Thursday 26 March 2015

Barbeque Nation - Marol, Mumbai

We were cruising towards a familiar region when the radio buzzed. The bloke on the other side frantically informed me that we were headin' in the wrong direction. Alarmed, I rushed out of the bridge and yelled at the lads to make a full reverse. It was a hot afternoon and the extra work made me crew hungrier. Passing unfamiliar islands and exploring a new sea is always fun but the hot weather sapped me crew's strength pretty fast. The crew cheered to no ends when the lookout spotted our destination. Docking at the nearby wharf, the landing party rushed towards our destination.

On a blazing hot day, the auto rickshaw that I was traveling in felt like a barbeque. This made me laugh at the co incidence and whinge at the hot weather. Both at the same time.

Today was my first trip to Barbeque nation, a well known restaurant chain that has been around for quite some time. Initially heading towards the Lokhandwala outlet my plans had to change midway and I instead head towards Times Square Mall(sounds cheesy Mr. Builder) at Marol. Surrounded by other big name restaurants like Pizza Express, BBQ Nation happens to be one of the jewels in the crown.

Barbeque nation has recently introduced Kulfi Nation which adds a Kulfi only station to its buffet. Unlimited Kebabs and Kulfi, who in all honesty could refuse such an offering?

"Yarr! that be me. A little sapped by the hot weather though."

Barbeque Nation is a casual dining restaurant that operates all across India and even some at foreign shores. The ambiance feels simple but yet cozy at the same time. It is cool, well maintained and inviting. The cushions on the chairs are a nice addition. The first thing that you notice when you sit down is a big square wooden lid at the center of the table. Beyond the lid likes an abyss which serves as an important placeholder for the restaurant's trademark object.

Crewmate : Captain, I got cut out of the picture.

Captain : Never mind lad there is always next time.

My Barbeque Nation experience began with a complimentary drink that's part of the buffet. This was a Mocktail and it resembled a margarita. In taste, it was much like a strawberry slush. Reminds me of the slush mountain reference that I once used in an earlier post.

Soon enough a charcoal grill was inserted into the abyss and several Kebab skewers were placed on it. The patrons can enjoy a genuine charcoal grill experience by rotating the skewers themselves. Its almost like doing the real thing in an open air barbeque grill. The kebabs are obviously cooked beforehand and the finishing touch is applied by the patron. Slowly rotate the skewers for a fine roast. Don't worry if things go south. The staff will ensure that your kebabs are perfect.

On the extreme right side of the picture is the Pepper Chicken with Rosemary Kebab. Smooth and tasty, this very much resembles one of my favorite kebabs - the Reshmi kebab. Its flavor is quite addicting and you can never have too much of it.

The saffron kebab in the center is Tandoori Fish Kebab. The menu is slightly erroneous on this one. It mentions Cod but its Basa. This is the best of the Barbeque trio. Atleast to me. Its tangy with spices leaping out with every bite. The Basa is well cooked deep within and the flavors sync properly.

And at the extreme left side is the Moqueca Shrimp. Google suggests Moqueca is a Brazilian style of preparation. Although the taste I felt was very much different from what Moqueca is described as, I enjoyed the shrimps just the same. It was savory with crunchy prawns marinated with spices and a dash of lemon.

Captain : Not only is this tasty, It feels like a genuine barbeque in the great outback.

Crewmate : Hey cool, I can move the skewers like foosball levers.

Captain : If ya play with yer food, I shalt share none with you.

Crewmate : But Cappy this is an unlimited buffet.

Mutton Seekh Kebab was not served as a part of the grill experience and I am thankful about it. Their cooking appears much more advanced to be left in the hands of a hungry and inexperienced patron. Never send a gourmand to do a chef's job as they say. These were juicy with flavor and had a pleasant aroma. I enjoyed these as much as the Tandoori Fish Kebabs.

Sultan Tangdi Kebab was a little bit of a damp squib. It was a drumstick kebab with alluring visuals but I found very less meat on the bone. It tasted well but its portion size affected the experience. Could easily be an one off incident since I did not give this a second chance. So I will not whinge over this.

Mexican Stick Kebab had a strange name. Did they mean steak? Surely that's not possible as its a kebab for vegetarians. This was a thin kebab which had a visual resemblance to potato cutlets. However, its flavor was far better. Slightly Tangy, marinated with spices and made out of potato and peas - This was a great all vegetarian Kebab.

Cajun Spice Potato Kebab was the best amongst the Vegetarian Kebabs. Marinated with tangy spices and loaded with Cajun seasonings and sauce, this Kebab had a mesmerizing effect. One could keep having this several times without even noticing. It didn't appear very good with its plating but the taste makes up for it.

Captain : This is addicting mate.

Crewmate :  I concur.

Captain : Another plate please !

Crewmate : I concur !

I would like to add at this point the fact that you can have unlimited Kebabs as part of the buffet. (Of course this is limited by the restaurants closing times). The restaurant is known for its Kebabs, so its not a sin to skip the main courses for even more Kebabs. But if you feel like you are finished then there is a nice little flag thingy on your table which you can push down to signal the servers to stop spoiling you with more Kebabs.

