Friday, October 17, 2014

Pizza Express Delhi vs Pizza Express London

It's raining Pizzas in Delhi and how! Last month Skeets visited Indigo Delhi, then came Tonino and Pizza Express. The buck stops at Pizza Express for Skeets as they make another foray to the Pizza market in Delhi. 
It is one hell of a task for Skeets to write about Pizzas as she is extremely biased towards orginal/classic Margherita pizzas. There's no looking beyond for her. But she shall try. Skeeter's first tryst with Pizza Express was in London and that was an overwhelming experience. So, she was looking at a repeat experience at Pizza Express, Delhi, very reluctantly. 


Live kitchen and some take away boxes

The signature dough balls (Rs 165) were mopped up with garlic butter and this, Skeets must warn is an addictive combo at Pizza Express. One can opt for the dough balls with a trio of dips and a larger portion. Skeets then proceeded for the Bruschetta Con Funghi (Rs 385) which was a mini meal in itself. The golden bread was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and came topped with baked button mushrooms, bechamel sauce, red onion, chopped parsley and a drizzle of balsamic. Pizza Express has loads of salads on offer but Skeets skipped them to do justice to Pizzas and dessert.

(Left: Dough balls and garlic butter. Right:Bruschetta Con Funghi )

The Pizza tossing spectacle at Pizza Express, Delhi

(Left:Proofing of the dough at Pizza Express, India. Right: Pizza base with tomato sauce from Parma )

The Giardiniera Pizza (classic base) is topped with mushrooms, mozzarella, leeks, cherry tomatoes, artichokes and olives on a tomato and pesto base drizzled with fragrant garlic oil and comes at Rs 510. The Pizza Express classic base has its own fan following but if one wants they can upgrade it to the thinner, crispier Romana base for Rs 100. Extra toppings for any pizza come at Rs 45 a pop; choose from char grilled veggies, eggs, sweet peppadew among others. There are some non-veg toppings available too but that was not Skeets' area of interest. Skeets moved on to the Padana pizza (RS 595) on a Romana base. It came topped with Goat's cheese, mozzarella, spinach, caramelised onions and a drizzle of garlic oil. This sublime Pizza was Skeeter's personal favourite and she recommends you must try the Padana at Pizza Express. Oh and do drizzle some extra garlic oil for enhanced flavour.

 Padana pizza on Romana base
On to desserts, Skeets is happy to report that the Pizza Express Cheesecake did not fail her. The baked vanilla cheesecake (Rs 295) is served with your pick of cream, gelato or mascarpone cheese and fruit coulis on the side. It did justice to the chain and lived up to Skeeter's expectations. There are a few other desserts and Dolcetti on the menu, but Pizza Express is all about classics for Skeeter.

Baked Vanilla Cheesecake with mascarpone and fruit coulis
London vs Delhi

The few branches of Pizza Express in London that Skeeter likes are the Bromley and Bloomsbury ones. The ambience of Pizza Express, Delhi is pleasant and inviting with comfortable seating. The decor of every Pizza Express branch represents something from the area in which they open shop. This one has painted plates on the wall to represent ceramic pottery of the area. There is a splendid rooftop seating coming up soon too and the liquor license is awaited.
The wait staff are very well trained. Full marks for that! The menu in London is a little more elaborate with a few extras in each section. Am sure the Pizza Express, India people will up their game with time and add more from the London favourites.
The Pizza standards are up to the mark as there is a taste tester who is flown from London for quality maintenance. The tomatoes comes from a region near Parma in Italy, a tradition being maintained by the chain since 1965.
There was a drizzle of cream that dressed the Cheesecake at the London branches. Skeets prays the Pizza Express at Delhi incorporate that and make Skeety happy.

A meal at Pizza Express would be approximately Rs 2000 for two people. A must try Pizzeria, this.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Behind the scenes of Golden Temple langar kitchen (A photo essay): Amritsar unfolded Part two

Having heard stories about the massive kitchen at the Golden temple which feeds lakhs of devotees every single day, a visit was much pending just to witness the sheer scale of their operations and outstanding dedication of the sevadaars. Community service is epitomised by the Sikhs.

