Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Self Help Manual - Get a Visa

I am sure you will agree that all of us are very troubled. Our lives are unsettled. We are extremely impatient. We want instant gratification. We want instant results. We have extremely short tempers and fly of the handle at the blink of an eye. We are over worked and over stressed. We reach the point of irritation in a flash. We need stimuli all the time, whether it is a television, a mobile phone or a computer. We can never relax, let our guard down, step off, and tune out. All this manifests itself in many ways. For example we become aggressive in our behaviour, we drive aggressively, we drink we eat too much. We have high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. So we are put on medication and that starts the downward spiral.

In this situation many of us head to a burnout. Our spouses and family constantly plead with us to relax and calm down. Some of us do take this to heart and start yoga in an attempt to calm our jangling nerves. Many others take to practising religion in some form. Others turn to spirituality and gurus and Godmen. We spend time at Ashrams; the Brahmakumaris are a case in point. We want to go to Igatpuri to get into Vippasana mediation course.

Sound familiar?

Before you despair and think that Stonethrower has at last seen the inevitable conclusion of his wasted life, as he approaches his 50th birthday, no. Before you think that Stonethrowers heart, if not liver are now totally shot to pieces which is why he has seen The Light, you could not be more wrong. Read on.

For all you fellow hedonists out there, I have a quick fix solution for you. No need for yoga, no need for Godmen, no need for temples, spirituality, Vedanta discourses or Gita pravachans!! Nope. To achieve calmness, patience, control of temper and total discipline I suggest you immediately apply for a Schengen Visa from the French Consulate. You sometimes get more and sometimes less benefits by applying to the British, American and other European counties. The French I have found, by and large the most beneficial. The most useless are the Asian countries – Thailand, China and Singapore. Hong Kong does not even have a Visa system, it’s strictly Visa on arrival. These are all useless.

The process of applying will sort you out. It takes just a total of 3-4 hours if you are granted a Visa in one shot, if not each additional application will take an additional 2 hours after an agonising wait of several days. You will be a changed person after this process. The advantages are manifold. Not only do you immediately appreciate the virtues I have listed, but you can do it in the city you live, it’s very cheap - only Rs 5000/- and takes a short time. The effects and benefits are, in proportion to other forms of self help so dramatic that there is really no meaningful alternative.

Let me explain and point out just a few benefits the process has on your life. An important caveat here, to experience the best results of this unique therapy, you must undertake the entire process yourself and not use agents and assorted secretaries. This is the same with religion, yoga, vipassna etc - you have to undergo the process yourself and not through a proxy


We are all extremely self centred and believe we are always correct; it is our way or the highway. When applying for a visa, us smart guys look at the Consulates website. This has certain information and instructions. Sometimes to double check, we speak with our travel agents who give us different information and instructions. Then, after we have been reasonably confused we actually submit our paperwork to the Consulates agent who has a third set of information and instructions, which, needless to say, is not mentioned on the website nor is the travel agent aware of it. This teaches us humility, to accept that we are not always right; others have more knowledge and wisdom than us.


We simply do not have any patience. Once you have been made to stand in line to submit the application to the Consulates agent you have already learned to exercise some patience. Then you are required to visit the actual Consulate and are told a time, say 11 am. You turn up at Consulate only to find no place to park your car so you park miles away and walk to the Consulate. Once you reach there a watchman will ask you why you have come to the Consulate, 11 am appointment you say contemptuously. WAIT, is his answer, under the Gulmohur Tree on the footpath in the hot sun or pouring rain, depending on the weather. After a good 45 minute wait on a footpath you are allowed inside the Consulate only to be made to wait in a room that reminds me of an American jail as I have seen on countless movies. Here you wait some more, if you have been naughty, a lot more. This teaches you patience.

Respect for fellow human

You may be a real hot shit. A wildly successful self made businessman, a powerful lawyer, a builder or a doctor capable of neurosurgery. You may have been educated in the finest institutions for which your parents have spent thousands and sacrificed horribly. You have the life of others in your hands. You may think you are the cat whiskers. However, when you are in the Visa process, a chit of a girl at the Consulates agent can strike fear thru your body. Let me tell you, when I was submitting my application, this girl, not a day over 23 asked me if I had my visiting card to supplement my application. I was shocked, this one question made jelly of me, who the heck would think I need to produce a visiting card in addition to all hotel bookings, flight bookings, train booking 3 years of Tax returns, 6 months of bank statements, an insurance policy and the kitchen sink? This teaches you to respect a fellow human being.

