Monday, October 21, 2013

Rotis: a vegetarian fare

When you hear good reviews of a vegetarian restaurant, you feel optimistic. That's because the review is based purely on vegetarian options. After hearing good reviews of this place, we decided to drop in on their buffet one weekend. Rotis is a few meters from Cyber Towers and is opposite Cyber Pearl at Hi-Tech city.
We happened to meet the manager, Balaji, whom I knew from interaction in his previous work place. From the minute we stepped in till the end of the meal, we were looked after so exceedingly well that it was sheer delight to eat there that day.
The meal started with options of two soups: the Talumein soup and the pumpkin soup. Talumein was ordinary but the Pumpkin soup was very good. Not sweet, rightly spiced and served hot.
We had four entrees: the veg Manchurian, the banana pakoda, the buttered potato and sheek kabab. The veg Manchurian is like what we get regularly in any restaurant but minus the oil. The banana pakoda was raw banana slices deep fried after being dipped in besan batter. But what was really good was the buttered potato. Looked simple but was well cooked fried potato pieces, mildly spiced. The sheek kabab consisted of  vegetables boiled, rolled in khukhus and grilled. Chat section had papdi chat and pani puris, both of which were very well prepared.
The other items in the buffet were:

  • Salads: pasta salad (very tasty), the sprouts and the usual green salad
  • Chinese : chilly garlic noodles, diced vegetables in hot garlic sauce
  • Continental : Penne pasta
  • Indian : Veg Biryan, Paneer lazzeez, Dal makhani, Soya bean masala, Methi goti, Chamagadda Pulusu, Cabbage porial. 
        Of these the Paneer Lazeez stood out with its mildly spiced creamy gravy with very soft and long   paneer pieces in it. The biryani was tasty too. It contained no vegetables in it though.   
  • Desserts : Coco Banana (looked like a thin kheer with bananas in coconut milk... didn't taste it), brownies (didn't like...too dry) carrot halwa, lavang latha, two types of ice cream

The highlight of the entire meal was their starters. Awesome is the word for it. They kept coming and were so varied and all so delightfully tasty.The food was not oily and was mildly spiced. Being a salad-soup-starters person, I was pleased with the starters but slightly disappointed with the few salads on offer. 
The 5 desserts are ok by me especially because each one was so different from the other. And because of the Navarathri, they had more of the traditional Indian sweets. I am glad because I am tired of having the same old array of cakes, cheese cakes, souffles', mousse etc whenever I eat at a buffet. The gajar halwa was delectable. For the first time found lavang latha in a buffet. Brought back memories of these being cooked at home. These were superbly crisp and very well prepared too.
What stands out is the service. Not only were the waiters' service great but Balaji took care of the littlest detail! The buffet for a Saturday was 315 per head and the total with taxes came to Rs.795 for two.
My rating: 
Food: 3.5/5
Ambiance 4/5
Service 5/5
VFM 4.5/5
This buffet may not be the most outstanding buffets you have attended but will surely stand among your favorite ones once you dine here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Street Food: Somajiguda

Friendships from school last forever. When my school friend came down to Hyderabad, I went to meet her at Somajiguda where she had put up.
We caught up with all those memories, our town, teachers, picnics, games and what not. In the evening, we wanted to go out to get some hot samosas and have it with hot chai. This craving grew with the darkening skies. But then copious rain had us imprisoned at home.We waited and waited. The more we waited, the stronger was the craving.We were told that some superb samosas were available at a small shop opposite BP petrol pump. As soon as we saw the rain slow down a bit, we ran out like liberated school kids. The streets were jam-packed with people returning from office. Looked like everyone was waiting for the rain to stop. The slight drizzle didn't deter us as we plodded on through the heavy traffic towards that hot samosa.
We had walked about 150 meters or so when the local people and the police stopped us from going further. They said a building was on fire because of a short circuit. We hurriedly stepped back, disappointed. But sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right destination, I guess :) As we were returning and just crossed a building called Fortune, which I learned housed the ADP, we saw a vendor with a 3x3 ft table selling momos. This small table had a banner reading Kathmandu Momos. He had both veg and chicken momos. When I ordered for a plate of veg momos, I was served them hot, despite the downpour earlier. The momos were simply superb. The skin was thin, the vegetables finely shredded, well cooked and slightly juicy as well. According to me, the perfect momos...served with an accompanying red chutney which I felt could be spicier but then it wasn't bland either. When I praised his momos, he replied, "try the chicken momos, they are tastier". Om Prakash, the owner, has been running this small stall for the last two and a half years. He serves 6 momos to a plate at Rs 40 a plate for chicken and Rs 30 a plate for the veg ones. The momos are small in size. He sets up the stall between 4 and 10 pm everyday. Got his mobile number to share with all interested. He can be reached on 08341149588. The landmark is the Yashoda hospital. This stall is diagonally opposite to it. By far, the best momos in town.

Veg Momos
After having these superbly succulent momos, we persisted in our pursuit of samosas. We finally found one Irani kind of a cafe opposite Mom & Me, beside Maa Hospital. We were told that there would be a fifteen minute wait. As we turned, we saw a golgappawala just outside the cafe! We ordered for three plates between the two of us and found to our surprise that they were super crisp and made with potato filling. Reminded me of my Orissa-wala golgappa: the taste and not the size though.We were so so happy at the second discovery of the day.
Once done we turned our attention back to the samosas getting made.We watched in fascination as the samosa dough was rolled into long oval shapes, piled and cut into half, Each of these halves picked up, stuffed with the potato mixture and tossed into the waiting hot oil. As we waited impatiently for the samosas to get fried, we found behind us a paan wala. 'Why not?" we thought and ordered two Meenakshi paans as well. While waiting for the paans to get made, I found the cigarette lighter dangling before my face. I tried to brush it away but found it refused to go."Cigarettes?" I asked my friend with a mischievous glint in the eye. The old man preparing the paans broke into a smile as he heard us.
We paid for the samosas after they got done. My friend was used to paying 3-5 rupees for samosas and when she heard these were priced at 8 Rs, she was amazed. I was equally amazed to see their size. Each one was the size of two samosas put together. Huge!
We carried back those piping hot samosas, had it with home-prepared khatta chutney, followed by garam chai. Eating one filled me up.The taste wasn't exactly great but then just the joy of eating a hot samosa is indescribable! Topped this experience with the well-made Paan.
For those 5 hours we spent together, we were a couple of giggling college girls having our day out. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Phata Poster Nikla Hero

Watched this movie within the first week as I wasn't sure, with its B.O performance, how many theaters would screen it in its second week. Yet, there is hope as the movie has its bright spots. Plus the fact that Grand Masti would lose its steam by its third week and there are no major releases lined up.
What's the movie about? Shahid Kapoor, the hero, was born with the dream of becoming a hero in films. But his mother Padmini Kolhapuri wants him to join the police. The first part of the film is filled with Shahid's attempts to fail every police recruitment test that his mother forces him to attend. Shahid displays a hitherto unexplored, brilliant comic side to his acting. There are many moments, many well-written scenes which are hilarious and you would thoroughly enjoy watching them.
Shahid goes to Mumbai for another police recruitment test but ends up being mistaken to be a real police by the heroine, Ileana. Ileana, who plays a social worker, is always after the police urging them to punish the criminals.This leads to more comic moments. And when Padmini Kolhapuri thinks her son has become a Police Inspector, she lands up at Mumbai too as she wants to see her son work as an inspector.
The movie belongs entirely to Shahid Kapoor. He has excelled in all emotions. Apart from his superb comic timing, he displays a vulnerability for which Salman Khan used to be known for in the 80s. Watch him especially in the scene where amidst great trauma, he still thinks of Vinod Khanna as a film star and not a doctor. " Yeh Vinod Khanna doctor kab ban gaye?," he exclaims. Watch him in the 'Rang sharbaton ka' song and all subtle moods he displays in it. And, of course, he has always been a great dancer. He exploits this talent to add to the comedy when he breaks into an impromptu pole dance in the villains' club!
What the film fails to do is to maintain the tempo of a slick script and lapses into the predictable melodrama of the 70s- 80s era: son lives his mother's dream, mother has a heart attack, son has to collect money for mother's operation, talking into clever devices like a watch that doubles up as a walkie-talkie to hood wink the villain, mother and girl friend getting kidnapped...
Ileana predictably has nothing much to do except look pretty. Darshan Jariwala as the Police Commissioner complements the comic moments well. Padmini Kolhapuri has remained in the 70-80s melodramatic times.What's really watchable is Salman's Khan's teeny-weeny cameo performance. He is effortlessly brilliant in a self-depreciating role.
Phata Poster Nikla Hero has its brilliant moments. A tighter script would have seen it hit it off with the audience.
This movie is watchable. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Lunchbox: incomparable

