Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A few differences

Things are different outside India. If you look closely, I believe that nothing is the same as in India. Yes, we all know the usual clichés, we are a poor country, we have a population pressure, we have no value for human lives and so on and so forth. Listening to these statements is tiresome. They are all true and all lead to the differences. Then you have the eternal optimists who say that India has a growing middle class and a young population which will lead to world domination. Then you hear that the markets in the west are dead and the only growth is in India and China. Who has not heard all this? All this on `fundamental levels’ as our jargon ridden economists, industrialists and general wise guys tell us. These factors also show the differences.

On a more `granular’ – how I love that word – level, the difference could not be more stark. I am not an economist, sociologist or philosopher. I am just a lawyer with no work and time on his hands. Let me give you just 3 examples. This last visit to London brought these differences to the fore as far as I was concerned.

The first is valets. We have valets to park our cars all over. This could be a shop or a restaurant. And what kind of restaurant? A low end Indo-Chinese restaurant like 5 Spice, an absolute hole in the wall like Pappa Da Pancho to the high end Hakkasans of the world, all have valets to park our cars. They will happily take your keys while you saunter into the restaurant with not a care in the world. Every so called five star hotel will have a selection of valets to whisk your car away. The Mumbai Cricket Association Recreation Centre or MCA Club at Bandra Kurla Complex has a valet service. Are we lazy? Is parking a car in India more difficult than parking one on the UK where parking rules are enforced? Do we just think we are superior and unless we have somebody pandering to our every whim we are really losers? I cannot think of a single restaurant that I have been to in the UK that has a valet to park your car. Why is this the case? The Hakkasan at London does not have a valet but Mumbai does.

The second is the obsession to employ those who are not valets, as `security’. This is a joke. Malls have `security’, every hotel has `security’, banks have `security’, buildings have `security’ and the hallowed Bombay Gymkhana like every other club, has `security’. This is an exercise in hilarity or irritation, depending on what you mood is. `Security’ will be armed with a wand, the one that beeps if it senses metal. `Security’ may also have a mirror on a pole to look on the underside of a car, a torch or flashlight, occasionally a dog and if `security’ is some distance away from their handlers they will have a walkie talkie. Often `security’ is instructed to tell every person entering to write a whole series of details in a ledger. This is often of great delight to me. I enter all sorts of names, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix or, at times, a simple generic Deepak Shah or Ram Yadav. Doing this helps keep my temper in check as there is an huge element of cheap thrills. Really, what else is it? I am not going to even get into how idiotic `security’ is. In most cases `security’ is nothing but a disguised office peon and in the event `security’ is located outside the premises, they are parking wardens. My question is why? For God’s sake, why?

The third is the absence of a drama when genuine VIPs are travelling. One lunchtime while we were walking along Shaftesbury Avenue policemen on 2 motorcycles, in an obviously much practiced manoeuvre, stopped traffic at crossroad 1 to allow a very large car with a Land Rover following, to pass without being impeded at a crossroad. 2 more policemen had gone a little up the road to stop traffic at crossroad 2. The moment the small 2 car convoy passed the first set of policemen zoomed off to stop traffic a crossroad 3 and so on and so forth. The large car had Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall seated. No fuss, no sirens no policemen on `bandobast’ duty every 50 meters carrying `lathis’. The whole thing was over in seconds. On Wednesday 20th March 2013 Queen Elizabeth, her husband Prince Phillip and Kate Middleton were at Baker Street Tube Station as part of a celebration of 150 years of the Underground. These are important people by any standards. There was no fuss. When they left, the Queen of Kutch and I were walking along Baker Street when once again we saw the choreographed traffic stopping by motorcycle borne policemen. I pulled out my camera and saw the car with the 3 royals drive past. If you look at the photo please note the complete absence of and security. Please also see the man in jeans and shirt looking on. He had just stepped out after having a coffee at the shop at the corner and was shocked to see this. Once again no drama, no sirens no policemen on `bandobast’ duty every 50 meters carrying `lathis’. The whole thing was over in seconds.

Same question folks, why?   

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Le Gavroche, Horse, Tesco and Michel Roux Jr.

