Friday, April 27, 2012

Indigo Deli - Bandra

We have been living at our present home for a little over 2 years. We have often planned to meet with one of our neighbours but have been unable to do so. However, one evening the planets were correctly aligned and we met for drinks at home. Inevitably the question of dinner came up. One option was Moshe’s which I don’t particularly care for and the other was the brand new, day old Indigo Deli which has opened, literally, less than 500 meters from home. In fact it’s closer than Totos, but that is another story. HRH the Queen of Kutch set about getting the phone number so she could snare a table. At first the hostess said she would call back once a table got free, which, surprise surprise, she did, only to say there was a table available open air. This did not seem at all attractive. To add to the surprise, the hostess called once again after a short delay and said there was now a table available inside. That was indeed sweet. Full marks to Indigo Deli. I told you the planets were aligned!

We had our short walk and soon reached the restaurant which was quite full and alive. Well lit and minimalist in design with a large open kitchen. Attractive. The theme of having breads on display along with bottles of Olive Oil and other condiments was carried over from the Colaba outpost. We were soon seated and given our menus. The menu is virtually identical to Colaba. Nothing wrong with that. I must point out that I do like Indigo Deli, but, find it a little pricey and just don’t visit it as often as one should for a restaurant one likes.

I must also point out that unlike many other high profile restaurant launches, Indigo Deli has everything in place including its booze license. Even the highly touted Hakkasan with the very powerful Kishore Bajaj behind it did not have his licenses in place. The other new launch Cafe Zoe [another Indigo Deli `me too’] also had no booze license when it started. Full marks again to Indigo Deli.

To drink I had a pint bottle of Kingfisher at an eye watering Rs 210 ++ and the two ladies had a glass of wine each.

To eat, I asked the waiter if I should have the pulled pork burger or a normal beef burger. He said I should have the Beef Burger. Mr Neighbour ordered a Chicken Sloppy Joe, Mrs. Neighbour ordered a Poached Pear Salad and HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered a Philly Steak Sandwich without Onions. The three sandwiches were served with the very large Chips dusted with Chilli Powder which are a sort of signature garnish that Indigo Deli has. All the sandwiches were good. Juicy, moist, tasty, well seasoned, warm and generously filled. No complaints at all. The salad was well presented, obviously freshly dressed as the leaves were bright and not burnt with the acid in the dressing. For a restaurant that was a day old this was really creditable. Everything was devoured.

Table decoration. Not edible!!

Beef Burger

Beef Burger - deconstructed

Philly Steak Sandwich

Chicken Sloppy Joe

Poached Pear Salad

We did not really have much space for dessert. To my surprise, the waiter brought out 4 small portions of their homemade ice cream for us to taste. If I recall the flavours were Baileys, Praline & Cream, Blueberry and one other. This was yet another gesture that I have not seen in restaurants in India.

The ice creams

Since the stars were in alignment the entire evening was fun. Much laughter and good food. Indigo Deli did perform superbly, it ticked all the boxes.

When writing this, I wondered how expensive food in India can be. A Philly Steak sandwich at Indigo costs Rs 465 ++ which is about Rs 535/- which is 10 USD. You do get a lot lot more for 10 USD in America which is where the Philly Steak Sandwich comes from. A Philly Steak Sandwich at Geno's Steaks which along with Pat’s Steak are pioneers of this sandwich costs just 9 USD and I can guarantee it would have more meat which is the most expensive component anyway. Food in India is certainly not cheap and especially food at upmarket restaurants. The tragedy is that even after going to Indigo Deli and paying top prices, you are forced to order Bisleri as drinking `tap’ water is unsafe.

All in all, Indigo Deli is certainly worth a visit. Now that it’s opened so close to home, I foresee drinks at Totos and dinner at the Deli.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I like fast food

I have two confessions to make. The first is that I do like fast food served by the Multi National chains that are operating in India. I don’t eat very much of it nor do I have fast food often. It is supposed to be unhealthy, poison almost, fattening, bad for you, loved by children and the corporations serving the food are regarded as the absolute scum of the Earth. They are supposed to epitomise everything that is bad about fast food. The companies make bucketfuls of money, destroy the environment, destroy our children and instil, horror of horrors, western values in our impressionable Indian kids.

I say bollocks.

