Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Joke Pal - The joke is on us

Hey, who really won?

Everybody must be sick and tired of the wall to wall coverage of the charade by Kisan Baburao Hazare and his rag tag group of pseudo lefties, do-gooders and idealists. This coverage was accompanied by the shrill, hysterical voices of the leading voices of the English Television `middia’ Barkha `Hysterical Trilling Schoolgirl’ Dutt and the ultra combative Arnab Goswami.

The charade has concluded with a victory for the people, a triumph for Team Anna and other such epithets. I believe that this is (i) a total sell out by Team Anna (ii) hoodwinking of the people of India by the `middia’ and Team Anna (iii) a total loss for Team Anna (iv) Team Anna is worse off than where it started from and (v) the Government is a real smooth operator.

Let me explain why I have reached these conclusions.

Following the introduction into Parliament of an admittedly weak, dilute, watered down version of the Lokpal Bill, Kisan Baburao Hazare started his second fast, which he would not withdraw unless the following demands were met:

Overall demand

The Government had to give a written commitment to table, discuss and pass in this monsoon session of Parliament i.e. by 30th August 2011, the Jan Lokpal Bill or a Bill that incorporates the principles of the Jan Lokpal Bill. If required, the Parliament session should be extended.

Non negotiable demands

The principles from the Jan Lokpal Bill that were non-negotiable – i.e. had to be included in the Lokpal Bill were

a)     inclusion of the Prime Minister's office
b)    The higher judiciary should be under the Lokpal
c)     Inclusion of lower-level bureaucracy

Other demands

The other matters that Team Anna wanted included, but were apparently negotiable were:

a)     The inclusion of the anti-corruption wing of the CBI under the Lokpal.
b)    The Lokpal to have its own investigating wing with full powers to probe and arrest anyone.
c)     The Lokpal to have the power to investigate not just corruption but also whatever is perceived as incompetence.
d)    The Lokpal to have the powers of punishment that is different in scale and scope from the laws set out in the Indian Penal Code.
e)     The complete authority of the Lokpal in appointing people of his choice.
f)     The legal absolution of the Lokpal and its employees in case things are done "in good faith".

Minor demand

There was one more demand, however I am unsure of its seriousness. This demand made by Shanti Bhushan was that any amendments to the Jan Lokpal Bill should be approved by Kisan Baburao Hazare.

Several discussions took place between various members of Team Anna and the Government with entreaties to Kisan Baburao Hazare to withdraw his fast. In interviews to the Television channels, especially on Karan Thapar’s program, Arvind Kejriwal reiterated the non negotiable points and said there was no question of withdrawing the fast unless they were included in the Lokpal Bill.

After a few days, it turns out that Kisan Baburao Hazare says that unless 3 points are included in a resolution to be passed by the Parliament he would not withdraw his fast. This was an acceptable compromise for both sides. Thus, Saturday 27th August 2011 was the day fixed for Parliament to debate the resolution.

Following the charade played out in our drawing rooms, we had a day of some truly glorious speeches by members of Parliament. Many of these were a delight to listen to. Honestly. Following the speeches, both houses of Parliament passed the following resolution.

“This House agrees in principle on the following issues for a strong and effective Lokpal.

1- All government departments to have citizen's charter with timeline.

2 - Employees of centre and state governments to be brought under purview of Lokpal and Lokayuktas respectively. Lower bureaucracy to be under lok pal through an appropriate mechanism.

3 - Establishment of lokayukts in the states. An effective Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states be set up.”

And further resolves to forward the proceedings of the house to the related Standing Committee for its perusal while finalizing its report.

As far as the Resolution is concerned, when is all that is referred to in the resolution to be done? Unknown.
Which version of the Lokpal Bill will the Standing Committee look at? Unknown.
What is the fate of the Jan Lokpal Bill? Gone into oblivion.

So where does that leave the demands.

Over all demands dropped and gone. Non-negotiable demands dropped and gone. Other demands dropped and gone. Minor demand dropped and gone.

Does this strike you as a victory for Team Anna?  Not to me. To me it stinks. Do you have any respect left for Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal et al? But ask Barkha, Arnab, the newspaper editors and they will thump their chests and say it’s a triumph.