Moving on to the mains. Truth be said, I felt that their main course platter needs some work. And my bias with bones in main courses caused me to not go beyond tasting portions for the same.

I am not too worried about the mains being a little off. I came to Barbeque nation only for their Kebabs and Kulfis. However if the main dishes are supposed to be a part of the platter, then these need a fair amount of improvement.

The food train departed for the next station which was the Desserts area.

The Phirni(Left in bottom row) tasted nice. The earthen cup added a nice touch to the whole thing.

The Walnut brownie(Middle in bottom row) tasted very ordinary. Not much different from any other brownie that I have had. Was a bit dry due to the exposure to the atmosphere. Would have been nice if these were sealed in a thin plastic film.

The Fruit salad(Right in Bottom row) was an interesting add on for those who like it with food. As for me I gave it a skip.

Krastina Cup(Left in Top row) is a peculiar name. It was made of cream and strawberry flavoring. The cream tasted very similar to an eggless mousse like preparation. It was the best amongst this platter of desserts.

Apple Pie (Middle in Top Row) had an eggless crust so felt a bit dry. But the apple filling inside was to the mark and tasted good. Not the best Apple Pie that I have had but fairly decent.

Totadi Chickalato (Left in Top Row) is a funny and a strange name. It very much resembled the Torta de Chocolate which is Italian for Chocolate cake. It had a similar taste to classical chocolate pastries and cakes. Good for those with a chocolate craving after meals.

There were Ice Creams and Angoori Gulab Jamun as well. I gave these a skip since I have had these one too many times. Maybe I will try them next time.

All the desserts were made by an in house patissier and not sourced from outside.This is a rare practice as most restaurants often source western desserts from third party bakers.

Moving on to the final leg of my Barbeque Nation journey was the Kulfi Nation station. Long before the advent of ice cream in India, there was always Kulfi. Earlier a treat reserved only for royals and the most rich, Kulfi has come a long way and become a part of the common Indian's life. Creamier and denser than Ice cream, it is a desi dessert extraordinaire.

Barbeque Nation pays tribute to the eternal Indian frozen dessert by introducing a station specially dedicated to Premium Kulfi. Kebabs and Kulfis, that has got a nice ring to it. The station is usually manned by bandana wearing servers but my Kulfi was plated by Chef Aleem himself(The Executive chef of this Barbeque nation outlet).

Anjir(Fig) Kulfi with Caramel sauce and almond bits was the best Kulfi that I have ever had so far. I have had Fig Kulfi before but never with Caramel sauce. The flavors of both the fig and the Caramel blended in together like Romeo and Juliet or Laurel and Hardy. The combination made me both happy and sad at the same time. Happy because this was an absolute gem of a dessert. Sad because I never got to eat this before.

Captain : Long have I dreamed of riding a Kulfi boat across a river of caramel...

Crewmate : Uh oh the dessert songs.

Captain :  Passing islets of almonds,

Crewmate : High on dessert again? Its that good, huh Cappy?

Kesar Pista(Saffron Pistachio) with mango sauce and candied fruit bits. Had the timeless flavor of Kesar Pista Kulfi with a sweet ribbon of Mango sauce. The fruit bits added to both the flavor and plating of the same.

A mix-match of different flavors, toppings and sauces results in the total number of combinations being in the north of 800. This means that you could come here every single day for an entire year and yet never run out of something new in the Kulfi department. Since its a part of the buffet, you can have unlimited Kulfi. The only thing better than Kulfi is unlimited Kulfi. Loosen your belt and satisfy your sweet cravings.

I was full at this point and sadly could not indulge myself in more Kulfi.

The service is one of the finest that I have ever seen. Not just me but every other patron seated around me was receiving exemplary service. I have also read blogs/reviews from many others who have often praised the service here. They make you feel like aristocrats. They are disciplined, professional and pleasant.

Captain : Maybe I should recruit these restaurant lads as my crew.

Crewmate : Aww Cappy.

Captain : I jest lad, I jest.

The pricing is variable depending on the day of the week. Could be as high as 920 INR in the latter half of the week or as low as 700-800 INR (at time of this post) in the first two days of the week. I feel the prices are mediocre. Cannot really call it expensive since Kebabs do require a lot of effort in preparation and there is the added benefit of unlimited Kulfi.

To conclude, I will say that Barbeque Nation is a great experience. Come here for the Kebabs and the Kulfis. That is what they specialize at. Mains tend to fill you up faster leaving less room for the better stuff. However that being said, the mains do require work and diversity. This is the only place where Barbeque nation loses points.

The Captain's Score : 9/10

"Oi lads, you have had enough Kulfi. That's enough energy for a week. Time to traverse the oceans at twice the speed. All hands on deck, on the double. Until Next Time."