I was at the ticket counter at 12:05 to buy tickets for the movie which was supposed to start at 12. Not wanting to miss the beginning of the movie, I was frantically pleading, "Bhai sahab, two tickets please, jaldi. This is for the 12 o clock show". Beside me another voice, "Bhai sahab ek ticket pl, for the 12 o clock show, jaldi." I looked up to see a guy perspiring from all the running he obviously did to get to the counter. When our respective tickets were handed to us, we ran simultaneously towards the elevator to rush to the movies. He admitted that he traveled 18 kilometers just to catch the first day, first show of this movie! What love for good movies can do to people! :) Luckily for us, the movie started a little late :)

Well, when you speak of a Irfan Khan movie, you dont need a movie review to watch it. You blindly jump at the opportunity. And the icing on the cake was having Nawazuddin Siddiqui in it. Watching Siddiqui was a treat. How he transforms from a sinister gangster roaming on Wasseypur streets in GOW, gun  or hookah in hand, to this opportunist who takes on the world breezily, is amazing.
Siddique is supposed to take over from Irfan who is about to retire after putting in 35 years of service. In Irfan's dry, monotonous and grouchy life, there comes a one in a million chance happening: the Mumbai dabba wala delivers the dabba to a wrong person. This triggers exchange of short notes between Nimrat Kaur, who plays a neglected housewife, and Irfan who receives her dabba. The notes, sent through the dabba, get longer as more personal details get exchanged. They are written on single-ruled pages torn from a note book and remind you of the little notes you must have exchanged with your friends in school.
Every time Irfan Khan opens the dabba cover and takes a deep breath of the food within, you too seem to enjoy those aromas wafting from within. And when he opens the tiffin box, you are as eager as him to see what the dabba contains today...the food and the note.
The food in the dabba each day conveys a different mood: eagerness, anticipation, love, anger, even revenge. That so much can be said through these dabbas forms part of the unspoken and subtle moments in the movie. Every scene is filled with meaning. Every moment filled with an emotion, largely unspoken and unexpressed.
The movie has a fourth character, the voice of Bharati Achrekar, who lives one floor above Nimrat's, and tries to help her by suggesting she spice up her food to find a route to her husband's heart. The love with which Nimrat Kaur cooks, from the loving way she washes the vegetables, to the way she adds a pinch of spice here and there, to the packing of the dabba, wiping it to ensure it is dust-free...each of these gestures show the love she puts into the cooking.
Food, love, and love for food, all these bring subtle transformations to the protagonists' lives. While it helps Irfan explore life beyond his secluded existence, it makes Nimrat find new strength in herself.
The movie was watched in pin-drop silence. No one wanted to miss a single moment or part of a conversation, I believe. After it was over, I remained seated in my place for a while, so overwhelmed was I with the experience of watching it.
Comparing this movie with any other movie, of any language or era is futile. This movie has simply no comparison. All departments excel: direction, story, acting... There are many meanings, inferences and conclusions that you can draw from the movie. What I choose to believe is that the movie tells me that life with all its subtleties is worth living every minute.
This movie is mostly Hindi but has large chunks of the English language too. The success of this wonderful movie ensures that a good script draws the audiences irrespective of  its very  little marketing or promotions.
I don't give this movie a rating as all the stars in the sky put together are not enough to rate this movie.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Khaan Saab

This restaurant, housed in GVK, has been around since the mall had opened at Banjara Hills. Strangely, I had tasted at their other restaurant, 'The Buffet' when it had opened and had missed this one. Off late, I am hearing of its declining standard. Yet I was assured by a friend that I could try the vegetarian section.and not be disappointed. Well, I wasn't.
Khaan Saab epitomizes grandeur.There is a huge royal elephant figure at the entrance, beyond which lies the main entrance to the restaurant. The impression continues with the very high ceiling and a semblance of a huge space.The royal feel continues into their dining rooms, about four of them on their first floor, which can accommodate small private parties.
We were seated in a corner at a table with brass ware. On the table was placed a holder with three dips/chutneys along with a few bread sticks. The three dips were made of mint, tomato and curd. Mint and tomato were slightly spicy but the curd was bland. All three were quite tasty.

Dips@ Khaan Saab

We ordered Karara Paneer Kabab for starters and for soup we ordered Dal Palak Makai Shorba. Both items were not tasted before. The steward described to us what it was and how it was prepared. So we had an inkling of what to look forward to.The soup was green, light, thin, a slight garlic smell along with the taste of the dal and a few corn kernels floating  in it. I liked it for its mild taste.

Palak Shorba@ Khaan Saab
The starters, the kabaabs, were eight to a plate. A huge portion for small eaters. This consisted of layers of thin ribbons of flour within which was encased the paneer and then deeply fried. The core tasted like the veg koftas and was a combination of paneer and vegetables. This yummy dish was very crunchy and we had a good time eating it with the accompanying dips. We were served two of these starters each and were almost half full by the time we finished it.

Karara Paneer@Khaan Saab
We ordered for Subz Hariyali Tikka Masala curry and plain naan for our main course. The naans were one of the softest I have had in a long time. We later added a roti  to that order. The roti, made of wheat flour, was also soft. The curry was made of palak (spinach) gravy and had 4 tikkis in it. The tikkis made of chopped vegetables was bound with corn flour, shaped into two inches round flat patties and shallow fried. They weren't soft like the koftas and were slightly chewy. The taste was quite decent.

Subz Hariyali@Khaan Saab
Along with the order of main course, was also brought to the table, a stand containing pickles of four varieties, some fresh onion rings, vinegared onion and green chilies.
We ended our meal with a lemonade, their nimbu pani, which was again rightly made, not too sour, not too sweet or salty, very nicely balanced tastes and a good end to a good meal. I feel this is the only item on the menu which doesn't justify its price. At 90/-, too steep for a glass of simple nimbu paani.
What really added to all this experience were the waiters. They were always attentive, quick to come to your table even if you looked a second longer in their direction, or just raised a finger. Very attentive and very helpful in describing the order for us so that we knew what to order and what to expect. The steward would check from time to time with us to see if everything was fine.
When we asked that the leftovers be packed for us, a very thoughtful gesture happened. The three dips were packed along with the starters. Good quantities in three boxes. And double packed so that it doesn't leak!
The food overall is mildly spiced and non-greasy.The washrooms were also spic and span and very decently maintained.
Will I go there again? Yes, for their excellent service, for the good portions per order, for their super soft naans and also to have another shot at their dal-palak shorba.
On the minus, we found some fine dust particles here and there, very few, but still existed, in the curry. This proved to be the fly in the ointment in this whole experience.
The bill for this meal for two came to Rs 840/- The good part is that they do not levy a service charge.We were taxed 14.5 % as VAT and 4.94% as service charge.
My rating;
Ambiance: 5/5
Food: 3.5/5
Service: 5/5
VFM:  3.5/5
Here is a tip shared by my friend: To reach the restaurant, do not enter from the main entrance but from the lift closer to the valet parking of the Hard Rock Cafe. If you enter from the main entrance, you need to change two lifts.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shudh Desi Romance

Shudh Desi Romance from Yash Raj Films has the unmistakable stamp of director Maneesh Sharma(of Band Baja Barat and Ladies vs Ricky Bahl)

