Monday, 18 February 2013

Zen 6, The Park, Kolkata

Zen 6, The Park, Kolkata.The bustling park street of Kolkata needs no introduction. When in Kolkata, it is one of the foremost places I visit. Not only it hosts numerous scrumptiously delightful restaurants, it is home to one of the best hotels I have ever visited. The Park hotel originally opened in 1976 but was redesigned and given a contemporary and a very interestingly classy look by Sir Terence Conran. The hotel boasts of the best nightclubs in town (Tantra, Someplace else and Roxy), one of the best Indian restaurants called Saffron and undoubtedly, one of the best Pan Asian restaurant – Zen 6.

Nestled inside the hotel in a very fashionable and yet urbane is the Zen 6. The moment you enter its dominion, you are escorted into an impossibly lavish and sumptuous world of gastronomically apt pleasures.  The restaurant itself is an identity. Everyone who ever visited this restaurant left with nothing but excellent words for its delectably luscious food.

It is the first Sir Terence Conran restaurant in Kolkata and it consists of a Japanese bar counter and a brilliantly decorated show kitchen. The attractiveness increases two folds with its dim lighting making it seductive in its own way. Regrettably, I do notice that it needs more space. The tables and chairs are arranged too close to one another thereby giving it a slight heaving feeling. Every time I tried to indulge in a conversation, I was deplorably pulled into eavesdropping on other’s conversations.

As always, first thing I notice about a restaurant is the quality of its service. The staffs are very courteous and chivalrous. However, one thing I couldn’t help but observe was their explanation about the food served on the table. It was short and they barely explained anything. I would encourage them to give details about the ordered food which would be more appropriate assuming there are many items on the menu that lack those information.

Coming to the food, the vegetarian and the non vegetarian sushi platter was a pure delight. The vegetarian 
consisted of a cheese sushi that I absolutely loved. It felt like a regular veggie sushi until the cheese hits your taste buds and it lingers to give it a very subtle hint of silkily creamy cheese. The non vegetarian platter was a hit for me. There is nothing but praise in this case. The crabstick sushi was perfect without the crab being too overpowering, the prawns were absolutely faultless, the tuna was one the best I ever ate and the salmon was the winner for me. I tasted the freshness of the ingredients in tuna and salmon. It was melt-in-your mouth consistency and somehow I found it to be beautifully creamy. It felt like silk on my palate. I should, though, put forward a suggestion that the quantity was a little less compared to what you would expect in a platter and may be increasing amount of the astonishingly brilliant display of sushi just by a piece or two would do the trick.

Next came in the glass noodle salad. Oh! What a joy. It was like a medley of beautiful, melodious music. It was fresh, vibrant, sweet, sour, spicy, garlicy all at the same time and none of those overpowered one another. I specially loved the hit of chilly once the sweet taste settled in. A melange of vegetables were used that were just right. The sweet lime dressing was a wonderful match with the glass noodles. However, I wish the onions were less in the salad as it left a very unsettling raw taste in my mouth.

At this point I was quite impressed with whatever was served in front of me and may be this is the reason why I had even higher expectations from what came out of the kitchen. The Indonesian fried rice/nasi goreng had excellent flavors. I was particularly impressed by how thin the omelet was made and cut it into beautiful strips that were incorporated with the rice. The chicken, however, was a little dry and I somehow wish the prawns were without the tails. Also, for me it was a bit under seasoned.

Next was my favorite course. Given a chance, I would actually love to start with a dessert and also end with it. In this case, I decided to stick to the norms and end with the dessert. Fried ice cream was very different from what I had before. They batter fry a thick slice of ice cream and serve it with salted cashews and chocolate sauce. I think the batter was heavy for my liking and the ice cream had completely melted inside the fried batter.

Another dessert was the Thai coconut milk and palm sugar custard with banana ice cream topped with fresh grated coconut. This dessert looked beautiful and I was sure that my sweet tooth would be wholly satisfied. However, it failed to give my imagination any kind of reality. It was bland, very thick and sluggish custard, not at all smooth. The banana ice cream had a very subtle hint of the flavor and I think it needs more banana flavor to it. The oomph was completely missing in the desserts.

After much thought and much more tingling taste bud suggestions, I think this restaurant is still a must try. It might be pricey but it is still worth trying.

Shiro’s UB city, Bangalore

The mesmerizing world of “The Collection” is ever welcoming to anyone who spoke luxury brands but to me, more than the brands, the restaurants were more friendly and warm. Every time I went, there were imaginary hands waving at me to come and take a peek at their restaurants. I felt the greatest pull towards Shiro when one fine day I decided to make my imagination come true and walked in through the doors of this restaurant or rather should I say – A piece of culinary heaven.

