Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dakshin Coastal - ITC Grand Maratha

You may have read my post on Dakshin, the South Indian food restaurant at the ITC Grand Maratha. Dakshin, despite having the most competent and knowledgeable Chef Manu Nair at the helm, was floundering. West View, a peculiar, neither Grill nor French nor Italian restaurant, was a disaster. I guess the folks at the ITC had to act, I guess they are accountable, unlike our Government. So act they did. Dakshin has recently moved to where the West View was located (a smaller space than before) and West View has thankfully been shuttered. Dakshin has also renamed itself Dakshin Coastal and from the looks of it aims to take a slice of the lucrative Trishna, Gajalee, and Apoorva market.

To use Indian English, `we had a dear friend down from London’. HRH the Queen of Kutch had during a visit to the Pan Asian at the ITC a few weeks ago, promised Chef Manu Nair that we would dine at the new Dakshin Coastal shortly. So when our friend called to set up a dinner date, we suggested Dakshin Coastal. I must say full marks to her, she agreed to make the trip from South Bombay to Andheri to enjoy the food on offer, and, presumably, our company. To start, as always, we wet our whistles at the Bombay High, under the eagle eye of Ashwin and his staff, before moving to on to Dakshin Coastal.

The furniture and decor of the West View has been retained and Dakshin Coastal has been simply grafted into the premises. The restaurant does not look particularly Indian or even South Indian, but is rather neutral with an absence of a clichéd theme. I have no problem with that. It looked clean, modern and spacious. We left the food to Chef Manu Nair and decided to enjoy the ride. It was a great ride. The menu appears to be unchanged, though they did have some sort of special on offer. Since we had left our food to Chef Manu Nair, we did not even glance at the menus.

To start we had the Kuzhi Paniyaram. This is a Tamilian `tiffin variety’. Idli batter is used and poured in a special Paniyaram cooker. The result is a lightly fried ball that is eaten with chutney. Quite nice.

Kuzhi Paniyaram

Next up we had something called Meen Pollichathu. This is from Kerala. This was really delicious. Fillets of Pomfret were coated in a red/brown tamarind flavoured masala.The fish was then wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked on a pan. A  South Indian version of Patra Ni Machhi, the Parsi dish where Pomfret is coated with green chutney and similarly wrapped in Banana leaf and cooked. This was delicious, as I have already said, on two counts. One was the excellent masala and the second was the brilliant cooking of the fish. Pomfret is an extremely delicate fish and cooks in a flash. Almost always, Indian cooks overcook the fish and totally dry it out, and almost always, we Indians love our fish murdered. This was really well cooked, just to the point where the protein in the fish had set. Top marks.

Meen Pollichathu

Meen Pollichathu - opened

Then we had Sukke Maas, a Kanadiga dish which is Chicken cooked in a red masala. Not something that I would jump up and down for, but pleasant all the same. To offset the chicken we had a Daal with green Mung beans, called Pacchai Payaru Thogayle, which was cooked in a South Indian Style. I quite liked this. It reminded me of the Moog Ghashi a similar curry made with sprouted Mung and a coconut base. We were also served a vegetable curry with baby Brinjal and Drumstick called Bandane Koddel. All at the table were most impressed by this dish and I will tell you why. The Drumstick pieces were thick and full of marrow. The brinjal was tender and delicious. Sourcing such good quality vegetables means that someone cares, someone wants to try and give you a higher quality of vegetables for the enormous sum of money you are paying for the dish. This was impressive. Of course, the names I have given you have several different spellings so don’t hold me to their accuracy.

Sukke Maas

Bandane Koddel

 Pacchai Payaru Thogayle

To end we had an Indian style, Pistachio ice cream. Perfectly good.

Pistachio Ice Cream

When leaving, Chef Manu Nair came across and told us that he was leaving the ITC to start a new venture. We wish him well. I am sure with his skill, wherever he works the food will be good. He introduced us to his new colleagues who were going to take over from him. Sad, but life has to go on. Our Londonstani friend concluded that the food at Dakshin beats the Konkan Cafe at the Taj Vivanta, Mumbai (previously known at President), by a long mile. We agree.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tagine - Kefta Mkaouara

A Tajine or Tagine is a cooking pot used in North Africa. The pot consists of a round base with shallow sides which is placed on the heat, and a conical lid or top. The Tagine is used to make stews which are also called Tagines. The conical lid is designed to help in returning the condensation of the vapours that are released when the stew is cooked back into the base. The lid has a thick collar so that it does not heat too much, thereby mitigating the need for protection when handling the lid. Stews by their very nature use reasonably poor quality cuts of meat which require long and slow cooking time to make the cuts soft and luscious. The Tagine is perfect to achieve this.

