Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mumbai is different

Mumbai is different. Do not fool yourself. Do not ask me why Mumbai is different. It just is.

Mumbai is different from Delhi. Delhi has often been called the `rape capital’ of India. Mumbai would never be that. We are just not interested in women in Mumbai. Our energies are spent on injuring, killing, looting breaking taxis and rickshaws operated or owned by Biharis, UP Bhaiyas and so on. In Mumbai we also spend our energies arresting and fining couples sitting on the rocks at Bandra Bandstand. Nip the problem in the bud, stop this promiscuous behaviour and you will stop rape. See how safe Mumbai is. Women can walk at any hour of the day or night without any molestation.

In Mumbai no one eats Chow Mien. Our choice of food is Pao Bhaji or Vada Pao. No Chow Mein for us, no sir. Consequently, see how safe women are here.

Mumbai is different in yet another way. We have very few non vegetarian restaurants in Mumbai. I presume you know that the consumption of meat/flesh inflames passions. If you have restaurants serving non vegetarian food in our vegetarian Ghettos it’s best to burn and stone such restaurants. Mind you the restaurant may have all licenses and permissions in place however the peaceful vegetarians with calmed passions find it proper to violently destroy the restaurant in question.

I am sure you must have enjoyed the second T20 cricket match between Pakistan and India held at the Motera Stadium at Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad is in Gujarat, a state that has recently re-elected Mr. Narendra Modi and the Right Wing Hindu Party Bharatiya Janata Party to power with a thumping majority. Mr. Modi has been accused of fomenting the 2002 Gujarat Riots where Hindu rioters killed several hundred Muslims. Some months ago at a public function when Muslim Clerics presented Mr Modi with a Muslim cap, he refused to accept it. This got all the `jholawallas’ and other liberals in a right royal frenzy. Assuming for a moment that Mr. Modi is guilty of all he is accused of, an Indian Pakistan cricket match was held in his state capital. It was a full house, Mr. Modi himself attended the match, and the Pakistanis felt Ahmedabad was safe. But, in Mumbai, with a secular Congress government in place we cannot have India Pakistan cricket matches for fear of violence from the Shiv Sena and the MNS. See, Mumbai is different.     

Drinking and driving is very bad. World over people drink and drive. The test for whether a driver is driving under the influence, world over is done by using a device called a breathalyzer. This tests the amount of ethanol in our breath. Ethanol reacts with acetic acid and the reading indicates the blood alcohol content thereby signifying how drunk the person is. Now you must understand that all this i.e. the breathalyzer, costs money. Who wants to spend money when you can do things differently. In Mumbai we do things differently. What comes to my mind is a line from a Bob Dylan song called I Want You. The line is `blow into his face with scorn’. Yes in Mumbai our cops do things differently. No breathalyzer shreathalizer for us. You are to breath into a cops face. If you smell of alcohol `Gheun Taak’.

It's not a dentist. Its a cop.

Yes we are different.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Theek Hai, it's only a denting and painting job.

It’s been a busy time with NRI’s in town, some reasonable weather and general running around. A lot has happened in the last two weeks.

Dented and painted Sachin Tendulkar has hung up his ODI boots. Someone wrote an absolutely melodramatic, cliché filled and tear jerking letter in the style of the best Bollywood pot boilers to his fans. This was a hoax, luckily the writer has not gone to jail or been burnt or stoned by Sachin's adoring fans. This letter I happened to see as it was posted on Facebook by his fans, some of whom are my friends on Facebook. I must clean up my Facebook account!

Then we had a gang rape in Delhi and that has led to protests, furious debates on TV, angry columns in our newspapers, calls for resignation, chemical castrations, candlelit marches, the Mango people party jumping in to help Mango people, our political leaders scoring points, own goals and putting their feet into their mouths. Much fire and brimstone.

At one point I was captivated by a heated television debate. Among the array of participants was a monkey cap clad Dr. Abhisheik Manu Singhvi an ex Congress spokesperson. He is an ex spokesperson as he was lucky enough to get a `BJ’, in his office with TV cameras running, from a lady who he promised judgeship to provided she did a suck job, literally. He was on TV in a debate on women’s rights. Fine choice I must say. Along with him was our own Marathi Mulgi Shobhaa De who has made a fortune selling soft porn books. Does soft porn or porn for that matter, place women on a very high pedestal or does it degrade them? The latter I think but who am I to say anything, I am just a blogger. I presume having written many soft porn books gives her the necessary qualifications to speak about women’s rights.