Controling your temper  

When you reach the Consulate at the appointed time, you will have to encounter and deal with surly, rude and arrogant security personnel. They have the right to tell you to stand on a footpath. Once you are granted entry into the Consulate, another similarly surly, rude and arrogant security personnel will ask you to hand over your mobile phone, switched off please. Then once the various doors have opened the surly, rude and arrogant security personnel will grunt and tell you to sit in an extremely uncomfortable plastic bucket seat to await your turn. Mind you all this is done to us by our fellow Indians. This kind of behaviour teaches to hold your temper. If your driver or cook spoke to you like that with the accompanying body language, you would have dismissed them in 30 seconds flat. Here you hold your temper.

So folks, you now see what I mean. To improve yourself in a short cheap manner do apply for a Visa.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Copper Chimney - Still good after all these years

Out of the blue, I had this urge to eat at Copper Chimney. During the last years of school and thru my college days, Copper Chimney was `the’ place to go. It had an upmarket - for those times – image, and South Bombay’s movers and shakers loved going there to eat Punjabi food. Copper Chimney was located at Worli, in, if I remember correctly, the Blind School building. There was a sign outside which said that the owners ate there. As time passed, Copper Chimney opened something that they called the Copper Club. I have no idea what happened to this. Then Copper Chimney moved a couple of buildings and is now located in what used to be the Lotus cinema building.  

Over the years Copper Chimney expanded, set up branches, diversified and I, frankly, could not remember the last time I had been to Copper Chimney. I believe that today Copper Chimney and all the brands spawned by the original owners are now part of Kishore Biyanis Future Group.

I had no idea if my urge was sensible. Would the food be as good as I remember, was it worth going to Copper Chimney? A few days ago I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner and they had ordered some Chicken Kebabs and a `Raan’ from Copper Chimney. Both were excellent and held their own despite being brought home. Most people I asked were like me, not having gone to Copper Chimney in years. Then, I remembered my man on the move realtor, Mr. Young K, mentioning that he frequented Copper Chimney at Khar. So I asked him. Young K was enthusiastic in his response; he went on to say that the original Copper Chimney at Worli was a notch better than any other branch. He said I would not regret the decision to eat at Copper Chimney. Since Young K is someone I listen to in matters of realty, and have not regretted it, I was reasonably certain his recommendation would not be something I would regret.

So, on Friday, we made a reservation at 9pm at the Khar Copper Chimney and proceeded, as is our wont, to down a few intoxicants at our favourite drinking hole Toto’s Garage. Thank God for this, as shall be revealed later. At the appointed hour we reached a half full Copper Chimney and requested a table that was well lit so as to aid photography. Please remember this is Indian food so it photographs very poorly. It was a rather large restaurant on the first floor of a new building. The restaurant was rather well set up with the Copper theme running all thru. On identifying a suitable table we set about looking at the three menus handed over. One was the drinks card, one the main food menu and the third a special offering `Purani Dilli Ka Zaika’ or `A Taste of Old Delhi’.

The booze card was the easiest to deal with. All booze was staggeringly expensive. A simple 330 ml Kingfisher beer was a mind boggling Rs 250/- a Glenfiddich was a numbing Rs 550/- for 30 ml. Phenomenal booze prices. To put it in perspective, an Isle of Jura at the ITC Grand Maratha’s restaurants and bar costs Rs. 600/-, and that is a 5 star hotel with 5 star prices! So the Rs 550/- being charged at Copper Chimney is a truly stupendous mark up. Luckily, there was an offer of 1 for 1 free on Kingfisher Blue. That was handy, one for me and one for HRH the Queen of Kutch.

That being done it was on to the `Purani Dilli Ka Zaika’.  HRH the Queen of Kutch zeroed in on `Alu Tikki Chola’ [Rs. 120 + service charge in September 2012] – Potato Croquettes with Garbanzo Beans – a `Chaat’, typically savoury street food as a starter. This can be really good. A hot `Tikki’ crunchy outside soft inside with ice cold yogurt and topped with boiled `Channa’ and the sweet and spicy chutneys. The one served was unremarkable. Ordinary.

