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.

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.

Food for Seoul – The Korean Food Festival at The Square

The Square at Novotel plays host to Chef Hee-Jin Park and Chef Jong-Man Kim, from Seoul who are bringing some of the traditional flavours of Korea to Bangalore. I was invited last week to try out the fare at The Square. The Korean section occupied a significant portion of the buffet at the restaurant. With numerous varieties of Kimchi (Where would any Korean food festival be without its Kimchi) and some delectable juices made from pumpkin and cranberry respectively, the evening looked promising.

We kicked off the evening with the Beef in Soya Sauce with Noodles. Like a great opening partnership in cricket, this combination was luscious. The beef was cooked perfectly with just the right amount of gaminess and the combination of spice and soya flavours was perfect. This dish set the bar high for the rest of the evening.

Beef in Soya Sauce with Noodles
While we waited for the rest of the dishes, we were served various meats including calamari, chicken, prawns and fish from the barbeque. While I was honestly hoping for the real deal when it came to the barbeque, where the meats are roasted in a gas or charcoal grill, we had to make do with the regular barbeque. I’ll have to admit that the barbequed meats did not excite me as the marinade hadn’t gone through fully and there were a lot of over-cooked spots on the meat. While the prawns made it past the line in terms of flavour and texture, the rest went largely untouched post the first helping. I was told that there were certain technical problems with the grill which was causing the unevenness. That being said, I was served a rather mouth-watering fish towards the end of the meal. The fish flaked beautifully and had a perfect blend of flavours from the grill and that of the seafood. It flaked perfectly and offered redemption.

The rest of the meal was much more appetizing and flavourful. The simplicity and subtleness of the Fried Rice made this a dish that could be had all by itself and still perfectly complemented all the other sauce-based dishes that followed. It went especially well with the Stir Fried Seafood that was cooked with very familiar Asian flavours. A big tick-mark from the evening was the very comforting and familiar flavours of the Fried Chicken in Spicy Sauce. Very reminiscent of the popular American-Chinese dish - General Tso's chicken, the chicken had a perfect mix of sweet and spicy and made me go back for seconds (and thirds).

Stir Fried Seafood

Fried Chicken in a Spicy Sauce
No Korean meal is complete without Bibimbap. I shared a bowl of the Beef Bibimbap, which was the perfect crescendo to end the meal with. The yolk from the egg blended perfectly with all the vegetables, the meat, the chilli pepper paste and the rice to hit the ball out of the park for this festival.

While I was hoping for more Korean(ish) desserts, I grabbed a few little bites from the large dessert section. We were also served a Salted Caramel and a Praline Ice Cream; a thumbs up for the former. Priced at INR 1250 (plus taxes), the food festival is on till the 26th of the month and is offered as a part of both the lunch and dinner buffet. Despite the disappointment with the barbeque, the flavours of the Beef in Soya Sauce with Noodles, the Fried Chicken in Spicy Sauce and the Bibimbap make this a must try festival. I rate the festival 3.5/5.

Chef Park and Chef Kim

PS - Check out Monica with fellow food enthusiast Natasha and I, rocking some aprons Gangnam Style.

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.

An evening of Italian cooking with Master Chef Giuseppe Lioce at the Sheraton Culinary Academy

Aiming to bring chefs and food enthusiasts closer to one another, the Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel organized the Sheraton Culinary Academy. The purpose is to create an environment where chefs can talk about their philosophy around food, how they make dishes and showcase some of their work to food enthusiasts, almost like a master class from a popular TV show.   This evening saw us working with Chef Giuseppe Lioce, who recently moved to the city from the Westin and would be driving the kitchen at Bene. Like any Italian cook, Chef Giuseppe is very passionate about the food he makes and the flavours from back home in Southern Italy which he’s looking to showcase over the next one year. 

The evening began with us being shown how to prepare the Panzerotti Pugliesi, and traditional Aulia calzone. While the end product looked fairly simple with a filling of tomato and buffalo mozzarella, the effort and precision that went into making the dish was something else. Right from kneading the dough to getting the filling spot on, the dish is deceptively simple to someone like me who doesn’t cook a whole lot. Traditionally, the dough alone has to sit for about two hours before it hits the texture needed to make this a superb dish (which immediately puts it off my radar of cooking; my window of patience is about 25 minutes). Shallow fried and served with a helping of balsamic caviar, the Panzerotti Pugliesi is a tasty little bite.

