Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Zomato - suggestions, likes, and dislikes

The online food & lifestyle guide Zomato.com wanted to get feedback from users about things that would get a thumbs-up as well as those features that would require further improvement.

What I like about the site (as an engineer and someone who's worked countless hours on graphical user interfaces) are:

1. The font, colour scheme, and layout: Very well chosen colour scheme and font, one that doesn't put any strain on the eye, has good contrast, and the navigation from one link to another is very easy (logical, if I may let a little bit of the engineer side of me comment).

2. Quick search: Be it in real life, or on the net, people hate waiting. The search functionality is easily one of the fastest I've come across, and given the sheer volumes (OK, numbers) of restaurants in their database, it's mighty impressive.

3. Pictures: Pictures speak a 1000 words...then what would 1000+ pictures speak? Right from the git-go, Zomato has made it a point to focus on pictures - collected from all possible sources (which made them stand apart from their competitors). And how can one not have pictures when it comes to food? :) the more the merrier.

Some of the things that that didn't quite catch my fancy, that I'd maybe like to see changed are:

1. Replacing original copyright marks on images: While Zomato has done the right thing in putting their watermark on the images, I think it would've been a nice(r) gesture had they retained the original copyright mark of the person who submitted the image simply so that it becomes an almost symbiotic relationship with the original image provider. While I'm not too sure about legal implications (Zomato does explicitly state that the images used aren't all their images and take explicit permission to use the images), having both the original copyright, as well as the Zomato watermark could be something that would've been greeted with slightly more cheery faces.

2. Open now: While the 'Open Now' feature was indeed a novel introductory feature on the site, it's been on beta for far too long (for my liking). I actually think this is something that would be quite beneficial for those who eat at odd hours (I'm sure this group is quite a large number), and also another one of the differentiating factors between Zomato and its competitors.

3. Recommendations by Zomato/editors/experts: The editors/experts, who've been chosen by Zomato for writing reviews to help boost the credibility of the reviews & ratings for a restaurant, should also be provided with a section to give their recommendations for restaurants in almost every cuisine. This way, if a user who visits the site with the sole intention of finding places that serve, let's say burgers, then he/she can search for that and among the search results, the first few should clearly indicate that these are the places Zomato recommends. The remaining results can be displayed in the existing order.

As far as UI suggestions go, I have a suggestion for getting alerts from Zomato about various 'events', both under the Restaurant Guide as well as the Events section. It would be great if a dashboard of sorts is set up for user who log into the site with their logins. Upon doing so, they will be presented with a divided screen, the left side containing a notice board or a dash board of sorts, where a one-time activity of customising the alerts can be done.

Clicking the 'Click here' link should take the user to a tab on the dashboard where he/she can select the alerts based on the list provided. The list would have to be provided by Zomato based on what they think would interest the users most. The user then proceeds to 'check' the options of where and how to receive the updates. Also, an option of allowing the user to select specific restaurants that he/she may love and would be interested in knowing about any new event/dish/update about could be provided in separate tab.

The text box can be AJAX-based and as the user starts typing out a name, options can appear below and the user can then select a restaurant name from the options displayed. The selected options can be then shown in a table below, where the user can again select where and how they wish to receive the alerts about these place.

After selecting how he/she wants to receive the alerts, the save button can be clicked so that the settings are saved.

Once the settings are saved, the next time the user logs into the site, he/she can get a snapshot of the alerts on the dashboard (if they had chosen the dashboard option), and by clicking the appropriate option, can be directly taken to the page with the details rather than scouring through the site (events section) in search for the specific event. While this may not be a revenue generator, it could certainly boost the users usability experience on the site.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Biryani Pundits

Biryani Pundits is a restaurant that has come up in the same spot in Koramangala that once housed Sonakshi Sharma's (another restaurant). When you hear the name 'Biryani Pundits', you're bound to think of a joint where you'll be spoiled for choice with copious varieties of biryanis. Au contrare, one look at the menu, and you'll notice that the biryani constitutes a very small percentage of the total number of items on the menu. So much for 'it's all in a name!'. Located in Koramangala, a little after Umerkot, Biryani Pundits has colour-coded seating only on the first floor and can seat around 30 people or so. The ground floor, by the looks of things, is mainly the wait-for-your-take-away spot. The food on offer ranges from kulchas to iddiappams, from naans to idlis, and perhaps almost everything in between.

