoni pizza with basil and mozzarella. Two thin crusts, of course!

Feeling thirsty, I decided to sample the Peach Kiss that was poignant but pleasurable, pairing well with a selection of cheeses from the brunch spread and a notable blushing fig dessert.
To wrap things up I sampled the musk melon ice-cream while Sameer tried the roasted almond.

Ulsoor, 1/1 Swami Vivekananda Road, Bangalore-560 008,

Ph: 91 (80) 2555 8888

Via Milano

The first time I visited this swanky Italian restaurant was as a journalist for Bangalore Mirror on a wine pairing dinner for Big Banyan Wines. The meal was absolutely sensational, every wine was set off by an astonishing course, and I truly enjoyed my evening, savouring every bite and sip of vino. The Italian chef here cooks from the heart, one can taste the passion in his beetroot ravioli that is probably the most perfect pasta my palate has encountered. The delicate pasta pillow stuffed with minced beetroot and garnished with crisp sweet potato have an unusual meaty characteristic that I can't stop talking or thinking about. This love affair has lived on in my heart and my mind for almost a year and a half, and upon return to Bangalore, I decided I must call the chef to arrange for him to make me this exquisite delight that is not featured on their daily menu unfortunately. Having called only four hours prior to our reservation with my request he set to work immediately and boy was I bowled over once again that evening!

Love at first sight: Beetroot Ravioli
The restaurant boasts an extensive wine list as well as a comprehensive list of cocktails. I especially like their daiquiris, of course I am partial to ultra-sweet-fruity drinks, and their flavoured mojitos are awesome as well. Try the basil mojito for something refreshing!
Beef Carpacio
Perhaps my only grouse with Via Milano is their tendency to be stingy with their imported meats, be it the parma ham appetiser with melon that is delicious but ridiculously portioned. Another example is the pan-seared Canadian duck breast with creamy tagliatelle and asparagus spears. The duck breast was cut into fine strips and the dish barely contained six such pieces, or even fewer! Shocking!
The steaks seem to be the way to go as far as mains are concerned. Sameer wolfed down their lamb loin stuffed with goats cheese and garnished with rosemary.

My friend Manijeh was equally as impressed with the ravioli starter and the choice of restaurant being quite the traveller herself, jet-setting from London to New York frequently. The lemon meringue pie was different. And I say this because the element of lemon zing to the dish was almost non-existent and instead strawberries featured atop the pie as well as a plate decoration. Second of all instead of a pie filling and crust, the slice comprised of heavily whipped cream and the texture was far from hitting the spot as well as the lack of contrasting flavours.

Asha Plaza, 80 ft Road - 100 ft Road junction, 4th Block, Koramangala, Bangalore
Phone 41309997, 41309994

An Ode to Thailand: Benjarong

There is so much more to Thai food than meets the eye. The subtle intricacies, the vast difference in the textures, flavours, the unusual marriage of fruits and vegetable in tangy curries always gets me thinking how to replicate the unique combinations. But what is most amazing about Thai cuisine is it's ability to be tangy and inviting to the palate, a twinge of sweetness balancing the sudden explosion of fiery hot chili that attacks your nasal track and definitely your alimentary system the next day.
Sometimes the heat is unbearable, the pain and agony my tummy goes through the next day wretched, but I am a true Thai addict. At least once a month I have a the urge to sample the sharp and stinging flavours of the cuisine my mind refuses to let go of!
I returned to Bangalore in November 2008 to discover that my old faithful Tai Tai had been shut down! Bummer. The city was a buzz with talk of Benjarong, but being a chain of restaurants with branches in Madras, now Bangalore and plans to take on Delhi I was skeptical about the quality of need. I was pleasantly surprised however and food my first encounter at Benjarong to be impressive, with a know how of using typically Thai ingredients the way Thai master chefs have been doing for centuries. I like the restaurant so much that after Sameer and I tested the place out we took the family back for New Years Dinner.
Mieng Kam is a typical healthy Thai hors d'oeurve. Diced onions, shredded dried coconut, red chilli's, peanuts, a sweet tamarind tasting sauce, lime quarters and galangal are put on peppery leaf, in this case spinach to be relished together and open your palate. To me it seemed like a Thai version of Indian paan.

Tom Kha, velvety thick coconut broth with kaffir lime leaves and corriander infused to develop the flavour of the soup along with a dash of fish sauce, and strips of chicken to relish the full bodied flavour.

