Friday, August 29, 2014

Dunkin' Donuts - not bad at all.

William Rosenberg founded Dunkin’ Donuts way back in 1948. His idea to create a chain came from his observation that donuts and coffee were the food and drink of choice of construction workers. From that, the company has grown to becoming a USD 7 billion company. Dunkin Donuts is a subsidiary of Dunkin Brands. Dunkin Brands also owns Baskin Robbins. Dunkin Donuts has been brought to India by Jubilant Foodworks, the same guys who have brought us the delights of Domino’s Pizza.

One more bit of trivia. There is no difference between a `donut’ and a `doughnut’. A donut when referred to in driving [as in a car] is a manoeuvre that involves rotating the rear or front of the vehicle around the opposite set of wheels in a continuous motion, creating (ideally) a circular skid-mark pattern which looks like a donut.

Anyway, Dunkin Donuts opened at Bandra a few weeks ago. The lines of people wanting to enter were amazingly long for the first few days. Either the food served was very good or, there was some sort of deal on. I was not sure. One morning I suggested to HRH the Queen of Kutch that we should have lunch at Dunkin Donuts. I had a potentially stressful meeting to attend that afternoon and I hoped that a good burger would ease the stress. She agreed and off we went for an early lunch. We reached at about 12.30 to find that the restaurant was half full.

It is a bright well lit place. It is actually a restaurant though self service. The decor, tables, seating and general ambience is far more luxurious than the MacDonald’s and KFC’s that we have. Actually this was rather pleasant with a nice vibe and smiling happy people inside. Generally college going kids.

We walked up and ordered. We had no intention of eating a Donut, but instead we got ourselves two burgers. The interesting thing was that different burgers had different buns, one had a Bagel, one had a local Mumbai `Brun Pao’, and the others had regular buns. Nice touch. We ordered two of the most expensive burgers, each cost Rs 223/- plus tax. That was a fairly large amount of money when compared to a burger at MacDonald’s.

HRH the Queen of Kutch got herself a Heaven Can Wait Burger while I got something called Tough Guy Chicken Bagel Burger. The Heaven Can Wait Burger had two patties one was a chicken and the other was Chorizo Chicken along with the usual garnish. The Tough Guy Chicken Bagel Burger  had some sliced chicken salami and Chorizo Chicken along with the usual garnish. Both burgers were large, quite large and, to our slight disappointment, rather spicy. The spice was unnecessary we thought, but we have to Indianise everything. The Burgers were quite nice I must say despite the spice.

Heaven Can Wait

Tough Guy Chicken Bagel Burger

Lost in thought. The afternoon meeting was going to be very tense.

We would not have any hesitation going here again. A lot more personality than MacDonald’s and KFC and a lot more expensive too. Though portions are substantial. One of these Burgers with nothing else except probably a Coke would fill most of our stomachs. We came away pleased. Do go here, especially as a treat for you and the kids.

To conclude, sigh! After eating at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Le Gavroche and so on and so forth, I am blogging about Dunkin Donuts. Deep sigh!

Time to travel.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Food laws are a joke

I have been quiet for the last few days. Combination of a lot of factors, not necessarily connected to each other. Laziness, the fact that I do not like the monsoon/rains, the fact that I have been somewhat busy and our internet has been acting up; are some of the factors.

What better to get the creative juices flowing than to do some Government bashing? I really, sincerely hope that our Pradhan Mantri Shri Narendra Modi actually manages to pull off his `more governance less government’ statements. Anyway, back to the story.

