Thursday, October 22, 2009

BM Review: Kungh

Just before Deepavali, I'd visited a new Kashmiri restaurant on Castle Street to review it for Bangalore Mirror. The review can be read here at the site, or can be read below along with pictures.

Bending your mind past the turmoil in Kashmir and focusing on the finer aspects that define Kashmir and Kashmiri culture can be very fruitful. Yes, food is what I speak of. The common assumption is that the Muslim cuisine in Kashmir is the same as the Mughlai-tandoori cuisine. Although the Mughals did have an influence in the Kashmiri cuisine that we see today, the cuisine isn't anywhere close to the Lucknowi or Nizami (Hyderabadi) cuisine. Evolving over hundreds of years, the food was initially influenced by the Buddhists and Pandits, and later by the invasion of Timur, bringing in influences from Central Asia and Persia. To do justice to Kashmiri food required not just a Kashmiri, but someone who knew his onions from his tomatoes when it came to Kashmiri food. My guest Quasim Tanga, a Kashmiri by birth, is an engineering graduate from Manipal, and is director of AQ&Z Consulting, specialising in joint developments, investments, and advisory on commercial real estate. He turned out to be a treasure trove of gastronomic information, giving me details from simple things like the variety of breads baked by Kashmiri bakers to the use of yogurt to marinate meat (introduced by the Persians).

Kungh (pronounced kong) is the Kashmiri word for the most expensive spice in the world, saffron, which gets its name from Latin saffrenum, which comes from Persian za'ferân, which comes from Arabic za'farān, from the Arabic word for yellow, aṣfar (those interested can check how saffron became the colour of the Buddhist monks’ robe). Perched on Castle Street off Brigade road, Kungh, conceptualised by Mr. Anwar Nawab and run by Mr. Javaid Ahmed, offers Bangaloreans authentic Kashmiri cuisine, complete with a waza, or chef, from Kashmir, with completely organic ingredients, in crisp white interiors, and a seating capacity of around 30 or so.

We started off with a Kahwa, a traditional saffron-based tea. Javaid asked us to try it without sugar, and although it did taste good, with the aromas playing a pivotal role, adding a little sugar heightened the taste.

Kahwa

Onto solid stuff, and we were told the Kashmiri favourite, tabak maaz (lamb ribs), is made only on prior notice (the smell of the fat may put off gourmands who aren't used to it). So a seekh kabab (minced lamb meat cooked on skewers) and waza cockur (chicken marinated in traditional Kashmiri spices) was what we started off with. The seekh kabab was extremely soft and well flavoured, and (thankfully) didn't have any colouring. Cut into small ringlets, it's probably one of the best I've had in Bangalore. The waza cockur came with large pieces of chicken, and although tasty, we thought the chicken was a bit stringy.

Waza Cockur


Seekh Kabab

For our main course, we decided to stick to the Kashmiri staple of rice, and Quasim opined that a rista and a yakhni were the dishes to test the mettle of the waza. Yakhni is a yogurt based meat dish, having fennel, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, topped with mustard oil, and it was brilliant. The subtle flavours of the limited ingredients along with the soft meatballs (a result of pounding the meat to make it tender) was very nicely complemented by the spicier rista, which makes use of red chilli powder (and again, there was no evidence of food colouring) and no yogurt. Both went wonderfully well with the rice. It may be a very ‘Indian’ trait, but I've always believed that there's something truly remarkable about eating rice with your hands, and this meal vindicated my stand.

Rista


Yakhni

A prominent paneer dish, ruwangan chaman, was something we wanted to try, but we were informed that it was all over by lunch time (we had come for dinner), testimony to the brilliance of the dish. For dessert, we had rosewater-flavoured phirni, saffron kheer, and khubani meetha (one of the non-Kashmiri dishes). I loved the kheer and the phirni, while Quasim didn't quite like the rosewater taste in the phirni (a purist, I suppose!). The khubani meetha (apricot compote) was very nice, but I've had better, in terms of texture.

Trio of desserts (clockwise, from 11 o'clock): Phirni, Khubani Meetha, Kheer

With Javaid running a well-oiled operation and the passion running through his veins evident, Kungh certainly possesses the traits to satisfy the demands of the burgeoning gourmands in the city. At present, they don’t accept credit cards, but will shortly, so focus on getting there with the bare necessities for a meal – Kungh will take care of the rest.