This film has been rated high by the critics. Though the trailers had kept up my expectations, the wish to see it was further bolstered by the critics' high rating. We had selected seats through online booking but could not complete the transaction for some reason. And when we went to buy the tickets through their counter, we were pleasantly surprised to find those very seats available two hours before the movie started. On entering the hall, we understood why. The hall was less than half full in its second week of running. Puzzling, especially when the movie has been declared a hit.
Well the pluses of the movie are the highly energetic and natural performances. There are four main characters in all: The hero, two heroines and that of Rishi Kapoor. 
Maneesh has given the same rustic appearance to the hero, Sushant Singh as he had done to the heroes  in his previous two movies. Sushant's is a highly energetic performance. Rishi Kapoor looks tailor made for the role and seems to be enjoying the second phase of his career fully. He is very comfortable playing the part of a small time wedding planner. He also plays a mentor to Sushant's role. Parneeti Chopra plays the role of a fiercely independent woman. The second heroine, Vaani Kapoor doesn't look like she is making a debut and is very confident. The movie revolves around these characters. And very few moments of appearances by others. 
The movie promos made it appear as though it was all about live-in relationships, but there is so much more to the movie. 
It is about how the young think beyond the conventional, beyond what's been accepted for generations. The movie isn't being judgmental. It shows how they want to be sure and double sure that this is the person that I want to live my entire life with. Testing compatibility & attraction: emotional and physical is important. Even after finding what they think is the right person, do they take that one big step? That's what the movie is about. 
The movie, from Yash Raj banners has evolved from those times when making love would be two flowers moving and shaking. This movie is more realistic, unconventional and free of any such hypocrisy. 
The story is about the hero fleeing from his own marriage when he develops doubts in his mind about it being the right thing to do. He in turn is dumped at his own marriage and for the same reason. What he decides and what is the role of the two heroines and whom he chooses to live with forms the story.
The strength of the movie is definitely the acting by the four main actors and a good few comic moments strewn in between. 
The minus is the length of 141 minutes...slightly long especially when it seems a bit drawn out at times. Also what makes this film seem like a documentary is when the main characters choose to speak to the camera...happens once too often.
Otherwise a well-made film with a contemporary script that this generation can identify with. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kashmir Heights

Many rave reviews in the foodies group made me wonder if this restaurant really was that good. I am skeptical because very rarely do restaurants known more for their non vegetarian cuisine have anything to offer to the vegetarian palate. I posed a question to the owner who also is part of the group and was assured that the vegetarians definitely would also enjoy the fare there.
There were a round of negative reviews of the restaurant which the owner attributed to absence of the cook but a month or so later, the group was assured that the restaurant had a cook brought from Kashmir to offer authentic food.
This place is not too far from my home and was definitely on my radar for long. I wanted to experience a real Kashmir food. What I know of Kashmir cuisine is from what is offered in some restaurants and also from my first hand experience of eating in Kashmir and from my Kashmir friends. Based on this experience, what I was looking forward to was food prepared with lot of dry fruits and in ghee with maybe a slightly sweet touch to the dish.
I called before going as it was a bandh in Hyderabd and I wanted to ensure that regular food was available.When assured, we proceeded to the restaurant. We people didn't have a proper lunch and were really looking forth to a delightful gastronomic experience. As soon as I seated myself, I asked for Dum Aloo to be prepared, just in case it takes time to prepare.
Then when I went through the menu, I discovered that the veg section in the menu was just about a page or so.This was expected as Kashmir is known more for its non veg preparations than veg ones. There was only one veg starter kind of thing and I ordered it : the Veg Kanti (Rs.160). The veg kanti was not like the usual dry preparation but came with thinly sliced fried onions. The quality of the paneer used was good and mildly spiced. There was a dip that was supposed to accompany this but none transpired.

Kanti Paneer@ Kashmir Heights

My eyes and heart were set on the Kahsmir Pulao in the menu and ordered it. I was waiting in eager anticipation imagining an aromatic delight laden with fruits, dry fruits, loads of vegetables, all fried in ghee. I was imagining this in my mind:

Kashmiri Pulao

And what I got was this:
Kashmiri pulao presented at Kashmir Heights
A huge bowl, filled with yellow and red colored rice with no obvious spices, vegetables, fruits or dry fruits was presented. There were one or two almonds in the entire dish and looked so lackluster. We were served some and when we dug into it, we found that it had absolutely no flavor whatsoever. When I told the waiters that we expected a sweet pulao, his reply was that the pulao isn't sweet. It is supposed to be like that only! One of the waiters told me that a mirchi ka salan was supposed to accompany this pulao but again nothing came. I didn't bother asking as I abandoned the pulao and opted for a nan+ curry instead.
I called the waiter for a curry recommendation but all that he did was list out the few vegetarian curries on the menu. No help there!  So ordered a navaratan curry and a nan.
The Navaratan curry (Rs. Rs.170) was again a disappointment. Prevalence of a stinky cauliflower and an overpoweringly sour taste describes the dish.  I have eaten navratan curry that borders on sweetish taste but never a sour one. The description in the menu was that it was supposed to be loaded with premium vegetables, raisins and dry fruits. I found nothing except some pieces of vegetables in it...almost like the Mixed Vegetable curry offered in Hyderabad cuisine. After having ensured that our tummy had the minimum food required to take care of its hunger, we prepared to leave.

Navaratan curry @ Kashmir Heights

The pulao was left nearly untouched and I questioned the waiter about its quality again during bill time. He called the owner to discuss this with.
The owner had this to say:
 I didnt know it was you who had walked in. Had I known I would have ensured you get the real Kashmir pulao and not this. People here don't like sweet preparation and hence we are forced to offer this. 
THIS? You mean plain yellow and red colored rice bereft of flavors? He also told me that had you eaten non vegetarian food, you would have had no complaints.
Coincidentally, I had interacted with another lady who had tasted their famous Wazwaan platter (a non vegetarian preparation) on the same day that I was  there and said this:
The so called wazwaan platter was so bad.. Tasted half cooked and half stale.. Not freshly made..
 I was craving for soup so had called for chicken hot n sour.. There was not even one chicken piece in that.. It was just mushroom and they were confident enough that they served us non veg soup.
So there goes his claim to serving a good non veg fare. At least he was decent enough to waive off the amount for the colored rice.
I know that many restaurants have their bad days and good days but what I couldn't take was the nonchalant waiters and the indifferent food. Every restaurateur needs to have only one motto to succeed: serve good food.

On the plus, the Dum Aoo (Rs. 100) we ordered was quite decent in taste. It contained two whole boiled and fried potatoes served in a mildly flavored and smooth, non-spicy gravy. Was it because we ordered for it as soon as we came in?

Dum Aloo@ Kashmir Heights
I was so looking forward to finshing my meal with their tea or the desserts but I knew nothing could take the bitter taste from my mind or tongue.
The ambience is ok, not bad. What really is nice is the seating by the window which offers you privacy and a view. Also, though there is lot of oil as found in other restaurants, I didnt find the use of dalda in their food
This restaurant on SP Road, situated on way to Begumpet, had very little parking space. Three cars and they are full.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mama Mia: the best pizzas in Hyderabad

A celebration normally means restaurants with big names, a fine-dining experience...and not a small, relatively unknown pizzeria with two tables inside and a few outside it.
But after a take-away a couple of months back, my family thought the food at Mama Mia Italia was worth celebrating the occasion.Though I have been strongly advocating the restaurant to all known, somewhere inside was a hesitation: I hadn't been to the place yet and what if the experience there was different? Thankfully I discovered that the taste was consistent with the previous experience.
We went around 8 in the evening battling a sudden shower and landed at Mama Mia wet and hungry. Without wasting much time, we ordered for a garlic bread and two medium sized (10") pizzas: Margarita and the Hawaiian. The quick order was because of the previous experience when the take-away on a weekend had taken about half hour or more to deliver. Meanwhile I took the opportunity to chat with Mr. Shastry, the owner and also look around. This place is at Defense colony in Sainikpuri and has a seating capacity of around 6 inside. Outside the pizzeria, they have a few places laid out with chairs and long benches which could take in about 10-12 people more. Apart from the garlic bread and pizzas, the menu also consists of pasta and some desserts and has both veg and non veg options.
The garlic bread itself took around 20 minutes to arrive. They were about 2" long and disappeared fast. They were four to a plate which I felt was a small portion and was priced at Rs.50. Quite good with the right amount of cheese & basil coat.
 It was amazing to find Mr. Shastry greet all customers so warmly, making an effort to remember names of repeat customers. In fact, he addressed me by my name as one of my foodie friends had let him on that I'd be visiting that day :) A big plus for this gesture.
After another 10 minute wait, we had both the pizzas brought to the table. They were brought in cardboard boxes. The pizza base was thin, soft yet crisp. The BEST part of the pizza slice was that you could roll it up and eat. Which other pizza base can lay a claim to that? We were silent as we ate, lost completely in the experience. It was yum all the way. One and half pizzas through, we were done and carried away the rest.
Below are the pizzas we had. See the way they brown nicely on the top?!