We went for dinner to Le Gavroche last night. This could have been yet another post by me praising this great restaurant. Waxing lyrical about everything in the restaurant, food, service and atmosphere, would have been easy. But yet again this wonderful restaurant has delightfully surprised us.

You must have heard about the huge controversy about horsemeat being found in hamburgers. These hamburgers were being sold by Tesco, a large British supermarket. I agree that it is not a high end supermarket but all the same, selling horsemeat is not on. It was later found that so called Beef Lasagne or Lasagne Bolognaise being sold by the frozen food brand `Findus’ also contained horsemeat.

I had written about this this in January when the scandal broke. The problem was not so much that horsemeat was bad or poisonous, no; it was more an issue of gross mislabelling and thereby misleading a consumer. You could also say that there was an element of cheating as horsemeat was far cheaper than beef and you were ostensibly selling a product as beef and were actually selling horsemeat.

This controversy generated a fair amount of heat. However, in my view, there was universal acceptance that (i) horsemeat was not bad, in fact it could be healthier than beef (ii) if people are not willing to spend good money on food, you are bound to have this sort of adulteration somewhere along the line. God only knows what is sold to us in India. We shall leave that question un answered for now.

Anyway, Michel Roux Jr. the owner and Chef at Le Gavroche was interviewed by the Times in London on the matter of horsemeat. Chef Roux said that ‘the problem is misrepresentation and mislabelling: selling a beef product that has got horsemeat in it. That’s criminal and someone should pay for that, most definitely. But funnily enough, I do a lot of cooking demos with crowds of people and I ask, ‘OK, straw poll, how many of you here have actually eaten horsemeat voluntarily?’ There’s always a good show of hands. And then next question, ‘How many of you would actually buy horsemeat were it available in your butcher or supermarket?’ The show of hands is bigger. Now that says something. It says people are curious and no longer afraid of taking that step, of taking that jump. It’s a bit like snails 20 years ago. Put snails on the menu then and no one would eat them.”

The interviewer then asked whether Michel Roux Jr. will be putting horsemeat on the menu of Le Gavroche.

“Horse? I’m toying with the idea; why not? It could be interesting. It’s not illegal to sell it in this country. The problem is being able to get a good supply, a really good supply. I think the last bona fide horse butcher closed down in ’57 or something. It was a Newcastle guy.”

Yes, my dear readers, one of the specials of the day at Le Gavroche was `Filet de Cehval Grille Sauce Au Vin Rouge Et Poivre Vert’ - Grilled Horse Fillet Steak with Red Wine and Green Peppercorn Sauce. Le Gavroche had got a really good supply. There was no question in my mind. I had to have Horse as my main course. The Maitre’d taking the order asked how I would like it cooked. I told her truthfully, I have never eaten Horse, so I had no idea. She asked how I ate my beef, to which I replied, medium. So, Grilled Horse Fillet Medium it was for me.

The specials for the night
It was very nice. Honestly, truthfully and without trying to bullshit you, it tasted exactly like a decent Beef Steak. It had no fat and it was extremely tender, and I can promise you, you would not know the difference. I also woke up the next morning hale and hearty and I am not neighing!

`Filet de Cehval Grille Sauce Au Vin Rouge Et Poivre Vert’ - Grilled Horse Fillet Steak with Red Wine and Green Peppercorn Sauce

The cynics among you will say that Michel Roux Jr. is a shameless publicity hound, sensationalist and so on, serving Horsemeat. Well his restaurant must have made a lot of money serving a portion of Horsemeat at an eye popping 39 GBP. But, my dear readers, you can say what you want, Michel Roux Jr. can never do any wrong, and he is really one of the coolest guys on this planet. Looking around, lots of orders for Horsemeat coming. I honestly admire the courage of the man serving Horse. I admire the fact that he went that extra mile sourcing the meat, experimenting how best to cook it, teaching his staff how to cook it and training the front of house how to offer it to diners. And you know what is most courageous, serving it without fear that some PETA or horse lovers come and demonstrate at your door!

Three cheers to Michel Roux Jr. and the Le Gavroche.

When Chef Michel Roux Jr.came to shake hands, we told him how brave he was and what a great time we had. He really and truly is a bright shining star.

