Monday, July 27, 2015

Saffron Mantra

Saffron Mantra was being spoken about quite a bit but I ignored it for a long time. The mixed and usual menu of Indian + Chinese didn't excite me much. Till one day, too lazy to travel to the other side of the city, I inquired in the foodie groups for a feedback. Hearing good things, I geared up to visit the place.
Situated on the Karkhna main road and having worked in the same building for a long time, finding it wasn't a challenge at all.
The place is huge and spacious with well-spaced tables. Tall, wavy, lacy saffron curtains added to the idea of space.

Saffron Mantra

When the waiter appeared, I requested him just one thing: 'ensure I get quality stuff', haunted  as I was of recent experiences of getting nilch for good money.
He sent for another waiter, a Oriya guy (forget his name now). I repeated my request of getting good stuff...and there begins my journey of a great experience!

My first order was for Manchow Veg soup. It was simply awesome in taste. The right vegetables, served at right temperature, not too spicy...just perfect! The good part was that the noodles were served separately as I kept adding them while I sipped the soup.

Manchow Soup
Foodie members recommended the Poha Hara Kabab. Just after ordering it, I realized there was a starter platter called Subz e Khajana. I quickly called the waiter to ask him about it and he said I could order four of the vegetarian starters from the menu. I left it to the waiter's choice. I approved of Galouti Kebab  and Paneer Kairi Tikka as these were also highly recommended by the foodie members. He suggested Tandoori Cauliflower which I accepted half halfheartedly (a very common dish).

Subz e Khazana

Poha Hara Kabab was made of spinach and paneer and rolled in poha to get that crunch. And it was that crunch that added to its taste.
The Paneer Kairi Tikka--I was skeptical of the mix of sweetness in an appetizer. But this was a very clever trick. The chef had just added a sliver of mango jelly sandwiched between two pieces of the softest paneer and the result was awesome-- a great balance of spicy and sweet.
What I had not heard of and was purely the waiter's suggestion was the Tandoori Cauliflower. The menu description says 'gobi with garlic, almonds and cheese sprinkled with red chilli'. I may not have been able to discern all the ingredients and spices but the result was just GREAT! In the whole of Hyderabad, I have yet to taste Tandoori Gobi which tasted so good. Right spices, right creaminess and well-grilled. Thanks to the waiter for this suggestion.
On the down side, the Galouti Kebabs, so spoken about by lot of foodies were a disappointment as I found them too soft. Upon asking, the waiter says, they were supposed to be melt-in the-mouth experience. But to me they were under cooked.
I only had to give this feedback and they were quickly removed from the platter and replaced with this corn rolls (not on menu) which again were quite decent in taste. To compensate I got four pieces, instead of three on the starters platter :)

Feeling full by now, I ordered for a sweet and sour fresh lime soda and was pleasantly taken by the presentation and the quantity served. Need I speak of the quality? No complaints on this.

Fresh Lime Soda
In the main course, I ordered for a Methi Dum Aloo which was described as 'fresh fenugreek and baby potatoes in creamy gravy' and for me the only disappointment of the day as neither did I find baby potatoes in it nor did I find any creaminess to the dish. It had regular potatoes chopped into big chunks and pretty much the regular red gravy. The fenugreek added a slight bitterness to the dish. Perhaps a bit of blanching would have helped get rid of that bitterness. The waiter offered to replace the dish but I by this time I had spent quite a bit of time in the restaurant and wanted to return.
The bread section had a vast variety to choose from and the garlic nan that I ordered was decently soft and crunchy .

Methi Malai Dum Aloo & Garlic Nan
In keeping with its Saffron backdrop, the bill was presented in this tiny saffron bucket.

Apart from the regular North Indian and Chinese, the restaurant also serves stuff like South Indian tiffins, pizzas etc. in the evenings.
When I opened the carry bag with the left-overs at home, I was pleasantly surprised to see them all so neatly packed and labeled. Some dedication this!

For me
Ambiance: 4.5/5
Service: 5/5
Food: 3.5/5
VFM: 4/5

Will I go back? Yes! I look forward to trying their other stuff soon..