Hawaiian Pizza @Mama Mia Italia

Margarita Pizza @ Mama Mia Italia

After the meal, I was curious to see the wood fired oven. I was not only given a guided tour of the oven built in the basement but also shown the different ingredients that went into preparing the pizzas. The pizzas are made from scratch, starting with the base. You have a choice of pizza base: multi-grained and thick base. I tasted the mozzarella used, was shown the tomato pulp that's used for preparing the sauce and watched the making of the pizza. An awesome experience!
What came across in talking to Mr. Shastry was the dedication and sincerity in wanting to make people experience good food. If a restaurateur concentrates only on this, everything else falls in place. He acknowledged that I was also a brand ambassador for his pizzeria along with few others but then I assured him that he doesn't need any brand ambassadors. The taste speaks for itself. He says he isn't in a hurry to expand and promised to take care of quality first. I hope he continues to churn out what he does best and gives us the best pizzas in town.
The waiting time is something that you need to look out for. But I guess a wood fired oven does take that kind of time. After all, patience and time are the prerequisites for loving cooking.
Our total bill ( no taxes) came to below 500/- for the dinner. That taste for this price! No competition!
By the way, when microwaved the next day, the taste of the pizza remained unchanged.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Spicy Venue

Even as I set my eyes on the menu of The Spicy Venue, I knew it was not a great idea to visit it.
What cuisine the restaurant wanted to promote, what image it wanted to portray, what it wanted to be known as is something that has not been worked at. All the reviews speaking highly of this restaurant are, I am sure, not by vegetarians.
Had gone there on a special invite. Otherwise, the menu was the most uninspiring one for a discerning foodie. All my fears about the menu were not unfounded after I saw the offer.
Let me add a disclaimer before I write further about this place. I don't eat non vegetarian food and can speak nothing about it. Having said that, I see no reason why any person following a vegetarian diet will want to go to this restaurant. There are just a handful of restaurants offering Telugu food in Hyderabad. And if this restaurant is promoting itself as one offering it, I would definitely want to experience the authentic Telugu food. What's an authentic Andhra cuisine? Well, unlike many other cuisines, the Andhra food is extremely particular about the presentation and the order in which it is presented.

The traditional feast is served on banana leaves following a particular method. Cooked 'tur dal' (lentils) is served on the right lower corner of the leaf followed by 'halwa' (a sweet dish) 'pachadi' (raita or yogurt), chutney, two dry vegetables, gun powder or curry leaf powder, fryums made of white pumpkin, rice fryums and pappad, pickle and salt. The above items are served all around the leaf till the left corner. 
 Then mixed rice or vegetable 'pulao' is served in the center of the leaf and curd 'vada' next to that. Two dry sweets - 'bobatlu' or boorelu, laddus, are served in a cup. This is how the leaf is set and made ready before the guests are seated to enjoy the meal. After this elaborate meal, 'paan' (betel leaves) and nuts are served.

I had searched for and shared this information with someone who wanted to go all traditional and present a complete and authentic Telugu meal to a North Indian family.  (I forget the source now. Hence unable to acknowledge)
What we had instead was anything but a typical Telugu meal. We had this:

And this is what I hoped to get:

Telugu vari vanta
                                         Image courtsey:

I mean if one were to offer an authentic Telugu meal, I dont look forward to a mish mash of various menus. The above two pictures cannot be more contrasting. One gives a Tamasic feeling and the other, a Satvic feeling.
I heard someone say that their Paneer Butter Masala was awesome. I ask, if I want to eat a Punjabi dish, why should I go to a restaurant serving Telugu food? The items listed under Telugu traditional dishes contain not a single vegetarian one.
The ambiance is also not too inspiring. The vegetarians need not come here for authentic Telugu food.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chennai Express

Chennai Express' success cocks a snook at all critics who panned it.
The 8th day, and it is running houseful. People have loved it. I loved it. It is a through and through entertainer. 
As a South Indian, I understand a smattering of Tamil and this made the experience more enjoyable.
Shah Rukh Khan, the only non-South Indian cast as admitted by its director, Rohit Shetty, has done a marvelous job of being the comic character trying to come to grips with the Tamil culture.The story is about his journey from Mumbai to Rameswaram and how he finds himself trapped amidst the don (Deepika's father) and his followers. The South Indians aren't treated with derision. But the cultural differences do evoke a smile from the audiences. There were times when I felt I was watching a South Indian movie and not a Hindi one. So strong is the south flavor and the sensibilities within.
A thin story line, no great dramatics but not a moment of boredom as the film keeps you engaged throughout. There are references to past movies of Shah Rukh Khan but not so many that they leave you bored and yawning. In a way it was funny watching Shah Rukh try to dance in rhythm with the southern music, especially in the item number. To compare, Dhanush's dance in Ranjhana is a good example of showcasing the speed, intensity and loudness in southern film dances. For a change, Shah Rukh doesn't do the slanted- Christ posture but he surely couldn't keep up to the required speed. 
Shah Rukh is back doing what he does best--the romantic role of Rahul--which fits him like a glove. Deeepika, dancing attired in her 'pavadai' ( a long skirt), long plaited hair adorned with jasmines, to music from south is so different from  her head-swaying-hair-flying-bikni-clad dances (Dum maro Dum, Cocktail, Yeh Jawani...). She is definitely the surprise factor in the movie. May not be an intense performance but an energetic one without going OTT.
This movie is funny and silly but neat, delightfully free of sleaze, double meaning dialog and exposing.
Everyone can head to this movie with their parents, brothers, sisters and kids and thoroughly enjoy the movie. I did.
It is such a relief to watch an uncomplicated entertainer! 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

soups n salads: a healthy option

When the foodies group suggested an event here, I was one among the first to grab this offer that was priced at only Rs. 250 for the vegetarians. Health at that price was actually priceless!

Soups n salads is less than a year old and is situated on Rd. No 36, Jubilee Hills, close to Madhapur police station. This is a new kind of offer, hitherto unheard of in Hyderabad. Among my acquaintances,  it is known that I hardly am attracted to the main course of any meal. The soups, salads and appetizers have all my attention. And therefore, I looked forward to the absolute bliss of dining here.
The restaurant runs from 11 am to 11 pm and its ambiance is more like a coffee shop with a long corridor of tables to the left and the cooking station to the right. I was told later that it was supposed to be a self-service place but then we foodies got served at our tables, had a customized menu and a special price. There were both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. The lunch consisted of soups, salads, a cooked pasta salad, a wrap, a slush and a dessert. It is debatable whether this constitutes a meal or can be given the status of an evening snack
Well, the good and bad of this eatery--
Soups: Tasted three soups: the Tomato lemon grass soup, Cream of Sorrel and the Tuscan vegetable soup. Must admit that all the three failed to impress. The tomato one was a little too thin and bland for my liking. The cream of sorrel was good as compared to the other two: a first for me. It was slightly thick with the unmistakable taste of local grown 'gongura.' The sourness was prevalent, yet not so sour that we couldn't handle it. The cream in it kind of toned it down. The Tuscan vegetable soup was a disaster. It tasted like 'rasam' with lot of vegetables thrown in. It was neither here nor there.
Salads: After this rather insipid fare, I looked froward to the salads with a slight trepidation.
Yet, when it arrived, like a goat which has found the greenest grass to chew on, I kept delving into bowl after bowl of the salads with a great gusto. What I found delightful was that all the salads had a very light coating of the dressing. I had a Caesar salad with a cream base, a pear salad with balsamic vinaigrette base, a roasted beet salad and a farm-house salad with Dijon mustard dressing.
The strength of Soups n Salads is definitely the salads. The vegetables used within are all very crunchy and fresh...the lettuce and cherry tomatoes deserve a special mention. It also helps, perhaps, that they have the Nature's Basket store right beneath their's. I think that a customer with a good knowledge of salads and dressings can as well get his salads customized according to his taste.
Among the salads, the highlight was the Roasted Beet Salad with its sweet-sour dressing, the greens,orange and a sprinkling of fried nuts.I normally keep away from the rather tasteless beetroot but here a magic was spun with this recipe. Just awesome and a must-have.
We then had the Mexican Bean Wrap which was quite decent in taste. I mean, a wrap is a wrap and consists of boiled and raw veggies wrapped in tortillas or the Indian rotis. The slushes consisted of strawberry lemonade and the orange blast both of which were quite good. No regrets on ordering these.
At the end I ordered a Creme Brulee and I found it quite tasty. I do not have a sweet tooth and therefore am ok with any sweet. But my fellow foodies, some hard-core dessert lovers, were not that enthusiastic about it.
The service really couldn't match up to this kind of 40+ crowd in one go. There were long waits. One of my salads was served without a dressing and a salad without one is just a heap of boiled/raw vegetables.
The pluses of the this coffee shop are the quality of the salads served and the quantities. All your orders come with huge servings. Despite consuming four bowl-fulls of salads, my stomach felt empty within 3 hours' time. This is in sharp contrast (and a relief) to the uneasy and unhealthy feeling one is left with after a dine-out. Here, you  get to eat food that's live, has a soul and prepared with great care
Food: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Service: 1/5
Value for money:3/5