I have a different opinion. Lunch for me is a something that I hate wasting time on. The idea of going into a formal dining restaurant, ordering a meal, waiting for it to arrive, eating, the charade about desserts, bills, tipping drives me round the bend. There is so much to do during the day that spending 90 minutes just eating lunch seems such a waste. I would much rather spend that time and money having a relaxed dinner rather than lunch. I find it difficult to handle a `masala’ laden lunch. Lunch for me is normally a quick dosa at an Udipi restaurant, or a sandwich if it’s on offer. There are times when you have decidedly dodgy lunch options, either hygiene challenged restaurants or restaurants serving such heavy food that the 90 minutes spent eating would have to be supplemented with another 90 minutes napping. It’s on these occasions that I look for the much maligned fast food places.

MacDonald’s is by far my favourite. I do genuinely like a Maharaja Mac. It is always fresh and hot, it’s reasonably tasty, it’s filling and most importantly it will not make you sick. HRH the Queen of Kutch invariably has the Fillet O Fish. A Chicken Zinger at KFC is an equally tasty option. Don’t bother with French fries and soft drinks. You go up to the counter order your burger collect and eat it and you are out and on your way in 10 minutes flat. No billing, no desserts, no tips, nothing. Neat and clean.

On Sunday I had an appointment to meet someone at Goregaon. HRH the Queen wanted to buy a few things from Hyper City which is an excellent supermarket, so we set out for a day in the suburban malls interspersed with a meeting. Our Amritsar Guide and ever enthusiastic eating out companion lives nearby, and, after a phone call, joined us.

Soon, it was lunch time and we were at the Oberoi Mall. We walked around the food court and thought why not try something different rather and we had an extra mouth to feed with our Amritsar guide with us, so we decided to eat at Pizza Hut. The second confession is that I have never been to a Pizza Hut. I do however recall the advertisements on TV. All those luscious pizzas with cheese filled in the crust, cheese oozing out of the crust, visuals of molten cheese stretching so very enticingly, smiling indulgent parents and cute cherubic children taking huge hungry bites out of the pizza all flashed before my eyes. For a moment, I also had visual of Paresh Rawal chomping into a pizza, until I was rudely informed by HRH that Paresh Rawal endorses Dominos.

The menu proved to be challenging for us, we were rather horrified by the Chicken Chat Pizza – Chicken Tikka, Alu Bhujia, Tandoori Sauce and Cheese – the Alu Bhujia on the Pizza seemed particularly scary. The Sev Puri Pizza had us on our knees. This Pizza has Onions, Bell Peppers, Alu Bhujia, Green Chilli and Cheese. It all seemed too much and threatening. I wondered what we had got ourselves into. To get out of this conundrum we asked out `server’ - so very American – what he recommended. We told him we were non vegetarians who ate everything. He said that the Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza would be a good choice. Out of pure curiosity I asked the server to also recommend a Pasta which was most popular. He recommended Penne with a Mushroom Garlic Parsley sauce. We accepted his recommendations. Soon the Pasta turned up and I am happy to report that it was perfectly decent. It was exactly as described in the menu and thankfully with no chilly in it. The Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza was excellent. Not overly tomatoey, nor was there liquid leaking and the base was fully cooked. It was hot fresh and tasty.

Pizza Hut have got their act in place. The food is solid, hygienic, and, as I have said earlier, perfectly reproduced from the description on the menu. What more could you want? Pizza Hut would not be a 10 billion dollar company if it did not have its act in place. Much more than what could be said of our local publicity conscious restaurateurs who seem to crash and burn with alarming frequency. I recommend that you do have a meal here one day. My only bit of advice would be stay away from the Indianised Pizzas.

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera so the photos are from our mobile phones. Please excuse the quality.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spellings spellings

A couple of days ago I had popped out of the car to withdraw some cash from the nearby ATM. HRH the Queen waited while I did the deed. On my return she commanded me to take a photograph of a leaflet pasted on a junction box next to the car.

Be careful before you call the number.

You may never be able to satisfy your mid meal cravings!!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Jumjoji - A Parsi Diner

Jumjoji is not a restaurant I would have normally gone to. Many reasons: it's new, it's located in a street with several restaurants which open and close with alarming frequency thereby implying some serious flaw in their business model and it is very small. These things matter to me. It was our Amritsar guide and ever enthusiastic eating out companion who insisted on our going there for lunch.