Food: Excellent
$$$: Not too expensive; our bill for all that we had came to less than 1000, which is great!
Service: Very good
Verdict: Must visit
Extra Info: Since Castle St. is a one way, either enter from the Lifestyle side (Richmond Road), or if coming from Brigade Road, go past Castle St. and turn into the next left (Wood St.) and then turn left again to enter Castle St.


Kungh, #32, Castle Street, off Brigade Road, Ashoknagar, Bangalore. Phone: 41126043

Sunday, October 11, 2009

BM Review: Cafe Thulp

I've got a little bored of putting the link to the Bangalore Mirror site, but since I know it's the right thing to do, so here goes, but I'm also giving the review down below. For the rest of the news, you can visit the Bangalore Mirror site.

Thulp? Wha...?:
If you're wondering what the word 'Thulp' means, then you haven't grown up in Bangalore, or if you did, then, well, you obviously were oblivious to all the slang that was used by a vast majority of us. Thulp is a word used to describe a good beating, but contextually it can also be used to describe binging on food, much like another quintessential Bangalore slang expression, "belting food". So having grown up listening to this word in and out, it's small wonder that Chef Gautam Krishnankutty (of Tai Tai and Asia in a box fame) chose this as the name of his latest venture. Along with Padmakumar, the two have given Bangalore just what was missing - a good place for sandwiches and burgers in a bright, colourful café, which although isn't open air, is extremely cool and breezy and feels just as good as any other open air café, if not better. Oh, and you could also pick up a book from the book shelf to pass time.

Burgers and sandwiches are the kind of food that almost anyone and everyone would like, which is why they've both evolved into various shapes and sizes, and make use of different types of bread, from Cubans to Falafels, shawarmas to subs. Although the sandwiches are the more traditional, classic varieties, Thulp offers them along with their better known cousin, the burger, with different fillings. The burgers here are only beef - the authentic hamburger. In fact, Gautam and Padmakumar had several lengthy discussions over whether there should be a chicken or a lamb burger as well, but Gautam's diktat won over with essentially one point - without beef, it ain't a burger (scores for authenticity).

Fellow Thulpers & grub:
My guests who helped me thulp some food at Thulp were Sunil D'Monte, a free lancing techie, and Ujjwal Vijayakrishnan and Nikita Vasan, both commercial pilots. Ujjwal and Nikita had a couple of shakes - a Boston cooler and a Snicker blizzard, both of which were good. We opened with a chicken satay called 'bird on a wire', a prawn ceviche-like dish called 'Prawnic healing' and chicken momos called ‘steamy critters’. The prawn starter was OK, but the satay was very good, bearing all the hallmarks of a good chicken dish - soft, juicy, and flavourful. The steamed momos were the best of the lot, in terms of taste, texture, and overall feel-good factor.

Prawnic Healing

Snicker Blizzard (L) and Boston Cooler

Bird on a Wire

For the mains, Sunil and I were hell bent on having the burgers, and so a regular beef burger, aptly called ‘Moo’, and one of the Chef's specials for the day, a Teriyaki burger, were ordered. The daily specials, written on a blackboard, usually include an Asian touch. We also had a penne arrabiatta with grilled chicken, a peppery Yakuza, and fish-n-chips called 'A fish called Wanda'. To try one of the sandwiches, I ordered a Chinese barbecued pork sandwich called 'Pigs on the wing'. If creativity with the names is something where Thulp scores high, then taste is where they take it a step further. Nikita and Ujjwal liked their fish-n-ships and the peppery steak respectively, and the penne arrabiatta was also good, but we struck gold with the burgers - right from the 'assembling', down to taste.

Teriyaki Burger

Pigs on the Wing

Gambling chicken - Penne Arrabiatta

Peppery Yakuza

A fish called Wanda

Deconstruction of a burger:
A good burger, apart from having a well-flavoured and properly grilled patty, also depends on what is placed where between the sliced bun. Yup, the any-which-way method doesn't apply here. The patty has to always be placed on the lower slice of the bun to allow any juice from the patty which may run out (and a good burger should always have juices running out) to get absorbed by the bun. Above the patty comes the cheese (should be optional), tomatoes, caramalised onions - this is where most burgers fail as they give raw onions (yeeuuck!), and lettuce. At Thulp, the burgers come with shredded lettuce. Having a whole lettuce leaf there makes it difficult to eat, and also makes me feel like a cow, not something I particularly look forward to, especially when I'm eating cow!

