Saturday, January 21, 2017

Crystal Jade Golden Palace Singapore

Crystal Jade the Singapore headquartered restaurant chain has been around for several years. We have eaten in their restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore in the past and have been quite pleased. The Crystal Jade Golden Palace Restaurant in the Paragon Building on Orchard Road in Singapore has recently been awarded with a single star in the Michelin Guide. We made a reservation for a table at 9 pm. The idea was that we would go to Clarke Quay for a drink and then come for dinner.

The table setting chart

This was a large restaurant with the now de rigueur private dining rooms. High ceilings, white table cloths and bright lighting. The waitresses were all old ladies who were happy to be working. The Captains were younger, suited and all had ear pieces. The Orientals do like the sense of power it gives them to have earpieces. We saw this in Singapore, Hong Kong and in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown London.

The menus were handed out and immediately one dish leapt out. Cold Foie Gras with Sake. Foie Gras is not Chinese in the least. Sake is Japanese. But the combination sounded perfect. We had to have this. Most intriguing what the restaurant would do with Foie Gras. The dish was very good; however, it was certainly not Chinese, at best mildly Oriental with the Sake and the slice of Pineapple on which the Foie Gras sat. I would have been happy eating this in London.

The other dish that we all wanted to eat was the Oyster Omelets. This is a rather popular street food in Thailand. Even in Singapore there were plenty of places selling Oyster Omelets. The Omelets arrived, and, unlike a classy French Omelets this was not folded in the classic crescent but flat. Looking at it I groaned inwardly, it looked murdered, looked like the egg had been hard cooked and made into rubber. But, I was thankfully wrong. The exterior did look dark, but the inside was moist – Baveuse – as the French describe it, and the Oysters barely cooked. Nice.

Four our main course, the obligatory Greens were ordered with Garlic. Once again, do have a look at the photo. Virtually no sauce, however the vegetables are so beautifully cooked and seasoned. Of course the vibrant green is quite something too.

We wanted to have a clay pot, and HRH the Queen of Kutch wanted to have a stew of some sort. Luckily the Steward came to the rescue. He suggested the Beef Brisket Braised with Daikon Radish. This is similar to what we sometimes order in Lings Pavilion. The table was happy; the stew and clay pot cravings were both addressed. The dish that came out was quite something. The meat was of course soft, yielding and melt in the mouth. It was also searingly hot. The broth was the most amazing part. It was so tasty, yet thin, watery and clear in appearance. This was really the star dish.

To round off our meal, we ordered a local dish, Teochew Fried Rice with Yam. This arrived full of Wok Hei, as it should be. Crunchy bits of Rice and Yam and delicious morsels of crisp fried Pork all stir fried. This was excellent.

All the plates were licked clean. This was our last dinner in Singapore. We were to fly out the next day. Lunch was fixed at the legendary Din Tai Fung. More on that in the next post.

Monday, January 16, 2017

David Guetta, Bombay Gymkhana & Coldplay - Why I am angry.

The fiasco with David Guetta has left me disturbed, disgusted and, once again, brimming with a simmering rage.

India is a totally schizophrenic country. It is also full of the most venal citizens you could find anywhere on earth. And, unfortunately, unless you have the blessings of the highest and most powerful in the land, you are going nowhere.

Now having set the tone let me explain why I am so upset.

Schizophrenia, unfortunately has taken over our lives. On the one hand you have our Prime Minister saying that we should become digital in our payments, he has attempted – whatever your point of view may be – to use the cliché “cleanse our country of black money’. These are bold, dramatic and forward looking steps. At the same time, you have calls for Prohibition which are calls from the Dark Ages. I really cannot get this. Prohibition? When there is empirical data to show how Prohibition increases crime?

Another instance of schizophrenia is the reporting of the demonetization and its after effects. Initially, there was confusion, and then there was gloom and doom with, our ex-Prime Minister - most unfortunately being paraded by the disgusting Congress High Command - saying that demonetization would result in a 2% GDP fall. The data released now shows a robust tax collection on 15th December [after demonetization and the 3rd installment of Advance Tax] and rather healthy industrial production figures. To add to the madness, this morning [Sunday 15th January] the papers reported a higher than normal sale of alcohol including Country Liquor on 31st December. Higher Country Liquor sales!! The poor buy this. Demonetization is supposed to have crippled them! Sorry, for me the numbers and the gloom and doom reports just don’t add up.

