Thursday, November 15, 2012

Delicio - Italian food festival at Bene, Sheraton

Delicio, the Italian food festival at Bene, is the result of Sheraton Bangalore bringing to town Chef Enrico Fiorentini, the Executive Chef at the Sheraton Milan Malpensa Airport Hotel. The food being showcased during this fest is the food from the Lombardy region of Italy.

Chef Enrico Fiorentini
Photo credit: Sheraton Bangalore

While the popular notion is that the Lombardy regions cuisine has a lot of Swiss influence, Chef Enrico has a slightly different take on it. He says that Switzerland itself doesn't have a very strong gastronomic tradition, and has taken a lot of influences from France, Germany, and Italy, and so the 'influences' in Lombardy food comes mainly from France. Chef also spoke about how being a slightly hilly, landlocked region meant that the food incorporated almost everything grown in the region. Even the famous Minestrone soup, which usually contains pasta when served in other parts of Italy, has rice in it!

Some of the starters we were served were very reflective of the philosophy of Lombardian cuisine. The use of a lot of vegetables and polenta, which is one of the most prominent starchy foods. Seafood isn't eaten much - obviously, the coast is quite far! - but the consumption of other meats is quite high, with veal and beef making up for a bulk of the proteins and pork coming in closely behind.


 


The fest at Bene will be an a la carte setup and there's a special menu apart from the regular menu at Bene. One of the starters we had, a timbale of stewed lentils and roasted pumpkin with almond velouté and a Parmesan cheese crisp was very reminiscent of a classic, 'earthy' dish. The flavours were earthy and yet light. I'm not a big fan of a strong Parmesan flavour, so I didn't like the taste of the crisp all that much, but in terms of technique, it was brilliant.

Timbale of stewed lentils and roasted pumpkin with almond cream velouté and Parmesan crisp

We then proceeded onto the next course - not the main course - called the Primi piatti di pasta, or the pasta course. As mentioned before, seafood isn't really big in the Lombardy region, but they do 'import' it from the south, and make a few dishes. The ravioli we had was custom made - stuffed with seafood instead of the usual pumpkin - and was superb. The shell wasn't too thick, and was boiled for just enough time to ensure it's firm and not pasty. The seafood inside wasn't over cooked, and the basil oil on the plate was a nice addition along with the standard balsamic vinegar artistry.

Seafood ravioli with basil oil

For the meat course, we had a butter pan fried lamb chops in a herbed polenta crumbing. The cut of lamb chops that we got was outstanding. I mean, look at the snap below (click the image for a larger, better view) and check out how much meat is present on the bone, and the portion of the bone exposed. Lovely. It was served with a pumpkin risotto. I'm not a big fan of strong cheese in a risotto, so this one didn't get a smile from me, but in terms of being cooked, it was nicely done. The lamb chops were divine. Done medium, these were stacked up proudly on a plate, with a glaze sauce. Personally, I'd have liked to have had one of the traditional beef or veal dishes, like perhaps an ossobuco, or even a rabbit dish that's there on the menu.

Butter pan fried lamb chops in a herbed polenta crumbing

Finally, for dessert, or dolci as they say in Italian, we had a combo of sorts. In the foreground and at the 12 o'clock position is a polenta and dark chocolate timbale, and on the horizontal plane is a Parmesan cheese ice cream (left) and red wine poached pear. The Parmesan ice cream was a pleasant surprise. I thought it was plain vanilla until my nose crossed over the spoon and I got a waft of the Parmesan aroma. It went well with the poached pears as it cut the acidity from the red wine and the general acidic nature of the pear fruit. The dark chocolate was rich and creamy.

Assortment of desserts

The Italian food festival at Bene is a little different in the sense that the menu is not all pastas and pizzas, and certainly not the usual flavours you get, which are typically from the southern half of Italy. However, it is quite an interesting perspective to the food from a country where we usually only get to eat the food from the lower half of the country.

