Saturday 30 May 2015

PizzaExpress - Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai

It was a lazy afternoon and we were sailing in the middle of nowhere. I suddenly had the urge of having some Italian grub so I changed course for a place I knew. Sadly, the weak winds delayed us a lot. I was late but I saw me destination in the horizon. I asked the lads to quickly dock the ship. As soon as we had completed docking, I jumped off the deck on the ground below. I rushed to the restaurant only to be told that it was closed for the noon. But I was undeterred, as I saw something better - a Pizza place. That is how this Captain got acquainted with Pizza Express.

PizzaExpress was entirely a chance encounter. I had initially planned to chow down at another eatery nearby but due to Mumbai's lethargic traffic that day, I was delayed considerably. By 3 PM, that eatery was closed, only choosing to serve drinks till they re-opened at 7:30 PM. Determined to eat good food and salvage my trip, I decided to make PizzaExpress my destination of the day.

PizzaExpress is a strange name. Yes, there is no space between those two words. It has a simple sounding name, yet is one of the best places for Gourmet Pizza in Mumbai. Unlike many other Pizza chains, PizzaExpress started from the UK and not US. It was said to bring the Pizza of Naples to the UK. Across the years, it spread over the world and eventually reached the Diamond shaped country of India. Like the true Pizza enthusiast that I am, I had marked this place on my food map for quite a while. And as chance would have it, today was THE day.

PizzaExpress has a moderate sized dining area with decor largely typical of a casual diner. It seems to be catered towards families, the expats, the office goers and the like. The lights on the ceiling had square shaped designer shades around them. The shades in turn had an artistic metal frame around them. During daytime the ambiance has a very Cafe feel to it. At night time however, the colors come alive and it feels very much like the mature restaurant that it is.

I went through the menu in detail before asking my server about a few pizzas. He didn't seem very well informed as he was fumbling with descriptions and being quite ambiguous. To make his life easier, I asked him about the original house specialty. And the answer was "American". This may sound strange coming from a British born Pizzeria. But hey, I would love a good pepperoni pizza.

The base was thin with a generous topping of cured pork pepperoni. Although its a tad bit irrelevant, one feels that it needs to be said - American pepperoni usually has pork with beef in the sausages. This pepperoni is closer to the original Italian variant. The sliced Japalenos provided a welcome balance. And, I loved the fact that it was a true meat pizza and not offset by an unwanted high dose of greens. The flavor was dominated by the salty pepperoni and a hint of tang from the oil and Jalapeno. Despite the thinness, each bite was loaded with flavor.

I enjoyed the scrumptious pie but I did find a few problems with it. The first was that the oil content was higher than what is expected off Gourmet joints. I did not find such anomalies in places like BBC, CPK or Indigo. The second problem was that the amount of cheese didn't feel generous. I could spot barren terrain at many spots. A well done pizza should never have cheese-less voids. The last issue were the edges. Half the pizza had blackened and hardened edges. This could act as a spoil sport on a perfectly good day.

Captain : That looks like a simple but tasty pizza.

Crewmate : Can I have my slice with some mustard, Cappy?

Captain : You already took a slice? That was fast.

I wanted to try out their Baked Philly Cheesecake, having heard a lot of good things about it. Sadly, it wasn't available on that day. Bummer.

The service was average. I felt that it could have been much better. The servers need to be well informed about the menu. I also did not spot any Chef de rang at my time of visit.

The pricing was about the same as most other Gourmet pizza places. I felt that its all right, just that the pizza could have done without the anomalies.

To sum it up, I did enjoy my PizzaExpress experience. I will surely come again and try their other outlets(for sampling the experience there). The absence of cheesecake did put me off a bit but not enough to let the whole experience be ruined.

The Captain's Score : 7/10

"The Sea Express awaits us lads. And we have to move her across the oceans. Back on the sails and onward we go."