Now let us come to David Guetta. I do not condone what happened in Bangalore on New Year’s Eve. Everyone, especially the social media devotees i.e. the intellectuals, the liberals the Lefties [many fall in this category] were frothing at the mouth. Harsh comments were made by them – correctly but harshly. The doltish bureaucracy, presumably prompted by their masters the Mantri’s, spouted absolute rubbish instead of making placatory statements. An unholy mess. However, the social media devotees were on a winning streak. The bureaucrats had made a real cock up. Score - 1 – Nil in favour of the social media devotees.

Less than 2 weeks after this sordid mess, David Guetta is parachuted in to perform a gig in Bangalore. The bureaucrats now sense victory. They close ranks and cite law and order as a reason to not grant permissions to the David Guetta gig. Score - Social Media Devotees 1 – Bureaucrats 1.

What I am laboring to tell you out is that this is not a point scoring game. This is so much more. Should the bureaucracy be so petty and sensitive to the criticism, most justified I thought, and simply not grant permissions? Egotistical.

Sticking with David Guetta and turning to our fair city Mumbai. The gig was to be held at the Race Course. The venue was changed to the Bandra Kurla Complex. This was cancelled only to be rescheduled to Sunday morning. The Municipal Corporation stated that some previous dues were not paid hence they cancelled. The Mumbai Police stated that permission was applied at too late a stage hence they could not grant permission.  Yes of course permissions were applied for late...remember, the venue was shifted by the Municipal Corporation 2 days before the event hence the organisers could only apply for permission a day before the event!!!

You will remember the cancellation of the New Years Eve party by the Bombay Gymkhana. This happened at the very last minute. I know for a fact that 600 chickens, 70 kgs of lamb along with other perishables all went to waste. The band hired to play on the evening, the caterer the decorator all had to be paid. Just the financial loss to the Bombay Gymkhana was easily in the region of 30 plus lakhs. The reason for the cancellation? The Municipal Corporation said that they could not give any permission until the Collector of Mumbai granted his NOC.

Come to the reported demand by the Municipal Corporation from the organizers of the Mumbai Marathon of some INR 5 Crores or INR 50 million at the last moment. This claim is for a security deposit and for permission to place advertisements along the route. The Municipal Commissioner has been quoted as stating
Earlier the charges were levied considering the social causes but with the event becoming highly commercialised, the new charges are as per our commercial rates.”
“We have no objection to the event taking place as we have already granted them permission. But if the advertisement charges are not paid before the event, we will take action under the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act and the Defacement of Property Act.”
Please do take note of the threatening language.

Let me explain the similarity with these three. David Guetta has performed in Mumbai several times in the past. The Bombay Gymkhana has been holding New Years Eve parties ever since I can remember. This is the 15th edition of the Mumbai Marathon. None of these are first time events. They are not only repeats but multiple repeats. Leave longevity and repeats aside for the moment. Surely the authorities have a set of or a list of requirements or permissions that have to be obtained before holding such events. I realize that in India everything is much more devious and detailed and laborious than anywhere else save possibly in Africa. Nothing is a single window clearance. I grant that. However, would it not be obvious that whatever is the list, there should be a list? And should that list not be the same over the years? And if there are additional requirements or some deletions having regard to the changing times, should not the list be updated? Unfortunately, the answer to all these questions is “no”. Why should this be the case? Is this the venal people, meaning the organizers, trying to make a buck or take a short cut? Is this the corrupt venal egotistical bureaucrat? Is this just schizophrenia with one person saying “Make in India” and the bureaucrat saying “I will fuck you if you come to India”?

I have no idea. I just am very angry.

