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.


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.

Fatty Bao Turns 2

Fatty Bao  turns 2, and to celebrate the occasion, the team has put together a special menu - the Fatty Travel Tales menu, that brings together some of the stand-out flavours from ten countries across South East and East Asia.

Chilli Eggplant and Tofu

Kimchi Fries

Carbon Tiger Prawn Tempura

Covering countries from Cambodia, to Japan, to Singapore to Indonesia, the festival offers an array of dishes, each with their own distinct flavours. Accompanying the dishes are six cocktails. The stand out dish from the menu, my favourite was the Sakura Winter dessert.

Cheng Fung

Marina Bay

Silk Route

Bicol Express

Raindrop Cake

Sakura Winter

Sakura Winter

The festival is on till the 28th of August. You could also win some tickets, courtesy Tigerair to allow you to head to Singapore to try out some of the fabulous food the city has to offer. A meal for two should work out to around INR 2500.

The Soup and Dim sum festival, Hunan

During the monsoons, there’s probably nothing more comforting than a cup of hot masala tea with fresh onion pakodas. Dishes that are apt for this kind of weather include samosas, fresh idlis, Maggi noodles and more. Adding to the usual suspects, keeping the emotions that a hot dish on a cold wet day should evoke, Hunan has put together a festival to celebrate soups and dim sums. I was invited along with fellow food enthusiasts to try out this menu.

That evening saw the city witness particularly intense rains (and the traffic jam that comes along with monsoons) that had me raring to go. Our evening began with the Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup, a Thai inspired vegetarian soup that hit the spot immediately. Strong flavours of carrot, coconut milk, spices with the crunchiness of peanuts made this an ideal soup to kick off the evening. I would have preferred if the carrot and sweet potato were a little crunchier to add some more texture to the soup. 
The first dim sums we sampled was the Bok Choy and Mushroom Money Pouch followed by the Truffle Scented Edamame dumpling. I enjoyed the latter a lot more owing to the more subtle salty flavour of the edamame which with the dipping sauce was a lot closer to the flavours I enjoy.

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

Bok Choy and Mushroom Money Pouch

Truffle Scented Edemame Dumpling

The Chicken Drumstick with Noodle Soup was my favourite from the evening. What hit the home run with the soup was the flavourful broth which was a chicken consommé with soya. The combination of that broth with the light noodles, the tender chicken leg and vegetables ticked all the boxes in my book. To balance out the meaty flavours of the broth, we were served the Vegan Vietnamese Spring Roll, a healthy and very sober option of crunchy vegetables wrapped in rice paper with a lovely spicy hoisin peanut sauce. 

Chicken Drumstick with Noodle Soup

Chicken Drumstick with Noodle Soup

Vegan Vietnamese Spring Roll
The Sweet and Sour Tofu Soup with Crabmeat was a bit of a miss in my book, predominantly because the strong tangy flavours overpowered the natural flavours of the crab. The sampling session was back on track with the Chicken Meatballs with Prawn Wanton Soup, a light clear soup that highlighted the simple flavours of the chicken and prawn. This was my second favourite soup of the evening. I would have preferred to have started the evening with this soup rather than with the sweet potato and carrot. 

Chicken Meatballs with Prawn Wonton Soup
Another big highlight of the evening was the Cocktail rolls with Chicken and Prawns. While by themselves, these crispy rolls offered good meaty flavours, it was the chilli and mango dipping sauce that accompanied the dish pushed it to a whole new level. It brought back fond memories of the Chilli Orange Marmalade dipping sauce from my New Orleans trip. Borrowing the tagline of a fast food brand, the rolls with the dipping sauce were ‘finger-licking-good’. Don’t miss ordering this one.

Cocktail Rolls with Chicken and Prawn

Some of the other dishes such as the Sesame Chicken Potstickers, the Chicken Steamed Bao and the Taro Puff with Chicken didn’t offer me flavours that made me sit up and take notice, and want to go back for seconds. We were also served a Khow Suey but I was too full to have more than a couple of spoons. An honourable runner up to the Cocktail rolls was the Crunchy Wanton Ribbon Prawns. The marinated prawns were served in a little wanton cage like package that allowed spicy honey mustard sauce to coat not just the outer wanton but the prawn as well, making this a strong flavoured dish.

Crunchy Wanton Ribbon Prawns

Khow Suey

 The final dish of the main course, the best for last was the Pork Flower Dumplings. Rolled into the shape of a flower, with a pork filling in between the petals, a sweet soya sauce is poured over the dumpling. Eaten in one go, the flower dumpling held the sauce and was a perfect end to the meal. Definitely a ‘must-have’ in my books. Dessert was a relatively simple affair with chocolate spring rolls and ice cream.

Pork Flower Dumplings

Pork Flower Dumplings

Coming in at the right season, the Soup and Dim Sum Festival offers an excellent mix of subtle and strong flavours to suit every palate. Considering the fine dining experience that Hunan offers, I feel the prices are just right with soups and dumplings priced at an average of INR 300. The festival is on till the end of August, only at the Koramangala branch of Hunan. My top three picks for the evening would be the Chicken Drumstick with Noodle Soup, the Cocktail rolls with Chicken and Prawns and the Pork Flower Dumplings.