The next dish for the evening was the Cavatelli al pesto. While the sauce was a simple, yet very flavourful pesto sauce, this dish introduced me to the cavatelli pasta. Being someone who sticks to buying pasta off the shelf (PS – Even Marco Pierre White does it, so don’t roll your eyes), making pasta from scratch was a bit of a challenge. Taking a step back in time, Chef Giuseppe decided to do away with electric equipment and brought out the mortar and pestle. One of things I do admire is Chef Giuseppe’s appreciation for the older traditional ways of making food, like how our grandmothers would make, over contemporary methods that don’t always give you the best flavours. Relatively quick and easy to make, the pasta was served up with fresh ricotta and some ground garlic powder. I wasn’t a big fan of the garlic which overpowered the flavour of the freshly-made pesto sauce, an opinion others present did not share with me. 

The final course for the evening was the Biscotti di Mandorle, more easily known as the Italian almond biscuit. Fairly simple to bake, these buttery drops of heaven were presented with ricotta ice cream in a neat little dessert that vanished the moment it was placed in front of us.

If the evening was anything to go by, we can definitely expect some fabulous cooking from Chef Giuseppe with strong traditional Italian flavours coming through every dish. The rest of the evening was spent by the poolside discussing food and India over some canapes and cocktails. Do get in touch with me if you’re looking for recipes from this post.

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

A new menu at Mamagoto

bout three weeks ago, I was invited to sample some of the new menu at Mamagoto. Until then, all my visits to the place have me order only one thing off their menu, the pork belly. It took a lot in me to get stay away. The evening started off with a new cocktail called the Rum Diaries. Bringing together my favourite, Old Monk Rum, with drilled pineapples, orange juice, time and pomegranate essence, this cocktail hit all the right spots. Loaded with the adequate amount of ice, this summer drink was ideal for the heat that was picking up in the city. I may have drunk my first few sips a little too fast, the ice and the rum hit me sooner than I expected. Served with some grilled orange on the side to add some texture to the drink, this is a cocktail I recommend to the Old Monk enthusiasts.

Rum Diaries

I started off the meal with a helping of Mama’s dumplings, an assortment of veg, chicken and shrimp dumplings. The vegetarian dumpling consisted of mixed mushrooms with a fairly strong vinegar dressing. While mushrooms could be a topic of debate as being classified under ‘vegetarian’, I enjoyed the dumplings. The chicken dumpling was a bit of a let-down as the flavours of the minced chicken with the chilli oil sauce didn’t quite work for my taste buds. But topping the dumplings in terms of flavour were the shrimp dumplings. Filled with Nori (seaweed) and shrimp, the dumplings hit the right balance of spice and still retained the seafood taste of the shrimp. Fortunately, the shrimp wasn’t minced too fine and had me crunching away. I shamelessly asked for a second helping of the shrimp dumplings.

Veg Dumpling

Shrimp Dumpling
I tried another appetizer, the Indo Coco Rice. The dish is a traditional sticky rice roll with chicken (vegetarian option available too) steamed with coconut milk in a banana leaf. The coconut milk flavours and aroma had to struggle to compete with the overwhelming taste of the banana leaf, which left me wanting that sweet taste which would have made the dish match the expectations I had in my head looking at the ingredients. The dish however was accompanied with a spicy sauce, the name of which I forget, that took the flavour in an entirely different direction. Natural aromatic flavours of the banana leaf with the spicy flavours of the sauce made the dish a whole lot better than when I had it without the sauce.

Indo Coco Rice
The main course was a Mama Katsu – Don. This dish was a mix of sake, soya, smoky onion sauce poured over a sticky rice and served with a topping of panko crusted fried chicken. ( Aubergine or Tofu for the vegetarians). What I did enjoy was the fried chicken on top which offered a lovely crunch as one bit through, and then soft chicken on the inside. As far as the rice goes, the smoky onion sauce was the dominating flavour that came through, it reminded me of a barbeque. While the flavours were large sweet, the quantity made the dish get a bit monotonous after a while. Probably the inclusion of a spicy element would have offered some vibrancy to the rice. I did ask for an extra helping of the hot sauce from the previous appetizer and that helped finish the dish.