The tenderloin braised with peppercorns and sweet Thai basil leaves was a real treat, the meat cooked perfectly into soft, strips.
Phad Prik Snapper was my favourite. The whole fish deep fried with ganagal, kaffir lime leaves,Thai basil and lemongrass coat the crispy deep fried snapper and sweet-chili sauce moistens the golden skin, a combination that is divine.
The Massaman Curry is indeed one of my standard orders at any Thai establishment. Benjarong's version is rather stylised, with thin slivers of meat with delicately diced potatoes, instead of the hearty stew it is served with chunky pieces of meat and tatters. The flavour component however has been left intact.
Tab Tim Grobb or Water Chestnuts in Coconut Milk is classic conclusion to Thai fare. At Benjarong, instead of using the entire water chestnut, uses only the inside 'red ruby' portion that the chestnut is supposed to yield upon boiling the entire nut. This is truly delectable, a dessert a truly relished, ordering my very own portion.

The banana fritters were supposed to come with coconut ice-cream, however I failed to taste or see any trace of coconut. My advice, stick to the water chestnuts, you just can't go wrong!

1/3 Ulsoor Road, Ulsoor, Bangalore
Phone 42066166

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On a roll

Amazed, baffled, shocked, ecstatic. Those four words wrap up the way I feel about my new found passion for literally cooking up a storm. Thank you so much to Jackie, Cari and Amy, my beloved Cordon Bleu inspirations. You have truly rubbed off on me, and for that I am so grateful!
Walnuts and Asparagus Spears drizzled with Olive Oil, baked crispy outside and tender within, served with Iceberg Lettuce and Sliced Pear.
Crepes filled with Broccoli and Creme Sauce
150g plain flour
200ml milk
100ml water
3 eggs
pinch salt and pepper
butter or olive oil, to fry

1. To make the crêpes, place all the ingredients, but just half the flour, in a mixing bowl and blend well before adding the rest of the flour and beating until smooth. Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes.
2. To cook the crepes, place a crêpe pan, or heavy bottomed frying pan, over a medium heat and lightly grease with butter or olive oil. Don’t allow the pan to get so hot it smokes. Lift the pan and pour in a little of the crêpe mixture, tilting and swirling until it just covers the base - don’t pour too much, thin crêpes are best.

3. Place the pan back on the heat and leave for a few minutes until the edges start to curl, then turn over and cook the other side for a few minutes. Place on a cooling rack. Repeat the same method with the rest of the batter until you have made 4 crêpes. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

4. To make the filling, trim and lightly steam or blanch the broccoli and refresh in cold water. Lightly toast the pine kernels and place in a blender with the basil, half the broccoli, garlic, cream, lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Take care with salt at this stage in case the cheese is salty. Blend to a course paste.

5. Roughly chop the remaining broccoli and finely slice the fennel; add to the cream mixture. Trim the asparagus into 8-10cm lengths, place on a baking tray, dot with butter and lightly grill, or cook in a griddle pan until tender. Heat the broccoli mixture in a pan, stirring until hot.
Sameer and I try our hand at baking our own pizza. The toppings we choose - out of this world, pepperoni, mushrooms, more salami and sausage!!! The base however is another story, and we can safely say we are still a long way from opening our own Pizza Shop!

One of the most delicious pasta recipes I have come across. Jaime Oliver you are truly a genius!
Spinach and Ricotta Spaghetti, flavoured with grated nutmeg. I added in some mushrooms and swapped the mascarpone for cream since you can't really find the Italian cream cheese here in India.

Creative Concoctions

Entertaining is always fun, especially when there's a twist to spice up the evening. So with and a pitcher or two of crazy cocktails we were set to go wild!
With crudites making the rounds and a platter of prawn sushi these were some of the other intesting appetisers I had on offer.
This is my very own creation, I call it Apple Fairytail.
1 ltr Apple Juice
1 ltr Bacardi White Rum
2 shots of Captain Morgan Gold Spice Rum
2 shots Khahlua
2 Granny Smith Apples with skin, cored, sliced and then pureed
1 1/2 tbsp icing sugar
1 lrg ltbsp vanilla coffee liquor
Grated Nutmeg (1/4)
1 tbsp Cinnamon sugar
2 Star Anise
1 stick of cinnamon broken into two
Mix everything into a big bowl and then shake in a cocktail shaker in batches before straining and pouring out into a jug. Garnish with apple rings.
Beetroot Ravioli stuffed with Garlic Boursin and sprinkled with spring onion. Delish!
After slicing the beetroot paper thin, (or as bloody thin as you can get it without nicking yourself or lobbing off a finger - trust me it is harder than it sounds!) marinate the slices in olive oil with crushed pods of garlic, about 2 large beets to 5 cloves garlic, a good fresh crush of pepper and salt and refridgerate covered for atleast an hour. Later scoop in garlic boursin cream cheese, pin together with toothpicks and arrange tatefully on a plate with a sprinkling of spring onions to add for flavour and presentation! Perfect...

More of the same brilliant beetroot with a Mint Watermelon Cooler also another concotion that was a hit with the guests.
500 ml Gordon's Gin
1 1/2 ltr Chenin Blanc
A generous handful of mint leaves chopped
1 - 2 tsp of ginger finely chopped/ smashed
Juice of 2 whole limes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Two medium - large watermelons, flesh scooped, de-seeded and processed in a blender till juiced and then strained to ensure smoothness.
Mix in batches in a cocktail shaker before pouring into a jug. Serve with lots of ice cubes.