Fish Amok and Angkor Beer, Phnom Penh

For all those of you who’ve been wondering why it’s taken me a month to post anything on the blog, I was backpacking through Cambodia, experiencing the beauty of their temples and culture, their gruesome history, meeting fellow backpackers and interesting residents…. And most importantly, experiencing food and ale. Over the next month or so, I’ll be sharing a lot of posts on my travels in the hope that it inspires you to get out of your homes and go see the world.

When I arrived in Phnom Penh, my first question to the tuk-tuk driver was regarding what the local ‘must-have’ dishes were. Something that he and a few other folks recommended was a dish called the Fish Amok. Needless to say, my first stop before going anywhere was to head to a restaurant to try this out.

Food doesn’t go without a decent ale for company. As I waited for my dish, I ordered a mug of the Angkor Beer. With a bright golden colour to it, this is a light bodied lager with no particular aroma, except that of the grain. The beer lost carbonation very easily, not much of a head and was quite bitter in taste. Except for the price point of 75 cents, the beer was a mere thirst quencher for the sultry weather of Phnom Penh. While the vacation wasn’t off to the greatest of starts with this beer, the food was yet to come. I had a lot of hope pinned on this dish.

Fish Amok is a classic dish from the Khmer region (now known as Angkor) and is probably the only prominent cuisine style in Cambodia. The cuisine is largely based around meat and ingredients found nearby lakes and rivers of the region. This would include fish, pork, snails, shrimp along with limes, lemongrass, coconut, mangoes and chilli. Beautifully capturing all these elements, the Fish Amok I had championed lemongrass spectacularly. Both the aroma and flavour of lemongrass put together made me salivate as I quickly clicked pictures before I gorged through the dish. 

Served in a banana leaf, the bite-size pieces of fish (I wasn’t able to understand what fish it was when the waitress told me) had a lovely lemongrass, coconut and kaffir lime flavour on the outside with the natural flavours of the fish coming through on the inside. Dressed with a light chilli on top, I got a mild hit as the fish went down my throat. The flavours started to intensify as I went through the dish as the bottom had a higher concentration of the curry paste. Accompanied with plain boiled rice, this dish hit the spot immediately.

Here's a quick video review - 

I tried out various versions spice of this dish throughout my stay, each with a slight difference in terms of more coconut, or gravy or spice. This version, at the On the Corner le resto du coin in Phnom Penh, located on the river front, was my favourite. 

The Long Drink Festival at Social

The latest season of Game of Thrones came and went by in almost an instant. By the time we got to the end of GoT, 10 weeks of our lives had passed and now there is this awkward void which will be filled with reruns of the season gone by or in my case, numerous failed starts to read the books. To keep you company while you find the next best TV series to fill up your days, the good folks at Social have taken the GoT theme and slapped onto their on-going ‘Long Drink Festival’ which heroes various flavours of everyone’s favourite , the  Long Island Iced Tea (LIIT).

A few weekends ago, some of my fellow food and drink enthusiasts were invited on a Saturday afternoon to sample all the nine concoctions and partake in some drinking games.  The nine versions of LIIT, with names like Winter is Coming, Blood of the Dragon, White Walker hero various flavours like cherries, Jim Beam, elder flower, absinthe and even jalapenos. What was evident from everyone’s choices that evening was that the cocktails have been designed to cater to a very wide variety of palates. For example, the relatively mild Sunspear includes whiskey, orange and apple juice, something too mild for my taste. At the other end of the spectrum is Ice & Fire, a drink that packs a sucker punch with Jim Beam, vodka, tequila, lavender tonic and jalapenos, a very strong drink and my favourite from the pack. A crowd favourite was the White Walker, a sweet tasting mix of Kahlua, vodka and fresh cream. 

The festival is on till the 10th of August which gives everyone ample time to head over and discover what’s your pick. And for those of you who don’t watch GoT, just think of this as a LIIT cocktail festival, you won’t be quizzed on your knowledge of GoT to get a cocktail. In Bangalore, you can try these out at both the Church Street Social as well as the Whitefield Social. Aptly priced at INR 550 for 500 ml and INR 999 for 1000 ml (not inclusive of taxes), there’s no real excuse not to head over right after you read this post.

Coastal Adventures at Monkey Bar

While I've been to the (now erstwhile) Monkey Bar on Wood Street for Sunday breakfast a fair number of times, my visit to the Indiranagar branch to review their on-going Coastal Adventures food festival was my first visit there. The food festival which started a couple of days ago features some of the big flavours from Udupi, Kundapur,  Mangalore and Kerala. While keeping the main flavours intact, the chefs have put their own little spin on every dish with additions of bread or salad to ensure that the festival isn't an 'also ran' food festival.

The afternoon started off with the Southern Fry. This dish consists of batter fried calamari with coconut crusted prawns in a coconut and dried shrimp crumb and is the perfect pub-finger food. With a dash of lime on top, the dish was absolutely comforting and was polished off quite quickly at our table. What was missing for me was perhaps a chutney of some sort. The first cocktail I tried was the Chilli Puli, a spicy salty cocktail of tequila, tamarind paste and green chilli. Probably not the best choice for a relatively empty stomach.

