By May, last year, I had travelled so widely and eaten so many delicious large meals that my iPhone was overflowing with food photos.
But this has been a quiet and sedate year. There has been relatively little foreign travel, few famous chefs and not that much in the way of glamorous dining. But my TV work has kept me on the road (only in India, though) and so there have been some fun meals.
So here, relying on my iPhone’s photo gallery and Instagram, are some of my most memorable meals and dishes from the months gone by.
ITC Grand Bharat, Gurugram: I started my New Year with pudding. The Queen of Puddings is a ‘traditional British dessert’, which is a nice way of saying that it has custard, jam and breadcrumbs and is best suited to end-of-term dinner at a nursery school.
But since I love nursery puddings, I love the Queen of Puddings too. Sadly, very few pastry chefs bother with it (they are too busy looking for Valrhona chocolate and making poncy patisserie). Fortunately the Grand Bharat puts it on the menu of the India Room as their special pudding. I had it on New Year’s Eve, and was still wolfing it down when they rang in 2017. Delicious.
Conrad, Pune: In mid-January, I found myself booked into a less than wonderful hotel in Pune for a conference. I escaped from my gloomy room and went for dinner to the Conrad where Mandar Madhav, who I knew from Mumbai, is the chef, hoping that his food would cheer me up.
Mandar made me home-style Malvani food to his mother’s recipes and it was so amazing that I went back to my hotel, checked out at once and moved into the Conrad for the rest of my stay.
The bonus was that even the desserts were terrific. The Conrad is a great discovery; Pune’s smartest hotel.
Indian Accent, Delhi: Eating Manish Mehrotra’s food is always a privilege. On this occasion, Manish was collaborating with Sabrina Gidda, a British-Indian from London who has won praise for her modern Italian cuisine. Sabrina’s food (with lots of truffles) was great but who can match Manish when he makes his famous Daulat Ki Chaat (still Delhi’s best dessert) and such dishes as a starter of Papri Chaat constructed mock pizza style?
Toast & Tonic, Bengaluru: A few days later I was in Bengaluru at Manu Chandra’s Toast & Tonic. As you would expect with Manu, the food was amazing. But this time it was also surprising because he used traditional grains, home-cured meats and the like. My favourite was his jowar roti with a filling of fresh kathal.
Proof that you don’t need fancy ingredients to make good food.
Taj Exotica, Maldives: Two days later I was at the Taj in the Maldives where my old pal chef Sheroy Kermani demonstrated that he was at home with both fancy and local ingredients. His Tajima Wagyu was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. But he also thinly sliced the local tuna and seared it quickly to give us an authentic taste of the Indian Ocean.
Hyatt, Amritsar: Work has taken me to Punjab again and again over the last three years. So I am quite happy to debate the virtues of Ludhiana’s food as compared to Amritsar’s, if you like.
But I never expect to get great Amritsari khana at a deluxe hotel. So I was stunned when the Hyatt turned out Amritsari kulchas that had a dhaba chhaap. I was intrigued enough to try and discover how they had managed to reproduce street-style flavours in a hotel kitchen. The answer was simple enough: they had lured a star cook away from one of the top dhabas by offering him a Hyatt salary!
Luk Kai Thong, Bangkok: This is not grungy enough a place to have any street cred (it is at an upmarket mall) nor is it fancy enough to attract foreigners and tourists. But I like it because the food is delicious and different, the ingredients are first rate and I am usually the only non-Thai there.
Most things on the menu are great but the Steamed Blue Crab (with a chilli-lime dip) is to die for.
Gaggan, Bangkok: Yes, I know. You are fed up of Indians who come back from Bangkok swearing by Gaggan’s food. So I won’t bore you with the whole meal. But if you do go, try the tandoori quail. It is the most tender, delicate bird you will ever eat.
Meatlicious, Bangkok: Gaggan’s cheaper, non-fancy place (well, technically it belongs to his wife) serves the best value Japanese steaks in Bangkok, thanks to a deal he has with a Japanese breeder. But on this visit, the show was stolen by a plate of local, hard-to-find (mussel-style), shellfish cooked to a recipe Gaggan made up on the spot.
Saffron, Mumbai: Nobody talks about this much but the Indian restaurant at the Juhu JW Marriot does Lucknowi food that is in the Dum-Pukht league. The Shahi Tukra, however, is even better than the Dum-Pukht version
Soam, Mumbai: I can’t really go to Mumbai and not eat at Soam. If they just gave me the kadhi-bhaat and those delicious khichri papads (made from rice) that would be enough for me. But of course, I always end up eating the bhel and the dahi batata puri.
Anisa’s samosas, Bengaluru: I wrote some months ago about these Kutchi Memon samosas that you order from a catering service run by a talented cook called Anisa. Well, I’ve been to Bengaluru twice since then and each time I have ordered her keema samosas and brought them back to Delhi with me. A real find.
The Druid Garden, Bengaluru: This is the sort of restaurant that could only exist in Bengaluru. It is a huge New York-style space hidden away in a residential building with a multicuisine menu. You have to know that it is there to find it. The key to the high quality of the food is the passion of the owners. Order the crab, if you go, but there are many, many other options – all at reasonable prices.
Avartana, Chennai: Avartana is ITC’s modern Indian food brand. It should have opened by now (at Chennai’s Grand Chola). I went for a preview and was blown away by the food. One dish should give you an idea of what to expect: lobster and scallop with a ghee candle on a bed of gunpowder. As the candle melts, the ghee mingles with the gunpowder to create a spicy sauce.
Dharshan at the Four Seasons, Mumbai: Dharshan Munidasa in Sri Lanka’s greatest chef. Of his many restaurants, two are rated in the Asia Top 50, and because he is half-Japanese and half-Lankan he knows how to combine flavours from all over Asia. He came to the Four Seasons for a Gourmet Festival and the night I went, he did his signature crab dish and some new style sushi. We should hear more about him in India.
The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai: The Canteen just keeps getting better and better. And though they are full every night, they won’t raise their prices. This time, I loved the buffalo meat chilli-fry, the masala oyster mushrooms and their version of the Cronut.
Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad: The 101 table in Hyderabad is perhaps the largest single dining table in the world, so any dinner held in that location would be amazing. Add to that the grandeur of the Falaknuma Palace and how can you go wrong?
But this time, the Falaknuma topped even that by flying down Srijith Gopinath, the world’s only Indian chef to have two Michelin stars, from San Francisco. An evening to remember.
Skirt, Singapore: There are fancier (and more expensive) steakhouses in Singapore but I love Skirt at the W hotel because the range of steaks, from different countries, is amazing, the cooking is of a high standard and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. It is not one of Singapore’s trendy places but I always try and eat there.
Bhai Bhai Omelette Centre, Surat: You won’t believe this till you see it. There are eight chefs in a row in front of eight tawas making every kind of egg dish you can think of – with liberal use of green garlic masalas and, oddly enough, processed cheese.
Not fancy and very inexpensive. But what an experience!
From HT Brunch, May 7, 2017
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