Jumjoji serves Parsi food. Whatever one may say, Parsi is not one of the great cuisines of the world, though it does have some dishes which have achieved legendary status. Dhansakh, Patra Ni Macchi, Lagan Nu Custer, Palao Daal, Chicken Farcha, Kid Ghosth, Lacy Cutless, Sali Ghosth and Papeta Per Ida are some of these iconic dishes. Unfortunately, these are rarely available in a restaurant. If you have the good fortune of being invited to a Parsi wedding you may get a chance to sample a few of these dishes. Otherwise, you will have to make friends with a Parsi and ask his or her mother to cook the food for you.

Some of these dishes are served in Indian or Pan Indian restaurants in the UK. Cafe Spice Namaste in London which is owned by Cyrus Todiwala is one. By the way, Cyrus Todiwala’s two cookbooks which contain not only Parsi food but other Indian dishes are really good cookbooks. The measurements are accurate, the recipes well researched and tested and most importantly the recipes work. Do buy them if you get a chance.

If you live in Mumbai you get some Parsi food at the Clubs [CCI, Bombay Gymkhana and Royal Bombay Yacht Club] as well at restaurants like Britannia at Ballard Pier, Cafe Ideal at Gunbow Street in Fort, Paradise on Colaba Causeway near Strand Cinema and of course at the sadly pathetic RTI outlets in Mumbai. Ashmicks Snack Shack at Pali Naka opposite Modern Stores also serves passable Parsi food. The Ripon Club opposite Bombay University has decent Parsi food and a good selection of Parsis to boot.

So, back to Jumjoji, it’s located at the end of a little lane in the Bandra Reclamation area behind Lilavati Hospital. This lane has a string of eating houses, all small, all ever-changing. The longest surviving of the lot is Candies at one end with Chez Moi, I Bar, Quench and some others leading up to Jumjoji. We went there for lunch and when we entered at 12 30 it was totally empty. It soon filled up and by the time we left it was full with people waiting. Jumjoji is really tiny with seats for just about 30-35 people. I must say the restaurant is really attractive. The decor is quite clubby old word English, with dark wood, white walls and posters of famous Parsis on the walls. The crockery and cutlery is of good quality and the tables have tablecloths albeit black. The menu is very charmingly written up with quirks like Freny Auntys Dhansakh etc etc, and is very attractive. The whole decor reminded me a lot of Oh Calcutta at Tardeo in Mumbai, very similar. They have done a top job in the decor, atmosphere,  ambience and charm departments.

The inside of Jumjoji

The well written and well crafted Menu

To start we ordered Mutton Kebabs. These are deep fried meatballs and not the Tandoor cooked kebabs. Quite nice, heavily spiced but not very high on the meat quotient. These were served with a Fruit Sauce [the fake Tomato Sauce that you often get] and a sort of Mayonnaise both very attractively presented. Also on offer were Chicken Kebabs, Chicken Sausage [not terribly Parsi, probably Anglo Indian] and something called Chicken Sticks.

Mutton Kebabs

The sauces

For our main course we had a Mutton Dhansakh and Jardaloo Chicken with Sali. Jardaloo Chicken with Sali is a classic Parsi dish, Jardaloo being Apricot. This was quite a good version of the dish. It could have been cooked with a little more care in as much as the onion could have been cut finer, browned a bit more and the spices cooked a bit more, but I am being harsh here. The dish was good and tasted Parsi and not Mughlai. The Dhansakh was served with Brown Rice and a plate of Onion Salad [Kachumber]. Oddly, no Mutton Kebabs. This was a disappointing dish. The Dhansakh was unremarkable, just a masala Daal. It should have been more robust with lashings of Fenugreek [Methi leaves] and more spice. Sad. The lamb served was of middling quality. To finish we had a single Lagan Nu Custer. This was most disappointing, it was horribly sweet, doused with what appeared to be Rose Water and had a peculiar consistency. We could not finish it.

Jardaloo Chicken 

The Dhansakh

Brown Rice

The Lagan Nu Custer

To conclude, what are my impressions? Well, the restaurant is really attractively decorated and the quality of the cutlery and crockery is good. It’s air conditioned and serves beer and wine. This means that going there by yourself or with a guest will not be an embarrassment. The food however is a huge hit and miss. The good dishes are not much better that what you get at Britannia, Cafe Ideal and Paradise though they cost a lot more. We did order 4 classic Parsi dishes that a Parsi restaurant should have nailed. Unfortunately, only 2 were above average, one was just about average and the dessert was a disaster by any standards. I really find this surprising and disappointing. The menu is small and I have no quarrel with that. It’s clear the food especially the gravy dishes are cooked in large quantities and then plated. I am sure there is a large pot of generic Dhansakh and lamb, Chicken or Vegetables are added as the dish is ordered by a table. I am also sure that would be the case with the Jardaloo Murgi which was also available in a Lamb version. Again I do not have a quarrel with this, but my question is why can the food not be served temperature hot? I am sure not much cooking actually happens in the kitchen it all just plating by and large. Also why can the food not be cooked a little more sensitively? The problem is our standards are so low our punters so undemanding or so used to mediocrity that no one really makes an effort.

