The Essence of Gujarat

 

starters
Every once in a while, a food festival comes along, that takes me back to my childhood. Of traditions now ended, due to the passing away of those uncles and aunts who held them dear.  One such was the Sunday lunches held by my Kutchi half of the family. Kutch, being a part of the state of Gujarat meant the food overlapped.
So, when Firdaus, the Indian fine dining restaurant at the Taj Krishna Hotel held a Gujarati food festival, in association with Gujarat Tourism to celebrate the ongoing Navratri festival, I knew I was going to enjoy this one.
The starters included Patras [colocasia leaves, on which a spicy sweet gram flour paste is smeared, and the leaf rolled and steamed]; Petis Corn Tikki [Petis being the Gujju pronunciation of the word patties]; Handvo [a savoury, steamed cake made with lentils]; Methi na Muthia [gram flour and fenugreek leaves made into a dough with spices and steamed]; Dhoklas [steamed semolina dumplings] and above all, Khandvi [gram flour mixed with sour, spiced buttermilk, cooked, then smeared on to a thali and cut into rolls]. khandvi
The Patra and Dhoklas were done to perfection, and the Khandvi, an absolute favourite of mine since childhood, I was happy to note, was delicious. These three starters were my pick of the lot and I could have made a meal of them alone. The Muthiyas, a very healthy snack were well done, but, along with the Petis, paled in comparison to the ones I have mentioned. The Handvo was a bit of a let-down as it was a tad too sticky and heavy on the palate.
curries
The main course had traditional Gujarati fare with concoctions like Valor Muthia Nu Shaak [a curry made with broad beans and muthiyas], Undhiyu [mixed vegetables usually made in winter]; Sev Tamatar Nu Shaak  [a tomato based curry with sev – fried gram flour crisps used in bhel puri]; Bharwa Ringna [stuffed brinjals], Gujarati Dal, Kadhi,  Bardoli ki Khichdi, Khatta Meetha Bhat [sweet and salty rice], and Indian breads like Methi na Thepla and Bajra roti. Needless to say, some of the dishes were sweet, as Gujarati food does have sugar added to a few staples. While all of them were cooked well, under the expert guidance of Executive Chef Nitin Mathur, the quantities were huge, so one couldn’t do more than have a sampling of each of them.thali 1
The desserts were a quiet end to a lavish meal as the Dudh Pak [a milk and rice pudding]; Urmo [a sweet made from broken wheat or lapsi] and Mohanthal [a gram flour based barfi]. The Urmo, what we call Lapsi nu Seero was the best of the lot, sweetened just right and the grainy texture of the broken wheat intact.  dessert
The menu has the thali and a la carte options for lunch and dinner right till the end of the month. Be prepared to leave the place with a full stomach though.

 

Date: Till 30th September 2017

Firdaus, Taj Krishna

 