Map Co-Ordinates

First International Financial Centre,
Bandra Kurla Complex,

-I dined anonymously and paid for my own grub-

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Cafe Infinito - Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai

As I stared into the infinite vastness of the blue below me and blue above me, I wondered how significant I really was in the universe and how small me ship was. Suddenly, me serene thoughts were disturbed by the radio operator who loudly announced that someone wants to talk to me on the open frequency. The person on the other side of the radio extended an invitation to a restaurant somewhere in the blue seas. Intrigued by the restaurant's name, I promptly set course for it. Then I went back to the bow of the ship and stared at the never ending horizon. Me hair swayed in the gentle ocean breeze. I smiled, "Yo Ho ho, Towards Cafe Infinito."

Those who have read my work before are aware of my love for the sea and the stars. The sea and the cosmos are two domains that are always associated with infinity. So when I got an invitation to visit Cafe Infinito (which means Infinity in Italian), I was naturally intrigued. Bandra Kurla Complex has in recent times become a stellar nursery for restaurants. Many a stars are born here. Cafe Infinito is located on Trident road leading to the Trident hotel. It faces a building that looks like a misplaced Sauron's Eye.(Sauron got his eye kicked down to his abdomen somehow)

Cafe Infinito is quite big for a Cafe. I have seen smaller restaurants than this. In some sense it embodies a feeling of infinity. However, the tables and seating accommodations are typical to that of any Cafe. The bar looks nice and I was rather interested in imagining how it would appear at night. The lighting suggests a colorful and a vibrant experience at night. The furniture, the bar, the lighting and the mood makes the establishment appear very comfortable. A place where one could keep eating and talking till infinity or closing hours.

I joined a few friends on a communal table by the window. As we steered into some chatter and banter, our drinks started to arrive.

Choosing to go teetotaler for the day, I ordered a Mango and passion fruit smoothie.  I found the lack of Chocolate flavored drinks on the menu disturbing. But this be the season of Mango, so who am I to say no? Savvy?

The flavor was satisfying but it tasted much like a Mango smoothie and I could not even sense a whiff of Passion fruit anywhere. Its likely that it got overpowered by the Mango. Thus fair to say that it was missing a bit of passion.

Since this was a special meet organized by the restaurant management, we were to try out a special menu that had a few of their regular items and some new offerings. But the management did not restrict us to this menu as we did order a thing or two from the regular menu.

Fire Cracker Prawns was an aesthetically pleasing dish. The batter was artistically wrapped around the prawns in a form reminiscent of ribbons. The batter was not too thick and the prawn beneath was crunchy and tasty. There was a juicy and salty-savory taste in each bite. The taste was indeed a cracker of an experience. Although for some odd reason, I felt that this should have been a tad bit spicy and perhaps a bit colorful.

Baked Brie was a scrumptious puff pastry with soft gooey Brie within. Brie is often known as the queen of cheeses and rightfully so. The consistency within was soft and almost gelatinous. The flavor was salty and mildly savory. It was quite a satisfying morsel. The plating was so beautiful that it sent most of us clicking after it just like a bunch of Paparazzi chasing a female celebrity in a risqué attire.

Captain : These little cheese pockets are quite addicting.

Crewmate : Aiyee...mmggh Ugreee.

Captain : Speaking with your mouth full is rude...HEY did you just stuff down all the Brie?

Hooters style Chicken wings were a bit of an oddity in a cafe that serves Italian/Continental. But I am not complaining as it does pay some tribute to the original best seller. The chicken was nice and juicy. But it was not really Hooter's chicken wings. It was a little messy and draped in sauce which is opposed to the actual chicken wings in Hooters. Though I really don't care about the jazzed up name, the chicken itself was great.

Jalapeno Poppers didn't quite have the pop that I was expecting. While the bread crumbs did give it a fine texture, I felt that the crust was a bit too thick and hard. The stuffing also felt a little bland. I have definitely had better.

Cypriot Mix Salad is an item that I have come across for the first time. It was visibly enticing and appears somewhat like a colorful universe of star clusters and the like. This salad was actually pleasing to a palate that otherwise detests pure greens. Although, a little bit of research suggests that this could have been a bit greener in appearance and have included baby capers. However, the colorful mix was both tasteful and healthy. The addition of Lentils, Pomegranate and flax would put it on the radars of health buffs easily.

