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 🙂

 

 

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New to Mumbai: House of Nomad at the Taj Lands End

A very first of it’s kind, the Taj Lands End Hotel Mumbai, brings to the city the raddest new gastro bar in town, House of Nomad. Boho-chic interiors, skilfully designed cocktails, an extensive wine list, competitively priced alcohol, tapas style food and to top it all, Taj Hospitality, all come together to bring you a perfect night out in the city.

The much awaited House of Nomad, unlike any other bar at a Taj property, opened its doors to Mumbai over the weekend. We were invited to a preview tasting where we got to meet award winning mixologist Andrew Pearson who worked for months with his team curating the perfect cocktails. Andrew, also fondly known as Andy, has been described as the “Jamie Oliver of Drink” by Theme magazine !

On the menu:

Espress Yourself

1. Express Yourself

Fresh espresso shaken with Ketel One vodka, Kahlua, homemade chocolate bitters and vanilla syrup served over block ice with a vanilla pod. Everything about this cocktail screams FLAWLESS. The bitter taste of the espresso is cut through beautifully by the Kahlua, the first sip leaves you with a gorgeous taste of the homemade chocolate bitter that lingers on your palate until the next few sips and of course the Ketel One that leaves behind a crisp and sophisticated flavour. Even the block of ice that this drink is poured over is carefully chipped by the team themselves. This is certainly our top recommended choice of poison.

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2. The Final Say

Designed especially for the ladies 😉 this drink is made of Bacardi Gold, Martell VS peach liqueur, guava juice, fresh lemon juice, sugar, and adorned with a dragon fruit. A beautiful punch of guava with a minimal taste of alcohol, you’ll want to keep this one coming!

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3. Chanel No.6 

This one is a treat for the eyes, the nose and the tastebuds. Comprising of Ketel One vodka, lychee puree, coconut syrup, homemade bitters, shaken and served straight up with a molecular lipstick. Not to forget served with a side of a fragrant mist!

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4. The Bollywood Hopeful

It’s been Andy’s dream for a while now to act in a Bollywood movie, so whilst he continues to pursue that dream, he concocted The Bollywood Hopeful in the meantime! Made with Ketel One vodka, apricot liqueur, pureed mango and fresh lemon, shaken and served up with a cheeky shot of Prosecco on the side. The Prosecco can be had 3 ways, by itself a shot, sipped on alongside the cocktail, or mixed, take your pick!

5. The final one was the Black Rum Bevy. Where Andy comes from, they often say “Bevy?” roughly translated as “would you like to go get a drink?”. Hence, the name. What I loved the most about this drink were the homemade draught stout reduction shaken with Old Monk and homemade liquorice bitters. Instead of buying these, the team just creates them in house. Add a little lemon juice and sugar and serve it up in a dimpled beer mug with a dash of nutmeg and you’ve got a gorgeous twist on the simple Old Monk.

These were only 5 of the several others on the menu, but I can say without a shadow of doubt that I’m going back for more! The team plans on revising their menu every 6 months or so with seasonal ingredients, so you can be sure to find me there each time they do something different!

The bar is currently open from 3 p.m. to 1.30 a.m.

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Happy weekend !

Sparkling Wine in a Heritage Bottle

Mumbai has its Gateway of India.

The Gateway has its Taj Mahal Hotel and Towers.

The Taj Mahal Hotel and Towers has its Shamiana.

The analogy is as simple as that.

Taj’s iconic 24 hour coffee shop Shamiana, which opened way back in the 1970s and relocated to another area many years ago is back, back to where it always belonged.

Folks, it’s pure nostalgia time at the Shamiana, and we were the privileged ones to savour it as soon as it opened its doors about a week back.

In its new avatar, Shamiana stands where Starboard and Zodiac Grill used to be earlier. Now reaching out to a hipper generation, its new look is modern with clean lines, yet retaining its class with a warm ambience.

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It hosts an open kitchen and is a dessert lover’s haven with its live dessert section. Beautiful coffee table style cookery books invite you to open their pages; the wall of fame, which is a more a hall of fame, is a must see to view photographs of its old patrons. The coffee shop overlooks a small but cosy open air sit out which beckons you to have your favourite drink there, provided you can brave Mumbai’s balmy weather.

The food of course now. Zodiac Grill lovers, do come out of mourning, as the old favourite, melt in the mouth, Double Baked Camembert Soufflé is being served here. Then there is comfort food, Rajma Chawal, cooked to perfection, just like grand mom did. There’s of course good old Mac n Cheese, a vegetarian burger, and some excellent fish and chicken dishes that our non-vegetarian friends vouched for, among world foods. There’s a section on the menu that also lists the most loved dishes from all its properties around the world. And the best part of it all? None of the food prices run into 4 digits. Prices have almost been halved from the older menu. Only a certain section of the spirits rise beyond the 3 figure mark.

