Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Bunts Food Festival | Saptami Holiday Inn Mumbai | Food Review | Restaurant Review

This is the first time I have been to Saptami for their ongoing Bunts Food Festival and am very impressed with the authenticity of the spread which is quite reasonable at just about Rs. 1600 (with taxes). Situated at the ground floor of Holiday Inn, literally at 2 minutes walk from Saki Naka Metro Station, the ambiance is very modern elegance with floor to ceiling windows, beautiful ceilings, soft music, tables situated at good distance for facilitating private conversation and a good buffet spread with vegetarian, non-vegetarian delicacies, desserts, live counters. The staff is very polite, helpful, non-intrusive and I love how their badges mention their names as well as their passion (singing, dancing etc.)

The bunts food festival celebrates food from Mangalore-Bangalore region and has good use of various spices, coconuts, tamarind, rice. The food here is very close to authentic food (vouched for by my sister who has tasted Mangalorean food at her office frequently) and has not been made extra spicy/ sweet/ moulded to suit 'modern' palate. Rather, they have included few neutral dishes in the buffet and actually, everything tastes really good. 

First up we had soup, a tangy spicy Kuduta Rasam, made of horse gram tempered with garlic and home made spices, I hardly ever like soup but this was brilliant, ignited our taste buds completely,

Off to Salads section and they included a cross-section of Cucumbers, Carrots, Corn along with special dishes such as Moong Dal Kosambari i.e. Moong Dal seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaf and coconut (extremely crunchy), Cucumber Pachadi i.e. Cucumber slivers in yoghurt,tempered with sesame seeds (very cooling), Mix Vegetable Kosumully i.e. Mixed Vegetable tossed together with South Indian spices (again, crunchy and wholesome),

Up next was the starters section and the non-veggies had a choice of grilled fish, but we gorged on special deep-fried Split Gram dumplings Biscuit Ambade, Vada alongside sweet-spicy Kung Pao Veggies and cooling Mint Yogurt and Curd Rice,

Check out Ganji, nutritious calorific dish traditionally eaten by farmers during mid-day while working on their fields- rice based dish served with Yetti Chutney, Garlic Chutney and Dry Prawn Chutney! It was a pleasure meeting the jovial Chef who happily shared stories from his childhood in Mangalore while showing us around the buffet :)

The main course had regular dishes like Steamed Rice, Veg Pulao, Paneer Lababdar, Pasta, Thai Yellow Curry, alongside special dishes such as Gulia Puli Koddel (Sweet,Sour and Spicy Eggplant), Mix Vegetable Korma (creamy mix veg, distinct coconutty flavor), Tomato Togari Bele Saar (Tangy Toor Dal tempered with Garlic and Home Made Spices), Suran Chana Ajadina (Yam and Chickpeas tossed with Coconut Mangalorian style), Beetroot Poriyal (Dry Jackfruit Mangalorian style, never tasted better!) and a plethora of papadams. Sounds like heaven? Completely was, absolutely loved the distinct flavors in each dish, felt like was having food made by grandmother at someone's home :)

The live counters of Chaats served some delicious Dahi Puri, Sev Puri, Pani Puri Mumbaiya style and we also enjoyed Appam as well as Neer Dosa, 2 dishes that cannot be missed when talking of any South Indian food festival!

Finally, the desserts. The spread was evenly divided between Indian and Western desserts. So apart from the regular chocolate brownie, strawberry pastry, rose ice cream, white chocolate pudding, we had a choice of lovely home-made Managalorean desserts including Mysore Pak, Halwa, Ladoo, Sweet Appa, Kesar Pak and Gujhiya (this my personal favorite). Of course, fruits and Gulab Jamuns were also there who might not wanna be adventurous with this spread.

But I suggest, go ahead, be adventurous. We highly enjoyed our meal and got acquainted with some distinct flavors and I hope everyone enjoys this different deliciousness galore :) 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Signature Menu Review | Neel-Tote On The Turf | Food Review | Restaurant Review

Neel - Tote on the turf. Been hearing this name since half a decade but did not get a chance to be here till very recently to try out their signature menu and celebrate a deliciously rainy saturday afternoon. Situated on ground floor near gate no. 5-6 of Mahalaxmi Racecourse is this formal and quietly elegant spacious dining place with outdoor as well as indoor seating options. The huge arches, decorative ceiling, artwork on the walls as well as old timey lamps throwing shades reminiscent of early 20th century British castles, the ambiance is enough to win over anyone. Impeccable service and Fantastic food just seal the deal :)

It would be tempting to describe the food here as 'north Indian', God knows enough of my friends did *roll eyes* - making me think that some glorious version of Punjabi food was served here. Well, food is glorious but it is a mix of royal Awadhi, Lucknowi, Hyderabadi and Kashmiri cuisines. There is no choley kulcha simmering in the air. There is more than enough authenticity in every dish to make one both aware of the rich royal foodie traditions of India as well as hook them to come back. Excellent use of spices and techniques ranging from broiling to simmering on slow flame for hours done for that perfect flavor. Vegetarians have as much choice as Non-Vegetarians. Splendid!