Captain : Flax, Lentils, Pomegranate... Seems like stuff a gym bloke would love.

Crewmate : Hmm, the cannoneer would have loved it.

Captain : That wretched fella loves everything lad. That's why I never take him with me to restaurants.

The Crispy Asian salad however put me back on my salad panning moods. It had a very uninspired and banal flavor even with its flamboyant appearance. Despite the presence of tortilla strips, the salad lacked crispiness. To put an apt analogy for the two salads, I'd say that it was like a newcomer batsman running out the well settled batsman on the other end.

Banana and Bacon Baguette is a sandwich combination that is remarkably tasty despite being less known in India. The sweet mashed bananas compliment the salty bacon strips well. In fact, this was almost close to the famous Elvis Sandwich which has an addition of peanut butter. This wasn't my first time with this sandwich as I have had a similar variant more than a decade ago. Infinito's baguette sandwich was very satisfying. Fair enough to say that the king has entered the building.

Captain : This sandwich brings back memories.

Crewmate : Of the time when you were a regular sailor and your Captain hogged all the food?

Captain : I started out as the Captain lad. 

Agilo Olio Mushroom on Focaccia is made out of soft "melt in your mouth" mushrooms cooked in a Garlic-Olive oil paste. The mushroom topping itself tastes well but somehow the Focaccia didn't quite match with the mushroom concoction. It was a bit like pairing Han Solo and Captain Kirk together. Great people on their own but a mismatch together.

Chicken Roulade is like a Swiss roll made out of meat. A roll made out of Chicken and chicken skin to make one gigantic rolled up sausage and then cut to slices. Infinito's version was perfect on visuals with the potato mashing plated extremely well. The item was garnished with Beaujolais wine. While the exterior elements worked well on this one, the taste was a bit disappointing. The flavor had not sunk in properly leaving a majority of the meat tasting a bit bland and leathery.

This was my first time with Chicken Cafreal which is a Goan delicacy. The infinito kitchen does bring out some interesting dishes. A few of my friends mentioned that it lacked spice. I would nod to that. The dish did feel as a fence sitter to avoid backlash from those with a low spice tolerance. However, the chicken drumsticks were quite juicy and were cooked well. The pink core suggested Medium rare meat. The wedges were wrapped with non hot spices and complimented the meat. The dish also looked very appetizing with its presentation. Is it real? No its Cafreal.

Sri Lankan curry with rice was one of the best rice dishes that I have ever had. The red curry preparation tasted equally well with both Prawns and Chicken but I positively enjoyed the prawn variant more. The concoction did feel a little less authentic compared to the original Sri Lankan curry but it was still a tangy tasty coconut curry with a heavenly tropical aroma. It was almost akin to having summer on a plate.

Captain : This feels closer to Thai Red curry.

Crewmate : Who cares? Its tasty.

Captain : Thats true. I just felt that I should say it.

Crewmate : For whom? Its just the two of us here.

Mushroom Timbale did not have a very appetizing appearance. The semolina base had very little say in the dish as the taste was dominated by the tangy mushrooms on the top. The red spicy soup below also appeared to be very atypical of Timbale preparations and it was too thin in its consistency. It should have been tending more towards a paste like consistency. This dish could use some work.

Cottage Cheese Moussaka was a turn off for me. Usually a Moussaka is supposed be a well defined three layered structure of meat, vegetables and a paste or custard at the top. This vegetarian variant had two large pieces of cottage cheese piled on top of each other, interspersed with a little vegetable. There was a lot of spiced Tomato paste in and around the dish. The flavor was mostly dominated by the Paneer. Tasty Paneer yes, Moussaka No.

The Greek Pizza felt all right but it was more of an extended variant of a regular veggie pizza. The Feta despite its abundance did not quite make the pizza feel Greek. I might be a little biased here since the idea of a meatless Greek Pizza did not fit in too well with me.