Then our venerable Prime Minister, whose honesty and integrity cannot be questioned, says, `Theek Hai?’. I have been much happier and feeling much safer after his most reassuring speech.

Following the warm happy feeling I got after listening to our Prime Minister, I felt that it was safe for me and HRH the Queen to take the short walk from home to St. Andrews Auditorium to watch a Blues Music show. No busses to be caught, and after the PM’s speech, eve teasing has disappeared, plus this is Mumbai not Delhi. We are very busy bashing the UP and Bihar guys. Girls do not concern us.

In Mumbai we are so starved of decent live western music that it is tragic. Yes there are a few live performances by washed up big bands now and then. There are many more performances by DJ’s but that is not my cup of tea. The Jazz Yatra is a thing of the distant past. At best today we have really obscure jazz musicians on some sort of government grant touring India. This promised to be a good show. On the bill were 2 bands, the first a Pune based outfit and the second; probably India’s finest band, Soulmate from Shillong. With booze companies finding fewer and fewer avenues to advertise, they now sponsor music performances. This means that we can sample their products either free or at discounted prices. It is nice to have a civilised drink or two before a show.

The first band, Pune based Smokestack was an unmitigated disaster. They were awful. Guitars kept going out of tune. They did not have a set list, the band rambled on almost like a jam or a rehearsal, the attempts at humour were childish and generally they were a shambles. I was frankly disgusted. You cannot have such performances for audiences that have paid for their seats.

Next up was Soulmate. We had seen them live at the 2011 Mahindra Blues Festival at Mehboob Studios and they blew me away. This time they were excellent. The sound from the band after the pathetic Smokestack was like listening to a proper music system after an IPod. The sound was punchy clear and instruments could be heard. The level of skill by each musician was so much higher than Smokestack. Rudy Wallang the guitarist is really very good with a decent sized bag of tricks. The vocalist Tipriti is good with a voice that sounds at times like the goofy Macy Gray to the booming Etta James. She had all the moves, she has great stage presence, a great voice and dances sinuously. The audience was enthralled. This was a very good band. I cannot even imagine how proud they must have felt when they opened for Santana at the Delhi F1 post race concert. At one point Carlos Santana came onstage and jammed with them. They are from Shillong, a part of India that is much neglected. Supremely talented and great to watch. Soulmate does visit Mumbai and other Indian cities for shows quite often. I recommend you keep your eyes open for any adverts saying when they are next going to be in your city. Do watch them; you will not be disappointed at all.

So folks, we are coming to the end of 2012. India continues to be bashed in every way possible. Our poor Government is struggling with a severe case of Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong is going wrong. It’s a pity they are shattered by this but their pomposity and passing the buck style of operation has to change not only for them but for us and for India.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Wasabi by Morimoto Taj Mahal Mumbai

This is my 200th post! I never thought I would last so long. But I am still as enthusiastic about writing today as I was 199 posts ago.

There are so many thoughts going thru my mind simultaneously that I do not know where to start. If this post reads a little scatty or disjointed, please excuse me.

A few basic facts and prejudices. Neither HRH the Queen of Kutch nor I have much regard or respect for any of the restaurants in the Taj Mahal or the Taj President in Mumbai. They are uniformly over hyped, careless, riding on past glory, and in an international context, useless. Really useless. There is no value for money and service standards are abysmal. The food generally is a joke. If you think I am being overly critical or harsh, do read further and have a look at the photographs. After that I am sure you will be convinced. You must have read my posts on Masala Kraft and Thai Pavillion. If not please do read them before going further. I would not pay for a meal at any restaurant in the Taj hotels in Mumbai.

Having set the tone, on Friday, HRH the Queen of Kutch’s Aunt, a mega lawyer, invited us for dinner to either the Golden Dragon [the Sichuan Chinese Restaurant at Taj Mahal Mumbai] or Wasabi by Morimoto [the Japanese Restaurant also at Taj Mahal Mumbai]. We chose Wasabi, the darling of the sophisticates in South Bombay, the haunt of internationally travelled Jains, Khandelwals and Shahs. Wasabi is also the darling of the Kriplanis. Anyway, the plan was to meet in the lobby of the Taj Mahal at 7.45, wet our whistles at the Harbour Bar and go to our reserved table at 8.30. Since we had to travel the longest distance, naturally, we ended up in the lobby first and sat at a sofa to wait.