The prawns were followed by a serving of the Kuttari Salad. Mimicking the flavours of Thai-raw papaya salad, this dish comprised of baby spinach, red rice, raw mango, coconut and peanuts, with a very prominent curd pickle on top. I'm not a big fan of red rice, but this salad made me go back for more. With the sourness of the raw mango and crunch of the peanuts with the red rice, this dish was not only texturally appetizing but quite refreshing to eat. The Udipi Beet Cutlets that followed was one of the dishes that didn’t quite hit the mark for me. While the individual elements of the dish, the rava crusted beet cutlet with peas filling, the Kerala paratha and the coconut tamarind ketchup, were good individually; combined together I wasn't able to relish the combination. The cutlets themselves are very similar in taste to the Veg Chop - a favourite of mine from Kolkata. 

We were then served the Kundapur Wings, a dish that comprised of chicken wings tossed with Kundapur ghee roast masala served with sprouted moong kosambri salad. The wings were tender and quite spicy. One was expecting a bit of relief from the coconut, which could have been a bit more prominent, but that never stopped us from going back for more. While the kosambri salad seemed to have been put on the plate to offer relief from the spiciness of the masala, I wasn't too convinced. Call me a wings-purist, but the only accompaniment I like with my wings is a blue-cheese dipping sauce. That being said, lovers of spicy wings should give this one a spin. While we waited for the next dish, I ordered the Soulful Kadhee, a sweet cocktail made from gin, Kokum syrup, tender coconut, curry leaves and lime cordial.

Next up were the Monkee Eggs. Inspired by the more traditional Eggs Benedict, this dish consisted of coriander and black pepper crusted poached egg on puff pastry, with green chutney and a coconut cream hollandaise. The food snob in me was expecting a more runny poached egg, the kind that you cut into the dish and the yolk oozes out and everyone goes 'Aaaahhhh!', but that didn't hold back the dish from becoming my favourite from the afternoon. With the egg cooked almost perfectly, the light yet crunchy puff pastry, the contrasting flavours of the chutney and hollandaise, it was love at first bite. Needless to say, this is a 'must-try' dish.

The Kerela Bao Uttapam was another dish where the individual components of the Kerala-inspired Beef Fry and the Bao Uttapam worked well individually, but I wasn't able to appreciate the combination. We were served the Prawn Ghee Roast. Now don't let the name throw you off, the dish wasn't the traditional ghee roast that one would expect. However, cooked in the Kundapur style and served with garlic toast, the dish packs in quite a punch when it comes to bold spicy flavours. It's the kind of spice that make you want to go back for more (which we did). The fresh crunchy prawns and the gravy with the crunchy garlic toast brought a satisfied smile to my face. 

While we waited for a second serving of the prawns, we tried the KP tacos. Replacing the crunchy taco shell with a flaky Kerala paratha, the filling was a Chettinad styled pulled chicken with black lychen, baby onion salan and garlic pickle, comforting flavours with a twist that worked well. The tacos look deceptively small and are actually quite filling, so keep this for last. We ended the meal with some delightful homely Mangalore buns.

The Coastal Adventures festival began on the 16th of June and goes on till the end of the month. If you're looking for strong flavours, fresh seafood and cocktails to pair with, do head over the Monkey Bar. As far as the price goes, a meal for two without alcohol excluding taxes would cost you INR 1200++, and with alcohol excluding taxes, INR 1800++. I give this festival a 4/5.

The Dragon Boat Festival at Yauatcha

A little over a week ago, I was invited to Yauatcha at 1 MG mall in Bangalore (Nope, not the Michelin-starred one in London) to sample and review the fare from their on-going Dragon Boat Festival. The menu is built around Zongzi and is offered with a variety of fillings. For the uninitiated, Zongzi is more popularly known as the sticky rice dumpling - sticky rice stuffed with various fillings and wrapped in a leaf , it is then either steamed or boiled.

While I waited for the first dish to be served, I tried out the Citrus Spritz, a cocktail, on the menu. Combining the flavours of vodka, dry vermouth, lime and Chandon Brut, the cocktail wasn't particularly great. I've never been a big fan of spritzer(ish) cocktails in general; this one didn’t help change my mind. The cocktail was quite bitter, lacked the freshness that one would normally associate with a spritzer and wasn't good when paired with the food that was served.

I started off with the Lamb and Pine Nuts Dumpling, tender lamb with a sweet soya flavour was the plus point of this dish. The pine nuts were soft and offered nothing in terms of flavour or texture. The Pork Belly with Shiitake mushrooms had strong flavours of both ingredients, I do wish the pieces of the pork were larger in size, and would have pushed this dish to the top of my favourites. My favourite for the evening was the Chicken Dumpling that came with Cashew Nuts. While it may the familiarity of the flavours of chicken and cashew when it comes to an Asian meal, this particular dumpling stood out of the pack. I did go back for seconds on this one.