Finishing touches:
We were quite full at this point, but dessert was a must. For dessert, an apple pie with ice cream and a hazel nut mud pie were ordered for, and duly polished off in no time, the mud pie being the superior of the two delicatessens. As Ujjwal said at the end “It was a me‘moo’rable meal”, a pun on the use of ‘Moo’ to describe the beef burgers. Go now and thulp some burgers; it's a 'moo'st try.

Apple Pie

Hazelnut Mudpie


Cafe Thulp, #998, 1st Main, 1st Block, Koramangala, Bangalore. Phone: 25487788

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Caesar's

Friday night saw P, VP and I make a sudden decision to go watch the new Bruce Willis movie Surrogates @ Fame Lido. After the movie, we were wondering where to head for dinner and started walking along M G Road, coming up with and scratching off options. We came up with Caesar's, and since none of us had been there, we decided to walk it down.

Entering Caesar's was like stepping into a era of Bangalore that existed when I was growing up as a kid. The paint, the setup inside, even the smell for that matter seemed to be screaming 'old Bangalore'.

We settled in and ordered a round of jaljeera. Three big glasses arrived, and along with it we also ordered a round of simple onion rings. The rings were oily (well, duh!) and the two clowns with me made me eat most of them - I tell you, these guys won't let me reap the benefits of all the exercising I'm doing (I run for 30 minutes every evening).

Jaljeera

P is a big fan of soups, and one of the soups caught his eye - tomato egg drop soup. Sounded interesting, and he asked me if I was willing to split a soup with me, which I was, so a split soup it was. The soup was actually nice, and although watery (P for some reason thought it would be creamy), he liked it too.

Tomato egg drop soup

Onion rings

While downing the rings and our soup, we were engaged in an prolonged discussion about the pros and cons of arranged marriage versus a love marriage, and everything that most of today's about-to-be-married folks seem to have taken for granted, especially stuff about the expectations from marriage - it's not the same as it was when our parents got married, that's for sure.

Garlic bread

After a wait for nearly half an hour, our mains arrived. VP ordered a Chicken ala Kiev, a crumb fried chicken dish that was filled with butter, served on a bed of mashed potatoes. And typical of VP, he never finishes a meal, and invariably it's me who mops up what he's left, but my steak was a little too filling, and so I wasn't able to finish his meal.

Chicken ala Kiev

My steak ala Caesar's was a superb combo of beef and chicken, and although I try to avoid beef nowadays, what with the global warming and stuff (in case you're wondering what's eating beef got to do with global warming, well, the cows that are in farms where they are raised for their meat are the no.1 source of methane, and I've verified it as well). In this case I made an exception, and now I can't think of why I chose to do so. In any case, my steak was good. Nice cut of beef, and the chicken was good as well.

Steak ala Caesar's

P didn't seem to have any complaints about his shashlik, and as usual, mopped it up quietly.

Veg shashlik

I was too full to eat dessert, and so the guys ordered a hot chocolate fudge from which I had a couple of spoons before paying the bill.

Hot chocolate fudge

Next weekend is deepavali, or diwali, as it's known in the north. I'm off to Mangalore, and hopefully I'll be able to indulge in some culinary adventures there. But before that, there's a whole week in Bangalore, so hopefully there's something more to come.

Food: Good
$$$: Slightly expensive; the bill came to about 1680 with tax.
Service: Good, but also a little slow. Also, they don't rush you & give you all the time you need.
Verdict: Worth a visit once in a while just to get the good, clean 'smell' of old Bangalore. Oh, and like I said, the food's not too bad :)

Caesar's, 9/2, Mahalakshmi Chambers, M G Road, Bangalore. Phone: 25584144

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

BM Review: Pizzeria Romano

Last Saturday, over the long weekend, I visited Pizzeria Romano (the place I'd visited a week before with P and VP) to review the place for Bangalore Mirror. The review can be read here. My guests for the review were Ruth D'Souza Prabhu, husband Sudhakar Prabhu., and their almost-3 year old daughter Anoushka. Ruth, apart from free lancing as a journalist now, also runs a blog about places to eat in Bangalore, and is one of a very few who actually blogs about restaurants in Bangalore. Sudhakar is a 3-D graphics visualiser at an architecture firm. He's also a drummer with two bands, Bourbon Street and Quasar, formed during his college days in Manipal.