That was a lot of grub and the spotlight finally moved on to the desserts.
The Chocolate Truffle Cake was a tad bit dry and crumby on the outside but the Ganache within was quite rich and sweet. The item had been plated quite well. The cream topping layer looked quite pretty with a generous addition of edible glitter on it.

Captain : Why are ya looking at me like that lad?

Crewmate : I am trying to find out the dessert's quality.

Captain : And how can you find that out by looking at me? 

Crewmate : Trust me, I will.

Tiramisu needs a fair bit of work. While the coffee dominated the top, the lower layers seemed to be devoid of any flavor. It was almost as if my journey into the infinite flavors hit a void of bland cream. It was creamy all right but it lacked the typical Tiramisu flavor that was expected. It was neither bitter nor sweet down there.

Baked Yoghurt was perhaps the best plated dessert of the day. It almost resembled a Panna Cotta. And like the arms of a Galaxy, a tart cherry compote stretched from the Yoghurt core to the far reaches of the plate. However, a Panna Cotta perhaps would have done better in its place. The Yoghurt tasted very ordinary, just like the ones I am used to having everywhere else.

Baked Philadelphia Cheesecake was pure perfection when it comes to Cheesecakes. Its a true cheesecake made with Philadelphia cream cheese. I have had too many unbaked cheesecakes, eggless cheesecakes and other forms of pseudo Cheesecakes in Mumbai. Every once in a while, I come across the real deal and it makes me jump in the air with joy. The texture, the consistency, the shortbread biscuit layer and the flavor were all at a hundred percent. The tantalizing aroma and the creamy sweet taste were at a delightful harmony. This dessert sent my taste buds on a high. A perfect way to end any meal. If you have a cheesecake craving then Infinito will fulfill it.

Captain : One day I will trade me sea ship for a space ship.

Crewmate : Go on.

Captain : And then with this cheesecake, I will go into hyper drive and onto the far reaches of infinite space.

Crewmate : Bingo! Good enough dessert to get the Cappy high.

The service at Infinito was professional and organized. Ours was a big table and the servers worked hard to make it a glitch free experience.

The pricing is on par with some of the modest priced pubs and cafes across town like BBC. In fact, its even cheaper on some of its better items like the Cheesecake. This potentially makes Infinito a great place to regularly visit.

Cafe Infinito true to its name has an infinite experience in store. One could always come here again and again to try something new. The prices are well within most people's reach, the location is great and the grub is delicious. This is not to say that Infinito is perfect. It still has some issues to sort but there is definitely potential. Lots of potential.

The Captain's Score : 7/10

"From Infinito to Infinity and beyond. Time to go under the twin blue infinities again lads. Until next time."

Map Co-Ordinates

Cafe Infinito
G Block, Raheja Tower,
Bandra Kurla Complex,
Bandra East, Mumbai

-I was invited to a tasting event organized by the Restaurant. Special Thanks go to Assad Dadan of Medium and Rare.-

Friday 22 May 2015

Punjab Grill - Andheri West, Mumbai

I was sailing to one of me favorite spots of the ocean. I knew these waters so well that I could steer the helm with me eyes closed. The winds were favorable and the ship steadily moved towards the south. The lads were upbeat and there was almost a carnival on the deck. Our destination for this voyage was a place called Punjab Grill. Those big lion faces on the entrance always fascinated me. The time to discover what lies beyond those gates is upon us. What lies ahead...well read on mate.

The Lions beckon you inside. They literally do. I have seen other branches of Punjab Grill in far off malls. Those lit up lions have always fascinated me. I have been curious about what lies beyond those gates for a long while. And as the universe would have it, I received an invitation from Food Bloggers Association of India to join in for a "Connoisseurs Experience" over here.

Punjab Grill without a doubt has one of the most impressive facades that I have ever seen. In a world where people judge a book by it's cover, Punjab Grill enthralls the viewers completely. In fact, one can even hear an adult Simba voice calling you inside in a jovial Punjabi accent. "Oye, come inside."

