Monday, March 18, 2019

O Pedro - Goan Bar & Restaurant

You can read a more recent review here.

I have a school classmates WhatsApp group, which is rather active. One topic that was being discussed was Goan restaurants in Mumbai. At one end of the spectrum you have the cheap, cheerful and humble lot comprising of Martins near the old Strand Cinema off Colaba Causeway, Gables next to it and Snowflakes at Princess Street. Then you have the recently opened House of Lloyd at Juhu Tara Road which is more upmarket and the big daddy and big bucks Goan restaurant - O Pedro at BKC. Inspired by this exchange of messages Goan food became top of mind.

One Saturday afternoon when we were in ‘town’ we stopped off for lunch at Gables. A decent lunch, a Sorpotel for HRH the Queen of Kutch and a Choriz Chilly Fry for me. The Sorpotel had enough liver to remain authentic though it needed a dash of Vinegar. Easily fixable. The Choriz was fine. Frankly, you would be better off doing a take away from Gables as the place is not exactly the Ritz.

Above: Pork Sorpotel

Above: Goa Sausage [Choriz] Chili Fry

A few days later, I had a brainwave. We are members of the MCA Recreation Centre at BKC, so, why not have a drink or three at that bar and then walk a few meters to O Pedro? This seemed like a good plan, a call was made to reserve a table at O Pedro for 9.15 pm. Nope, they did not reserve tables at that hour, just early at 8 pm and late at 10.30 pm. Frankly, it makes sense. We were told that if we had to wait for a table we could wait by the bar, and if we liked we could eat at the bar as food was served there too. No problem.

After our share of intoxicants at the MCA Spin Bar, at about 9.15 pm we walked to O Pedro. While walking we passed a very comatose Hemant Oberoi [the restaurant not the man], then Butterfly High which was packed to the rafters, then a rather empty and morose Gateway Tap Room to reach the very lively O Pedro. There were no tables vacant. Our choice was the bar and a few empty high tables around the bar. The high table was our choice. From our perch we could observe the goings on.

A very casual vibe prevailed. The décor was to replicate the look of a Goan house. I did think the potted plants looked rather out of place and made the room look unkempt. A large bar with a glass back looking into the kitchen. The views of the kitchen were shielded by the bottles of alcohol placed on the back of the bar. Nice touch.

The tables had no table cloths or tablemats, miniscule cloth napkins and ordinary stainless cutlery was given. Since we are not children we know what we drink, the long descriptive cocktail lists were un-necessary. A Talisker, ice, water on the side for HRH the Queen of Kutch and a “Thanda gaar beer, deshi please” for me.

At this point our order was taken by the charming Niketa. She was a delight with her ever ready smile, cynical observations and infectious enthusiasm. She asked us if we were allergic to anything to which my reply was that I was a Jain, Niketa after a moment of horror realized I was pulling her leg. She recommended the Red Snapper Ceviche, which I was promised had no raw onions. This dish was an absolute knockout. It was fabulous. The cooking liquid – normally called Tigers Milk or Leche De Tigre comprises of Lime Juice Chilli and Cilantro – was made milder with the addition of Coconut Milk. The Cilantro took the form of an Oil. While the sauce and fish were, as I said fabulous, for texture they had added some very crunchy “boondi” made with Tempura batter. This made the dish even better. Wow, what a start.

Above: Red Snapper Ceviche

Another two dishes require special mention. The first is the humble Poee. This is a whole wheat bread with bran typical of Goa. It is delicious, but unavailable in Mumbai despite having a large Goan population. This was served at O Pedro, fresh and hot. Excellent.

Above: Poee

The other very well cooked dish was the Prawn Balchao that we had ordered. This is a Portuguese Goan dish, almost pickle like, tart and spicy. While the recipe was good, the skill with which the prawns were cooked was most impressive. The prawns were not overcooked to MRF Tyres at all. Well done.