Koffmann at The Berkeley

French food is alive and well in London. After this visit, we visited the restaurant once again in February 2012. You can read about that visit in my blog Koffmann revisited.

Pierre Koffmann, a 61 year old Frenchman has returned to open and head his own restaurant `Koffmann’ in June 2010 after closing his legendary La Tante Claire in 2003. Koffmann first worked with the Roux Brothers and went on to become Head Chef at their Waterside Inn at Bray way back in the early 1970’s. The Waterside Inn has been a 3 Michelin Star restaurant for several years. Bray today has another 3 Michelin Star restaurant, the English Molecular Gastronomy temple Fat Duck.

Koffmann left the Waterside Inn to establish La Tante Claire. Here he came into his own and soon got the requisite 3 Michelin Stars. At first he only employed French staff; he later relented and went on to mentor a roll call of younger English Chefs. Michel Roux Jr., Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Tom Kitchin, Marcus Waering are all his protégés. Koffmann also created a dish which has assumed legendary status. Pied De Cochon Aux Morilles [Pigs Trotter stuffed with Sweetbreads and Morels].

The restaurant is located at the Berkeley Hotel at Knightsbridge. We had made reservations from Mumbai 2 months ago and received email confirmations, but when we got there, the receptionist could not find our reservation in the system! After a brief moment of trauma we were whisked to a table while the receptionist investigated.

The Queen of Kutch started with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Rose and I had an aperitif which was Champagne, Armagnac and Orange Peel. Very nice.

We were served some brilliant bread. A Garlic Brioche and a standard mini Battard. As a complementary snack we were given a version of a Pissaladiere. I say version as this one had the lightest Puff Pastry and just caramelised onion. No Olives and no Anchovies. Nice, but not impressive.

We ordered our starters. The Queen had Galette De Foie Gras Aux Pommes [Foie Gras with Apple] and I had Boudin Gascon, Darphin Et Figues [Gascony-style black pudding with Darphin potato & fig chutney]. Both were brilliant. The Apples in the Foie Gras dish were caramelised and crisp and my Boudin was just cooked, still gooey. The Foie Gras dish was sweet, savoury, sour and melting in texture. My Boudin had a super crisp Pomme Darphin and strip of Bacon while the Boudin itself was, as I have said, gooey.

By this time our Aperitifs had run dry so we got ourselves a bottle of Brouilly to wash down our main courses.

There was just so much that we wanted to eat, but we had to focus and narrow down our choices. The Queen wanted to have the Pied De Cochon Aux Morilles [Pigs Trotter stuffed with Sweetbreads and Morels] which I would have had, so I had a Tournedos Rossini.

The Pied De Cochon Aux Morilles was absolutely a work of art. The trotter is boiled, the meat removed and then stuffed with an absolutely smooth Chicken Mousseline. Morels and Sweetbreads also go into the trotter. When it’s presented, there is no indication of the fact that the trotter is stuffed. The cut is on the bottom and the stuffing is absolutely brilliantly cooked. This came with a glorious mash potato. This was probably one of those legendary 50% potato 50% butter creations, so smooth and so full of a potato flavour. It really tasted like potato. This dish was a real masterpiece.

The Tournedos Rossini is something I had as an adolescent at the Rendezvous when it functioned as French Restaurant at the top of the Bombay Taj. This is a dish that was created by Augustine Escoffier for a French Composer Gioachino Rossini. This is a Fillet Steak placed on a piece of fried bread, some spinach and topped with Foie Gras. The garnish is Truffles and the sauce is reduced Madeira and stock. This was brilliant. The smells coming from this really got your gastric juices going.

Quite honestly, this was the best French food either of us has ever eaten. It narrowly beat Le Gavaroche and certainly beat Restaurant Paul Bocuse. Mind you, I am saying the best French Food, not the best Restaurant. Yes the Tournedos Rossini is a tired old boring dish but this was really good. The pigs trotters was the work of a master.