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Dawat-e-Iftar

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Come the month of Ramzan and Iftar parties become quite the zeitgeist everywhere. Especially here in Hyderabad, which has many Muslims and non-Muslims coming together for an Iftar dinner.
Kanak, the fine dining Indian cuisine restaurant at The Trident Hotel, decided to have a food promotion based on this ritual, and it goes on till Ramzan comes to an end, on the 24th of June. While it goes without saying that a traditional Ramzan favourite – the Haleem – is a fixed item on the menu, Executive Chef Manik Magotra and his team, have added other dishes, from various parts of the country, to make the Iftar spread more interesting for the guest.
Another important fact to note is that contrary to popular perception, not everything served at an Iftar dinner has to be non-vegetarian. At Kanak, at the dawt e Iftar, Chef has included enough vegetarian dishes so those who abstain from meat, can still have a filling meal.
lotus stem
The starters include Tandoori Bharwan Aloo, potatoes filled with nuts and cheese and cooked in a tandoor, Nadir mand, sliced lotus stem, marinated in a spicy paste and deep fried; Tala hua Gosht, a Hyderabad speciality – morsels of lamb, sautéed with onions, green chillies and mint; and of course Haleem, traditionally cooked with wheat and lamb and served with fried onions and wedges of lime. The menu includes a vegetarian variant of this dish which is what I had, and the wheat and ghee preparation was as good as its non-vegetarian counterpart.
Among the starters, I liked the Bharwan Aloo, the sweetness of the dry fruits and the bland potato make a surprisingly good combination; and though I abstained from the lamb starter, I was told by the others at the table, that it was quite delicious.main course
Mains included Gobhi Mussalam, cauliflower stuffed with nuts and cooked in a rich cashewnut and yoghurt gravy; Dhaniwal Korma, chicken cooked in a yoghurt based gravy flavoured with saffron and fresh coriander; Dahi Gosht, lamb cooked in whole spices and yoghurt; and Kacchi Gosht ki Biryani – lamb and basmati rice cooked with saffron and nuts in the dum style – in sealed pots.mains rice
All the main course dishes were served with different kinds of rotis – sheermal, Peshawari naan and Khamiri roti; along with Navratan Pulao. I tried the Khamiri roti with the chicken and the cauliflower curries – they were a match made in heaven. Filling yet light on the palate, the flavours blended beautifully with the thick roti.rotis
Desserts included a Seb ki Kheer, an apple and milk based pudding; Baloshahi – a deep fried flour dumpling dunked in sugar syrup; and the Lauki ka Halwa – bottle gourd cooked with milk and sugar. While others liked the apple pudding, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Lauki Halwa was outstanding. Having a dish I was forced to eat in childhood, this version, slow cooked to creamy perfection, was a perfect finish to a very well cooked meal.dessert

 

The Dawat-e-Iftar is on at Kanak, The Trident Hotel, Hitech City, Hyderabad till the 24th of June.

Timings: 7 pm onwards.

 

Five Chefs, Five Cuisines

When an all-day diner serves several dishes that are flavourful and tasty; they must be doing something right. Especially because there are multiple cuisines on offer. At Cayenne, the restaurant at the Mercure Hyderabad KCP, a signature event is on till the 3rd of April. Called Choose your Chef, the series entails the team of chefs creating specially crafted dishes based on their culinary expertise. Five chefs, five cuisines, so you can take your pick.

chefs at mercure
The five chefs with Executive Chef Vinay (seated)

The team, headed by Executive Chef Vinay, includes Chef Ganapathi, Western cuisines, Chef Maniruddin, Hyderabadi, Chef Sahoo, Indian, Chef Satyanarayana, South Indian and Chef Vikram, pan-Asian. Unfortunately, Chef Vikram was unwell so we didn’t get to taste the pan-Asian food, which from reports is supposed to be outstanding.

prawn
Beet Cured Squid with Prawn Ceviche

Still, the other chefs didn’t disappoint. We sampled Crumb fried Idlis, stuffed with pickle masala; Beet Cured Squid with black garlic and Prawn Ceviche; Badami Tangdi; Ankuri Makkai hare Pyaaz ki Tikki and Murgh Hariyali Tikka. Of the lot, my vote goes to the humble idli, taken to another level with the piquant pickle masala, the gram flour coating deep fried, making it a sinful starter; ideal for rainy evenings.

fried idli
Fried Idli 

From the selection of soups, I chose the South Indian option of Pineapple Rasam. Having loved this spicy staple in its various avatars through the years, the pineapple bits added a sweet and sour taste to the tangy rasam. I could have had just this with rice for dinner; that is how tasty it was. Other soups served were Basil Pesto and Courgette Soup and Chawli aur Beetroot ka Shorba.

beet shorba
Chawli aur Beeetroot Shorba

For the mains, I tried the Subz ka Mela, a mixed vegetable curry, Curried Coconut and Cilantro Risotto, and Coconut Rice. There was also Gongura Koi Kura, or chicken curry with gongura leaves. All of them made the cut, with the Coconut Rice, even without any gravy to accompany it, stood out from the rest. The delicate flavouring of grated coconut, mingled effortlessly with the crisp sesame seeds tossed in and the overall light texture and feel of the dish, almost made it taste like our Sabudana Khichdi. This is one recipe I will be asking for, because simple as it was, getting it right is going to be a challenge.