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijan

Khamoshi, 1996, was the last Salman Khan's movie I watched in the theatre. After nearly two decades, I went on to book a ticket for a Salman movie without waiting for the reviews. Something about the trailers promised a very different movie. Of course, there was the attraction of  Nawazuddin Siddiqui
I am no Salman Khan fan but I always knew  he just needed the right story and script to bring back that Prem in him. And Bajrangi Bhaijaan provides him just that opportunity! He has that presence to lighten up the screen with his larger than life persona.Yet, what's amazing is the way he tones down his body language to be, me or our neighbor. He also has a way with kids and director Kabir Khan has exploited this trait.Though older by a couple of decades, Salman still infuses an innocence to his role and we are there empathizing with him 
The hero is not to be seen for the first half hour of the movie at all. There is no 'dhamakedaar' entry of the hero. In fact, when first seen, he is seen in clothes smeared with holi colors dancing for his Hanuman. He is a Bajarangi bhakt and bows to every monkey he sights. 
In the life of this  staunch Hindu, who believes in adhering strictly to Brahmins' way of life, enters a six year old Pakistani girl (Harshaali Malhotra), who is separated from her parents and wanders into India. The story is about how Salman Khan has made his mission to re-unite her with her parents in Pakistan. 'Hum ne Bajrangbali se wada kiya hain' is his refrain. 
By the end of the movie he forgets he is not supposed to enter a masjid. He doesn't eat non-vegetarian food but when the child wants to eat, he takes her to an eatery which serves her what she likes. He believes in getting what he desires by always speaking the truth.
It is a great relief to see subtle messages in the movie without ever adapting a preachy sharp contrast to PK (have not forgiven PK yet)! Nowhere does Kabir Khan ridicule or put down any belief, religion, caste or country. What he does show is that human relations are more important than all these differences. Two important elements, humor and irony, are used to strengthen the narration. 
The little girl steals your heart from the word go. Not only does she look very pretty, she wins you over with her expressions without speaking a word! 
Nawazuddin Siddiqui  plays the role of a bumbling freelance journalist who finds a juicy story when a Hindustani is caught entering Pakistan. But as soon as he realizes the nobility of Salman's mission, he helps him unite the daughter and mother. He is, of course, someone who doesn't need to 'act' and is a delightful match to Salman and the kid. 
It is sad to see Kareena Kapoor waste her brilliance in an insignificant role. She shines even in that short appearance.
The last fifteen minutes of the movie are emotionally manipulative but then you easily overlook this, overwhelmed as you are with the story by this point. 
For all the Salman fans, does Salman take off  his shirt? Yes, he does!
A must-watch for all those who aspire to watch a movie which is both entertaining and heartwarming.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cooking Culture

This time, heard of this restaurant from just a bunch of people and depended mostly on a popular food site for an opinion.Though I don't really trust their reviews, just the attraction of a vegetarian restaurant was enough to draw me to Cooking Culture.
One look at the menu and I was floored! There was a wide array of Indian and International dishes on the  menu. I told myself, however much I order, I cannot taste all this and must come back with family to taste from each section. I ordered three items because I wanted to carry back half of everything for my family, wait for their verdict, and come back for more of the vegetarian stuff.
I braved the traffic, the one-way route and reached the place. Having skipped breakfast to have an early lunch, I requested the owner/manager to keep the starter ready as I wanted to have it as soon as I went there. I was told not to worry as it will get ready in 5-10 minutes' time. Taking his word for it, I asked for the Makhmali Paneer Tikka starter as soon as I was seated. It was a good twenty minutes before I got it. .
The dish does look attractive, doesn't it?

Makhmali Paneer Tikka

To their credit, this was the softest paneer I have ever eaten. I gobbled up the first one hungrily. But despite the ravenous hunger, I found a distinct lack of flavors with the second one. It was supposed to be marinated in cream, yogurt, cheese, green chilies etc.
I could only taste a thin layer of cream and yogurt. It was very bland otherwise. Once you wipe that thin layer away, it was just like eating plain paneer. It wasn't marinated at all. I had explicitly asked the waiter before ordering and he confirmed that it was indeed marinated.Moreover, the skewered capsicum and tomato were raw too.
My next order was the Thai green curry. Wanted to try their non-Indian food too. After the initial disappointment, I told the waiter that I look forward to a pure Thai experience and not an Indianized version. He assured that they would take care.

Thai Green Curry

The quantity served was okay but there was a highly skewed ratio of veg +gravy to the rice. The gravy should be at least twice the quantity of the rice. So ended up eating a very diluted form of the dish...that too with very less flavors from the condiments within, not even enough salt .But it was creamy and that saved the dish to some extent.
The third and last item was this Shahi Biryani.

When asked for Biryani selection, the waiter suggested their Mumbaiya biryani. I was in the mood to eat something subtler. The waiter cautioned me that the Shahi Dum Biryani would be sweet. I was okay with it. The word pilaf conjures up images of aromas...of a Kashmiri pulao like sweetness loaded with dry fruits, kismis etc.

What came was this! Never having been served this way, I was curios to see what lay underneath. 