While I hate to write this, because I believe that image cannot be everything, can you imagine what India’s image would be among the world of international musicians? David Guetta is no lightweight, from what I read he earns in excess of USD 35 million a years, travels on a private jet and charges USD 350,000 to 500,000 for a gig. I assume he would talk about the madness he has been subjected to.

Now, you may very well say that, we in India, and by that I mean the bureaucrat, the politician and every neighborhood lout, has a biased attitude to Western Pop Music and “culture”. Yes and no. Schizophrenia at work coupled with my theory of unless you have the blessings of the highest and most powerful in the land, you are going nowhere. Let me explain.

You will no doubt recall the Coldplay concert in Mumbai on 19th November 2016 – after demonetization. Pop music, Western culture all on shameless display. This was a concert organized under the banner Global Citizen Festival. Every vapid Bollywood wannabe attended. To name a few - Arjun Kapoor, Parineeti Chopra, Ayushmann Khurrana, Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor. Ananya Birla, daughter of Kumarmangalam Birla even sang a song. Leave aside Jay Z or Coldplay, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on screen and made a speech. So obviously Western Culture had got nothing to do with it. No this is not about the rights and wrongs of Modi. The question is, if Modi was making a speech, could any, I mean any, Municipal Corporation, or two bit Collector or halfwit Police Commissioner ever have stopped this concert? Absolutely no way Jignesh! It had the support of the highest in the land. No one will fuck about.

On the point of the Global Citizen Festival. How many of you will recall Narendra Modi speaking at a concert in 2014 in Central Park New York with Hugh Jackman by his side? Many. How many will recall him saying “May the force be with you”? Many. But how many of you will recall that the concert in Central Park was also by this strange organization – Global Citizen?

So I ask, after writing all this. What is wrong with us? Why do we have to be such numbskulls, why do we have to be so venal, vindictive, egotistical and paranoid about ourselves? Why do we all have no sense of responsibility and accountability? Unless someone else is taking the rap, we will not do anything.

Now you know why I am so angry.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Service Charge - Indian restaurateurs experiments with the truth

As a regular restaurant goer you must be all het up with the newest controversy. Our nanny government has jumped in, once more, into private matters. Our nanny has Diktated that the service charge levied by restaurants should be optional and not mandatory.

They say that you should never start a discussion and reveal your position at the start. Well, my position is that the restaurateurs are hiding something and as the cliché goes – Daal mein kuch kaala hai”.

This is my 10% on the raging service charge controversy.

First, a few submissions, assumption, clichés and ground rules.

1.     All staff, managers, waiters, chefs, dishwashers and sweepers have to get a decent wage.

2.      Everything costs money, whether it is sliced onions with your Tandoori Chicken, Limbu, Chutney, straws, ice, paper napkins, staff uniforms and the kitchen sink. Someone has to pay for it, and that someone is you, the punter.

3.     Breakages and pilfering, both by punters and staff, of food, silverware, glass, alcohol, you name it, is part and parcel of the restaurant business. As I said, someone has to pay for this.

4.      Complementary or freebie food and drink also costs someone money.

5.     How are you, the punter, to be charged to pay for all this is up to the restaurateurs. There are many ways to skin a cat.

Second, a few “tipping” models from around our wide and wonderful world.

1.            In Japan there is no tipping. You tip no one, not the room service guys, not a waiter not the guy from the Bell Desk fetching your suitcase. Everything is included in the price. And what is the most common complaint you have from people who visit Japan – “everything is so expensive.”

2.            In the USA, especially New York, tipping is not only mandatory but almost extortionist. Wait staff are paid poorly and rely wholly on tips to make a living. The result is that they will hound you to fork out a tip. This position is diametrically opposite of the Japanese treatment of tipping.

3.            The UK has, what is in my view the most fair, subject to a caveat. You get a bill, the bill includes a service charge separately shown with a statement stating it is discretionary, and if you believe you have had exceptional service, you can add a further top up tip in cash. The caveat being, you have to ask if the service charge is shared by the staff or is being partly used to subsidise staff salary. If it is used for other purposes, many punters ask that the service charge be removed and instead hand over the amount in cash to the staff member.