                                               Delicio - Italian food festival
                                         Dates: Till the 18th of November 2012
                                         Venue: Bene, at Sheraton Bangalore
                                         Mode of dining: A la carte

Monday, November 5, 2012

New menu at Shao - Park Plaza

Shao is the Chinese restaurant at the Park Plaza hotel in Marathahalli, located next to the multiplex. Recently, Shao went 'under the knife', and the surgery in this case was a complete revamp of their menu. I wasn't able to attend the launch of the new men; however, I did get invited to a dinner where a select number of dishes from the new menu were put on focus and served to all the guests who were staying in-house, as well as a few select folks.

The customary Chinese tea was served into some very nice China, and the chilly night wind that had managed to seep through my thick skin and was tingling my bones while I was outside was quickly contained. I limited myself to just one cup - any more and I knew I'd be over doing it, and declining completely seemed...rude (I don't know why). The real 'warmer' came next - a Thai mojito. With an almost freaky red colour, the Thai mojito actually did the trick. It wasn't too potent, but had enough buzz in it from the spices and the alcohol to actually whet my appetite. The last time I was here for the Melange brunch, the cocktails were quite a hit with my friend and me. This time around wasn't any different.



 Thai mojito

We started off with a lemon coriander soup. The soup tasted good, but I'd have really liked it if it was a clear soup and not a semi thick soup. And then, the starters began to arrive. Two kinds of sui mai - chicken and veg - made their way to the table, and in no time were these dim sums polished off. Going through the menu, I'd have liked to see a slightly larger variety of dim sums on the menu, given that this is a Chinese place. It would have been a great way to differentiate themselves from the other Chinese restaurants.

The prawn tempura with the wasabi mayo sauce was a really very good - just the right amount of tempura flour used to coat the prawn, and fried to perfection. I didn't want to seem greedy, so settled for two pieces. In hindsight, I should have had a couple more :) The veg spring roll is a good option for vegetarians, and it's surprisingly not very heavy in spite of being deep fried.

The chicken with roasted chilli paste and yellow rock sugar sounded very Thai - roasted chilli pasted, yellow rock sugar - very Thai, and the taste didn't disappoint one bit. While the lack of several other Thai ingredients in the dish can be questioned, and also the spice levels, the taste of the chicken and the amount of time it was cooked for were great. The chicken was still succulent and juicy, and the spice levels didn't make you reach out for your glass of water. The last of the veg dishes, the crispy fried wild mushrooms was pretty decent, but I didn't really pay too much attention as to how many types of mushrooms were int he dish.

Lemon coriander soup


On to the mains, but before that I had another round of the mojito. The chef had come and spoken to us in between and checked on us before heading in to work on the food. For the main course, there were quite a few options that were presented on the special menu that was on offer, but I was a bit disappointed that there was not a single pork dish offered, given that Chinese cuisine wouldn't be complete without pork. The menu did have Cantonese roast pork or roast pork ribs, and that would've been perfect!

The two non veg dishes in the main course - the sliced chicken with pokchoy and mushrooms as well as the sliced river sole with mint and pepper sauce - were brilliant. The river sole in particular was quite refreshing as most places now used that blasted basa for white fish. The sole had a mildly sweet taste to it, and a slightly firm texture. The fish went perfectly with the mint and pepper sauce it was served with. The sliced chicken, on the other hand, was a slight contrast to the fish. The meat was tender, and the mushrooms in the dish gave a slightly musty flavour to the dish.

Vegetarians who like tofu, the tofu and pokchoy stir fry with Schezwan sauce is one of those dishes you could opt for. Silky in texture, and slightly spicy in taste, this is perhaps ideal to club with a simple fried rice. The assorted string beans with garlic and chilli seemed like a very blah dish, but the beans we were served were crisp and tender, with the garlic-chilli combo providing in taste what the beans provided in texture. The shredded potato stir fry with spring onions and soy sauce seemed better as a starter is the sauce wasn't as watery, as it would be fun to pick up the string thin potato and munch on it. The standard carbs were provided in the form of fried rice and noodles.