gongura chicken
Gongura Chicken

Since it is a four course meal that is on offer, there are plenty of popular favourites, along with some unusual dishes one can choose from. What I also liked was the little touch of adding a flower to a dish as a garnish.

poached pear
Golden Poached Pear

Desserts were a delightful end to a good meal; an exotic Baked Gulkand Jamun with Rose Petal ice cream; Golden Poached Pear with sweet Mascarpone quinnel; and a Paan flavoured ice cream. All of them were excellent.

mercure dessert
Dessert Platter

The Choose your Chef series will continue till 3rd April at 7.30 pm onwards at Cayenne Restaurant, Mercure Hyderabad KCP. To reserve your table, call: 040-67888888/60.

Essentially Good

What should come as a relief to hard core vegetarians in the city is that there is now a fine dining restaurant that has a very extensive all vegetarian menu. Multiple cuisines – Italian, Oriental and Indian – with a range of starters, mains and desserts, along with some very unusual drinks, are a very good reason to visit Tatva, a new restaurant set up by the group that owns Rajdhani restaurant at Abids. Tatva is a Sanskrit word, and it means essence/ thatness or reality, and the restaurant has effectively captured the meaning through the food it serves.

crackling spinach

The USP of Tatva is the vast choice on offer, where even the fussiest eater can find something he or she will like. Yes, this includes non-vegetarians who scoff at the ghaas poos we herbivores eat. And for the bloggers’ lunch, Executive Chef Naveen Nagaraj, and his assistant Yogesh, plied us with so many dishes that doing full justice to Tatva’s menu will require multiple visits. My advice is – save it for the times you are entertaining vegetarian friends and family. Everyone will be happy.

jalapeno poppers

From the starters, the Oriental style Crackling Spinach and the Continental Jalapeno Poppers, made with three different cheeses, were my pick of the lot. The Kamalkakdi ke Galauti, the lotus stem version of Lucknow’s famous Galauti Kebabs made with minced meat is a very good substitute. I found it a little heavy on the spice though you couldn’t really tell it was vegetarian; the replacement with lotus stem was a great idea however.

louts stem kebab

An interesting aspect of the food here is the focus on the presentation; the Smoked Pesto Paneer Tikka was brought out in a flourish, covered with a glass jar, which when lifted, let out the hot steam captured from the tandoor.

paneer pesto

The mains have some really good dishes, and for those of you who love your vegetarian Italian, the Cannelloni Florentine and the Risotto are a must try. The cheese in the Risotto makes you want to savour every bite, slowly. For Indian food aficionados, the Olive Naan, dotted with sliced black olives, had with the uber tasty Dal Tadka or Dal Makhni are worthy options for a filling meal. What I like about Chef Naveen’s innovations are that they blend – whether it is the lotus stem in place of kheema; pesto in place of chutney as a marinade and olives on a naan – they work well with the other ingredients in the dish and are not contrived in the least.

olive naan

Now, for my favourite part of any meal – the desserts. Here too, the presentation was the star and each one was impeccably presented – Tres Leches, Banoffee Pie, Apricot Delight, Chocolate Mousse, Baked Cheesecake and Paan Tantra.  I tried all but the Banoffee Pie [I left this one out only because I am allergic to bananas]. My vote goes to the Baked Cheesecake and the Paan Tantra; the former had a rich, creamy texture and the latter, an ice cream infused with the freshness of paan or betel leaves garnished with gulkand [candied rose petals] was a fitting end to a very good meal. A great cooler for summer too.

paan tantracrackling spinach

I would count Tatva as one of those restaurants in the city that have got the right mix of traditional and innovation just right. The fact that they are all vegetarian, makes it a place that deserves multiple visits.

Tatva,

First Floor, SL Jubilee, Above Ratnadeep Supermarket

Road No. 36, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad

Tel: 040 33194254

11 am – 11 pm

 

Pedal to the Plate

When the head of the well-known Chennai based TI Cycles, part of the Murugappa Group, approached Ashish Thadani, the CEO of TI Absolute Concepts, the meeting was nothing short of serendipitous. He wanted him to set up a restaurant/café along the lines of those found in Europe – where cycling and good food go hand in hand. Ashish has been a passionate cyclist for close to a decade. Thus was born Ciclo [Italian for cycle; pronounced Cheek-lo], a café serving global fusion cuisine.

