Monday, 21 July 2014

Having lived in the Middle East for a considerable part of my life, Mediterranean cuisine has always played a great impact in my passion for food. Cuisines from Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, Southern Italy & Tunisia have a lot in common yet are different in their own ways. The Shawarma in Lebanon is known as Doner in Turkey while in Greece it’s called Gyros. Although technically all the three are same it’s the flavourings that create the difference and this has a lot to do with the local culture. 

Most of these Mediterranean countries follow a broad classification of cuisine called the ‘Sun Cuisine’. Dishes that represent the sun cuisine have a strong domination of Olive Oil, Tomato, Seafood and Meat (especially lamb). The seasonings and methodology of preparation makes all the differences within the Mediterranean cuisine. One such country in this area that has a strong contribution is Tunisia. It was here that ‘Cous Cous’ was first prepared is also regarded as their national dish.

One restaurant in Chennai that has been serving authentic Mediterranean cuisine ever since they started is ‘Kefi’ at the Taj Club House. Kefi has always been my to-go place as the roof-top ambiance with the Gazebo seating always made it the right choice for special occasions. Being in the month of Ramadhan and wanting for some good Mediterranean food, the moment I found out they were having a special ‘Tunisian’ menu, I just couldn’t resist missing it. So as usual a group of us got together to experience the Tunisian sun cuisine at Kefi.
(Amuse-bouche)
When it comes to restaurants belonging to the Taj group, one thing that always stands out is their hospitality. We were welcomed with a fresh smile and escorted to our table. Upon settling down, we were given a short introduction about the Tunisian cuisine as it was what we had come for. With the pleasantries done, in typical fine dine fashion, the amuse-bouche was served first. It was a cute beetroot leaf wrapped with feta cheese. This was followed by some Pita bread along with harissa and toum. Harissa is a Tunisian speciality spice dip aka Tunisia’s National Condiment and is made up of different chillies of varying hotness while Toum is a dip made using garlic and oil.

The starters for the evening were ‘Solanum Brik’ for the vegetarians while for the non-vegetarians it was ‘Fatmas finger’. The non-veg starter was themed around sea food and had a filling of mushroom, garlic and seafood wrapped in pastry sheet and fried. On the other hand, the veg starter was a Mediterranean spiced creamed potato encase in pastry sheet and baked. Of the two, the ‘Solanum Brik’ was my favourite. This followed by the ‘Lablabi’ which is a chickpea based creamy soup. The lablabi served to us was garlic flavoured chicken with a rich creaminess from the well-cooked chickpeas. 
(Solanum Brik)
(Fatmas finger)
(Lablabi)
With the soup and starts thoroughly enjoyed, we couldn’t wait for the mains. Wondering how come cous cous was not yet served, we were just waiting to see what was for the mains. We got the ‘Phoenician Spicy grilled chicken’ which looked true its name. But all that changed with the first slice through the chicken. We were surprised to find out that the meat was stuffed with cous cous and prunes. This added more flavouring to the cous cous from the fat that must have rendered while cooking the chicken. I was happy that the chicken was grilled with the skin on as that is how I prefer my chicken to be served. The chicken along with jus made for a complete dish for the cous cous.
(Phoenician Spicy grilled chicken)
Being thoroughly satisfied with the proceedings of the evening, we were eagerly awaiting the desserts. Mediterranean desserts are some of the best in the world as they are very unique and can be customized in numerous ways. The dessert for the evening was a ‘Makroudh Baklava’, which unlike the regular baklavas wasn’t stuffed top to bottom but was rather rolled in small bite size rolls. The filling for the baklava followed the traditional route with pistachios and dates soaked in rose syrup. How can a Mediterranean dessert be complete without a rose & citrus element. The citrus element today was brought in by small slivers of oranges soaked in rose syrup accompanied with an orange flavoured caramelized toffee. The entire experience truly felt like a travel to the culinary world of Tunisia. 
(Makroudh Baklava)
A great thanks to Chef Siddiq, the Executive Chef at Taj Club House for bringing such distinctive cuisines to Chennai. And yeah, don’t forget to break a plate near the entrance if you are satisfied with your meal. 

The Tunisia special menu runs till the 27th of July, 2014 at Kefi located in Hotel Taj Club House, Anna Salai. The menu is an A-la-carte and will cost you around ₹ 1,250 - ₹ 1,500 per person (inclusive of taxes) for four course meal.