The rest of the meal paled in comparison to the bold statement made by the Horse.

Lobster Salad with Truffle Dressing and Fresh Truffles

The box of Truffles

Roast Scallops with Pumpkin Salted Almonds and Sage

Roast Saddle of Rabbit with Crispy Potato and Parmesan

Bitter Chocolate & Praline Indulgence with Gold Leaf

Crunchy Tuile filed with Rich Amedei Chocolate Orange Salad and Confit
With the best Chef in the world

Monday, March 18, 2013

Galvin La Chapelle revisited

In 2005 the Galvin brothers Chris and Jeff started their first restaurant the Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. From that fabulous debut they have gone on to open six more restaurants and two of their restaurants have a single Michelin star. They have also published their cookbook, which I gladly bought, in which they have revealed the secrets behind several of their restaurant dishes. The Galvin restaurants are favourites of ours and we try and eat at one of them on every visit to London. We had booked at the Galvin La Chapelle where we had eaten earlier and you could read about it here.

The restaurant is located in Spitalfeilds which is deep in the City in London. We had intentionally booked for Saturday as the area would generally be shut, and the cab ride was long and expensive. We were welcomed back [all the effective use of a computer programme – no they certainly did not recognise us], our coats taken and we were seated. A glass of Champagne and tap water ordered and we settled into looking at the menus. The restaurant was pretty full; almost 80% I would imagine.

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered the Seared Orkney Scallops, Confit Pork Belly, Cauliflower and Prunes. A classic combination of friendly complementary flavours. Scallops with Bacon are a classic, but here they used Pork Belly, which is the same cut as bacon. Clever. She pronounced the dish as outstanding. I ordered the Galvin signature dish. Something we have had earlier but I had to reorder it. An open Lasagne with a Crab Mousse and Beurre Nantais which is simply a Beurre Blanc stabilised with some cream. The dish is garnished with chives. Delicious. A Mousse of crab was sandwiched between thin discs of Pasta. A really good dish.

Seared Orkney Scallops, Confit Pork Belly, Cauliflower and Prunes

Lasagne with a Crab Mousse and Beurre Nantais

For our main courses HRH the Queen ordered a Pave of Trout, Squid Ink Linguini, Fennel, Shellfish Bisque. Ok, Pave is a French word for rectangular. So the piece of Trout was to be rectangular. The dish was quite something. Full of flavours, decidedly sea based. Once again a great use of flavours. Fennel, a Shellfish Bisque and the mildly fishy Squid Ink. Great dish.

Pave of Trout, Squid Ink Linguini, Fennel, Shellfish Bisque

I ordered the special of the day. This was Veal with a Garlic Shallot puree with Cannelloni stuffed with Minced Veal on a Tomato Sauce. Before you read further have a look at the photograph see if you notice something. I will come to that in a minute. The dish was full of strong flavours. The Green Garlic Shallot puree was really nice and not at all strong. Combining Garlic and Onion can result in a nasty sauce but not in this case. The Cannelloni was basically a jazzed up Lasagne Bolognaise. You had pasta, minced veal, a Béchamel Sauce and a Tomato Puree, it was a simple as that, but, it was a good and tasty Lasagne Bolognaise.

Veal  [on the right] with a Garlic Shallot puree with Cannelloni stuffed with Minced Veal on a Tomato Sauce

All that was fine but there was the problem. Have a look at the piece of Veal. It is a very small portion. I am not a greedy person but I thought this was a bit rich giving me such a small portion. So I called the server and politely asked if this was a usual serving size? He immediately responded by asking if I was unhappy and wanted the dish changed. I said no I was perfectly happy, but I was surprised at the portion size. What happened next reveals an excellence in service. About 90 seconds after this exchange with the server, the Restaurant Manageress turned up discreetly holding a plate with an extra portion of Veal, saying that the Chef had heard that I had complained about the portion size and therefore he had sent an additional piece. Very well done. The server communicated to someone and immediate action taken and as the cliché goes, victory snatched from the jaws of death. What a decent thing to do. We were both very pleased. Honestly, the portion of Veal originally served was miniscule as the photo reveals.