Alu Tikki Chola

For our main course it was two more selections from the `Purani Dilli Ka Zaika’. One was `Jamma Masjid Ka Gosth Korma’ [Rs. 450 + service charge in September 2012] – Lamb curry from the Jamma Masjid area - and the other was `Chowk Ke Chole’ – Garbanzo Beans curry. The `Jamma Masjid Ka Gosth Korma’ was very similar to a `Nehari’ which we have eaten in both Dum Pukht as well as at Delhi Durbar. This version did not have the clear gravy. However I must say that the `Jamma Masjid Ka Gosth Korma’ was really good. The strong `Kewda’ flavour the dish had is something I do like. Good quality lamb shanks, obviously cut on a band saw and not hacked with a chopper. The `Chowk Ke Chole’ [Rs. 250 + service charge in September 2012] was also very good. The Channa was cooked in very dark thick gravy. Both of us lapped this up. Our friendly server recommended that we eat the `Chowk Ke Chole’ with something called ‘Peethi Ki Puri’ [Rs. 70 + service charge in September 2012].  This was a Puri stuffed with some sort of Daal.

Jamma Masjid Ka Gosth Korma

Chowk Ke Chole

Peethi Ki Puri

Having ordered all this new fangled food, I wanted to eat what I remember from days gone by. The `Chelo Kebab’ and the Butter Chicken. It was clear that we could not order both, there was no way we could have eaten everything. We chose the `Chelo Kebab’ [Rs. 360 + service charge in September 2012] which Copper Chimneys has had on its menu from its early days at Worli. I must mention that the Copper Chimney interpretation of a `Chelo Kebab’ would render an Irani speechless, it is totally unauthentic. However, it is absolutely delicious and is Copper Chimneys signature dish, unreplicated despite the passage of so much time. It consists of a simple Chicken Kebab grilled in the Tandoor, and, rice. To the rice is added lashings of cream and a touch of sugar and the consistency is almost porridge-like. This is a very nice dish. This dish itself was worth the meal. Brilliant. It was exactly like I remembered it and it was lip smacking.

Chelo Kebab

At the end of the evening all that food and a single beer set us back by Rs 1700/- including the 10% service charge. Not bad at all. Let me give you another perspective. A single dish at Dum Pukth will easily cost you Rs 2000/-. Here the entire meal cost us Rs. 1700/- You will of course remember what I had written a few paragraphs ago. A Glenfiddich at Copper Chimney costs Rs 550/- while an Isle of Jura at Dum Pukth will cost you Rs. 600/- Pricing is a funny game is it not?

In conclusion, Copper Chimney is alive and kicking. Mr Young K was once again correct in his advice. Out of the 4 dishes we ordered, the only dud was the `Alu Tikki Chola’. The other dishes were good. If the Khar branch is anything to go by the Worli branch should knock your socks off. We are most certainly going back to eat the Butter Chicken and their `Raan’ both of which are their specialities. And, yes, another helping of `Chelo Kebab’. Just make sure you drink somewhere else.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Braised Pork Belly

It has been a busy past two weeks. Meetings, eye examination, getting new spectacles, the horrific traffic around Bandra Fair, the ‘sedition’ by Aseem Trivedi, the diesel price hike and now the slew of reforms by the Government. Phew!

On to matters far less important and much more enjoyable. Food.

Unless you are a Jain, Khandelwal or Shah or Muslim or Jew, or to come to think of it living under a stone, you must be reading that every expensive [frequented by Page 3 folks] restaurant in Mumbai is serving Pork Belly. Hakkasan, Yauatcha, Table, Amadeus, the newly opened Umane and Ellipsis all serve versions of Pork Belly. Pork Belly is a cheap cut of meat which when cooked results in a delicious dish and a huge mark up for the restaurant. No wonder every restaurant is selling Pork Belly.

Pork Belly is widely available in Mumbai. Most cold stores [funny we call them Cold Storage here while they are actually butchers] have Pork Belly. As I have said it’s cheap and very very forgiving to cook. Pork Belly is a fatty cut of meat and slow cooking is the only sensible way to cook this. The fat which renders keeps the meat really tender. It is really simple to cook. I have given you a recipe for cooking Siu Youk Pork, the Chinese Crisp Pork Belly. You could also make the famous Red Cooked Pork which is so delicious and so simple to cook.