Mama Katsu - Don
Dessert was Mamagoto’s classic Banoffee Pie. Anyone who has eaten this dish here knows the absolute sinful goodness the dessert offers. If you’ve not, do head over just to try this one out. And no whining about calories and all that. The dessert doesn’t need that kind of negativity in the world.

Banoffee Pie

Banoffee Pie
I closed dinner with another cocktail, the Frozen Sangria. Putting a twist on the classic gola from Mumbai, the cocktail had a large block of crushed ice dipped in a gigantic red wine sangria mason jar(ish). Talk about bringing fond memories from holidays to Mumbai with a classic sangria, the cocktail left me with quite the buzz and quite the head-freeze. I did keep going back for more. 

Frozen Sangria
From the evening’s dinner, the cocktails ranked number one on my list; the dessert was too good to waste its time being compared with others, so let’s leave that out. The shrimp prawns would be the other memorable bit for me. Do check out some of the other dishes on the menu. I couldn’t as it was a one man show that evening with no back up.

New flavours of Italy at Mezzaluna, at the the Movenpick Hotel and Spa Bangalore

A week ago, some of the fellow food enthusiasts and I were invited by Chef Armando di Filippo to the Movenpick Hotel and Spa Bangalore, to try out his newly crafted menu at Mezzaluna, the hotel’s Italian restaurant. While I’ve met the chef on a couple of occasions before, I not had the pleasure of trying out the Italian fare. All of us were rather famished after the long drive to the hotel; as we waited we were served some bread with cherry tomatoes, olive oil and some pickled pumpkin shavings to ensure we didn’t start chewing on the chairs. I’m not sure if it was the hunger, but I thoroughly enjoyed the pickled pumpkin shavings.

Lunch commenced with a plate of salad – an Insalata Caprina with Tomato Bruschetta and Ricotta Cheese. A simple refreshing dish that made me want more food right away. Before I could stuff myself with more pumpkin shavings, we were presented with the next course - a Spinach Ricotta Ravioli accompanied by a Corn Linguine Pasta. This dish was something else. The spinach ricotta was cooked perfectly with the right balance of the cheese, the thickness of the pasta and the quantity of spinach all coming together exquisitely to introduce me to an absolutely new flavour that I am in love with. Like a perfect song where no one instrument overpowers the other, the spinach ricotta was an absolute hero. Writing this post almost a week later, I can still remember the taste. A lot of folks tend to be pasta snobs and that might just be all of us being spoilt by MasterChef, but there was nothing wrong with the Corn Linguine Pasta whose pasta came off the shelf. Tasty and simple with olive oil dressing, olives and sun-dried tomatoes, the pasta was a silent sidekick to the spinach ricotta. Pasta – check!

Bringing in some innovation to the pizza which was served next, Chef Armando decided to do away with the traditional tomato sauce base and presented us with an all-Broccoli Pizza. The broccoli was ground into a paste that formed the base for what was a rather simple pizza of broccoli, olives, onion and cheese. I’m a big fan of broccoli, so naturally I thoroughly enjoyed the pizza. All the greens actually made me feel like I was having something healthy. Pizza – check!

The main course consisted of Involini Zuccini, a zucchini stuffed with ricotta, sun dried tomatoes and bell peppers served with a perfectly cooked piece of Saltimbocca; there was a an eggplant variant for the vegetarians. The veal was cooked perfectly, tender enough to cut through without wrestling it and yet gamey enough once popped into the mouth. Combining the sweet flavours of the ricotta with the slightly peppery veal balanced out every bite perfectly. What was missing for me was a more prominent herb taste from something like basil that would have made this dish a stellar meal. 

Dessert was a restrained tiramisu that tasted quite alright with the flavours one expects from any respectable tiramisu, I would have preferred a hint of liquor in the mix to give it that little punch as it hits the tongue, but then…. That’s just me. Giving us company throughout the meal were a bottle each of a Hardy’s white wine and a Saint Cosme Little James Basket; the latter is something I absolutely enjoyed in terms of flavour. Another addition to my list of wines I like without knowing any of the nuances of why.

