Monday, November 24, 2014

Reclaim the streets. Are you completely nuts?

It is only if you live under a stone or in South Mumbai would you not know about this ridiculous new campaign `Reclaim the Streets’. You can read a glowing self congratulatory report here.

I am totally disgusted, angry and cannot for the life of me understand the logic of this campaign.

For all under the stone dwellers and ignoramus South Mumbai kars, this is a new initiative that has been started by “NGOs, think tanks, citizens' associations and cycling groups” The campaign is sponsored by the Times of India. This ensures inordinate publicity. The campaign runs till 31st May 2015.

What happens is that the stretch of Linking Road heading South is closed for traffic from the HP Petrol Pump at the start of Turner Road all the way up to Santa Cruz. This happens every Sunday morning from 7 am to 11 am. This is the street that is `reclaimed’. On this portion you have thousands, yes thousands of Bandraites and sundry other people who had got into their cars bright and early on a Sunday morning and turned our entire area into one big parking lot. All these people with their wives and children had come to this stretch of road to cycle, skate, walk or simply hang out and ‘be seen’. There are thankfully no food stalls of any kind. It was just idle folks with idle children thronging the streets looking pleased with themselves.

As you can imagine, traffic is horrendous. Only one half of this main road is operational. No right turns are allowed leading to huge jams. So on one side you have masses of families and kids and louts and layabouts strolling or cycling or skating on the road and on the other side you have a traffic jam and the resultant carbon monoxide helping gas these layabouts to death. Wonderful idea.


If you really wanted to reclaim things reclaim the parks overrun by debris, pimps and drug pushers. Reclaim foot paths overrun by hawkers and debris and thrash. Reclaim the beaches from the louts and trash. Reclaim the promenades. These are all designed specifically for the purpose of recreation and pedestrians. This is where all the walkers and cyclists and skaters should be. Every day. Not just on Sundays.

I really cannot understand what is happening.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The rich, subsidies, Clubs and `cheap food'. Think about this.

You would recall the debates of a few months ago. Why should there be a subsidy on diesel? It was a national shame that a lot of subsidised diesel was used to run luxury automobiles. Thus the subsidy (i) was generally useless to those who required it, and (ii) those who could well afford to pay full price for diesel got it at a subsidised price.

This paradox is, and has been, existing with Clubs all over the country more so in the metropolitan cities where land rentals are high.

Before I go further a few disclosures and disclaimers:

1         I am a member of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club [RBYC] and the Bombay Gymkhana.

2      This post is based on the RBYC as I have accurate and up to date information on hand. The principle is almost exactly the same at all the other Mumbai clubs be it the Willingdon Sports Club or the venerable Bombay Gymkhana and many others.

3        I am not picking on the RBYC – see explanation (2) above.

4         No I am not am being facetious, I am deadly serious.

5.   This post requires some concentration when reading

The Bombay Port Trust [BPT] is one of the largest landowners in Mumbai. BPT owns the land on which the RBYC is located. A Judgement of the Supreme Court has recorded some fascinating facts, which I am taking the liberty of reproducing here. If you would like to read the entire Judgement click here.

“The Bombay Port Trust Estate, admeasuring around 720 hectares (1800 acres approx.) of land is a huge stretch from Colaba to Raoli Junction, including Pir Pau, Butcher Island, land at Titwala and other islands. The population is highly urbanized and dense. Out of the total area of 720 hectares the area under the jurisdiction of Estate Department of the BPT is around 336 hectares. Out of these, 306 hectares of area is occupied by the lessees of BPT holding leases of various tenures.

There were about 600 lessees. The lessees could broadly be divided into three categories – monthly or annual lessees, 15 years’ terms lessees, and 99 years’ or long term lessees, with or without clauses for renewal.

In case of monthly or annual leases, the municipal taxes are borne by the BPT, while in cases of 15 years term and long terms leases, the liability to pay municipal taxes is with the lessees. The BPT Estate cannot be sold; it is all held out on leases excepting for the land in the use of the Port and for Port activities i.e. for the self requirement of the BPT. Leases were created long back, some of which being around a century old.

In the year 1962, the World Bank advised BPT that its rate of return on its real estate was hopelessly inadequate and needed to be reviewed. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India too, in his report of the year 1979-80, shared the opinion of the World Bank and highlighted the obligation on the part of the trustees to secure a fair and reasonable revenue for its estate so as to attend better to its manifold public duties.

