Thursday 27 October 2016

Master Chef India 2016 - Masala Bay, Taj Lands End.

It was a normal afternoon a few years back when I had decided to start food blogging as a hobby. I had been a blogger for many years but food was a new niche for me. I remember myself as always being intrigued by good food and being turned on by food trends. If there was a new flavor of ice cream, I had to try it. New dish on the menu, had to try it. The passion was still unrefined and very suppressed. I remember watching Chef Sanjeev Kapoor's Khana Khazana and "Yan can cook" in the early 90s but that was all the gastronome background that I had.

As time progressed, I was enamored by MasterChef Australia and how they really took gastronomy to its zenith. I took baby steps into the food blogging universe by writing short Zomato reviews. Masterchef India was at this stage becoming bigger and bigger from where it started at Season 1 and both Masterchefs(Australia and India) filled me up with inspiration to the point where I could no longer contain it within me. I had to write out my feelings and my raw passion had finally refined into food blogging in the great cauldron of time.

Chef Vikas Khanna, Zorwar Kalra and Chef Kunal Kapur along with the head chefs at Taj

The nostalgia and these memories played in my head as I was included in a list of seven bloggers invited by Zomato, Star Plus India and most importantly Masterchef India for the exclusive premiere of Masterchef India 5. It allowed me to share the same table with culinary giants like Chef Vikas Khanna, Chef Kunal Kapur and superstar restaurateur Zorawar Kalra.

Within the premises of a special section inside Masala Bay at Taj Lands End, we were treated to the first episode of Masterchef season 5 a few hours before it was actually shown to the world. It is kind of thrilling to be a part of a premiere. Chef Amninder Sandhu of Masala Bay served us with a lavish North Indian fare comprising of Jhinga Kebabs, Galouti Kebabs, Butter Chicken , Dal Makhani, a Mutton Curry which was made using a family recipe and of course the desserts. She won the praise of not only the bloggers but also the Masterchef judges and one can be sure that the judges know their food well.

Masterchef season 5, Taj's amazing food and to be in the presence of stalwarts like Chef Vikas, Chef Kunal and Zorawar Kalra is a rare honor even for the best of food critics, bloggers and journalists. The euphoria was overwhelming. All this was brought together by the efforts of Zomato India and Star Plus India. Food Bloggers have come a long way into the industry which was once dominated by food journalists who viewed bloggers as easy to please outsiders.

This is partly due to Zomato which has transformed the food blogging scene completely. From a little known niche to a full blown industry. Zomato has been instrumental in transcending the food blogging scene beyond what one could imagine a few years ago. And Masterchef has been the ultimate source of inspiration for gastronomes in this side of the world. Ask any food blogger worth their salt about their favorite people and you will always hear answers like Vikas Khanna, Sanjeev Kapoor, Gary Mehigan - all Masterchef judges.

Masterchef Season 5 is a bit different from its previous installments. Its well paced, engaging, less on the decibel and more on the cooking. It brings Indian amateur cooks from all across the world this time for a Battle Royale like none other. Cooking is not just a hobby, it is a form of art that can be honed and channeled into something truly spectacular. Culinary masterpieces please more than one senses. The eyes, the nose and finally the tongue. Masterchef 2016 has just started. So who will win? Who will be India's next Masterchef? No one knows yet. Tune into Masterchef season 5 on Star Plus on weekend evenings. Lots of masala and lots of thrill, sometimes sweet and sometimes sour - This is an experience like none other.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Lemon Leaf - Fort, Mumbai.

The posh neighborhood surrounding the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gateway of Mumbai is dotted with a lot of big names and famous restaurants. Lemon Leaf, a suburban star which was quite well known in Bandra for its Pan Asian food has now opened shop in the same area. Virtually hidden in a lane behind the Taj Mahal hotel, this place is a Golden Emerald jewel. (Emerald thanks to its Edamame like Mascot and Golden ambiance)

It has three seating areas. One a semi Al Fresco that faces the street, the Golden lit interiors inside and a space on the second floor above. The eclectic mix of furniture makes the place look cosy. Whether its books by Tolstoy near the couch or the counter like tables by the wall, the place has a bit of everything that one is familiar with.