Tagines are traditionally made of clay. They are large and unwieldy and since they are made of clay, they are also reasonably fragile. Le Creuset, the famous French cookware manufacture with its distinctive flame coloured enameled `casseroles’ make and sell Tagines. These are made of cast iron which means they weigh a ton, and, if you get a slightly larger cast iron Tagine, you could almost forget your entire free baggage allowance! So though I have been tempted by these attractive Le Creuset Tagines, their weight prevented me from buying them. I could, in theory, have bought a cast iron Tagine in Mumbai as Le Creuset now sells them here and thereby get over the weight problem. But, in India they cost 2-3 times as much as they cost abroad, which makes the already expensive vessel prohibitive.  I had not seen earthenware Tagine that I could have bought in my European travels.  

HRH the Queen of Kutch was in the USA recently. One of the many cookbooks we have helpfully informed us that Tagines were sold online by a US based site, which meant that we could order one sitting in the comfort of our home in Mumbai and have it delivered in the USA from where she could collect it. So we set about looking at the site to choose a Tagine which would be appropriate for us. We identified one and ordered it. Soon she was back with the Tagine. It did look magnificent.

The Tagine

We set about looking for a suitable recipe to make in the new Tagine. The classic and most popular Tagine is the Moroccan Chicken, Olives and Preserved Lemon stew. This we had made a few times and wanted to make something different. We saw a recipe that was another classic Moroccan dish called Kefta Mkaouara - meatballs in a tomato sauce topped with egg. I called the muttonwalla and asked him to get us some mutton mince [kheema] and requested him to add some fat [charbi] to the mince. This would help keep the koftas soft and juicy. Once he delivered the mince we set about making the Tagine. I suggest you make this at home, even if you do not have a Tagine. It’s really delicious. You could eat it with a simple Couscous or with some sort of Rotis. We made it twice, once for a dinner party at home and once when we carried the Tagine to a friends house for a party they were hosting. 

Here is the recipe:

Kefta Mkaouara
[Moroccan Meatballs, Tomato & Egg Tagine]

For Koftas
500 grams minced lamb [I prefer fine ground], try and get it with about 20% fat. This keeps the koftas juicy.
1 medium onion finely minced
1 heaped tablespoon dried mint. You get it in most upmarket stores
Handful of chopped parsley
1 -2 teaspoons [or more] of Ras El Hanout. This is a typical Moroccan `garam masala' not spicy at all. You get it in most upmarket stores.
1/2 - 1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper/Chilly Powder

Yes there are no eggs or bread. Mix all ingredients well. First make a test kofta, fry it and taste. Adjust spicing if necessary. Then roll the mince into small koftas. We like them about walnut sized or smaller. Add oil to pan and quickly fry them till lightly browned on the outside. No need to cook them thru, they will cook more later. Remove and reserve. See how much oil you have in the pan. You may need to add or subtract to make the sauce.

The fried Koftas

For the Sauce

1 tablespoon Cumin
1 tablespoon Coriander seeds
1 tablespoon Paprika powder [non spicy non smoked this is for colour. Kashmiri Chilli Powder will do fine]
2 x 400 gram tins of tomato. You could use ordinary fresh tomato but I suggest you use tinned tomato the result is much better. They cost only Rs 45/- each [at Crawford Market Rs. 90/- in upmarket stores, unfortunately]   
1 - 2 red onions either minced or sliced fine
4-5 garlic cloves chopped fine
Parsley to garnish

Toast the Cumin and Coriander seeds and powder them
Pass the tomato thru a sieve to remove the seeds and skin. If using fresh tomato, liquidise it and strain to remove the seeds and peel.
Fry the onion and garlic in the same pan till softened and pink. Add some of the powders and cook out to remove powdery taste. 

Onion garlic softening

Add the tomato juice and once it comes to a boil add in the koftas, reduce to simmer and cook till slightly thickened. Readjust salt in sauce add some sugar to balance sour

Once done break eggs on top and cook till whites harden and yolks are soft set.

Garnish with Parsley.