When the private landlords are making money in the commercial capital city of Bombay, there is no reason why the Bombay Port Trust should be kept pegged down to abysmally low rates of rent which were settled decades before and at a point of time when in Bombay the land was available for occupation more or less like just a bounty of nature and people were being persuaded and encouraged by holding out incentives to come to Bombay and settle there. He submitted that the Bombay Port Trust has to manage and administer a huge port, most vital to the industrial and economic life of the nation, and it needs money for funding its activities. Every additional penny earned by Bombay Port Trust has to be and is spent for public good and the increase in rent would augment the resources of the Bombay Port Trust and thereby strengthen its hands in rendering better service to the nation.”

The President of The RBYC has just sent a circular where he says that the Club is now paying Rs 1,79,544.46/- as lease rent per month. Do read the circular especially the highlighted portions. You could download the circular by clicking here.

This is for lease of the land on which the Club building stands. The Club is a building of Ground plus five floors with a floor area of 7000 sq feet per floor which totals 42,000 sq feet. I am assuming that the size of the land would be 2 ½ times the size of a floor so it would be approximately 17,500 square feet. A simple back of the envelope calculation will reveal that the lease rent for the land is a paltry Rs 10.25 per sq foot per month. If one were to take the area of the building the rent is an equally paltry Rs 4.27 per square foot per month. Rents for commercial space at Nariman Point are anywhere between Rs 150 – Rs 250 per sq foot per month. This, of course, is for built up space not land. My point is mentioning all this is to give you some kind of idea of how utterly unrealistic is the rent the RBYC is paying to the BPT.

Herein lies the rub.

The members of the RBYC are amongst the richest and most prominent industrialists and professionals in Mumbai – the Godrejs, the Ambanis and the Premjis, just to name a few. The other members of the RBYC are certainly not by any stretch of imagination amongst the poor who require subsidies. The irony is, almost all yacht owners, who are by no means poor are members of the RBYC. It is after all the Yacht Club.

Mind you, I must point out that the RBYC probably has the smallest leased land among the Mumbai clubs. The Cricket Club of India, the venerable Bombay Gymkhana, the Hindu, Islam and Parsee Gymkhanas all have cricket fields, tennis courts, and, much larger grounds. The Willingdon Club has a golf course for God’s sake! The Royal Western India Turf Club has an entire horse racing track. The Breach Candy Club has large lands and pools. The land owners in these clubs is probably the Collector of Bombay or the State Government and not the BPT. But just think about how much land is involved and how paltry the rents are. Also remember, members in all these clubs are India’s richest individuals. At the Turf Club you could count the Singhanias the Jains of Bennett Coleman, the now not so rich Dr Vijay `Willful Defaulter’ Mallya, Dr Poonawalla and other horse owners as members.

The Club inducts new members at Rs 12 lakhs as shown on their website. I do not believe the poor and downtrodden are becoming members at this rate even though, as members, they will get ‘cheap’ food and drink. Rooms are let out at rates between Rs 3000 – Rs 6000. So, letting out a single room for Rs 6000 for an entire month garners the RBYC more revenue than the lease rental for the month for the whole premises. You could have a look at their website by clicking here.

When an organisation pays rent which is unrealistically low, its running costs are obviously low. Therefore, the food and drink served is regarded as ‘cheap’. There are 2 reasons why it is ‘cheap’. Firstly, because the rents are unrealistic and, secondly, the Club does not operate for profit, but charges its members just enough to cover costs. I must also point out that the entrance fees paid at the time you are admitted as a member are capitalised by clubs. So, today Clubs have healthy a corpus which is invested resulting in decent interest income. This too helps offset costs. 