4.            In Europe, especially Western Europe the position is slightly different. Normally, the waiter will come up to you with the bill. You then tell him how much you will pay, i.e. the amount you owe plus any "rounding up" -- for example, the bill may be say "€7.60;"  you hand him a €10 note and say "9 Euros." You will get €1 in change and a big thank you. However, in most places service is included.

Thirdly, the point is what does service, gratuity and tipping really mean in general sense.

1.            Service charge is a component that is normally distributed among the staff. How deep the sharing goes and how the sharing is scaled is a different matter. However, generally speaking the entire service charge is shared by staff. I imagine that ordinarily, when you do not have a service charge on the bill, the money you give to your waiter would be regarded as a tip, and if in the USA the term used would be gratuity.

2.            What happens to the tip or gratuity is something that is dealt with differently. In some places the tip belongs to the wait staff who may, if he has a private arrangement, share it with his helpers/team. In other cases the wait staff may keep it for himself. In yet other cases there is a tip box where all tips are collected and then portioned much like service charge.

3.            Thus, as is commonly understood, service charge, tips and gratuity are all one and the same thing given to staff.

4.            I know for a fact that restaurants like Lings Pavilion do not levy a service charge. They pay their staff a decent wage. Nini Ling tells us that despite this, the volume of tips received ranges between a measly 3 % and 5 %. Is this not really shameful. You have a long standing restaurant with probably 80% of its clientele being repeat customers, still they do not tip. The Table an upscale and good restaurant was the pioneer. It removed service charges and increased prices several months ago. At Toto’s you do not even get a bill, so there is no question of a service charge. Waiters have been there for years and are on the rolls. Tips belong to the waiter, except at the bar where the bar staff shares the tips. At the ITC which we also go to regularly, there is no service charge. Tips go into a tip box. At the Irish House you have a 10% service charge and tips over and above go into a box.  So there are many variations.

Fourthly, what does service charge mean to our brilliant Indian restaurateurs?

1.            The Indian restaurateurs position is the service charge they levy is not optional but mandatory. They further say that if the Government is to make service charges optional they will take the matter to court. Furthermore, the restaurateurs say that since the charge is not optional, if you don’t want to pay the charge, simply do not eat in their restaurants.

2.            From what I have been hearing on television and reading in newspapers our brilliant restaurateurs have tried to establish at least two beachheads to justify their position.

3.            The first position that they have taken is that in the Indian context, service charge is necessary to (i) offset the Indian punters meager and inconsequential tips (ii) offset staff salaries and (iii) pay for supplementary like staff uniforms and so on.

4.            The second position that they have taken is that no, this service charge is not really in lieu of tips but is a service charge or convenience charge that they seek to levy. The restaurateurs equate this with the service charge or convenience fee that Low Cost Airlines and sites like BookMyShow levy on online bookings. They argue that there should be a level playing field, and if other service industries can levy a service charge that this not optional, then similarly the service charge levied by restaurateurs should also be mandatory.

5.            In other words, our brilliant restaurateurs have a totally different interpretation of service charge. To them this is a simply a charge to offset their costs.

So what is all the fuss about?

To me the solution appears simple. Remove the service charge, increase prices of the food and drink with the amount of all expenses that comprise service charge and get on with life. Surely, as a restaurateur you know how much your expenses are. Yes, I realize that if the price goes up I would have to pay taxes on the increase. This would mean that a punter would have to pay 20% VAT on the 10% increase, a small amount. This would be much like the European or Japanese model. I doubt anyone would have a problem with that.

However, for reasons that I am unable to fathom, our brilliant restaurateurs are resisting this. Is this because this service charge is merely a guaranteed 10% margin for restaurateurs to take home. Seeing the way restaurants in Mumbai open and shut I would not rule out the possibility that along with this 10% service charge, the restaurateurs also skim the entire VAT and Krishi & Swatch Bharat Taxes. You know how difficult it is to get a registration. So when restaurants open, are we as punters assured that the restaurants have VAT registration? And, are we sure that the VAT collected is being deposited with the Government before the restaurant folds up? I am not so sure.