Above: Prawn Balchao

Above: Choriz Chilli Fry Taco with potato Salli

We had also ordered Pork Sorpotel with a Sanna which is a fermented rice cake, much like an Idli, eaten in Goa and Mangalore. Sanas are available in some shops in Bandra. The Sorpotel was decent, much better than the one we had from Gables just a few days earlier.    

Above: Pork Sorpotel

 Above: Sanna

We also got a free dish. Beef brochette [skewers] alternating with Pork fat. This was a clever way of adding moistness to the otherwise dry Beef. Also, a clever way of using Pork fat. The dish costs very little, but giving it “free” to diners ensures goodwill. A nice gesture, honestly.

 Above: Beef Brochettes with Pork Fat

For dessert we ordered a single Pasteis De Nata the classic Portuguese Custard Tart. This was priced at a rather shocking Rs 125/- for a single piece. A bit excessive I thought. Mind you it was thoroughly decent, with a creamy custard and crisp pastry.

Above: Pasteis De Nata

I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed our evening. The food ranged from excellent to above average. No dud dishes. A very nice lively atmosphere and a charming hostess, Niketa. There was a lot of food that we would have ordered if only we had larger appetites or more eaters. The food included a lot of Hindu Goan vegetarian dishes as well as many more delicious sounding meat dishes.

We would certainly be going back soon to have another meal at O Pedro. Fully recommended.

We paid Rs 1,980/- for all the food excluding booze, tax and service charge. I though good value.   


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"Conti" food. A great meal at the ITC in Mumbai.

This post, sort of, continues on the unimpressive food we got in Australia. I had compared the “Conti” food in Australia with the food served in Clubs in Mumbai as well as at Indigo Deli and the Smokehouse Deli type of restaurants. Some of you may wonder what I meant by “Conti” food, and how it exists in India. This post is also about a wonderful “Conti” meal made for us in Mumbai a few days ago.

“Conti” food in India is normally a mélange of Italian with a few American dishes thrown in. Pizza, Pasta in various forms, burgers and sandwiches. Chicken and occasionally fish and more rarely Pork form the non vegetarian component. Potato features heavily with cheese, and, “English” vegetables – Broccoli, Carrot, French Beans, Lettuces – form the garnish. The food is often cooked with or served with a sauce which has a main flavor, chili.  Habanero, Harissa, Jalapeno, Bhut Jholakia, Arabiata and so on are adjectives used. I can tell you what “Conti” food is not. In other words, “Conti” food does not have Oriental ingredients nor does it have the North Indian influence of onion browned with ginger and garlic, tomato and then the trinity of Turmeric, Coriander and Cumin powders. So, while there are no North Indian influences, “Conti” food is often spicy. This is our notion of “Conti” food.

Finding a simple Roast Chicken with golden crisp skin served with creamy Mashed Potato some vegetables and a Pan Jus is extremely rare. The simple Fish and Chips a classic, even rarer considering we have 3000 km coastline. You may just find these dishes on the menu of a 24 hour Coffee Shop in a 5 Star Hotel.

What may be surprising to you is that in reality “Conti” food is very much alive and well, and, cooked very competently, in India. But you cannot eat it unless you fly internationally on Business or First Class. Yes, dear readers, our flight kitchens prepare for the airlines some very good classic “Conti” food. Take virtually any flight from India travelling west and you will always have an excellent “Conti” dish on offer. This is obviously demanded by International airlines. Do you know the further irony? Our flight kitchens are more often than not, owned by our 5 Star hotel chains. Yes folks, the Taj Flight Kitchen, Oberoi Flight Kitchen, Skygourmet [which is run in collaboration with the Narang Group who have the Ambassador hotel] and surprise surprise, Chefair Flight Catering, Mumbai a division of Hotel Corporation of India Ltd a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India!!

So, you have a situation where there are more than enough chefs who can make international standard “Conti” food, but not serve it to us. Our 5 Star Hotels who have the skills, find “Conti” food un workable in their outlets.