What a glorious sight awaited us. A very dodgy young lady was sitting in front of us in a rather casual way, her feet on the sofa and sandals on the floor busy texting. I was flabbergasted!! I apologise for the quality of the photograph but it was taken from HRH the Queen’s mobile phone. This in the lobby of an iconic hotel. Where was the staff? Could one of the several black suited men not walk up to her and ask, `are you waiting for someone?’ or `do you need any help?’. I would not put my feet on my sofa at home. Here was someone in the Taj putting their feet up on a public sofa!! What happens to someone who sits there after she vacates? Phew!! Bad start. Blood pressure rising.

Dodgy lady - feet up

Soon our host and other guests arrived and we retreated to the famous Harbour Bar. The Taj website says of the Harbour Bar “A stylish and sophisticated retreat for a drink or an informal meal, Harbour Bar first opened its doors to the discerning Mumbai gentlemen in 1933 and has since played host to decades of high-powered rendezvous”. It goes on to say, and I once again quote from the Taj website “This historical prestige is reflected in the center bar, a solid carved piece of white marble that denotes the potency of a bygone era but boasts a fresh new face for Mumbai's new generation of movers and shakers.” At 8.00 pm on a Friday night in South Bombay during the NRI season the Harbour had just one shaker – the cocktail shaker. There were also about 4 slow moving movers – the waiters. It was dead as Kasab. Poor joke, poor taste, but I could not resist that. Anyway, we were having a merry time enjoying our libations, so the host requested the restaurant reservation to be shifted to 9.00 pm from 8.30 pm. Smarty pants waiter comes up and says that we have to surrender the table at 10.30 pm as they have another seating. Blood pressure rises further. Why did they not tell us this when we booked at 8.30 that there was a 2 hour turn around slot? I said that we would leave by 10.30 if they served us quickly and did not muck about. The cheek of the man!! Blood pressure rises further.

At 9.00 pm we went to Wasabi which was a level up [I mean that physically]. The restaurant was empty. I asked sarcastically if we could have the table or did they want it back at 10.30, no problem they said, you can have the table. Two tables occupied of which one was by Raymond Bickson the Managing Director of the Indian Hotels company. All waiters attention was focussed on, yes, Mr Bickson. How typically Indian. Ignore the paying customer and curry favour with the boss who is eating free. It took a few attempts to ask for a drinks menu, a food menu and finally place the orders. Just when placing the order, our waiter magically disappears while HRH the Queen is mid sentence. Mr. Bickson wanted some salt I presume. Drinks ordered and food ordered. My beer turns up and the rest of the drinks take eons. Restaurant still serving only 5 other people!

Then up comes an Amuse Bouche a good 45 minutes after we were seated. A square cube in a very large plate. It was a UFO, unidentified fried object, which is what most Amuse Bouches in India are. I ask, `is this vegetarian?’ Yes is the answer. So I probe further `is this Jain?’ ‘I will check’ was the reply. I have still not got the answer! Anyway, we ate it. Some sort of deep fried starch – Yam or suchlike. Non descript with as much character as boiled rice.

The UFO - Amuse Buoche

The Host and HRH sister are vegetarian. So they ordered as their starter, a bowl of boiled Edamame Beans. Maybe this stuff thrills vegetarians, but there is just so much excitement one can have with plain boiled beans.

Boiled Edamame beans

HRH the Queen ordered what is regarded as a special dish at Wasabi – Rock Shrimp Tempura with Spicy Mustard. Large helping, crisp batter, light batter but unfortunately after Mr Bickson asked for the salt, the salt did not go back to the kitchen. After lashings of salt the dish improved. Again, nothing out of the ordinary, just straightforward deep fried Shrimp Pakoras with a sweetish wasabi. No hint of a spicy mustard kick at all.

Rock Shrimp Tempura

I ordered another speciality as my starter. The Salmon Avocado Tacos. This was a dish that would warm the cockles of Tarla Dalal except it had Salmon. A mini Taco shell filled with chopped Salmon with sweet Mayonnaise and garnished with a slice of Jalapeno. The dish was conceived for a children’s birthday party, it was infantile in the extreme. Now here is something that I found peculiar. It’s an accepted convention that whatever is placed on a plate should be edible [toothpicks apart]. This includes garnishes. On picking up a Taco I noticed a small cylinder on the plate which had been placed to hold the Taco shell upright. I put this in my mouth thinking it was edible and would be a sort of savoury biscuit. It turned out to be pieces of wood. Shocking. Have a look. On seeing this, blood pressure rises further.

