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!

The Travelling Dimsum Festival, Shizusan

All the ‘you win some, you dim sum’ jokes have been cracked. And people have staked a claim on those jokes like a proud explorer would in the name of the queen. (But why would you anyway?) So I’ll cut straight to the chase. The team at Shizusan have put together a festival to showcase buns, wantons, moneybags and more with flavours from all across Asia. Every dish comes with a recommended cocktail option. Yours truly was invited last weekend to try out the same. With an equal number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options available, and adequate reinforcements at the table, we tried everything.

While I’ll attach a larger menu for you to run through and see what catches your eye, I’ll talk about my top three favourites. Surprisingly enough, the vegetarian fare offered a lot more flavour and dominates my favourites. The Spinach, Date and Cashewnut bun was an instant favourite. The dish was on the sweeter side of things, but the date and cashew flavours were not overwhelmed by the bitter taste that spinach tends to leave behind in one’s mouth.  Favourite of mine, and I hate that I liked something with cottage cheese, would be the Cottage Cheese and Sambal dumpling. This was another delightfully balanced dumpling, with an almost familiar Indian flavour thanks to the sambal.

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 We all were getting a tad worried at our table that we seemed to be enjoying the vegetarian fare a lot more than the non-veg. Fortunately, to the rescue, my favourite for the evening - the Seafood Sui Mai. Perfectly steamed, the right amount of fresh seafood, this plate was cleaned out almost instantly. We knew we wanted seconds, but decided to keep space for some of the others as well as the dessert.

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An honorary mention for the picture-perfect Activated Charcoal & Crab Xiao Long Bao. Almost looking like the yin and yang symbol, I was expecting this dumpling to be the pièce de résistance of the festival. However, the lack of adequate amounts of broth that bolsters the flavour when one takes a bite of the xiao long bao was a bit of a turn off. No complaints on the flavour otherwise.

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Our dessert was a delicious plate of Green Apple Pie Moneybags. This dish had us smacking our lips with the wonderful citrus flavours of green apple and the sweet flavours of the caramel sauce.  I had quite a bit to drink earlier in the day; else I would have loved to have paired this with the recommended Green Apple Martini.

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The Travelling Dim sum menu runs from 27th April to 13th May. Available with four pieces a plate, the vegetarian fare is priced at INR 325 a plate and the non-vegetarian fare at INR 375 a plate ( taxes and services charge extra).

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Straight from the Streets, at Equinox

Anyone who knows me knows my love for Asian food. There’s something I can’t quite explain about all those delectable flavours of lemongrass, kaffir lime, bok choy, tamarind, galangal and more, that makes me instantly gravitate to dishes from across Asia. Given my love for these styles of cooking, I readily accepted an invitation from Equinox at Double Tree Suites, Bengaluru for a sneak peek at their ‘Straight from the Streets’ food festival.

While the festival features some heavy duty main courses, the highlight is the delicious finger foods that one would buy off the streets of countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries in the region. After a couple of welcome drinks (which were shots… straight for the big guns) our evening kicked off with a traditional Chicken Satay in a peanut sauce. This was followed by a barrage of platters containing vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks for us to try. The onslaught began with the bao platter that consisted of pork belly, minced lamb, yakitori chicken and spicy tofu. While everyone seemed to dig the pork and the lamb the most, my vote went to the humble vegetarian spicy tofu. As much as I love my meat, the tofu bao was the most balanced in terms of flavours which made it my pick. This was followed by dimsums, of which I only had a couple; because we all know how quickly those tricky buggers can fill you up.

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The platters that followed included the Bakwanjagung (Indonesian corn fritter), The Begedil (Malaysian fried potato patty) and the Karipap ( Curried puffs filled with green peas). While I haven’t sampled too much vegetarian fare during my travels, the non-vegetarian platter held a lot more interest, starting with the delicious Nam Prik Pao, a Thai styled prawn dish tossed in a chilli sauce, which was immaculately cooked. This was followed by the Ayam Percik, a Malaysian style grilled chicken with tamarind sambal. While the dish is a bit of a mess to look at (like most street food), the chicken was cooked perfectly (Am I the only one who feels that off late , restaurants over cook the chicken till it goes dry?). The platter also consisted of some delicious fish cakes that sang with the flavours of kaffir lime, crispy chicken wings in a Thai chilli-herb sauce, and some Vietnamese style ground beef. My recommendation would be to go for the prawn and the grilled chicken.

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The team at Equinox have also tried their hand at some “Asian-inspired” cocktails. I rather enjoyed the Frozen Mango Margarita, a concoction of tequila, mango juice and Cointreau.

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The special menu also features some super bowls that have various Asian style curries served with rice or noodles. From Lamb Redang to Kyat That Si Pyan (Myanmar style chicken) to Singapore’s Char KwaiTeow (flat noodles), the menu had an equal selection of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. My top two choices would go to the Tom Kho Danh, a Vietnamese prawn wok-tossed dish and the Kapampangan Chicken form Philippines.

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While dessert doesn’t seem to feature on the menu, we were served some. ( Paaah! These bloggers I tell you!) I was rather overjoyed with this particular dessert that was a twist on the classic mango and sticky rice from Thailand. While a tad too sweet, the dish was an ideal end to the evening.

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The festival began on the 16th of April and runs all the way till the end of the month. Dishes are priced between INR 425 to INR 695 based on the type of protein. While the joy of eating in the streets of a night market in Thailand, or in a hole in the wall café with local folks in Vietnam can’t quite be replicated elsewhere, the team at Equinox have pushed themselves to replicate flavours that do bring back fond memories of backpacking through Asia.