Every dish presented to us had a certain fresh summer element to it. Italian cooking for me is less about big chunks of meat and more about bold citrus and herbal flavours that accentuate pastas and pizzas. Going by what we had, all the dishes in this new menu should hit all the right spots. In terms of flavour, every dish was packed with enough flavour to entice the average Indian palate with something new and enjoyable. Kudos to Chef Armando di Filippo, and a big thanks for spending time with us talking so passionately about Italian food. Nothing like good conversation to make a great meal even better. Now if only we could find a way around all the traffic to get to Mezzaluna…

The Kolkata Food Diaries - Part 1

For those of you who have been following me on Social Media, would know that I was in Kolkata ( Calcutta for me) for a friend's wedding. While the wedding was the biggest motivation (and the usual optimism about meeting and falling in love with a Bong girl of my dreams... hopeless pointless romantic I am), the other biggest motivation was all the lovely food that the city has to offer. So here are some glimpses into some of the fabulous food that I had.

No trip to Kolkata is complete without belting on some Singara (Bengali-styled samosa) and hot tea for breakfast in the morning. Adding to the deliciousness was the weather that stayed cold and made me want to have more. Which I did. Is three an adequate number of singaras to stop at?

Another dish that I always associate with my love for all food Bengali is luchi. And at the wedding, needless to say, I got my fair share of fresh hot luchi with potato curry. Throw in some boondi ladoo and ladykini, that's breakfast fit for a king.

No Kolkata trip is complete without heading to Flurys. While the place has lost a bit of its charm from when I used to go as a kid, it's still got all the nostalgia. And I found myself in the company of this rather gorgeous lemon tart. My mum wanted me to bring back some, but they didn't have any the day I went. I don't think she was that mad at me even when I scored poor grades.

Another great find, a first for me, was Nolen Gur Kulfi. Nolen Gur Sondesh, is a favourite among all Bengalis and folks who've lived in the city. But a kulfi with that flavour was something else altogether. This beauty was available at the local Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick sweet store which happened to be less than a few minutes from where I was staying. Needless to say, I would have one every time I passed the store.

More in part 2...

Bene meets the Persian Terrace at sea, the Sheraton Grand

Bringing two of my favourite cuisines together, the Sheraton Grand is mixing it up at their on-going sea food festival by bringing together Italian flavours from Bene with Mediterranean flavours from The Persian Terrace. I was invited to try out some of the dishes at the opening night of the festival. Readers of the blog know how much I love Mediterranean food and the flavours it offers. The evening meal commenced with an appetizer which brought together watermelon, feta cheese and prawns in a herb salad. On my current obsession to have salads with every meal, watermelon and feta cheese is one of my all-time favourites.  Throw in some prawns, what’s not to like? The dressing of the appetizer offered strong tamarind flavours, like a chaat. While tamarind powder finds a miniscule place in some Mediterranean cooking, I wouldn’t classify the dish under that umbrella. All that aside, it was a lovely little appetizer and I’m planning to try and make it at home… without the prawns alas. 

This was followed by a serving of Spanish Garlic Prawns. While the flavour was good and the dish looked absolutely appetizing, the crunchiness of the prawns was a bit uneven. Of the three prawns served, two of them had the perfect crunch one expects of such a dish; while the third seemed to have been overcooked just a little more than required. The familiar flavour of the light garlic sauce was polished off with the toasted ciabatta that accompanied the dish.

Next up were the soups. We started off with a Mediterranean soup – the Ghalieh Mahi, a spicy herb soup. One sip in and I was thoroughly disappointed by the flavour. Very reminiscent of a spinach based lentil dish that we make in South India, the soup did nothing in terms of flavour to make me enjoy it. I took a few more sips and that was about all I could take of the soup. The silver lining – the serving was small, so I did not feel guilty about wasting it. The next soup however was something very similar to what I had had at Bene a couple of years ago. The Italian style Market Seafood Soup was a winner with strong Italian flavours of seafood that packed a punch. I loved this the first time I had this, and still do. Unlike the former, this soup left me wanting just a little bit more to tease my taste buds.

