A little bit of France - The Tres Magnifique at the Raj Pavilion, ITC Windsor

For those of you who've been following the blog, and not just all the delightful pictures on Instagram, I'd like to re-assure you that I've not gone rogue and become a 'social media influencer' type person. I still love good old-fashioned writing. I've just been on a break from writing for the last few months, mostly thanks to absolute fatigue from writing and reviewing restaurants. I've been spending my time travelling, sorting things out at the new job and most importantly re-evaluating where I want to go with this blog considering how these days it's more about fake numbers than about engaging content or even an understanding of it all. Anyway, I'm back now and what better place to get back into the writing groove than with the Raj Pavilion at ITC Windsor.  

I'm going to be honest and admit that I still don't completely understand the world's fascination with French food. Even copious amounts of Chef's Table and MasterChef hasn't quite helped me understand the appeal. That being said, it was one of the primary drivers for me to accept an invitation from ITC Windsor to come over and sample the fare that will be part of their recently launched French food festival at the Raj Pavilion titled 'Tres Magnifique'. Given the reputation of the Raj Pavilion, expectations were high. Dinner began with the Vichyssoise, a creamy soup made from potatoes and leek. Traditionally served cold, the soup we were served went for a modern twist and was served hot. I'm not a very big fan of the Vichyssoise in general owing to my dislike of potatoes. But given the slight cold that's setting into Bengaluru, anything warm was good for me.  

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The next course comprised of a savoury souffle, served with a creamy paprika sauce, and a Vol-au-vent aux champignon. Maybe back-to-back creamy dishes was the problem, hence the souffle didn’t quite pique my interest. The Vol-au-vent aux champignons on the other hand was wonderfully done. A perfectly light pastry puff with delightfully cooked mushrooms whose earthy flavour was balanced out by the bitterness of the mesclun salad and the citrus from the orange vinaigrette. I'd have happily had another helping of the same. 

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The main course featured three dishes that we could choose from, each a classic of French cuisine. The first was the Sole meunière, a classic with two whole fillets of fish, served with a caper butter sauce. Personally, the flavour of capers is something that doesn’t quite go with everything. It didn't quite work in this dish for me. The second dish was the classic chicken dish of Coq au vin - perfectly cooked soft braised chicken served with fondant potatoes and a delightful red wine jus. It's always a hit or a miss when it comes to chicken in India where most places over cook and dry out the meat; that's where the class and skill of the Chefs at ITC Windsor makes them stand out. This dish would have been my favourite for the evening had it not been for the hearty and modern interpretation of the classic French dish, the Ratatouille de legumes. I remember the first time I had ratatouille when I was travelling abroad, and this dish would rank a close second. I'm overly critical when it comes to vegetarian dishes in general, but this dish was a clear winner for me.  

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Dessert was the classic Tarte Tatin Aux Pommes, a pretty looking plate that consisted of an apple tart with berry sauce, cocoa streusel, mascarpone cream and caramel sauce. Personally, I was hoping for a more delicate affair when it came to dessert because the previous course was quite filling. Each of the courses was accompanied by wine that complemented the dishes being served. (Wine remains a mystery to me... maybe, look at some beers from France?) 

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The Tres Magnifique menu will feature dishes as a part of the regular dinner buffet at the Raj Pavilion, priced at INR 1995++. The plates you see in the pictures were created only for the preview dinner. The festival is on till the 15th of December. I can't say that I'm convinced about all the hype of around French food, but I'll gladly go back just for that ratatouille!

‘Dear Mango…’ at Café Felix

Summer time in India is synonymous with Mangoes. Restaurants and microbreweries are going all out to tame the ‘King of Fruits’ and put their best foot forward. Presenting their take on the summer special, is Café Felix; a restaurant that has very quickly turned out to be one of those places that almost always makes it to my list of recommendations for folks looking for a nice quiet evening out with great food and ambience. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to try out the dishes from their on-going ‘Dear Mango…’ festival. As it turns out, this festival was also their way of celebrating Cafe Felix's first anniversary. Naturally, expectations were high.

