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.