Well I finally opened those doors as I walked into the gleaming golden light of this Punjabi Safari. I was welcomed in by two smiling hostesses who appeared to be genuine with their emotions. I have had frightening memories of Air Hostesses smiling at me when their mood was clearly not happy.

The restaurant has a moderate sized dining area with a Bar-lounge and a main dining area. The lounge appears quite special with its artistic lamps and mesmerizing artifacts. Though the lighting isn't your typical dim dark types, the lounge does well to blend in Punjabi themes.

The main area has comfy looking seats and a very family themed atmosphere. Under the Golden lights, its easy to enjoy the meal with some light talk.

A special table was set up for our group within the lounge and it felt quite awesome to have that lovely lounge all for ourselves.

Jamun Ice Tea is a house invention. Its a time when restaurants are busy fusing Western and Desi cuisines in hopes of coming up with a legendary creation. Punjab Grill is up on their game with this. The distinct sweet and slightly bitter flavor of Jamun dominates the taste. Indian Spices and tea give it depth making it more of a Jamun Masala Ice Tea. This is definitely a first time for me.

A true Punjabi fare needs a real drink. And hence came in the Bloody Mary or as Punjab Grill likes to calls it - Bloody Chameli. Again breaking convention, this was served in a short glass instead of a high ball and the Chilli really put a Desi touch to it. Although, its shape made it resemble a tomato with the chilli resembling the green on top. The Tomato and Tabasco were strong on this and I felt that the Vodka was mild.
Pickled Olive Bhel is a Western Twist to a Desi special because it gets boring to give Desi Twists to Western dishes all the time. A little Bhel background over here - I dislike it completely, abhorring it most of the time.  However, this Bhel was different. It was Bhel by taste but somehow it didn't repulse me. The pickled Olives were sour and tangy. This gave this old staple a new dimension. A true twist of taste.

Captain : This is good. Savory.

Crewmate : You meant Savvy right?

Captain : Do I look like Jack Sparrow to you?

Tandoori Guchchi is a vegetarian appetizer that could be given to carnivores when they are abstaining from meat. Using the prized French Morchella mushrooms in a Punjabi Tandoori twist is quite a bold step. But boldly going where no man has ever gone before does have its rewards. Having the sponginess of Paneer, these mushrooms tasted great on their own. The flavor of the sauces and spices had gone down quite deep. It also goes well with the dressing provided. Its a shame that I didn't go for seconds for this. The smell, the flavor and the plating were all splendid.

Captain : This is a great Paneer with spices.

Crewmate : Its actually Guchichi or Morel Mushrooms.

Captain : Wow, that would make a good Paneer too.

Murg Malai Tikka was almost a perfect preparation. The meat was just the right rare and the flavor was present uniformly in and around the meat. The salty - tangy flavor would pamper my taste buds while the meat would literally melt in the mouth. I may be a bit biased here as I love this appetizer and I have had it too many times to remember. But then that means a lot when I say that it tasted so well.

Norwegian Salmon Tikka was one of the highlights of the day. Extending the popular recipe of Norwegian Salmon to a Tikka format was a move well played. The kebabs were marinated with spices and served with a dollop of Saffron Aioli. The meat was medium rare by text book definition. The Kebabs were super soft and would break easily. The flavor of the Salmon combined with the spices and the tangy-savory Aioli was something that won over everyone. It was a hot Desi experience while sailing the cold Norwegian Sea.

Captain : We should sail to the Norwegian sea just for this.

Crewmate : If you liked it that much, we could just come here again.

Captain : Ah, that works too mate.

Tawa Grilled Prawns was a pan fried prawn dish. Personal experience suggests that pan grilled prawns usually tend to be a little dryer and more crunchy. While the well cooked Prawn flesh went great with pickled Lemon marinade, I did feel that a little more peeling would have been nice. The thin shell was difficult to remove after being cooked and became a bit of an annoyance. I am no expert in Prawn recipes but I do favor peeled and deveined prawns.