I believe, the resistance of restaurateurs to increase prices and remove service charge indicates “daal mein kaala”.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Summer Pavilion - Singapore

Singapore is the 4th country in Asia along with Japan, Hong Kong and Macau to have a Michelin Restaurant Guide. The 2016 Michelin Guide has:

One 3 Star restaurant - French Joel Robuchon,
Six 2 Star restaurants – 4 French, 1 Japanese and 1 Szechuan; and,
Twenty two 1 Star restaurants.

One thing that is clear is that starred restaurants in Asia cannot be compared to starred restaurants in the UK and Europe. Different standards and criteria apply. What exactly the differences are is difficult to list as this is a trade secret for Michelin. I believe it is inconceivable that the equivalent of a hawker stall in Europe would ever get a Star in Michelin. 2 hawkers in Singapore do. All I can say is that you treat Singapore in a silo and Europe in another.

We were travelling to Singapore in the peak holiday season. To us, eating in a French restaurant in Singapore seemed rather pointless, but, we did want to eat good food and what could be a better test than a restaurant with a Star in Michelin? So, anticipating a rush, we had made a reservation at Summer Pavilion at the Ritz Carlton. This describes itself as a contemporary Cantonese restaurant and had been presented with a Star in Michelin.

Summer Pavilion is a large restaurant with, what I thought, was a lot of covers – 119 seats and private rooms to boot. The wait staff were smartly dressed in black trousers and cream jackets. We were there for dinner, which meant that the “Pavilion” aspects of the place i.e. open to sky summer pavilion and the Dim Sum and the High Tea, were not visible to us. The restaurant was renovated in November 2015 and raised to this standard. The crockery was especially attractive. You had Chinese motifs on the crockery and had varied colours, as you will see in the photographs. In front of each diner was a small bowl of really high quality Premium Soya Sauce, crystal clear, salty, Umami and savoury. You needed just a drop, if at all, to give your food a kick. All very pleasing.

The Premium Soya Sauce

Menus were handed out, a main menu, a tasting menu, a Chef’s special menu and a drinks menu. Of course some of the dishes, as is the case with these high end places, were very expensive. These comprised of the usual suspects, Abalone, Birds Nest and live Seafood. Orders were placed. One dish that we all wanted, a Claypot of Stewed Pork, Bitter Melon [Karela] & Onions  was unavailable. This was heart-breaking. Anyway there was plenty to choose from.

We were then asked two questions. First was how did we want the Peking Duck served? Skin separate with pancakes and the meat? With rice? No we said, the meat can be served on its own was our reply. The second question was did we want the food to be served all at once  or course by course? We answered, course by course. Now, we are used to getting Chinese food in batches. The first batch would be the appetisers, then the soup if any and lastly all the main courses together. I thought that our answer would mean the food would be served in batches. Alas, I was wrong. We got our entire meal one dish at a time. After the initial shock, we all found that this was a good way of eating. You could actually eat one dish at a time and get all its flavours rather than the mish mash of a meat dish, a fish dish a vegetable and a noodle all jostling cheek by jowl on your plate.

First came the ½ Peking Duck we had ordered. It was displayed when I was on `natures call’ and by the time I returned, the Duck was being carved. So, no photo of a beautiful golden burnished Duck. The very crisp skin was removed, delicately dipped in Hoisin Sauce and wrapped in a gossamer thin pancake and served to us. A serving of artistically cut Spring Onion wrapped in a red Capsicum was served alongside, to make a modern twist on the classic dish. Excellent.

Yellow plate. Peking Duck Skin in Pancake. Note the Spring Onions 

Then, came the first star dish of the meal ordered from the Chef’s Recommendation Menu – Razor Clams with Enoki Mushrooms and Spring Onions. Extremely attractive to the eye and delicious to eat. The Enoki Mushrooms and Spring Onions which had been separately stir fried and added to the steamed Razor Clams had a strong “Wok Hei”. I added a drop of the Premium Soya Sauce and I was in heaven. Top quality cooking.

Once the Razor Clams were done the meat from the Peking Duck was carved, deboned and brought to our table with a Lemon Sauce accompanying the Duck. This was tender Duck, not dry at all. Finished in a flash.