As you walk in, you leave behind a hotchpotch of crowded open restaurants and you enter a realm of peace and tranquility. The first thing you notice is the massive Buddha bust sitting in the middle, which is the source (according to me) of their great ambiance. It is indeed a very well executed meticulous interior planning that led this restaurant to be spoken well of.

Before I give my insights about the food, I would like to say some kind words about the staff. The restaurant has excellent staffs who work very hard to maintain the good name that it has created over the years and they deserve to be mentioned in this writing. I think a good restaurant is not only about food but is mostly about the service. Courteous, warm and friendly service compelled me to think about Shiro as one of the best restaurants in town.

Coming to the food, the menu was a delight. Everything felt like an enchantment that they would conjure up happily for you. I decided to order sweet chilli potatoes and a non-vegetarian platter of makimono that included tuna, California and chicken with shiitake. A vegetarian spicy California makimono was also ordered too. I must say the chilli potatoes were the best I have ever eaten anywhere. It was sweet and spicy at the same time but none of it was overpowering. The balance of flavour was delicate and the equilibrium was well maintained. However, I would have preferred it to be a little hotter than the temperature it was served at.

The non vegetarian makimono was equally delicate and lusciously mouth-watering. My favorite among the three was the tuna and the California. The chicken with shiitake was, however, on the not so favorite list as it was not as well balanced as the others and it had more seasoning than I would generally like. I think the soy dipping was also a little too salty for my taste. But that was minor and I would still go back to Shiro’s any day for Sushi again. The vegetarian California too was up to the mark yet I would like to point out that the rolling of the sushi for this particular one was not perfect. As soon as you would pick up a piece, everything fell apart. So, some serious work needs to be done for that. Apart from the salty soy and the falling apart, everything was very satisfactory.

Pad Thai and a teppanyaki mixed noodles were for main course. The Pad Thai was not the best one I ever had but it definitely was one of the few good ones I had. It was flavorful and every morsel gave a subtle hint of the beautiful aromas used in this dish. However, for me, addition of a little more peanut would have been wonderful. The crunch and the nutty taste were missing due to fewer peanuts. The teppanyaki noodles were an absolute joy. It was a well balanced palatable dish and it oozed out the restrained yet fine flavors of the chicken. A little less seasoning was what I would prefer but entirely it was a good main course.

We decided to skip dessert when the wonderful service again managed to get our full attention by presenting us with complimentary desserts. There was a coconut and pecan tart with vanilla ice – cream, trio of cheesecakes (coffee, chocolate and lemon) and a chocolate volcano.

The tart was satisfactory. I would have liked a proper tart shell with it being crunchy. The coconut flavor in the tart was not so pronounced and the pecans needed to be little crunchier. The ice cream was very smooth and delicious. I was extremely impressed with the cheesecakes – the flavors were true and very clean. Bite from each of the cheesecakes proved to be scrumptiously delightful. My favorite was the coffee. The chocolate volcano was true to its name. As I cut into it, it oozed out liquid goodness from its belly. Every bite was a burst of chocolate flavour in the mouth. However, I would like to suggest that the dessert menu should be a little more innovative and Shiro should try and add some Asian dessert to it – A Pandan sponge or perhaps a coconut pudding.

Overall, an excellent experience and I am sure to visit Shiro’s again very soon. I am grateful to Shiro for that amazingly flavorful and deliciously lip smacking evening.

“Patisserie Opera” – Ulubari, G. S. Road, Guwahati – 781007 (Ph - +918751954362)

Just a month back, I was sitting at my office desk and wondering or rather day dreaming about making some beautiful Tiramisu at home. Of course that is not possible because there is no place where I can get some fresh Mascarpone cheese or Lady fingers. So I quit the idea and went to a nearby bakery in Cheenikuthi, (a newly opened gloatingly promising yet unpleasant to me) Guwahati to satisfy my craving. Day after day passes and all we get is old fashioned cake or a roulade.  

Something caught my attention when I was driving by Ulubari. A shiny new cake haven! Looking at it was an absolute delight and I decided to come back. The place is very alluring and extremely welcoming. I was ushered into a world of very different (by standards of other Guwahati bakeries) world where I could see my dreams taking its shape into beautiful, mouth watering, scrumptious cakes and other bakes.

All I am going to use about my description of this place is salivatingly sweet and mouth-wateringly gorgeous. I was happy and pleased looking at their pamphlet as it was promisingly very adept. Firstly, lets look at the collection of various cakes/pastries/deserts. An array of cakes are available -  very unconventional for a place like Guwahati yet tasty and necessary. I was particularly pulled towards Tiramisu (1st of its kind in Guwahati), cheesecake and White forest. The Tiramisu is good but it could be better. I felt that I was a little runny for my taste. Also, I think the level of sugar has to be adjusted as everything is too sweet. The cheesecake is beautifully smooth and the white forest needs a little work on the use of too much whipped cream. The taste of cherries are not very pronounced. But my overall view about the cake section is amazingly new (to Guwahati) and worth a try.

