From the kitchens of Royal Rampur

“If there is one place on the face of this Earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when Man began the dream of its existence, it is India”     – Romain Rollan

India, a land of diverse cultures, languages, religions and more.. a plethora of colours, traditions and festivals.. but the two things that bind us all, a deep sense of pride for our nation and our love for food. Cooking and eating in India are not just mundane, daily tasks. They stem from a long love for feeding those around us and feeling a sense of contentment looking at joyful faces that surround the dinner table, enjoying fulfilling conversations and a great meal. Indian food is not just curries, papadoms and spicy dishes. It is an amalgamation of several hundred years of history, being ruled by various invaders, Western influences and a strong desire to revive and globalise traditional cuisine.

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Masala Bay at The Taj Lands End Hotel, Mumbai, with the help of renowned Chef Mujeeb Ur Rehman and his team hosted the Rampuri food festival, a cuisine revealed as one of India’s best keep secrets. Best described as a ‘courtly cuisine’, seeing as it was born and developed during the times of the Nawabs, it is a blend of Awadhi, Mughlai, Rajput and Afghani kitchens. The dishes are cooked with an array of spices on a low flame for long hours in traditional utensils. Chef Mujeeb personally treated us to everything vegetarian on his carefully crafted menu and the experience was Royal, to say the least 🙂

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Dinner began with a platter of appetisers – Paneer Saron Peeli Mirch Tikka, Paneer Hara Masala Pasanda, Mutter Ke Kabab, Aatishi Khumb and Neze Ke Aloo. 

The two Paneer dishes were melting moments, grilled and spiced to perfection. The Mutter Ke Kabab was a beautiful potato patty stuffed with green peas, asafoetida and roasted cumin. Bursting with flavours, this one was a treat for the palate. The clear winner for me however, was the Aatishi Khumb or the button mushrooms which had been marinated in yoghurt with a pickled masala and cooked in a clay oven. I believe it was the genius of the oven that made the vegetable stand out. The Neze Ke Aloo or tawa-cooked baby potatoes with cream, sandal dust, red chilli amongst other spices were not a favourite, perhaps because this was my first time tasting sandal wood powder (I’ve only ever used it as a paste with rose water on my face!) However given time,  I’m positive I’ll come around to its unique taste.

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Subz Tahiri 

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Paneer Noor Mahal 

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Dal Aswad 

Mains included Paneer Noor Mahal, cottage cheese served with assorted bell peppers flavoured with a special chungezi masala, Nawabi Baigan Bhurta, smoked eggplant baked with yogurt, onion and mustard, Dal Aswad, the nation’s favourite black lentils, slowly cooked overnight with butter, tomato puree, herbs & spices in a tandoor, Ittr Ke Dal, a rich recipe of pigeon pea prepared by a rakabdar (gourmet cook) with cream, milk, pure ghee and a hint of sweet essence. There was also a handi of Subz Tahiri, a preparation of aromatic basmati and vegetables cooked on a dum. The smoked eggplant dish stood out because of its baked texture and yogurt goodness. The paneer again was extremely soft but did not impress the tastebuds. The two lentil preparations warmed my soul with their richness and spices which I enjoyed with a sweet Sheermal, a preparation of flour and milk which was unlike anything I have ever eaten before. The softness of the bread with the sweet, cutting through the spices of the vegetables made for a perfect combination.

Dessert comprised of Chukander E Afroz, a simple beetroot halwa much like a gajar ka halwa, Gur Ke Yaquiti, a traditional chickpea flour milk pudding with jaggery and Sheer Khurma that was made with vermicelli, milk & nuts.

The overall dining experience left me feeling like royalty. The efforts being made to revive local cuisines is certainly applaud worthy. Taj hospitality, wonderful food, delightful conversation all came together for a wonderful evening in Mumbai 🙂

 

 

Lohri Food Festival at the Taj Wellington Mews

Venue: Weli Deli, Taj Wellington Mews, 33, Nathalal Parikh Marg, Cusrow Baug Colony, Apollo Bandar, Colaba, Mumbai
Dates: 10th January onwards
Price: INR 1200 plus taxes

Authentic Punjabi flavours have found their way to Weli Deli at the Taj Wellington Mews, as Executive Chef Shrutika Kohli conjures a decadent menu to celebrate the festival of LohriChef Kohli allows you to traverse through the festive lanes of Punjab with scintillating flavours of dishes such as Paneer Butter Masala, her signature Dal Makhini, Punjabi Samosas, and the quintessential Sarson Ka Saag with Makke Di Roti. 

The festival of Lohri which falls on the 13th of January every year is celebrated popularly to mark the end of winter. However traditionally, it is associated with the harvesting of rabi (grain) crop, therefore making it a harvest festival. Punjabi farmers are known to view the day after Lohri as the beginning of a new financial year. The festival is celebrated in full fervour with a bonfire and traditional food items such as Makke Di Roti and Sarson Ka Saag along with sweets like Gajak.

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The Taj Wellington Mews brings to Mumbai the Lohri Food Festival for the entire month of January. We were invited to a lip-smacking preview a couple of days ago. Since we eat Indian food almost everyday at home, we don’t usually opt to go out for the same. Chances of eating authentic Punjabi food are even lesser, therefore we weren’t going to miss out on this dinner!

We were as always, greeted with warm Taj hospitality by Mr. Shibu Nair (Director of Sales & Marketing) and the lovely Ms. Kaizeen Davierwalla (Asst. Sales Manager). The weather Gods were favouring us that evening with a cool, crisp air, allowing us to sit out on the deck which undeniably added to the charm of the evening.