This is not a restaurant one could go to for an evening out. Jumjoji is appropriate for a quick office lunch or a casual dinner with friends when you hope the booze will get tongues wagging. The kebabs will go well with the booze. All in all, sad that such a good opportunity is just, at best, underutilised or, at worst, just going waste.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Drinking Driving & the Perfect Crime

You may have read my post on "Drinking Driving Killing". This post also concerns drinking and driving, though fortunately, no killing. This post is about a perfect crime.

First, what is a perfect crime? Wikipedia says is a colloquial term used to characterize crimes that are undetected, unattributed to a perpetrator, or else unsolved as a kind of technical achievement on the part of the perpetrator. There is an element that the crime is (or appears likely to be) unable to be solved.

Now, let us look at this perfect crime. The Times of India reported one morning that Mr. Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu was returning home after a few drinks in his Ford Endeavour. He hit a cyclist, not injuring him seriously, and drove on. A journalist on a scooter chased him down stopped him and soon our police force was on hand. Remember the Mumbai Police are the finest in the world, on par with Scotland Yard. The official Mumbai Police website says they are custodians of our trust!!!. That is an actionable lie if I ever saw one. Please do have a look at the Mission Statement of the Mumbai Police. Hilarious and lies, dammed lies.

Our valiant boys in uniform arrested him, whereupon Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu did exactly what any normal person would do when arrested. Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu said (i)  he was the son of a Inspector General of Police in Punjab therefore should not be arrested (ii) he called his father (iii) his father called our boys and said ‘go easy’ (iv) father’s pal a similarly placed senior police officer called and told our boys to go easy (v) Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu abused our boys (vi) Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu was violent in the hospital where he was taken for a blood test and this is the best part (vii) Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu refused to give the doctors a blood sample. Mind you all this happened when Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu was in police custody.

What do our boys, the finest in the world do? They place Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu in custody, produce him before a magistrate the next day. They tell the magistrate that Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu is a very naughty boy, he was violent and refused to give a blood sample. However, our clever cops, asked 3 doctors to examine Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu externally and the doctors, according to our boys, were of the unanimous opinion on the basis of a physical examination that Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu was drunk. The magistrate orders a medical examination after which Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu is granted bail.

I am sure my alert readers would have now realised what has happened. A day after, there is no way that the blood test will reveal excessive alcohol enough to get a conviction.

What happens next? Some sort of trial will commence and the Court will after going thru the evidence dismiss the case since the blood test would show no alcohol.

What does this all mean? Let us look at this dispassionately. Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu did all that he could to save his skin, including simply refusing to have a blood test done. What is wrong with that? His father did all he could to save his son. Is that unusual? No, not in my book. The cops clearly did not do their job. They had Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu in custody and did not carry out a blood test knowing full well how crucial that was. Their excuse was that Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu was violent. I mean come on!!!

So Paramdeep Parminder Sandhu did his job, the Court will do their job and dismiss the case and only our corrupt, smart, best in the world cops have not done their job.

Is this not a perfect crime where the crime attributed to a perpetrator, is left unsolved as a kind of technical achievement on the part of the perpetrator.

Three cheers for our cops.

Satyamev Jayate

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Great Punjab

Punjabi food as a whole is not the same as Mughlai food. Punjabi food could be vegetarian or non vegetarian while Mughlai is almost always non vegetarian. Dishes that epitomise Punjabi food are the Mah Di Daal [Black Daal made with Udad], Sarson Da Saag [Mustard Greens] Punjabi Kadhi, Paneer in various forms, Rajma [Red Kidney Beans], Rotis [Breads] of wheat as well as Corn [Makkai], food cooked in Tandoors, to name a few. Rice is eaten too. Milk products especially Ghee and Butter are widely used.

Mughlai food is quite different. It’s quite meat based and characterised by heavy onion based gravies with completely different spicing. The use of Lentils and Pulses is far less than in Punjabi food. Fragrant Biryanis and Pulaos, the use of perfume in the food as edible `Ittar’ meat based stocks are all forms of Mughlai cuisine whether it is from the North or the Avadh or Hyderabad area.