For dessert HRH ordered the Valrhona Chocolate Ganache, Honeycomb and Blood Orange Sorbet. Very well presented. Honeycomb happens to be very trendy this time in the UK. The Amedei Chocolate Mousse with Caramel dessert at Goring Dining Room also had Honeycomb. I ordered the Mascarpone Cheesecake, poached Rhubarb and Lemon Balm. Very pretty looking with all the white and pink colours on the plate. Good dessert. A Macaroon and dark Chocolate Gnache formed the Petit Fours.

Valrhona Chocolate Ganache Honeycomb and Blood Orange Sorbet
Mascarpone Cheesecake, poached Rhubarb and Lemon Balm
Petit Fours

A most pleasant meal, great looking restaurant, robust flavours and ultimately excellent service.

You can read about our previous visit here..

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Goring Dining Room - London

Dinner was at the Goring Hotel and joining us were Mr. & Mrs. V. Mr. V and I first met 43 years ago outside the Principals office at Campion School. We were both with our fathers who were teaching us how to spell our respective surnames, both of which are complicated, while we awaited our respective interviews by the Principal for admission to school. We both got in and have remained friends since that day in 1969.

The Goring Hotel is owned by the same family since its construction 100 years ago. When it was built, the Goring was the first hotel in the world to have bathrooms attached to every room! This is so normal now but it was obviously a big thing 100 years ago. The Goring Hotel is a small, 69 room quintessentially British Hotel in Central London. The Hotel is located very close to Buckingham Palace and has often been used by the Royal Family. The last occasion was when Kate Middleton stayed at the Goring with her family the night before she got married. Why the Goring Hotel? Well, we wanted to have some classic British food and we thought what would be a better place than the Dining Room at the Goring. Reservations were made and reconfirmed.

As is our wont, we reached early, so I suggested to HRH the Queen of Kutch that we have a drink in the Bar while we wait for Mr & Mrs. V. That is just what we did and let me tell you that I have not been to a better bar in my life. The Bar absolutely defined the word `convivial’. The feeling of relaxation and comfort and oddly warmth we both felt while in the bar was surprisingly pleasant. The lighting was correct, the seating and table distance was perfect, the slightly older crowd all contributed to the great ambience. The Bar had strict rules, mobiles have to be turned off, no computers allowed and business papers cannot be opened. It was a bar to relax not a bar to do business in. HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered a Goring Martini while I ordered a Negroni. Both drinks were fantastic and alcoholic not the watered down rubbish we get back in India. Excellent. Soon Mr. & Mrs. V arrived and we went off to the Dining Room.

The Room was large and handsome with well spaced tables and unfortunately not very full. Anyway, we were handed our menus and a Wine list. Mr. & Mrs. V decided to have the Eggs Drumkilbo. This dish has a fascinating history. It is named after the Estate with Castle in Scotland owned by the Queen Mother. The dish was invented for the Queen Mother and remained a favourite hers. Only two establishments have the recipe, the Goring Hotel and Buckingham Palace. Basically it comprises of Shrimp, Lobster, hard cooked eggs, Mayonnaise, other seasonings all combined and covered with a Jellied Chicken Consommé. It is a sort of Prawn Cocktail and Egg Mayonnaise combined. You eat this with Brown Bread. The dish is served cold. It was a substantial portion and it was very good. Mr. & Mrs. V polished off the dish, not before giving us spoonfuls to taste. At this point Mr. V remarked that one thing that irritates him immensely is restaurants that serve small portions. He was most happy seeing the portion size in the Dining Room.

Eggs Drumkilbo

HRH the Queen of Kutch had Warm Duck Livers with a Poached Duck Egg, Artichoke Puree and Sherry Vinegar Dressing. The dish was perfect. The Livers cooked just right and the Poached Egg had a liquid yolk, oozing and creating a sort of Sauce. I ordered the other signature dish, Glazed Scottish Lobster Omelette. A thing of beauty it was, Lobster, Egg, Thermidor Sauce all cooked together. Really a classy dish.

Warm Duck Livers with a Poached Duck Egg, Artichoke Puree and Sherry Vinegar Dressing

Glazed Scottish Lobster Omelette

For mains, HRH the Queen ordered Pan Fried Dover Sole. This came with Sauté Potato and Spinach. She was happy with the dish. The whole fish was presented and then the fish filleted tableside.