Conversations revolving around food started flowing and I forgot how famished I was. I remembered only when the gorgeous thali came out filled with several traditional dishes. The thali comprised of Punjabi samosa, paneer butter masala, sarson ka saag, makke di roti, paratha, jeera rice, dal makhini, gajar ka halwa and raita along with sweet lassi.

My favourite dish was undoubtedly the saag with the makki roti. This was only the second time that I’d ate traditional saag and it just seemed to warm my soul. The fact that it was so beautifully cooked with all the right flavours, allowed to it melt in my mouth. The roti too was perfectly crispy. I am not a fan of paneer butter masala either because most restaurants get this wrong by either serving rubbery paneer or with a mix of too many spices making it pungent, or both. This dish had just the right amount of butter, not too rich, blended with just enough masala. The paneer however was a tad rubbery but considering the masala was so delicious, it could be ignored. The dal makhani was as always decadent and coated the jeera rice perfectly. Radish had been added to the paratha to give it an unusual texture and mava to the gajar ka halwa. I find that most places tend to over sweeten the halwa, which is not how it should be enjoyed. Chef Kohli got it just right, making me a very happy taster! 😀 Oh and of course, the sweet raita, to cool down the stomach after such a heavy meal!

I recommend you, fellow Mumbaikars, to have this experience especially since we are having a somewhat blessed ‘winter’ with cool evening almost every night. Chef Kohli’s thali will certainly warm your soul and leave you wanting more!

Book your table today at 022 66 574 331. You will thank me 🙂

Luncheon at The Taj Wellington Mews: Jevan Zaala Ka?

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My sister and I were lucky enough to grow up staying at fantastic Taj properties during so many of our travels within India. A gracious charm, over the top hospitality, fabulous service, exotic cuisines; staying at any Taj Hotel meant an ‘experience’ to be savoured.

Cut to a lesser known Taj property within Aamchi Mumbai. Tucked away in the by lanes of the old worldly charming Colaba lies the beautiful Taj Wellington Mews, Taj’s luxury serviced apartments, a home within a home for many (read mainly expats). Comprising of two sprawling penthouses with fabulous views of the Taj dome and the gentle Arabian Sea beyond on one side, and of the Cooperage greens and the Oval Maidan and the Rajabai Tower on the other, this property also has many two and three bedroom apartments, a perfect home if you need to stay in our city for a week or a year or many years!

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This pet friendly place boasts of a beautiful swimming pool, a state of the art gym, a lounge bar, the quaint Weli Deli complete with fresh groceries for sale, the signature Jiva Spa, a delightful children’s room, and to me the one most important thing, a security of its own which is second to none! No wonder it is home to many Consul Generals.

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Taj Club and Jiva Spa

Cut to the new gastronomic delights being offered at the Weli Deli. Keeping in mind the festival season, Executive Chef Shrutika Koli, trained under the eagle eye of none other than the legendary Hemant Oberoi himself, offers a sumptuous Maharashtrian thali, a veritable feast for the eyes first, and then the stomach. We firmly believe that it is the eyes that taste the food first!

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A beautifully laid out table complete with marigolds waited for our motely bunch of invitees. As conversation veered around the many aspects of what else, food, out came the bearers in their resplendent turbans, with stunning silver thaals filled to the brim with Chef Koli had crafted with love. The thalis brought back memories of the Tanjore of yore at the Taj Mahal Hotel, where we often used to dine as children on parents’ birthdays, enjoying the Indian classical dances.

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We tucked into the hearty fare from different regions of Maharashtra, and marvelled at how the humble potato bhaaji had been turned into a haute cuisine dish. The stuffed vangi (brinjals) were saturated with local condiments, and the aamti (daal) was just right, sweet, sour, and tangy. The kothmir vadis from the Konkan region with its perfect texture needed a second helping, they were so delicious, but the accompanying tomato chutney needed probably four helpings by each one of us. The Kolhapuri thecha (a type of hari mirch chutney) came out later, much to our delight. The masala bhaat was so perfect in taste, it did not need any accompaniment of a daal or kadhi. We are vegetarians, but the non-vegetarians among us vouched as much for the Chicken Kolhapuri. However, all agreed that the piece de resistance was the combination of piping hot, fluffy puris, to be eaten dipped with the smooth as silk shrikhand, served beautifully in a piped swirl and garnished with strands of saffron. The humble Maharashtrian fare had been turned into nouvelle cuisine.

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Since we Indians mostly eat our dessert with our meals (the shrikhand here), we were delighted to round off our hearty thaali with hot ginger tea, aka ‘cutting chaai’, served in the small lined glasses in the manner of our friendly neighbourhood ‘chaaiwala’.

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Needless to say that while the residents of the apartments are tucking into this delicious local fare, Mumbaikars must reserve a table at the Weli Deli in the coming days to relish this local fare in the stylish way only the Taj can serve. The thaali is available throughout the month of August and is a steal at a price of Rs. 1480/- all inclusive.

Oh and did we mention that for the first time we felt as welcomed as do the foreigners in our country as we were greeted with a tikka and aarti as we entered? Or that we were greeted by the affable General Manager Mr. Anmol Ahluwalia himself? And that at every corner of the property, members of the staff smiled and greeted us warmly? And that the entire team at Taj Wellington Mews dined with us?

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We finally have the perfect word for the Taj Experience, which we spoke about at the beginning. It is TAJNESS!

Do experience it, again and again.