You may well ask what does `cheap’ mean. Let me give you just two examples. A standard Kingfisher beer 330 ml will cost you inside Rs 95/- at the RBYC. The same beer will cost you Rs 200 at Toto’s Bar at Bandra one of the `cheaper’ bars in Bombay. Though I doubt any of the Godrejs would grace Toto with their presence but would surely quaff a beer or two at the RBYC. A Sada Dosa at the Bombay Gymkhana costs Rs 35/- and the most expensive a Cheese Masala Dosa costs Rs 60/- I checked the menu just this morning. A Masala Dosa would cost you Rs 55/- at Poornima, an Udipi restaurant in Fort [non air conditioned and self service complete with `finger paani’]. A two egg plain omelette costs Rs 30/- at the Bombay Gymkhana while the most expensive is the Cheese Omelette at Rs 40/- These are really cheap, as cheap as at an Udipi restaurant. Would any of our rich and famous Bombay Gym or RBYC members eat at an Udipi that is full priced, albeit, at the same price as a subsidised Club? No. But they are happily chomping down hugely subsidized Dosas and eggs in the classy environs at the Club. 

Once you have read the prices I am sure you are not feeling too happy about the dinner your pal treated you to at the Club. It was equivalent to taking you to an Udipi for the amount he spent!! Probably, without doubt the cheapest booze outside of home. 

So, on the one hand, we rich members enjoy the privilege of ‘cheap’ food and drink, the Bombay Port Trust and the Collector of Mumbai which renders service to our country has to suffer and get a paltry return for its lands. If the Government raises taxes to build or maintain infrastructure we all crib and make all kinds of intellectual arguments ranging from the ludicrous `Mumbai should keep the taxes it pays for its own development’, to `paying taxes is such a waste, it is only used in government salaries’. So paying taxes is a pain for us even though we are often the very same people who have caused the Government to fall into neglect.

You may well be outraged by my trend of thought and say that clubs are not only about `cheap’ food and drink. Really? Do have a look at any clubs accounts. The biggest revenue is from food and drink, never sports for which the club got its original land on a cheap lease.

Can you imagine [other things being equal] if the Bombay Port Trust received realistic rents how good our port infrastructure could be? All of us who are members of these ‘elite’ clubs can easily afford to pay more, far more, for the food and drink at the clubs we go to. I am not suggesting here that Clubs suddenly become profit centres, but surely paying commercial or realistic rents and appropriately charging members who can afford the charge is only but fair.

Why should a Club which has, and takes pride in having, Members who are the elite of society not pay commercial rents to a Government?

Makes no sense to me. Maybe I am missing something here. But then, I am only a minority, a miniscule minority willing to pay full price for what I can afford.

You may well ask me what my position is. Well here goes:

  • I believe realistic rents should be charged by the land owners.
  • The concept of not operating at a profit must continue.
  • If costs go up, which they are bound to, members should have the right to transfer memberships and appropriate a premium for the membership.
  • Transfers will help members who may want to exit if things become unafforadble. Today clubs have huge memberships but a very small number use the club, even for `cheap' food and drink.
  • All transfers will be approved by the balloting committee of the clubs so that quality, ethos profile and so on can be maintained.
  • The corpus could continue to be built up by charging the incoming transferee a fee.
  • Clubs should have a maximum number of members, no new members should be allowed unless the number falls below the threshold.
  • I believe this will really revitalise clubs. You will have real members who really use the club leading to more revenue better planning and simply more consistent experiences for all concerned.

I am sure there will be many counter arguments to this blog, and I would really like to see other point of view on this. Do post your views.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Meaning? Abbreviations? Information?

Let us start with a simple one. Most of you will know this. JMD. What does JMD stand for? Well it is Jai Mata Di. Pray, who is Jai Mata Di? I did not know. Yes, l am an ignoramus. I looked it up on Google. Jai Mata Di, for fellow ignoramus is the Goddess at Vaishono Devi. Thus, I presume the guys who own JMD Auto are followers or believers of Vaishno Devi.

JMD is also the acronym for Jamaican Dollar. But that is not of any relevance.

Now for something more difficult. What does KGN stand for? I see this all over, and written in Green. The answer folks, obtained not by looking it up on Google, but, by asking the riskshaw driver, is Khawja Garib Nawaz of Ajmer. So presumably, a rickshaw with KGN on its windshield is owned by a believer of Khawja Garib Nawaz of Ajmer.

Now let us change tack a bit. Have you ever wondered what you will do with that stunning bit of information, so cheerfully dished out by a dulcet voiced air hostess when you land at your destination? Unless you are deaf you must have heard, `Bahar ka taapman pachees degree sell sious hai’ or its equivalent in English “the outside temperature is 12 degrees”.