Any summer festival deserves some delicious cocktails. My pick for the evening was the spicy concoction of vodka, white chocolate ganache, ripe mango and chilli. Being the very friendly bloggers that we are, we shared what everyone had ordered. And while I really liked my cocktail, I was wishing that I had ordered the Mango & Strawberry smoothie instead. We skipped the cold soup and went straight to the salads.

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The salad enthusiast in me ( YES! I like salads also. It’s not craft beer and meat all the time okay???) was absolutely over the moon with every salad that came our way. I quite honestly have a very tough time choosing my favourite. There was the Prawn and Mango salad that was a lovely mix of crunchy prawns with celery, ruccola, honey mustard, balsamic and gorgonzola, that was deliciously sweet and made me do the very uncouth thing of saying “ Oh my God, I love this” with my mouth full of food . There was the Asian Steak Salad (steak, soba noodles, mango, peanut and black bean miso) whose meat was cooked to perfection. I’d be more than delighted with just a steak whose meat was cooked that way. And not forget the melon and mango salad that was a riot of summer flavours with melon, mango, fig, cashew nuts, and crispy fennel that was topped with Sambuca vinaigrette. I would more than delighted with a large bowl of salad from this menu.

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The main course was a more sober affair with the Asian curries (served with pork and tofu variants) and basil cashew pilaf. The vegetarian option was a lot more flavourful with tofu, spinach, pumpkin, coconut and mango. While I’m a big fan of the gnocchi that’s served on the regular menu, the potato gnocchi with mango-apricot nage, pinenut  and basil pesto was equally impressive.

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Café Felix has always impressed me with their desserts. And the mango specials were no different with people getting just a tad impatient as pictures needed to be taken (#FoodBloggerLife) . I’m not even going to attempt to list favourites here. The mango tart with the raspberry mousse and vanilla bean meringue was a pretty sight to look at, with flavours to back up the very Instagram worthy dessert.  The coconut and chia seed panna cotta with home-made mango ice cream is ideal for someone not looking to be too indulgent. Crepe fans will love the crepe with mango and mixed berry mascarpone.  If you held a gun to my head and made me choose one dessert from the sinfully delightful set on the menu, I’d go with the frozen mango yogurt with seasonal fruits and cinnamon crispies. I really hate it when a dessert looks so pretty and one has to do the terrible task of destroying it. But oh well… that dessert led a good life and fulfilled its life’s purpose.

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While there isn’t any particular end date for the festival, I would recommend heading over while we’re still in the mango season. In terms of cost, most of the dishes are priced between INR 495 and INR 545 (Except the pan seared salmon that’s naturally priced higher). Kudos to Chef Ritwik and the team at Café Felix for putting together yet another delightful festival. Here’s looking to more years of delightful food and dessert.

Market Table, a new bistro that looks to promote healthy eating

The culinary scene of Bengaluru sees new restaurants come and go almost as quick as the weather changes in the city. While some restaurants offer more of the same, there does come the occasional restaurant that does something different to pique ones curiosity. Market Table, is one such place. I was recently invited to try out what they had to offer.

Located opposite the Flying Squirrel in Koramangala, Market Table is a restaurant that goes unnoticed unless you're actively looking for it. Once inside, you're greeted by warm wooden interiors that are very reminiscent of some of the smaller farm-to-table cafes in the U.S. (I remember walking past a restaurant in the Village in NYC with the same name, but that was a lot more posh). The overall theme of the food at Market Table is to offer restaurant goers a genuinely healthy meal that isn't boring in terms of taste. I've generally had very average memories of places that want to go all healthy. While the restaurant claims to be as close to replicating the whole 'farm to fork' movement that's all the rage, I was going to let the food do all the talking.

