Fifty Shades of Earl Grey

Sometimes, it becomes imperative, for one’s own sanity, to sit in solitude, with a good cup of tea, and watch the world go by. A ritual that can be immensely comforting in down times, a celebration on happy occasions, or simply, a quiet moment snatched and treasured in the hurly burly busyness of our lives.
In celebration of tea or chai as we call it, and all that is associated with it, the Lobby Lounge of the Taj Banjara Hotel, is hosting a two-week long teatime promotion called Chai Happenings. The Lobby Lounge is a quiet bar-cum-lounge so it serves as a great spot for a quick meeting or even a private getaway for anyone seeking a break.

img_8083Unlike my headline, Earl Grey is not served, but several other variants of tea, ranging from the green to the lemon variety, local favourites like the Sulemani to the Irani Chai, here named Salauddin ki Chai; and filter kaapi (filter coffee) for those who don’t like tea; is available along with a bunch of tea time treats to munch along with it.

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Just like the British have a high tea tradition, we Indians can lay claim to several snacks that taste best with a cup of tea. Right on top of this list would be the Bun Maska — a slightly sweet bun, slit into two, slathered with salty butter, and to be had after dunking into a hot cup of milky tea. The salty, molten butter, along with the sweetness of the tea, is a taste I remember from childhood. The Irani cafés of Mumbai still serve them with great pride and here too, in Hyderabad, it is a simple snack to quell hunger pangs.

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The Lobby Lounge of course, has included a host of snacks that make tea time that much more delicious. Aloo Samosas, Bread Pakodas — made with multiple layer of bread with different stuffings, batter coated and fried; Cut Mirchi (Mirchi Bhajji – slit jalapenos, stuffed with onions and masalas , coated with batter and fried); Bombay Toasties – a grilled sandwich stuffed with vegetables, Chutney Sandwich, Vada Pavs, Sabudana Tikki, Dal Wadas and Patti Samosas among others are the options available.

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From the dishes I sampled, I would pick the Bread Pakodas and the Patti Samosas. Both were served with different chutneys, and the Bread Pakodas had a layer of ketchup and a potato masala each, which gave it a sweet and salty taste. Besides, anything fried always tastes better, so, along with my cup of lemon tea, this combination was perfect.

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You can pick any one snack and the tea of your choice – for Rs 155 plus taxes. Between 3-6 pm you can sample any of the tasty bites with your favourite cuppa. If you happen to have a good book along for company, it will have been an evening well spent.

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Punjabi by Nature

Often, when an iconic brand rolls into Hyderabad, the hype and curiosity overshadows everything else and for some time, everyone is talking about it. Then, there are some brands, which have made a name for themselves in other cities, and make an entry that quietly announces they are here for the long term.

Punjab Grill, a well-known chain of restaurants, with its USP of Punjabi food, served in a fine dining ambience, more than lives up to its reputation. The cuisines of the North West of the Indian Peninsula – Punjab, Afghanistan and Pakistan – are served here; however, Punjab Grill takes the food to the next level. Exquisitely presented, delicately garnished, kebabs, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian; unique mocktails, making the most of desi flavours; and the international favourite butter chicken – all make a statement; subtly so.

The mocktails are innovative to say the least. The Paan Meetha  mocktail mixes gulkand (a preserve made with rose petals) with a betel leaf and brings out the flavours of both in a manner that can only be called refreshing. Another very Indian flavour was in the Lime Pickle Soda – where spicy lime pickle is mixed with soda and a bit of syrup and even served in a pickle jar.

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The starters tell a different tale. The Veg Kurkuri are wonton skins filled with mushrooms, celery, olives, onion, pine nuts, tomatoes and cheese, rolled in a bed of vermicelli and deep fried to a lovely golden. Served with a sweet chilli sauce, this dish is my pick for what vegetarians must try from the choice of starters. Another must try is the Dahi ke Kebab – made with hung curds that has been delicately flavoured with coriander and cardamom.

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The non-vegetarians will be in gastronomic heaven here. There are plenty of options to choose from. Chicken starters include Murgh Malai Tikka, Tandoori Murgh, and Bhatti da Murgh;  Chaamp Tajdar made with mutton; Tandoori Duck; and a seafood kebab list that includes Tandoori Crab and Tandoori Pomfret. My favourite however, is the Salmon Tikka, where Norwegian salmon has been marinated in dill leaves, fennel, ginger, honey and a touch of mustard oil. This fish does not easily lend itself to the Indian style of cooking; but here the flavours assimilate so well that unless told, you wouldn’t know you are eating a fish associated with Mediterranean and European styles of cooking. Do not miss this dish – it is worth the price they charge for it.