We simply had to have the desserts so I had the Pistachio Soufflé with Pistachio Ice Cream while the Queen ordered a Tart Au Citron and a glass of Calvados. The Soufflé was perfect. It had risen evenly, was evenly browned on the sides with caramelised butter and had a delightful texture. However, it had a fair amount of what I thought was artificial Pistachio essence. That was sad. The Pistachio Ice Cream had the same problem. Brilliant texture but distinctly artificial flavour. The Tart Au Citron was also a disappointment. Great lemon curd but a slightly soggy base.

This was all in all, non sophisticated, old style French food. No fancy garnish, no tricky emulsions and no ambitious deserts. The food was brilliantly executed with good ingredients and top class cooking. The desserts though were a disappointment.

The service was relaxed and charming but brutally efficient. Just the way it should be.

Go here, have a great meal, go elsewhere for desserts. Really good food.


Boudin Gascon, Darphin Et Figues

Galette De Foie Gras Aux Pommes

Tournedos Rossini

 Pied De Cochon Aux Morilles
[The roundels are crisp Crackling]

See the truffles

Pistachio Souffle with the Ice Cream

Tart Au Citron with Lime Sorbet

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bogus Police!!!

When I was a little boy, I loved being a bogus soldier. In fact I loved being a bogus Field Marshal. I am sure other little boys would have loved being bogus police. Why not? The power, the swagger the commanding voice with which we all spoke. It was great fun. You almost had the power to tell your fellow kindergardner, `no milk at lunchtime for you’ if he was misbehaving. Man was that power!

I have noticed that someone has put up these banners. They appear in different sizes all over Mumbai but generally say the same thing. There is no indication on them that the banners have been put up by any authority, nor is there any indication that the banners have been printed with the approval of the Mumbai Police. Since they have not been torn down by the authorities, one can assume that there is some degree of tacit approval by some powers that be, on the printing as well as putting up of the banners.

I am staggered at the sheer idiocy of the banners. Mind you, the Mumbai Police are the second best in the world. This is a fact affirmed with much chest thumping and collar raising by the incumbent Police Commissioner on every occasion that the Police `cracks’ a major case. If this is not a totally self serving statement, I don’t know what is. But be that as it may, it really makes no difference if the Mumbai Police is the best or second best in the world. The best are the Scotland Yard, which thankfully, even the Mumbai Police concedes.

So, coming back to the point, the Mumbai Police has approved the placing of banners saying `Beware of bogus police’. What exactly are they trying to convey. How are we lay citizens to behave when confronted by the police?  I think the Police Commissioner should immediately issue the citizens instructions on how to determine the difference between real police and bogus police. The Reserve Bank of India has issued instructions, in colour and in multiple languages no less, telling us how to distinguish between real and counterfeit i.e. bogus currency notes. Unless this is done at the soonest, we are bound to have a real pickle on our hands.

Take, for example, the poor traffic cop. He is always found in the shade of a tree some distance away from a traffic island, standing with one hand on his motorcycle looking hungrily at vehicles that would have broken the signal with impunity. He then swoops into action; Of course if he is busy booking another driver, his attention is solely focused on his victim. If I was stopped, I believe it would be necessary for me to ask him if he was genuine or bogus. He would have to prove that he is a real cop before I hand him my `licen’. And in the absence of any instructions or directions, how am I to determine if what he gives me as proof of his genuineness is adequate? I see fines reducing drastically. I see cops having to prove their bona fides becoming of paramount importance.

Continuing with the poor traffic cop, suppose he was in fact directing traffic, am I to obey his hand signals or should I check if he is bogus?

Turning to the normal beat cop, presently found sitting outside Ganapati Pandals, walking alongside Govinda `tolis’, sitting outside theatres showing `Aarakshan’, sitting outside places where we have just had `bum sports’ and generally operating in ultra slow motion, should I ask them if they are bogus? They, poor chaps, are barely conscious or coherent at the best of times, but are they genuine?

Why would anybody want to become a bogus police? To enforce the law. Great. That would serve us all well. The crying need, as so eloquently put by our Home Minister, P Chidambaram, is that we have neglected funding the police force. So if we have bogus police should we not be happy? Unfortunately, this is India. We have bogus police not to enforce the law but to extract a bribe! Is this what the defining image of our police has become? Ruthless bribe-takers who threaten us in order to make money? Yes, indeed that is what it has boiled down to.

