Tuesday, 19 January 2016

As the New Year dawned over Chennai, the food scene too seemed to be dawning with a fresh lease of life. With loads of new restaurants opening up and existing restaurants getting re-launched, 2016 sure seems to be a year to look forward for foodies in Chennai. With my blog turning a little more than 3 years old, I think the time to give a new style and format to my reviews has become inevitable. And here it begins!!!


Upper Deck @ Vivanta by Taj Fisherman’s Cove – East Coast Road

Fisherman’s Cove has always been the go-to resort on East Coast Road aka ECR for Chennaities need of a romantic getaway closer to the city. Having been a regular patron with my first visit dating back to the late 90’s, I’ve always been in awe of the setting of the resort per se. In fact, Upper Deck, one of the restaurant in this property has been consistently ranked as one of the most romantic restaurants in India and when I was informed that this very restaurant has had a makeover, it definitely was time to visit. 


Upper Deck is a signature restaurant of Fisherman’s Cove and is situated at a secluded section of the resort right at the doorsteps of the tantalizing private beach that the resort sits on. With tables set amongst the beach rocks, this is the only restaurant in Chennai that can provide such an ambiance. With a few tables accompanying the beach rocks, a few others are set within a huge gazebo set up on a wooden deck floor throwing in a rustic feeling to the entire place. This restaurant definitely scores top scores in my list of romantic places to dine at.


The makeover was not just with the ambiance but with the menu as well. The menu has been refined and given a distinct classic European touch with dishes being as original as achievable. The evening started with a great ‘French Onion Soup’, that had all the classic flavours that one would attribute to the original version available in the bistros of Paris. However, I felt that it missed the rustic look an original soup brings with cheese bubbling all over and dripping along the soup bowl. But this is completely understandable as the current setting of the restaurant was not a bistro and they had some strict presentation protocols to follow. 
(French Onion Soup)
The soup was followed by the ‘Roasted Beet Salad’. Off late I’ve been developing a major liking for roasted beet and this was no exception. Along with some arugula leaves, candied pecan and feta, the salad was yum thanks to the flavourful raspberry vinaigrette that elevated the salad. With the soup and salad done, we moved on to the entrees. First up was the ‘Chicken Liver Pate’. Although not a big fan of offal meat, I gave it a go. The liver pate was accentuated thanks to the apple chutney and onion compote that accompanied it. I layered them on the walnut bread and had a bite. The offal did hit me back but the accompaniments were top notch. I’m sure offal lovers will definitely love this dish. The other dish that I took a bite of was the ‘Salad Nicoise’. It was a simple salad with seared yellow fin tuna, boiled egg, cherry tomatoes and some greens.
(Roasted Beet Salad)
(Chicken Liver Pate)
(Salad Nicoise)
The next up was out rightly the best dish of the evening according to me. If a vegetarian dish can earn this repute with me, then I’m sure you can imagine how much of an influence it must have had on me. To be honest, it was the best savoury tart I’d ever savoured in all of my food journey. The ‘Leek Tart with Goat Cheese’ was divine. A simple dish with goat cheese, walnut, leek filling and topped with parsley could be ever so delectable was just not imaginable. This of course is until you bite into the tart crust. Please please do me a favour and go savour this dish. I can’t do justice to it by writing as nothing can replicate even closely my feeling towards the tart.
(Leek Tart with Goat Cheese)
(Leek Tart with Goat Cheese)
For the mains, we started with a portion of the ‘Giant Shrimp Grilled with Sea Salt’, a dish that went hand in hand with the ambiance of the place. The shrimp was grilled to perfection and loaded with flavour. In fact, it was a delight to remove the meat from the open shell without damaging it. The Fettuccini was a perfect accompaniment to the shrimp which by itself was grilled using the basic of ingredients retaining the actual flavour of the meat. However, my only nit-pick would be that the meat was a bit cold when I bit into it. The next up was the ‘Wild Mushroom Risotto’. Risotto in general are a very complex dish to make as they can turn from hero to zero in a matter of few seconds. The risotto here was bit of a mixed bag. The flavours were strong with the sauce being spot on. But an important measure of a good risotto is the crunchiness of the rice. I felt this is to be completely missing. Nevertheless, the dish was close to authentic on the flavour front. The other dish that was presented was the ‘Polenta Skewers’. I just had a few bites and was a bit confused with the flavours so decided to skip it and head to my favourite part of all meals.
(Giant Grilled Shrimp with Sea Salt)
(Wild Mushroom Risotto)
(Polenta Skewers)
With the entrees and mains setting such high standards, I just couldn’t wait to savour the desserts. The first dessert to present itself was the mighty ‘Tiramisu’. Dished up in a nice glass and topped with a lady finger, the expectations were super high till the first mouthful hit the palate. It only had faint traces of coffee as well as lady finger biscuits. Though not disappointed as the main components were available only in traces, I enjoyed the dessert on a whole as it had the right balance of sweetness and texture that made it a great dessert but definitely not a great Tiramisu. The next up was the ‘Apple Tart’. After experiencing the earlier savoury tart, I just couldn’t wait to savour this. However, the tart wasn’t as awesome as the savoury one but it didn’t disappoint as well. I felt the tart to be a little crumbly as compared to the savoury tart while the filling was apt. Not that the desserts disappointed me, I felt that overall the desserts didn’t live up to the standards that the savouries set. I’m sure a little fine tweaking is all that is needed to make the experience a wholesome one as amazing desserts often take home the lasting memory of a meal.
(Apple Tart)