Going to the Biscuit section now, oh!! It was a love at first sight for me. The butter biscuits are a melt in your mouth experience.  Its smooth, sweet and buttery – everything that a butter biscuit should consist. The cinnamon sticks are so crunchy that once you start eating, its hard for you to stop. I would like to use the word Christmasy for the cinnamon sticks because it reminds me of Christmas. With a cup of good tea, Cinnamon sticks would be warm and cosy. Finally, I would like to mention the almond biscotti. It was good and I thought it was the right amount of sweet for me. The lingering taste of almond makes you want to go back to it again and again.

I, also, tried the butter croissant and wasn’t completely happy with it. It felt more like normal bread that layered sheets of yeast leavened puff pastry. However, the paneer patty and vegetable patty was a complete delight when it is warm. But, when it starts to cool down, it becomes very dense and heavy. The fat gets collected at the bottom and that problem needs to be addressed. Taste wise I would rate it a 8 out of 10.
I had a smoothie and it was good. The taste was silkenly beautiful although because of the use of water in the smoothie, it separates when the glass is left to stand for a few seconds. Also, I would recommend the use of fresh fruits instead of a processed pulp as it could be more beneficial health wise.

Overall, it is a place worth trying though on the first go it might feel like a little overpriced. I am stupendously happy about Patisserie Operaa. I would like to keep going to that place for their almond biscotti, fresh bakes and wonderful assortment of pastries!!!

Nando’s, Church Street, Bangalore

The first time I came across Nando’s was in Melbourne, Australia. I was just browsing through the city and went to a Nando’s in Melbourne Central mall. The Quarter grilled chicken that I tasted there was the best grilled chicken ever. It came with a side of large French fries. It was gorgeously gleaming, tangy and fiery peri – peri basted chicken. It was juicy and succulent. It was the best of its kind. I became a regular visitor to Nando’s when I was in Melbourne. However, after 3 months, when I returned back to India, I missed it terribly.

Finally, in December 2010, Nando’s opened its doors to Bangalore. I was very excited and all my previous memories of the beautiful grilled chicken came back instantly. I decided to give it a try and it was the same experience. I kept going back to Nando’s every time I visit Bangalore. The first thing you notice as you enter a Nando’s restaurant is the delicious aroma of grilled chicken with their signature sauces. It makes your mouth water instantly. Even, after several countless visits, I still salivate as soon as I enter the beautiful world of peri-peri chicken.

 A week back I was at Nando’s and as usual I ordered for couscous salad, Chicken Liver, Quarter grilled chicken, Fries, Espetada, Spicy Rice, coleslaw and Iced Tea.

 The salad was fresh and vibrant. It consisted of these grilled strips of chicken that were so delicious that it makes you salivate just by looking at it. All the ingredients were fresh but I think, it needs a little more couscous (as the name suggests abundance of couscous) in the salad.

 Chicken liver and Quarter Chicken had mild peri – peri on it and it tasted fabulous and lusciously moist. However, the bread with the livers was a letdown this time. I did not taste fresh and it felt a little soggy. The Espetada consisted of beautifully grilled juicy pieces of chicken with spicy rice and coleslaw. It lived up to the expectations. Surprisingly, the spicy rice had curry leaves in it which was new to my taste palate. It was unusual but in a good way. It was like a subtle cheer-up kind of flavor for me.

 However, one thing that I have noticed about their chicken is the balance of flavors. The peri- peri has a tangy hot taste to it. It is wonderful but I think it needs a little sweetness to it from maybe sugar, honey, palm sugar or dark brown sugar that will make it even more scrumptious. For me, a little sweetness will boost its flavor. I feel it misses the sweet undertone. Or maybe they can add a side of a sweet sauce to be used as a dipping sauce according to the likes of the customers. Everything has Peri – Peri and it has the same taste whether it’s the salad or the chicken or the livers. It lacks the ability to bring out an array of flavors to your mouth after few mouthfuls.I strongly suggest the use of sweet to balance all the flavors.

 The staffs, as usual, were courteous and attended to everything quickly making it an even better experience. I would love going back to Nando’s even after these numerous times that I have already been there. Every time I see Nando’s logo, it makes me want to go in and indulge in the moist, juicy experience. It is a must-try restaurant.

Hip Asia, Vivanta by Taj Connemara, Chennai

Situated centrally in Chennai, this hotel does not need any gloatingly brilliant prologue. It is the oldest hotel and a stunning-work-of-art form of jewel in Chennai’s diadem. It was built in 1854 and had numerous owners until it finally was acquired by the Taj group. It was given a facelift in 2010 and was renamed to Vivanta by Taj Connemara.  But for me, Vivanta by Taj is still Taj Connemara and it still feels at home to be there.