Tofu and pokchoy stir fry with Schezwan sauce

Sliced river sole with mint and pepper sauce

Sliced chicken with pokchoy and mushrooms

Finally, after all this food, there was dessert, and a fresh fruit roll with ice cream was served. The fruit rolls, although seemingly deep fried, was quite nice and didn't feel too heavy at the end of the meal. Maybe it was just the ice cream and some psychological thing, maybe it wasn't.


Overall, we had a nice meal. When it comes to the new menu that Shao has put out, it still seems a little conservative in terms of the dishes on board, almost as if they were playing it a little safe. A little more adventurism and a little more depth in the menu would have set them apart from the rest by a long shot. However, this could just be the first of many changes, so hopefully this brings them the success it was intended to, and hopefully that in turn leads the chef to get a little more bold with the selection of dishes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bricklane Grill invitation from Spiritz and More

Bricklane Grill is a restaurant located at the junction of Indiranagar’s 100 Feet Road and 12th Main Road, in the same building that houses Sunny’s, but on the 12th Main side. The restaurant opened up in a low key manner earlier in the year, and is quite popular with the expats in the city, and is yet to hit the mark with most other foodies and gourmands in town. I was asked to review the restaurant along with some of the alcohol brands that are served at the restaurant by Spiritz and More. The restaurant is high above all the hustle and bustle that takes place below. Awash with white walls, white furniture, and even white exposed bricks, the restaurant takes its name from a lane in London, that coincidentally also houses a large number of restaurants that serve curry.

While the restaurant does boast of a very romantic setup in one section, weekends are lively with DJ events, so that special meal with a special someone would have to be done on a weekday. While my photograph of the table in the romantic section doesn't to any justice, the night time view is spectacular. The night we visited the restaurant, there space was arranged for a party of 6, and I unfortunately was carrying only my 50mm lens, so couldn't get a wider shot.


The restaurant can be broadly divided into the following areas: few seats around the bar and the grill area, some tables under the covered area and some in the open, a table for 12 inside which is a chef’s table, primarily to be used for wine pairing events, and lastly, the upstairs area that has a lounge-y feel to it, with the balcony area having a three 2-seater tables – ideal for a romantic dinner with that special someone. The cool breeze in the night meant that the open air seating area was a brilliant location, and for those who tend to catch the chills easily, there are heaters nearby.

I started off with a cocktail – a green apple Martini, while my friend opted for a Whyte and Mackay Glasgow whisky. While the Martini was quite good, with the sour flavour of the green apple giving an additional ‘spike’ in the taste, the whisky, according to my friend was lovely, and he’s taken a liking to it over other Scotch whiskies like the Black Dog 12 year because of the slightly sweeter taste. Both of us enjoyed the drinks and while we were getting warmed up with the alcohol, a plate with toast arrived. I assumed it was the standard garlic bread, but it wasn’t. It was bread alright, but it was green with envy – basil oil. Very novel and quite a ‘refreshing’ change I might add. Before I get into what we ate and how the food turned out, I must say that Bricklane Grill serves Parsi food, which is their signature of sorts, along with a fusion of select Indian dishes and European favourites. While to some this could be seen as being a little ‘confused’, a closer inspection can present a different picture.

Green apple martini

Toast with basil oil - superb!

The first of the starters was a Chettinad chicken tikka, one of the examples of a slight fusion of the north Indian tikka, marinated in Chettinad spices. While a couple of pieces did feel a little dry, the rest were fine and the heat from the chicken was perfect with both the vodka martini as well as the whisky. Before the spices from this ebbed away, we were served with another special – the mango infused paneer with pomegranate. Superb! The paneer was of good quality (and even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t fault a Bangalore restaurant for not having good paneer), and the flavours blended perfectly – the sweet and the sour coming together beautifully.