If one were to believe the Shettys who run the all pervasive Udipi/Multi Cuisine restaurants that are like a rash all over Mumbai, Punjabi and Mughlai are one and the same and wholly vegetarian to boot! Delhi has lots of good Punjabi restaurants serving really good food. The string of restaurants at Pandara Road in Delhi is just one example. If you like to go more upmarket the delightfully named Punjabi By Nature is an excellent choice. Getting good reasonably authentic Punjabi food in Mumbai is difficult. Getting good reasonably authentic Mughlai food in Mumbai is a simpler proposition. I understand that the most authentic Punjabi food is available at GTB Nagar in Mumbai. GTB is an abbreviation for Guru Teg Bahadur and this area is also called Sion Koliwada. It was here that Sikh refugees were given an area to live. Being a little Sikh Ghetto it has lots of Punjabi restaurants. I have not been here but I have been told the food is good but the surroundings leave a lot to be desired.

One of the places both HRH the Queen of Kutch and me frequent in Mumbai to get a dose of Punjabi food is The Great Punjab Restaurant on Linking Road at Bandra. We have been going here for years. The owners are closely related to the owners of Great Punjab Restaurant at Dadar. There is also Pritam Da Dhabha at Dadar which is also known for its Punjabi food. However, I that the Dhabha atmosphere and decor as well as the availability of Chinese food put the Restaurant into the gimmick/multicuisine category.

Great Punjab has the misfortune of being rather awkwardly shaped. It’s shaped like an aircraft fuselage, long and narrow. It widens at the back but it does feel a little strange to have two rows of seating separated by a centre aisle. The decor is pleasant, the air conditioners keep you cool and booze is available to wash down your food. Two brothers ran the place, Amarpal and Ravipal. Some time ago Ravipal migrated to Australia and has opened a Punjabi Restaurant called Raavis Cumin in Sydney. Amarpal runs Great Punjab in Bandra and a branch at Pune.

The Kebabs as starters are always good. The Kesari Methi Kebab is particularly nice as is the Chandani Kebab. As far as the entrees are concerned the choices are many. We particularly like the Seekh Kebab Masala which is Lamb Seekh Kebabs grilled on a Tandoor and then cooked in a rich brown gravy. The Chicken Patiala is another favourite. Chicken is cooked in a spinach based gravy and then the whole mixture is encased in an omelette. It’s delicious. The Black Daals, the Rajma, the Punjabi Kadhi and the Pindi Channa are delicious. The Paneer Bhurjee is top class.

Being Indian food, the photos are rather uninspiring, but let me assure you the food is very tasty. 

I have no idea what this is! Its probably Sarson Ka Saag but the colours are wrong.

Channa Pindi

Punjabi Kadhi with Onion Pakodas

Seekh Kebab Masala
The Rajma

If you do visit the restaurant in the winter do order the Sarson Ka Saag. This is a typical Punjabi dish of Mustard Greens which are cooked with spinach and a sour leaf called Bhatua – quite similar to Sorrel – and the whole mix is slightly thickened with actual corn flour not to be confused with the Chinese Cornflour. This is delicious with Makkai Ki Roti which is a corn flatbread.

As far as the breads are concerned, you could make a meal of the breads themselves. The Cheese Naan is to die for, to use a cliché. The Kheema Naan is awesome to use another cliché. The stuffed Parathas – stuffed with Paneer or Potato or Cauliflower – are super. Just this with a bowl of the Black Daal is a good meal.

Double Decker Parathas

Kheema Naan
Makkai Ki Roti and a Chura Paratha

Great Punjab, like Lings Pavillion is a family owned and run restaurant. The owner Amarpal Singh is almost always on premises keeping an eagle eye on things. His dedication is frightening. Every morning he personally tastes the stock gravies that are the backbone of a Punjabi restaurant to ensure that standards do not drop. The food is always served hot, it feels as if it’s been freshly cooked to order which, I always maintain, is very important as it ensures that the food is at its optimum seasoning and spicing. The food is rich and heavy with lashings of butter on the breads.