The finished dish

Enjoy with Couscous


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dubai? By train?

Do you want to go to Dubai? Its a great place apparently. The website of the Government of Dubai Department of Tourism Marketing and Commerce says, and I quote “Dubai is a unique destination that is both a dynamic business centre and a tourist paradise, offering more attractions, shopping, fine dining and quality hotels. From the timeless tranquillity of the desert to the lively bustle of the souk, Dubai offers a kaleidoscope of attractions for visitors. The emirate embraces a wide variety of scenery in a very small area. In a single day, the tourist can experience everything from rugged mountains and awe-inspiring sand dunes to sandy beaches and lush green parks, from dusty villages to luxurious residential districts and from ancient houses with wind towers to ultra-modern shopping malls.

Lovely! Tempted? How would you like to go? I suggest you use Indian Railways. Yes my friend you are reading correctly. I saw this advertisement in the morning newspapers and spent a good 15 minutes rubbing my eyes in disbelief.

Well its not really by train, but I thought the headline would grab your attention. 

The IRCTC which can barely sell enough train tickets is offering packages to Dubai. Amazing? Shameful? Should they not be promoting Indian destinations?

I am scratching my head. I hope you are too.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Haleem Khichda & Hareesa

This blog post germinated last year during the month of Ramazan. No, this post is not about eating the delicacies in Mumbai at Minara Masjid or the trendier Bohri Mohalla. You can read all about that in newspapers and magazines as well as watch it on TV with some vapid host speaking weirdly accented English.

This is about Haleem, Khichda and Hareesa, three dishes using the same ingredients yet so different in final result. This is about our effort to find and eat an authentic version of Haleem.

These dishes are specially cooked during Ramzan as they are highly nutritious. Haleem, Khichda and Hareesa are Arabic in origin and it is believed that the Arab diaspora in Hyderabad first made these dishes in India. In India, high calorie is almost a synonym of nutrition. All three dishes are actually both high calorie and high nutrition. All three dishes are not suited to cooking in small quantities and therefore they are most often cooked for a large gathering and because the making process is so laborious, they are most often cooked by professional cooks. Each aspect dovetails into the other. Cooking in large quantities, cooking for many people and lastly cooking a high calorie nourishing meal during Ramzan to feed the fasting faithful,

What exactly are Haleem, Khichda and Hareesa? I asked my Bohri friends, of whom I have several. What became clear was that the lines distinguishing Haleem and Khichda are fairly thin, however Hareesa stands apart. What is common in all three is the fact that they have 2 basic ingredients, lamb and wheat.

Haleem has an additional 2 ingredients, ghee and spices. Everything is cooked together in a massive pot over a wood fire for several hours. Large wooden poles are used to stir and pound the mixture to break down the meat and the wheat so that the resulting finished product is a thick viscous porridge. With this stirring/pounding the meat loses all integrity and blends with the wheat. Haleem is spiced and is eaten garnished with caramelised onion [Birista], fresh mint and coriander leaves. Lime is added to give some tang and freshness. Some people make Haleem at home in small quantities by cooking the meat and wheat in a pressure cooker. Once cooked the mixture is either put into a blender by the already harassed housewife, or, she uses a stick blender to break down the meat. I assure you that the resulting Haleem is nothing like the slow cooked pounded Haleem made by professional chefs.

Khichda on the other hand is a non vegetarian version of Khichdi which many of us were fed as children when sick or when we had an upset stomach. Why Khichdi? Same answer, nutritious and with lashings of ghee you get a higher calorie count. Anyway, Khichda, in addition to the meat and wheat has lentils [Chana Daal primarily] added. It’s a relatively simpler dish to make, I am told, because the meat is supposed to stay by and large whole at the end of the cooking process. Therefore there is no need to keep stirring the pot to break down the meat. It’s still not a regular home-cooking dish.

Hareesa is somewhat different. This is almost soupy in consistency as opposed to the porridge like Khichda and Haleem, and is most often made with lamb trotters [Paya]. The reason for this is fairly simple. Hareesa started off as a dish more suited to the poor. The use of trotters which is not a prime cut is a clear indication. The trotter gives the soup a lot of body on account of the cartilage which when broken down will provide the gelatinous quality to the soup. Hareesa is rather bland but is nutritious and very high in protein and carbohydrates. It seems to have become the preferred option during Ramzan.