Since the Claypot with Stewed Pork was not available, we ordered the Chinese dish we all grew up on – Sweet Sour Pork. This was superlative. Do have a careful look at the photo. You will notice there is no sauce. The sauce that is there is only to coat the fried Pork and Vegetables. You will also notice that there are no pieces of onion, just some of the light green parts of a Scallion tossed in the sauce. A few Capsicum and a few bits of Pineapple. Most of what is on the plate is small pieces of batter coated, crunchy fried Pork. This did taste like what we get in Chinese restaurants however the balance of ingredients and saucing is quite unlike what we are used to back home.

Next up came another top quality dish Sautéed Black Fungus, Mushroom, Asparagus, Deep-fried Bean curd. This, as you can see from the photograph was dry. In my view, being served course by course in as much as each dish at a time was indeed working favourably for the food. After the Sweet Sour Pork, here was a gentle and mild dish. Savoury Beancurd, matched with the delightful mushrooms and fresh tasting Asparagus was a dish to be enjoyed by itself. Eating this with a strongly flavoured dish would simple overpower this. You needed a clean plate to appreciate the subtle flavours on this plate.

To conclude the meal was the star dish of the evening. The simple description – Poached Rice with Lobster – belied its beauty and complexity. In the centre was Rice poached in Lobster Broth. Around the rice was some Spring Onion and more rice, except that this was crisp rice. Crowning the rice was some expertly cooked Lobster. After the plate was set down, a double cooked Lobster Broth was poured. The aroma’s wafting were tantalising. At first you sipped the broth with the crisp rice. Then, like a sandcastle on the beach, the rice in the centre started to cave into the broth adding another texture. You then could break off chunks of the poached lobster. This was really really good. Easily the second best dish I had eaten on this trip after the Honey Peas Shrimps and Truffle Truffle at Imperial Treasures Shanghai Cuisine.

Once again, I felt that in retrospect, getting the food course by course was hugely beneficial. Each dish could be enjoyed in exclusion. I cannot imagine how one would have eaten the Poached Rice and Lobster if it was served with all the other food. If this was an example of Contemporary Cantonese, then I like it. The Razor Clams with Enoki Mushroom, the Sautéed Black Fungus, Mushroom, Asparagus, Deep-fried Bean curd and the Poached Rice and Lobster were dishes that I have never eaten. All three were of high quality.

A word about the service. Schizophrenic. We had moments of smooth service where glasses were topped up and the Peking Duchy expertly portioned. We had moments of insanity when food from another table was brought to us. We had moments of utter confusion and incomprehension when we simply could not follow what they were saying. This was most apparent when we were asked how we wanted our Duck meat. Probably caused by us being unaccustomed to local custom coupled with different accents. However, all was done with a smile on their faces and an overuse of the word “certainly”. “May I have another Asahi please?”  “Certainly.” “May I have a fork and spoon for my meal and not chopsticks?” “Certainly.” And so on and so forth.

If in Singapore and you had two meals should this be one of them? Certainly.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

17 years as a pornographer.

In 1996, more than 20 years ago, I was appointed a non-executive director in Rediff.Com. This was India’s Yahoo, in other words, it was what was known as a portal. These were the early days of the internet. Looking back, how much times have changed in the last 20 years. We still had fax machines; our mobile phones did not even have SMS. A smartphone, which is all the rage today and is in the hand of every adolescent, was not even a figment of an inventor’s imagination. Things were so backward that Google did not even exist. Google started in 1998!

In late 1999 Rediff, being the pioneer, had licensed a software from an American Company called Inktomi to permit its users to search the web. As I said, in 1999 Google was insignificant and Inktomi was the 800 pound Gorilla in search. Imagine, to promote this revolutionary tool – search – Rediff had an advertising campaign. Today, Inktomi does not exist, it was bought by Yahoo and subsumed. Google is now that not 800 but more like 8000 pound Gorilla.