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How can anyone go to a restaurant serving Punjabi food and not have Butter Chicken? The dish, that is perhaps India’s best known culinary export, tweaked a million ways to serve Caucasian palates more used to eating bland food; definitely rules the roost here, pun unintended. Though the franchise owner, a young lady by the name of Bhargavi Yerram, informs us that the vegetarian dishes are more popular for some reason, the restaurant gets full marks for cooking Butter Chicken to perfection. Having tasted some too oily or too sweet versions of this dish, I cannot say I have truly eaten a well-made butter chicken. Till now that is. Served with a choice of rotis and naans, the chicken and the gravy just melt in your mouth.

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Then comes the Dal Panjratni – which explains why the vegetarian dishes are so popular. A combination of five lentils, cooked to a creamy level of deliciousness seldom experienced in dals; if you eat only this dal with rotis at the restaurant, you will have sampled one of the best dishes it has to offer.

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Desserts. Never leave without tasting them. The efficient staff ply us with a platter of gulab jamuns, in different flavours such as cardamom, white chocolate, nutella etc. Phirni – a milk pudding and the unmissable Litchi ki Tehri – a sweet milk concoction with litchis, raisins and toasted makhanas on top.

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Finish with a Paan shot – a mouth freshener made with paan leaves and you will be remember this meal for a long time.

For a fine dining experience with food that celebrates the richness of Northern cuisines, in luxurious surroundings, overlooking the sylvan KBR Park; Punjab Grill is my pick. It is not light on your pocket but well worth the expense.

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Punjab Grill

4th floor, Guru Raghavendra, Road No. 1, Jubilee Hills Check Post

Tel80083 33555

12.30 pm to 3 pm; 7 pm onwards

Brunch, The Italian Way

There is something about Sunday brunches that I associate with relaxed luxury. It is an unhurried meal; usually has a vast spread, some exotic cocktails, and, I can spend two hours or more, just eating, and not feel guilty about it. And, the new Sunday Brunch launched at Tre-Forni, Park Hyatt’s Italian restaurant, qualifies on all the counts that define a gourmet meal, had at a leisurely pace.

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Put together superlatively by Michele Prevedello, Executive Chef, and Daniele Macioce, Chef De Cuisine, the brunch can be experienced at the Al fresco terrace dining area and inside, in the main restaurant, to the beat of Ibiza lounge music.

Instead of wines, there are a bunch of cocktails you can choose from; I had the Spicy Mary, a fiery mix of vodka, Sriracha sauce, vinegar and light soya sauce. Living up to its name, the drink was spicy, but it gets all your tastebuds tingling; and the fiery element can be offset with some olive bread.

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The spread is vast, and that is understating it. There are 32 options in desserts alone!  I didn’t know where to start. So I stuck to the conventional route and went for the antipasti first. The ones I recommend are the Mixed lettuce, Poached Pear, Goat Cheese, and Walnut Salad, with Balsamic dressing; Sliced Bocconcini with Tomato, and Basil Pesto [one of my favourites]; and the Confit Salmon, with Potato, Olives and Celery with Lemon Dressing.

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There are plenty of appetisers, a selection of grills, a live pasta counter, pizzas, gnocchi and spaghetti, some home style soups, a selection of hams and cheeses, one pot stews and more. There are also live counters where you can toss your own salad or have a pasta made with ingredients of your choice.

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I would say, give the pizzas a miss this time round. Instead, try the unusual Herb Crusted Betki, served with Roasted Tomatoes, Baked Potatoes, Roasted Mushrooms, and Lemon Caper Sauce; an array of meats and seafood, freshly grilled and served at your table; Spaghetti with Anchovies; Salmon Ravioli, Potato Gnocchi, with Blue Cheese Sauce and Walnuts; various focaccia breads, etc.

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Luckily, the desserts are displayed near the bar area, at the entrance, so you can take a good look at those enticing little bites even before you start your meal. Eat as much as you like, but, whatever else you miss, don’t miss the desserts. Dark Chocolate Vortex, Coconut Mousse, Panacotta, Coffee Chocolate Cake, Assorted Chocolates, Profiteroles, and many more. Take tiny bite-sized portions if you must, but do try out as many as you can.

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For those of you who like a hearty Italian meal, and have the time on any given Sunday, the brunch at Tre-Forni at Rs 2850 plus taxes per person, is an experience to be savoured with each delicious bite.