A meal for two should cost about Rs. 2800 plus taxes without alcohol.


Upper Deck is located at Vivanta by Taj Fisherman’s Cove on East Coast Road after the Muttukadu Boat house. A reservation is preferable on most days as the restaurant has limited seating and is usually completely booked.

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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Returning from a pause in posts over the last couple of weeks, lets start the year afresh with a non-restaurant but food related blog. In this post I’ll be writing about one of the aspects of a food blog that is often missed upon by readers and is usually taken as granted. Apart from tasting and writing about the dishes in a restaurant, a major emphasis also is on the pictures that are clicked which helps the readers to attribute the flavours that are described.

But the biggest enemy I face as a food blogger is the low light conditions in 8 out of 10 restaurants that I visit. Yes, aesthetically it is best for a restaurant to be dim lit or lit in dark colours but it’s a photographer’s nightmare. First and foremost, the use of a flash becomes unavoidable and this raises a lot of eyebrows on the adjacent tables. We do understand that at times it touches the borderline of disturbance to the other patrons but we are left with no other choice. Another issue with using flash is that the dark colour ceiling often absorbs majority of the flash and we still end of with a half baked picture that needs to be colour corrected. Only other option to avoid this embarrassment of using a flash is to use the camera on the mobile phone. Agreed, it won’t be as perfect as a DSLR but mobile pictures have their own advantages such as being able to instantly sharing on social media.

However again here the issue becomes of clarity and resolution. Only high end smartphones on the lines of Apple iPhone & Samsung S series are capable of handling low light photography. Nevertheless, the situation seemingly is changing with manufacturers emphasizing on better camera features even on mid segment mobiles. One such manufacturer is ASUS. As part of testing their new ZenFone 2 Laser range of mobile phones, I was provided a test mobile by ASUS India to evaluate and understand the phone camera’s performance.

To begin with, the standout feature in the ZenFone 2 Laser has to be the laser focussing that it uses as against the conventional contrast focussing other mobiles use. This not only enables a quick and better focus, it helps a lot under low light conditions as the laser is independent of ambient light and can provide the sensor with an accurate focus. The next feature that I felt was outstanding was the Low Light mode. Although this brings the resolution down to 3MP but it can really brighten the image. If you can hold your hand steady, then this mode can do wonders. With about 16 camera modes in total, the variety of settings ensure there is a mode for all needs. One thing that really helps for semi-pro photographers like me are the full Manual mode. When it comes to clicking food, having control over ISO & Depth of Field can catapult a low light image from zero to a hero.

Considering the overall speed of the phone interface and the possibility of having an external memory card along with a sleek design, makes the ASUS ZenFone 2 Laser a perfect companion for restaurant reviews along with my professional camera kit. ASUS also has a cute little LolliFlash that combines a dual flash and can be skinned with three skins that provide either a white, red or blue tint to the image.

Some of the images shot using the ASUS ZenFone 2 Laser are below,

Street Food & Low Light Photography just became much much easier.

P.S: This is not an advertisement nor is it a paid review. I was only provided with an ASUS ZenFone2 Laser mobile phone to evaluate its performance and capability.