And what is the Police force doing about this? Not weeding out corruption, not educating the citizens to not give bribes, not using CC TV to record bribe taking but asking us to beware of bogus police!!

Incredible. Truly incredible.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cricket and Religion

In lawyer-speak, let me state at the outset that this is not about Sachin Tendulkar. 

Indians, wherever they may be in the world are absolutely consumed by cricket and religion. I am sure you would have seen the images that I have posted and even the hardest hearted and cynical of you, would have felt a tug, a choke on the back of your throat. For those old enough, we would have recalled watching the World Cup victory in 1983 with our newly minted colour TVs.

The sentiments expressed in the previous paragraph may be subject to some serious challenge for the next few days, what with Kisan Baburao Hazare’s antics, but that will pass. I believe, as the cricketing cliché goes, Hazare is temporary, cricket and religion are forever. Anyway, coming back to the point, all of India is disturbed by the drubbing that the Cricket Team is getting at the hands of our former rulers, the English. We have just lost our ranking as the world’s finest cricket team, and what makes matters worse is that we have lost it to the English. Appalling!

Many Pundits have advanced reasons, provided explanations and even excuses for this terrible state of affairs. Some of these are:

  • Too much cricket
  • Not enough practice
  • Lack of fitness
  • Too much money
  • The IPL
  • Players carrying injuries and concealing that fact
  • Faulty team selection

However, in my considered opinion, the Pundits are barking up the wrong tree. All our cricketers are obsessed with religion, or to put it differently they are deeply religious. How many times have you seen a photograph in the morning newspapers with an accompanying write up about a cricketer going to Shirdi, Siddhivinayak, Tirupati to `give thanks’ to the Almighty. Every century scored results is a small quiet solitary moment looking heavenwards. Our cricketers have red strings on their wrists, red tilaks on their foreheads, talismans hanging on their necks. Look at S Sreshant, Kerala’s finest bowler. He looks like a walking Gurvayur Temple. Ishant Sharma has a neck-full of black strings, presumably to ward off evil eyes. Yes, they are religious and why not, God has given them so much to be thankful for.

This, my dear friend is the problem. This is the holy month of `Shravan’. It’s a month where doing `Tapasya’ by fasting results in a lot of benefits. So our cricketers are all fasting. To be a good sportsman a perfect diet is essential. This fast has played havoc with our players. The commentators have been mentioning that the team looks subdued, they feel cold and keep their hands in their pockets, there is no chatter in the feild. I am sure those who watch the telecast would have heard that. Why did you think all that was happening? Eating Sago croquettes [Sabudana Vada] or Sago Kichdi or only fruits with milk and yogurt has resulted in our cricketers’ purity but has certainly affected their ranking. The cricketers catching ability has been affected as their fingers are greasy after walloping those Sabudana Vadas during lunch time.

This, my friends, is the real problem.

The crafty ones reading this will immediately ask, what about Munaf Patel? To them, I can say, pityingly, he is fasting for Ramzan. Yes he, poor chap can’t eat or drink anything during the day. Nada! Why do you think R P Singh was chosen to play despite coming in as a replacement and not having played cricket from January? Because, at least R P Singh can eat those delicious Vadas!!! Mind you Dhoni is not stupid choosing R P Singh. Please credit him with more sense.

Do you need more proof? Did India not comprehensively beat the West Indies, in the West Indies, without the services of Sachin Tendulkar? Yes they did. And pray [no pun intended] when did they do this? Before Shravan!! Now you see what I mean.

By the way Shravan gets over on the 29th of August. So we should do well in the T20 and ODI’s.

Right, now that we have got this established, what is the lesson that the BCCI should learn? Simple answer. Play against England during Lent. That should teach those guys a lesson. No booze and no meat during Lent my friends. That ought to teach those Poms a lesson beating us during our Holy month and crowing about it!!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Out for a duck

Till not so long ago, Duck was a meat I had to travel out of the country to enjoy or I had to be ready to shell out large amounts of money at one of the 5 Star French restaurants in India. The 5 stars were the only places that had duck on their menu. Then, a few years ago, slowly but surely, duck started creeping into Chinese menus in the metros and once Royal China opened in Mumbai with its signature Crispy Aromatic Duck, it seemed like there was no stopping the Duck invasion. Soon, the wonderful China House at The Grand Hyatt in both Mumbai and Delhi began to serve the most authentic Peking Duck and My Humble House at Delhi’s ITC Maurya Sheraton took the traditional Peking Duck and turned it into a work of edible art.