An Indian Chef in London, a friend of ours, who had years of experience in India, the Gulf and finally in the UK told us that Indian Chefs were the best in the world. There were like chameleons, they were flexi and could be taught anything. You had Indian chefs making myriad cuisines effortlessly. The same was not generally true of Orientals and French trained Chefs, these chaps are far less flexible and generally stick to cooking what they are trained in. In light of this observation, I can understand why Indian Chefs are so adept at “Conti” food. Ocean Cruise lines have a large complement of Indian chefs for precisely this reason. They are adaptable and can replicate. Flight kitchens are staffed with Indian chefs turning out thousands of portions of good “Conti” food every day.  

As regular readers know, we are really fond of “Conti” food, in its true sense. We get virtually none in Mumbai.

A few days ago, on a Friday after a tough week, all we wanted was to be served a drink in a calm sophisticated bar and to finish the evening with some “Conti” food. We scoured online menus of the Shamiana at the Bombay Taj, the Cellini at the Grand Hyatt and the Peshwa Pavilion at the ITC Grand Maratha. Everything was just Burgers, Pizza and Club Sandwiches. Somehow, the Peshwa Pavilion seemed to be slightly more interesting. Knowing that the bar at the ITC Grand Maratha is good we called in and told our friends there that we would pop by.

Boy were we in for a huge and most pleasant surprise. Chef Taranjit told Chef Anshul that we were coming for dinner and Chef Anshul decided to make us a “specially curated 4 course dinner.” Just by way of background, Taranjit is the King of Kebabs and runs Peshawri. Anshul is a vastly experienced “Conti” food chef. He has worked in the UK for years and was part of the great Raymond Blanc group. He knows what he is doing. It was a wonderful and thoughtful gesture to make us the meal. All spontaneous, well, with a couple of hours’ notice. It was the second time Chef Anshul has cooked for us, and it was fantastic. Like flight kitchens food, this food and the Chef’s talents remain hidden. Pity.

First up was a Jerusalem Artichoke Soup. This was garnished with Enoki Mushroom. Very nice smooth soup. Jerusalem Artichoke is a very humble vegetable, we know it as ‘Arbi’, the normally mud coated sad looking root. This was quite magically transformed to this delicious soup.

Lasagna which was vegetarian was the next course. The filling was mixed mushroom, not quite a Duxelle but very mushroomy. Lashings of a good rich Bechamel topped with Buerre Noisette [burnt butter] with Hazelnuts and Pine Nuts to provide texture. A spear of Asparagus added colour, sautéed Boletus Mushroom and Parmesan shavings finished the dish. 

A palate cleanser followed. A Fruit Soup with a Sorbet and some Fruit. A lovely deep red colour and without doubt the best palate cleanser we have had in a long time. Very well balanced, without the sweet overpowering the sour, which is often the case.  Looks as pretty as a picture.

The fish course was next. Extremely well cooked fish, moist and flaky with crisp skin. This was international standard cooking. A smooth creamy Mash Potato, Burnt Onion and Mushroom as garnish. Skillful cooking indeed.

The dessert was a comforting Sticky Toffee Pudding. A moist sponge with the Caramel, Date Sauce topped with ice cream. A fitting end to a very satisfying meal.

The effort taken by Chef Anshul to make and serve the meal was enormous. If you look at the photos you will notice that each dish has been served in a different plate. The colours chosen to complement the food. Good clean presentation. The attention to detail. We were really gob smacked. And, you know what? Not a single chilli or bit of spice in the food. And, you know what, it was delicious! Honestly, we could have been anywhere in Western Europe. The food was that good as was the presentation. If there is one minor complaint, it would be that 3 dishes contained some form of Mushroom. But that is unfair. Anshul cooked all this with no real notice. Obviously he had severe constraints.

I find it very hard to understand why we Indians are so bloody close minded about our food. Mumbai is probably the most conservative with its food. Jainism, vegetarianism and, lately, mumbo jumbo diets enslaving diners. Food has to be spicy and ‘chat pata’ or else it does not work. Entire cuisines are disappearing from our restaurants and this is sad.