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The best section of all though, remain the desserts. The Baked Almond Cake wins the gold, warm, not too sweet, a perfect accompaniment to the single shot Espresso. The silver goes to the tangy V.S.O.P. Chocolate Mousse, and the bronze to the deconstructed Lemon Tart, or rather the tartlets, which looked like mini meringues served on a strip of a tart base.

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Revive old memories, lovers of Shamiana 1.0, welcome back to the new age Shamiana 2.0, modern, classy, warm, personal (ah ‘Tajness’), as only a Taj restaurant can be. Generation Z, savour modernism amidst old world charm and heritage, and witness coffee shop history being re-written.

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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Kitchen

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.

Dining Maharaja Style

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”  – Luciano Pavarotti

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Have you ever thought about what it would be like if you could be King for the day?  Masala Bay at The Taj Lands End Hotel decided to turn back time and curated a special culinary tour taking us from Kabul to Kolkata on a true gourmet adventure. Just look at that set up! We knew we were in for a special evening, about to dine like nothing less than royalty.

“A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.”  – Elsa Schiaparelli

Master Chef Amninder Sandhu and Executive Chef Anirudhya Roy have curated a stunning menu with (thankfully) a large number of vegetarian options sure to tickle your tastebuds. This journey is on till the 20th of June.

Dinner began with an invigorating bowl of Subz Badami Shorba – Handpicked summer vegetables with infused coriander, tempered with cumin and garnished with almond flakes.
One would expect an almond soup to be extremely heavy and rich, but this one was far from it. If anything, it was light, full of flavour and a very interesting start to the evening.

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Subz Badami Shorba

Appetisers comprised of this sinful platter:

Silbatta Ki Arvi Shammi
Cooked colocasia gently grounded to paste with hints of almond

Achari Laal Mirch Ka Paneer Tikka
Cottage cheese in whole red chili pickle marinade cooked in the clay oven

Kishtwad Ki Rajma Tikki
A perfect and nutritious snack of red kidney bean patty seasoned with aromatic spices shallow fried

Challi Aur Methi Ki Seekh
Corn kernel is given a royal treatment with chopped fenugreek leaves

Sure to teleport you to the villages of beautiful North India, these tikkis each had a distinct flavour and spices. Not one to survive a platter of spicy food, I did manage to wipe off every tikki simply because it was too difficult to resist no matter the consequences! By the end of it I was battling tears but they were so worth it. Not to forget I had a lip smacking ‘Paan Mojito’ accompanying my food. I have never had a Paan (betel nut) flavoured anything, this delicious. It’s not too sweet and the flavour of the paan hits you only at the end of each sip. I convinced the others on the table too that this NEEDED to be their drink for the evening.

Mains included:

Pista khubani kofta
Apricot stuffed koftas, in a luxurious pistachio gravy from the kitchens of Maharaja of Patiala

Dum Aloo Banarasi
Baby potatoes in a robust fennel and dry ginger gravy

Rawalpindi Channa
Chickpeas cooked over charcoal fire

Lasooni Palak
Creamy spinach flavoured with garlic

Dal Makhani
Black lentils simmered overnight and finished with homemade churned butter and cream

Afghani Kabuli Pulao

Assorted Indian Breads

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By the time the mains arrived I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to eat anymore(!) but I had to try everything that Chef had prepared for us with such love. For someone who is terrified of spinach to say the least, especially cooked spinach ( I could eat baby spinach in a salad), the lasooni palak is one of the best Indian foods I’ve ever eaten. The spinach is so tender and the garlic just makes it so so much better. I had to serve myself another spoon. The chole and kofta reminded me of why I want to do purely a food trail in North India and experience how much that region has to offer. If only I could spend a month with Chef in the kitchen and inherit even a tad bit of her talent!

Dessert:

Tille Wali Kulfi

Sandesh Platter

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By this point I was sure my body would reject any morsel of food, but I simply could not have said no to the kulfi and sandesh platter. The kulfi served with sweet rose flavoured vermicelli was helpful in cooling down my systems. I’ve also never enjoyed sandesh (pronounced Sondesh) quite as much. My favourite was the nolen gur sandesh which I learnt is made from date palm jaggery. It tastes every bit as interesting as it sounds. Bite into a gooey, caramel like centre to guide you to the stairways of heaven.

The Taj Group has always been known for its hospitality and there is no shred of doubt that I have enjoyed every moment of being associated with this brand. The PR team from Edelman and the Taj as well as all the servers at Masala Bay ensured that we were taken care of from the very minute we stepped into the restaurant. What a wonderful evening this was with brilliant food, wonderful company and some unheard of great folk music!

This menu is available until the 20th of June so I sincerely recommend you to book your table to enjoy a meal you’ll be talking about for a long long time to come.

Address: Masala Bay, Taj Lands End, Band stand Mumbai
Telephone: 022 6668 1234