The first main course was Moroccan seafood Tagine with Cous Cous. A dish that could have been perfect if not for the slightly over cooked prawns which I thought was calamari. In terms of flavour, the sauce with the citrus cous cous was delightful. But nothing like a meat not done to perfection to take away all the good work that went into the dish. The second main course was very enjoyable; a Mixed Grill of Seafood with Greek Salad and Crusty bread. The grilled prawn displayed in its shell brought a certain rustic look to the dish. The dish was simple with a whole lot of natural flavours in every bit of seafood.  A simple classic dish.

Dessert was my favourite part of the meal. The one thing I always recommend to folks going to Bene is to try the Bene Classic Tiramisu. Packed with flavour and a slight alcohol tinge when you put a spoon of it into your mouth, makes this one of my favourite dishes at Bene. Needless to say, I polished this off quickly. And while in hindsight I should have said no, I polished off a second plate from another blogger at the table who said she wouldn’t be eating any more than a few spoons. Well, I can never say no to anyone offering me food. The evening came to an end with a fine espresso.

The dinners at the food festival are prices at INR 2500 (without the paired wines) and INR 3250 (with the paired wines). Besides the set menu that comprises of both Italian and Mediterranean spread, the festival also offers a variety from their ‘Catch of the day’ market that can be cooked to your liking. The Italian flavours came out more strongly than the Mediterranean flavours. Considering my bias to the latter, I felt a tad disappointed. Don’t miss the seafood soup and the tiramisu should you head here. The festival is on till the end of the week.

The Spicier Side of Italy at Ottimo, ITC Gardenia

On some days, the stars align and the universe does everything in its power to give you memories that you will share with everyone you know (and don’t know through social media) for weeks to come. One such evening was on my very first visit to Ottimo ristorante at ITC Gardenia for their ‘Fire of Italy’ festival. Having heard so much about Chef Vittorio Greco’s creations and personality from other fellow food bloggers, my expectations were quite high.

An evening of fine Italian dining demands excellent wine. While I’m no connoisseur of the same, I resort to the very rudimentary assessment of ‘do I like the taste or not’. We were offered a Gavi DOCG from Ricossa, whose delicate fruity flavour was something I instantly took a liking to. Never having eaten at Ottimo before, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the courses. We began the evening with a vegetarian appetizer, the Salt cooked Onion with Parmesan Chilli and Star Anise. Call it love at first bite, the dish offered me a completely new flavour that had me grunting with joy with every bite I took. The saltiness of the onion balanced out perfectly with the parmesan filling which was quite light. The star anise and the star anise powder were the spices that pushed the dish into the zone of absolute culinary joy. I’ve heard that Chef Greco believes that while a good piece of meat can hold its ground, the true power of innovation comes with vegetarian. This dish was a perfect example of how to do it… and do it well! The presence of a biscuit and the crispy friselle-like bread in the meal to offer a change of texture could have been avoided as it didn’t do anything to help the grand star that was the stuffed onion. Kudos to the chef on this creation.

Salt Cooked Onion with Parmesan Chilli and star anise

Salt Cooked Onion with Parmesan Chilli and star anise

This was followed by a Squid and Chorizo salad where the squid was cut into shapes that resembled pasta. Subtle flavours, nothing complicated yet nothing that blew my taste buds away when compared to the previous dish.  This was followed by the Agnolotti with Liquid Smoked Ricotta, Morels and Aglio-olio e pepperoncino. The dish was more traditional in its taste and offered the sort of bold flavours that one would expect from an Italian dish. That being said, the combination overall didn’t particularly leave me with the urge of wanting to go back for more. The blend of flavours went a little all over the place and made the dish a tad strenuous on the palette.

Squid and Chorizo Salad

Bringing the meal back on track was the next course, Lobster and Chili Double Stuffed Ravioli. Again, this dish had very bold flavours but everything worked well. The ravioli was perfect and the portions of lobster were adequate enough to leave the mild lingering taste of seafood that makes you go back for another bite to keep that flavour going. The sauces and spice were strong in flavour but subtle enough not to negate the taste of the seafood.