Chettinad chicken tikka

Mango infused paneer with pomegranate 

The crispy yellow chilli prawns were a beautiful golden brown, but there wasn’t much chilli, and the plump prawns felt a little chewy, but that’s probably because of the size, and not over cooking, although some experts may say it could’ve been cooked for about 20 seconds less. I didn’t have any complaints. The ajwain fish tikka was also quite superb – well cooked, and thankfully not overcooked in spite of being cooked in the tandoor.

 Crispy yellow chilli prawns
The Parsi starters, the boti soti, cubes of mutton cooked and skewered on a toothpick with a cube of potato, and the batter coated and fried, lived up to expectations in taste and texture, although the outer coat was quite oily. The bheja na cutlets (brain cutlets) would certainly take getting used to due to the soft texture, but if you’re a fan, then the ones served here would give most places a run for their money. In between all these, I ordered another cocktail, a Moscow Mule – vodka, wine and ginger ale – and while it tasted good, it could have done a little more to make sure I felt the mule ‘kick’ me. My friend was in love with the Whyte and Mackay, and smooth whisky was working wonderfully with the starters.

Moscow Mule
Boti soti

 Brain cutlets

We then moved on to the main course, and here we were spoilt for choice. I mean, there are the Parsi favourites of course, and then there were some very interesting combinations that married flavours from Indian dishes to European favourites. The lamb chops with rogan josh masla and red wine reduction was a perfect example of flavours from two regions coming together beautifully. Ditto with the Jack Daniel’s pork chops – the JD sauce going brilliantly with the pork chops, but the whiskey corn salsa was a bit of a mystery as I wasn’t able to understand the reason for that, although texturally it was quite pleasing. The peppercorn crusted beef tenderloin was cooked very nicely, but I found the amount of pepper a touch overpowering as I wasn’t able to concentrate on the taste of the meat. Whisky or no whisky, the pepper was a bit too much.

Jack Daniel's pork chops

Rogan josh flavoured lamb chop with red wine reduction, and Whyte and Mackay in the background

 Peppercorn crusted beef tenderloin

The Parsi mains – sali boti, mutton dhansak, and the biryani with meatballs was quite a delight, although we were quite full by now, and couldn’t do full justice by polishing off the dishes as we did with the previous dishes. The dhansak was good and the sali boti was quite lip smacking – the sweet and mild sour flavours doing well to give the palate a good exercise. The lone veg dish that we had - the tamarind glazed eggplant and tomato - we had them serve us only a fraction of the portion. The tangy tamarind flavour combined well with the smokiness of the eggplant, but unless you're the kind who doesn't mind a light main course, you may want to stock up on something else.

Biryani and dhansak

Sali boti

Tamarind glazed eggplant and tomato

By the time we got to desserts, we were actually about to pop a few buttons on our shirts. Loosening our belts didn’t help, and so we could only take a couple of bites from both desserts. The ice cream sandwich – warm jalebis with home-made ice cream – was a little disappointing. The sweet, crisp jalebi was superb, but the vanilla flavour from the ice cream just didn’t come through. I mean, if you can’t taste vanilla, then that’ll certainly get you wondering, won’t it? If wasn’t sure if it was the sweetness from the jalebi, or the fact that the ice cream being home-made didn’t have enough vanilla flavouring from the pods, or a combination of both. The South Indian coffee brûlée was a nice idea and the coffee flavour wasn’t overpowering, but the custard below the caramelized sugar could’ve been a little more velvety. Also, while some would argue that the almond biscotti served with the brûlée could be used to spoon out every last bit, I don't know if I'm from that school of thought. We really had stuffed ourselves silly by now, and even getting off the chair was a bit of an issue.