The smaller stand alone Chinese restaurants were not far behind in the duck renaissance and places like Lings Pavillion at Colaba soon put Roast Duck on their menu.

This growing popularity appeared to be a bonanza for an avowed duck lover like me who fell in love with this delicious rich, complex characteristically gamey meat when I first tasted the French classic Roast Duck a la Orange many, many years ago

When India Jones, the Pan Asian at The Oberoi in Mumbai decided to have a Duck Festival Menu a short while back, it was a runaway success. A restaurant with an entire menu with just duck dishes running to an almost full house? Surely a sign that duck has finally arrived as a popular meat in India. Or was it? I decided to investigate further…

While working my way through platters of Crispy Duck, Duck Dumplings, Duck Curry and crispy Duck Popiahs (spring rolls), I grabbed the opportunity to talk Duck with Executive Chef Joy Bhattacharya. Duck, according to him, was a very popular meat in ancient India when hunting was a royal pastime and game such as wild duck, guinea fowl, wild boar and pheasant enjoyed a place of pride at royal tables around India. As royalty ceded its way to democracy, hunting was one of the royal sports that silently gave up the ghost and the wild game that graced the royal tables made way for the domesticated and farm bred chicken and fowl.

Although duck still remains popular with the Anglo Indians and the Syrian Christians who make the most delicious duck curry and the famous Kerala Duck Roast, these communities are the exception rather than the rule and unfortunately, with the passage of time, most Indians have lost the taste for strong gamey meats. The bland chicken wins hands down in any taste test for the average Indian palate.

In Europe and China too, duck was originally a meat associated with royal hunts and was primarily seen in the imperial kitchens. But as time went by, commoners too started partaking of this royal meat and today Duck Pate en Croute, Duck Terrine, Confit of Duck, Pan fried Duck Liver and Canard à la Rouennaise (duck stuffed with its liver and cooked in red wine) count amongst the most famous of French dishes. And of course, It is impossible to talk of Chinese food without paying glowing tributes to the ubiquitous Roast Duck or Peking Duck. While the passage of time increased the popularity of duck in both Europe and China, the same passage of time wiped the poor delicious duck right off the Indian tables.

So what is it then that has made for the return of the Duck to the Indian table? Have chefs and restaurants become bold and decided to expand the Indian meat repertoire to include more game? Is it that the new breed of well traveled Indian consumers is more open to experiment with his meat? Or are we digging deep in our culinary past and rediscovering the recipes that graced the royal tables?

Unfortunately, from all prevalent trends, the answer is none of the above. The only duck dishes that have really caught the Indian imagination are the Crispy Aromatic Duck and Peking Duck.

A small note here about the difference between Peking Duck and Crispy Aromatic Duck which people often think are interchangeable.

Peking Duck, or Peking Roast Duck is a famous duck dish from Beijing that was was traditionally prepared for the Imperial Courts and is now considered one of China's national dishes. Ducks bred specially for for this dish are slaughtered after 65 days and rinsed thoroughly in water. Air is pumped under the skin to separate it from the flesh before the duck is blanched in boiling water for thirty seconds. It is then hung out to dry and the skin is glazed with simple syrup while the innards are again rinsed with a blast of water. After it has dried for a period of 24 - 72 hours the duck is roasted in a traditional hung oven till it turns a crispy dark brown. The hung oven was developed in the imperial kitchens during the Qing Dynasty and adopted by the famous Beijing Quanjude restaurant chain.

The Peking Duck is prized for the thin, crisp skin, with authentic versions of the dish serving mostly the skin and little meat, sliced in front of the diners by the cook. If done correctly, the skin is served first, dipped in sugar and garlic sauce. The meat is then served accompanied by pancakes, spring onions, cucumber and sweet bean or Hoisin sauce. The bones and remaining meat and fat are used to make a flavourful accompanying broth.