Chaamp Taajdar was a tri-bone meat lollipop. The meat was succulent and flavorsome with spices blending in quite well. But I did feel that uniformity had a slight problem here. The meat was uneven and was difficult to extract from some regions of the bone triplet. From some areas it would come off quite well while some others ran a risk of chewing thin bone off. Since the marinade had drizzled over the extending bone as well, it was a bit messy to eat this little morsel.

Paneer Malai Pede was perhaps the best Paneer dish that I have ever had. I am not saying this lightly. The Paneer was made in an unorthodox way and as a result it was almost like a "Peda" or "Modak" made out of Paneer. The small soft paneer balls would melt in the mouth leaving an aftertaste of cream and spices behind. The consistency was unique. Never have I found Paneer that tastes like this. I found myself swooning to the absolute delight that this dish was. I could shout from the rooftops or hilltops rather that this was great.

Captain : This looks like a yellow universe with Soft Paneer stars and spicy planets.

Crewmate : And I feel like Galactus devouring this cheesy universe.

Captain : It feels great to have Galactus scrub the decks for me.

Rarhya Meat was an average fare. While the dish appeared great in appearance, I found it a bit too oily for my liking. The curry consistency was not thick enough either. It felt more like a thick soup than a curry.

Dal Panjratni is usually made of five different Lentils. Though the appearance indicates the dominance of one lentils with minor aesthetic additions of the other four, the taste resembled the common Dal Fry found everywhere with a bit of homely spicy flavor.

Punjab Grill's Butter Chicken suffered from what I call as a "Tomato deluge". This happens in quite a few Punjabi/Mughlai serving places. Butter Chicken is one of my favorites and a dish that I have had in several dozen different restaurants. The tomato puree should usually be balanced to prevent it from overpowering the flavor. Over here the gravy didn't even feel that it belonged to a meat dish. The creaminess felt lacking, the savory salty flavor was absent - The Tomato had conducted a hostile takeover of the flavors.

Captain : This Dish is too much of Tomatoes.

Crewmate : Is it more than the tomato in your Bloody Mary?

Captain : Its more than the tomato in La Tomatina.

Mango Sorbet with Pomelo was somewhat of an intermediate dessert served to us as our main dessert was under preparation. While I loved the sweet-sour Mango and Pomelo liquid, I wasn't entirely fond of the onion like strands and spices at the top. They felt like a mismatch to an otherwise great invention. Almost like Jack Black appearing on the cast of "The Expendables".

The Summer Dessert platter was a mix of fruits, caramel, Special Churros and Desi treats. While I enjoyed the visual aspect of it, I did feel that it had a bit of a "Jack of all trades" thing to it. It is a new item that is being added to the menu for Summers only. The theme does play well with the fruits. The Litchi with caramel sauce tasted quite great. The Churros which were made out of Jalebi flour were clearly the highlight of the platter. Although dipping them in mango puree and Raas Malai did feel odd. I felt that a flavored Lassi shot in the platter would have done wonders for the Punjabi theme.

Captain : I am confused lad. This looks beautiful yet a bit unsatisfying. 

Crewmate : I quite like the Churros.

Captain : Oye, save some for me or I am tossing you overboard in the high seas.

This Punjabi voyage reached its end with the Paan shot. This was a sweet minty Paan drink which acted as both a palate cleanser and a mouth freshener. I quite enjoyed it and would have loved to have more of it.

The service was good with the servers accurately describing each thing as they served us. And they were quite co-operative for the pictures. Though, one does feel that there is room from improvement.

Punjab Grill feels a bit pricy for the entrée menu while the mains tend to be priced somewhere between a Zaffran and the run of the mill Mughlai restaurants. The starters are really great but could very well do better with a slight pricing shave off.

To wrap this up, the Appetizers were great and their inventions worked well for the most part. Their mains felt a bit lacking with the exception of the Malai Paneer Pede. For a Carnivore like myself, this is could be a peeve. The ambiance is one of this establishment's greatest strengths. It seems to have been done in a very loving and tasteful manner. If the facade impresses you then the interiors will live up to the excitement. Even with the flaws, I very much enjoyed the Punjab Grill experience and do look forward to trying their mall outlets as well.