Once you hear this nugget you look at your fellow passenger and appropriately wiggle your eyebrows or make believe that you are shivering [depending of course on the temperature proclaimed]. Is that the real reason to make this announcement? To build camaraderie after spending so much time sitting so uncomfortably close to your fellow passenger? Is it to check if you are alive and not succumbed to deep vein thrombosis sitting still for so long?

I really have no clue as to what you will do with that nugget of information. I mean, you are in an aircraft. Your suitcases are in the hold and you will not get them till you are in the baggage reclaim area. You are wearing what you are, you may just have warm clothes [if you are travelling to a cooler place] with you on board. If it is colder than you estimated, what will you do? Refuse to leave the plane? Flitch the blanket? What? If it is warmer than you thought will you undress? You will do nothing. You will simply absorb that useless pointless information.

But, I still wonder why they insist on telling you this. Sometimes, it is the pilot, in whose hands you had placed your life, who will drone on in his conversation that the temperature is 12 degrees or whatever and it is sunny.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park

This blog is written by HRH The Queen of Kutch.

Let’s be honest, there are not many reasons one would voluntarily visit Vadodra, or for that matter, any other city in Gujarat. Sure, a visit to the Rann of Kutch is on the cards and, maybe, at a pinch the Gir Forest. And, since temple hopping is not my thing, Gujarat really held no fascination for me for all these years. Yes, the ‘development model’ of Gujarat has been hotly debated in the recent past as have the horrors of Godhra. No, Gujarat was not high on my to-do list by a long mile.

But, life suddenly threw a curve ball and I found myself in Vadodra with the best part of the day to kill on my own. And what a day of discovery it turned out to be. Unexpectedly, one of the best days I have had in a long while – perhaps because there were no expectations.

Armed with hastily scribbled notes after a quick hour of scouring the internet, I set off for Champaner Pavadagh Archeological Park, 50 kms from Vadodra that has in the recent past, risen like a phoenix. Champaner is a large sprawling area at the base of Pavagadh Hill. Both are dotted with monuments, forts, mosques, step wells as well as Hindu and Jain temples.

The history of Champaner is fascinating. Founded in the 8th Century during the Chavda dynasty, the name Champaner is often attributed to the limestone rocks of Pavagadh, whose light yellow color tinged with red gives the appearance of the champaka, or “flame of the forest” flower. The city and Champaner and the surrounding hills of Pavagadh were seen as strategically important and were soon captured by the Rajputs who ruled Champaner for over 200 years. Several Sultans attempted to capture the Kingdom of Champaner but it was all the way in the 14th Century Mahmud Begada who succeeded, after laying siege to the city for twenty months. He renamed the city Muhammadabad, made it his capital and spent 23 years renovating and enhancing it. He painstakingly rebuilt an entire city at the foothills of Pavagadh.

Champaner’s time as capital was not long, however, as the Mughal Emperor Humayun conquered the city in 1535 and moved the capital back to Ahmedabad.

For the next four centuries, the city was in a decline and when the British took control of the area in beginning of the 19th century, the city was almost completely overgrown and practically reclaimed by the surrounding forests with a population of only 500.

It is only in the last 20 odd years that the site received attention by archaeologists and Heritage Trusts working in the area to develop it into a tourist attraction and a World Heritage Site. In July 2004, UNESCO inscribed the site on the World Heritage List with the justification of its “joint significance as a living Hindu pilgrimage centre, its cluster of Jain temples, its remarkable preserved medieval urban fabric, its exquisite sandstone-carved mosques and tombs and its intangible heritage values.

The drive from Vadodra to Champaner was an absolute pleasure. Superb roads, minimal traffic and from what I could see, fairly decent signage. Gujarat model? The roads were infinitely better than the tracks we have in Mumbai.

It was about 11 am and looking at the time, I decided to first visit the Pavagadh hill and finish my uphill trek while it was still relatively cool, before I explored the plains of Champaner.

The Pavagadh hill composed of reddish-yellow coloured stone formation is one of the oldest rock formations in India. The hill rises to a height of nearly 800 m and is home to the 10th-11th century temple dedicated to Lakulisa. Today, all that is left of the temple is the sanctum sanctorum and a small foyer, but it remains a major place of worship.