Taj Connemara is a piece of history and has an art deco look to it. The corridor walls are affixed with numerous photographs of yesteryear that give it an authentically museum feeling. Here, I do not mean museum in the bad boring way instead I mean it in the most exhilarating and exciting way and it never fails to surprise me when I see guests standing in the corridors and admiring the artwork.
Apart from all the excellent services and exquisitely abundant rooms which are very comfortable, I do have to jot down about Hip Asia. I have been going to this restaurant since 2010 and every time I go there, I just sit down and enjoy my meal to the full. I never take a mental note or even jot down few things about this stylishly elegant. On entering, you are greeted by the most gracious and obliging staff and they usher you into a neatly arranged, subtly Chinese-esque restaurant.

The first impressions of the interiors are stylish, chic and very trendy. The lighting is perfectly apt and the chairs are also very comfortable. The teppanyaki is situated duly so that the scents of various ingredients being cooked on the open grill do not waft in the whole restaurant. The inner segment of the restaurant has high ceilings and the tables and chairs are arranged well beyond the earshot of other people in the restaurant. It is spaced correctly and this is why the privacy can be maintained. 

However, for every restaurant the food is the most important factor. Starting with the salad, it was Yuzen Ae Salada – fresh crunchy lettuce served with a miso dressing. This, I must say, is an absolute favourite. The freshness of the lettuce, the crunchy tempura pieces and the miso dressing is delightfully astonishing and it gives a very clean and mellow flavour to the taste buds which, almost always, tingles for more.
One important factor that I always consider before going to this restaurant is whether I like their sushi or not. However, in this case, I always turn to Hip Asia for Sushi. I prefer the makizushi or Uramaki more than Nigiri ( I am not very fond of raw fish) as I like the rolled form. Also, the use of toasted nori (another thing I like about sushis) is more in the case of uramaki or makizushi. I decided on – Ebi Tempura Maki - Prawns in Tempura batter, deep fried and rolled in a maki which was juicy and crunchy at the same time. It was effortlessly perfect and it was rolled just right. The Kaki Age Maki  - The Tuna felt as soft as velvet and as smooth as silk. With the wasabi and the dip, it was silky on the palate and even with the rice and nori, you could still taste the tuna. Then I had the California maki – Avocado, Crabsticks, cucumber and Tobigo (Flying fish roe) and little dash of Japanese Mayonnaise (Kewpie I think) which was a complete unadulterated pleasure. The cucumber was tenderly crisp that blended very handsomely with the crabstick and the mellow creaminess of the avocado. I was very uncertain of the Tobigo but it was an attractive match and it did not overpower the other ingredients. And last came the Yasai Moriwase Maki - a melange of vegetables were used and the crunchiness was evident with every bite. It was all served with their signature dip (generally soy), pickled ginger and wasabi paste.

Hip asia served the best Nasi goreng. It checked all boxes correctly - salty, Spicy, and sweet all at the same time.  It was like an elegant ensemble that was like wonderful music to the ears but in this case a melody for the mouth. The traditional sunny side up egg on the top looked beautifully presentable. While I found some Nasi Gorengs to be dry, this was moist, but still not sticky. I also felt that the sea food in the dish was flawlessly cooked, not overcooked and it was seasoned rightly.

The Yaki Udon that is the Japanese Buckwheat noodles was a visual delight with the vegetables and chicken 
in it. It had beautifully incorporated colors of the veggies and the chicken was moist and tender. The wafting smell of the noodles made me salivate and once in my mouth, it was an even better experience. The noodles were divine and the fragrance of the toasted sesame oil left me wanting for more.

We finished with traditional Malaysian custard which was the most delicate custard I ever had. It was velvety; absolutely right on sweetness and a mellow hint of coconut milk gave it a wonderful freshness. It held its triangular shape which means it was firm enough but not hard or eggy to be precise. However, the chocolate mousse was a letdown. The consistency was thick, heavy and jelly-like rather than smooth and light.

This meal was consumed over two nights by three people and everyone only had good things to talk about.
Coming to the service, it was prompt and rapid. We did not have to wait between the courses and they also have a good drinks menu. Also, they oblige to any concoction you would like. They do have a pre-set vegetarian and non vegetarian menu. Overall, service is good in this restaurant.

Also, the prices are reasonable for it being a five star hotel restaurant. I have seen insane prices for mediocre food so I again stress on this being a better restaurant than many in the market.

I have to emphasize that this restaurant is a must go-to place. Considering everything, the worth is more than the money spent!