Last year, we attempted to buy some Haleem. The absolute best, pinnacle of Haleem is made in Hyderabad by a restaurant called Pista House. You may have seen it on the now obligatory Ramazan Idd celebrations programmes on TV. The Hotel Shah Ghouse and Sarvi Bakers also at Hyderabad both make Haleem during Ramzan. Since we was not going to Hyderabad, the chances of getting the Haleem here in Bombay were bleak.

So we set about telephoning the Muslim restaurants we have in Bombay. Delhi Durbar, Jafferbhais Delhi Durbar, Shalimar at Bhendi Bazar, Persian Durbar and some others, which I cannot remember. None had Haleem on offer. Jafferbhais Delhi Durbar had Hareesa on offer. Shalimar told me that they had Khichda and that Khichda and Haleem were one and the same. Not true of course, but all the same I went to Shalimar and bought their Khichda. Not bad, nothing unusual. I had no intention of buying Hareesa so that chapter was closed.

This year, we once again called the restaurants and the answer was the same. Only Jafferbhais Delhi Durbar said that they made Khichda every Wednesday and Saturday. So off we went and bought some Khichda. Once again not bad, nothing unusual. It was of better quality than the Shalimar Khichda.

Then, a few days ago, everything changed. India has a new President, a new Finance Minister and a new Home Minister. This build up may sound a bit filmy and I will not apologise, but wonder of wonders, it appeared that the Hyderabad institution, Pista House had tied up with GATI [big transport and logistics guys] to deliver freshly cooked Haleem to Bombay. I promptly ordered a kilo and after a couple of days of total silence, I got a confirmatory email and at 10pm the courier arrived with my Haleem. Since we had already eaten our dinner, I put the pail into the fridge and decided we would eat it the next day. I must say was brilliantly packed. To really get into the spirit of things, we got a few Mutton Samosas and Cream Tikka from Jeffs a famous Bohri caterer who also sells delicious food. We thought we ould eat this as a snack with our drinks before getting down to the Haleem.

Once I opened the plastic pail the aroma that hit me was, to use the word in vogue today, awesome. HRH the Queen of Kutch, with her regal nose, smelt ghee. I had made some Birista, HRH the Queen picked some mint from the garden and I set about heating the Haleem. On first impressions, it had a large proportion of meat to the wheat. It also had some bones and lots of whole spices [predominantly Black Pepper & Cardamom] and some slit green chillies. It smelt even better as it heated. As far as consistency goes, it was extremely viscous, as the Marathi word aptly describes `Chikat’. The meat was in shreds, literally shreds, not chunks, pieces but shreds, quite unlike I have ever seen anywhere. Once heated I garnished the bowl and it was time to eat, it was the moment of truth.  

As it was being heated

HRH the Queen of Kutch absolutely loved it; she was in the proverbial Seventh Heaven. I was not so sure. And as I type a day later I am still not so sure. How did it taste? It was pungent with all the whole spices – Garam Masala – in it. It was not chilli hot but Garam Masala hot, if you know what I mean. The consistency was really nice and everything [except the bones] had amalgamated beautifully. There was no greasiness which is something I was worried about. My problem was that the Haleem has only whole spices. Therefore, to me, the dish lacked flavour. I prefer the Khichda that Jafferbhais Delhi Durbar sells, to me its seems to have a deeper flavour, but the Pista House Haleem definitely had much more meat and the texture was totally different. The Haleem was not bad by any stretch of imagination. In fact I am glad I have tasted it. I now know what it is all about and why our Muslim brethren get misty eyed when they talk about Haleem. I am also absolutely sure that we do not get anything like the Pista House Haleem locally in Mumbai.

My suggestion, Haleem from Pista House is a classic dish. You get it during Ramzan. Ramzan Idd is fast approaching. Please do yourself a favour and order a Kilo by going to this site. It costs only Rs 485/- it’s not a lot of money. One kilo is good for 3 heavy eaters. Do order a kilo very very soon, right now. You cannot lose, you cannot dislike it, it’s a classic dish and here you have an opportunity of getting it home delivered. Just do it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pan Asian & Hot Pots

To bring the week to a close, HRH the Queen of Kutch and myself decided to do something new [by our standards] but within an overall old concept or framework. So instead of reserving a MERU Cab we got ourselves a TAB Cab. The plan was to go to the ITC Grand Maratha at Sahar Andheri East near the International Airport, and after a few intoxicants, amble to one of their 3 great restaurants Dakshin or Dum Pukht or Peshawri for dinner. The TAB Cab turned up, which was a relief, and we soon careening along the Western Express Highway in a extremely rattly Toyota Etios driven by our `Saathi’ [that is what TAB calls its drivers] at breakneck speed swerving wildly from lane to lane. We heaved a sigh of relief when we reached, in one piece with all four wheels on. I needed my drink.