Lakulisa Temple at Pavagadh

I had the option of walking up from Champaner to Pavagadh which would have taken me a couple of hours or take the ropeway which would get me up in a mere 6 minutes. I decided to take the ropeway up and then walk on the way down. To say I had my heart in my mouth on the way up is an understatement. The incline is very very steep. The squeaks and creaks and groans of the cables were disturbing and having my fellow passengers talk about the major accident a year ago made me think twice about my decision. But, God is Great and I got to the top in the scarily long 6 minutes.

Creaky cabin

Scary steep ropeway

Unfortunately, there was nothing to really catch my eye once I got there, except for lines of tacky stall selling knick-knacks and soft drinks and scores of worshippers walking barefoot to the Mahakali Shaktipeeth some 250 steps up from the plateau where the ropeway dropped me. A few quick photographs and I was ready to run away. Not quite the start I had hoped for and my spirits sank imagining of what lay in store for me in Champaner.

Mahakali Temple

However, halfway down the hill I came upon the magnificent Saat Kaman and my spirits soared. Saat Kaman or Seven Arches is an inexplicable thing of beauty in the middle of absolutely nowhere. No signage, no indicators and no people. If you aren’t looking for it, you will never know it’s there.

Saat Kaman or seven arches

This became the theme for the rest of the monuments in Champaner. Nothing at all to indicate they exist and absolutely no people. I have never ever been to any place of tourist interest in India that is not filled with people. Look at all my pictures. Not a single person anywhere. At some point I felt like an explorer blazing new trails.

With a renewed sense of enthusiasm I peeled my eyes for the Bawaman Mosque which is close to the base of Pavagadh Hill. This was the only place I visited that had an actual caretaker. He was happy to show me around and kindly gave me directions to all the other places I wanted to see. A word of caution, do not believe anyone who says all the monuments are close by and a short walk from one another. It’s almost impossible to get around without your own transport.

Bawaman Masjid

Ornate Mihrab [prayer niche]

The next was the absolutely gorgeous Jami Masjid. This mosque dates back to 1513 and is a place of pilgrimage for those who seek blessings from the pir who is buried in one corner of the mosque gardens.

Jami Masjid

This mosque along with all the other monuments in Champaner is a brilliant example of the coming together of Hindu and Islamic architecture. While the actual worship hall is typically Arabic in style with its 176 columns, the pavilions, jalis and chatris show the strong presence of Hindu masons and architects are typical of the Gujarat style of architecture. The mosque even has an ablution tank which is in the octagonal kund shape found in Hindu places of worship.

Carving on the inside of the Central Dome

Octagonal ablution tank

From there, I went along a dirt road barely wide enough for a car to Kevda Masjid. According to one historian, 'nature was integrated into the Kevda mosque's architecture in a way that was unusual for the Islamic world'.

Kevda Masjid

Ornate Jali work

Cenotaph open on all four sides

Nature was indeed attempting to reclaim the path to Nagina Masjid and abandoning the car at Kevda Masjid, I walked along a narrow dirt path to the absolutely awe inspiring Nagina Masjid. This was my favourite monument of the lot. Built of white stone, Nagina Masjid is a large monument built on a very high plinth with a large open yard in the front. A well preserved Cenotaph lies to one side of the mosque.

Nagina Masjid

Well preserved Cenotaph

At Lila Gumbaj ki Masjid, I was able to climb up a dark circular stairwell all the way up to the terrace of the higher dome. The views from this height were spectacular.

Lila Gumbaj Ki Masjid

The other monuments I visited were the The Dargah of Sakar Khan, the Helical Step Well, the Kabutarkhana and Ek Minara Masjid.

Dargah of Sakar Khan
Ek Minara Masjid

Helical Step Well

A day of beauty and discovery. Absolutely worth a visit, especially now, when all the monuments are absolutely deserted.

Do go before the crowds discover the beauty of Champaner. Do take along some water and a packed lunch because there are absolutely no stalls/shops or any form of tourist infrastructure in most of Champaner. There are also no signs or directions, but the local people are very helpful and will happily point you in the right direction.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A fire and a dinner party

Our occasional London dining partner, good friend the Doctor Businesswoman and we have an unwritten pact. Whenever we are in London and our diaries match, she plans a dinner party. The object is that we go to her home and cook the meal for the dinner party. In the past we have had Kache Gosth Ki Biryani, Dhansakh and Kebabs with Brown Rice, Laganiya Sheekh (a Bohri Meatloaf) and so on. The way it works is we plan the meal jointly; send her an ingredient list in advance, she buys everything and we cook. She invites her pals, who over the years have become our pals too, she serves great wine and a jolly good time is had by all.