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Every Sunday

Venue: Tre-Forni Restaurant & Bar

Timing: 12 pm to 4 pm

Price: Rs 2850 per person plus taxes

For Reservations, call: +9140 4949 1222

 

 

Mad About Mushrooms

 

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There are few ingredients, in my opinion, that can hold their own and stand out, even when mixed with several other, sometimes, even stronger, vegetables/meats/spices. Mushrooms, in all their varieties, fall in this category. Whether tossed into an Asian stir fry, pureed into a creamy soup; or mixed into an Indian curry with other vegetables; these versatile funghi impart their own personality to a dish, while not taking away from the overall taste experience.

Full marks then, to Executive Chef Manek Magotra, of The Trident Hotel, Hitech City, Hyderabad, for envisioning and creating Funghi Fiesta – a food festival centred around the magic of mushrooms. No, he did not use the magic variety which gives you a high; but the ones he did use were – Shiitake, Porcini, Oyster, Morel, Portobello, White Fungus and Button Mushrooms.

These versatile little funghi have always been a favourite of mine, from childhood, when we ate the Morel mushroom in a pulao; and a dried mushroom only available in the North of India, which we called dhingri, in a curry. These are now available for a king’s ransom, at over Rs 40,000 a kg. But, the more common ones thankfully, don’t cost as much, so one can still relish them.

We started the dinner with the appetiser – Chocolate and Crumb Fried Button Mushrooms, served with saffron cream, pepper coulis and Balsamic reduction – which set the mood for the rest of the evening.

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The chocolate coated one was created on the lines of Umami – described by Wikipedia as –  Umami (/uˈmɑːmi/), a savoury taste, is one of the five basic tastes (together with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty). A word from the Japanese –  Umami can be translated as a pleasant savoury taste. Coated with chocolate, with sea salt sprinkled on top, it was unusual. But the Crumb Fried Button Mushroom stole its thunder, if I had to compare them.

The Wild Mushroom Cappuccino, a frothy soup, had an extra edge to it with the espresso foam that had been blended in. I thought I was mistaken when I got the familiar whiff of coffee from the soup, but Chef explained that the espresso gave the soup a twist which has proven to be quite popular with guests. And rightly so, because it did taste different from the usual mushroom soup.

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Then came the Pizza, made with an Oriental crust, topped with seafood, white fungus, galangal and lemongrass.

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The lemongrass and galangal flavours were extremely subtle, while the white fungus and the salmon dominated the dish. A pizza that was certainly different from those normally served at Tuscany, the Italian fine dining restaurant of The Trident Hotel, where  the festival is being held.

The two dishes that followed, to my mind, were the masterpieces of the festival. Definite must-haves in my book, the pasta was an outstanding Salmon Ravioli with dill cream, shiitake mushrooms and caper jus. The smokiness of the dill with the crunch of the shiitake mushroom were a perfect foil to the salmon filled ravioli. This mix of ingredients, certainly not a commonplace one, had created the piece de resistance of the festival.

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The Risotto: Given all that Italian cuisine has in its ouvre, a Risotto for me is the last option after the pastas, antipasti and pizzas on offer. In other words, not my first choice at an Italian meal. But here, the Portobello Risotto, made with sundried tomatoes and mascarpone cheese, besides the Portobello mushrooms, was delicious enough that, had I not been so full already, I might even have had a second helping. That is saying something, since I am not a big eater to start with. The flavours delicately underlined that of the mushrooms, and came together in a concoction that was surprisingly light.

A fitting end to the meal was the Chocolate Mud Pie, served with vanilla and truffle oil ice cream. Sinfully creamy on the palate, it more than matched the other dishes served earlier, in terms of taste and presentation.

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Note: There are several more options on the menu available as part of this promotion. The dishes mentioned here are the ones I tried.

The Fungi Fiesta Festival is on till the 28th of August at Tuscany, the Italian restaurant at The Trident Hotel. The restaurant is open only for dinner. For reservations, call: 91 40 6623 2323

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Reinventing the Appam

There is much to love about Kerala cuisine. And there is one special item that lends itself to multiple versions — the humble appam. A breakfast staple, usually had with a vegetable or chicken stew, it has also morphed into being a lunch or dinner accompaniment that can be had in place of rice or… Continue reading Reinventing the Appam

A Sizzling Meal over a Chilled Beer

There are times when, after the day’s chores are done, I wish for nothing more than a chilled beer and a good meal. This time, my wish was granted – by the Kebab-e-Bahar open air restaurant – of the Taj Banjara Hotel. A food festival that is complete value for money is the Beer and Kebab… Continue reading A Sizzling Meal over a Chilled Beer