The bar at the ITC Grand Maratha is quite nice; however, it’s normally fairly empty on weekends. This Friday it was quite full and with a decent band pumping out live music, the atmosphere was very nice. We were welcomed and settled down to our drinks. As you must know by now, I generally drink beer and, at the ITC Grand Maratha the draft beer is particularly good. It’s the same old Kingfisher available at most places, but, for some reason at the Bombay High, it’s always fresher, colder and simply nicer than any other place. I really do like it. HRH the Queen of Kutch had her usual, Isle of Jura.

Inevitably, it became decision making time; we had to decide where to go for dinner. We were told that Niladari, a very competent Captain from Dum Pukth had been promoted and become the manager at the Pan Asian, which as the name suggests is ITC’s Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean food outlet. I must point out that we had visited Pan Asian in the past and were rather underwhelmed by the experience. Indifferent food, largely Indianised in as much as it was all spicy with lurid red sauces, and targeted towards vegetarians and disguised vegetarians those who eat only chicken, preferably boneless. Thus, we had not visited it in years. With Niladari in command we took our chance and did something new, we went to the Pan Asian for dinner.

Peanuts and Kimchi to pass time
Our dinner was pre-decided for us. As a sort of pre starter we were given a small plate of Thai Som Tam, the raw Papaya Salad. Nice. Then as a starter we had a portion of Prawn Sui Mai. Excellent, gossamer like wrapping and generously filled with Prawn. Thankfully, not yet indianised. No spice of any sort. Really nice and just right to get the gastric juices going.

Som Tam

Prawn Sui Mai

Next up for our main course we were to have a Hot Pot. The correct word is Chinese Steamboat. This is a sort of Asian fondue where a large bowl of stock is placed in the centre of the table on a heater to keep the stock simmering. The stock could be a simple chicken or have regional variations and get steadily spicy. In parts of China the stock is a lurid red heavily flavoured with chilli oil and Sichuan Peppercorns to give you the `Ma La’ sensation.

The heater on the table

The Stock 

The Hot Pot concept is not unique to China. Hot Pots are popular throughout South East Asia. The Chinese have their variations, the Korean have theirs and the Japanese have what they call Shabu Shabu. In South East Asia, Hot Pot restaurants take pride in offering special and unique cuts of meat and fish to dip into the stock ranging from Wagyu beef to Fish Balls, Offal and so on.

The Swiss of course have the cheese fondue in which the pot called a Caquelon is filled with cheese and heated with a spirit lamp. You dip pieces of bread and eat them with pickles and dried meat washed down with White Wine. You could also have a Chocolate fondue where the pot would contain liquid chocolate in which you dip pieces of fruit. You could have a fondue Bourguignonne where you have hot oil in which you dip pieces of meat to eat with various accompanying sauces. 

The common theme in all these fondues and hot pots is that they are traditionally eaten in winter and are particularly well suited to a meal when you have kids with you or, if you are at a party with lots of happily drunk folks. Very interactive, great entertainment. 

At the Pan Asian we got get a selection of raw marinated proteins [lamb, pork, beef, chicken, squid and prawn] and a selection of vegetables [Zucchini, Baby Corn, Bok Choy, Broccoli and two types of Mushroom]. The meats are sliced very thin so that they cook in seconds. You also get a bowl of boiled Noodle to supplement your soup. Condiments offered to spice up your soup are minced Garlic cooked in oil, a Peanut sauce and Green Onion.

The condiments - Peanut Sauce,  Green Onion and Garlic in Sesame Oil

The proteins

The vegetables

Your bowl

There are several ways of going about eating a Hot Pot. You always get your own bowl to eat from. In one method the meats, fish, noodle and vegetables are left on the table. You then choose a small portion of what you like, fill it into your own fishing net type contraption and place it in the hot pot to cook. Once done you fish it out, add it to your bowl and eat. This is repeated till you are full.