We tried small portions of a lot of dishes and were floored. Started off with hearty Asparagus soup, lovely, creamy, silky. Complimented with beverages, best of the lot being Kokum Fizz and their specialty Homemade Ginger Lemonade which we had 3 rounds of! A special mention to some accompaniments they serve. The mango-mustard combo as well as fried tomato chutney are mindblowing and mom really loved their in-house pickle too.

Soft, well-marinated spicy Angaara Paneer Tikka started off our starters round, followed by button mushrooms well rubbed with olive paste in Jaituni Kumbh, very meaty in texture and a pleasure to gorge onto.

Absolutely loved Asparagus ki Galouti, THE most perfect veg representation of world famous Lucknowi galouti, served on a little maida bread so that the soft as cloud texture of asparagus could be enjoyed completely and mess-lessly :D The STAR of starters round is Kandahari Aloo, a dish I probably wouldn't dream of ordering on my own (it's just potatoes!) but this has to be THE BEST Aloo based starter we have ever had. Little potatoes stuffed and cooked in tandoor with a sweet-mildly spicy marination of beetroot based paste, out of this world really.
It was equally difficult to choose any main course dish to try, they all looked so tempting and well, everything we tried was perfect once more.

Paneer Gustaba Kalia was my personal favorite with soft paneer kofta cubes in sour-ish tomato gravy Kashmiri style, I can have this everyday even with simple rice,

Dad quite liked Hyderabadi Paneer aur Mirch ka Kut which was mildly spicy and had these flavorful Bhavnagri chillies to munch onto too,

Nadru Shingada Palak brough lotus stems and water chestnuts in earthy spinach flavor to life, the most unique main course vegetable to ever have, a delight with the bread basket on offer!

Along with the regular Rotis and Naans, it is a pleasure to have specialty Indian breads such as Khameri Roti, Taftan and Afghani Magaz Naan (my favorite!) alongside Dal Panchmel (5 different types of lentils cooked together) which is a must-have according to my dad,

Even though we were almost full by now (even on small portions), could not help but try their Nawabi Subz Biryani and absolutely LOVED it, with real biryani flavors, spices mix coming through - no over-garnish of dry fruits, no Kevda essence, no elaichi used, rather a true feeling of having real Biryani, just made better with Raita and Mirchi ka Salan served alongside,

Desserts were another feather in the cap here, with KALAKAND prying its way into our hearts (there are 2 different types here!) followed by rich, not-too-sweet, wholesome Bhutte Mewa aur Makahana ki Kheer (it doesn't get any more royal than this) and our combined favorite of Banarsi Thandai ka Rasgulla. Enough said.

The best of royalty is here at Neel and we will be returning soon to try everything else on the menu too :)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Thai Food Festival | Pondicherry Cafe - Sofitel | Food Review | Restaurant Review

As a kid, it was my understanding that buffets signified weddings. You stood in lines and got a usual medley of veggies, pulses, breads, desserts etc. to celebrate a joyous occasion. As a foodie however, it seems that buffets can be so much more, a trip around the world perhaps! It is heartening to see how many hotels and restaurants are arranging for global cuisines with authentic preparations in their buffet offerings, the quickest way for us foodies to become more acquainted with world food. Food festivals are excellent for this!

It is same vein that luxury destination of Sofitel has organized Thai Food Festival at Pondicherry Cafe where Chefs Sorataj Thesaphu and Teepanon Pongthong have flown in from Bangkok Sofitel to create a special Thai menu (in addition to the regular buffet options) for discerning food lovers.

Luxury and royalty drip from every corner of the ambiance as one walks in here. From drop-dead gorgeous chandeliers to a stunning cellar in the middle of the vast space, plush carpet, exotic flowers and they have created a mini-Thailand here with artifacts, knick-knacks such as face masks and mini umbrellas strewn in all over, not overwhelming, just about right. When it comes to the buffet, it seems never-ending with a long range of counters serving Indian, Continental, Pizzas, Pasta, Dessert, London Dairy Ice Cream and a beautiful display of Thai veggies & fruits such as Rambutan and Mangosteen showcase the best of Thai too. Smell of exotic spices hung in the air as we saw Chefs creating some masterpieces LIVE with names almost impossible to pronounce and remember, but we shall try :D

The buffet here is already super lavish, full marks to them for including dishes such as Karela (bitter gourd), Sweet Potato, Yams, Saag in a mainstream buffet and they all tasted FANTASTIC, obviously so did the usual Paneer Masala, Dal Makhani, Veg Pulao, Raita, Veg Jalfrezi. Curd rice had no salt but was cooling nonetheless, just what the stomach needs after a heavy feast :D Tulsi marinated Paneer Tikka was OUTSTANDING.