Salmon Avocado Tacos

The wooden chips supporting the Taco

For our mains, the Host ordered Asparagus Youganyaki – Flambé Asparagus on Volcano Stone. This comprised of a few Asparagus stalks, onion and red and yellow peppers placed on a heated stone. The waiters then poured some Brandy and flambéed the dish. I could not believe what the Host was eating. It was like a half dish, no starch no protein just some cheap vegetables besides the Asparagus. It was like a garnish you get with a steak that had been turned into a main course. I thought this was like going to Kobe/Yoko Sizzlers and telling them I want a sizzler with only onion, capsicum and asparagus. I want no chicken, steak, potato, noodles, paneer or cutlet of any sort. Just a tiny portion of sizzling vegetables. Amazing, wonders never cease. You can really doll up any rubbish and serve it to Vegetarians and they are happy so long as it sizzles, sings or dances, comes in a fancy container or is crunchy or better still spicy.

The final burnt offering - Vegetables, onions basically
HRH Sister ordered Cha Soba which is Chilled green tea noodles with chopped scallion, sesame seeds, fresh wasabi, dashi - soy sauce for dipping. All she got was a fake bamboo dish with gluggy lurid green noodles. The look of horror on her face was priceless. What would have been acceptable was if the two dishes, the Soba Noodles and the Asparagus were combined in some sort of way. The Asparagus dish had no staple or protein and the Soba Noodle was only staple with no vegetable. Do people really pay for this kind of food?

Cha Soba Noodles. 

Those two dishes were enough to instil the deepest fear in me. I had ordered Surf & Turf. This was a steak and two tempura prawns. The plate came was so large that it covered my entire section of the table. The steak was reasonably good meat. However the sauce on top was sickly sweet, really really sweet. The jumbo prawns were MRF Tyres. I could not eat more than a quarter of this dish. Mind you, no vegetables for me. Why? I have no idea. I know food can be sweet, Gujarati food is sweet, but this food took the biscuit, it was almost like a dessert, it was that sweet.

Surf & Turf

See the size of the plate

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered Miso Marinated Black Cod. This was probably made in the Balrampur Chinni Factory, it was that sweet. The Cod had a most peculiar texture, probably because of the marinade. I am being kind here. It’s also possible that the Cod had been cooked to death and the texture had nothing to do with the marinade. The Cod was on a plate with a horribly sweet sauce squirted all over. The plate also had what looked like black olives. I tasted one; it was some sort of bean that had been cooked in sugar syrup. Ghastly.

Miso Marinated Black Cod 

All the food was rubbish, sweet, childish, incomplete and misconceived. I cannot believe anyone paying for this. While writing this I decided to look at the prices of Sushi at one of the better know and more expensive Japanese Restaurants in London. Umu which has one Michelin Starr is in Mayfair which is one of London’s most expensive neighbourhoods. I am setting down in a table the prices of similar Sushi in the two restaurants. You should find it illuminating. I am not going to explain why I am doing so. Just compare and ask yourself, what the heck is going on? This information is from the respective websites of Wasabi and Umu. I am adding 30% to the Wasabi price to include taxes.

Wasabi price in Rs
Wasabi price in GBP @ Rs 85
Umu price in Rs @ 1 GBP = Rs 85
Umu price in GBP
Ika – Squid
Ikura – Salmon Roe
Hotake - Scallop
Uni – Sea Urchin
Unagi - Eel

Needless to say, we had no dessert. Also needless to say HRH the Queen and myself came home hungry and fairly angry.

The service was uncaring and jerky. In a restaurant of this standard not having all people’s food being brought out at the same time is unacceptable. 3 of us got our food more or less at the same time, while the host had to wait eons for her wretched Asparagus to turn up. If you left the restaurant to go to the toilet, your napkin was left as is. No one folded it away to indicate the diner is missing. This is something that any reasonable restaurant in the West would do. Why the Taj has to be like this I cannot for the life of me understand.

In conclusion, we all had a fantastic evening despite the food and service. The food was an absolute disaster, every dish was bad. I know that I will not visit the Taj to eat. If someone invites me, I will go only after having failed to convince the person it’s a bad idea.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The law, the delays, what is going on?

I am a lawyer. My maternal grandfather was a lawyer as was my father. 2 of my father’s brothers are lawyers. My mother’s brother is a lawyer. HRH the Queen of Kutch’s father is a lawyer. As is her mother’s sister. All of us are honest, hard working and looking at completion of the legal task at hand. No, I am not writing my CV. I for one like to conclude a legal transaction, and move on to something else. Almost without exception, all the lawyers I have worked with are like this, wanting to get on with things.