This time, following our cooking course in Goa, we decided that Pork Vindaloo would be the centre point of the meal. As a starter we would make Prawn `Chops’ or masala Prawns filled in a potato case – Prawn Pattice. Along with this we would have a Salad Nicoise with `Bombay Aloo’. Bombay Aloo of course does not exist in Bombay or India; it is a British dish which is a simple `Batata Chi Bhaaji’.

The party was on Friday 24th October. So on Thursday the 23rd we went the Doctor Businesswoman’s house and spent a good 6 hours cooking. I must say the fiddliest part of making the Prawn Pattice was painstakingly done by HRH the Queen of Kutch.

Once cooking was complete we went back to our apartment had showers opened our own bottle of wine put on some music and got  set for a relaxed Diwali evening. We had planned on cooking our own dinner that evening, Pork Chops with a Cider & Cream Sauce, Gnocchi and Boiled Broccoli. By 9.30pm, the Chops were marinating, the Stock for the sauce was reduced, the Cider added and reduced and kept ready but for the final addition of cream. Life was good, music was purring and we were nice and relaxed when suddenly the fire alarm went off. Horribly loud. I opened the room door and could smell the very strong acrid odour of electrical cables burning. I told HRH the Queen of Kutch to grab a shawl, I grabbed my jacket and we both left the apartment by the fire exit.

The complex was vacated. It was fairly cold out in the open. This was a genuine fire. Soon the London Fire Brigade arrived. The area was cordoned off and we were led to an assembly area. Here our names were taken and crossed off from the list the staff had. In the meanwhile, the staff had given the fire department the floor plans for the entire complex, each room, passages, corridors everything. We were told to go to the neighbouring hotel and wait. Drinks and food were on the house.

While we waited, across us on the sofa were three dowagers who looked like us – Indian. Conversation ensued, they were Pakistani. One of them was a Parsi from Karachi with relations in `Woodlands’ at Pedder Road. We joked about how if we lost our Passports in the fire it would only be the Pakistani and Indian authorities that would give us a hard time. How really similar we are. You do realise that we are just one people separated by a border!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, at about 2 am we were let back in. The fire had been put out. It was an electrical fire. The next morning we were shifted to an apartment on a higher floor as the fire had been on our floor. What impressed us the most was how well this was handled. A well thought out fire plan, good training on what to do and the fact that the staff acted in accordance with the training. Most impressive was the fact that the Fire Brigade was given floor plans. Can you imagine that in India? I mean can you imagine floor plans ever matching the floor? Was that not the biggest complaint that the NSG Commando’s had when dealing with Kasab and gang at the Oberoi and Taj? No one had floor plans. This is India my friend, where we have invented the zero and sent a spaceship to Mars.

Next day was the dinner party. I am happy to say, the food was delicious even if I say so myself. The Vindaloo does not photograph well but the other two dishes looked magnificent and tasted even better.

Salad Nicoise with Bombay Aloo

Prawn Chops - Prawn Pattice

Pork Vindaloo - Told you does not photograph well

Monday, November 3, 2014

Berners Tavern - London

We had read a lot of good things about Berners Tavern in London. This is located just off the famous Oxford Street but on the less fashionable side of Oxford Street. By this I mean the side that leads onto Soho, past, way past, the big shops, Selfridges, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and so on.

We had a table for 7.30 and our occasional London dining partner, good friend the Doctor Businesswoman joined us. Berners Tavern is `under the direction’ – whatever that may mean – of Jason Atherton. Atherton himself is an alumnus of the great Gordon Ramsay. The food served is described as simple and elegant with the best produce that the British Isles offers. So you have British, French and European dishes. The restaurant is in a Hotel and is open from breakfast thru to dinner and then finally for a late supper from 10.30 pm till midnight. This is a large dining room with a lot of tables and runs for 17 hours, which is a long time.