The whole pan fried Dover Sole

Filleted and plated

Mrs. V ordered Slow Cooked Best End of Lamb with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and a Rosemary Jus. This was cooked Medium. She said the dish was good. I think it was as she finished it. Both Mr. V and I ordered a British classic, Beef Wellington which came with Roast Potato, Savoy Cabbage and a Red Wine Jus. Excellent. The Beef was medium rare as ordered and very good. A Beef Wellington is a particularly difficult dish to cook. What happens here is that a Beef Fillet or Tenderloin is quickly seared. Then it is smeared with Mustard, covered with Mushroom Duxelle and the whole thing wrapped in pastry. Then the whole package is baked. Since you cannot see the meat, there is no way you can tell if the meat is cooked to the required doneness as it is covered with pastry. So it is a matter of tremendous skill to judge if the meat is cooked. Both dishes were presented on the Trolley and carved tableside.

The Trolley with the Best End Lamb and Beef Wellington

Best End of Lamb

Beef Wellington

Portion of Savoy Cabbage

Deserts were a difficult choice. Mrs. V ordered a homemade Ice Cream which was attractively served. Mr. V ordered an Amedei Chocolate Mousse with Caramel. This looked very good and had a portion of Honeycomb too. I ordered the Spotted Dick, well; I was in a British restaurant! Spotted Dick is a sort of Sponge made with Suet and candied fruit. The Sponge is steamed and not baked. The Sponge is served with a simple Custard or Crème Analgise as the French call it. Very nice, not too sweet and the Sponge was moist.

Ice Cream

Amedei Chocolate Mousse with Caramel

Spotted Dick with Custard

It was a most wonderful evening right from the Bar, the meal and the company. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. While the food and the Dining Room were no doubt good, I came away with very favourable impressions of the Bar. A really nice Bar. Fully recommended. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bruges - The food

Getting the food we wanted in Bruges was a bit more challenging than Ghent. For a start, with the huge tourist business, if you look for a restaurant with the local dishes, the restaurants seem to be tourist traps serving a mish mash of local food and pasta. On the other end of the spectrum you have some serious fine dining restaurants with anywhere from one to three Michelin stars, all of which we did not want to eat at. Slap bang in the middle were the local fine dine restaurants which served very French and Italian food, ranging from steaks to Monkfish with Curry and Scandinavian Styled food. So these were out for us too.

The first night we were to eat at Bistro Den Huzaar. We had read about this during our research and made a reservation from Mumbai some weeks ago. The Bistro looked very good. White cloth tablecloths, decent crockery and a menu comprising of many local dishes served in decent surroundings with pricing that was slightly higher than most touristy restaurants. I know I am making a statement that is highly suspect on logic. Bruges relies on tourism. All restaurants have a huge non local therefore tourist custom. But you know what I am trying to say. This was not for the budget conscious tourists.

One aspect that we noted with much happiness was that if you reserved a table at a restaurant in Ghent or Bruges you were given a nicer table by a window. Another aspect we noted was that no one in Belgium, at least in the restaurant we went to, obsessed about water. Water was never offered on the table. At Belga Queen the waiter offered us water and we said we would be happy with a jug of tap water. He sniggered and said, we do not do tap water in Belgium. We had no problem with that. Water is just a useless con job that we are continually fighting against. This we observed across the board.

After we were seated at Bistro den Huzaar, we get our usual bread, some butter and a little bowl of Rabbit Rillettes. Rillettes are a classic French Bistro dish. Normally pork, often rabbit, duck and goose are made into Rillettes. Rillettes are a sort of cooked pate. What is important is that the meat should have a high fat content, up to, 30% fat. The meat and fat are cubed, salted and cooked long and slow till the meat breaks down and becomes a paste and amalgamates with the fat. The paste is then stored with in a container a layer of fat on top. Rillettes are particularly delicious. You spread a bit of Rillettes on a piece of bread and have a pickled Cornichon. Along with the Rillettes we got some Parsley Oil and some Mayonnaise based sauce. That was a good start.