South Indian coffee brûlée

 Ice cream sandwich with jalebis

Overall, it was a very nice meal that we had, clubbed with the alcohol. Both the cocktails I had were good on the whole, and the Whyte and Mackay my friend had was something he was quite pleased about. Given that Bricklane Grill has such a vast array of dishes and some that are obviously something new (marriage of flavours from different cuisines), I think they need to iron out a few creases and be spot on with the every dish, or people would automatically blame them for having their fingers in too many pies. Perhaps cutting down on the number of dishes on the menu is one way to go, but that’s for the restaurant to decide.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

4 Seasons wine tasting bloggers meet at Royal Orchid

Last month, I was invited to my second bloggers meet arranged by 4 Seasons wines, and this time around it was at the Royal Orchid Hotel on Old Airport Road. The guest of honour who was going to be joining us was Shamita Singha, who is also a brand ambassador for 4 Seasons Wine.


It was a cool, sunny day, and almost perfect for a wine pairing event, especially since camera-wielding bloggers like me crave for day time meetups with ample sunlight.The get together began with Shamita talking about the wines, and surprisingly, she actually knew quite a bit about wines, and didn't seem as if she were just repeating lines someone had fed her. That actually is quite a pleasant turn of events as it's actually good to see more and more people in celebrity positions getting more involved with promoting wines, which happens to be at a very nascent stage in our country, and a far more nascent stage in the food scene of our country.

  


After giving the bloggers a brief about the wines, it was time for the food. Starters started doing the rounds , and we had a decent selection of starters that could be paired with the wines. The Chenic Blanc went well with both the chicken satay as well as the grilled vegetables. While we were downing glass after glass of wine along with the food (starters), the staff of The Royal Orchid started getting things ready for the cooking demonstration.

  


  

The chef started off with the salad - slicing the apples deftly, and then tearing up the lettuce and went on to make the dressing. The dressing is what can make or break the salad, and an orange juice based dressing was in store for our salad, mixed with olive oil.

  


For the main course, the chefs went ahead with preparing a Thai green curry. Many of us were a little miffed that the chef chose to use canned coconut milk powder, canned green curry paste, and a whole lot of ingredients that were canned and not fresh. The dessert though was quite simply awesome. Overall, it was a nice opportunity to interact with Shamita (for that matter whoever 4 Seasons chooses to send) if wine is something you want to learn about.







Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ni Hao - Chinese food festival at Sheraton

When you think of Chinese cuisine, if you even remotely know your geography, and club that knowledge with some common sense, then putting these two together, it wouldn't be too hard to deduce that given the vast size of China, there has got to be more than a few variations of 'Chinese cuisine'. And true to that, China can be divided in several culinary zones or regions, each one having something unique for the diners in terms of ingredients used, methods of cooking, as well as the history of the dishes. Although opinions may vary, Chinese cuisine can be divided into roughly 5 culinary zones: 


  • Guangdong and Hong Kong , whose cuisine primarily can be called Cantonese or Yue
  • Beijing and the northern areas, whose cuisine primarily can be called Mandarin
  • Shanghai and surrounding areas, whose cuisine can be called Zhe or Zhejiang
  • Sichuan, or Szechuan, where the cuisine is called Chuan
  • Hunan, in the south-central part of China where the cuisine is called Xiang
  • Cuisines like Jiangsu and Min (from the coastal areas of Fujian) among others
The Sheraton in Bangalore has flown down a Chinese chef, Chef Thi Giang, the Chef de cuisine at Li Bai restaurant at the Sheraton Saigon for 11 days. The fest, that started on the 4th, will go on till the 14th of October. Since Chef Giang is Chinese, the dishes were very much Chinese, not the Indianised version that's peddled at most other restaurants in the city.

Chef Giang is a small man...frail, like someone's skinny grandmother, but don't let those sayings of "never trust a skinny chef" fool you. For just like many a grandmother, Chef Giang has many a culinary trick up his sleeve. His diminutive probably affirms to the fact that good things come in small packages!

Chef Giang Thi

Wonton soup with seafood

The wonton soup with seafood was simply superb. A clear soup, with a sprinkling of scallions and fried garlic along with the wonton and some choice seafood - prawns, squid, and scallops - made this a clear winner. So good was the soup that I actually had two bowls, one at the start of the meal and one at the end.