However, I often despair at the state of things in our Courts. Judicial delays have, in my view, affected each and every one of us in so many ways. We have no fear of the law, no fear of the law enforcement machinery; we do not understand the consequences of our wrongs as we have never seen the guilty being punished. Lawlessness, law breaking and violation are literally all around. You can be reasonably certain that the house you are living in is illegal in some way, an enclosed balcony or a changed door is just two examples. Hawkers, encroachers, temples, restaurants, and shops everything is illegal in some way. We have so many laws to regulate every aspect of our lives it’s frightening.

Let me give you just two examples of judicial delays. In both examples, I am personally involved. The sheer idiocy and present irrelevance of the two cases boggles my mind.

Circa 1990 I was an employee at Crawford Bayley & Co a highly reputed law firm. As an assistant, I was entrusted with a case where a private company was the subject of a takeover battle between two brothers. After the usual legal wrangling, our client, a foreigner, got control of the company. As was the practice, I was appointed a director of this company for a few days till our client identified other individuals to become directors. At this point I resigned. I must have been a director for at most 2 weeks. Client was happy, he was in control of the company and he disappeared.

Fast forward to September 2005, I got a call from the Crime Branch asking me to report to the Crawford Market police station to record my statement. I was mystified. I could not for the life of me figure out what was happening. When I met the Inspector I found out that the client had thereafter been swindled by the company’s officers and he had filed a complaint. The Police wanted me to confirm that I was in fact a director of the company for a few days and that on my resignation the relevant form 32 had been filed. I confirmed both facts.

Fast forward to October 2012, I am summoned to the Magistrate Court handling Economic Offences as a witness to confirm, yes, you guessed it, that I was in fact a director of the company for a few days and that on my resignation the relevant form 32 had been filed. I did attend. Needless to say the case was adjourned. Next date 14 January 2013. I have to now appear on every date or else a warrant for my arrest will be issued. Despite my wanting to confirm the facts, I cannot do so till the trial `starts’. For that to happen, the complainant - the foreigner client, has to come to Mumbai to attend the hearings. The trial will not go on day to day but for a few minutes, at best, sporadically. Will the client make the ardours journey to India every few month for this trial? I doubt it. So I will have to keep going to Court every date for the foreseeable future. Have I delayed this trial? No. Am I willing to co-operate and confirm what I had done? Yes. Have the accused delayed the trial? I do not know. Why can the Court not relieve me? Because that is the way the law operates. Dead case, uninterested Court, no conclusion and the charade will go on.        

Second case. June 2000, in the days of the infancy of the internet, a law student in Pune typed sexual intercourse”, “unnatural sex”, “nude women”, “animal sex” and “sex" in the `Search’ box on the portal Needless to say the query threw up several answers, several of which were obscene. Our student was grossly offended by this and promptly filed a complaint in the Magistrates Court stating that Rediff was distributing, publicly exhibiting, and putting into circulation obscene, lascivious, pornographic and objectionable materials, photographs, pictures, writings, stories and other materials. To cut a long story short, the Magistrate was rather impressed and a Complaint was filed stating that Rediff was guilty of obscenity. Each of the directors was also made an accused. So there is a case in the Pune Court that is pending even today. Of course a Writ was filed in the High Court and the proceedings in Pune stayed.

Do you realise how utterly trivial and meaningless this case is? Today does anyone care about obscenity on the Internet? Of course there is loads of pornography on the Internet; it’s the most searched item. But do we have sleepless night about this? Is this something that needs a complaint in a Magistrates Court? But, once again the case is pending. It’s pending not only in Pune but in the High Court as well. Is anyone actively delaying the conclusion of this case? No. Would all parties in question not want the case to be heard and decided? Of course yes. It’s now almost 13 years since this case was lodged.

Both cases are in today’s context totally meaningless. In both cases, actual costs continue to be incurred by parties in engaging lawyers and paying their fees. Notional costs of loss of time are not even taken into account. Courts and consequently the Government also incur costs. Storage of case papers, security, having the judicial infrastructure kept in motion – Magistrates, Clerks, Public Prosecutors, Police Constables – all cost money. What boggles my mind is who is benefiting from this? The relevance of the so called wrongs itself are so trivial today.