A word about the service. Service is decent with the biggest advantage being that the order taking Captains are all long time employees and not young whippersnappers or smartasses. The staff knows the menu and know what they are doing so you are in safe hands. Like Lings the prices are most reasonable in the Rs 200 range plus tax of course. Do make an effort and have a meal here. You will not regret it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Drinking, driving, killing

I am sure you must have read, and reacted with a mix of emotions comprising in part of revulsion, anger and frustration, about the two recent episodes of drunk driving in Mumbai. I too have been reading the newspaper reports and I am fairly disturbed with what I have read. I am basing this post solely on what I have read and have not verified any of the facts personally.

Very briefly, the in first incident Manoj Gautam driving under the influence, hit a rickshaw. Two of the passengers a young animator Charu Khandal and her fiancé have been seriously injured. She will probably be paralysed from neck and waist down. In the second incident a group of friends went out drinking. All were below the legal age to drink. The driver Rahul Mishra was drunk, the car crashed, one girl was killed and another is critically injured.

Before going further, I must state, that I have been guilty of driving when drunk more than several times. I was probably guilty of this right until the time that the Police started the campaign some 3 or 4 years ago. This was in what is regarded as the good old days. The fact that I had absolutely no accident [except a severe hangover at times] is testament to my extreme good fortune as well as the equally extreme good fortune of all who crossed my path. Today, I do not drive if I am drinking. This is an absolute ban, meaning, it’s not even one beer or one glass of wine, it’s nothing. Either I drink or I drive. For transport it’s a train or taxi or rickshaw. There are several reasons why I am so inflexible on this rule, but that is another story and I will not burden this post with the reasons.

The two incidents have had very different impacts on me. While on the face of it both are accidents caused by drunk drivers, the circumstances and the fall outs could not be more different.

In the first case, Charu Khandal and two friends were returning from a party. They may have had a lot to drink, however, they, were not guilty of drinking and driving, they were in an auto rickshaw. They were all above the legal age of drinking. They were in full compliance of the law. They could not have been more correct in their behaviour. Manoj Gautam whose car hit Charu's auto rickshaw drove rashly, apparently was drunk and hit the rickshaw seriously injuring Charu. Bizarre!

You may have noted the use of the word `apparently’. Our worthy cops have mucked up the alcohol test, which obviously has to be done promptly, as a result of which, the question of Manoj Gautam being drunk is now up in the air. He is out on bail.

Look at it differently. Take a look around you especially if you live in Mumbai. Everywhere, literally everywhere, there is an illegality. It could be an enclosed balcony in your flat, the scores and scores of hawkers, all illegal, legitimate stalls that have encroached illegally, hoardings put up illegally, walls defaced, road rules broken with impunity. In simple economic terms what does this mean? To my mind it means only one thing, at the other end there is an administrator, be it police, municipality who condones the illegality by taking a bribe. Why should every policeman do his job? It’s just so easy to simply take a bribe. Do you think there was a genuine mistake in processing Manoj  Gautam for drunk driving? I do not think so. Now of course the opportunity is lost forever.

Is this not just so unfair on poor Charu?

The second case is equally shocking. 6 youngsters, the oldest of whom was Rahul Mishra the driver 23, were returning from an evening of drinking at a pub at Bandra which they did till closing time that is 1.30 am. All of them were drunk; all of them underage drinkers and the car was overloaded. They crashed, Shivani Rawat died and a couple of others are critical and comatose. Rahul Mishra was tested, found drunk and jailed. Of course it’s sad when people die and are hurt, but, in this case all of them were guilty and all of them brought it upon themselves. There was no innocent hurt like in Charu’s case.

The reaction of Shivani’s father as quoted in the newspaper is shocking in the extreme. Mr Rawat works for the LIC as a senior clerk and lives, obviously at hugely discounted rates [read at taxpayers’ expense] in the LIC colony at Santa Cruz. Shivani had open heart surgery a few years ago. She had dropped out of school and had not passed her 12th standard, HSC as we know it. She had a job at an event management firm and was permitted to drink by her parents, despite being underage, which is why she was out that night. To me all this smacks of bad parenting. To drop out of education before the 12th standard was absolutely unthinkable in my parent’s eyes. Here, it did not seem to be a problem.

Be that as it may, Mr Rawat, our caring parent, has a stunning suggestion. He says that police should be posted outside every pub [why pub and not every permit room I do not know] to keep a watch and ensure that no one can drive after getting drunk. I am amazed at the audacity of the man. He has been a bad parent unable to control his child and unable to instil any sort of values in her. This failed parent who abdicated his duties as one, now wants all of us be subjected to policing outside bars? Really what are we all thinking?

I am just so aghast by all this.