Skeets showcases the kitchen of the Gurudwara through her lens in this post. 


Golden temple
The Golden Temple at day break

gurudwara langar, golden temple
Have never seen so many utensils together at a place!

ginger, seva, golden temple
Where men sit down and chop ginger

onion, chopping, golden, temple
It was simply amazing to see how it all started from a few onions and then sacks of onions were undone to be peeled.

The automated Roti/Chapati making machine at the Golden Temple. Everything from the dough kneading to the rolling of chapattis and the final puffing/sekna is automated.

cauldrons, golden temple, food preparation at golden temples
Preparing food for the day
langar, golden temple
These giant cauldrons at the Golden temple have curries for the day being prepared. Two of them were just dedicated for making the yummiest morning tea ever. 
Read Part One of Amritsar unfolded.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Of Kadah prashad, Attari border and culinary tourism: Amritsar unfolded, Part-One

If there's one thing Skeety desperately needed to visit Amritsar for, it was the Kadah Prashad at Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple). Even if that meant waking up at an unearthly hour, 4 am and dashing to the temple for a plateful. Check. Skeets couldn't begin in the post in any other manner.
Back to the beginning. Skeety unboarded at the Amristar Railway Station and a quick lunch break later, found herself on a Punjab Tourism bus to Attari border (formerly wrongly called Wagah. Wagah is actually a village on the other side of the border). The lower of flags ceremony or the Beating Retreat needs no introduction but the experience does. Witnessing this grand ceremony (lasting approx an hour) can be your most patriotic and humbling moment ever. And this would be also the closest an Indian could get to Pakistan.

Wagah
Indo-Pak border

Lowering of flags ceremony at India-Pak border
The Beating Retreat
Also nearby, is the tranquil and serenic Pul Kanjri (pic below), which is a destination being promoted by Punjab Tourism which has some great legendary tales attached to it.


Food trail map of Amritsar

Later in the evening Punjab Tourism launched its food trail map of Amritsar spotting famous eateries of Amritsar in order to promote the culinary tourism in state. The map was launched by Razit Bhandari, Senior Marketing Manager, PHTPB and Michelin Star Chef Vikas Khanna who has voluntarily given his inputs for the Punjab Tourism food trail map (more on that in another blogpost). 

Sarhad restaurant
Launch of Amritsar food trail map at Sarhad restaurant

Sarhad, the restaurant

The launch evening unfolded, at a strategically named and placed restaurant: Sarhad, which was a five-minute drive from the Attari border. This fabulous brick-finish restaurant Sarhad reminiscent of the pre-partition Punjab was founded by Aman Jaspal to host people witnessing the Retreat ceremony for a break. The food here is a tribute to both Lahori and Amritsari cuisine. There were some hits and misses but Skeeter strongly recommends Miyanji ki Dal, thick, creamy, yellow dal and oh-so-flavourful! The railway cutlets are worth sampling too. Ordinary fare, but spiced and cooked to perfection.

Palki procession at Harmandir Sahib

The visit to Harmandir Sahib at 4 am to see the Guru Granth Sahib ki Palki was the second most humbling experience from the trip. To see thousands of Sikh devotees and tourists, up and about to witness the Palki procession is heart warming. The Sikh holy scripture is carried on a Palki in a procession along the bridge to the Akal Takht.


Kadah prashad and langar seva at the Golden Temple

After paying obeisance at the Gurudwara Harmandir, it was time for Skeets to indulge in some culinary treats. It has been a dream to have the kadah prashad at the Golden Temple. Skeety bought a plateful and after getting half of it mixed with the prashad for the rest of the devotees, Skeets was given her own share which she devoured greedily. Wheat, sugar, clarified butter and a lot of muscle work go into the making of this ambrosiac delight. 