In a situation like this where there is really no one who is manipulating the Judiciary or the law enforcement machinery, there are such gross delays. If any of the parties to either litigation were `Jugaad’ experts I shudder to think what would happen. They could make papers disappear, make papers appear, delay the case, influence the Public Prosecutors. Lawyers appearing in these courts are just so unwilling to carry on with a case. It’s hard work arguing a case. They just want dates and prolong the outcome. Judges are so demotivated and so caught up with the lethargy and despondentness that they too have lost the will to ensure that a trial commences or goes on in a meaningful way.

This single aspect, delay in courts, has damaged our society in ways that I am unsure Courts themselves know or realise.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Le Gavroche revisited

Le Gavroche. Quite simply, according to HRH the Queen of Kutch and myself, the finest restaurant in the World. We have yet to go to a restaurant that has everything, food, service, atmosphere, charm and most importantly consistency. Each of these attributes have to be read with superlatives. The reason why the restaurant is always full with bookings shutting almost on opening are not far to see. Unless you are very lucky or very powerful reservations are almost always available three months later. No this is not a hoax. Our reservations were made well in advance of our even booking out air tickets.

You must have read my previous post on Le Gavroche. This time we were joined by our close friend the Doctor Businesswoman and for a change of pace, HRH the Queen of Kutch will take it on from here...

The entrance to this temple of good food was sparkly and silvery white for the Christmas season and walking in brought a smile to our faces. We were greeted at the small foyer, our coats were whisked away and we were efficiently led to our table. Our reservation was for 7pm and the restaurant was half full when we entered. A good sign surely. The buzz was happy and relaxed and restaurant staff buzzed around efficiently. Once we were seated, the captain in charge of our table offered branded bag hangers to get our evening bags off the floor. We were handed the menus and for several minutes we sat in silence, contemplating the menu and glancing around as servers and captains and sommeliers buzzed around in what seemed like a smooth choreographed dance. Silent, efficient, unobtrusive and always friendly.

One of our constant companions

A round of bubbly was promptly brought to our table and a plate of delightful Canapes was placed on our table. We poured over our menu for what seemed like ages because so much of the food seemed so inviting, it was difficult to choose. Since the reservation was in my name, I was deemed to be the host and I was the only one given the menu with the prices. Both the Gourmet Lawyer and the Doctor Businesswoman had guest menus with no prices given. Rather old world and utterly charming.

Once we had decided what we planned to eat we were given the heavy tome which passes for a wine list. The choice of wines is truly impressive and range from a happy 30 GBP to a stiff 5 digits. This caused another long think till we settled on the house red, a Languedoc, made from Grenache Noir and Syrah which has been made by ace wine maker Michel Chapoutier especially for Michel Roux. A good wine at a great price. With the wine came an Amuse Bouche of Arancini with a Truffle Vinaigrette.

Arancini with a Truffle Vinaigrette

Starters arrived soon enough and all three of us were delighted with our choices. Scallops with Squid Ink and Black Curry Powder for the Gourmet Lawyer, Lobster Mouse with Caviar for the Doctor Businesswoman and a Foie Gras and Confit Carrot Layers, Ice Wine Vinegar Jelly, Pomegranate and Radish for me. Light hilarity followed the arrival of the starters when I protested that my food was not brought out under a cloche while the other two were. The captain charmingly pointed out that my starter was cold while the other two were hot starters and hence the cloche. He promised me a cloche for my mains. All three of us were thrilled with our starters and for a few minutes we oohed and mmmed with satisfaction. My fabulously luxurious plate of food was absolutely delightful with surprising bursts of flavour.

Lobster Mousse with Aquitaine Caviar and Champagne Butter Sauce

Scallops with Squid Ink and Black Curry Powder 

Foie Gras and Confit Carrot Layers, Ice Wine Vinegar Jelly, Pomegranate and Radish

By the time mains arrived, we had demolished the wine and another bottle was asked for. No cloche for me again! By this time the entire front of house was in the know and the General Manager came and explained how a rectangular dish could not have a cloche. The Gourmet Lawyer has written far too much about the superb food we have eaten at Le Gavroche so I will not get into the details but will say that all our food surpassed expectations and it was the general consensus that this was probably the best restaurant food we had ever eaten. Each plate was an absolute work of art so we really were eating with all our senses; sight, smell, texture, taste...

Roast Squab Pigeon, Foie Gras & Pastilla - with the sauce poured over

Stone Bass and Pastilla, Scented with Arabian Spices Fennel, Red Rice and Meat Jus

Cumbrian Rose Veal, Creamed Morel Mushroom Sauce and Mashed Potatoes

Dessert followed with glasses of Calvados, Cognac and Dessert Wine and surprise surprise, my Baba au Calvados came to the table under a cloche! Much amusement and laughter and it really was charming to see how a silly joke by me was indulged and the concept of ‘customer delight’ was of paramount importance.