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Peperoncino: an Italian Affair

Again, rave reviews of the 'authentic' Italian drew me to this restaurant. And I was not disappointed.  We chose to go at around 4.30 pm, a time when most of the restaurants are closed after lunch. I confirmed with the owner that it isn't 'downtime' for this restaurant and we'd be served quality food as served during regular hours. The restaurant runs from 11 am to 11 pm.
The restaurant is at Road No:12, a little beyond a la Liberty, at the bend of the road that leads to Ohri's. About a third of the restaurant is an open area and the cool weather drew me there but then we sat ourselves inside the restaurant. What was good was the spacing between the tables. That day, of course, we had all the space we wanted as we were the only people in the entire restaurant.
We had already looked up the menu on the food review sites and were therefore familiar with it. We ordered for a soup to start with, the Onion soup. There wasn't anything that excited me in the vegetarian section and therefore asked if we could be served the Onion Soup which is supposed to be served with a drop of egg. Just a drop of egg, I thought is ok. But then we were informed that the egg would form a layer on the surface of the soup. This was not acceptable to me, as I don't eat egg, unless invisible in cakes and so on. The suggestion by the steward was that he could have it served without the egg. We okay-ed it but that wasn't a good decision, we discovered, as all we got was a thin hot soup smelling of burnt onion. The first dish was a disappointment and I started wondering if this was one of those restaurants that was hyped beyond expectations. The steward then informs us that that egg actually lends the required taste to the soup and therefore its absence would have made our soup bland..
We moved to our next order of  Bruschetta Mozzarella. AND was this awesome! Crisp, yet soft, the bruschetta was heavenly, tastiest garlic bread with just a hint of garlic, served warm, three pieces to a plate.
Our third order was the pizza which I was so eagerly waiting for. The pizza was, I think, a 12" thin-crust one. Giardino Pizza with vegetable toppings which were six in all, superbly crunchy, yet malleable, and didn't stiffen when cold. The next order was a pasta which we customized by ordering a small portion of pasta, the Farfalle ( bow-tie shaped pasta ), in Alfredo sauce. It had the right creaminess to it and wasn't too creamy or oily. Got a good quantity for a small portion. For dessert, an order of a Tiramisu which lived up to to its well-earned reputation. A 3" inch tall glass filled with a creamy, mousse-like, slight chocolaty tasting substance, served at room temperature.
The end of the meal saw a Hot Moka and a Virgin Mojto. The Virgin Mojito was simply superb hitting all the right taste buds on the tongue: not too tingly, not too sweet and a right end to a great meal.
What was great was that we were the only table occupied from 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm and got a first-class service. Another plus was that the steward and the waiter had perched themselves at a respectable distance from our table, quick to attention, but never hovering irritatingly. It was a delight to interact with the steward and waiter who were so well-informed of the menu details,  learn about the subtleties of different dishes and then place the order. It was also good to hear them pronounce these Italian names so correctly. Never before in my life did I have such an unhurried meal which allowed me to enjoy the experience to the core.
Ok, now for the minuses: slightly over-priced. The bill for the two of us was Rs. 1050+ Service Charge@ 5% was Rs. 52.40; VAT@ 5% was Rs. 52.24; Service Tax @ 4.944% was Rs. 51.86, totaling Rs. 1202/- in all. (I think I am overcharged with the taxes.)
Something that somehow made me cringe was the extremely soiled and torn notes that were returned as change after our payment. I know of a few restaurants which make it a point to give new notes and coins to its customers. That was definitely a put-off.
For the fact that this meal had a soul and not the usual insipid fare doled out in other restaurants + the service will make me go back to the restaurant. Peperoncino deserves a faithful clientele which helps it sustain its authentic Italian menu.
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3.5/5
VFM: 3.5/5

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pizza Den at Paradise Circle

In my quest to move away from the bread-like pizzas offered by international chain of restaurants, I set out on a search for alternative options and found Pizza Den at Paradise Circle. I have been to Paradise umpteen times but this nook was completely hidden from my foodie eyes till I sought it out after hearing about it from the foodies' group. Where is it? Well, situated in a lane parallel to 'the' Paradise restaurant, this is a tiny shop a few feet above the road, with steps leading to it. It has no tables or chairs. Yet it can claim a 'dining space' as the steps leading to it serve the purpose of seating. The wide banister wall and a small ledge in the front of the eatery, help you rest your plate if you are averse to holding it for long. If you are not actually on the lookout, you can easily miss out this tiny eatery. My attention was drawn to it by the crowds one evening when I was driving by.

The Hyderabadis are waking up to alternate possibilities in Pizzas. Few years back, they might have relished  the pizzas offered by international chains but personal experiences and interactions with clients from other countries make us realize that we are definitely being taken for a ride. Some questions we ask ourselves now:
  • why these pizza chains offer us thick bread in the name of pizzas 
  • why they are so tough to eat once microwaved
  • why the pizzas are so exorbitantly priced
  • why each extra topping to be added charged so much
  • and what we get at the end of the experience
Once you taste better pizzas, you will never feel like going back to getting these pizzas delivered unless you are the types that 'anything goes' as long as I have something to eat.
In such scenario, Pizza Den comes as a wave of fresh air. One, the crust. It may not be soft and role-able but it was thin ( not a thin-crust pizza), crisp, well baked and topped with vegetables of your choice. Extra cheese costs only Rs 15/- And when you say extra cheese, it is actually extra cheese...oodles of it. The toppings are good and not too few. We had ordered for a take-away too and requested for an additional topping and found to our delight that we weren't charged extra for it. The pizza, about 7" across, tasted as though we were eating live food and not dead food. We then ordered for a Veg Grilled Sandwich and found it to be a slight letdown as it was made in a toaster and not in a grill. I mean that's how I make my sandwich at home, so how's it different? Not that I complain of the taste but it was not what I expected. Maybe the Cheese Grilled Sandwich is different.
Had also heard of their ice creams and felt compelled to order one as well. At 60/- you had the smaller portions and bigger ones at 80/-. We ordered one of each and found that even the one costing 60 /- was at least three scoops strong. More than satisfying quantities for an ardent dessert lover and too much for a non- dessert lover like me.
The pizzas cost around 100 each, the sandwiches 40-50, and therefore our order of 1 pizza, 1 sandwich and 2 ice creams came to Rs. 305 and that's what a meal for two costs. No extra Vats, no Service tax, no Service charge! The eatery runs from 5 pm to 10 pm and is a pure vegetarian one. It also takes care of the hygiene factor and provides disposable glasses and mineral water to its diners. The owner is a warm and helpful person.
Will I go there again? Of course, yes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tulip@Green Park: Buffet Breakfast