Shahi Dum Biryani
Upon opening, I could see the  raw and under-cooked piece of roti reveal this: (Still wondering about the role of that roti cover)

Already skeptical by the lack of aromas, I hesitantly asked the waiter to serve a bit as I was already full. It was like eating plain colored rice. There was nothing in it. No promised mint flavors, no dry fruits, no sweetness, nothing! When I informed the waiter, he tried to scrape some 'gravy' from the midst of the dish. Another waiter/cashier came and said to the waiter, "we don't serve gravy in this dish, so what are you searching for?" No answer!
My advice:
If you want to serve dhaba style, bring on the strong flavors. If you want to serve the royal Shahi stuff, use delicate flavors which result in those aromas. We are more forgiving of dhaba fare as the prices and the expectations are low. But when you pretend class with all the wonderful dishes in the menu, the expectation is higher and the disappointment greater. 
I have had disastrous experiences in restaurants before but never met with such nonchalant attitude. Remember how ticked off we are when the customer care keeps saying 'sorry for the inconvenience caused' and does nothing about rectifying anything? I had the same feeling at the end, as despite giving constant feedback, I got only this as an answer.
To top it all, you are asked to come inside to a small space to get your card swiped instead of getting the machine to your table. Felt weird doing it.

Ambiance gets a 2/5; food gets a 1/5; service promptness a 2.5/5
Going back? No

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Coffee Cup

The one-foot high coffee cup at the entrance.
Coffee Cup at Sainikpuri was that elusive bait dangling before me for a long time. I was holding back because of the distance and then traveling all that way just for a few snacks and coffee wasn’t too tempting a thought, But when a search for the Italian threw this as a surprise option, I didn’t think twice and decided to brave the threatening clouds.
I called before starting to confirm that they serve at that hour (5.30 pm) and was ensured that they are open through the day because of being a cafe.
The directions were rather hazy and I ended up meandering through a few lanes before I reached. For those who want to go, the directions are simple. Reach Radhika theatre, drive a couple of kilometers more and you find the BP petrol pump on your right, just behind is the outlet.
The entrance is a big round door like in an old fortresses. A tavern-like appearance with wood all around bowled me completely. As you bend to let yourself through it, it leads to stairs going up, opening to a small place thumping with music.

The entrance

The left wall on the entrance

 I was promptly seated close to a glass partition. This side of the partition were the diners and that side were the smokers playing around with a coffee and indulging in different games like ludo, chess etc.
The owner (Nishant) discussed various options for me, a vegetarian. 70 % of the menu contained non-vegetarian items and of the remaining few, some of the options weren’t available. Not having had lunch, I was starved and it didn’t take me too long to agree with the option that Nishant offered: a grilled sandwich with corn and spinach. Two slices of bread stuffed with cream, cornflour, spinach and corn made a very decent fare as it was served with some chips.

Cheesy Spinach and Corn Sandwich

The filling in the sandwich

Having the bread already, I decided to not go for the burger, another bread item. Instead, I asked for their appetizers. No vegetarian item in that section was available. The order of salads wasn’t encouraged. I was left with the entrees’ and nachos. I opted for the entrees and this is how colorful the fare was.

Cottage Cheese with roasted vegetables

I liked the mild flavors of herbs but wasn’t impressed with the amount of paneer pieces it contained. I like loads of veggies in my dishes and felt this was a very skewed ratio. I was left chewing lot of paneer (or was it tofu? ) I  loved the crunch of the well-sauteed vegetables. The bread served with the dish was rather dry and upon coming home, I saw in the menu that I could have opted for mashed potato instead. Wish I was told about it.
The third  order was the pasta. The pasta was very well cooked in white alfredo sauce, rightly creamy and with the right amount of vegetables. Served hot with two slices of bread. The bread slices were again a tad dry but this was quickly rectified upon asking  by the addition of some garlic butter which not only took care of the dryness but also introduced a sharpness to the overall taste.

Veg Penne Pasta

I resisted the shakes/mojitos because having come to Coffee Cup, I wanted to taste their coffee. I ordered for Frappe, their cold coffee and I must say that this was one of the creamiest and tastiest coffee I have had in a long, long time.  The Espresso blended with ice cream was worth waiting for till the end of the meal.

Cafe' Frappe'

Now for the Pros and Cons:

I didn’t opt for the dessert because the coffee more than compensated for a nice end to the meal. And also because EVERY dessert was made of chocolate and me being a chocolate hater didn’t have ANY option at all. But for chocolate lovers, there is a huge array to select from. On my way out when I went downstairs again, I discovered their ice creams. Had they provided the dessert menu along with their regular one, I might have ordered one. The menu itself was a printed paper stuck to a metal plate and was in a badly worn-out state which made it very hard to read in places. They should replace it, for sure.
The vegetarian section needs more attention. None of the appetizers in the vegetarian section were available. The vegetarians will definitely cater to a decent clientele with a repleted list of vegetarian items on the menu.

The ambiance was cool, hep and allows one to let one's hair down. I was not really dressed for the place as I was equipped more for the rain, yet I was not allowed to feel out of place. The service was very attentive and prompt. The washroom was decent too. The whole space spells cool.

Coffee Cup offers an Italian and Continental cuisine. The menu contains coffees, teas, shakes, sodas, burgers, pastas and breads among other things. Though slightly expensive for a cafe, the portion sizes are very decent. The meal I ordered was enough for two.

The food: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 5/5
Service: 4/5
This was a very decent experience for me. My first time is surely not going to be the last.