Creamy crostini with butter-garlic sauteed mushrooms with olive slices and roasted yellow and red bell peppers with capers.

Main course was Jaime Oliver's Summer Salad, simply spaghetti tossed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, sliced cherry tomatoes, whole pitted olives, majoram and thyme! Yummy and so simple!
My flopped version of Amy's Lemon Meringue Pie!

Cranium Craving

My Anglo-Indian heritage has no doubt fostered the avid foodie in me from a young age. The community is known for their voracious attitude for eating anything that crawls, or barely crawls! This keen sense for cooking and eating has been fostered with much love and care by my mother Penelope Abraham. Having been indoctrinated to the sacred art of savouring marrow from our beef bones at dinner time, taking salted tongue sandwiches to school in our lunch-boxes and sampling chopped liver and kidney dry fry an Anglo Indian staple; chicken hearts and gizzard was a frequent feature on our dinning table, poppin:g up every now and again, a delight so much so that my mother had to nominate a systematic rotational system that decided who got to devour the treasured offal.
Bheja fry or brain masala has been a favourite dish of mine since my teenage years. Not a dish my mother cooked at home, but one we customarily ordered from Empire or Imperial and relished with thick Kerala parotas. Having grown up eating the gelatinous membrane doused in heavy spices and lightly pan-fried, a recent read, Judith Jones' book, My Life in Food was not only a fantastic, but a great inspiration in the kitchen with regard to cooking brains.
Devoid of Indian spices, the recipe calls for:
1/2 pound calves brains
1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Dijon Mustard
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Canola oil for frying
Garnish: lemon wedges

My mother tossing a piece of mustard coated brain in the breadcrumbs

All the segments cooking away delicately, as I wait impatiently until they are delightfully golden brown and delicious.

Straight-forward, no hassle, fuss-free dinner. With a big salad you are good to go for a light dinner, or serve as an appetiser.

Moutabel & Lebanese Lamb Chops

Growing up in Kuwait I often crave authentic Arabic fare. My mother makes the best hummus I have ever eaten out of the Middle East, so after nagging her, she made a big batch just for me which we enjoyed with Boti Kebab, Seek Kebab and Chicken Shawarma for various Bangalore 'kebabaries'.
Hummus with flat leaf parsley and olive oil to garnish and a plate of finely sliced red onion
Moutabel, is a smoked eggplant dip perfect with flat bread, pita chips and even in sandwiches. It really brings out the flavour of chargrilled asparagus, roasted peppers and halloumi
Prep Time 15 minutes, Cook Time 30 minutes
Ingredients: · 3 medium sized eggplants, · 1 tablespoon olive oil, · 1/3 cup tahini paste, · 1 tablespoon minced garlic, · 4 tablespoons lemon juice, · 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, · 1/2-1/4 teaspoon pepper depending on taste, · 1-3 green chili pepper (depending on taste)
Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place eggplant on lightly greased baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, or until eggplant is tender. Once roasted, remove from oven and allow to cool.Once eggplants have cooled, peel the skins. They should come off fairly easy. If you are having a tough time, just scoop the eggplant from the skin with a spoon. Set aside.In a food processor, combine and blend tahini, garlic, and peppers. Add in eggplant and blend well. Add in olive oil. Remove from food processor and place in serving bowl. Stir in lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to three days.
* A piece of advice, go easy on the 4 tbsp of lemon juice, 2 tbsp is mighty fine!

Lebanese Lamb Chops
Ingredients: 12 to 16 lamb chops (depending on size), 2 tablespoon salt, 5 cloves garlic, minced, 1 1/2 lemons, juiced, 2 tablespoons black pepper, 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons Lebanese "7 spices" *, 1 1/2 cups water
* For the Lebanese 7 spices I made my own since it is not available in India. Use a pestle and mortar to grind equal amounts of the following: 6 - 8 pepper corns, rock salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder, 1/2 nutmeg grated, 3 garlic pods, 6 - 8 cloves, a bit of rosemary and 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds.
Method: Preheat oven to 550 degrees F. Place lamb chops in a 9 by 12-inch glass baking dish. Combine 1 tablespoon of salt, garlic and lemon juice. Pour over lamb chops. Combine 1 tablespoon of salt, pepper, paprika and "7 spices" to form a rub. Rub both sides of the lamb chops with this mixture. Place chops back into the baking dish and add 1 1/2 cups of water gently on the side of the dish so as to keep the spices on the lamb chops. Cover the dish with foil and seal well. This will ensure the chops stay juicy. Place in the oven at 550 degrees for 30 minutes. Then lower temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 1 1/2 hours.