When you walk in you cannot but say `wow’. This is a room that is simply gorgeous. This is far from being a Tavern, but is one of the most visually stunning rooms I have seen in a long time. To say it is attractive will be a gross understatement. The room is chocker block full of paintings and ornate plaster in the ceiling. The height of the room is probably 20 feet or thereabouts, and, without any pillars. So, the overall effect is truly gob smacking, to use an English phrase.

The place was full when we got in and fairly buzzing. Service was a bit haphazard in as much you had to attract the attention of the waiters. Our table had been set without any napkins. Despite this, I must say that when beckoned, or on attention being drawn, the staff was faultless and did not then forget what they were called for. Also I must say right up front, that we were given a 2 hour table. We were having such a good time that the two hours passed without our realising this. The waiter then very sweetly, smoothly and without rippling the water asked us to move to the bar where we could continue our evening. Very well done.

The menu is a short one pager about the size of a table mat. Both HRH the Queen of Kutch and I had a Gin and Tonic, which is fast becoming our favourite drink to start an evening on. Doctor Businesswoman asked for a glass of Champagne. We also ordered a bottle of Argentinean Malbec [I know it is normally Argentinean but they had a Chilean on offer too]. We the set about ordering our meal and once that was done conversations started.

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered Pumpkin Risotto Crunchy Quail Egg and smoked Ham Hock and Kale Chips for a starter. She said it was excellent. I had a spoon full of the Risotto and thought it was outstanding. The flavour of Pumpkin was strong. I have no idea how he managed that as Pumpkin is really quite bland and flavourless. The cooking of the Risotto was brilliant. Really a good dish.

Pumpkin Risotto Crunchy Quail Egg and smoked Ham Hock and Kale Chips

Doctor Businesswoman ordered a Lobster and Prawn Cocktail with Avocado and Crisp Shallots. You know Prawn Cocktail is such a clichéd dish and so badly made in India – if you can find a restaurant serving French food and not being Jain, Either there is too much Mayonnaise and more often than not, the Prawns are hopelessly overcooked and taste like bits of rubber. This was really good. None of these faults and the Crisp Shallots – Birista to us Indians – added so much taste.

Lobster and Prawn Cocktail with Avocado and Crisp Shallots

I had a Crisp Pigs Head with Foie Gras and Black Pudding with some Sauce Girbiche. The Pigs Head came as a sort of what we Indians call a `cutlet’ meaning that the Pigs Head, Foie Gras and Black Pudding were all finely chopped flattened into a disc and deep fried. Nice but not as good as the other two starters.

Crisp Pigs Head with Foie Gras and Black Pudding with some Sauce Girbiche

Well begun is half done is the saying. So we waited for the main courses.

By this time we were having such a lovely evening, we ordered a second bottle of wine.

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered Macaroni and Cheese with Braised Ox Cheek, Brioche and Bone Marrow Crumble. Quite simply, the best Macaroni and Cheese we have ever eaten in our lives. No exceptions, no qualifications and certainly no hesitation is saying so. The sauce was cheesy without being rich, the Ox Cheek was delicious and there was nothing not to like in the dish. It was a large helping. What HRH the Queen of Kutch did not finish was lapped up by both Doctor Businesswoman and me. The dish was wiped clean.

Macaroni and Cheese with Braised Ox Cheek, Brioche and Bone Marrow Crumble

Doctor Businesswoman ordered the Roast Lamb with white Bean Ragout, Smoked Ham Hock and Mint Pesto. The dish looked great and tasted fantastic. I am always amazed at the way these Chefs combine ingredients that go together. Lamb and Beans are a classic. Lamb and Mint is a classic. Put all together. Lovely. She finished very last morsel.

Roast Lamb with white Bean Ragout, Smoked Ham Hock and Mint Pesto

I had a char grilled Pork Chop with Chicory and Apple Salad, Apple and Mustard Puree. Once again a combination of classic flavours. Pork, apple, mustard. Top class dish, well presented.

Pork Chop with Chicory and Apple Salad, Apple and Mustard Puree

Sides of Carrot and New Potato sauted in Duck Fat

We were then shifted to the Bar. We continued our conversation. Also we had no desire for dessert. We grabbed our coats and in the cool London evening walked back.

All in all, an excellent restaurant food wise and staggeringly beautiful looks wise. Great place to have a meal. Not too expensive. A must visit.