The Chicken and Prawn dumpling was a bit disappointing with the flavour and aroma of the prawn completely taking over the entire dumpling. I personally found this a tad too dry and had to dip it in some chilli sauce to make it a little more palpable. While the prawns themselves were nice and crunchy, the chicken didn’t add any value to the dish. The vegetarian section was a tad disappointing. I had heard great things about the edamame and vegetarian duck dumpling, but found the taste a bit too sweet and the texture quite soapy. The asparagus one wasn't something to write home about.  

Post copious amounts of sticky rice, I was looking forward to some relief in terms of dessert, and that came in the form of the Wine-soaked water chestnut and mango cake with Sauvignon Sorbet. Great presentation on the dish with the sorbet standing out in terms of flavour. The mango cake with the crunchy chocolate base was blissful. While it wasn't something that pushed the boundaries in terms of flavour or innovation, the dessert was comforting and hit all the right places. It is without a doubt, the hero of the festival.

The festival is on till the end of June, and is offered along with the regular menu at Yauatcha. My recommendations would be the Chicken and Cashew Nut Dumpling, followed by the dessert. I give the festival a 2.5/5.

The Mango Mailbock at Arbor Brewing Company

I had about 20 mins to spare while at Garuda Mall, so I popped into Arbor Brewing Company India to try out the Mango Mailbock.

My quick review - While the beer lacked the mango aroma of some of the other mango-beers I've had recently, the after taste of mango lingered for a fair bit.I was expecting this fairly malty beer to be on the sweeter side, but it seemed to be held back by the hops. Overall, enjoyed the body, had a lot more expectation of flavour.

Too bad the person behind the bar told me about the mango-themed menu after I had ordered some grub. Going through the menu, I felt the beer and the food might have paired off wonderfully and complemented one another. Look forward to the 'Smoked Summer' (Another mango flavoured beer) which should be out by next week.

Smoke House Deli Goes the Healthy Way

For most people, the term ‘eating out’ is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle (and now an expensive one too thanks to various taxes). More often than not, the term ‘health conscious’ brings up images of abstinence from good tasting food. My addiction to 'all things salad' from late last year has however shown me that eating healthy doesn’t have to mean ‘eating boring’. (PS: It’s a different story that I’ll gorge down an entire chicken after a rather large bowl of salad). 

Bringing fun and flavour to the term ‘healthy’, the folks at Smoke House Deli ( on Lavelle Road) introduced a special, and fairly elaborate, menu of healthy yet scrumptious food that covers everything from vegan to vegetarian to diary free to paleo and more. I was invited to the launch in March, but owing to work and travel, never got around to writing about it. I have gone back twice since to satisfy my appetite with the healthy options. While the launch had us sample almost all the dishes off the menu, I’d like to describe some of my favourites and some of the healthier options whose flavour doesn’t have me quite convinced. The Paleo Coconut and Seafood Broth is one of my favourites on the menu. A Thai-inspired soup has been created for the lactose intolerant eater, without compromising on flavour. Strong flavours of lemongrass and coriander make this a favourite for almost any time of year. There was also a Millet and Spinach soup that a friend of mine fell in love with, but I’m yet to give that one a taste.

The menu also offers low glycemic sandwiches made from either gluten free bread or ragi, which despite the ominous sounding category were quite flavourful. I do recollect trying out the Soya Marinated Tofu and Spinach, whose filling I enjoyed thoroughly although the bread didn’t quite hit the spot as it got soggy fairly quickly and crumbled. 

Salads! One of my current cooking obsessions! The Super Salads offer patrons numerous options to choose from including Grilled Peach and Papaya with Amaranth Granola, a Classic Watermelon with feta and arugula (another favourite of mine), smoke chicken and caper berries and more. The highlight for me was the apricot chilli dressing on the Kefir soaked Chicken with organic red rice and brown rice flakes salad. (PS – Not yet a fan of red rice).

SHD has also included gluten free pasta made from scratch with their signature non-wheat flour. We were served a plate of the Jowar Gnocchi and Mushroom Fricasse. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a moody eater when it comes to regular Gnocchi. Unfortunately, the one made from jowar didn’t quite cut it for me. Everyone else at the table did seem to enjoy the flavours and go for seconds. My favourite from that course was the Grilled Vegetable Ravioli with Coconut and Soya Milk. Served with sunflower seeds, the sauce tasted fabulous with the ravioli that was cooked perfectly. 

The main course (Yes, we’ve just gotten to the main course) kicked off with Pan Seared Rawas with Soya milk and Bhavnagri sauce, served with kidney beans, chickpeas and corn. Another diary free dish, the fish needed probably just a minute more of cooking as it the skin was a bit soft. Besides that, wonderful flaking and a strong blend of flavours from every element on the plate. Some of the other dishes we sampled were the Ras El Hanout grilled Chicken with Spicy Brown rice, something that found favour with everyone owing to the overall spicy flavour; and the Lean Tenderloin steak with Roasted Cauliflower.