Pana Cotta with chopped fruit

Baba Au Calvados

Chocolate Ice Cream with Fruits

It is pointless here to say we love Le Gavroche for the food. That is a given. It’s really the entire experience. The charm, the efficiency, the grace, the seamless ballet during service and the quiet luxury are what really makes the restaurant special.

We love the restaurant and will return again and again...inshallah

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Burger And Lobster - London

Followers of this blog will recall how I have written about the Burger craze in London. Everywhere you look a new burger joint has opened. They are normally stripped down, simple, sometimes with loud music, and always with their followers claiming that their burgers are really the best the juiciest and the tastiest. The old school burger joints comprised of Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Byron, Black & Blue and Hache. The new kids on the block are Meat Liquor, Tommi’s Burgers and Burger and Lobster. There is even a new Hot Dog place called Bubbledogs that serves only Hot Dogs and various types of Sparking Wine. There are also high end burgers available at Bar Boloud, the Cut a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, This is in addition to non specialist places serving burgers, almost all the pubs, all of the chains – MacDonald’s, Burger King and so on. Burgers are big in London.

Lunch was at Burger and Lobster. This is an offshoot of the Goodman Steak Restaurants. It’s Russian owned, and from one outlet [Goodman] at Maddox Street, in 3 years they now have a total of 6, 3 Goodman and 3 Burger and Lobster.

The concept is simple. No reservations. You queue up and get a table. No holding tables for friends, only if all of you are present will you get a table. There is no menu. They serve just 3 things. A Burger with cheese and/or bacon, a Lobster Roll and ½ a grilled Lobster with butter. Everything comes with salad and chips. Each of these costs a flat GBP 20. That is it. Of course there are drinks and deserts. No confusion, no inventory, no fancy cooking, no utensils and no crockery. Everything is served on a large metallic tray with a paper mat. No plates, no breakage no fancy dishwashing. Costs stripped down to the minimum.

The restaurant itself is done up in a warehouse look with exposed wires, minimalist lights and exposed air-conditioning. Tables are simple wooden topped tables with no table mats or napkins. Paper napkins are provided. Food is delivered swiftly, eaten as quickly and you are out in 30 minutes flat.

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered the Lobster Roll. The Roll was made with really excellent bread about 9 inches long absolutely stuffed with large pieces of lobster dressed with Mayonnaise. No bulk adding tomato, celery etc. just chunks of sweet lobster and a mayonnaise with a sprinkle of chives. She pronounced it as delicious. I had a bite, it was really good. The Lobster pieces were large, almost unwieldy, not the rubbish of chopping up the lobster mixing it into Mayonnaise and spreading it on bread. This was a large quantity of quality Lobster. She was delighted.

I ordered a Burger. It was delicious. The burger was bigger and better than the Burgers at any of the usual specialist burger places. The meat was far tastier and the grind far coarser. Lots of tasty bacon. I was delighted.

This is in reality an expensive burger. GBP 20 is steep. At Byron you get a Bacon and Cheese Burger for 9.25 to which you add chips 3.00 and a small salad 3.50 and you pay 15.75. At Black and Blue they cost 13 and come with the chips and salad. My guess is that the Burgers at Burger & Lobster subsidise the Lobsters. Despite all this, I think this was a better burger than what I normally get. If you are willing to pay the price, you get a better product.

Burger at Black & Blue

A simple concept well executed. When leaving I asked the manager how many the restaurant seats? 69 at one time and they turn tables many times a day. The rush starts at 12 noon at opening. All 69 places were taken by 12.20. From then till about 3 the restaurant remains packed. Then at dinner time it starts again. That my friends is a winning formula.    

Monday, November 26, 2012

BAPS Swaminarayan Temple Neasden London

I am not a praying man, I am not a believer in God, or `poojas’ or rituals. The pseudo Godmen who now seem to be everywhere completely get my goat, without exception. However, I do visit many houses of many Gods. I have also visited several Churches, Cathedrals and a few Temples in South India. All this has been in recent times purely as a traveller, as a visitor, to see something of startling beauty. Siddhi Vinayak at Prabhadevi Mumbai, the Balaji Temple at Tirupati, the Nathdwara Temple, Vaishnodevi, all of which are `hot’ temples hold no charm and I have never been to any of them. So visiting these places for their `power’ is not of any attraction for me. These temples have no particular beauty either. The Saint Peters Basilica at the Vatican City in Rome is an utterly beautiful building. The Golden Temple in Amritsar is quite beautiful. Many of the churches I visit in my travels across Europe are stunning. There is always a sense of peace, dignity and reverence. You feel calm, you feel fearful and to some extent intimidated by the surroundings.