Skeeter queued up next for the tea/chai at the langar hall. You have to sit on a mat with other devotees and hold your steel bowl with both hands till a sevadaar comes and offers you some chai. Skeeter greedily drank her piping hot bowlful and belive her you, it is the best kind of Indian milky sweet tea she's ever had. Perhaps it was because of the 6 am hunger pangs or the fact that it was made and served with utmost humility inside a sacred structure. It was worth every effort of waking up at 4am! Yum!

P.S.: Skeeter was invited to be a part of the Amritsar food trail by Chef Vikas Khanna for the launch of his book: Amritsar: Flavours of Golden City .

The Kadah prashad at Golden Temple, Amritsar
The Kadah prashad at Golden Temple, Amritsar

Langar hall of Golden Temple, Amritsar
Langar hall of Golden Temple, Amritsar 

Chai at Harmandir Sahib
Chai being served at Harmandir Sahib

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Durga Puja festivities and food with Xiaomi MI3

The Durga Puja season is on. Skeeter did a recce of the Puja Pandals in Delhi to sample the best food Bengalis have on offer. The main food festival, the Anand Mela is over at most places. Anand Mela is a community concept where ladies from Bengali households stir up a storm in their kitchens and present it on the Pandal premises for people to buy, eat and appreciate.
Here are some dishes Skeets sampled at the CR Park pujas. You can still go and sample some of these till October 4 outside the pandals.
Skeeter also clicked the pictures with her new baby the Xiaomi MI3 which she managed to buy at the last sale that was held on Flipkart. At its price (Rs 13,999), the Xiaomi MI3, with a 13 megapixel camera is a such a gorgeous buy...Go drool!



Below is Patishapta, best described as a rolled crepe with a yummy coconut filling, a Bengali trademark.


Some gorgeous floral and eco-friendly decorations below with clay lamps.


Below is the begun bhaja or an eggplant fritter coated in a chickpea batter and deep fried. Makes Skeeter fall in love with the eggplant all over again. Yum!


The Golgappa of north India transforms into a gorgeous Puchka in West Bengal. A hole is poked into it and it is served with a spicy potato and chana filling along with a spicy tamarind water. You need to have it within seconds of it being served to you.


Below is another Bengali staple. An anytime snack in Kolkata. Puffed rice/murmure are mixed up with fried nuts, lentils, green chillies, potatoes and a dash of mustard oil for a very filling snack.



The Bengali invention, the rosogulla is made from mild solids and dunked in a sweet scented water for an awesome texture and mouthfeel. You need to have a rosogulla at a go. Just like Bengalis do!


Vegetables chops or cutlet cousins make for a good snack too!


Last but not the least, no Indian meal is complete without Paan or a betel nut leaf filled with betel nuts, some katha, glukand and other assortments. There can be a mini riot right here if I write about a subject am not well-versed with. The Bengalis are touchy about the right betel nut leaf, just the write amount of filling and much more. For now, enjoy this picture below taken by Skeety with the Xiaomi MI3.Go have a round of the pandals and thank Skeeter later.





Saturday, September 27, 2014

La Compagnia - A dinner with strangers

It's a strange feeling to go for a dinner without knowing anyone on the table and coming back with a few friends in your kitty. Skeeter experienced the same at La Compagnia: A dinner with strangers.


The concept

A dinner at a pre-determined venue with a specially curated menu will be held each month in various cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and more... There are no +1s allowed. You have to be a solo diner. You'd be joined by other such diners and would gradually get to know each other over perfectly timed courses that give you ample time to befriend and network with others on the table. The table could have people who are new to the city, people who are looking for work-related opportunities, or just a cool bunch to dine out with and explore a new cuisine, perhaps.

Dinner with strangers is a concept popular in the West, which people sometimes organise at their homes. Yes, they open their homes to complete strangers and sometimes even throw in a new cuisine for everyone to sample. The possibilities are endless. It maybe a potluck, or a cookoff, it only gets as fancy as your mind.