Had heard good reviews of the buffet breakfast at the Tulip restaurant at Green Park, Begumpet and had wanted to try it for long. Destiny took the shape of a food coupon that I had won for its 'Great Sunday Breakfast'. Excited to finally go there, we reached by 8.15 am as we were told that the timing was from 7 to 10 am. 7 am on a Sunday?! Who gets up at that time?! Anyway, made a special effort and we reached early as you know...'early bird...etc etc...' We were the second set of people to be there at that time. One quick glance at the spread didn't excite me. Seemed very limited. Then saw that there was the other side of the table too. The following was on the menu:

1. Three types of idlis: corn idli, peas idli, normal  idli. Could not really distinguish between the tastes.
2. Poori-aloo sabzi. Discovered later that the live counter also had palak poori and ajwain poori. We weren't told about it by the waiter.
3. Chocolate and plain corn flakes
4. Two varieties of cut fruits
5. Two kinds of tinned juices, (pineapple and orange) and one fresh juice of grapes. There was also something called milk shake which was nothing but diluted milkmaid. At least that's what it felt to my tongue.
6. Aloo paratha with Chole was horrible. The paratha was hard and thick and the chole  tasted as though  just boiled and browned.
7. Three choices of dosas: Masala, Plain and Pesarattu. Tasted the masala dosa which was ok.
8. Wada: one served with sambar separate and another dunked in sambar. The sanagapappu wada was the third one ( I though it is more of an evening snack)
9. Upma (ok), Poha (good),  Pongal (lifeless)
10. Chutneyes...all yuck...coconut, ginger, tomato, cabbage. There was so much garlic in the coconut chutney that it overpowered whatever it accompanied and thus I ended up having garlic idli and garlic dosa. Tomato looked as though it was boiled, pureed and displayed. Cabbage stank as raw cabbage usually does. Ginger chutney looked as though dug out of jars of ginger pickle made two year ago.

Overall, a disappointing buffet. Even when we had gone to a tiny town, Rourkela, we had had a wonderful breakfast containing a lavish and yummy spread. This buffet was not only limited in size but didn't have a soul. It looked like a robot had gone around setting up this mandatory number of items on the table.

One thing I didn't understand: when we walked into the buffet spread behind the main lobby, we were told that that buffet was only for the guests staying in the rooms and were escorted to a different restaurant which had diners from outside. Is there any difference in the spread?
Even after we were seated, we didn't find an enthusiastic waiter waiting upon us. The buffet with taxes came to Rs. 203/- When we were leaving we found people waiting to get in! Wonder how Tulips has this patronage!

My rating:
Food: 1.5/5
Ambience: 3/5. Washrooms, of course, were superbly maintained.
Service: 2.5/5
Will I go back there for breakfast? No! I have seem much much better spreads.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cream Centre

Had recently heard of Cream Center. Most of the time, it is word-of-mouth that promotes a restaurant and I was fortunate to have this recommended by the foodies group. There aren't many reviews of this on the popular food review sites.This is only six months old in Hyderabad but a well-established chain headquartered in Mumbai (1958) .

On the plus, is a very well-thought out menu. The pluses of the menu:

1. It is a pure vegetarian restaurant and such restaurants find a lot of patronage in Hyderabad/India
2. By covering varied cuisines like the Indian, Mexican, Italian, they ensure there is something for everyone. Catering to every conceivable clientele is a well-thought plan
3. Limited items in each section.We see menu cards running into pages. This takes too much time to go through and sometimes, not surprisingly, the items within a section end up tasting the same. But with their offer limited to just 2-6 varieties in each section,  the restaurant concentrates on the individual taste and gives its best
4. The menu is well illustrated with pictures AND the best thing is that the food you order looks exactly like what it does in the pictures

Two of us visited the place for a weekday lunch. At 12.45 pm, we were the first to arrive and few tables were occupied even an hour later.
We ordered one of the two soups on menu. The Spring Vegetable Soup, a nice soy-sauce based one, was a bit salty. The waiter graciously offered to replace but the hunger pangs had done their bit by then. We ordered the American Corn Cheese balls, six to a plate, about lemon-sized, for starters. They were simply yumm! Crispy on the outside but could be delicately bitten into an extremely soft creamy inside. The cream may not burst into your mouth but is just enough to make it delectable. We ordered a sizzler each...the Italian and the Indian Tikki . After ordering it, I noticed that the Italian one was the recommended one on the menu. Well, for me a sizzler is a nice mix of plenty of baked/blanched vegetables with about a third of spaghetti/ noodles/ rice/ macaroni with a cutlet kind of accompaniment.
I feel that the carb content should be just one third of the main meal. Therefore, the skewed ratio of veggies to the rice/noodle content was a let-down. To compare to an Indian meal, can you down only rice without any accompaniment? This ratio must change. And because of not having anything to go with my macaroni/spaghetti, I had to leave my dish half-finished. The other sizzler, of which I tasted some, was also left unfinished. The Indian kaju gravy, with rice and some veggies, again did  not have a good ratio of rice: veggies. Overall, the sizzlers were good but not excellent.
Last, we opted for their Malai Kulfi for dessert. A round thin kulfi was sliced into 6 triangular pieces and we had three pieces each. This was quite tasty.
Seeing the menu and also seeing that the cost for two was Rs. 500 ( as per a popular food review site), my expectation from the restaurant was that it would be a dhaba-like ambieince. But what we got was amazing. Quite a decent ambience. Only wish they had a dry washroom. Wet-floored washrooms are such a put-off!
And yes, don't believe the cost of 500/- for two. Our order of 1 soup + 1 starter + 2 sizzlers + 1 dessert came to 1333/- with taxes.
This restaurant is only six months old in Hyderabad. It will pass its true test when it sustains the quality. A few restaurants actually do.
My rating:
Food: 3.5/5
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 3.5/5

An update:
Visited again yesterday, 20th October, 2013. Tried the big nachos this time. The nachos were really huge, about 4" long slices accompanied with veggies and beans. Was good but could have been better if the nachos were served separately. Large parts of it got soggy and therefore no longer crisp. The Corn Cheese balls remained as yummy as before. We tried their penne pasta which was very creamy as it had tons of cheese and was great. The paneer ka baap, which we had for a starter, proved to be the baap of all starters, very soft, well marinated six slices of paneer, each done with different spices.
This experience proved again that this restaurant will not disappoint anyone

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Raanjhanaa a must-watch. It is so heart-warming to see good movies like this getting made. 2013 saw  Kai-Po-Che which was a pleasant movie followed by this one now! A simple heart warming love story. What was an amazing discovery was watching Dhanush act. Had never seen any of his movies earlier and see him transform from an infatuated youngster to an adult, steadfast in his love for Sonam Kapoor was an amazing journey. The movie does have its faults like how come four generations of a Tamil family settling in Varanasi still didn't take care of the accent? Yet, that Dhanush speaks Hindi so well itself is quite an achievement. Dhanush's spontaneity combined with excellent dialogs is the highlight of the movie.
Hope a lot of people watch this movie so that it encourages more such film makers. From me, a 4/5 for this movie.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

a'la Liberty

I have been singing paeans of a'la Liberty since I first tasted their food, I think, some 3 years back. Three visits since then did nothing to assuage the greedy longing for the restaurant. And when the Foodies group suggested dining at this restaurant, with the very lucrative offer of a 40-item menu, for me it was a yes, yes and a yes all the way.
We met at a' la Liberty for dinner. The slight drizzle outside did nothing to dampen the high spirits. I was rubbing my hands in anticipation of the gluttonous evening. We were allotted a long private room and were welcomed with a red-pink drink, the Love Potion, which had Rose, Litchi, Orange, Mango and Soda. The taste was more sour than sweet. The strands of litchi and the sourness of orange were felt prominently. Just a hint of rose, perhaps but both the flavors of mango or the punch of soda weren't noticeable. Just a drink from a buffet spread. There was also the Jal Jeera but most of them chose to have that at the end of the dinner.
The rather tepid Hot and Sour soup didn't stand up to its nomenclature.