In Beijing a few years ago, we were advised to avoid the over-crowded Quanjude and experience our Peking Duck at Da Dong Restaurant. Not for a moment have we regretted that decision and were rather please to discover that this was the very restaurant Heston Blumenthal went to when he wanted to learn how to make authentic Peking Duck. The photographs below are from that memorable Da Dong dining experience. The Duck was exquisite. Tradition demands that the Duck has to be carved into 108 pieces and we that’s exactly what we got.

The Crispy Aromatic Duck on the other hand, though extremely popular and delicious is not a patch on the Peking Duck when it comes to texture and complexity. The Aromatic Duck is made by first marinating the duck with spices, then steaming it till tender and finally deep frying till crisp. The meat has far less fat and is drier and crisper than that on the Peking Duck. While some people claim this dish was invented in the UK, there is enough evidence to prove that it is is in fact a traditional Chinese dish and is still served in China with steamed buns. The UK version however serves it with pancakes and vegetables much like the Peking Duck and hence the occasional confusion.

Why have both these dishes caught the pseudo sophisticated Indian imagination? Think about it, duck that is either deep fried or roasted to a crisp with a crackling skin and smothered in sweet hoisin or plum sauce before being wrapped in a rice pancake with crunchy cucumber and sharp scallion! What is not to like?? The sweet sauce and pancake mask the gamey flavour and the crispy texture of the meat is tailor-made for the Indian palate. This is a dish for the trendy metros and the well traveled Indian who wants a taste of the exotic. But the growing popularity of these two dishes doesn’t mean that the duck delights that appeared at the royal tables are making a come back. Or even that duck meat is available in the market for the home consumer. The demand for duck according to Chef Joy is still so small in India that the few duck farms and suppliers, cater almost exclusively for the hotel and restaurant business and this is unlikely to change in the near future.

So for the moment, if I want to try a duck curry recipe or make a simple pan fried duck liver with a reduced port wine sauce, I still need to transport myself to foreign shores to sate my appetite or smuggle in some duck breasts from the UK and cook them in the cozy comfort of my home. If you do get your hands on a decent duck breast, this recipe of Magret de Canard aux Agrumes [Breast of Duck with Citrus fruits], and part of the curriculum at the Cordon Bleu London, is well worth making:

Magret de Canard aux Agrumes
[Breast of Duck with Citrus fruits]

Serves 2

2 duck breast with skin without bone

Sauce Bigarde

2 Oranges, peeled and flesh chopped
Juice of 1 lime [since you do not get lemons in India]
25 grams sugar
15 ml white vinegar
250 ml chicken stock strong [use 50% more bouillon cubes than you otherwise would]
A teaspoon of Orange marmalade
Cold cubed butter to finish


Making the Sauce

Caramelize the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan. When it turns a deep amber colour add the vinegar. Careful, it will splatter and the fumes are powerful. This is known as a Gastric. Once slightly reduced add the Orange segments and marmalade and reduce heat. Cook on low heat till orange breaks down. Add the stock and reduce till you get a slightly syrupy consistency. Remove from heat, strain into clean pot. Check seasoning and keep aside till duck is cooked.

Just before serving heat sauce and whisk in a couple of cubes of butter. Do not boil. Adjust with a dash of lime juice to brighten flavor. The sauce should be sweet, sour and savory at the same time.

Cooking the Duck

Dry the breast with a kitchen paper. Score the breast skin side in a cross hatch/diamond pattern taking care to score to the very end.

Add salt generously only on the skin side. Add some pepper on the skin side.

Take a heavy pan and put the breast skin side down in the cold pan, turn on the heat to about half. Don’t touch the pan, don’t move the duck, do absolutely nothing. Wait 10 minutes. What will happen is that the fat will render and the skin will start to crisp up. I repeat, just don’t touch the breasts or pan. After 10 minutes, season the flesh side and turn over for 2 minutes more. Turn off the heat and let the Duck rest in the pan off the heat for about 5 minutes while you finish the sauce.

To plate, slice the breast at an angle and pour the sauce on. Garnish with chopped Chives or Flat Leaf Parsley.