The venue for the debut La Compgania table in Delhi was Guppy by Ai at Lodhi Road. We arrived to a neatly laid table with fresh flowers, sparkling cutlery and our respective name tags. As all diners arrived we took our seats and began the introductions. The table was a good mix of entrepreneurs, start-up funders, start-up owners, journalists and writers. We all happened to share the table with Marryam Reshii, a respected food writer/critic, one Skeeter personally adores. Conversations, food, and alcohol did rounds, not necessarily in any order. Sometimes, the experience precedes the food and this was one such event. For the uninitiated, Guppy is Skeeter's comfort food place, where she'd hop in for some Rock Corn Tempura or a Udon noodles and mushroom bowl. They do some great cocktails too!  

The meal included Amuse Bouche, appetizers, cocktails, main course and a dessert platter. 
Damages:  Rs 1850 per head.
P.S.: This was one of the better organised events that Skeets has been to in a long, long time! 



Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Gaggan experience

One of Skeeter's most admired chefs is in India, has spoken to her and has fed her. She's still euphoric and has a hangover of the experience, the Gaggan experience. Meet the highest rated chef of Indian origin, Gaggan Anand. He needs no introduction, but for the uninitiated, he has worked with culinary greats like Ferran Adria and set up a very successful restaurant that goes by his own name Gaggan in Bangkok where he serves progressive Indian food.

Gaggan and his team are like percussionists who have every rythm in order and show exemplary control over everything around. Not one thing goes astray. Perfection is their passion and it is manifested in their culinary actions. That would actually some up the Gaggan experience for Reeta Skeeter.
Ahead of the most wonderfully organised, timed and structured culinary demo, Gaggan took pride in introducing his team which consists of wine specialists, research experts and more. He playfully names them Nut, Nacho and so on. Like most modern chefs, he snaps at the mention of 'molecular gastronomy' and says what he and his team make is progressive Indian or modern Indian food. Gaggan Anand does not shy away from saying that the kind of food he serves should be had once in a while for the sheer magical experience.


At the culinary demo, Skeeter sampled chef Gaggan's spherical papri chaat yoghurt. By dropping a spoonful of spiced up yoghurt into a solution of sodium alginate the spherification happens and the result is a wobbly egg-like yoghurt ball that is fun to pop in the mouth and before you know, it explodes on your tongue reminiscent of the tang of your favourite street-food vendor's papdi chaat. Though Gaggan and team demonstrated his techniques at ITC Marya, he actually serves this yoghurt in various innovative ways. Over papdis with some chutney foam, over some jhoori bhaja where it looks like a bird's nest (do look up the web for this one) and so on. Creativity is infinite for this chef extraordinaire.


Dhokla with chutney foam, coconut snow and fried green chilli was showcased next. The usual dhokla batter is powered up by a nitrogen bullet, microwaved for 30 seconds and Voila! There is dhokla. It is easier said than done. One can achieve such results only when you know your root cuisine well and you have experimented with your version over and over. Gaggan surely has!



There was a mind blowing Phirni ice cream made from the very fragrant Thai jasmine infused with kesar and served with a pistachio based gel, silver varq and caramelized chikki-like almonds. Skeeter wonders what results this dessert would yield with the Bengali rice Gobindo Bhog. Food for thought?


What floored Skeeter was yet to come. A Mascarpone matcha tea cake sandwich with a brush of wasabi and a sprinkle of Vanilla salt. He may be known for his Indian progressive cuisine but the mascarpone match tea cake sandwich was a culinary revelation. Desserts in many a restaurant would have the mascarpone element. But Wasabi? Vanilla salt? Matcha tea? Skeeter loves a good Matcha tea ice cream. A perfectly frozen and well-composed matcha tea ice cream can be savoured bit by bit just like you sip tea and ponder. But with Gaggan's mascarpone match tea cake sandwich one can only become well, plain greedy. Gaggan uses liquid nitrogen as a base for iced-teppan to work with mascarpone cream cheese and a bit of sugar till it attains a cookie-like texture. He then uses a Shark fin grater to grate fresh wasabi and brushes the mascarpone cookies with it. A sprinkle of vanilla salt and matcha tea finishes this cookie, which is then placed on top of a matcha tea cake (the tea has been picked personally by Gaggan from Japan a week ago and is packed with freshness). This dessert is a tribute to his love for tea, his love for Japan and to his own gastronomical adventures.