In early 2000 a student in Pune used Rediff to search and typed “sex” and other similar words. Naturally,  the search led him to pornographic sites. I am sure you must know that porn is the most searched subject on the Internet even today. Being suitably horrified by the results, the student filed a criminal complaint in Pune claiming that Rediff was disseminating pornography and therefore, Rediff and its directors should be punished. The Indian Penal Code stipulates imprisonment for 2 years for obscenity.

Today, in retrospect, this charge is laughable. But at that time 17 years ago, this was actually terrifying to all us directors. Remember that the Internet was just starting. No one quite knew how it worked. Finding a Judge who even knew or used the Internet was a huge challenge. Also remember in 2000 most of us still had dial up connections and a desktop computer with a huge boxy monitor. Laptops and leased lines were expensive. Very few people had them, just a few privileged South Bombay brats who imagined they were living in the USA. How were we to prove our case to a judge in Pune who in all likelihood did not understand how the internet and search worked? And that too, a Judge in a small criminal court in Pune. I know this sounds like ancient history, but it was a reality a short 16 years ago.

So a Writ was filed in the Bombay High Court by me. The other directors were made parties and by the Writ we asked the High Court to (i) stay the Criminal Proceedings in Pune meaning that the Magistrate in Pune should not continue hearing the complaint and decide on it, and (ii) to quash the proceedings meaning to cancel the compliant that was filed. The Bombay High Court did stay the proceedings, which was a huge relief. So (i) was done, we had to wait for (ii).

And we waited, and waited and waited. Finally in the dying days of 2016 almost 17 years from the time the Writ was filed the Writ was finally heard by the Bombay High Court. Of course, the High Court granted (ii) and quashed the Criminal complaint. So, in effect we won. I cannot complain about the conclusion, however, the Judgment is so poor and sets down no law. The language is shoddy and the logic and flow pathetic.

So, at the end of the day I have been facing a criminal complaint for the past 16 years. I have been an accused for 16 years. Now, put me in the position that you have seen on TV. I stand for elections and in my declarations I state that I am facing criminal charges for obscenity! Obscenity is a serious offence. Can you imagine the field day that your favourite television anchors – Barkha, Arnab, Rahul and Bhupen would have? “The candidates are facing serious criminal charges”  they would shout, and you would immediately equate me with Pappu Yadav!

Take this argument further, I win the elections and am voted in to the Lok Sabha. You would have discussions on how the percentage of MP’s facing serious criminal charges is increasing. All correct at first blush, but when you dig deeper, you realize how incorrect it is to generalize. I had to wait 16 years for no fault of mine. Just delays. I was not avoiding the hearing, I was not manipulating the system, and I had not bribed the Government Pleader to seek adjournments. I did nothing. My case was simply not heard. Whose fault is this? You would say professional hazard of being a non-executive director, but should it stretch on for so long.

For 16 years I was accused of pornography. Ridiculous is it not?

When will our legal system ever reform? When will our police and investigative systems ever reform? I look for “Acche Din”.

Very very sad.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Red House Seafood - Singapore

In Indian English, we have some `very dear friends’ in Singapore. As soon as our travel dates were known HRH the Queen of Kutch let them know. They asked what we would like to do and eat. The answer was very simple – local food, your choice!

There was some back-ing and forth-ing between HRH and them. A local pizza place was suggested which `Dear Friends’ – who are widely travelled – said was world class. We had no reason to doubt them, but, local food was the brief.

On the appointed day we reached their apartment – condo – as they call it in Singapore. I was pleasantly surprised. Up to then, my idea of Singapore was based on walking up and down Orchard Road, taxi rides to Chinatown, Clarke Quay and Gardens by the Bay. The condo was barely 2 of Kilometres off Orchard Road and getting there through the back roads of Singapore was like entering another world. Getting off the main streets revealed a gentle, bucolic, Colonial and thoroughly relaxed city. This was nice. Almost suburban, almost USA movie like with bungalows, white picket fences and lots of greenery. There is a gentle side to Singapore – it is not all just Orchard Road, Little India, Chinatown, gardens, amusement parks and the Quays. This was liveable, this was a Colonial paradise.  