I am sure you have heard the cliché - you are what you eat. To ensure that we eat the finest and most healthy food, our collective Nanny i.e. the Government, has myriad laws, rules regulation notification ordinances directives and office orders. To join the party, if I am not mistaken, the Bombay High Court has said that cooking food on the streets is not permitted. I am unaware if this judgement still stands and if the no cooking policy applies to only hawkers or generally. That would make life very difficult for the slum dwellers etc. Despite this we have hawkers, unlicensed food sellers, grossly unhygienic food preparation storage and transportation. I am sure you have read and seen glowing reports on blogs, newspapers and on TV of `street food’ stalls – Bade Miya at Colaba, the Pao Bhaji stalls, the Vada Pao at Kirti College and so many more. All unlicensed, all illegal in every way and all with zero hygiene standards. How any one of us are still alive beats me hollow. The thought of eating green chutney makes my shudder. Imagine the raw coriander, mint and chillies, all unwashed or badly washed. If washed, washed in dubious water. Then, these ingredients are mulched together in a blender ensuring that the mud, fertilizer and God knows what else is evenly distributed. Eeek!!

A few days ago, as a shareholder of The Indian Hotels Company Limited, I received the Abridged Prospectus to the issue if Rights shares by the Company. The Indian Hotels Company Limited is the owner of the Taj brand as well as Vivanta, Ginger and Gateway. The company operates some of India’s finest hotels. The Company is internationally known and has a high reputation. One assumes that they would operate within the four corners of the law, and in accordance with the best practices used in the industry.

Alas, I was wrong. If you read the section relating to litigations against the Company in the Abridged Prospectus you will realise what the truth of the matter is. Permit me to enlighten you...

1.     The Company operated a restaurant called Skywok at NOIDA. There are proceedings against the Chef for storing adulterated curds.

2.     The Food Safety Office at Delhi has prosecuted the Taj Palace Hotel Delhi for misbranding Sheerbhog Idli Rava.

3.     This one is really cute. The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau – yes, you read that correctly – has prosecuted the Taj Man Singh Delhi as they found references to `sea cucumber’ on the menu of the Chinese restaurant. Not only was sea cucumber mentioned on the menu, but, horror of horrors, they found some sea cucumbers in the kitchens. Apparently, a sea cucumber is a scheduled animal under the Wildlife Protection Act. Possessing sea cucumbers, presumably legitimately imported under the relevant import statutes would still be in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act. Such are the laws of our country.

4.     At the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, the Health Department of Rajasthan prosecuted the executives for serving inferior paneer.

I have picked just a few of the litigations against the Taj. There are 4 pages listing various litigations against the Company.

Now, I am not for a moment suggesting that two wrongs make a right, or, just because `X’ is being let off `Y’ should also be let off. The Indian Hotels Company Limited, as I am sure ITC, Leela, Oberoi, all hotel owners, have been similarly prosecuted. I am sure Chefs, hotel managers and Managing Directors of all these companies are facing several legal proceedings both civil and criminal. The point I am labouring to make is that all these companies run high end hotels and restaurants and can ill afford to serve `poisonous’ food. I know that commercial kitchens are not the cleanest places in the world, but one can assume that the kitchens, storage facilities etc in these establishments are better, far far better than any standalone restaurant and certainly better that the thousands of road side hawker stalls. But, I am sure that not one of those hawkers is facing proceedings under any of the statutes pertaining to food. If there is any proceeding against them, which itself I doubt, it would be under some illegal hawking, road obstruction kind of proceeding. These hawkers violate every known Indian statute, they charge you no taxes of any kind, obviously pay no taxes of any kind, but despite this they flourish and remain prosecution less.

Reading the prosecutions against Indian Hotels Company Limited, really makes me wonder when our Nanny will treat us all equally. If only she did, we would have such a good life and our cities would be pleasant.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Underage drinking.

We were in Shillim at the wonderful Hilton Shillim Resort and Spa. Shillim is some 30 kilometers away of Lonavala close to the Pavana Dam. It takes about an hour to get there once you get off the Mumbai Pune Expressway at Lonavala. This time, is of course subject to the caveat that you are not traversing the road when the lumpen hordes are frolicking, drinking, molesting their companions and wildly dancing at Bhushi Dam. If that is the case add at least 45 minutes to your journey. The Resort is 300 acres on a property of some 3500 acres. Impressive. Lonavala weather was excellent, rainy, misty and the surroundings an unreal green. The food at the Resort while unadventurous [standard Coffee Shop fare – Club Sandwiches, Burgers, Thai Curry, Paneer Lababdar kind of stuff], was top notch, this was a most pleasant surprise.