The Captain's Score : 7/10

"Oye Lads, time to go back to the winds. The Leo constellation awaits us."

Map Co-Ordinates
Punjab Grill
Ground Floor, Morya Landmark - II,
Opposite Infinity Mall, Off Andheri New Link Road,  
Andheri West, Mumbai

Phone :+91 9920302139

-I was invited to a tasting event organized by Food Bloggers Association of India and the restaurant.-

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Siafa Al Alwani Dates - Crawford Market, Mumbai

It was a hot evening in a chaotic market. Me crew was not as used to land as we are on the seas. Tis Captain had heard of a legendary Date store like none other, so naturally me curiosity got the better of me. Most of the landing party decided to venture out to restaurants leaving me with a new recruit who was quite a shy lad. We finally found the shop which stood out like a golden beacon amongst other shops. I smiled as I knew that me date with Dates has started.

One often associates the Middle East with things like Oil, shopping and you guessed it - Dates. Date Palms once stood as vanguards around Oases. They were the natural barriers against invasive sands and hostile desert winds. They stood and protected the Green islands in a sea of desert. And if that wasn't enough, they also provided sweet Dates. Grown in the tough conditions, this fruit had adapted to become almost a super food. Its sweet, tasty, fiber rich, has ample calories, detoxifies the body and is quite nutritional.

An ancient Ajwa proverb

However, some dates are just better than some others. In India, we are accustomed to consuming local grown varieties, Iraqi, Irani or Egyptian dates. In the Middle East and North Africa, these dates have lesser popularity. Some of these are even used as animal feed.

Then the question one must ask is why do we import these to India? The answer is simple, they are cheap.

Saudi Arabian dates are almost like the treasure of the sands. They are considered superior and perhaps the best Dates in the world. However, Indians seldom get to taste these. Only one type of these fine Saudi dates are imported in India and that is only during Ramadan. Ajwa Al Madinah is often used to break the fast. And they are not that widespread among the general public.Well that is about to change.

This is where Siafa's comes in. Also known as Al-Alwani, the company has re-branded itself and landed in India. Their first store has recently opened near Crawford Market in Mumbai. Now, it was quite difficult to believe that Saudi Dates could be so superior that all other Dates would taste like animal fodder in comparison. But this was no exaggeration.

A recent meet organized by Food Bloggers Association of India saw the arrival of Bloggers, journalists and even a professional Chef. Everyone wanted to see and taste these Dates themselves. Were these really that good? The answer in short - Yes, they were.

The store is new and has an ambiance that makes it feel more like a jeweler's shop. The wares make it appear like a Chocolate shop and the presence of a small lounge upstairs makes it feel like a cafe. But let's not get mesmerized by the euphoria. This is a Dates shop, a very special Dates shop at that.

Before giving us a guided tour of the establishment, the management treated us to Arabic Coffee served in a shot glass. Arabic Coffee is much different from our traditional notion of milk coffee. It is made with ground virgin coffee beans with no preservatives or chemical additives. The mix is then further enhanced with cardamon and saffron. Each sip fills your nose with the heavenly aroma of these rich spices. Its an entirely different beverage, yet a coffee.

Being refreshed, our date with the Dates began. We first tried the Safawi Dates, which tasted rich and juicy. These were indeed better than the common dates sold in India but not that better. Our hosts smiled as they notified us that these were the common varieties of dates and nowhere near their best merchandise.

Up next were the famed Ajwa dates. Upon tasting, I realized that the earlier comparison was no misnomer. These dates are indeed superior. The comparison of Saudi Dates to Dates sold in India is akin to comparing a Palace to a Shanty.

Sukkari Dates tasted very different from Ajwa. These blonde colored beauties have a candy like flavor and a soft chewy flesh. It is almost akin to growing soft chewy candies on a tree. Unlike regular dates, these don't even feel fibery and almost melt in the mouth. It is hard to believe that this a fruit.