Wonton soup with seafood along with some of the key ingredients

Cosmopolitan

French 75

One fantastic idea Sheraton came up with was to make drinks based on Chinese philosophy, specifically based on the year you were born in. Since I was born in '83, the year of the pig, my drink was a gin and wasabi drink, as well as a drink called French 75, another gin-based cocktail, from Sheraton's top 100 cocktails. It's really a great thing to see the kitchen team work this closely with the F & B team and implement such wonderful ideas. I think the fact that Sheraton is now experimenting with different ideas, especially on the drink front, is great news to the food scene in Bangalore, because usually everyone focuses on the food, and the drinks are relegated to a proverbial footnote. Apart from that, we were also told about the concept behind this, and how the hotel plans to take this forward based on its success.

The Executive Chef, Bela K. Rieck, came and had a nice, long conversation about food and his philosophy about how food and how he plans to take things forward. The man is a genius. His work ethic is so focused and 'logical', it appealed to the engineer in me.

As for the food, it was lovely, and the Chinese dishes are part of the regular Feast buffet (easily one of the best, if not the best, spreads in the city). Although I tried very hard to restrict myself to only the Chinese dishes, I did end up trying a few other dishes, that were equally good. The salads, chicken and cabbage, as well as the spinach with roasted garlic were good. The idea of supplementing the spinach with garlic was good because not only does it add flavour,, it also helps neutralise the sort of monotonous taste of spinach. Apart from these salads, there were the other salads that are a part of the buffet anyway.

Cabbage and chicken salad

Spinach and garlic salad

Some Chinese ingredients used during the fest

The fish poached in olive oil was light and this sort of cooking technique does justice to the fish and helps keep intact the 'flavour' of the fish. This dish though wasn't par of the Chinese dishes of the fest, and neither was the roasted chicken at the carving station.

Poached fish

Roast chicken

The beef braised and stewed along with mushrooms was divine. I mean, yes, the cow is holy and all that, and so to make sure it continues to remain that way, it needs to be cooked with a lot of care. Loved this dish as well, but again, this wasn't part of the dishes for the Chinese fest.

Stewed beef with mushrooms

The braised tofu in Szechuan sauce was silky and spicy - the tofu being silky soft and the sauce being spicy. The Kung Pao chicken with cashew nuts was nice (wok fried), but I so hoped that there would've been sweet and sour pork that evening.

Braised tofu in Szechuan sauce

Some veg dish with broccoli

Kung Pao chicken with cashew nuts

The steamed fish in broth with pork fat was mind blowing...simply fabulous! This was one of the other dishes that I had twice, and I think it was my favourite dish of the evening. That broth...oh man, pork fat does lend such a wonderful and magical flavour to everything. There was another soup on offer, a lotus root with sweet corn in a pork broth. Unfortunately I don't seem to have a photograph of it, but that soup was equally brilliant. Normally, I'm not a big fan of the lotus root (sorry, I hope some jobless person doesn't sue me saying I'm disrespecting the national flower's root!), but in this case, the soup was really very good. I think anything cooked with pork automatically tastes better.

For desserts, the Chinese dessert that was on offer was something that has an acquired taste, and so although I did try a little and didn't find it too bad, I didn't go for seconds. I did, however, make my way to the teppanyaki ice cream counter to have some ice cream mixed over a cold stone and served to me. I didn't want to sample the other desserts, because that would've spoilt the taste of the Chinese food I had, so I opted to play safe. So overall, excellent food and great service at Feast. Stay tuned for more such fests at Sheraton (there's an Italian food festival coming up in November that I am eagerly waiting for).

Steamed fish in broth with pork fat

The veggies for the noodles

My second bowl of soup, along with the noodles with the XO sauce

Dessert...very acquired taste :)

Last two days of the fest...go fast! :)

Sheraton Bangalore at Brigade Gateway, 26/1, Dr Rajkumar Road, Malleshwaram-Rajajinagar, Bangalore. Phone: +91 80 4252 1000