Lobster Double Stuffed Ravioli

The main course was something that made my taste buds dance around. Putting together some of my personal favourite flavours, the Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Pistachio and Black Pepper was an absolute treat. The pork belly was left a tad shy of being soft, a texture I am more used to. But that worked with the outer coating of pistachio. Having to crunch through a bit, the flavours of the meat and the nuts came together well in my mouth.  The pork belly was placed on a bed of spinach that brought about not only a change in texture to the dish, but a new flavour as well. And being a fan of spinach, I was more than delighted. Accompanied with a strong jus and veggies, each bite was a sheer delight. (Unintentional rhyming there).  This dish is a rich and heavy dish no doubt and comes with four fairly huge pieces on the plate. While I’d like to think it was all the previous food that I ate (obviously), I was able to conquer only two pieces on the plate. But those two pieces were sheer joy. Kudos to the chef on this dish again.

Slow cooked pork belly with pistachio and black pepper

The crowning glory of the evening, the magnum opus if you may call it, was the dessert. The Torta Caprese 2.0. This dessert was the sort of magic one has only seen on shows like Masterchef. And that evening, I saw the magic with my own eyes. Words will not be adequate to describe the theatre and the flavour behind this dish, so I’ll just let you all take a look at the video below.  (PS: I am not responsible for any unruly behaviour or unexplained emotions you may have after this)

Great appetizer, great wine, great main course and a dessert worthy of the Gods…. That pretty much sums up the evening. While the festival concluded very recently, I’m sure the folks at Ottimo would be glad to indulge you with some of the dishes from the festival. While I couldn’t meet Chef Greco who was travelling at the time, I was able to speak to him over the phone and thank him for envisioning this memorable meal and a dessert that I will tell everyone I meet about.  Look forward to more creativity from the hands of Chef Grecco at future festivals.

5 years of Edo, ITC Gardenia

After 5 weeks of being on a strict no-nonsense diet owing to health reasons, I was delighted to get back into the food blogging scene with an invite to try out the special menu at Edo at the ITC Gardenia which celebrated 5 years of top notch Japanese food. This was the first time I’ve been to Edo. I’ve heard so much about it, so naturally, expectations were high. Giving me company for the evening were Ruth (here’s her blog) and Sudhakar, who’ve always been superb company for any meal where we all drool over food and music. Well, it was their anniversary, so it was more like I was crashing their party.

The meal started off with a Zensai. This was a platter that offered an assortment of dishes including Toro Renkon (Fatty Tuna on crispy Lotus chips),Mozuku (Stringy Seaweed),Tori Gyoza (Mince Chicken and Ginger Dumpling) and a Kani Salada (Japanese mayo marinated Crab and Flying Fish Roe). Staying true to Japanese cooking, every dish on this platter offered subtle elegant flavours. My favourites were the Kani Salada and the Mozuku. The former was a very summer dish with all the cucumber and mayo marinated crab. Light on the stomach, I was willing to order and entire bowl of salad of just this. While I have tried sea weed before, and wasn’t impressed then. This preparation however introduced me to some new flavours. Almost like light tamarind chutney, the stringy sea weed helped remove the unpleasant memories of the previous sea weed dish I had had.

No Japanese meal is complete without Sushi and Sashimi. This evening, we were presented with three varieties - the Chutoro, Sake, Kanpachi (Fatty tuna, Salmon, Young Yellow Tail). Accompanied with freshly done wasabi, every piece was elegant. Each of these offered the elegance you’d expect from a restaurant like Edo. Subtle flavours of the fish differentiating one from the other. 

Next up was my favourite dish of the evening. Straight from the grill, the Negima (Chicken and leek Yakitori) with the Ebi (Grilled Prawns) were the most flavourful dish of the evening. The light sweet sauce on top of the slightly crunchy chicken on the skewer, supplemented by the leek really woke up my taste buds after 5 weeks of hibernation. The prawns on the side were grilled perfectly and besides the meat, were consistent in flavour with the chicken. If ever there was a way for my taste buds to come back to life, this was probably the way to do it. Strong flavour, yet not overwhelming. 

Before we hit the main course, a plate of Agemono (Light and crisp Tempura with accompaniments) was served. Compared to what we had eaten previously, this was the weakest dish of the evening. The dish fell right in the center of familiar tempura territory. What I was hoping for was that the sauces would introduce me to a new flavour or something that made me go wow. Unfortunately, they were nothing new in terms of flavour. While the dish tasted good, it did nothing for me with the wow factor.

The main course was a relatively simple fried rice of vegetables and some egg. 