The culinary demo was a sampler of the Gaggan experience for Skeeter. Gaggan spoke and shared a lot, he packed a lot into a very limited time whereas he could've easily got away by showcasing a lot less. This speaks volumes for the stellar kitchen performer that chef Gaggan is. He will prod you to read up about the gadgets he uses, freely share his ideas and recipes and most importantly give you back everything you paid in currency in the form of a culinary souvenir: The Gaggan experience.

And this experience was enhanced by a brilliant support team in India: Mangal Dalal and Nachiket Shetye of Cellar Door Kitchen. Cellar Door Kitchen is a platform for pop up restaurant events founded by culinary consultants, Mangal and Nachiket. Gaggan's unique pop up initiative is designed to delight food lovers with a degustation of progressive cuisine from Restaurant Gaggan at ITC Maurya in New Delhi from September 4th to 7th 2014 and later in Mumbai. For the first time Chef Gaggan re-creates his 11-course for tasting menu of progressive Indian cuisine with innovative cooking techniques in a pop-up in India open to all. Mangal and Nachiket are food lovers extraordinaire and part gnomes who have worked hard to change the Indian dining experience and deserve another blogpost altogether (read coming soon).

The Gaggan experience, a cooking demonstration by Chef Gaggan Anand was presented by American Express, Cellar Door Kitchen and hosted by ITC. 

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Le Bistro Du Parc: A french bistro sits pretty in Delhi

The French concept of Terroir is embedded in every brick of the kitchen of Le Bistro Du Parc, a quaint bistro that sits pretty overlooking a park in Defence Colony. Skeeter has struck off another 'to go' place on her list by dining at this gem of a bistro. In Paris, everyone has their own favourite bistros where they hop in at ease, select from a limited menu, eat, talk, ponder, proceed. Repeat. The menu changes often and the chefs bank on the availability of fresh, seasonal produce. The basics of a bistro are home-style food, simple drinks like wine, tea and coffee and affordable prices. 


At Le Bistro Du Parc Skeets started her meal with the Organic leak and potato soup (Rs 350 ) with a blob goat cheese and few sprigs of dill. It was picture perfect, temperature perfect and tasted well, perfect! As against an Indian dish where a host of spices come together to lift the main ingredient to another level, in French food, you can get a taste of each ingredient individually.


Moving on to Skeeter's main course and dessert together, she could not decide which of these stole the show for her. The Vegetable Tagliatelle with carrot mash and basil oil was part of a very pleasant surprise, for it was no pasta, but farm fresh, seasonal, organic, vegetables like carrot, yellow and green zucchini, peeled into strips and plated wonderfully to mimic Tagliatelle, cooked/steamed very lightly to leave the texture crunchy enough for one to bite in. The sweet scented basil oil peeped from between the vegetables to reveal itself and lend flavour to the dish.  Skeeter has never had a healthier dish at a restaurant. The portion size and the quality of this Vegetable Tagliatelle with carrot mash and basil justifies the price tag (Rs 500) absolutely. Skeeter will go back for only this one, on and on. That said, Chef Alexis Gielbaum at Le Bistro Du Parc told Skeeter that they change their menu frequently. So one is likely to go back at Le Bistro Du Parc for a fresh menu and more surprises. It is also commendable to note they have compensated vegetarians (for a limited number of dishes in the already small menu) beautifully by creating star dishes such as the one Skeets mentioned.


The Valrhona chocolate rocher (Rs 350) ended Skeeter's meal, oh-so-lusciously that she can stay off chocolate for the next six months just thinking of this one. Go grab a bite!

Meal for two: Approx Rs. 1800.
Address: A 57, 58, 59, Moolchand Market, Defence Colony, New Delhi