You know what? I could live here. Ooops! I hope that is not Seditious. Just in case it is – “Mera Bharat Mahan!!!”

After a few cans of very cold beer and bracingly cold Prosecco, a large Uber was called, and off we went to Robertson Quay. This is yet another waterside eating and drinking complex along the Singapore River.

Red House Seafood is a large restaurant, with the entire frontage being open. High ceilings and the open front meant a perception of space, openness. Thankfully, the place did not have any air-conditioning. The air-conditioning in Singapore is set to near blast freezing temperatures, bloody cold! In addition, the weather was reasonably pleasant. Singapore is virtually on the Equator, just 1 degree north. And, if you remember your high school geography, and were not dozing in class, you will know that a tropical rainforest climate means, by definition, an average temperature of more than 18C for all twelve months, rain of not less than 60mm every month, no discernable season and high humidity. So the open front and the high ceilings were great in keeping the place cool. To keep the place cool there were huge 8 bladed ceiling fans lazily rotating. I mean huge. Mr. Dear Friend told me that these were called Big Ass Fans. I, of course, thought that he was joking. Then, on coming back, I checked. He was telling the absolute truth. There is a company in America that makes these fans. And, yes they are really known as Big Ass Fans. You can look them up if you need them at home. Something new I learned, thanks to Mr Dear Friend.

The Big Ass Fans

Mrs Dear Friend was in charge of ordering. The Red House Seafood Restaurant opened in 1976 and specialises, as you would have guessed, in sea food. First up for starters were three examples of UFO’s – Unidentified Fried Objects. These came with Mayonnaise – which Ms Dear Friend said she loves. These UFO’s were perfect to soak up the pitchers of beer that were wantonly being ordered. Good start.

With Dear Friends and Beer

UFO - Unidentified Fried Objects

Two Singapore Crab with an order each of fried and steamed Chinese Bread along with a portion of Fried Rice was ordered for our main course. How much more local could you get? Yes, I know that many of you would say that you should eat Singapore Chilli Crab at Jumbo Seafood. But, Dear Friends live in Singapore and know better, you don’t live in Singapore, so shut up. I requested that, if possible, I would like to order a portion of Hor Fun Noodles or Char Kway Teow. This a typically Singaporean flat Rice Noodle dish with Prawns that should have a lot of “Wok Hei” or the Breath of the Wok – its aroma. “Wok Hei” is created when the intense heat of the Wok partly burns the spattering oil that is being tossed in the Wok and caramelisation of the food being cooked in the Wok. No problem, Hor Fun was ordered. The name was an immediate source of school boyish coarse rude jokes about, well, certainly not hoes; the farming implement. Much hilarity followed.

The Crabs came with a lot of sauce. Like good `Desi's’ this was the `Daal’ that we required with our `Bhaat’. I ploughed into the crab. Two hands and a set of strong teeth were required to get to that delicious crab meat. Much cracking and slurping sounds. Mrs Dear Friend being a doting wife and loving mother dutifully used a crab shell cracker and pulled out morsels of meat for HRH, her husband and child, before feeding herself. “Bharati Saanskriti”. I hope dear readers; all these comments of Indian-ness will counter my earlier sentiment of wanting to live in Singapore. Of course, once I had finished my Crab, I excused myself to wash my hands and then it was time for me to eat the excellent Hor Fun. Lots of “Wok Hei”. The rice noodles were great to soak up the “Daal”.

A lot of the crab was devoured but a fair portion was left unfinished. This was packed. Thank God, I would have been very upset if that had gone to waste. Hands washed again, some more photos taken and it was time to leave.

Dear Friends did exactly what we had requested. Local was the brief, and, bang on local it was. It was a most enjoyable evening with much hilarity, great conversation and of course, the food was excellent. One thought to end with. Lings Pavilion is our favourite restaurant in Mumbai. They do a Singapore Crab. The Crabs in Mumbai are smaller, but that is not the point. The point is, that the Singapore Sauce that they serve in Lings Pavilion is very very similar to what we ate at Red House Sea Food. If you want to eat a close approximation of Singapore Chilli Crab, go to Lings Pavillion.