At the Pan Asian the method was slightly different. The meat, and at our request, only the mushroom and Bok Choy were added to the cauldron merrily bubbling in the centre. I really did not like the idea of loading my soup with Baby Corn, Broccoli and Zucchini. That is fine for the Jains, Khandelwals and Shahs, not me. After a few moments the meat was cooked and we ladled out portions of the soup and the meat into our bowls and ate. Once the meat was eaten we put in the squid and prawn as this takes a fraction of time to cook. The stock itself was a decently spiced Sichuan style stock and was quite tasty. The quality of the meat and fish was top class. 

A glass of Red for HRH the Queen to wash down the Hot Pot
To finish, we were given a bowl of Tub Tim Grob a Thai desert. It is a classic, sweetened coconut milk with vividly coloured water chestnut dumplings. Actually, the dessert worked after those heavy flavours.

Tub Tim Grob

All in all, we had a very good meal. Absolutely nothing to complain about. I must caution you that the dish is expensive and if you have fussy eaters on the table it’s really no fun. All persons on the table have to eat the same thing or at least not object if you place beef or pork in the same soup. With a large group things can really get quite exciting.
If you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg and want to have a Hot Pot in Mumbai you could have a Hot Pot at Lings Pavillion which is quite popular and quite good. The stock served at Lings Pavillion is un-spiced, and as the evening goes on gets richer and more flavourful as it evaporates and absorbs the flavours of the meats added to it. The Lings Pavillion Hot Pot is slightly different, here they add the thin Glass Noodles to the stock and you don’t get any additional condiments. The are really a Cantonese Restaurant so the food is largely bland, unlike at the Pan Asian where spicing is almost across the board. I have also had the Hot Pot at Kamling Restaurant at Churchgate. However, from what I have heard, the restaurant is really on its death bed so I do not recommend your going there.

All in all a very nice evening, excellent food and great service. What more could one want.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rum N Raisin - you must be joking!

2nd August 2012 was the day of Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi. This is a religious festival to celebrate the relationship between brothers and sisters. It’s observed all over India and the central ceremony involves the tying of a sacred thread [Rakhi] by a sister on her brother’s wrist. This symbolizes the sister's love and prayers for her brother's well-being, and the brother's lifelong vow to protect her. There is a lot of attendant symbolism attached to this act of tying a Rakhi. Raksha Bandhan is also followed by Muslims and with today’s commercialism, Raksha Bandhan cuts across communal barriers. It is common to give the brother some sweets along with the Rakhi. It’s also common for a brother to give sweets to the sister who tied the Rakhi on his wrist. Needless to say manufacturers of sweets regard this day as a sort of manna from heaven.

Cadbury the confection manufacturer has been steadily building one of its advertising campaigns around this theme. Naturally on 2nd August 2012 the campaign went into overdrive and the morning’s newspapers had a very expensive glossy page inserted which caught my attention.

The page advertised the `Rich Dry Fruit Collection’ of chocolates by Cadbury and the first chocolate named was “Rum ‘N’ Raisin”. On seeing this I choked on my coffee, nearly fell of my chair and had to take a few deep breaths to bring my pounding heart back to normal.  I could not believe what I was reading.  “Rum ‘N’ Raisin” chocolates being advertised in the national newspapers? What was the world coming to? Where was ACP Vasant Dhoble?

“Rum ‘N’ Raisin” chocolate being sold to children? “Rum ‘N’ Raisin” chocolate being promoted as a gift on a sacred occasion when alcohol is not served? Most Hindus and Muslims don’t drink, children should not drink and here we have a “Rum ‘N’ Raisin” chocolate?  What is going on I thought? I needed to investigate and get to the bottom of this. So off I went to the neighbourhood grocer and got myself a bar of “Rum ‘N’ Raisin” chocolate.

I looked at the list of ingredients, and the first thing I saw was that the chocolate is vegetarian as indicated by the green dot enclosed in a green square. The list of ingredients revealed sugar, cocoa butter, milk solids, cocoa solids, emulsifiers and raisins. No rum! The wrapper helpfully informed me that the chocolate also had some flavours. But no rum! So then why is Cadbury allowed to call this chocolate “Rum ‘N’ Raisin” if it contains no rum? Is this not mis-describing something? Is this not some sort of cheating, false representation?

I am scratching my head.