In a post I had written about Hemant Oberoi, I had written about the schizophrenic meal. The restaurant was running empty. We were told that that they would be serving ‘twisted India’. Well, now they do. Even a great Chef like Hemant Oberoi whom I had written about  cannot serve and sustain a “Conti” food restaurant.

I feel so sorry for the future of “Conti” food in Mumbai.     

Monday, March 11, 2019

Australia - The Food. Unexciting

It took a while getting down and writing this post. Australian food did not inspire me to tell you all about it. As I had written in the previous post, Australia did not really work out for us. Something is missing. The food too, largely failed to make an impact. You may have read my review of Tetsuya's here.

Let me try and put this in perspective. Mind you, our opinions are based on the 30 odd meals we had there. Therefore, the sample size is small. We did eat at the so called “best” restaurants, that all guides recommend. That would be the kind of restaurant you would eat at if you went to Australia. So, to that extent though the sample size is small, the restaurants are generally where you would eat.

Michelin, does not review and rate restaurants in Australia. Thus, you have no reliable way of determining standards. Of course, the cynical among you will say lots of rude things about Michelin ratings, but the point is, it is a respected rating agency. Australia has its own rating system which the AGFG [Australian Good Food Guide] runs. This system has two indicators, a crossed fork and spoon which signifies restaurant facilities and style. The second is Hats or Chefs Toques which rate the food only, not the overall experience.

Australia has no indigenous cuisine. Yes, it does have its indigenous ingredients. The food tends to be a mish mash of standard French and Italian techniques and styles. The immigrant food is varied, but unfortunately, did not seem to us to be of very good quality. The Chinese food in London, New York and San Francisco, for example compares very favorably to what is available in China, Hong Kong and Singapore. The Lebanese food in London is as good to what is available in the Gulf. The Indian food in the UK is, dare I say, better than what we get at home. Sadly, that is not the case in Australia.

We had two sets of friends in Australia. One [whom I shall call “Pilot”] originally was our neighbor in Mumbai. The other [whom I shall call “Noorjehan”] is an old friend from way back in time. 

Pilot made a very astute observation, nothing to do with food, but telling all the same. He said that no one who is educated in an Indian Ivy League – IIT/IIM – would seek a job in Australia. For them UK/USA/Europe would be the goal. Australia is according to him, for class 2 or lower people. We thought that this was a startling observation and spot on. With a lower common denominator could one really expect very much?

Noorjehan is in the travel industry. He said that the Australian Travel Board is spending a lot of money, and, devoting a lot of resources to promoting Australia in India. Think about it. We are bombarded by Australian TV shows from Masterchef Australia, to daily soaps, to Boys Weekend, to Maeve O'Meara and her Food Safari series, to My Kitchen Rules. We have the new show by Gary Mehigan. Manu Fieldel in Around the World in 80 Dishes, Miguel Maestre with his shows. Sarah Todd has featured on shows. Our very own Parineeti Chopra stars in an Australia Tourism ‘Undiscover Australia’ advert. The result of all this has been dramatic. More and more Indians now travel to Australia. All this adds to the allure of Australia.

The irony of all this was lost on me till I started researching in Australia. Gary Mehigan, Manu Fieldel and Miguel Maestre are not restaurant owners anymore. Just TV stars. So, the beautiful food they show off cannot be eaten by you or me.

One positive aspect is the fact that the quality of produce served is really good. Far far better than anything we get in India. By produce, I mean the vegetable. As far as proteins are concerned, these are without exception, honestly, superlative as compared to absolutely anything in India. This aspect should be borne in mind by you. The problem is that despite the top ingredients, the manner of cooking is rather poor.

I must stress this point again. The ingredients are world class and generally treated with care. The problem is that the dishes are no better in conception and execution that what you get at Indigo Deli or Smoke House in its avatars or at the Willingdon Club. Simple food, a mash potato, the obligatory 3 bits of green vegetable, a simple pan sauce and of course the protein.