Nice & Naughty (Litchi based drink)


Bruschetta


Splendido (Green apple based drink)


Garlic bread with cheese

The story behind the Margherita pizza is pretty interesting. In 1899, Queen Marghereta visited Naples to escape the dreaded plague, and Chef Rafaelle Esposito created a pizza for the queen with tomatoes (red), Mozzarella (white), and basil (green), the colours of the Italian flag. The queen loved the pizza, and the chef named it after her, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Margherita


Shitake mushroom pizza


Veggie Supreme

Spaghetti Arrabiatta, ordered for Anoushka, who wanted to eat 'noodles'. It turned out to be a little spicier than what an Arrabiatta should be - a case of being a little too liberal with the chilly flakes.

Spaghetti Arrabiatta


Wood fire Pizzeria Romano special


Chocolate Mousse


Banana dessert pizza


Portuguese rice pudding


Pizzeria Romano, #55, 5th Cross, 6th Block, Koramangala, Bangalore. Phone: 25525104

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Spiga

Spiga is back! Almost opposite the older location, above the Giovanni showroom at the corner of St Mark's Road and Vittal Mallya Road, Spiga seems to be drawing all its old faithful back into its realm, and also seems to be pulling in new recruits.

VP and I reached Spiga around 1:15 and had to wait until 1:55 to get a table. P called and said he'd join us a little late. Once we were seated, our waiter got a basket of 3 slices of garlic bread, and here's the kicker - all three were of varying sizes, like the three bears in the Goldilocks story. There was a papa garlic bread (long), a mama garlic bread (medium), and a baby garlic bread (short). We waited for a few minutes, hoping that we'd be given plates, but that didn't seem to be the case. Hungry, we dug into the bread. Finally, we motioned to the waiter to get us some plates, and he got us plates.

When the starter arrived, it did seem a little disappointing, given the standards we'd come to expect form Spiga. The oregano chicken skewers didn't come with the skewers (OK, I may be getting a little ahead of myself, but I thought at least wooden skewers!). Instead, although you could make out the holes in the chicken where the skewers passed through, they came with tooth-picks! Now that, for some reason, was very putting off.

Oregano Chicken Skewers

And what's the deal with the naan-like bread by the side? They sure as hell don't seem to be the kind you can scoop the chicken pieces with (the pieces are way too large, and there isn't any gravy to mop up). The chicken tasted nice, like any other malai kabab that I've had at any of the numerous tandoori food places in the city.

For the main course (by which time Mr P had joined us), I ordered a classic steak sandwich. My previous visit to Spiga at the old location saw me having something very common - some kind of pasta, while the persons seated at the table next to ours were having a very beautiful looking sandwich, so I was craving for something like that. My sandwich tasted good, with just the right amount of mayo added to it and although the lettuce was whole, cutting the sandwich helped combat the difficulty in eating a large leaf of lettuce. However, when they say steak sandwich and serve you a filling of shredded chicken slivers, to say it's kinda disappointing would be the understatement of the century.

Classic Steak Sandwich

VP ordered a bacon-wrapped fish, served with penne. He had a severe headache, and so that gave him an excellent excuse to eat slowly, but I guess he liked the dish coz he almost ate the entire thing on his own.

Bacon wrapped Fish with Penne

P ordered a simple Thai red curry (vegetarian) and all too quickly polished it off as neatly as the rice seemed to be polished.

Thai Red Curry

We were pretty full (VP and I had visited Egg Factory for a snack while waiting to get seats in Spiga, so we were full), and so settled for one blueberry cheesecake. The cake was nice, and was different from most other cheesecakes you get elsewhere (which are almost like a slightly more hardened mousse).

Blueberry Cheese Cake

I don't think I'm heading towards Spiga again in a hurry. The music was way too loud, and it being a Sunday, so were the people. the service was eh, and the only silver lining was that the food didn't disappoint. Thankfully, with me, that's the most important criteria, you know, kinda like why men go to watch an Anna Kournikova match...not for her tennis, or like when women go to watch a John Abraham movie...for his looks of course, not his acting skills (in his defense, have you ever seen a mannequin 'act' anywhere?), but the fact that there was this charm and aura around Spiga made me expect a lot more from it.

Food: Good
$$$: Around 400-500 per head; may reduce if group size is bigger
Service: Eh!
Verdict: I liked the old Spiga better - in terms of food, service, ambiance, and best of all, it didn't have mind-numbingly loud music playing all the time.
Extra Info: The music is very loud, and people speak at the top of their lungs and act as if they own the place, so if it's a pleasant environ you're looking for, certainly not on weekends.

Spiga, above Giovanni, Corner of St Mark's Road & Vittal Mallya Road, St Mark's Road, Bangalore. Phone: 42110469 , 42110470