With a menu as diverse as the one they have here, it took 5 of us dissect it and put every section to the test (or in this case, taste). So after scanning through the pages, we thought of starting with the lamb head meat fry, but were told that it isn't available...on a Saturday night! Of all the days in the week, you'd expect restaurants to stock up on what's on the menu for the weekend, but that wasn't the case here. So a lamb liver fry, a chicken 65, a paneer chilli, chicken tikka, and chicken and lamb kottu paratha made up our starters.

Lamb liver fry

Chicken tikka

The paneer chilli was about the most atrocious excuse for paneer I've EVER had. Really, it was that bad. A coating of corn flour gave it an almost bullet proof-like jacket that our teeth found hard to penetrate at first, but we did make inroads, eventually. The chicken 65 was probably the best dish of the evening, being soft, juicy, and well flavoured. While I can't say with authority that I've ever tasted an authentic chicken 65 before, this one at least tasted good, so full marks. The chicken tikkas were the usual fare and there wasn't anything memorable about it. The kottu parathas were decent, although a couple of folks believed that the salt wasn't mixed properly as they got mouthfuls of more salt than what they'd bargained for.

Kottu paratha

For the mains, we had to try the Pundits special biryani. Along with that we wanted to have the iddiappams, which we were told weren't available. And the guy taking our orders gave us some extra info here: "Not available coz they smell bad!!!" Like we wanted to know that. Thanks, next time also tell which buddy of yours in the kitchen is digging his nose, and who's got their pinky waxing the insides of their ear! And that pretty much summed up the service in general - uninterested, just passing through the motions. This was exemplified by them bringing all the food at once and plonking it on the table, only to realise that there wasn't any space left, which then made them try to make space by removing plates that still have food on them!

So we went with the special dosa, egg appam, lamb biryani along with the Pundits special, a chicken pepper curry and a lamb curry. The special biryani was anything but special. There was hardly any difference between it and the lamb biryani except the meat. Both tasted below average. The special dosa, again, proved hard to decipher what made it special, because any of the Shanti Sagars will server you a paper masala dosa in the shape of the an inverted cone. The curries were just OK, but the biryanis, as mentioned, were below average, and so the overall dinner experience was one I'd like to forget soon.

Special dosa

Egg appam

Lamb biryani

Chicken pepper curry

The biryanis were supposed to be served with raita, brinjal curry, and a dessert. They never came. So we asked. And they asked back, "Do you want them?" I honestly started looking around to see if there was a hidden camera, a la candid camera show where we were the scapegoats. Alas, that wasn't to be. This was happening for real.

I don't know what kind of punditry got the owners to conceptualise this sort of an operation or what the philosophy was behind then name and the menu, but good luck to them is all I can say. I wish I could rate this place 1.5 stars, but I guess 2 should convey the message. If it runs for more than a year, they should consider themselves fortunate. Or they can just thank their stars that there are sufficient people who appreciate bad food. Whatever.

Food: You've gotta be kidding me!
$$$: Affordable - approximately Rs 300-350 for two.
Service: Uninterested
Verdict: Visit if you're a bachelor with no particular interest in good food because you're primary concern is to save up on your hard earned money.

Biryani Pundits, #1018, 80 ft Road, Near Wipro Park Signal (after Natural's), 1st Block, Koramangla, Bangalore. Phone: 8880050001

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I know there's been a really long delay, and my apologies for the same.

Aroy is one of those places in South Bangalore that would lead some people to believe that it wouldn't 'fit in'. It serves Thai food primarily, and a smattering of dishes from the neighbouring areas.