I was looking forward to seeing what dessert would have in store, because, to me, the only healthy dessert in the world is a simple fruit salad. While the Banana Flour Cake with Carrot Pate wasn’t the most appetizing dish I’ve seen, the flavours were all there. While it ticked off all the boxes on what a dessert should be, it was missing the typical guilty pleasure of a dessert that one expects. It was a similar story with the Cacao Nib and Soya Milk Cheese Cake with a Nachini Crust. Ticked all the boxes, great presentation but I wasn’t feeling guilty. And it is that guilt that makes one love a dessert even more.

Despite staying away from all the good stuff like cheese, butter, oil and more, the meal at SHD was quite filling yet didn’t make me feel bloated such that I wanted to go back home and sleep for the rest of the day. As I had mentioned, I’ve been back to SHD on Lavelle Road twice since the inaugural lunch and have never missed ordering the Paleo Coconut and Seafood Broth and the classic Watermelon with feta and arugula salad, irrespective of what else I may order. Kudos to the chefs for going the extra mile to bring the terms ‘healthy food’ and ‘tasty food’ closer to one another. It won’t be love at first bite for many people, but do make your way through the extensive menu and find your favourites.

The Gumbo Shop, New Orleans

It's been over two months since I've gotten back from an awesome few days in New Orleans, which is now one my most favourite cities in the world not only for the beautiful music but also for some of the fabulous food and ales I tried while I was there. It's about time I cleared out the backlog and shared some of my experiences of the city before I set off on another international adventure.

Renowned for its Creole and Cajun flavours that are a combination of the best of French, Spanish and African cuisines, I was eager to hit the streets and experience the same. My first stop after arriving in New Orleans was the renowned Gumbo Shop. Established in 1948, the Gumbo Shop claimed to offer some of the best flavours of New Orleans. Well, with over six decades of being in the scene, one would expect nothing less. The Gumbo Shop featured among the top two 'must try' places in almost every list I read. I arrived just a little past noon to find the place packed and had to stand in line for about twenty minutes before I got a table. Seated right opposite a large mural of the iconic Jackson Square from way back in the day, I instantly fell in love with the fairly rustic look of the place.

I started off by ordering a small bowl of Chicken Andouille Gumbo, which arrived sooner than expected. The moment it was placed on the table, I had a look and wasn't too sure about what emotion to process. At the risk of sounding uncouth, the gumbo looked like the New Orleans version of the Indian favourite Raajma-Chaawal (Kidney Beans and rice) with sausages thrown in. While I was disappointed by the appearance, the flavours were something else. The gravy was packed with strong spicy meaty flavours of the andouille, a cajun styled chicken sausage and the chicken broth. The okra seasoning brought some relief with its impactful herbal flavour.  It's a good thing I ordered a small bowl because anything larger would have filled me up.

For the main course, I ordered the Jambalaya, another dish I've heard and read so much about with a side order of Alligator Sausages with a spicy orange marmalade dipping sauce. Yes, you read that correct - Alligator sausages. While the dish looked like any other regular sausage, the flavours of the meat with the spicy-sweet-citrus kick of the dipping sauce made me fall in love with the dish instantly. Alligator meat is a white meat that has a flavour that finds a place somewhere between chicken and fish. High in protein, with the right amount of gaminess, alligator is a staple dish in creole cuisine. The sausages were mildly spice with the cajun flavour and smoked perfectly. What took the sausages from a good dish to a great dish was undoubtedly the spicy orange marmalade dipping sauce. I shamelessly asked for another helping of the dipping sauce to polish off just by itself. The folks at the Gumbo Shop were kind enough not to charge me extra for that.

The Jambalaya, a rice-based dish cooked with smoked sausage, shrimp, and chicken was a bit of a disappointment in terms of appearance and in terms of flavour. Drawing parallels with saambar, the dish reminded me of the saambar-rice that would be packed into lunch boxes during school and would end up being completely dry by the time lunch came around. I did have to throw in the towel halfway through because the dish did nothing for me. I ordered a second plate of Alligator Sausages.

Dessert included a relatively simple Praline Sundae. Two scoops of vanilla ice cream with a lovely caramel sauce, topped with praline and pecan nuts was just what the doctor ordered after a meal packed with the mighty flavours of gumbo and alligator sausages.

While the meal worked out to a little over $40, it was completely worth it. The Gumbo Shop set the stage for all the lovely creole flavours I was going to experience in New Orleans. I returned to the Gumbo Shop three more times during my trip just to have a plate of the Alligator Sausages.

Leffe Blonde

Sunday evening’s IPL final had me opening this bottle of Leffe Blonde, a Belgian-Style Blonde Ale     ( also categorized as ‘Abbey Beer’ , as I read later on) from InBev Belgium. This smooth and medium bodied beer offered a lovely golden colour with a relatively light malty aroma. The head was a little over two fingers when I poured it into the glass. In terms of taste, I found this on the sweeter-fruity side with a mild bitter after taste, almost like a bitter orange, followed by spicy notes, probably cloves, as it went down. With an ABV of 6.6%, this was fairly easy to gulp down. While I didn’t have any food to pair this with, I’d probably pair it with some nice red meat, like lamb, from the barbeque. I’d definitely recommend you pick this up from your local store and give it a try. If I had to rate it, I’d give it a 7/10. Cheers!