Bread with the pot of Rabbit Rillettes

Parsley Oil and Mayonnaise based sauce

For our starters HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered the favourite Croquettes but instead of the usual Cheese these were Sweetbreads. The Croquettes were delicious but a bit low on the Sweetbreads. Pity. I got one of my favourite soups the French Onion Soup with was being served with Camembert topped toast instead of the more usual Gruyere or Comte. The soup was good. Just what the doctor ordered on a cold evening.

Sweetbread Croquettes

French Onion Soup with Camembert Toast
Main courses, HRH the Queen ordered Duck Confit. Unfortunately, while the Duck was very well cooked, they had not been able to crisp up the skin. So it was not very much fun to eat. This came with some fried potato and a strip of Bacon crisp fried.

Duck Confit

Extra piece of Confit
I ordered a restaurant speciality, Pork Cheeks with Local Beer and Cherries. This was served `Dum’ style in a small pot covered and sealed with Puff Pastry. Very well done. My dish was really delicious. The Pork Cheeks were melt in the mouth. The Cheeks were served with Potato Dauphinoise which was delicious.

Sealed pot with the stew inside

Add caption

The Pork Cheeks served

Pommes Dauphinouse
Dessert was an order of another classic French bistro dish, Chocolate Mousse. A lovely dense rich mousse. A good meal, well worth an evening out.

Chocolate Mousse

The next night were went to De Koeste a restaurant recommended by the Concierge at the hotel we were staying at. The primary reason for going there was because HRH the Queen wanted to eat Mussels which are a Belgian speciality. As a sort of amuse bouche we each got a small plate of boiled shrimps. HRH the Queen ordered a plate of cured Ham from Hungary, much like Parma Ham while I ordered a Shrimp Cocktail, my second of the season, the first being at J Sheekey. The Ham was top class. My Shrimp Cocktail was very good, and, like the description said, it really had shrimps and not prawns.

Boiled Shrimps

Shrimp Cocktail


HRH the Queen ordered a bowl of Mussels with Belgian Beer and Cream. I ordered a Steak which the restaurant cooked on an open charcoal fire. The first Mussel eaten left HRH the Queen very dissatisfied. She said the Mussel was sandy. She ate a few more Mussels and continued to be unhappy. She left most of the dish. The waitress looked concerned and was told that the Mussels were sandy. My steak with a Béarnaise Sauce was unremarkable. We finished the meal with a shot of aged Jenever which is a sort of Gin. It’s heavily flavoured with Juniper Berries which are one of the prime flavouring agents of Gin.

Mussels with Beer and Cream

The charcoal grill

Grilled Steak with Bearnaise Sauce

Old Jenevers

That night was most unhappy for HRH the Queen. The Mussels acted up and Her Highness spent the night throwing up. The next morning she was a bit wobbly.

The last meal in Bruges was to be at a bar cum Brasserie called the Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. This place offers local dishes and has a great reputation. We made our reservations and walked across. The bar offers 400 yes 400 beers. Have a look at the menu listing the menus. It’s huge. With our beer we ordered something called Beer Cheese and Beer Ham. Basically its Ham and Cheese. The Cheese is a mild, Cheddary cheese and you are given Celery Salt to sprinkle on top and Mustard to dip the pieces of cheese into. What an absolutely perfect snack to have with a beer. Not the usual peanuts and wafer and `Ghode ka Channa’.

The Menu

Beer Ham

Beer Cheese

After a few beers we ordered our respective dinners.  HRH the Queen ordered her favourite being Rabbit with Prunes prepared with their House beer “Gambrivinus” served with fried Potato Croquettes.  She lapped up the dish after having remained hungry the whole day. The Croquettes were particularly good. I ordered yet another stew being Flemish Carbonades prepared with “Gulden Draak” Beer, served with Apple Sauce. Very good. Both dishes came out steaming hot.

Flemish Carbonades prepared with “Gulden Draak” Beer

Rabbit with Prunes prepared with their House beer “Gambrivinus” 

Potato Croquettes

We did ultimately eat well in Bruges. Yes, the Mussels rendered HRH the Queen Hors De Combat but, that, I guess is something to be taken as being a peril of travel.