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Sunday, 20 July 2014

With the month of Ramadhan coming to a close soon, and with most Iftar packs not capturing the right mood of Iftar, for a change I decided to venture out into a very unorthodox territory. I stumbled upon an offer from Marrybrown and being in an adventurous mood that day decided to take the leap.

Marrybrown as most of us know were the first to bring the concept of broiler fried chicken to Chennai way before KFC stepped in. So my association with marrybrown has been quite old and even today feel that their Hot Touch burger is one that cannot be replaced by any other in Chennai. I also had the opportunity of tasting the same in Malaysia which incidentally is their home country. Compared to the other brands, their chicken has always been a hit.

With such a close bond with Marrybrown, I decided to have their ‘Ramzan 786’ pack that they are promoting for a short time during the month of Ramadhan. Usually this combo is sold at ₹ 1,000 but now it is available at only ₹ 786. Aptly named, the combo consists of 7 pieces of strips, 8 pieces of chicken and 6 pieces of wings and comes with 2 drinks. For those hard core fans of chicken, indulging once in a while for Iftar with so much chicken can be fun and trendy. It would have been great had they also added some dates & fruits as then it could easily pass of as an Iftar Pack.

This offer is available only till the end of Ramadhan and all you fried chicken fans out there, don’t miss it. 

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

The last year or so has seen a rising number of coffee shops opening up in Chennai. A good majority of them International chains. While most of these international coffee shops were located in stand-alone locations, most mall goers had no options but to settle for either CCD or Barista. But one international brand did their homework correctly and saw the perfect opportunity of the mall going population and opened up their first outlet in a swanky mall. Known throughout the world for some of the best accompaniments served along with their Coffee & Tea, this was the need of the hour for most mall shoppers.

So when ‘The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’ opened up their outlet at Phoenix Mall, it proved to be a game changer for all those who frequented malls for shopping and were looking for a good place to relax along with some fine beverages. Unlike other places which serve different varieties of Coffee and a limited selection of Tea, ‘The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’ has numerous options in either category. Also part of their menu are sandwiches, short eats, breads, all-day breakfast menu and also good options of mains. With such a vast menu, it makes for the perfect ending to a shopping spree.

Coming to the dishes that I savoured that evening, wanting something chill to beat the summer heat, I went in for their speciality ice coffee which is called as ‘Ice Blended’. Curious to know what was so special in them, I enquired with a member of their staff who informed me that the Ice Blended coffees have no Ice Cream whatsoever in them. Thoughts started to run in my mind as to how good it was going to be and still decided to take the plunge. Being accompanied with another friend, we ordered for the ‘Dark Chocolate Ice Blended’ & ‘Hazelnut Ice Blended’. Usually not a big fan of dark chocolate but was just a bit curious as it was their flavour of the month. 
(Dark Chocolate Ice Blended)
(Hazelnut Ice Blended)
When the coffees were brought to our table, they looked ravishing. Was very impressed with the way the glass had a paper handle to ensure it wasn’t too cold to hold similar to the ones that is usually served with hot drinks. First sip of the dark chocolate and I was stunned. Had I not been informed that there weren’t any ice cream in it, I would have mistook it for being loaded with the same. The coffee was very rich and had a perfect balance of the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the creaminess of the milk. The hazelnut variant was also top notch with the right amount of flavouring, again extremely voluminous. On further enquiry, I was told that they use a special type of Ice that is patented by ‘The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’ which enables them to produce this creamy texture. The manager was courteous enough to show me a sample of the ice that is being used. The texture was so soft and fluffy unlike the ice that we all know.
(Oreo Mocha Cheesecake)
(Almond Biscotti)
(Blueberry Muffin)
To go along with the beverages, we had ordered for an ‘Oreo Mocha Cheesecake’, ‘Blueberry Muffin’ & an ‘Almond Biscotti’. Being a major dessert fan, I dived into the cheesecake while sipping onto my ice blended. The cheesecake amazed me as it was one of the best cheesecakes I’ve had in Chennai. Just like the popular saying, “First impression is the best impression”, the moment my cutlery sliced into the cake, and the result was out. The cake was perfect in texture, softness and the flavour above all. With the strong flavour of mocha complementing the cream cheese, it was part of heaven. I truly declare their cheesecake to be the best as of now in Chennai. I’ve heard about another of their cheesecake which is be renowned worldwide to be the best in their menu and it’s called the ‘Philadelphia Cheese Cake’. Unfortunately it was out of shelf the day I visited and just can’t wait to try it soon. Coming to the ‘Almond Biscotti’, this again was a clear winner. The texture provided the rugged look a biscotti deserves but once you take a bite you will realize that it isn’t that hard as you had imagined from the looks. The ‘Blueberry Muffin’ was gigantic and brings to memories all the muffins that we see on international culinary shows. These kind of muffins are the perfect accompaniments for hot teas and as we had ordered iced coffees that evening, we felt that the muffin was slightly out of place. But coming to the muffin itself, the blueberry filling was generous and the muffin screamed blueberry with every mouthful.
(Ice for the Ice Blended Beverages)
The accompaniments along with one beverage for each of us by itself were so filling that we realized that what started out as a casual visit to the coffee shop turned into a sort meal for the evening. The quality of the fare was outstanding and can’t wait to head back again to try the other dishes on the menu. While the Ice Blended coffee was priced around ₹ 180 each, the cheese cake was ₹ 175 and the biscotti & the muffin was priced about ₹ 80 each.