The Choux Box

A few weeks ago, I was invited to the opening of The Choux Box, a new venture by Natasha Patrao. Before you start looking for it on the map, I must point out that this isn’t your traditional bakery, but is more of a space that Natasha aims to use to teach kids and adults the joys of cooking and baking. Inspired by High Teas and bite-sized food from her internship with Conrad Singapore, Natasha looks to bring the experience to folks who don’t have to go all the way to a posh restaurant to experience the same. There is a menu of hor d'oeuvres, sandwiches and desserts that one can order from and pick up. Natasha also does personalized birthday cakes and wedding cakes on pre order basis. And if the blueberry cheesecake I had was anything to go by, the cakes should be simply sinful.

On the opening evening, Natasha had laid out a very impressive spread of sweet and savoury bites of food. The dessert section consisted of Walnut Brownies with Hazelnut ganache, Blueberry Cheesecake, Creme Caramel, Rose Macaroons and Lemon Macaroons, Duet Panna cotta, Dark chocolate mini cupcakes and Lemon cupcakes with Italian buttercream. I don’t know if it’s because of the summer, but my favourites in the dessert section were the Lemon Macaroons and the Lemon cupcakes with Italian buttercream. Topping them both was the blueberry cheesecake. I’m not the biggest fan of all things blueberry, but the texture and subtle flavours of everything in this cake made it the highlight of the evening. Unfortunately, since I arrived a late, I got a single piece that Natasha and Ruth (www.bangaloresrestaurants.com) saved for me.

I was little more impressed with the savoury section which had Cucumber Mayonnaise Sandwiches, Chicken Chipotle Sandwiches, Tuna with Cranberry and Fresh Herbs Sandwiches, Creamy Red Wine Mushroom canapes with fresh Parsley, Citrus Prawn Canapes and Tomato Basil Bruschetta. My pick for the evening was the Tuna with Cranberry and Fresh Herbs Sandwiches and the Citrus Prawn Canapes, whose lovely blend of prawn with bits of pomegranate made me sigh as I popped in a fair number of them. (Note to self – Order twenty Prawn Canapes and eat them all by yourself).  

Located in Koramangala, the Choux Box is definitely one the more interesting additions to the growing bakery scene of Bangalore. Do check out the menu (attached below) and don’t forget to order blueberry cheesecake, along with the Citrus Prawn Canapes.

The Kabab Studio at Goldfinch Hotel, B'lore

I was invited to try out the (somewhat) recently renovated Kabab Studio at the Goldfinch Hotel in Bangalore. While the invite was open since late February, owing to work, illness and travel, I finally managed to go last week. Sit-in barbecues seem to have become a bit of a rage, especially among the IT office crowd in Bangalore, a fact evident from all the various barbecue joints that have more or less the same format. That being said, I was eager to see how The Kabab Studio set itself apart from the pack.

Located at the terrace of the Goldfinch Hotel, the restaurant offers both an indoor and outdoor seating area. We were promptly shown to our table with the bearer asking us what we’d like to drink. Having heard about the cocktails of the place, we left it to the bartender to surprise us with his best five cocktails for the summer evening. In the meantime, the grill was put in place and skewers of prawns, chicken, mushroom, mutton followed. I’ll be honest in saying that the meats were marinated fairly well, probably a tad too spicy for some (so beware) and the portions were generous. The prawn margination was satisfying as was the Kalmi kabab. The mutton sheek lacked the juiciness one expected of the dish. However, delighting me was the Paneer tikka. Yes, you read that right – the Paneer Tikka. Marinated to perfection, the paneer itself was one of the softest I had had in ages in the city in any restaurant. Brought in from Mumbai, the paneer was as soft as a warm marshmallow and egged me on to request for more helpings. Another favourite was the spicy pineapple.

While I had no complaints regarding the non veg served, I couldn’t help but comment on the lack of imagination when it comes to vegetarian grilled food, across the city. Vegetarian for most equals paneer, mushroom, baby corn, pineapple, potato and capsicum. What about tofu, eggplant, peaches, halloumi, radish, beetroot…and so many more options? I’m sure the chefs need to just sit down and take the time to figure out what they can do. This is a reflection of the state of vegetarian food across most restaurants in the city, not just the Kabab Studio alone. I was appreciative of the fact that the team there were open to feedback and didn’t try to hide behind excuses. So that’s a step in the right direction. Also, chaats as a “live counter” is not very imaginative. There’s a lot more room for improvement there!

In the middle of all of this, our very first pair of cocktails arrived. Looking rather ominous with smoke spewing out of the kettle, the first cocktail was their version of the Long Island Ice Tea except there was no coke but actual tea. Christened, The Last Tea, the cocktail consisted of five white spirits with tea and dry ice, to give it that menacing look. Lacking the kick of the traditional LIIT, this drink was still quite refreshing and almost became a sort of palate cleanser.