We had a kilo of Pork Belly which we wanted to cook. I did not want to make it in a Chinese/Oriental style so I decided to trawl the Internet to get a suitable recipe. I came across one from the peerless Gordon Ramsay. Looking at it, I realised it was simple, required no tricky ingredients and was simple to make.

A quick visit to Pali Market was required to buy a head of Celery, a single leek and some thyme. That was it as far as exotic ingredients go. Yes, you do need some Madeira which is a sweet wine. I find that the good old Vinicolas Port Wine is an excellent substitute for Madeira. I normally have a bottle at home to cook with. Keeps for years and costs next to nothing.

This is a very tasty dish. Do try it.   

Here is the recipe

Braised Pork Belly
Serves 4


1 kg Pork Belly, rind removed and boned
1 leek white and pale green part finely sliced
2 Celery Stalks finely chopped
1 Onion medium chopped
1 clove Garlic minced
2 Star Anise
2 Bay Leaf
50 ml light Soy Sauce
500 ml water
125 ml Madeira [Port wine fine]


Lay the belly down and sprinkle with salt, pepper and Thyme. Next you roll the Belly like a Swiss Roll or Patrel [Alu Wadi] and tie it with some string to prevent it from unravelling.

Add a dash of oil to a tall pot with a lid and quickly brown the rolled up pork belly. No need to cook it, just get some colour on the outside.

Belly rolled, tied and browned

Once it’s beautifully browned remove it and add the chopped vegetable i.e. the Leek, Celery, Onion and Garlic. Once the vegetables are softened add the Soya Sauce, Wine and water. Add the meat, cover the pot and cook on a super low flame for 3 hours. Super low flame is important; if it boils too furiously you will end up with a very cloudy sauce.

The vegetables

Pork, Vegetables and the liquids added ready to be placed in the oven

Yes, 3 hours. If you have an oven, pop the whole thing into and oven at 130 degrees Centigrade or 225 Fahrenheit for 3 hours.

Once done remove the Belly and cool the sauce. Strain the sauce and place it in a pan to reduce to a nice consistency. It should become slightly syrupy much like a cough syrup. Please do not add any salt until you have reached the consistency you want or else the sauce will become very salty as it reduces.

Once the Belly is cooled slice it into thick slices, remove the string and fry the Belly slices in a pan for a couple of minutes till they are Golden. Pour the sauce over and eat the Belly with some Mashed Potato.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Golconda Bowl

The Golconda Bowl – is it a `super bowl’ of Hyderabadi food? Read on.

We had been reading very positive reviews of the Golconda Bowl. This is a newish [4 months as of September 2012] Hyderabadi restaurant that has opened on Hill Road, well, Ramdas Nayak Marg to be absolutely correct. The Golconda Bowl is the first outpost of a Delhi based group who have their main restaurant in the upmarket Hauz Khas village.

The spot occupied by the Golconda Bowl is barely 500 meters from our house and over the years we have seen restaurants opening with much fanfare and then burning and crashing with alarming alacrity and regularity, Puro and Oriental Palate are last two restaurants that have tried their luck there in the last year or so.

HRH, the Queen of Kutch had been most keen to visit the Golconda Bowl within weeks of it opening. In fact, we had made a booking a few weeks ago which we had to abruptly cancel as it started pouring, a rare occurrence in Mumbai this year. Following this, the Golconda Bowl had slipped into the inner recesses of my mind, but not the mind of HRH the Queen of Kutch! A friend, His Honour PK, casually mentioned that he had a good meal at the Golconda Bowl, so I suggested to HRH the Queen of Kutch that we should go. This got me a withering look, as I had the temerity to take recommendations from a commoner while her diktat had remained un-obeyed! A booking was swiftly made for 9 pm.

After a few intoxicants at Totos Garage we walked across to the Golconda Bowl, to be greeted with a smile and a restaurant that was largely empty. After we had settled down and ordered a beer to slake the thirst we had worked up walking from Pali Naka to Hill Road, the general manager Nitin Sondhi turned up. What a charming man, knowledgeable and with the correct amount of obsequiousness – and I mean this in the most positive way. Probably the best manager we have come across in any restaurant in India. This includes restaurants in any 5 star hotel as well. I believe that Mr. Sondhi has been deputed from Delhi to oversee the launch of the Golconda Bowl in Mumbai and will oversee both restaurants. He said he was going back to Delhi in a few days.