There are no simple solutions to things. Drinking and driving is a worldwide problem, not just in Mumbai or India. The law in Mumbai does say that you have to be 25 to be drinking hard liquor. It may be unreasonable but, it's the law. No one pays any heed to the law, neither the pub serving nor the punter consuming. Fine, even if you are of drinking age, if you have drunk too much, the pub should refuse to serve you anymore. No one does this either. Policing of drunk driving is a joke. There is faulty equipment, non functioning equipment, equipment awaiting procurement, tendering, lack of police to man the equipment and so on and so forth. Even if you do have a check the whole issue of bribing your way out of it is another saga. Mind you this is just one small problem with such huge consequences. When will someone ever do their job, whether it is pub owners, the police or parents or the guys in charge of procuring and maintaining breathalyzers?

I often despair. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dum Pukht

Dum Pukht is a multi location speciality restaurant that the ITC Group has in their premium hotels. Dum Pukht is a style of cooking that is supposed to have developed in Avadh. The story goes that large cauldrons were filled with rice, meat, vegetables and spices and sealed to make a simple, one- dish meal that was available to workers day and night. These cauldrons were placed on low fires so that the food slowly cooked inside in its own juices and steam. One day the Nawab caught a whiff of the aromas from such a cauldron and ordered that the food should be presented in his Court. Over the years the cuisine evolved to please the Royal palates and spread across Hyderabad, Bhopal and Kashmir all of which were Princely States.

The ITC Group, with its Chef Imtiaz Qureshi developed this Cuisine for restaurants and thus was born Dum Pukht, the restaurant. The food itself is very distinctive. The gravies are generally smooth and quite runny. They are slightly thickened with collagen that renders from the meat as well as with Gram flour. The food is extremely aromatic with liberal use of aromatic spices as well as `Kewra’ water [Screwpine or Panadus] and actual edible `Ittar’ or perfume. The food is not as rich as one would imagine, I think normal Punjabi and Mughlai food is far richer with the use of lots of ghee and cream. Not the case here.

The Dum Pukht at the ITC Grand Maratha in Mumbai has been one of our favourite restaurants for several years now. The food was top class and the service good. The restaurant was never full and getting a table was a breeze. Then, one day the ITC decided to renovate the restaurant which resulted in it being shut for almost 8 months. It opened in mid February 2012 when we were in London. We visited it just a few days after getting back. It was not a good experience.  Like Murphy’s Law dictates, everything that could go wrong, did. There was much unhappiness. HRH the Queen of Kutch shot off an angry email to the F&B Manager at ITC that resulted in apologies, which, unfortunately, was not what she was looking for. All she wanted was the issues that she had pointed out to be addressed. Anyway, a few weeks passed, absence makes the heart grow fonder, time heals all wounds and we were ready to go back to Dum Pukht.

Post renovation the restaurant looks absolutely fabulous. It’s well lit, bright with lots of use of white with accents of orange. It does have a lot of the Mughal/Muslim motifs but done in an understated way. Think of the movies `Pakheeza’ or `Mughal E Azam’ with the sets thoroughly modernised. That is the look. The crockery is Villeroy and Boch and the table cloths are pure linen as are the napkins. The cutlery is sliver plated and looks nice and new. I have not seen a restaurant as well co-ordinated as this in India. It really is a fine dining restaurant. The restaurant continues to have Mohamed Shareef as the Chef. He is really very good.

As far as the food is concerned, this post covers the two meals we had post renovation.

The signature dish at Dum Pukht is their ‘Kakori Kebab’. This is an exceptional dish which you must have as a starter. It is a kebab made with very finely minced lamb [or goat as we have in India] with Cardamom being a dominant flavour. The mince is grilled on a skewer. The Kebab is served with `Sheermal’ which is a slightly sweet flatbread. Melt in the mouth is a cliché that accurately sums up this dish. We have also had a version of this Kakori Kebab at Gaylord Restaurant in Mumbai which came nowhere near this Kebab.

Kakori Kebab

Another starter that we like is the `Habiba Chops’. This is lamb [or goat as we have in India] chops which are grilled. The chops are quite large by Indian standards and extremely tasty. I am afraid I cannot tell you what they are marinated in.

Habiba Chops

If you like you could have their `Mahi Dariya’. This is basically batter fried fish. Quite nice but be aware that the fish is cooked Indian style, that is, within an inch of its life. It seems impossible in most Indian restaurants to batter fry a fish and still have it moist on the inside. But, alas, many of us love our fish cooked like this. Sigh!