This post is not about Shillim.

One morning, while we were at Shilim, HRH the Queen of Kutch got a call from her Aunt who was in a state of panic. Apparently. Aunt’s houseguest – a 16 year old girl from USA – had got drunk the previous night and, like most out of control drunks, was violently vomiting and feeling miserable. Aunt wanted advice on how to deal with the situation. Advice was dispensed, give her some water and some Gatorade or similar. Do not feed her, do not give her Limbu Pani, that only adds to the acid in the stomach thereby further irritating it. Further advise, don’t worry, girl will live. Thru the day a few more calls were made. By the evening the 16 year old was back to normal.

Why HRH the Queen of Kutch was called on to give such advise was intriguing. Being the first port of call on dealing with hangovers is not necessarily a virtue. Anyway, HRH the Queen of Kutch displayed admirable poise in dispensing advice without taking offence.

The story unfolded. A gaggle of cousins the youngest being 14 and all of them below 25 had gone to the bar called The Local at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai. The Local is next to Globus/Fabindia opposite Bombay University. This is the new avatar of Soul Fry Casa. At The Local, the 16 year old proceeded to drink an admirable number of Vodka shots, while her younger 14 year old sister downed 3 Bacardi Breezers. 16 year old had graduated to vomit by the time she reached home and was in no position/condition to take the elevator up to the apartment. By now the gaggle was in a quandary as 16 year old was vomiting in the compound, presumably could barely stand. Building watchman calls Aunt in the dead of the night and says, euphemistically, `Aapke guest beemar hain. Neeche aake le jaiye.’ 14 year old Bacardi Breezer drinker was in far better shape. 

What is the obvious thought passing thru your mind? How can a bar serve alcohol to such young people. By the way, the legal age for drinking in Maharashtra is 25. I am not getting into the niceties of Permits and so on. Let us just restrict this to the fact that 25 is the age you can drink. These girls were 14 and 16 and the others in the gaggle were all underage anyway. Both HRH the Queen of Kutch and I were shocked at the fact that they were served alcohol at a bar.

That evening we were having a drink in the bar with our fellow travellers Mr. and Mrs. Arzano and their 17 year old son Jeh. Jeh was in the bar illegally, but, I swear that all he drank was a Banana Smoothie. Jeh was a fountain of knowledge. He said that there are a few bars in Mumbai where alcohol is served without any restriction – The Local, Royalty at Bandra [once owned by Sanjay Dutt now owned by Shilpa Shetty] XO at Palladium and the rooftop bar at Palladium. Jeh said that the problem with the rooftop bar at Palladium is that it is a bit expensive. They normally drink Vodka either mixed or as shots. Never Smirnoff as that gives you a nasty next morning, but Grey Goose, Ciroc and Absolut. They almost never drink beer. Girls are never checked for being underage, sometimes boys are, but when that happens they do an about turn and walk out. We were left gaping at this revelation. It seems that this is par for the course.

More than anything else the social mores are changing very very rapidly. I cannot imagine going to a bar to drink before I was 18 or more. Sure we were given a glass of dilute beer at home but actually having the money and the confidence to go to a bar and drink at 14 or 16 is something I cannot conceive. And, to have the money at 16 to be able to drink Grey Goose, Ciroc and Absolut which are pretty pricey by any standard, is also another stunning fact.

If a bar is serving alcohol to underage drinkers obviously there are some pay offs to the cops to look the other way. So, as a business model this is an added cost. Despite this cost and the risks of one day getting caught on the wrong foot, bar owners seem to brazen this out. The economics of serving alcohol to underage drinkers must make sense.

At the end, I do not really know what conclusions one can draw from this state of affairs. Once again more questions, fewer answers.