Before getting into the food, I must apologise for the photographs. This is Indian food, and it just does not photograph well. Unfortunately, in photographs, most Indian food looks all brown and red and actually quite horrible.

We started with a Golconda Bowl speciality, Patthar Ka Ghosh [Rs. 350 + service tax as on September 2012]. This is mutton [Goat] which is flattened with a mallet, marinated for a long time and then cooked on a heated stone. So it’s a sort of cross between a kebab cooked on coal and a kebab that is fried. I must say that this dish was stunning. The mutton was fork tender and as the cliché goes, melted in the mouth. This was a dish where the correct cut of mutton was properly sourced, properly treated and expertly cooked. Outstanding! You must have this if you visit the Golconda Bowl.

Patthar Ka Ghosh

Next up was Haleem [Rs. 395 + service tax as on September 2012]. You would have read a previous post on Haleem Khichda and Hareesa, where I had written about getting Haleem from Pista House in Hyderabad.  The Golconda Bowl had Haleem on the menu so we had to order it. Verdict? Very, very good. For those of you who have eaten the Pista House Haleem, this one is quite different. First there are no bits of bone in the haleem and all the spices are ground, not kept whole like in the Pista House version. The Golconda Bowl Haleem has far less meat and seemingly far less ghee. It is also more robustly spiced than the Pista House version. Frankly I preferred the Golconda Bowl Haleem to the Pista House one, it was just more flavourful and had a far better mouth-feel.


Garnish of Birista, Mint and Lime for the Haleem

As a bit of an explanation, generally speaking, a Salan is a curry which has vegetables or meat and vegetables, thus vegetables are an essential for a Salan. A Quorma or Korma is also a curry and is distinguished by being yogurt based.

Now it was time for the main courses. HRH the Queen of Kutch likes Karela or Bitter Melon or Bitter Gourd, so she ordered Karela Ka Salan [Rs. 240 + service tax as on September 2012]. I really like the famous Hyderabadi dish, Bhagare Baingan [Rs. 295 + service tax as on September 2012]. This is Aubergine or Eggplant or Brinjal in coconut gravy thickened with Peanut butter and soured with lashings of Tamarind. We ordered simple Tandoori Roti to accompany the two curries. The portion size in both curries was unusually large, however, you must remember that both Karela and Baingan are very cheap vegetables so no one is doing you any favours giving you large portions, this is not expensive food like Lobster. Having said so, I must contradict myself by saying that each portion did not contain large quantity of either Karela or Baingan, but in fact there was an unusually large portion of the gravy. Anyway, the Bhagare Baingan was really good. The curry was well balanced with the tang of the tamarind, sweetness of the peanuts and Jaggery. All in all, very tasty. Unfortunately, the Karela Ka Salan was an absolute disaster. A completely characterless red gravy with no discernible taste or flavour, the Karela itself had all the bitterness extracted and tasted of nothing. Imagine a French bean in red gravy, it was that bad.

Bhagare Baingan

Karela Ka Salan

Despite the disaster that was the Karela Ka Salan, the food at Golconda Bowl was exceptional. To go to a new restaurant and be wowed by 3 out of 4 dishes is rare. Mind you this is Indian food, flavours we are all familiar with. Also remember that the 3 exceptional dishes are not available in 99% of restaurants in Mumbai, the Patthar Ka Ghosh, the Haleem and Bhagare Baingan. The service at the restaurant was very good. As I have written, the manager was the best I have come across in India and the service staff was smiling, courteous and efficient. The prices are most reasonable. Booze is available too. What more does one want?

My suggestion, go to Golconda Bowl as soon as you can. The food is really good, the service above average, prices fairly reasonable. The good times cannot last. The excellent manager Nitin Sondhi is going back to Delhi. On a Friday evening, with fine weather for the 90 minutes that we were there the restaurant was never more than 40% full. This restaurant site has been a disaster for most restaurants. Something has to crack. I hope I am proved wrong and Golconda Bowl continues to remain the gem it is, but I am not betting on it. Go soon, you will not be sorry.