‘The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’ is located at the First Floor of the Phoenix Market City in Velachery and will cost about ₹ 350 per person for a fulfilling beverage and a sumptuous accompaniment.

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Monday, 14 July 2014

With the advent of Ramadhan month, most Chennai restaurants are engaged in dishing out yummylicious kebabs. But the only setback is that the kebabs at these restaurants include only the basic such as Tikka, Tandoori, Sheek or Malai. With people getting tired of savouring these over and over again, now seemed the perfect time to find a place that brought in some unique kebabs.

Just as this thought was running on, I was informed that ‘Paprika’ at ‘Courtyard by Marriott’ was running an “Awadhi” food festival. For those who might be wondering what Awadhi is, it is known better by its other famous name, the “Lucknowi Cuisine”. Awadhi is perhaps the cuisine that very closely resembles what we call the Nawabi khaana. Their spread not only includes mouth-watering kebabs like the Galouti & Shami but also the traditional Nawabi Biryani and delicious Kormas. Having savoured an amazing Galouti Kebab recently at one of the outings, a group of passionate foodies decided to check out the “Awadhi” food festival and deluge on some authentic kebabs. When we were further told that they had flown in their Awadhi cuisine specialist, Chef Yunus Khan, there was no turning back.

As we entered ‘Paprika’, the first thing that came to our notice was that the restaurant was very lively even though it was only a weekday. The d├ęcor along with a live Kathak performance resonated well with the food festival. The Awadhi cuisine is part of their regular buffet spread and started off with 2 Veg & 2 Non Veg starters brought to our table.

The first starter that was brought to our table was the majestic ‘Galouti Kebab’. Yet again the Galouti ticked the right boxes in terms of texture and softness. However, I personally felt that there was a tinge of one spice that had a more dominant taste on my palate which made it slightly unbalanced. Also the Roti was a bit soft which when enquired with the Chef was as I imagined intentionally done so to create a different texture between the melt-in-your-mouth kebab and the roti. This was followed by the ‘Malai Prawn’ which was a first for me. The prawns well delicately cooked to perfection and carried the right balance of flavour to make it truly the best dish of the evening. As they have an alternating menu, we were told that the other starter on the festival menu was a mutton chops.
(Mutton Chops)
(Galouti Kebab)
(Malai Prawns)
Coming to the vegetarian fare, we were served with another amazing starter that can rightly be called as the vegetarian’s Galouti. It was called ‘Khoya kas Galouti’ and was made using Paneer and Khoya. The kebabs were outright fantastic and is the best veg started I’ve savoured till date. I just couldn’t resist eating more and more. This was followed up with the traditional paneer starters, namely the ‘Malai Paneer’ and ‘Awadhi Paneer Tikka’, which were amazingly soft and loaded with flavours but nothing to beat the Khoya Galouti.
(Khoya kas Galouti)
(Malai Paneer & Paneer Awadhi Tikka)
By the time the starters were all done, we were so filled with amazing kebabs that a few of us decided to head straight to the desserts because there was one very unique dessert that kept intriguing us. But not wanting to miss savouring the speciality mains, I ventured on to the spread to savour some of them. The highlights amongst the mains was the ‘Nawabi Biryani’ which was very light on the palate and had loads of fabulous flavours bursting on every mouthful and was a raisin riot. The way the raising blended was truly outstanding. The other dish that picked my mark was the ‘Paneer Pista Hariyali’ as I’ve always had hariyali as a starter and never as a mains. The curry dish delivered at par to the standards set by the starters. The pista enhanced the flavours and made for a rich curry. The curry from the non-veg section that stood out was the ‘Mutton Korma’. The mutton was cooked to amazing perfection as you could still see the pink from the meat but could reassure yourself that the mutton was well cooked. Together with the naans, it made for a great combination.