The REAL feast came in the shape of the entrees', an awesome offer of five delectable ones:
We started with the veg Shikampuri Kebab which was coin sized made of vegetables and cornflour combined and deep fried...quite soft and tasty. Next was the Yasi Yaki snack. It had slices of baby corn, capsicum and carrot pierced together, dipped in thin corn flour and deep fried...very crunchy and tasty, mildly flavored. The third and the king of starters were the Cheese croquettes which were basically deep fried, bread-crumbed potato roll. The best part was the taste of the cheese filling when you bit into it. Just superlative ! Giving this a close competition was the Cocktail Paneer soft, succulent, well quoted with spices, almost orgasmically delightful! This tasty  appetizers' trip ended with garlic bread, equally delightful, the bread soft, with the right amount of garlic, not a shred more or less. My sojourn would have stalled here but for the delightful spread of the main course waiting just outside the room.
The Chaat Counter had four items. I started with my favorite Pani Puri and Aloo Papdi chat. Pani Puris were stuffed with some chana kind of stuffing but the Aloo Papdi chat was quite decent in taste, rightly spiced. Didn't try the Dahi Wada or Dahi Puri.

Normally my meal consists of the soup, appetizers and the salads, tasting just bites from the main course. For a salad lover, the salads were a slight let-down. Gadu Gadu salad consisted of various blanched vegetables mixed with a cornflour sauce which was just ok. The Churmur salad was a lemon juice mixed chanachoor kind of thing, kept delightfully crunchy. The usual green salad consisting of various vegetables. I love and always look forward to the cream based salads. In this criteria we had the Litchi Walnut salad. Cream based salads should have some crunch to it but the litchi far overpowered the walnut counterpart and for me it was a disappointing taste. There was a Tapas bar consisting of the nachos excellently accompanied  with various dips, sauces, salsa, hummus...

The other continental items consisted of Cannelloni Di Spinaci, Pasta in Two Sauces, Szechwan Noodles, Clay Pot Fried Rice, Dumpling in Hong Kong Sauce. Among the continental, the dumplings made a distinct impression. It tasted like the wet Manchurian version of a Chinese meal but far superior in taste.
And the main course, as rightly expressed by the foodies' admin, was definitely not limited to Paneer Butter Masala and Mixed-veg curry. What we had instead, was a veritable feast of uncountable items!
The Indian main dishes were Khusrang Paneer, Palak Lasooni, Zafrani Kofta, Haandi Masala, Kadi Pakodi, Veg Biryani and Coconut Rice. Among these, the Zafrani Kofta was the best with its very soft and succulent koftas in a delectable gravy.

The desserts consisted of Coconut Malai Marvel, Apple Crumble, Blueberry Cheese Cake, Angoori Gulab Jamun, Chocolate Mud Cake, Butter Scotch Pastry, Cut Fruits, Ice-Creams. Though the tiny gulab jamoons were great, the hands down winner was the coconut Malai Marvel, a wonderful mix of thickly grated coconut, sugar and thick cream.

If I have to nitpick, I'd say: 
When it was drizzling, I would have appreciated if the door man  had helped the diners with the big umbrella that he was holding but of course he may not know that everyone who alights there is headed for the restaurant. Second, though I don't claim to be an expert in international cuisine, I thought that a couple of names were puzzling. For e.g: Isn't Yasi Yaki name of a noodle preparation, (instead of the snack served) ? Is Tapas bar what it claims to be? Is it not supposed to be carrying appetizers from Spanish cuisine rather than Mexican?

If you ignore these trivialities, I'd say a' la Liberty is simply one of the best vegetarian buffet spreads in town. I would rate it a good 4.5/5 experience. A complete value for money.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What's the mood today?

Dear Hyderabad Weather,

This year your behavior seems more erratic than a woman's mood...what's up?
You had us all sweltering, perspiring, stewing, stifling and sticky till the end of May. So much so that even an afternoon nap was impossible without the ACs going full blast. The State Electricity Board gleefully sent a fat bill as you made us use it with a max and min temperatures hovering at  45° and 34° . Guess you went bonkers! You worked overtime, not willing to relent  below 34°    even at nights!
And then, you started blowing those gusty winds.We Hyderabadis breathed in relief as we saw the temperatures drop to a more bearable max and min of 36°  and  26° Good, we thought and waited for the much-awaited Indian monsoon where we could see sheets of heavy rains beating down on the earth, smell the first rain and joyously dance at this heart-warming sight. Yet, you cheated again. After 3 days of gusty winds heralding your arrival...making us wait and wait and wait, you come stealthily in the night and poured buckets...poured and poured. You stole from us the joy of watching the first rain happen.
With these showers you seem to have brandished a magic wand which changed the weather overnight. Now you make us shiver with cold with these intermittent rains which has us switching off the fans and trying to adjust with your temp of 25°  and 22° ! Mood swings? Yes, happens, but all this within 10 days' time?!
And as a woman to woman, I understand your moods. Some unpredictability is needed to make life interesting, isn't it? But do you mind if I ask you to turn up the thermostat just a little, just a bit till the real winter sets in?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Encounters@Taj Krishna

I had read good reviews about the Encounters restaurant at Taj Krishna. Why I opted for this restaurant will give you an insight into why it disappointed me so much.
We had planned to watch a movie @ INOX, Banjara Hills at 1 pm. There was this dilemma...we needed to start eating at 12 to be able to complete our lunch and be in time for the movie. And for someone who is used to eating a late lunch, 12 noon was way too early. So we decided to go for a rather heavy breakfast a little late and eat lunch after the movie at 3.30 pm. From all my previous experiences I know that all restaurants lunches in Hyderabad close by 3 or 3.30 pm max. An internet search revealed that the Taj had a round the clock service promising different cuisines at different times of the day. We planned  go for an international cuisine which is rarely offered by the local restaurants.
On going to the Encounters@ Taj, we found a near-deserted restaurant. Skeptical, we asked for the menu. We skipped the South Indian menu and the usual North Indian stuff of rotis and curries and dived straight at the international one.
What we found were a few soups, starters and some main course items. I was pretty excited and called the steward asking him for the details. He started suggesting that we go for idlis, dosas or parathas. I told him we aren't interested and insisted on his explaining the stuff on menu. He simply couldn't! None of the items mentioned in the menu had any names in English by which I could identify what the dish was about. A dish was mentioned as a constituent of different items within whose names were in their native tongue of which I understood very little. Hence I had to ask the steward to assist me. He again suggested the North Indian and South Indian stuff. He didn't seem to have a clue of what's on the menu. By this time, it was around 5 pm and we were starved. When we insisted on the Continental, he suggested a Caesar salad , not on the menu, but some name he was familiar with, I guess. And when we said ok to that, he came back to say that the salad was not available in this kitchen and he had to order it from another kitchen of the hotel and that it would take at least half hour!
Meanwhile, I called up my son and asked him to google and let me know what those ingredients meant. When he explained, then we could decide what we could eat or not. By the time the salad had arrived, we were famished and ate it in a great hurry. It was served with a variety of breads and butter. We gobbled it up as soon as possible and decided after this immense delay not to order anything more. This frugal salad came to around Rs. 500/-  ! By this time, they had started laying out the evening buffet.
I think all those reviews were for their buffets. That's fine but then EVERY restaurant offers food at the regular hours. If you offer a 24 hour service, you better ensure your kitchen runs for 24 hours and ALSO have a steward who helps you with understanding the menu. You deserve at least this with all the exorbitant pricing. For people who have late breakfast, or those who want to have lunch at their convenient time and not be restricted by the usual and expected lunch hours, Taj is not the place to head to.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The religion of pickle-preparation