Popping Passion was a virgin mix of passion fruit, cranberry and lemon grass. As the restaurant's liquor license wasn't cleared at this pre-opening event, we had to do well with mocktails. This was a sweet and tangy fruit mix that would be good to quench thirst though nothing more than that.

Ramen Bowl with Spicy Broth was a mix of vegetables, tofu, a bit of wakame and chicken. It was a flavorful little appetizer and its taste was a mix of spicy and savory. Though not an exact replica of the real soup and ramen that one finds in Japan, it was a decent emulation that seemed to be adapted to Indian palates.

Salmon Ceviche felt much like a sweet and tangy salad. There was no salmon or seafood that I could perceive while eating this hence this was a bit of a disappointment. Its presence on the menu was curious as well since this dish is of Latin American origin but a ceviche derivative called Kinilaw does exist in the Filipino cuisine.

Silken Tofu was a visually alluring dish. It would also please vegetarians but it seemed to have a bit of flavoring issues as it felt very much like regular Tofu. The sauces and garnishes hadn't quite endowed their flavors upon the Tofu.

Sushi platter was comprised of two seafood sushi and two meatless sushi. The Tuna tatare was a flavorful California roll with the weed mats being inside. Went quite well with the wasabi.
The asparagus tempura and Dijon Mustard sushi rolls were all right too. May suit a vegetarian well though I prefer my sushi with seafood.

The Sizzling Chicken Sisig was a near perfect emulation of the Filipino delicacy. The chicken was juicy and full of flavor. The egg added a flavor variance. It made a good snack and one must applaud Chef Mitesh for adding Filipino dishes to the menu, a cuisine widely unheard of in mainstream India. Would go well with a Rum based cocktail.

Chicken Gyoza were flavorful Japanese dumplings. The execution was perfect in both visuals and flavor. The batter did not feel invasive and the chicken fillings dominated the flavor. Again like the Sisig, these made an excellent appetizer and a lip smacking snack.

Dakgangjeong or Korean Fried Chicken is a different form of KFC. The appearance seemed to emulate the American Korean snack. Though I felt that the batter was too thick. The flavor was fine. The chicken was less greasy and felt tender. The final chicken was painted with some sauce as well. The chicken was served with Lettuce and steamed buns. While the chicken itself was fine, it absolutely had no combination with the sides.

Sri Lankan curry was the dish of the night. The flavors were accurate. The curry had a coastal aroma. The fish was perfect and from the sea as it should be. I am glad they did not use Basa. The flavor made me feel like I am by the seaside. The curry itself had a soul food like flavor and went well with the rice. A must have if you are visiting Lemon leaf.

Chocolate Sushi was made of deep fried tempura batter rolls and a pudding like chocolate stuffing. While the batter was better at maintaining structure, I felt that subtly sweet sticky rice would have been better than the tempura in creating a more sushi like feel. The chocolate stuffing itself was decent and this item felt like a nice novelty.

I sadly do not have pictures of their homemade ice creams but their sesame flavored (Yes that indeed is a flavor) was the best of the desserts that I tried at Lemon leaf. I would recommend the ice creams over the sushi.

I cannot comment on the service since it was a pre opening event. The crew seems well trained and professional enough. Some of them are seasoned staff from their Bandra avatar.

The pricing is quite easy on the pocket given its posh location. It is certainly a place that you would like to visit for decent food at friendly rates.

Lemon Leaf has just started its show at Colaba. While they do have boatloads of experience from their stint at Bandra, they still have a lot of work cut out for them in a locality with some of the best restaurants in town. For now Lemon Leaf makes an easy on the pocket option for a decent Pan Asian fare.

The Captain's Score : 7/10

Map Co-Ordinates
Lemon Leaf
4, Mandlik Road,
Behind Taj Mahal Hotel,
Colaba, Mumbai

-I was invited to a pre-opening event for media personalities by the Restaurant. My review however remains objective.-

Lemon Leaf Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Ellipsis Bakery - Worli, Mumbai.

A mix of an industrial estate and a construction zone may not be the best place for a bakery but the best of surprises are oft found in the strangest of places. Literally a hidden gem, Ellipsis bakery is located in the midst of a cluster of Industrial units, construction zones and residential buildings. But that owes to the fact that this bakery is indeed its namesake and not intended to be a cafe. Still, it does have a comfortable seating area that makes it resemble a proper cafe. And it does have enough goodies to ignore its location and just be there for some good grub.