Map Co-Ordinates
Barbeque Nation
3, Ground Floor, Tower A, Time Square,
Andheri-Kurla Road,  
Marol, Mumbai

Phone: 022 60600000

-I was invited to review Barbeque nation and their newest fixture Kulfi Nation.-
-Additional Thanks go to Mr. Sarfaraz Shaikh and Chef Aleem Qureshi for their time and warm hospitality.-

Thursday 19 March 2015

Go Panda - Andheri West, Mumbai

Sailing in one of me favorite regions never gets old. The crew was upbeat as they always are when we sail towards a new restaurant. The name "Go Panda" suggested that food would be Chinese but eh, the world be full of surprises. Dropping anchor at a familiar spot, the landing party set out to walk towards our destination. There were many sights to be seen and we felt a little lost. But finally after seeking help from the natives, we arrived at our destination. The little food shack called "Go Panda" stood right in front of us.

Go Panda is a new takeaway plus self service style restaurant. They deliver food from Goregaon upto Bandra. The naming sounds like a play on Chinese stereotypes. However, the food makes the establishment much different from the archetype of a Chinese takeout place. As soon as you enter the place, you are greeted by a Panda on a skateboard with a food tray and a pair of chopsticks. Such balance would probably make Po the Kung Fu Panda envious but perhaps the mascot is a symbol of the restaurants diverse offerings.

Go Panda is not just another Chinese take out place. It prides itself as a Pan Asian restaurant offering a bit from places all over South East Asia. It also throws in a healthy dose of new fusion items which are Go Panda's greatest strength. Thus the Panda balancing many things together.

Go Panda doesn't really have a true indoor dining area. There are four seats available inside but these can hardly address the crowds at peak times. The true dine in area or dine out area is a small Al-Fresco outside the restaurant. It can seat about fifteen people. I did not face an insect problem here but I did face an animal problem. A pair of innocent looking dogs seem to have marked this area as their territory. And they often conduct sorties around the tables, sometimes brushing around your feet. While I love canines and don't mind the strays, this could certainly pose hygiene problems.

Moving on to the food.

I started with a Prawn Tom Kha Soup. This soup was a semi dense mixture of coconut milk, prawns and vegetables. On a strictly visual appearance, Go Panda's version lacked the bang. The vibrant colors typical of a Tom Kha soup were missing and a general absence of lemongrass could be felt. However, the taste seemed to work well. It was tasteful with a strong coconut flavor and a bit of a cheese chowder like flavor. The prawn pieces were ample and I found myself finishing this soup to the last drop. It may not be an exact replica of the real deal but worked well enough for me.

Asian Prawns nest with Sweet Chilli Drizzle is perhaps one of the longest names for a dish that I have come across. Visibly enticing with a golden appearance, this was one of the best dishes of the evening. The preparation consisted of soft marinated prawns wrapped with an egg batter. It was then sprinkled with greens and a thin sweet chilli sauce. It tasted great right off the bat. The batter and the sauce made a good combination and the prawn inside tasted well in sync. Its currently listed in their special menu but I feel that it should be a part of their main menu. It you love seafood, this is definitely an item to order. Quite addicting.

Captain : This looks very intricate.

Crewmate : And Tasty.

Sloppy Joe Sandwich is a popular snack in the USA. It usually consists of minced or finely ground meat served loosely in a hamburger bun. But Go Panda used minced Chicken with lots of cheese and some Asian seasonings in a long bread pair. It is one of their own creations and was definitely the highlight of the day. True to its name, it tends to be sloppy or messy while eating but oh boy was it a treat. Truthfully, it felt more western than Asian but I didn't care much about it. A trip to Go Panda should exist in a typical foodie's bucket list just for this sandwich.

Captain : I wonder why this be called a Sloppy Joe?

Crewmate : Captain you have got cheese all over yer mouth.

Captain : Ah, Thats why!

Indonesian Chicken Satay is a widespread item across most Asian food installations in India and is available even in food court kiosks. Go Panda's variant felt very mediocre in both taste and presentation. Suffering from the same issue as in most Indian restaurants, the Satay had a flattish appearance instead of a lumpy one. It was lacking moisture and felt very dry.

Named Phathimlai Chicken, this one made me curious. Billed as a Hong Kong specialty, it doesn't find any mention on a Google search(other than Go Panda hits). In taste terms, it resembled a classical Honey chicken with different vegetable additions. And in visuals it seemed to resemble Kung Pao. The meat was juicy with sweet flavor oozing out with every bite, yet it was not messy. The warmth also seemed to enhance the preparation's flavor.

Captain : Phati Malai? Torn Cottage Cheese?

Crewmate : No Cappy, its Phathimlai.

Captain : Yeah, isn't that what I just said?

Go Panda's Thai Chicken Spring Rolls had a very blistered appearance and tasted very ordinary. The crust felt quite stiff and all this despite being warm. The filling was supposed to have cheese within but my taste buds combed the vast expanse of the morsel to find none. The dipping sauce didn't help much either.
Needed some greens to complement the meat and seemed to be lacking the colorful depth that Thai Spring rolls usually have.