Mahi Dariya

As far as main courses go, our absolute favourites are the `Shahi Nehari’ and `Mahi Qualia’. The `Shahi Nehari’ is actually something to be had at breakfast, but let me assure you it is perfectly acceptable to have at dinner. This dish has several cuts of lamb – ribs, shoulder, shanks – cooked in an extremely aromatic gravy. The gravy is strained and is therefore smooth. It’s garnished with Ginger Juliennes, fresh Mint, Coriander and fried onions. You must order this. The `Mahi Qualia’ has unfortunately been taken off the menu, but it was specially made for us on our second visit [post angry email]. River fish is made into balls and cooked in a delicious gravy. The fish balls made are ethereal, light and juicy. The `Mahi Qualia’ is to be eaten with rice. If anybody at ITC Grand Maratha ever reads this, I request you to reintroduce this gem.

Mahi Qualia

Another great dish is the `Dum Pukht Koh E Avadh’. This is lamb shanks cooked in an aromatic gravy, smooth again, and cardamom and saffron are the dominant notes. I must caution you that this dish is quite similar to the `Shahi Nehari’, but excellent nonetheless. We have also tried the `Diwani Handi’. This is a lamb stew with Carrot and Potato. Very good, quite unlike anything we had eaten. Well worth trying.

Koh E Avadh

Diwani Handi

It must be said that all the food is served very hot, as in temperature. That makes a big difference.

While all this is singing praises, please do note that they have two clunkers, absolute disasters that are on the menu. Stay away. The first is `Mahi Sarson’. This is a Bengali influenced fish dish flavoured with mustard. The only time we ordered this, there was something desperately wrong in the dish as it was over salted in the extreme. It was presented twice to us in a single night and suffered from over salting both times. Mind you, we normally do like mustard in Indian food so that was not a problem. The second clunker is actually a usual restaurant trick; put a luxury item on the menu and the rich folks will order it. Jumbo Prawns, Tiger Prawns, King Prawns, call them what you like, are almost always the most expensive items on the menu. Lots of punters love to order these, as the adjectives `Jumbo’ and `King’ exude luxury, pander to ego and show `I can afford to order expensive stuff’. It is very difficult to cook these prawns without turning them to rubber. The dish in question here is `Jhinga Ka Salan’. It’s an unmitigated disaster. Why the ITC continues to have this on the menu beats me hollow as everybody I know has said that this dish is hopelessly overcooked.

Mahi Sarson

As far as service is concerned, I think they have a real problem. All the staff are extremely charming, friendly and well informed, but seem unable to execute a smooth service as one would expect in a restaurant of this calibre. When we were seated, there were two of us at a table set for four. It took them ages, in fact right until the first course arrived, to clear the crockery from the unoccupied seats. This is something any restaurant does as basic. Then, while we were eating, there was an Almighty crash. A waiter had dropped a tray with a lot of dirty plates and dishes. My heart sank, that was a lot of expensive Villeroy and Boch plates now in smithereens on the floor. Surprisingly, this remained on the floor for rather a long time. Almost 10 minutes! The guy who dropped it did not bother to pick up even the larger pieces of shattered china and the wait staff tip-toed around the mess, occasionally pushing it with the toe of their shoes! The service is certainly not smooth and uneven gaps punctuate courses. To try and get over an inordinately long pause, we were presented with, of all things, a child friendly pastel pink Fresh Lime Soda. Apparently, it was coloured with Pomegranate juice [Grenadine to you and me]. Also, surprisingly, we had to wait almost 10 minutes before our dirty plates were cleared between courses. Unacceptable, surely!

Uncleared extra table settings

Oh for God's sake!

See what I mean?
Having said all this, I do recommend Dum Pukht to everybody for their excellent and distinctive food. On your first visit to Dum Pukht you must order the `Kakori Kebab’ as a starter, followed by the `Shahi Nehari’ and if you still have space a Biryani. You will not regret your choice, though your wallet will be eased of some of its burden!

The restaurant is expensive, each non vegetarian dish costs about Rs. 1900 on average. A Jumbo Prawn will knock you back by Rs 2500! At such prices, with the backing of ITC who have no problem with training, jerky service and lazy waiters are not acceptable. I do hope the service picks up. The food is really brilliant and Chef Mohamed Shareef as I have said, is a star. Hopefully, the front of house will not diminish his brightness.

Chef Mohammed Shareef