The Telugu-speaking need no introduction when I speak about pachadi or avakayi ( chutneys and pickles). We live and die by them.
Now that the season of pickle preparation is on, my mind goes back to my childhood days when pickle preparation was almost like a ceremony. Summer would bring raw mangoes into the market. We would start the season with mamidikayi pappu (raw mango-mixed dal) and mamidikayi pachadi (raw  mango chutney). Further, before the right mangoes for pickle preparation hit the market, mother would make something that she'd call the temporary pickle which would be prepared like the conventional pickle but with much smaller pieces so that it was ready to eat as soon as possible.  
The pickle preparation would start with elaborate planning. How many varieties of mango pickles to be prepared? How many varieties of mangoes need to be bought? But even before buying the mangoes, more elaborate preparation awaited. Transfer last year's left over pickles, if any, into smaller jars and wash and keep all those big glass and ceramic jars out to air in the sun. Buy mustard seeds, buy red chilies and dry them out in the sun for 1-2 days. Once the chilies were dried and crisp, mother would pound these in the mortar with a long wooden pestle.There was also a belief that unless mustard powder was quickly mixed with salt, it would turn bitter. Salt used then was the crystal salt. These powders were then sieved through a cloth to ensure that the finest powders were used for optimizing the tastes. 
After the jars and powders were ready, father bought the mangoes. Different varieties of mangoes were used for different types of mango pickles but the first and the sourest ones to hit the market were used to make 'Pachi Avakayi' (Raw mango pickle). Other varieties would involve the sun-dried and other varieties of pickle.
Cutting and preparing the pickle was a family affair. Mother, and sometimes father would cut the mangoes into halves. We kids would sit around with screw drivers in hand to remove the 'jeedi' and the 'pora' (seeds and the thin plastic-like layer surrounding the seed) carefully from the halves and then the mangoes would be cut into smaller pieces, each mango yielding about 15 pieces. Mangoes with any kind of scratches or cuts were declared unfit for pickle. We kids would hang around just for that opportunity and quickly grab those pieces; a small portion of salt and chilly powder in our tiny hands and the sour mango pieces dipped into and eaten with great gusto. 
Once the pieces were cut, then the process of mixing would start. Mother would measure and pour out a mound of red chilly powder. On that would come the green mustard powder, followed by the white salt, the yellow turmeric and then the creamy brown asafoetida powder. I would watch with wonder as she would hand-mix these colors together. The colors would slowly blend with each other till they formed a uniform reddish-brown texture. The huge jars were brought out. Handfuls of the mango pieces scooped up with mixed powder and shoveled into the waiting jars. When the entire amount of the mixture and the mangoes disappeared, mother would pour out the thick dark mustard oil all over the pickle. We would want so eagerly to taste it  but were asked to wait for a week while it got ready.
Most of the time, this whole thing was done after lunch. Remember, there were no excuses saying that I need to do so much today and hence," let's get food from outside" business in those days :) Mother had to cook, we had lunch, dishes cleared away and then the process would start.
Mother would mix the contents of the pickles a couple of times to ensure uniform pickling. And the day she declared it done, we used to eagerly wait at the dining tables to savor the first taste of the season's pickle. Hot white rice, a dollop of avakayi and hot ghee mixed together, eaten while biting into the mango pieces still crunchy and  relishing each mouthful of the great spicy, aromatic experience...heavenly!

My tribute to the tradition this year: a mini ceremony with 6 mangoes

Friday, May 31, 2013

Iddarammayilatho...asale vaddu

These days when I see Brahmanandam on screen, I know this movie is poised for a failure. Movies with good stories don't need such props ('Gundello Godari', 'Mithunam' and even 'Gunde jaari'...examples).
The movie featuring Allu Arjun, Amala Paul and Katherine Teresa is like a typical 'seeti-maar' masala movie with a concoction of romance, dance, crime, comedy. Allu Arjun has an electrifying presence as usual but utterly wasted in this meaningless, headless movie. And why does Amala Paul look strikingly like (a shorter version of) Deepika Padukone? And Katherine Teresa? Gawd! Why the hero didn't give her two tight slaps and asked her to shut up, I don't know. Never seen a more screeching and annoying acting.
Nothing happens in the first half of the movie. The second half is JUST bearable.
Quickly posting this as soon as I came back from the show to alert people who crave for a good story and a good movie. Didn't get tickets for Jawani-Deewani and hence had opted for this :(
Reviewing this movie is a waste of time.Yet, amidst all this is a short but brilliant piece of acting in one scene between the hero-heroine's parents, brilliantly enacted by Nassar, Tulasi, Tanikella Bharani and Pragati. Rao Ramesh displays exceptionally strong acting in the brief role that he essays. Great genes carried forward!
Bright spots in an otherwise lifeless movie.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Indijoe and Westin: food review

Infrequent posting had never been my intention when I started my blog. Agree, there are the ups and downs of moods but nothing earlier had kept me so irregular at posting.
I mean, being the foodie that I am, I should have at least done justice by doing the restaurant reviews.

Two of the  restaurants that I visited in the last few months have been as below. Some memory fades as its been a while but the impressions are as true as they were. I will post the rest in the next few posts. Till then--

Indijoe: Always open to experimenting with different tastes of food, we tried Indijoe. Indijoe is on the top floor of City Center Mall along with other BJN group of restaurants. Sahib Sindh Sultan though expensive was a decent experience. Indijoe didn't let us down either. Indian food forms a very small proportion of the meal. The buffet, modestly priced, if I remember correctly, at around 350+, has a wonderful mix of continental food. What was pleasantly surprising was finding a decent amount of vegetarian stuff in the buffet. Great taste and a good spread. I normally crave for the salads and starters. They could have experimented more with the salads, which I found were rather limited in imagination.
The ambiance was decent though not very spacious. Service was found wanting. No one really bothered about seating you or come to you for your order though it was a week day and we were among the first ones to visit.
I would rate this buffet a 4/5. Not being too expansive nor limited, they served the right number of items per section. Many a time, too many items in a buffet leave you feeling as though you do justice to none. Will I go there again? A big YES. The good quality of the buffet items make me want to try their a' la carte fare the next time.

Westin. Had heard so much about Westin that by the time we visited it, the expectations were sky-high. And all those expectations were met exceedingly well. What's there in Westin? Well, an exorbitant buffet spread priced exorbitantly!
Being a thorough foodie, I prefer to taste across multi-cuisine and never believed in indulging only in Indian. Well, a foodie can have his heart's delight as they have food from across globe. Even when you have a tbsp or two of every dish, you cannot taste everything in the spread! My taste buds go bananas at the mere mention of the Indian street food like the chat, and its unbelievable that I couldn't taste it! I was so filled with just the visual delight of the spread! There were at least 14 varieties of the ice creams! The fun part was that they had ample varieties in each of these cuisines spread across continents. So, people who are not open to experimenting with their food are also not disappointed.
The restaurant is quite spacious with good distance between the tables. Service was quite courteous. If I remember right, the buffet was priced at around Rs. 1100 per head. If I were to be really finicky, and choose to say something negative, I would say that the vegetarians ought to be really careful. Most of the dishes have the veg and the non-veg versions of the dishes placed right next to each other and the labels, though present, are skewed (not enough space to place them) and leads to confusion. I ended up serving myself  some non veg stuffed momos and had to quickly have my plate replaced. After that, I asked the steward before I served myself the suspicious looking ones.
Will I go there again? YES, a hundred times!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Small, little big things of life

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
—Robert Brault
Had this quote forwarded yesterday and at what an apt time!

What I never believed in is:
  • trying to appease people so that your selfish needs are met
  • trying to comply just because you need to look good in people's eyes
  • compete: I am what I am , comfortable in my skin
  • consider materialistic things important
If I  was sure of one thing from my childhood, it was the importance of love and relationships.

All that I ever cared for is the perceptive unsaid love one has for one's own. Of love that gifts you what you need and not what they think you need, of love that knows exactly what you want, like, of what pains you and what gives you joy.

My birthday this time was exactly this: gifts of no great value, money-wise. They were all a series of small gestures, very thoughtful and which could come only on being very perceptive of the needs of people we love, things not expressed or asked but given, each one bringing that twinkle to the eye and a smile to the face.
That was my son who made this birthday so special.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The music of silence

The world around me is silent.
as the noises of the day gradually fall silent 
as lights are dimmed one after another 
as the body and mind langurously unwind
as  the back relaxes at the support provided, finally, finally... 

A deep sigh of contentment
as the mind is quelled, after a string of maddening  chores
as the night deepens, the smallest noises enhanced
as  far away I hear a chirping, a cricket perhaps?   
as I sight the soft movements of shadows of night and dark 
as I breathe deep to hang on to these rare minutes of sanity
as I draw the sheets closer 
as I sink into a deep languid sleep