We did have salads at a few places at lunch. In all the salads I ordered and ate, the plates had a splodge or thick smear of a cream cheese/Labneh/Mascarpone type dairy product on the base. Over this the rest of the ingredients were artfully laid on. This thrill of eating this was soon replaced by boredom as salad after salad had this base. While they looked brilliant, it soon got jaded.

Much has been written about the Victoria Market in Melbourne. We made two visits, one was exploratory and the other was to buy food. Regrettably, only after we returned to Mumbai and started to eat what we had bought, did we realize how disappointing the charcuterie was. A Duck Salami and Pork Salami looked the business but were sub-par. A cylinder of N’duja [pronounced En Do Ya] was a huge let down. N’duja is a Calabrese specialty, being a very spicy spreadable salami with a very high fat content. This was a rock hard, un-melting sausage like product. Very sad.

But it was not all painful and sad. We did have a relatively few good meals.

The first night in Sydney we ate at the wonderful Mr. Wong; an upmarket Chinese restaurant. A most un-Chinese looking restaurant which looked like a cross between a warehouse and a speak easy. It was huge, seating some 280, but despite that, it managed to have a more intimate feel. The décor was industrial, with exposed ducts and walls. The front of house staff was almost all Caucasian. On enquiry, I was told by the restaurant manager that “we keep all the Chinese in the Kitchen.” Ouch! That was rather racist, or, truthful. You decide. This was by any standards a good Chinese meal. We were seated at the bar as there were no tables available. Absolutely no complaints. Of course, if you have a look at the photos you will realise that this is not a place to have a quiet romantic dinner. This is a noisy lively place with excellent food.

Mr. Wong is in Sydney CBD and we can unhesitatingly recommend it.

Delicious Crispy Peeking Pigs Ears  

Stir Fried Snow Peas with Garlic Broccoli & Rice Wine

Grandma's Sticky Pork Belly - Awesome deep fried Pork Belly

Mr Wong Special Fried Rice with Pork & Prawns

The other good meal was at Cut in the Rocks area of Sydney. We were scheduled to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb that evening. On the way there we saw the Cut, a steak restaurant, made a reservation and had a very good meal. This is also a restaurant we can recommend. Romance possible.

Southern Calamari with Chickpeas Nduja and Sesame

Octopus with Cucumber, Dill & Kipfler Potato Salad

Slow Roast Porterhouse 800 Grams

We did have a couple of mixed meals. Chin Chin is a Thai restaurant in the very popular Flinders Lane area of Melbourne. It is a very popular restaurant and highly recommended by all guides. Lines to get in snake along the foot path. Some dishes were very good, others more ordinary. A loud, rumbustious place with closely packed tables. Very casual.

Spicy Chicken Larb

Beef Rendang

Stir Fry Green Beans & Shredded Coconut

Pad Thai

Cumulus also on Flinders Lane is another reasonably nice restaurant. The food is “Conti”. Very casual, we sat at the bar. A live kitchen. Once again noisy and not suited to a romantic evening. Mixed meal with some hits and misses.

Rabbit and Pork Cheek Terrine

Roast Potato Confit Garlic & Sage

Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder, Almond & Roasted Red Pepper

Snapper Mussels Spinach & Fennel Pollen

The last restaurant I recommend is a branch of the world famous Peking Duck Restaurant from Beijing – Quanjude. We found this quite by chance in a moment of serendipity. Located in the Chinatown area of Sydney, this is a newly opened restaurant. The food was good, the Duck, obviously being the star. The waiter was a very friendly young man from Hong Kong. He claimed that he made more money in Australia than Hong Kong. This is a formal restaurant and one can have a more sedate meal.

The Brilliant Peking Roast Duck - above & below

Fish in Beijing Style Crab Flavoured Egg


Duck Soup

Beijing Flavoured Noodles with Soy Bean Paste

So, folks, here it is. Our impression of an underwhelming food experience in Australia. If I was asked to recommend just one place, I believe it would be Mr. Wong, for its good food served in a very non-Chinese setting, with mainly Caucasian diners. You will certainly not starve or be food poisoned in Australia. The food is decent but no sophisticated or complex by a mile.