(Mutton Korma)
Now coming to the desserts, like I’d said earlier, there was this particular dish which we’ve never heard before nor could we imagine as to how it would be. This dish of intense interest was the ‘Mirchi ki Halwa’. Yes, a dessert made of Chilli but not like the chilli chocolates that you must be thinking about. This was a proper halwa that was made using Bell Peppers. True to the expectation, the dish delivered hands on, a very palate friendly dessert with strong tinge of hotness. This alone should probably be your biggest motivation to indulge in some exquisite Awadhi cuisine and convince you to try them.
(Dessert Platter)
The Awadhi food festival is available at Paprika in Courtyard by Marriott till the 20th of July, 2014 and is priced at ₹ 1,250 including taxes.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Continuing in line with the Ramadhan (Fasting) month, today’s post is again an Iftar special but with a huge difference. During my childhood days, when I used to be in the Middle East, every Ramadhan we usually head to a couple of restaurants located in luxury hotels for Iftar. Each of these restaurants used to have a lavish spread of dishes and was truly a feast for the palate after about 16 hours of fasting. Keeping in line with the grandeur that Arabs exhibit, the spread used to have exotic fruits to wide range of meat cuts and summing up with an extra-ordinary variety of desserts. Moving over to India, this was always a miss, the sheer opportunity to sample around 50 dishes in a single go. Remember, I said sample not devour. ;)

A key question that I kept asking myself all these years was why hasn’t luxurious hotels caught up to this market yet. If cost was the only excuse then I can definitely vouch that it shouldn’t be. Again this year the same thought was crossing my mind when I suddenly stumbled upon what I’ve been wanting for ages. ‘Anise’ at ‘Taj Coromandel’ have finally decided to distinguish themselves and raise one notch above their counterparts. Yes, finally an Iftar special from a restaurant in a luxury hotel.

The iftar special at ‘Anise’ is meticulously crafted by the Executive Chef of Taj Coromandel, Chef Alok Anand and the outcome has been a deliciously nutrient rich menu following the traditional Iftar route yet having an own personality of its own. The Iftar Special is a Set-Menu beginning with ‘Iranian Dates’ served along with ‘Jallab’. Jallab is the Middle Eastern take on Rooh Afza aka Rose Milk. It is a drink made up of Dates, Rose water and with a topping of Pine Nuts minus the milk. This was followed by a big fruit bowl that set a perfect tone for the rest of the evening.
(Iranian Dates)
(Lassi & Jallab)
(Fruit Bowl)
With the fruits dusted, we were asked for a choice of a ‘Shorba Laham’ and ‘Lebanese Style Lentil Soup’. The mutton shorba had a strong flavour but was a tad too spicy for being served during Iftar. The Lentil soup made up for the shorba in a big way. Perfectly tempered lentils that provided the soup a completely different dimension in terms of texture. With the soups done, next up was the ‘Garbanzo bean and mint salad with Grilled Chicken’. The vegetarian alternative to the chicken salad was the classic ‘Fattoush’ salad. The salad was perfect in terms of portion size and had a very unique lemon dressing to it that captured the mood of Mediterranean in the right spirit.
(Lebanese Style Lentil Soup)
(Garbanzo Bean & Mint Salad with Grilled Chicken)
For the mains, one has an option to select either Chicken, Mutton, Fish or Vegetarian. The mutton being the ‘Gosht Biryani’, I decided to opt for the ‘Dejaj Mashwi’ to carry on with the authentic experience. The Mashwi was a portion of lemon roasted chicken with a Dill butter and served with some Horse Gram rice along with a vegetable ragout. The highlight of the mains was the intricate way in how it was balanced. The rice was very unique and together with the combination of chicken and ragout, made for a wholesome experience. As I enjoyed savouring my chicken, my friend went in for the Gosht biryani. The aroma of the biryani was so strong that I couldn’t resist its temptation. How can you have an amazing biryani sitting in front of you and not devour the same, hence I decided to take a go at the Gosht Biryani too. Honestly, it was the best possible biryani I’ve ever had at a restaurant in a 5 star hotel. Tender and juicy mutton pieces with a strong flavoured rice helped it stand apart from the other very average rice aka biryani that is available elsewhere. While the mains were being served, a glass of sweet rich lassi was bought to the table.
(Dejaj Mashwi)
(Gosht Biryani)
To bring closure to the Iftar menu, a portion of ‘Oum Ali’ and ‘Basbousa’ were served for the desserts. Oum ali is a form of milk pudding baked using condensed milk, nuts and puff pastry. Coming to the Basbousa, it is my favourite Mediterranean dessert and one that I’ve mastered baking myself at home. So it was a pleasant surprise to be served one. Basbousa is a semolina and coconut dessert sweetened with rose water and orange blossom. To balance the overload of sweetness, a small array of fruit platter accompanied the desserts, the perfect way to end the gourmet Iftar.
(Dessert Platter)