One fine overcast afternoon, I walked my way to Ellipsis. The place was a little difficult to locate as it isn't exactly on the spot Google maps suggests it to be but the good ol' way of asking people for directions still works well.

The smell of fresh baked goodies had made the air pleasant inside the property. I sit as I hummed and smiled to the pleasant smells in the air. Ellipsis artisanal bakery - show me your grub.

Chicken Galette was a tasty crusty preparation with a salty base and chicken that had a smoky barbecue like flavor. This would make a great snack for a party or a meeting.

These small Chocolate chip cookies were soft and chewy made from the best cookie dough and chocolate. The flavor makes the cookies quite addicting and I am positive that the cookie monster would have made a raid for these.

Feast your eyes upon this gorgeous Nutella cupcake. The cake below is super soft and sweet. The icing consists of a mix of Nutella and salty butter cream giving it a cheese like saltiness. There could not be a more perfect cupcake that I have come across. Usually the topping dominates the treat but here the cake base was equally good if not better.

Red Velvet Cheesecake was a beautiful, creamy and a tasty delight. The bakers used premium cream cheese to layer the red velvet cake. The cake itself felt like a regular red velvet that you can find elsewhere but the cream cheese was the real star of the show.  Not to mention, this particular image was loved on my Instagram going slightly viral.

I ended my trip with a cup of Twinnings Green tea to wash down all the carbs.

The service was a little awkward as they served me the above items without me actually choosing those. I would have liked to sample more savories and place my order but I guess that it was a special case for me as they had called me to sample the goodies. They probably put out their best cards on the table.

The pricing is on the higher side. Though it seems to be on par with most premium baked good brands like Moshe's or La Folies.

I loved my trip to Ellipsis and enjoyed the few things that I could try there. For a small place, they certainly have a wide array of offerings. The place even has gluten free options available. Their goodies are sold at big marts and other restaurants. They also serve catering orders and corporate events. The location makes it a bit hard for common people and hopefully they would open one of these delightful shops in a more accessible area in the future. Till then, enjoy a little adventure to find a gem hidden deep inside the concrete jungle.

The Captain's Score : 8/10

Map Co-Ordinates
Ellipsis Bakery,
Inside BMC Asphalt Compound,
S.K. Ahire Marg,
Worli, Mumbai

-I was invited to sample the menu by the Bakery. My review however remains objective.-

Ellipsis Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday 3 October 2016

The NRAI Food services Report 2016

The National Restaurant Association of India released its Bi-yearly report on September 19, 2016. Presided by NRAI President and the CEO of the Impresario group, Riyaaz Amlani – the report discussed the food services market, trends, gains and the challenges encountered by the Hospitality sector.

Attended by some of the biggest names in the Indian food corporate world, leading journalists and even a few well known Instagrammers and bloggers - this event not only released the Bi yearly report to the world but also discussed some of the issues listed within the report.

The panel members discussed the growth of the hospitality sector in the past few years. Being several times larger than Bollywood, Railways and Star Hotels - the organized restaurant sector is poised to attain greater heights in the years to come. The sector contributes greatly to national employment and the centre’s taxes but still faces major roadblocks that slow its growth and hinder it from reaching its full potential. Without the obstacles and in a possible alliance with the Government its obvious that the restaurants will get more business, contribute more taxes and even help the Tourism sector. A win-win situation for all stake holders involved.

The report is a treasure trove of data regarding the trends in the hospitality sector. It discusses several brands as case studies and lists in depth data relating to different classes of restaurants. It discusses the benefits and contributions of each type as well as the roadblocks faced by each.

Mr. Amlani points out that many of the top restaurants of 2014 are no longer operational in 2016. He explains that it is not due to the lack of business but mostly due to the red tape and excessive property rates. India is often said to be a third world nation with commercial estate priced at first world rates. This makes it a tricky equation for restaurants as they have to juggle between excessive first world rents and managing to serve a quality menu that fits the pocket of their third world clientele. Several comparisons are made to countries where the local governments work in unison with the restaurant sector.