Vietnamese Chicken Sandwich (Sometimes Bánh mì in Vietnamese Expat communities) is quite popular around the world. Go Panda's variant wasn't spicy but had loads of cheese and smoked plus pulled Barbeque Chicken.  Felt juicy, addictive and flavorsome. However, some spices could be added as an improvement.

Asian Barbeque Fish was made of extra-tender Basa wrapped with a shroud of Barbeque sauce and topped with some greens. Truth be said, I think Basa was the wrong fish to use in a Barbeque. It feels too soft and gooey to be combined with BBQ sauce. The taste was very typical of Basa and BBQ sauce. The dish seemed to lack depth.

Captain : Is there no other fish in the sea but Basa?

Crewmate : I think it relates to the ease of procurement of...

Captain : Are you a sailor or a stockman?

Crewmate : Cappy, I am the ship's Stocksman, Remember? 

Grilled Chicken ham and Cheese sandwich was a regular meat sandwich which felt very western. The spice content was almost unnoticeable and it tasted no different than the several hundred Chicken Sandwiches that I have had elsewhere. It did however have a lot of cheese, some of it oozing out when it was served hot. There didn't seem to be anything Asian about this one but still qualifies as a decent sandwich from strictly food point of view.

Khow Suey was served in an Earthern pot which was the case for all mains. It goes with their theme of "Pot Meals". Go Panda's version does present itself as a commendable replica of the East Burmese Delicacy. Had a strong Coconut flavor owing to the Coconut milk present in the mix. I did feel that some portions of it were dry. Either there was too little gravy or far too much noodles. But amongst all of the coconut themed dishes that I had at Go Panda, this one takes the pot or err cake.

Next up was Pan Fried Fish in Mustard sauce and Rice. Finally a dish in which Basa resonated with the sauce. This dish used a super strong, pungent and a sweet Mustard sauce. The soft Basa literally dissolved in the Mustardy lava. Containing spice and rice, this dish was my favorite amongst the pot meals. Additionally, the earthenware seemed to enhance the aroma of this item.

Captain : Psst...Let me have this lad. The chef put in something that you wont like.

Crewmate : Are you stirring the pot Cappy?

Captain : Why would I do that? If I stir the pot, the stuff would fall out.

Finally the last amongst the Pot meals were the Malaysian Lamb and Chicken Kormas. This is the Lamb Korma(for which I opted) in the picture. Visually both appeared the same so I was content with the picture of the lamb variant. The Lamb variant had big chunks of meat in the curry. Although the flavor hadn't quite sunk to the very core of the meat, the dish tasted fine. It was served with steamed rice which provides necessary roughage.

I have heard of Chocolate Mousse with Salted Caramel before but I have never tried it. Go Panda  provided me the first experience of this rare to come across dessert. Combining Salty caramel with Chocolate mousse is like eating Almas Caviar soaked in a hundred year old wine. Or its like a tag team of Chuck Norris and Rajnikanth. Combining two of my favorite things into one fun combo. The delicious taste of rich mousse combined with the pleasant taste of Salted Caramel is indeed a blissful sensation. It didn't even bother me that the mousse was eggless which usually irks me. A good end to the evening.

Captain : When the sun sets and where the winds meet, there is an island of joy... 

Crewmate : You are singing, which could only mean.

Captain : Where the dreamers meet and raise their rum...

Crewmate : You got high on dessert again.

Go Panda scored a lot of hits and misses with me but it was a fun evening with fellow epicures. Its a mix bag of Pan Asian and Western food to be precise. And their strengths lie in their own creativity. The food quality lies somewhere in between a fine dine and a regular takeaway joint. However, Go Panda's affordable pricing certainly speaks strongly in its favor. One doesn't order or eat from fine dines regularly but everyone has their local joints where they often order food from. Go Panda is certainly a strong contender for your restaurant fast dial.

The Captain's Score : 7/10

"Time to leave the man made lights behind us lads. Lets head out under the stars and onto the seas."

Map Co-Ordinates
Go Panda
Shop 7, Grenville Building,
Andheri Lokhandwala, 
Andheri West, Mumbai
Phone 022 6555 5499
-I was invited to a foodie meetup by the Restaurant-

Sunday 15 March 2015

4Play Bar & Lounge - Khar West, Mumbai

Sometimes, me crew just wants to take a break from adventure and have a party at a tavern. Our map had a new mark today. A tavern that was largely unknown. The map was not fully drawn on this part as well. Never to give up on the unknown is the code of this sailor and I steered my ship through uncharted waters. Finally, I arrived at me destination and a party awaited us. Music, Grog and grub - what else could a sailor ask for?

4Play is an obvious reference. When you work the whole week, it is only fair to play a bit or lets say 4Play a bit. I visited 4Play as a part of a meet up organized by Food Bloggers Association of India(FBAI). The day selected was a Friday. The time was late evening. Yep, it was prime time. Time to grog down my tiring week.

4Play is located inside New Castle Hotel which is at a walking distance from Khar Railway station. And it lies on Linking road so its easily accessible by bus or car. However, the building itself feels very residential and one cannot believe how narrow the entry to 4Play is. It feels like a hole in the wall kind of an establishment or perhaps a Narnia like world whose entrance is a small cupboard.

However once inside, a nice lounge awaits you. The atmosphere is electric and the decor is decent. There are a few anomalies with the decor, however the establishment is still new and the management assures us that they will be working on that. Its has a typical dim lit appearance and is great for dates , brodowns or just getting away from the stressful week. To be honest I prefer blue lights over green or orange for lounges. So I found the ambiance quite cool. Lest I forget, there is also a large projector screen to see your favorite sports. Great place to enjoy a Gayle storm or the English Premier League.

As fellow connoisseurs poured in one by one, the twilight sojourn began. Preferring something mild, I chose a Bacardi Breezer alcopop. The selection for drinks is quite good as expected. Those with a ravenous appetite for grog can get some of the best drinks money can buy and the teetotaler kind can sip on some mocktails.

As time progressed, we were served with an assortment of some fine finger food.

Veg Bruschetta is a classical antipasto dish that is found in most fine food installations. 4Play's version was definitely better than the standard, tomato-basil-olive oil combo. The cheese added to the preparation.The small Bruschetta toasties were definitely a good way to flag off the evening. The presentation was great and it appeared as colorful as multicolored confetti sprayed on a Holi crowd.

Captain : It looks too beautiful to be eaten.

Crewmate : But it must be eaten, You once said that food is meant to be eaten to complete...

Captain : Shush lad, don't ya remind me of my own words.

Tandoori Mushrooms - Its rare to come across this item and it was tasty fun. Tangy and savory with marinated mushrooms which appeared to be wrapped in a bit of cornflour. They were tasty although the capsicum slice in the base of each piece felt a bit of a mismatch. This item was one of the favored dishes of the meet. My friend on the other side of the table seemed to enjoy these thoroughly.

Captain : Do ya think these Mushrooms grow in the wild?

Crewmate : Mushrooms probably but Tandoors unlikely.

Fish Fingers was one of my two favorite dishes of the day. Wrapped with crumbs and coated with a savory-spicy-tangy mixture, these were an addictive part of the meal. Each bite revealed a soft gooey and white Basa filling inside. For a supposedly deep fried item, 4Play's Fish Fingers was barely oily and full of taste. I found myself eating several fingers. I felt that these were some of the best Fish Fingers I have ever had. The creamy dip went great with each bite. And as visible from the picture, the plating was beautiful.

Captain : Fish Fingers are me favorite.

Crewmate : I understand Cappy, but I would like to try some too.

Captain : Sure lad, Each finger for one day of desk sweeping duty.

Mongolian Paneer - Again a rare preparation. Was great on the plating part but a bit messy on the eating part. It was oily and lacked the zing that it was expected to have.Seemed to lack chilli sauce as the sauce present on it was quite sparse in density. Somehow the flavor didn't seemed to extend to the Paneer. Methinks this one needs some fine tuning.

Fish Pattaya was supposedly a new preparation for me. I do not recall having this anywhere before and I need to make that clear to explain my bias. This was an ultra soft melt in your mouth Basa cooked with a spinachy concoction. It suffered from the problems of being far too messy and greasy. The green concoction could not add much to the flavor and it just tasted like gooey plain Basa.

Corn Cheese Croquets were without a doubt, the best item of the evening. From the start itself, the item impressed me. The plating was excellent, it almost had an artistic feel to it. The crust was barely oily, soft, crispy and cooked to perfection. The aroma played games with my olfactory senses. And as I took a full bite, the soft river of cheese and corn overwhelmed my gustatory senses. I had a glimpse of food heaven. The savory crust and the salty insides were a great combination. The dip added to the experience. This was definitely the best Corn Cheese Croquet that I have ever had so far. And do remember, that this is coming for a vegetarian item from a carnivore.

Captain : Never have I eaten such toothsome croquets.

Crewmate : Its not even meat Cappy.

Captain : Good grub need not always be meat lad.

Chicken Peri Peri had a glitchy start for me. It felt greasy and low on taste at the beginning. However, I found that it was an issue of uneven plating. The chicken on one side had too much liquid while on the other end it was a bit dry. The chicken itself tasted great but somehow the liquid was causing an issue. I promptly stirred my serving a bit and the taste then became acceptable. It was soft chicken cooked with a garlicky sauce and a hint of Peri Peri. It was definitely not one of 4Play's best cards but was a satisfactory item.

Named Chicken Kali Miri, this preparation seemed like the classical Chicken Kaali Mirch Kebab to me. This one is an old favorite of mine and 4play's version wasn't bad either. Soft marinated chicken with the enticing flavor of pepper. It had a nice aroma and definitely had the ability to make anybody hungry. It was well cooked with no burnt edges and uniform texture.

Captain: Kali Miri? That sounds like Calamari. Its confusing.

Crewmate : These are Kali Mirch kebabs.

Captain : I agree lad so why in the seven seas would someone name it like that.

With some chitchat over food, our evening came to a close. Full of player food, I was ready to head home.

The service is decent. The staff is both professional and well experienced. The test of a good lounge service lies in the server's knowledge of serving drinks. Our server made no mistakes while serving different drinks to different members of our rather large group.

4Play has a pricing that is on par with similar Lounge and Restopub restaurants. The wine options feel cheaper than most other restaurants that I have been to.

To conclude, I would say that my evening was great. 4Play indeed makes a great addition to Mumbai's diverse foodscape.
However, the lounge still lacks a few things. First would be some brand building cum marketing. I am told that this is being taken care of. The second thing that 4play lacks is a dessert menu. Would be nice to see things such as Brownies, Cheesecakes, Mud cakes and the like. A small dessert menu would do wonders since I did feel that something was missing at the end of the day.

The Captain's Score : 8/10

"Enough celebration and enough chatter lads. The winds are right and we must sail under the moonlight. Until next time."

Map Co-Ordinates
4 Play Bar and Lounge
First Floor, New Castle Hotel,  
Linking Road,
Khar West, Mumbai

-I was invited to a preview meal as part of a Food Bloggers Association of India(FBAI) meet up-

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Noodle Play - Bandra West, Mumbai

There was not a single piece of land anywhere in sight. The lads looked dull and unhappy. As a Captain, I had to quickly find a way to appease them with good food. Taking out me looking glass, I spotted a peculiar ship in the distance. Alerted, I ordered the lads to be on guard. However, this peculiar ship turned out to be a restaurant on the seas. Amazed and hungry at the same time, I welcomed its appearance and prepared for a mid sea trade. Island restaurants or sailing restaurants, who cares, as long as they feed me grub.

Noodle play is a Takeout restaurant much far from my home. It was the talk of the town and obviously I was intrigued in it. Then, I was referred to Hitesh Bhatia who is the owner of this brand by fellow connoisseur Shwetaa Sharma. I was told that they do not have a dine-in facility as they specialize only in home deliveries. This disappointed me a bit initially because I am located quite far from them and it would have been very hard for them to deliver it out here.

However, Hitesh's "never say never" attitude amazed me. He said without hesitation that he will have it delivered it to my place. I was skeptical about the whole thing. But I was silenced with noodles and chicken, literally.

Pritam, who mans Noodle Play's logistics, gave me a call and a confirmation was made for next week.
 Moving on to next week, it was a Tuesday and I had completely forgotten about the whole affair. I was planning to go get my grub from the local fast food place when suddenly my phone buzzed. It was Pritam and he notified me that my order will reach me shortly. And it did. A few minutes later, Noodle Play delivered the goods on my door. It was impressive that the food was still warm, given the distance. Not luke warm, not burning hot - Goldilock's kind of warm.

Packed in a neat and compact manner, the cargo looked great at delivery. A pair of chopsticks, a fork and a spoon were among the things included. These guys really worked hard on presentation and the delivery. I started my meal with good spirits.

In a top secret food facility somewhere in Area Ikyavana(इक्यावन), An aging food scientist manages to successfully blend Indian and Chinese cuisines using the Large Foodron Collider. "Eureka", he screams before handing out his secret to select restaurants in India. He hoped that his creation will help humanity and hungry people everywhere.

It is a long known tradition in India where foreign cuisines are often adjusted for Indian tastes. They may be saltier or have Indian spices. May even have pure vegetarian variants which otherwise don't exist in the country of origin. However, the worst part about them is that they claim to be authentic Chinese and do injustice to both cuisines.

Noodle Play happily admits that it blends the two cuisines and does a great job too. It does total justice to my totally true story about Area Ikyavana.

The Black Pepper Chicken had more Chinese and less Indian influence as compared to many other items on their menu. The fresh vegetables, black pepper sauce, rich spices and the marinated chicken were a perfect team. Together they could take on any taste buds in the world. Indeed, the flavor was great with the succulent chicken able to satisfy the cravings of every carnivore. And the aroma and the presentation were great too. To be honest, for a takeout place this dish had quality on par with most fine dines. And at a fraction of the cost.

Captain : I love this chicken.

Crewmate : You look a little clumsy with the chop sticks Captain.

Captain : I know how to use them....I just am not very good at it.

Then I opened the Wok Box of the never ending Burnt Chilli Garlic Noodles. All right, the never ending part was a jest but the noodle quantity in one box easily surpasses the hunger levels of two average human beings. The content was less oily, pleasantly aromatic and with an addictive garlicky flavor. Loaded with Chilli chicken and a hint of a smoky flavor, this is the best takeout noodles that I have ever had. The vegetables were added in just the right amount with an artistic touch.  Sometimes, the treasure is box of gold coins and sometimes, the treasure is a box of golden noodles. Especially if it is a wok box.

It served as my lunch and also my dinner, such was the huge quantity. And what came as a surprise was that at dinner even in its cold state, it was still tasty. Don't know if this was by design or co-incidence but there are very few places that can cook food that tastes good in both hot and cold states.

Captain : There is enough grub in this treasure chest to feed the whole crew.

Crewmate : But you will probably have it all alone, right?