(Basbousa)
The Iftar Special Menu is available at Anise in Taj Coromandel till the 28th of July, 2014 from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm. The four course set menu will cost you ₹ 1,250 plus taxes.

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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

In today’s modern lifestyle, every member of the family is busy in their own ways. Not blaming them but that how the order of the day has become. The biggest fallout of this is probably family time during a meal. I still remember 15-20 years ago, how if not for every meal at least for dinner all of us assembled at the table and sat together talking about the day and enjoying the meal. But the bitter truth is today it evades most of us.

However there is one month of the year where this opportunity strikes for a sizeable section of us. Yes, I’m taking about the Holy month of Ramadhan. No matter how important a work is, as the time of sunset comes closer, the entire family is promptly settled on the table saying the prayers in unison and preparing ourselves to break the fasting that we set upon at dawn.

Traditionally, the fast is opened by consuming a portion of dates along with the Holy Zam Zam water but because Zam Zam water is a scarcity in India (Until unless you’ve had someone who had recently visited the Holy city of Makkah) regular water suffices the ritual. After the opening of fast, depending on each family’s tradition, a variety of snacks, sweets and juices follow. Some of the common dishes are Samosa, Spring Roll, Vada, Bhajji, Cutlet, Flavoured Agar Agar, Roohafza (A variant of Rose Milk), Nonbu Congee (A special variety in comparison to the traditional Congee) amongst others.

Now for those who are non-natives of Chennai and observing fast, it becomes a challenge as getting all savoury, sweet and drinks at a single place become difficult as most restaurants are non-functional around that time. But thanks to the advent of a slack of Arabian themed restaurants in Chennai, this problem has found a permanent solution. Until a few years ago, a handful of restaurants had something known as the Iftar Pack and to the best of my knowledge Hotel Blue Diamond was probably the first. But now the options have become unlimited. Almost every restaurant now has a special pre-packed pack that can be picked up from the restaurant and the fast opened at the convenience of one’s accommodation. Curious on knowing how each pack differs from the others, I’ve decided to check out on some of them during this year’s Ramadhan. The first of which was today from Zaitoon.
(Iftar Pack)
Zaitoon’s Iftar pack comprises of
  • Dates
  • Bottle of Water
  • Cut Fruits
  • Lemon flavoured Juice
  • Mini Shawarma
  • Koji Rice with Laham (Mutton)
  • Parotta
  • Chicken Curry
  • Kubus with a quarter piece of Grilled Chicken accompanied with Garlic paste
  • Savoury Puff
  • Haleem
  • Gulab Jamun
  • Payasam

(Iftar Pack Opened)
The offering is quite extensive and must say that it was a complete meal by itself. Some highlights of the pack are that the lemon flavoured juice was indeed a Lemon flavoured Tata Gluco+ water. Although it can be deceiving from being a juice, it was a good alternative because the body does need that extra bit of energy after being on a fast for more than 14 hours. The mini Shawarma was not mini in a big way. It was the regular sized roll with slightly less amount of filling. The rice was spectacular as always while I felt the Parotta to be a little hard and doughy inspite of heating the same. The curry was appropriate but my only issue was that it was way too much to be eaten with a single parotta. Perhaps it can be used along with some Bread/Chapathi/Rice for the pre-fast meal. The grilled chicken was the usual fare. The puff was a bit flaky to my liking while the Jamun and the Payasam were just fine. Another standout in the pack was the Haleem which incidentally tasted much better than the one that most people usually head to in Egmore. I’m yet to try it out from there this year but if it tastes the same as last year, then I think we have winner at Zaitoon.
(Iftar Pack Contents)
A true value for money the Iftar pack is priced at ₹ 299 and is available across all their outlets from 4:30 pm onwards.

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