Well known roadblocks that hinder restaurant business like the License Raj, lack of unity between the Government and the Restaurants, Regulation regarding food trucks, Rooftop restaurants, Longer business timings are discussed as well. The panel directly engages the event’s Chief guest and the honorable Minister of Tourism, Mr. Jaykumar Rawal with their grievances. The honorable minister assured the panel that the Government is already looking into many of the issues and that one may see results soon enough.

As a food Blogger, I look forward to the development of the industry I am related with. Not just the government but even the Hospitality sector has work to do. It must employ the new age digital tools and social media to promote its growth. The future is online after all. The age of Newspaper Ads, TV Commercials, Flyers and hoardings has been replaced by the age of Blogs, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. The restaurants can directly engage prospective audience (Both domestic and international) with interesting content online. Restaurants need to work in concert with bloggers and social media influencers. While this has already started in the recent few years, it is just the beginning and still lacks refinement. 

-The author attended the event in which the Bi yearly report was released and several brief discussions regarding the report's primal issues were held.-

Saturday 1 October 2016

1Tablespoon Pizza - Lower Parel, Mumbai

1Tablespoon Pizza(1TBSP) has quite an enigma around its name. Even the restaurant manager did not know about the name's origin. But it does do a good job of sticking in your head owing to its peculiarity. So I think its quite a clever name.

Pizza by the Slice is an interesting concept that was popularized in New York but it didn't quite get into mainstream in India. Sbarros did try a Pizza by the slice concept but they ended up making it look too artificial. This is where 1TBSP has excelled. The restaurant has a small menu but each pizza is memorable.

The pizzeria is a small parlor sized establishment which could be hard to locate if you do not know your way around Todi Mills. Its designed like a quick service/Delivery restaurant and for a pizza place they certainly are quick. My order was served to me within ten minutes of placing it. They have employed a good strategy which keeps the entire process clean, transparent and efficient. The way I see it, there are no delaying bottlenecks.

Do note that while they do have other items on their menu, best stick to their Pizzas because that is what they are best at. If you want to have pastas and the like, there are about a dozen other places in the neighborhood.

The Spicy Chorizo Pizza was not quite friendly to the camera but was rather amazing to the taste buds. Using the Goan-Portugese variant of Chorizo sausages, this was mildly salty, sweet, savory and spicy.  The sweetness came from spicy honey which gave it an addictive zing. To me, this was the best of the three slices that I tried. And might I add, the slice was quite generously loaded with meat.

The Americano was a milder pizza or at least felt that way after the spicy affair above. This one charmed the camera and my Instagram is a testament to that. It was generously loaded with American Pork pepperoni. The taste was that of a classical cheese and meat pizza. It is a safe choice for those not into spicy gourmet.

Spicy Salami was a meaty tasting whopper. It had more meat, less cheese and was topped by raw spices giving it a rough texture. The pizza was visually appealing as is resembled popular pizza pictures on social media. Though its named spicy, it is far lesser on the heat content as compared to the Chorizo pizza. A decent pizza if you want a lot of salami and less cheese. It also had a pleasantly earthy and appetizing aroma.

The staff is very professional and the entire process happens in front of you. Since the place is a QSR, service may or may not be offered.

The pricing is easy as far as slices of a 28 inch pizza go. The 11 inch (thin base) full pizzas are cheap too making 1TBSP an excellent place to order pizza from. Its better to order gourmet grade pizzas from 1TBSP rather than to order from the likes of Dominoes or Pizza hut. The pizzas here are far better and much cheaper.

To wrap it up, I think 1TBSP is like the little master - A small restaurant that has some of the best pizza in town. 1 TBSP definitely makes it to my top five pizza places in Mumbai. If you stay in Lower Parel or if you are in the area, do try 1 TBSP pizza. Mumbai may just have its very own Spontini Duomo.

P.S You can call and ask them for directions if you get lost in Todi Mills.

The Captain's Score : 9/10

Map Co-Ordinates
1Tablespoon Pizza
Mathuradas Mill Compound,
Todi Mills,
Lower Parel, Mumbai.

-I was invited to sample the menu by the Restaurant. My review however remains objective.-

1Tablespoon Pizza Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato