A Taste of Israel, at the Aloft Cessna Business Park

One of the countries that is sitting on my list of ‘Places to travel’, with the driving force being the food of the region, is Israel. Israeli cuisine brings together flavours from the Mediterranean cuisine, the middle-eastern cuisine and the Levantine cuisine. While I’ve had my fair share at restaurants abroad, there’s nothing like having a chef from the region put together a festival in one’s own backyard. The Nook, at Aloft Cessna Business Park is playing host to Chef Shachar Aschengrau, a culinary expert from the port city of Haifa, who is leveraging local produce to put together a feast that showcases contemporary Israeli flavours.

Chef Aschengrau (L) with Chef Sandeep (R)

Along with fellow food enthusiasts, I was invited on the opening day of the festival to sample the food and interact with the Chef. While dinner was being set up, we were served appetizers that included Vegetable Shashlik, Chickpea dumplings, Mushroom Kibbeh and Fish in Beer. The stand out dish was the Cinnamon Sheekh, succulent meat on sticks of cinnamon that offered a lovely spicy flavour, leaving the lovely taste of cinnamon to take over one’s mouth. 

Cinnamon Sheekh




At the dinner table, we were served a variety of breads including the popular pita bread, the challah, the shabbat, and my favourite of the lot, the Jerusalem bagel; these were accompanied by an Israeli salad and a variety of dips each with a distinct flavour that covered everything from citrus, to mint, to spice. One of the stand-out dips was the Amba, a tangy mixture of mangoes, mustard, and spices. This popular middle-eastern condiment derives its name from the Sanskrit term for mango. 





While most of us were occupied with polishing off the bread and dips, we were served a rather large and gnarly looking cauliflower that I was certain had been mutated and would come alive at any point. This Baked Cauliflower was a simple dish of, as the name indicates, a baked cauliflower with spices on top. Despite its appearance, the dish actually tasted nice with the flavour of the vegetable with the mild spices on top working well together. This was followed by a rather tasty combination of grilled aubergines with Tabbouleh.




When one thinks of food from Israel, traditional dishes that immediately come to mind would be the falafel and hummus. Looking to showcase how hummus is consumed very differently back home, as compared to how most folks have the dish, Chef Aschengrau had a small master class where he demonstrated how hummus is had back home. With a variety of toppings including whole boiled chickpeas, boiled egg, chilli, pine nuts, onions, lemon-spiked tahini and more, hummus has evolved to suit the more contemporary palate that seeks out more flavour and textures. Soon enough, everyone in the room was looking make their own versions of the dish.

Hummus


The main course featured traditional dishes like Tahini , Baba ghanoush, Fattoush and more. Accompanying the Shwarma and the Falafel were Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, Stuff Chicken, Baked Fish and the Israeli Rice Pilaf. Dessert included a platter of various tiny desserts and candies that made one feel like a kid in a candy store. A favourite of mine among the dessert was the relatively simple yet satisfying dish of figs and fresh cream. I should have stopped at two, but no one seemed too concerned, so I had about four. The team at Aloft put together a bit of a show with putting together various little sweet knick-knacks like cake, macaroons, chocolate and candy and sprinkling it with dry ice. I hadn’t any space left to try that out.





Chef Aschengrau has a relatively extensive arsenal of dishes that one can try out during the festival that runs till the 28th of the month. Dishes from this menu will be available for both lunch and dinner along with the regular buffet at Nook. This is a festival I do recommend to the vegetarians especially for the tasty spread of dips, hummus, salads and bread from Israel.

The Seafood Sensation at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park

After the very enjoyable American Food festival at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park a couple of months ago, I was looking forward to trying out what Chef Sandeep Kumar has put together for their Seafood sensation festival. And it turns out, quite a lot. As an addition to the regular buffet, the seafood section had an impressive display of catfish, prawns, red snapper and more. I kicked off the evening with a tiny assorted platter of prawns, calamari and fish with a variety of sauces including mayonnaise, tomato, chilli-honey, and a very new flavour which was yellow mustard with green apple. Chef Sandeep is turning out to the ‘sauce guy’ for me. While it didn’t top the chocolate mole from the last time, this sauce was the best of the evening and became the staple dip for almost everything. The recent Thailand trip did have me using a little more chilli-honey sauce than usual.
While we waited for the next course I tried some of the seafood salads on display including fish and fresh fruits salad. With contrasting sweet and citrus flavours, the salad came across as something I would have probably had an entire bowl of during the summer. 




Seafood Salads
Next at the table was a fish platter that consisted of tuna, sea bass and snapper all lightly fried. Among the three, the tuna was the best in terms of how much of the flavour it retained and how it blended with all the sauces. This was the second time I’ve had the red snapper, the last being at a restaurant in the US quite some time ago. While that particular dish had a predominant and predictable citrus punch, this snapper was far milder in flavours. All the fish flaked superbly. 

Fish Platter
Next up was a very attractive looking plate of sardines and prawns. The sardines aren’t my first choice for a fish to be honest. That being said, while the dish was supposed to offer a masala sardine, it somehow didn’t make it all the way in terms of the spice levels leaving me a bit disappointed. The prawns however, were cooked perfectly. More mustard and green apple sauce!!!