Best eaten with some sauté Potato.


A few paragraphs from this article written by the Queen of Kutch were published by the Hindustan Times a few years ago. This is the complete, unedited version.


Ducks waiting to be baked at Da Dong

Chefs at work

The accompaniments with Peking Duck

The ducky [only half]

Sliced. Please see the translucent skin on extreme right

Magret de Canard aux Agrumes [Breast of Duck with Citrus fruits] - with various garnish. Recipe of garnish on request

Gaylord - Wondering if dead or alive?

Is Gaylords the old time part Continental part Punjabi still functional or has it been consigned to the dust bin of history? We wanted to eat old time Punjabi food, the food we got at restaurants when growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in what was then known as Bombay. The stuff sold at `Kwality’. Dishes like Black Daal, Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken and Channa Masala are just not available today at Punjabi restaurants. This food is now the domain of the Shetty/Udipi style restaurants and the Mughlai/Muslim style restaurants. Punjabi restaurants are now few and far between. So we thought what better place to eat at than Gaylord, the grand old lady of North Indian cuisine in Mumbai which has been around for over 50 years. I must add that Delhi still has lots of traditional Punjabi restaurants, in fact there is an entire cluster at Pandara Road which are well worth a visit, but, of course, for the best possible Punjabi food head straight to Amritsar.

We went to Gaylord on a Friday night. I am happy to report that the restaurant was buzzing, quite full. The people were generally older than what you see at most other restaurants. The staff was certainly older than anywhere else, in fact they were crusty old hands who knew exactly what they were doing. The decor is old style, heavy painted furniture, heavy carpeting and probably floral wallpaper.

Before us was a Table Tent promoting a selection of Kebabs, one side vegetarian the other side non. We chose a Kakori. Yes, I know that this was not old time food but what the hell, we were tempted, and, who doesn’t like a good kebab? From the main menu, we ordered a Dal Ghosh and Murgh Kofta Curry which, the Queen of Kutch fondly remembered eating and loving. We also ordered the obligatory Aloo Paratha and Lachha Paratha.

The Kakori was a disappointment. It was indeed very soft and very very finely minced, however it was lacking in spice. The few Kakoris I have eaten have Cardamom and green chilli as a dominant spice. Here, this was quite muted. Pity, as both spices are easy to add and all cooks are familiar with them. To make matters worse, the kebab was served with a Cocktail Naan instead of the traditional sweet Sheermal Naan which would have had just the right sweetness to lift this dish.

The Dal Ghosh was quite unlike what I expected. I thought this would be a yellow daal [probably Channa or Masoor or both] with mutton, but what we got was a lurid red Moong daal. Nice, not outstanding. The meat though was very tender.

Murgh Kofta Curry turned out to be another red curry. Once again quite unlike what we thought the dish would be. We expected a pale gravy, probably slightly sweet. The Koftas themselves were rather `rustic’ to use a euphemism. Large, really large, rather dense and very grainy. They should have been finely minced, smaller and probably stuffed with a cashew and raisin. Really, nothing to write home about. Nondescript.

Having written all this, an alert reader would have realised that we did not eat what we had set out to do, that is, old style Punjabi food. Why? Is it that we have grown tired of it, is it that we are easily led astray by newfangled dishes listed on menus, is it that we ate old style Punjabi food so long ago and so rarely, when it was a treat to eat out, that the food never really became embossed on our minds? I think it’s probably all three reasons with the last having the most weightage. Will there be a next time for us, I am sure there will be. I am sure that we will once again set out in this quest to eat old style Punjabi food in a Punjabi owned restaurant in Mumbai.

I must also mention that the old adage, `pay peanuts and get monkeys’ holds good. The entire meal at Gaylord cost us as much as a single dish at the ITC Dum Pukth. But, unlike the food at Gaylord, a plate of Kakori Kebabs at Dum Pukth is truly exceptional. What we ate was frankly rubbish in comparison. So why waste money on mediocrity? Better perhaps, to go out less often and eat only top class food. Lesson learnt.

Oh yes, Gaylord is still very vibrant and obviously very popular, but it does not work for me.

The Kakori Kebab with cocktail Naan!