Captain : No lad, its too much even for me.

Crewmate : Thundering Typhoons, Its a miracle.

Captain : Get off your Belgian Comics lad.

The food was delivered with a lot of accompaniments like a Fortune cookie, Imli Chooran and a Mint Ball.

Also included were some puzzles, just in case you are traveling while eating and are really bored. Why look at the weird guy sitting opposite to you staring at your food when you can look at the intriguing puzzles. Let me help you out with the first answer - Lollypop is hidden at the bottom right vertical of the word puzzle.

Concluding, I would say that it would be quite cool if Noodle play gets a dine in restaurant but it really delivers on food and service (no pun intended). The prices are really low. Almost half of what I get from my local places and the quantity is almost double. That is a value factor of 4x.

The Captain's Score : 8/10

"All right lads, you had your fill even in the middle of the sea. Time to get back to yer stations. We have a long voyage ahead of us."

Map Co-Ordinates
 Noodle Play
They will deliver if you lie within their area of operation.
-The food was on the house-
-Thanks go to Sweta Sharma, Hitesh Bhatia and Pritam-

Thursday 5 March 2015

Zapata's - Malad West,Mumbai

The skies were dark and the seas were a little rough. Tis' be unseasonal rain, I reckoned. I went back to the helm and looked at the map. It had been sent by a friend. Our destination for the day was somewhere nearby. From the corner of me eye, I spotted a small island. I knew that this had to be the place. I turned the helm and ordered the crew to drop the anchor. Together with the boarding party, I entered our destination for a food fiesta.

Zapata, sounded a bit like a Mexican gangster to me but Google suggests that it was the name of a famous Mexican revolutionary. Famous enough to have places named after him. And more than margs and roads, mind you. Well regardless of the naming, I was quite intrigued about what was on offer.

Zapata's is a newcomer to Mumbai's colorful and vibrant food scene. Its founded by Frederic(one of the Partners owning the restaurant) who is a suave man from France. I wondered why a person from France will open a Mexican restaurant in Mumbai, when his own native cuisine is world famous. He tells me that that he loves Mexican food and talks about its likeliness to Indian food. He is true on that. The hot and spicy Mexican food does remind me of Spicy Indian food. And I must admit that I have quite a liking to certain Mexican offerings. Let the game of Salsa and Masala begin.

                                Hey You, Yes you ! You looking at me Amigo ?

The restaurant has a small Bistro like appearance. The Al Fresco faces the road and has a pollution plus insect problem. But, one has to admit that it looks like a cafe right out of Mexico. When inside, the ambiance changes radically. Its calm, cozy and creative. Though it doesn't quite feel like Mexico inside, it does have a Tex-Mex feel to it. The Gangsta Sombrero Dog Mural is the first thing that one notices in here. The Aviators feel as they reflect but they don't. I am told that this art piece is incomplete and may get real reflection soon enough. It adds to the uniqueness of the dining area. Some Amigos may find it odd but I find it quite expressive.

I met our hostesses Chandni and Purvi who were kind enough to invite me. I also met a motley group of fellow epicures from across the city.

The sojourn kicked off with a Complexion booster drink. It was made out of Celery, Orange and carrots. Definitely healthy ingredients but the celery gave it a strange anti climatic bitter flavor. Needless to say, I wasn't very fond of it.

Captain: Tell me Lad, do I look pretty to you?

Crewmate: Are you feeling all right, Cappy? That aint even Grog.

Captain: This drink is supposed to be good for me skin, not so good for me taste buds though.

My main drink was a Mojito. This was a strong cocktail with 60 ml of white rum. It was Tangy, fizzy, strong and definitely a good accompaniment to the appetizers. Zapata's has a varied range of drinks as expected of such an eatery. I also think that my drink looked rather good in the picture. I feel thirsty just by looking at it.

Captain : This contains Rum. Yes Rum !

Crewmate : Rum Rum Rum.

Captain : Good grief, I really thought that my log would go without the mention of Rum.

Crewmate : Wait, You have a log Captain? Are you recording our conversations for the world to see.

Captain : Uhh..... No.

Crewmate : Why did you wink? Hey !

Our food started with Nacho De Zapatas. There isn't much to complain or praise here.The presentation is excellent. It had been plated with dedication and Adrian Monk's precision. The nachos tasted nice with toppings of sour cream, olives, Jalapenos and guacamole. Despite being tasty, it felt a tad bit dry in some areas and I positively feel that I have had better Nachos elsewhere. In short, satisfactory but still requires some improvement.

The Vegetarian Nachos variant appeared good on visuals but lacked taste. For Mexican food it certainly was bland. Needs a complete rework since bland food wont bode well with either Mexicans or Indians.

We were then served with three different platters of Tacquitos. The first on the lineup was Braised Lamb Tacquito. I have got to say that the Chef has a eye for good plating. The Tacquitos appeared visibly enticing and this lamb variant was my favorite. These little morsels were very satisfying and it was almost a shame that they get over fast amongst a group.