The restaurant echoes the cycling theme from the outer façade itself. As you enter, a cycle placed against a wall leads to an area where some of the best known cycle brands of the world are on display; along with accessories, and the helpful staff are happy to show you around. For those who love these two wheel rides, they can be bought or hired by the hour or day. The café also provides maintenance and services for bikers, who can have a bite while their rides get fixed. Already successful in Chennai, Ciclo is all about promoting cycling. The cycle theme is everywhere – from the chains used as wall accents in the bar; to a stylised clock made with the same; wheels as part of chandeliers and the metal parts of cycles doubling up as the legs of the tables.

As for the food? A word of advice – go there when you are hungry. Seriously. The portions are quite generous and you can only do justice to what you order if you have worked up a good appetite. From the starters to the dessert, everything is enough for two people; and you don’t mind the prices that are slightly on the higher side, given the proportions.

The starters included Coconut fried Prawns with a mango jalapeno sauce; where the slightly spicy sauce balanced the neutral texture of the prawns; Lemon Butter Chilli Potato, which took the world’s most loved tuber to another level; and the Steamed Bao, stuffed with teriyaki mushrooms and kimchi, which was a great option for those who love their fungi. The scene stealer here was the Oven Dried Olive and Tomato Puff, served with Wasabi Mayo. The pungency of the wasabi pushed through the blandness of the mayo and laced the tomatoes and olives with a fiery aftertaste. It won my vote for the must-have entrée at Ciclo.

puff

Next to come was a Quinoa, Beetroot and Orange salad, which to my mind could do with a dressing that livens it up. I skipped the Tiger Burger, made with lamb and cheddar, but the general consensus on the table was that the meat was a bit too rare for Indian tastes. Then came the Ciclo Full house pizza – laden with colourful bell peppers, olives, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and jalapenos – a real treasure for vegetarians. And the best part? You don’t have to order a full pizza, you can order by the slice too. Ciclo has plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans, so it makes for a perfect place to go to, if you are an assorted bunch of gourmands.

salad

Mains included a Barley and Cottage Cheese Construct, strictly for health food lovers in my opinion. Being a junk food junkie, this dish did not quite excite my palate. But the Quinoa and Ragi Crèpe with leek and mushrooms, tomato cream and smoked scarmorza that everyone at the table loved, should be a mascot for fusion cuisine. Ragi, so inherently a part of the local diet, and quinoa and crepes, both western concepts, synergised perfectly in a medley of flavours and taste. If you love to experiment with your food, this is your go to dish.

ragi-crepe

The non-vegetarian mains included a Black Pepper and Chilli rubbed Grilled Chicken, with potato wedges and carrots; Grilled Kasundi Rawas – a delicious concoction of the Indian salmon, marinated in a mustard based marinade from West Bengal, and served with a parsley mash and zucchini puree; and Prawn stuffed Chicken, with a spinach mash and lemon butter sauce. The Grilled Chicken and the Kasundi Rawas overshadowed the prawn-chicken dish, which lost out due to its overall bland taste.

mustard-fish

Just when I thought I could not eat a morsel more, came the desserts. Baked Philadelphia Cheesecake, Crème Brulee and the divine Bailey’s Ice Cream Pancake. Ice cream infused with the liqueur, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and stuffed inside a pancake topped with a dribble of chocolate sauce – it has to be among the top ten desserts I have ever had. Though the cheesecake was tasty too, it paled in comparison to the pancake.

bailey-crepe

Ashish hopes that the café succeeds in promoting the cycling culture in Hyderabad; which is actually, quite active already. But, at the end of the ride, if you have a tempting breakfast or a delicious meal to look forward to at Ciclo, then it would be double the fun.

Ciclo Café, 801, Road No. 36, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad. Phone: 040 2355 5511; 079959 91111 Open from 8 am to midnight.