Sardines and Prawns Platter

Sardines and Prawns Platter

The main course was the best part of the meal. First up was the seafood biryani with the Prawns Salan. The biryani was cooked really well, despite having all that seafood thrown in, it did not have an overwhelming seafood smell - a problem with numerous seafood biryani’s I’ve had in the past. The flavour was rich and had spices in excellent proportion. The biryani was a hero by itself. But truly bringing all the flavours to life was the prawn salan whose tangy taste of mustard made my evening. Fresh hot biryani with a tangy prawn curry on a cold wet rainy evening, it couldn’t get any better.

Seafood Biryani

Prawn Salan



I also tried the fish curry with plain rice, which was a very homely dish and reminded me of something similar with chicken that a friend’s mother would make. But unfortunately, in front of the prawn salan, this dish was a distant second. After a single helping of the fish, I went back to the seafood biryani and the prawns. It was just so sad that I had but one stomach and a mere above-average appetite, for I would have finished the biryani entirely. Also, it would have been quite uncouth if I had asked for a doggy bag. Dinner ended with a helping of pista kheer as I had absolutely no space for anything more.

Fish Curry


Rice Kheer

The Seafood sensation at Aloft Bengaluru Cessna Business Park is on till the 27th of November. My recommendation is definitely for the tuna with the yellow mustard and green apple sauce, and of course for the seafood biryani with the prawn salan. If I weren’t travelling, I’d definitely go back just to have those two again.

The American Food Festival at Aloft Cessna Business Park

If one were to ask me, there are only two things that truly define the culture of the United States of America – Jazz and the Burger. While I’m sure this comment might spark a great debate, let’s all just be civil for the remainder of this post. 

Celebrating the culinary culture of the US, I was invited to try out the spread at the American food festival at the Aloft (Cessna business park). Naturally, my expectations of the burger were quite high. I was also keen to see what else would be spread. This was the first festival put together by Aloft’s new executive chef – Chef Sandeep Kumar. Chef Sandeep brings with him over a decade of experience in food and beverages with stints at the Leela Goa, the Carnival Cruise Line, The Orient Express at the Taj Palace in Delhi and more. The inspiration for the theme for this particular food festival comes from Chef Sandeep’s time with the Carnival Cruise Line that allowed him to sample a lot of dishes that are now synonymous with the American landscape.


We kicked off our lunch with a helping of chicken wings. Very American in flavour, the wings were tender and came off the bone very easily. Like with all wings, the key differentiator is the sauce that the wings are coated in. The flavour of the sauce with these wings fell right in the middle of familiar territory with a largely sweet taste with a hint of spice. Following the wings was the good old American dish of fried chicken. With a light spice in the very crunchy skin on the outside, the chicken was once again a very familiar taste. But the absolute kicker and one of the highlights of this dish was the spicy chocolate mole. 




Made from chocolate and spices mixed together for over eight hours, the bitter sweet chocolate with the pepper and spice flavour that precedes it was an absolute turn on for my taste buds. They wanted to have this sauce with everything. I couldn’t hold back my shamelessness and requested for a small bottle of this sauce to take home with me. I have diligently been dipping everything from carrots to baked crisps in it. I know that sauce set me back in my grand ‘lose weight’ plan, but oh hell… YOLO. (See what that chocolate sauce has made me do, I’m typing YOLO and all that.)

Next up was a plate of nachos salad. I’ll be quite honest in saying that the nachos were one of the better nacho salads I’ve had in ages. With a lot of local restaurants maintaining their margins by cutting out elements on their previously flavourful nacho salads, this hit the spot with the right amount of veggies, meat, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.



We moved on to my favourite part of the meal – the burger. I was served a delicious beef patty that was sandwiched between a layer of fresh mustard, a fried egg, tomatoes and onion rings. While the mustard and beef flavours dominated the burger, a quick dip in the chocolate sauce took it to a whole new level altogether. A thumb up for the burger from me. 




Mexican food and flavours are an integral part of the American food landscape. Next up was the chicken roll with salsa roja. Heavy on Mexican spices, the roll was quite filling with the salsa sauce, layer of cheese, egg and mustard topped off with a jalapeno pepper. The tiny cubes of chicken themselves did not hold any flavour; this was driven completely by everything else in the roll. After having a third of the roll, I was quite full. I reluctantly sampled the hot dog because no American experience is complete without the hot dog. Compared to the burger and the hot dog was mild. It missed the punch of the all-important relish. Relish and mustard define the taste of any hot dog.



While there were numerous other dishes on the spread including the classic American mac and cheese, a corn jalapeno timble in a coriander sauce, a veg stew, burritos and more, I was too full to have anything more. Besides, whatever little crevices were left in my tummy was reserved for dessert.



Dessert was simple plate of churros, done perfectly with a slightly crispy exterior coated in sugar with a soft inside. There was a slightly overwhelming taste of cinnamon which went even better when I dipped it in the chocolate mole. 



This is a very promising start to Chef Sandeep’s stint with the Aloft at Cessna Business Park. I’m looking forward to more such festivals that chef has planned out. He did share some of the grand plans he’s got for the next year, and cheers to more good food.