The second cocktail served, again with dry ice, was the Lemongrass Curry Leaf Martini. One of the finer cocktails I’ve had in some time, and the best of the evening, this drink had very mild hints of lemongrass that was over powered by the flavour of curry leaves. With the punch of liquor coming at the end as one gulped this down, this chilled cocktail was an immediate favourite of the evening.

What followed was a barrage of cocktails including the Santa Banta Screw Driver which was just another Screwdriver; the TKS OK which was a strong citrus orange cocktail with chunks of orange that made it ideal for the summer and a Cucumber Basil Lemonade which despite being a tad sweeter than required was actually very refreshing with the basil and cucumber instantly cooling the system.

The final, and bonus, cocktail for the evening which was my second favourite was Spice Fusion, a concoction of chaat masala, green chillis, lemon, tobacco sauce, guava juice and vodka. While it’s not an entirely new combination, the contrasting flavours of the sweet guava juice with the spicy punch of the drink worked very well with the drink hitting different parts of your tongue as it went down.

The main course was a respectable spread with some of the usual suspects like veg kholapuri, pasta in cream basil sauce, ghosht hara pyaza, murgh kalimirch, methi daal, etc. What stood out were the dishes in the Asian section with Mixed Vegetables in a Plum Sauce and the Prawns in Thai Green Curry. The good mix of flavours on both made me go back for seconds. Desserts was a slightly more impressive affair with the cold stone ice cream where I combined vanilla with almonds and paan, followed by copious amounts (read three cups) of mishit doi which was very reminiscent of what one gets in Kolkata.

The overall verdict of The Kabab Studio, a good attempt at changing the template of the regular barbecue-themed restaurant, but expected more with the vegetarian section. Respectable portions of meat that have been marinated well will be a hit with any crowd. While the Asian sections of the main course scored big for me, the Indian sections could do with a  bit more imagination. But the biggest strength that sets the Kabab Studio apart from other players in the market is the cocktails. With a gamut of flavours and presentation styles, the cocktails were the champion of the evening. Excellent companions for a barbecue, other than the run-of-the-mill beers, IMFLs and unimaginative mocktails, make Kabab Studio worth visiting. Since the IPL is on, it may be a good time to head over there in the evening to catch a game and make the best of some excellent offers running at this time.

The Great Indian Coastal Food Festival at the Ministry of Food, Hilton Bangalore EGL

The Ministry of Food at the Hilton Bangalore at Embassy Golf Links is back with a brand new festival that showcases the diversity of food and flavours all along the Indian coastline. The Great Indian Coastal Food Festival features food from across the coasts of Kerela, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Mangalore, Goa, just to name a few. A few bloggers and I were invited on the second day after the festival opened to try out the spread. 

The one thing that immediately hits you is the sheer number of dishes that one can sample. While that’s a good thing, it can be a little daunting as a food connoisseur to have to sample as much as you can to truly appreciate the work that’s gone into curating the menu. We kicked off the meal with a selection of fish that were marinated in various styles from Goan to Chettinad and grilled. While most of the flavours were perfect enough to ensure the taste of the fish wasn’t lost, some of the marination had a tad more salt than required. That aside, the fresh catch brought in daily ensured top notch quality. If you lack the patience to pull out tiny bones from the fish, recommend you have a word with the chef and choose from the fairly large spread accordingly.

Accompanying the grilled fish were a variety of appetizers including sundal, fried calamari, Goan roast beef and Vada. I’ve got to call out the vada on this menu. It is one of the most supremely prepared vadas I’ve had in a very long time. Almost as soft as cotton, the mildly peppery vada simply melted when we popped it into our mouths. Needless to say, it was my favourite part of the meal. Folks I did speak to a day later thought I’ve lost my marbles as I was talking about a vada after a seafood festival. Two thumbs up for this. Following closely was the Fish Tikka which was tender, flaked beautifully while retaining the spicy flavour. Another favourite among the appetizers was the Banana Stem Salad of which I took at least three helpings.

After all the appetizers, and vadas, there was limited room for the main course. I had to be very choosy from the vast spread. I chose the Bengali styled mustard fish and was delighted that I did. Strong mustard flavours immediately took over my taste buds the moment I had a spoon. Almost as close to the real deal, this was one of my favourites in the main course. I also chose the Kosha Mangsho which was relatively muted compared to the original, but tasty nonetheless. All that was missing was some luchi, which would have sealed the deal for me. I next attacked the Crab Xec Xec, a Goan delicacy that did not disappoint. All though a soft shell crab might have worked a little better, I had no choice but to tuck my napkin into my shirt and go all messy with the crab. Let’s be honest, there’s no other way to appreciate the dish. Left with very little space, I sampled a bit of the Chicken Chettinad which could have been a little more impactful with the flavour. Alas, not everyone appreciates the strong peppery flavours of the dish. 

At times like this I wish I had two stomachs because I didn’t get to try a lot of the dishes from the main course. Dessert was a relatively peaceful affair with a light ellaneer payasum ( Tender Coconut kheer) that helped with the unusually hot weather of the city as well as the strong flavours we’d been experiencing all evening. The folks at Ministry of Food have indeed put together a very commendable food festival with four rolling menus that ensure you don’t get bored. Running till the 30th of the month, the Great Indian Coastal Food Festival is priced very competitively at INR 1399 plus taxes per person. The quality of elaborate spread was reflected by the fact that even on a weekday, the restaurant was packed, something I’ve not seen at food festivals in a long time.