Dessert threw up some good surprizes and stuck with the elegant theme of the evening. We were offered a platter which consisted of Madagascar Chocolate Mousse, Yuzu cheesecake and a Kaboocha Kasutera. While the chocolate mousse ticked all the boxes in terms of flavour and presentation, the Kaboocha Kasutera - a Japanese sponge cake with guava on top was the winner in the dessert. This was a completely new flavour for me and the guava did a fantastic job of cleansing the palate after the meal.

My very first meal at Edo was everything I expected it to be. From good service, to elegant food and superb company, the evening was definitely a memorable one. I look forward to my next meal at Edo once I am fighting fit so that I can try out some of the more ambitious Japanese flavours.

A culinary sojourn with The Phoenicians at Raj Pavilion, ITC Windsor

Before the food, it’s important to understand a bit of history around the theme for this particular dinner. Phoenicia was an ancient civilization composed of city-states which lay along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea through what is modern-day Syria, Lebannon and northern Israel. The civilization flourished through maritime trade between c. 1500-322 BCE. As far as the food goes, I read that they made porridges, breads and flat cakes that grew in popularity and crossed the borders  and survived for centuries. They also had vegetable gardens where they would grow peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans and fruits like fig, pomegranate, apple, lime and more. A lot of these ingredients find a prominent place in what we know as the Mediterranean cuisine. This is the theme for the food festival at the Raj Pavilion.

This sort of cuisine is among my favourites because besides being quite nutritious and healthy, one can work magic with the vegetarian dishes that tend to get ignored in a lot of food festivals. The salads are always where I find my favourites with Mediterranean food. Among the dozen salads that were on the fare, I found my palate favouring the Tamarind Tossed Papaya Salad and the Herbed Poached Shrimps with Salsa the most. Hitting similar spots on my tongue, the tanginess of both  brought out some fabulous flavours that beckoned me to go back for seconds… and thirds.

Some of the other salads like the Marinated Watermelon with Brined Artichoke and Gherkins, the Chargrilled Pineapple with Pickled Onions exemplified the rich Mediterranean flavours far better than some of the other non vegetarian salads that were on display.

I moved on to one of my all-time favourite meals – hummus and pita bread. Accompanying the hummus were other Mediterranean dips such as Taboulleh, Babaganosh and Beet Labneh. I will have to exercise my bias towards good old plain hummus as the hero of that section.

The main course of the meal consisted of vegetarian and non vegetarian food in equal variety. First up were the Greek Style Stuff Peppers. The capsicum (yes, we call them capsicum) with fillings of fruit, zucchini and a light layer of cheese. I’ve not had enough Greek food to say that it was authentic, but all I know is that I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Unlike the more familiar mughlai styled stuffed capsicums I’ve had, this was quite light on the tummy and the interesting mix of all the fruits and vegetables left me wanting more. (Which I did go back and help myself to). Also served was the Imam Bayildi – a stuffed eggplant (or aubergine for the fancy people), my aversion to all things eggplant didn’t allow me to relish the dish.

In the non vegetarian section, I took a liking to the chicken wings with preserved lime. Although this tasted more like a summer dish to me, I wasn’t complaining as the wings were done tender enough to have the meat come off the bone effortlessly as I chomped away. The Agean Kakvia Fish dish was a tad too bland for what I’m used to when it comes to Mediterranean seafood, so I left it at a single helping. The Greek Lamb with Orzo was another dish that had me going back for seconds with the lamb cooked quite tender, and a light peppery sauce to accompany the rice made this a good dish.

Before I hit the dessert stand, we were served Shish Tawook – A twist on the popular Shwarma Roll, this had extremely tender Shish Kababs with zesty sauces and sliced veggies which made this a superb roll. I was wishing that I had started off the meal with this roll rather than ending it. I wanted to have another one, but had absolutely no space to tuck it in.

Dessert was a rather simple affair with a Baklava dumpling. While the taste of the chopped nuts and honey on the inside was good, the overall pastry was a bit heavier than what I was expecting. 

Full marks to the folks at ITC Windsor for bringing a nice historical twist to the familiar.
Mediterranean that I absolutely love. The top three picks of the meal for me would have to be the Herbed Poached Shrimps with Salsa, the Greek Style Stuff Peppers and the Shish Tawook. The food festival is on throughout the month of November. Do go and check it out.