While Ajwas are grown in Medina, Sukkari are grown in Qassim in Saudi Arabia. These are some of the most expensive dates in the world. Its surprising how location and weather while harvesting can affect the taste and appearance so much. However, its money well spent for these Golden dates. And Siafa's variants are amongst the finest out there.

Captain : Look at these Golden Dates. Its almost like, I have found treasure in the sands of Arabia.

Crewmate : Ah...ok. These are quite sweet and nice. Maybe we should get some for the crew.

Captain : Nonsense, those lads abandoned me for this trip. They shall get none of this.

The shop advertizes itself as a Chocolates shop too. And there are treats like none other sold over here. Resembling Chocolate Truffles, these little beauties were a completely special experience. This piece for example is coated with white chocolate that gives way to a sweet date layer within. The Date's core is filled with a rose flavored sweet stuffing making the complete alchemy truly divine.

Many flavors of these Chocolate-Date hybrids are sold at Siafas like Orange, Hazelnut, Arabic Coffee, Coconut and my personal favorite-The Lemon-Mint. Move over Mint Truffles, Siafa's Date truffles are the newest trend in the game. These are sweet Dates coated with a dark chocolate shell. Beneath the soft Date lies a candied filling of mint with a lemony hint. These easily surpassed some of my favorite mint truffles like After Dinner mints. Its indeed nice to discover that these delights exist in our world too.

Captain : This is mintilicious.

Crewmate : Ye..yes, I liked the Hazelnut flavor a lot.

Captain : Aw, stop being shy lad. Try everything. Just leave the mint for your Captain.

These flavored Dates are sold like chocolates in premium tin boxes. They make a great treat for gifting or a worthy replacement for Mithais during Diwali. I would certainly enjoy a box of Siafa's Lemon-Mint Dates more than a box of Kaju Katri.

And just when I thought that the store had showed me its most special product, I was proven wrong. If this picture feels delicious then trust me, the real thing is Divine. This particular treat is made of Ajwa Dates filled with a stuffing made of Cardamom and Nuts. These are then soaked in Honey and topped with saffron. Due to the presence of liquid Honey, this product must be leveled at all times. The taste resulting from the addition of different treats into the concoction was well balanced and suggested that the ingredients were in a sweet harmony with each other.

This special range has other varieties too. There is Sagai Dates with Honey, Nuts, Cardamom and saffron. And then there is Ikhlas Dates with Honey, Nuts, Cardamom and Saffron. The reader must excuse me a bit here, its hard for me to describe everything given the sheer range of things sold here. But its safe to say that there is enough special stuff to have you making several sorties to the store. These things are largely unheard of in India, let alone be sold. These are truly some of finest treasures of Saudi Arabia.

Captain : This is a Date Heaven.

Crewmate : Uh, can I try one too Captain?

Captain : Sure lad, just one though.

The shop also offers assorted Tamaria which feel like a mix of Italian Ferroro Rochers and Indian ladoos with an Arabian Twist. These balled up goodies are made of Dates, Honeys, Nuts coconuts and ice cream sparkles. If you are bored with the same old Mithais, chocolates and Dry fruits - Give these a try. Be careful while buying these as gifts as one may just end up eating these themselves.

Whether it is for self consumption, personal gifts, Valentine's Gifts (Because a date with dates sounds too awesome) or corporate gifting - there are options for everyone. Siafa's is truly a unique addition to Mumbai's vibrant food and dessert culture. Visit Siafa to experience a sweet paradise that you never even imagined about.

To end this on a sweet note - Here is a picture of what I call the King's chalice. This is amongst the most stellar offerings of Siafa. It attracted attention from both inside and outside the store.

The Captain's Score : 9/10

"Ha, I laugh at those fools who chose to not join me for this trip. Maybe we could tease them with our eventful tales from the Arabian Ni..dates."

Map Co-Ordinates
Below Federal Bank,
Lokmanya Tilak Marg, Near Crawford Market,
Fort, Mumbai.

-This was a special meet arranged by Food Bloggers association of India-