Our FPG [friend, philosopher and guide] whom I had written about earlier, suggested that we visit the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha’s [BAPS] Swaminarayan Temple at Neasden a suburb in North West London. I was reluctant, but HRH the Queen of Kutch, who is far more open-minded in matters of `God’ was enthused. So off we went.

A short 20 minute ride on the Jubilee Line Underground train got us to Neasden. The FPG drove up in his open top car and we were soon at the parking lot of the Temple. As we entered the parking lot, I thought, “Groan, welcome to India”. This was the first parking lot I have seen in all of Europe where you had security guards telling you how and where to park. It seems that people who live and drive in London suddenly loose all abilities to park when they enter the Temple!!

Soon, we were really in India. 

No Cameras, 

Switch off your mobile.

Wear clothes that are below knee length.

Take your shoes off.

No chewing gum.

No outside food and drinks.

No smoking.

No bags.

No entry.

For staff only!!! 

You must wear footwear when using toilet. Please use footwear provided!!

The list of instructions seemed to be endless, as cruel and unreasonable as the best in India.

Then we had to go to security, frisking and get our purses X-Rayed.  The only language I could hear was Gujarati. Inside was a certificate from the Guinness Records stating that this was the largest Hindu Temple outside India. This was a bit of a fake record, much like a lot of the `records’ that the little master Sachin Tendulkar has thrust upon him.

After we got thru this we had scores of older Gujarati men telling us what to do and where to go at every step.

`Men on this side’,

`Women on that side’,

`Please sit down’

‘Please do not stand here’

`Please stand there’

As we entered the main Temple on the first floor, I saw a huge display of vegetables. Yes vegetables. And when I say huge I mean about 400 square feet!.  Done rather attractively I must say. Purple Aubergines neatly arranged with orange carrots and green `Doodhi’ and red Tomato. All very pretty though bizarre. The Deity/God/Statue was behind closed doors. People were sitting around while the instructions continued unabated. By this time I was at the end of my tether, so I walked out and stood downstairs. As I was walking down, the doors of the sanctum sanctorum opened to loud `Bhajans’, cheerleading clapping and chanting. I was well and truly done by this stage and I waited for FPG and HRH the Queen to finish the Darshan.      

On the way out, we were walking to the car when we saw that there was a store attached. So we entered. Now this was the best part of the whole complex. It was an Indian store, a Gujarati supermarket. Every variety of daal, lentil, pulse. Counters of delicious Gujarati snacks, deep frozen, `Farali Pettice’, `Vatana Pettice’, `Methi Thepla’, `Pizza Flavoured Samosa’ and a most delicious and intriguing `Paratha Toastie’. This was a Paratha shaped like a toast which you popped into your toaster. Sounded absolutely delicious. I insisted that FPG buy a pack for breakfast.

Adjoining the shop was a restaurant. This was getting better and better. The restaurant was run by a Sardar from Ahmedabad. The food served was pure vegetarian – naturally – and was `Satvik’ to boot. No onion no garlic. Boy I needed a meal there to offset all the beef, pork, chicken, duck and wine that I had been imbibing over the last few weeks. This would certainly purify me. So in we went. Punjabi Samosa Chaat, Khasta Kachori Chaat, Idli Sambar and a plate of Samosa. The food was good by any standard though extremely spicy as in `tikha’. The waitress was a Gujarati from Dahisar in Mumbai. All good cheer, bonhomie and smiles. Stomach filled we departed happy souls.    

Moral of the story. Food gives you more joy, happiness, warm feelings, bonhomie, positive thoughts and everything nice than any God, Guru or Temple!

It was a reasonably nice, large and clean Temple. It did nothing for me spiritually, but you know my views. HRH the Queen who is more of a believer came away untouched. Just too much supervision and passive agressision. Just too much treating people like mindless sheep. You can take a man out of India but you cannot take India out of a man. Put about 200 of these people together you will have a mini India. I did not come to London for this. I come to escape India.

Sorry folks, no photos. The Temple bans taking of photos, my camera had to be turned in.