This post has been so long overdue, I think I've lost a few of the snaps I'd taken! Anyway, so given that my experience with Thai food in Hyderabad was quite delightful, and given that I came to a conclusion that there is a huge market for Thai food in Bangalore (if done right), Aroy would end up a shade paler compared to my experiences in Hyderabad, but it's nevertheless quite good (at least better than that place Benjarong).

To start off, one slight disappointment with Aroy is that they do not serve pork and beef, but I'm guessing that's more because of the fact that they're located in south Bangalore than anything else. I wish people weren't so fickle, and wouldn't stop going to a place just coz something THEY don't eat is served there. I keep hearing that we are a tolerant society and all that, what bull! This kind of behaviour says otherwise.

Aroy is located on top of the Crossword building. They have an open air seating as well as air conditioned indoors. When there isn't any hint of the acclaimed Bangalore rain, then the outdoor would be the better option. Each table has an 'umbrella' made of cane and iron and does a good job of shielding the table from the prospect of water draining from the clouds, but it isn't wide enough to cover your backside.

That said, let's move on to the food. I'm really a sucker for the Tom Kha soup, and Aroy makes a delightful Tom Kha. Creamy, with just enough heat that comes from the chillies in them but not so much that you can't taste the rest of the flavours from the galangal, lemongrass, and coconut milk. Available in veg, chicken and prawns, this is must have, especially if you're in a group as you could split one portion with someone else, unless you're the kind who's usually described by your friends as a bottomless pit (or other such phrases).

Before I continue any further, there aren't any vegetarian dishes that I can talk about exclusively here, but since most of the veg dishes are more or less the same minus the meat component, you can draw a fairly accurate conclusion about the dish.

Among the starters, the Pandan chicken is a must have. Medium sized chunks of boneless chicken marinated in soy sauce, sugar, and a hint of ginger juice, wrapped in the Pandan leaves and deep fried, these little parcels are guaranteed to keep you licking your fingers clean.

If you're a fan of crispy lamb, then there is a version of that available, although I would suggest you skip that and head for the seafood, even if you don't eat/like seafood - it's better than the lamb. One of the things that ticked me off now is that during all the visits I made (3 in total), they did not have the crab stir fry that is on the menu. So we settled for the crab meat balls. Crab meat with corn flour and some seasoning and spices, stir fried, wok-tossed and served. Tasted nice, but I'd have liked to have had the whole crab stir fry instead (especially since it's on the menu!).

Having eaten the crab, we moved on to the prawns - wrapped in banana leaves and cooked. The spices were a combo of red chilli, ginger, garlic and something I couldn't quite place my finger on. This is was quite liked by everyone at the table, with the prawns cooked well.

For the main course, we stepped slightly away from Thai for a bit and settled for the Burmese dish of khow suey, or khao soi. The dish is essentially a noodle dish that is served with a coconut milk based curry. Apart from this, there are several condiments that are served alongside this, which once mixed, provided some much needed zing and add a different texture (adding peanuts). The one served here is quite good. The chicken gravy served with the noodles wasn't spicy, and overall, the dish is quite a nice one, especially if you' prefer subtle flavours as opposed to the more robust ones typically seen in Thai food.

Condiments for the khow suey

Khow suey

The pahd kee mao, or drunken noodles, unlike other noodles, consists of flat noodles and has bean sprouts and seasoning. If you like the flat variety, then you'll probably enjoy this one. And once again, the peanuts and the bean sprouts in this give it a nice texture, and if you haven't figured it out already, I like peanuts in the noodles. Just to have a side dish, we tried the chicken with cashew nuts and bell peppers. The dish went well along with the noodles, the gravy being mildly sweet and the chicken being not to spicy.

They also have the standard dishes like the Thai read and green curry, and there are a couple of stir fries involving duck meat. I've never had dessert here, primarily because I've been quite content at the end of my meal. Overall, Aroy gives a decent account of Thai food in south Bangalore in more than a decent setting.

Food: Good
$$$: About Rs 500 or so per head, depend in how people are present.
Service: Decent
Verdict: Must visit if in south Bangalore

Aroy, #74, 15th Cross, 3rd Phase, JP Nagar, Bangalore. Phone: 40939311, 41290535

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