Potato rolls in continental section was good as was the pizza, I tried a mushroom dish but it had a distinctly meat-y smell that put me off so then I did not venture in this section more. What I am giving them full marks for, they have not tried to 'Indianize' every section, everything is close to authentic taste. So Indian section has distinctly Indian spices and flavors, Continental has its own unique flavors, when we reached Thai section, it had its own medley of flavors. This is good, for those who are not very adventurous in terms of trying out 'new' food, there are enough of 'safe' options to stick to while experimental palates have so much to look forward to! Veggies and Non-Veggies both have much to rejoice.

I have not traveled the world so cannot vouch for 'authentic' taste of any global cuisine, but know enough about Thai food to know how rich in flavors it is, from sweet and bitter to salty and tangy, rich in aroma and intricately prepared with the help of exotic spices such as Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime, Galangal, Cilantro and so on. Strong components, lightly prepared, lingering taste on palate for long! What we tried here certainly felt true on all these counts.

Thai special mushroom salad (Lab Hed) had a sweet edge sharply cut by a spicy-tangy end, beautiful!

Thai Sweet & Sour (or was it hot & sour) Soup had nice lightly oily texture with a good smattering of veggies with real heat punch but again a distinctly meat-y feel (maybe again due to these particular mushrooms that bothered me) so I personally did not like it much but saw others loving it, so :D

Vegetable Thai Green Curry with Tofu (Kang Kiew Wan Pak) was SUPERSTAR of a dish, velvety light texture, creamy all the same, exotic veggies, strong aroma, went beautifully with Sticky Jasmine Rice!

Veg Noodles - I think these were Rice Noodles with Veggies, felt dry and sticky on their own but I lathered them in Green Curry and there they were, beautiful to chomp on :)

Veg Stir-Fried Veggies Thai Style were another winner for me with strong nutty flavor and texture,

Veg Dimsum Platter had a nice mix of dimsums, all of them absolutely gourmet, distinct crunch and flavors, including the hard-to-like edamame (loved it!)

Chef Teepanon Pongthong graciously prepared Veg KhaoSuey for us (such unassuming and modest artists these geniuses are! Pleasure to meet them) and frankly this was THE BEST KHAOSUEY I HAVE EVER HAD. Pity that by then we were almost bursting to the seams otherwise this alone deserved 5 trips. The most stunning curry, it went on the palate like a hot spicy tangy liquid but after just about 20 seconds,gave a tinge of sweetness, this one is alchemy and the mix of noodles, chives, peanuts, fried onion that Chef created just elevated the dish to another level. I am going to emigrate to Thailand if THIS is what they eat everyday :D

A spread of Cheese, Fruits, Salads, Pita Bread, Hummus, Breads beckoned us but we were too full and too tempted by the Dessert spread. I am lucky enough to have attended some great buffets recently with a fabulous dessert spread and this one joins the same ranks. With Gajar Ka Halwa, Chocolate Barfi, Kalakand, Cham-Cham starting off the delicious count, we went on to some outstanding Chocolate Brownie, Coco Pastry, Chocolate Tart, Raspberry Pastry, Strawberry-Chocolate Mousse and of course the Thai special Mango Panna Cotta as well as Frangipani from their Boulangerie, an utter work of art. This is one of the most decadent dessert spreads EVER! Full 5 Stars here :D

Oh, and they also have this Thai special Bubble Tea stand, this is an acquired taste but it grows on you, well it certainly did on me! It is not a creamy strong tea concoction, rather it is a delicate, subtle, very lightly fragrant drink and is available in quite a range of flavors. I say, do try some :)

Service was good, in the beginning though we were left wondering for a good 10 minutes on where to go and how to proceed. We had landed here some time before our reservation time and the lunch buffet had just started so it took the staff some time to get around to our table but they gave us no reasons to complain once they did. 

Extremely lovely staff, service was a little slow in the beginning but picked up later on. I would give a special word of thanks to the Sardarji uncle at the main entrance itself who was so jolly and welcoming that he frankly made our day :)

Fancy a trip to Thailand? This Thai Food Festival is certainly recommended for a little glimpse of this beautiful, delicious land :)