An evening at Nimmiserie

Chef Nimish Bhatia, a veteran of the Bangalore culinary scene opened the doors to his dream project, Nimmiserie , on Christmas day last year. I was invited to the opening day lunch with other fellow food enthusiasts to see what culinary chemistry Chef Nimish Bhatia was working on. Unfortunately I had an afternoon screening of Star Wars : The Force awakens that day and had to leave lunch halfway. I was invited back at the start of March to try out the new Tavakerie which had opened up.

The evening began with everyone being seated on the lower floor at a large table with all the extravagance of Nimmserie up for everyone to see. The meal kicked off with a Reconstructed Chilled Samosa in a Melon Wrapper with Hibiscus Dust and a Fiery Nimbu Chutney. This take on a samosa gets rid of all the fried guilty pleasure of the traditional Indian samosa and replaces it with a healthier option of a melon wrap on the outside rather than the greasy fried outer layer that we all love. Being on my salad-quest mode the last few months, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavours of this dish. I’m not sure the regular palate would appreciate it though. 

This was followed by Cream Horns a La Galawat. This dish was a new addition from the last time I ate here. Personally, I’m a big fan of savory cornettos ever since I had a Mexican-flavoured chicken and red beans cornetto on one of my trips. I might be a bit biased in saying I enjoyed this dish with the simple flavours of galwati mutton kabab coming through. The play of textures was interesting, starting off with the crunch exterior to the slightly gamey kabab filling.

The soup for the evening pushed the envelope in terms of presentation where a hot flavorful vegetarian stock is poured in front of you into a bowl filled with tomatoes that have been engineered into bubbles that pop in your mouth releasing the citrus flavor of the vegetable. Accompanying the soup are distinct floral elements of marigold. The freshness of the soup was undone by the next dish, a dhokla disc with shrimp on top with a Moroccan Chermoula sauce. I wasn’t particularly impressed with either the innovation or the flavours. While the mix of chermoula with seafood is a classic combination, the addition of the dhokla messed both the flavours and the textures for me.

We moved to the upper floor where the restaurant does away with the formal ambience of the lower floor and offers customers a more intimate environment with one section offering  tepanyaki-inspired style live cooking counters, known as the Tavakerie, and slightly more private dining sections. The private dining sections are cordoned off by beads that are very reminiscent of the early James Bond movies and made me feel that we’re going to have a belly dancer come out at any minute.

While we waited for the live counters to heat up, we were offered a salad which consisted of Smoked Chicken Breasts with Arugula, Marigold Flowers, and Basil. Throwing out very earthy aromas, I enjoyed sniffing away at the salad a lot more than eating it. The aromas matched the flavor and the salad was an ideal palate cleanser for the strong flavours of chermoula left behind by the previous dish. One of my favourite dishes.

Our innings at the Tavakerie continued with a palate cleanser of Mushroom and Camomile Shots. Strong notes of chamomile when one takes a whiff of the shot with a complementing tastes of reduced mushrooms made this a favourite amongst everyone at the table.

Pushing the envelope of innovation in flavor and presentation, Chef Bhatia served us his take on the Doda. Cooked live, the doda was made of radish and maize. Served to vegetarians with a topping of fresh goats cheese cream and to the non vegetarians with a topping of minced lamb, the dish ticked all the right spots in terms of flavor. I personally enjoyed the vegetarian version more than the non veg as the flavours seemed to complement one another much better. The minced lamb was a tad too spicy for the flavours of radish in the doda. Other chefs, please note – Radish is yet another vegetable that one can cook good veg food with. Move beyond the usual unimaginative veg spread.

The main course had a very intriguing Grilled Mock Fish for the vegetarians. While it wasn’t spot on with the texture and flavours, it was quite close to the real deal. The non vegetarians were served a grilled chicken. Both these were accompanied by an superbly flavoured Kache Ande ki Biryani ( Biryani with Raw Egg). Cooked on the tawa, the biryani had a raw egg cracked into it and served. More than the meat, and the mock meat, the biryani had strong flavours and aromas that made one salivate and crave for more. I’ll be honest in admitting I tried this at home with less than desirable results.

Dessert was a relatively muted affair with  Tarte Tatin Mishti Doi Crème Brulee.  Call me conservative, but the Bengali in me wasn’t too appreciative of messing around with the hallowed mishit doi. While the flavours were all there, my mind and heart were not able to give the dessert the due justice it may have deserved.

Nimmiserie to me is best described as a modern day progressive rock album. It has elements that are new that you can’t quite wrap your head around sitting right next to elements that are old and familiar. This is accompanied by notes that your head tells you are familiar, but your taste buds say otherwise. But at the end of it all, it’s progressive. It’s a step in the right direction, and a move like that always means there will be moments that bewilder people and moments of applause. Overall, it was a rich-experience at Nimmiserie