The Beer battered Fish Tacquitos were up next. This was tender Basa fish cooked in a spicy beer batter. To be honest, I am a little bored with Basa being the only fish in many Mumbai eateries but Zapata's take did give it an unique flavor. Imagine the flavors to be ribbons, the Basa ribbon and the beer ribbon spiraled around each other perfectly to give these a great taste. Had a great flavor and was a close second to the Lamb Tacquito.

The Paneer Tacquito variant is not mentioned in the menu but is offered by Zapata's. This is good for the pure vegetarian types but felt a lot bland to me. It feels that they need to work on the spice content for their vegetarian variants. Was a distant third to the above two Tacquitos.

Captain : Tri-colored Tacquitos. They look like treasures of the sea.

Crewmate : Or a Flag?

Captain : I like the red Tacquitos.

Crewmate : I liked the Green.

One has heard of French Fries, Freedom Fries, Piri piri fries and what not but this was my first encounter with Mexican Fries. It was a completely new experience. These fries were made out of sweet potato and wrapped in spices. These were deliciously addictive and went great with the provided sauce and Chipotle. My thanks to the chef for introducing me to Mexican Fries. Definitely an item to be tried out by taste trailblazers. Have these and forget the hay like fries you eat at fast food joints.

The Chipotle Grilled Fish Burrito was definitely not as long as its name. The grilled fish tasted great but I felt that it could have tasted better had the chef gone a little low on the Tortilla. The doughy flavor overpowered the fish and ruined a perfectly good flavor within. The presentation was nice although the flowers in the platter felt a bit strange.

Grilled Chicken Tostada - It looked nice and had a lovely aroma. However, it had a problem with flavor. The taste had not quite sunk into the meat. While there were no issues on the surface. The sauces, greens and spices were added appropriately. The problem began in the depths. It was simply made of flavorless portions of Chicken breasts. Even with the supplied salsas, I could not seem to get any flavor onto this. Left me a little disappointed.

Captain : These look nice but taste like nothing.

Crewmate : Maybe the cook made a mistake.

Captain : Let's pass it to someone else.

Crewmate : Hey, You winked again....Wait a minute! How did these Tostadas reach my plate?

Spicy Chicken Quesadillas. The Quesadillas were served as a part of the main course. These were full of soft tender meat and loaded with spices.  The presence of melt in your mouth cheese made it flavorsome. There were no anomalies with the cooking. This was definitely the best item that I had at Zapata's. The only offset was its pricing which at INR 420 feels a little bit on the uppity side. But in merits, its definitely better than the Quesadillas that one eats at places like Taco bell or most other Mexican joints.

As the sojourn reached its conclusion, we were served with a pretty dessert platter. It consisted of Tres Leches, Churros, Chocolate Empanadas and Zapata's Flan.

The Churros were very ordinary. Too oily for my liking and lacked taste.

Tres Leches(Or Three Milk cake - Far left in the picture with the Z symbol) was an absolute delight. It was made of cream, milk and condensed milk. I didn't sense much cake but I enjoyed the dessert just the same. The flavor of the condensed milk was the dominating one. With probably some hint of Caramel.

Captain : Un, dos, Tres...

Crewmate : Leches, Leches, Leches.

However, my favorite dessert was definitely the Mexican flan. I am always confused between flan and Caramel custard. I am told that only a person of a Hispanic household can explain the exact difference. But to a lay person like myself this was a more condensed version of the caramel creme pudding. It did not have any fillings in it which a flan is traditionally supposed to have but I am glad that it did not. The flavor was rich in butterscotch and caramel and the consistency was great. I myself cook Caramel Custard at home sometimes and I can definitely attest that Zapata's Mexican Flan was far superior to that.

Crewmate : Captain, I was sure that there was flan in this platter.

Captain : Oh, Was there? You must be mistaken lad.

Crewmate : There is flan on your sleeve Captain. You had it all, didn't you?

Captain : Uh..No, this is probably some salsa.

Crewmate : What's with the winks?

The service at Zapata is top notch and the executive chef Chinmay definitely looks like an experienced traveler. He was humble when he took feedback from our group. There were a few hits and a few misses. Such is life and I am pretty sure that an experienced Chef like Chinmay will take care of the misses.

The pricing scales could be tipped on the higher side. Though some items completely deserve the pricing, some others do not.

To conclude, I will add that Zapata's has only been operating for a little under two months at the time of this post. It is a nice eatery in an area dotted with restaurants. However, it faces a tough challenge ahead with likes of many other Mexican power houses like Chili's. It needs to fix the glitches and perhaps add more to its menu to make itself unique. If you are in the Malad Linking road region, Zapata's is definitely worth a try. It is one of the better restaurants here.

The Captain's Score : 7/10

"All right ya lazy lads, yer bellies be full. We have a rough sea ahead of us. Time to get some action going. Until next time."

Map Co-Ordinates
Shop 13-14, Pleasant Park,
Link Road, Opposite Movie Time Theatre,
Malad West, Mumbai
-I was invited to a Chef's table event by the restaurant.-
-Thanks go to Chandni and Purvi for inviting me-