Cuisines from Global Coastlines

 

boat

Amara, the all diner at The Trident Hotel, is currently hosting a festival titled Coast to Coast – celebrating the cuisines of global coastlines.
Here are my reasons why you must visit:

chicken

If you like seafood, this festival has plenty to offer – from oysters at a seafood bar to the Hawaiian Salmon Tartare and the shrimp cocktail for starters. The Bengali Doi Mach — fish cooked in yoghurt to Kerala Fried Fish, plus grilled seafood at the live grill counter leave you spoilt for choice.

shrimp-cocktail

For sheer range of tastes – from the flavourful Gulf Coast Seafood Stew to the Phuket Chicken Massaman Curry, Islander’s Goat Curry, Sicilian Port’s Caponate, Goan Lamb Xacuti  and Mangalorean Kombdi ka Rassa — there are enough options for everyone. Vegetarian dishes like the Pad Thai and Oriental Vegetable Stir Fry plus the Lebanese Mezze Bar and other staples like Baghare Baingan, Paneer Methi Malai, Dhaba Dal etc. — while not coastal, are part of the buffet’s spread on offer. There is also a choice of biryanis – vegetable, chicken and mutton.

seafood-stew

The presentation of the Shrimp Cocktail and the Caribbean Jerk Spiced Chicken with Pickled Onions and Cornichon make you want to forget your diet for the evening. There was even a Thanksgiving turkey, grilled to perfection with the accompanying sauce and boiled vegetables.

turkey

The Crème Brulee – my pick of desserts of the evening. Whatever you gorge on, leave some space to finish with this one. Truly delicious.

The festival is on for dinner till the end of this month at Amara.

For reservations call: 040 6623 2323
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Kashmiri Cuisine Fest

Taj Banjara, which has an alfresco restaurant – Kebab-e-Bahar, is currently hosting a Kashmiri food festival. At the outset, let me say that this festival is for those who love their meats, do not care much for chilli and are curious about this cuisine. Having said that, Kashmiri food has a unique blend of spices and flavours, and I am assuming, because of the cold climate, the use of chillies is largely minimal.
But, the cuisine does have a rich legacy, and the Wazas, descendants of the master chefs of Kashmiri aristocracy, have crafted a menu for a special Wazwan cuisine fest. Chef Waza Tariq, who has flown down all the way from Srinagar, where he works with the Vivanta by Taj, put together a compilation of dishes for us to sample.

chef-waza

We started with the Nadru Malai Tikki, minced lotus stem mixed with Kashmiri spices and cooked on a hot plate. The tikki was quite bland, enhanced only with the green chutney accompanying it. This was followed by the Tabak Maaz, a lamb starter cooked on a hot plate and shallow fried with spices. I gave it a miss, but I am guessing meat lovers would like it.
The main course included Mutton Rista and Gustaba, both of which are essentially minced meat dumplings or koftas, cooked in gravy. One was cooked with yoghurt and the other with spices, so the white and red colour denoted which was which. Again, I gave it a miss though I did try the Kukkar Badam Korma, chicken cooked in an almond based gravy, but it was as bland as chicken soup and did not appeal to my taste buds.

chicken-korma

The vegetarian dishes however, were way better and much tastier. The Kashmiri Dum Aloo and the Kashmiri Rajma, kidney beans cooked in a tomato base, were a good option to have with the butter roti and the Saffron Rice. The rice had the rich aroma of saffron and could be had on its own too.
Dessert included Badam aur Suji ka Halwa and Phirni, but I am not a fan of either, so I would say, you can give them a miss.
I wondered why the internationally popular Mutton Rogan Josh, a rich, thick lamb curry, dominating the cuisine, was missing from the presentation. It is on the menu but it wasn’t part of the bloggers’ lunch menu. Frankly, when you have such a show stopper on your list, why bother with the little known items? Especially in a city like Hyderabad, where chillies rule the roost, and spice is the order of the day for every dish. I would have much preferred to sample that and some yoghurt based curries that Kashmiri food is known for. Purists might disagree, and while the Rista and Gustaba are equally well known, I am not sure they will be popular here.

kashmiri-food

This festival is on till the 30th of November and is for those who like to sample authentic food cooked in a traditional way by someone who knows the cuisine well. Or for those, who like to ask for a side of extra chilli, no matter what they eat.