Daal Ghosh

Murg Kofta Curry

Dakshin - The Southern Star

Since writing this post the Dakshin has had a makeover. Have a look at the review of Dakshin Coastal. The food is still the same.

The Dakshin – ITC’s premiere South Indian restaurant is alive and well and certainly kicking.

A short back story for you. The ITC has several hotels in various categories. From what I can figure, the most prestigious of them are all named after historical empires which ruled in the city where the hotel is located. So you have the ITC Maratha in Mumbai, the ITC Maurya in Delhi, the ITC Grand Kakatia in Hyderabad, and the ITC Chola in Chennai and so on and so forth. In these hotels you get a selection of their three speciality Indian restaurants, the Peshawari, the Dum Pukth and Dakshin. These restaurants are seriously expensive. They also serve food which is simply unavailable anywhere else. After our meal at Dakshin last night, I firmly believe that, every other restaurant that makes the same kind of food as this triumvirate is a pale imitation at best.

I have eaten at Dakshin a few times in the past and have always been underwhelmed. The food seemed ordinary. The menus seemed a bit limiting and the compulsion to serve `jumbo’, `tiger’ prawns resulted in an expensive dish with prawns that were hopelessly overcooked. This had turned me off. Why should I pay those prices and get food which and Apoorva or Trishna could match at a fraction of the price was my constant refrain.

On the persistent recommendation of a senior Captain at the ITC Grand Maratha, who said that the Dakshin menu had been revamped, and having regard to the fact that the Dum Pukht has shut for renovation, we decided to give Dakshin one last shot. My God, was it a correct decision.

After a charming and warm welcome we were seated and offered a platter of fried Pappadums and crackers with four outstanding chutneys. Green (coriander), white (coconut), yellow (cabbage) and red (tomato and onion). The chutneys were really superb. Fresh, cold and each tiny bowl perfectly garnished with one fried Kadi Patta. We nibbled on this starter with much delight while we deliberated on the menu.

I thought we should plunge into the meal rather than filling up on starters. So we ordered a creamy and gentle Meen Moilee and a really spicy Endu Mirpa Eguru. To finish we had Khaima Choru. We had this with an Iddiappam [String Hoppers] and Appam [Hoppers] but they were incidental supporting actors to the main stars.

The Meen Moilee was delicious. The Moilee spooned on the absorbent Iddiappam was an example of comfort food for a Southern Man. Full of coconut flavours and perfectly mild and calming. The Meen [fish] in the Moilee was the equally calm and gentle Bassa which has taken over our restaurants. It’s the paneer of the sea. In this case it perfectly complemented the Moilee.

The Endu Mirpa Eguru was a real `Angry Ganeshan’. This was mutton with a thick gravy, red, hot, spicy with 3 types of chilly and loads of Star Anise. It was quite something. The mutton itself was really good.  

For me the real star of the evening was Khaima Choru. This is a street food, fried rice hugely popular in Tamil Nadu and parts of Sri Lanka. It’s made with a local short grained rice called `Jeera Samba or Seeranga Samba', so named as each grain is as small as `Jeera’ – Cumin. The Chef very kindly got us a sample of this grain. It’s really small. The Chef told us that this dish is also often made with shredded rotis. Khaima Choru has minced meat, egg, chilly and capsicum all cooked together. It’s partly Chinese, partly Mughlai with the Garam Masala but so Southern in its base. With this we were served a gravy made with country chicken stock and thickened with Channa dal. This dish was indeed a revelation.

I have not eaten food served so hot [as in temperature] at any restaurant as far as I can remember. The food was so hot that you had to let it cool before putting your fingers in. This temperature ensures that the spicing and the seasoning were at its optimum and the food felt alive. No doubt the food was skilfully cooked, but the temperature was a big factor in its ultimate success.

All in all, a very very satisfying meal. Dakshin is back, big time. But stay away from those damn prawns.

Green Coriander chutney, Yellow Cabbage chutney, White coconut chutney

Tomato Chutney

Papadums and mixed fried stuff

Endu Mirpa Eguru

Please see the chili in the meat

Meen Moilee


Khaima Choru

Basmati and Jeera Samba