However, there are bright sides to this. Priti Chandriani the poor lady who was arrested and released on bail for selling liquor chocolates may be guilty of violating the Bombay Prohibition Act, but under no circumstances will she be guilty of misrepresentation. She was making liquor chocolates using and containing liquor!

I am sure you have heard of Anna Hazardous publicly flogging men who drank alcohol in his village Ralegan Siddhi. Anna is a puritanical sort of fellow. Anyway, presumably if Priti Chandiriani gave [not sold ] you some of her delicious liquor chocolates when you visited Ralegan Siddhi you were certainly a candidate for a whipping by Anna and his merry men. But if you took slabs of Cadbury “Rum ‘N’ Raisin” chocolates you could be sure that nothing would happen.

I am sure you think I am nuts making such a big deal about this. But mis-description is a serious issue. Cadbury is a part of the giant Kraft Foods conglomerate. Should this sort of false product description be allowed?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Pint Room

The Pint Room. The new all beer outlet opened in Bandra adjoining Great Punjab, the place we went to have a drink on this Wednesday during the holy months of Ramadhan and Shravan. What a crushing disappointment, what a huge let down, what a shame.

The Pint Room comes with an enviable pedigree. It’s a concept owned by Pradeep Gidwani the man who has headed, if I remember correctly, Fosters, Carlsberg and Red Bull in India. If anybody knows how to sell beer it should be him. This ‘only beer’ outlet has been carved out of a portion of Great Punjab, a Punjabi restaurant whose owners know what Punjabi food is. The Pint Room opened some 10 odd days ago and we made our way there to sample some of the beers on offer.

The Pint Room is rather small with an uncomfortable badly designed bar, a couple of high tables with high stools and some cane banquettes/sofas. It’s brightly lit with a large window looking out onto the hugely busy Linking Road. Several florescent beer signs and beer themed posters form the decor. The far end of the bar counter had 4 taps [Kingfisher, Hoegaarden and two other beers whose names I forget] which looked delightfully frosted.

We entered at 8 pm to find that we were the only people inside; the waiters were sitting at a table in the corner working on computers. The manager was smoking outside and soon came in after we were seated. Grim start.  We got a sheet of paper fixed on a clipboard listing the beers on offer. In all honesty there are several with prices ranging from Rs 1,300/- for a 330 ml to Rs 175/- for the local Kingfisher and Carlsberg.

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HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered a Portuguese Stout called Super Bock. I stuck to a Carlsberg. The Stout cost Rs 475/- and my Carlsberg cost Rs 175/-. Thankfully the menu says that the prices are all inclusive so you pay for what you get, no added on taxes and service charge. The tragedy was that both drinks were not cold. Yes they came out of a chiller but by no stretch of imagination were either of the bottles properly chilled. HRH the Queen of Kutch could barely finish her drink. I thought I should give the Pint Room another chance so I ordered a Kingfisher draft from the enticingly frosted taps.  Oddly, this too was not cold. Soon a waiter turned up and offered me another beer. I said that I wanted an Indian beer provided it was cold. The waiter brought two bottles for me to do the `touch test’. Both were not cold. We asked for the bill and walked out. By the time we left at 8.45 there was one more couple had just entered the Room. We left them to enjoy their beers in solitary splendour.

I will tell you why I was so disappointed. Surely for a place that specialises in beer, owned by one of the more successful beer company CEOs, the least you can expect is a bottle of truly cold beer. To have 3 beers all different from different supply sources [bottles and tap] that were not properly chilled was deeply disappointing. It was not that the place was so crushingly full that the beers stored in the chillers had run out. We are talking of just 2 of us in a bar. Why is there such a casual attitude to a paying customer? Are we all to be taken for granted? Do people who own/run these places really not know any better? Almost any restaurant you go to whether it be Apoorva, Trishna, Great Punjab or Lings Pavillion all serve beers that are cold. And here we have a speciality beer outlet with such a good pedigree that seems incapable of doing that. Why should I not be disappointed? 

I did a little research on the Internet and found this site which lists how cold beers should be. Have a look, its interesting.

Do not waste your money. Don’t go here. You have plenty of choices in Bandra, from good old Totos to Hawaiian Shack, The Rude Lounge, Bora Bora, the cult favourite Janata Bar, Escobar, Bonobo, Firangi Paani and so many more.

I hate to sound the death knell so early on in the life of a place but I do not predict a long and happy life for The Pint Room