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First up were mini wheat chia rolls, with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Served with an assortment of salsa and dips, I genuinely liked the vegetarian option better. With vegetables wrapped in a spinach wheat roll, the flavours offered were a lot more vibrant than that of the chicken which seemed vanilla at best.

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Next up was the roasted chicken with two varieties of sauce, traditional barbeque and a spicy sauce. While the sauce did justice to the first bite, the subsequent pieces of chicken were quite bland. While this is completely fine when it comes to healthy eating, I figured the average Indian consumer would be sending the chicken back claiming it's undercooked. Surprisingly, these seemed to be the case with even the subsequent chicken dish that came through. We did share our feedback on the same. While the meat was tender and cooked perfectly (unlike a vast majority of restaurants who overcook their chicken), not having the marinade penetrate the skin would be an area of concern.

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While my hopes of finding a place that could put together a healthy, yet delicious meal were starting to fade, out came the Batata Harra. This dish consisted of spicy baby potatoes, tossed in garlic, onion, bell peppers and jalapenos. Perfectly cooked potatoes with a perfect blend of spices that hit all the right spots was just what the doctor ordered. Give me a bowl of those, with a cold lager (yes, that's unhealthy) and I'll have no complaints. What followed was a semi-gravy preparation of prawns that made us all go WOW! Tasting almost like a Khao Suey, these succulent fresh prawns were cooked perfectly. With a balanced hit of sweet and spice hitting the tongue, all I could think off was, “where’s my lager?"

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While my favourite choice of lunch time beverage wasn't on the menu, we decided to try out some of the juices and smoothies. We went through a handful of them, covering simpler beverages like the Berry Punch (berries, banana, and apple juice with yogurt and date syrup) and a Banana Cream Pie Protein Shake (almond milk, banana, and yogurt). We even tried a more adventurous one called the Beta Hydrate that comprised of cucumber, tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, carrots, celery, parsley, ginger and lemon. (Yes, I'm exhausted just putting the ingredients down). While the juices and smoothies themselves tasted great, what quickly came to light was that there didn’t seem to be any particular pairing with food that seems to have been thought out. And this is something many restaurants are guilty of doing where the choice of beverages doesn't match the food being served. This aspect becomes a little more crucial when it comes to a restaurant that promotes healthy eating. Also, some of the juices and smoothies seemed to have been mixed up. Feedback was provided; hopefully the new menu should reflect some of this thinking.

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For our main course, we opted to go for the warm bowl option instead of the wrap. The protein we chose was served with quinoa, Arborio rice and this delicious salad that I would gladly have a bowl of, every day. The salad consisted of mixed lettuce, walnuts, jalapenos, olives, tomatoes, onions, and zucchini in a sort of mayo-sweet-onion dressing. We were served this bowl with a grilled Asian style chicken, a Cajun styled chicken and kafta marinated grilled spiced lamb. While both the chicken dishes still had the problem of being perceived as undercooked, the spiced lamb hit the ball out of the park. Perfectly marinated and grilled, the thin slices of lamb had the right amount of bite and flavouring that complemented the sweeter salad. Needless to say, we requested for a bowl of just the lamb. 

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Dessert was not as memorable as we hoped it would be given that the lamb preparation had us smiling at the end of the meal. The Vanilla Yogurt with Mixed Berries didn't quite satisfy the sweet tooth. Perhaps a baked version of the yogurt, or adding some home-made granola could have made the dish appealing.

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Overall, while it's early days yet for Market Table, and they do need to focus on some of the finer touches, I genuinely believe that they've got a good thing going for them. I forward to going back in a few months to see if they've made progress (and I hope they would have). That being said, Market Table is a delightful little joint where you can take a book, order some healthy grub and wash it down with a smoothie while the world passes by. If you're the exercising type, they've got what looks like a delicious omelette wrap and some smoothies for your post workout meal. A meal for two, assuming a starter, two drinks and two main-courses followed by a dessert should set you back by about INR 1500.