The China House … revival of the Chinese food we Delhiites love!!!

A working day afternoon, a craving for Dimsums and some spicy Chinese, a suggestion by one of our food lover friends and lo we were at recently open China House by Q’BA. The impromptu food outings are one of the bests especially when you visit a place without too many “over the top” expectations and they surprise you with great ambiance, personalized service and most importantly yummy food.

The China House is situated in the in the K- block of the outer circle of Connaught Place, next to the age-old Ginza restaurant. The bright red and black glow sign cannot be missed and if lucky you will get a parking just outside the restaurant, else you can go around and park in one of the radial roads on either side. Walking in the corridors of CP always has a nostalgic feel to it, whether you are visiting an old or a new place. The high ceilings among the colonnade transport back you to the British era and Sir Edwin Lutyen’s colonial design. The grand entrance to restaurants all add up to the old-world charm of this business district. The China house itself is adorned by a glass and teak wood elevation with a bold glow sign screaming its name.

China House's Red & Black Glowsign board

China House’s Red & Black Glowsign board

The interiors of the restaurant are chic, contextual and not loud at all. One notices the mezzanine at the rear side of the place, which is standard in all CP ground floor stores, a boon due to the high ceiling height of Lutyen’s Design. Though the design and the process gone in conceptualizing this place are quite evident as you walk in, the feeling of being welcomed into the restaurant has been achieved effectively. The tables close to the large windows (during lunch) have the luxury of natural light and alternatively, if you prefer the artificial slightly lower light tables, you can choose from the tables further down or on the mezzanine floor. I for one believe stores with high ceilings “kill it” by having the run of the mill false ceiling. China house’s designer has used the height intelligently giving it a bare, industrial look with exposed ducting and visible piping. The inverted Asian styled umbrellas add another dimension to the ceiling design and a well thought of detail. The walls are done in a rustic way with white brick style cladding, though a real brick worked wall painted white would have added to the chic decor. Overall, the white rustic walls adorned with metal orchids (from Thailand), the bare ceilings, wooden paneling and furniture define a comfortable and pleasing space that does not interfere with the experience of your food, but complements it.

The Chic decor!!!

The Chic decor!!!

A smiling face and the body language of the host to the server, immediately puts the diner at ease and one is already looking forward to a good meal. Still new, the staff at China House is well trained, happy to be there (which is very important) and courteous to the demands. The people behind the place seem to have filtered down the fact that the servers need to be patient with the diners. Chef Anil, was kind enough to visit us at our table and add to the suggestions made by the articulate server. A simple man with an unassuming demeanor the Chef, understands the North Indian love for spicy Chinese and is maintaining the balance between the Indian and the Asian cuisines to suit our desi preferences.

Attention to detail!

Attention to detail!

A good décor and service with a smile is more than half the battle won from my side. I always believe happy people can never serve you bad food. More than the ingredients it is the passion with which they cook and serve brings out the actual flavour of the food. Dimsums is what China House advertises with élan and so the smart choice was to start off with an assortment of dumplings. The Assortment consisted of Seven Spiced Chicken Dumplings, Garlic Chicken Dumplings, Chicken and Prawn Sui Mai, Shrimp with water chestnut Dumplings & Spicy lamb dumplings. The dimsums were steamed and the meat cooked to complement the flavour rather than spoil it. Easily picked up by the chopsticks the experience of taking the whole dimsum in one go was a mélange of flavours exploding inside. Though the Shrimp and water chestnut rate high on the flavour scale, my favourite was the spicy lamb and if you are a meat lover like me, don’t miss this one for sure. The Chef did send us a variety of Veg Dimsums which I did eat to please him. But, if you follow my blog, you’d know vegetarian is something that I neither fancy eating nor writing about, sorry chef.

The assortment of dumplings!

The assortment of dumplings!

The assortment of dumplings!

The assortment of dumplings!

The assortment of dumplings!

The assortment of dumplings!

The next appetizer was the Garlic butter prawn, marinated in Butter milk and an Asian sauce covered with egg flakes. The prawns are fresh and full to bite into and the flavour explodes as soon as you dig your teeth into the individual bites. The butter milk marination keeps the spicy sauce in control and the twist makes them all the more delectable. A must have to start your meal. One does need a breather when one has tried an assortment of 9 dimsums and a spicy starter and a fresh lime soda is the only thing which provided the much needed break from the constant munching of food we were downing.

The Garlic Butter Prawns!

The Garlic Butter Prawns!

We did ask them to hold the main course but the prompt service ensured it was on our table as soon as we said the word “Go” again.

A special mention to the Chinese masala peanuts!

A special mention to the Chinese masala peanuts!

A fresh lime soda did wonders with the amount of food we consumed!

A fresh lime soda did wonders with the amount of food we consumed!

We had come mainly to gorge on the dumplings but then ended up ordering Chick in Red Thai Curry, steamed rice, Pork with Hot Basil and the Udon noodles with sliced fish in oyster sauce. Another marathon of food but we ensured nothing was left at the table or in the dishes. For the uninitiated Udon are thicker and flatter noodles, the origin of which are traced to Japan. China House served us the Wok fried with sliced fish in oyster sauce and lots of veggies. A dish which can be ordered and devoured all by itself, this one had the Indo-chinese taste to it and which I always prefer.

The Wok fried Udon noodles with sliced fish in Oyster sauce!

The Wok fried Udon noodles with sliced fish in Oyster sauce!

The Pork with Hot basil tastes even better than it looks in the pictures. I would recommend this one however, only if your palate loves to go beyond the normal person’s tolerance of spices. I was too enamoured by it and concentrated on eating it with some steamed rice without realizing that I never asked the chef how it was made. Pork my favourite kind of meat clubbed with the spicy oriental spices was nothing more I could have asked for. This is the one on the menu I will be going back for again and again. The Red Thai curry was alright and not bad, but we have all tasted it and either you like to eat it or you don’t, I sadly fall in the latter category. My fellow diner however gobbled up the entire bowl of Red curry with steamed rice. So if you love Thai curry I would recommend it here as my friend is somewhat a connoisseur on food and his finishing the whole bowl means a lot.

Pork with Hot Basil ... one dish I would go back again and again for!

Pork with Hot Basil … one dish I would go back again and again for!

Chicken in Red Thai Curry

Chicken in Red Thai Curry

Just when we thought we were done and ready to leave, the Chef announced that since we were so well behaved and finished all our food, we deserved desserts on the house and so he unleashed his two stars the Figs & Dates Pancake with Vanilla ice-cream & the usual Brownie with vanilla ice-cream. The crispy pancakes with the soft Vanilla ice-cream were complementing each other so well, that I finished half of it and realized that I do not even like pancakes. Having smelt the piping hot chocolate brownie I moved away from the pancakes and dived right into the hot ceramic dish with the ice-cream and brownie (be careful with the dish because it is extremely hot). The ice-cream and chocolate sauce were melting onto the extra warm and soft brownie and no matter how many versions of this dessert I have tried, people are always experimenting with how they serve it much to my pleasure.

The Dessert stars!!!

The Dessert stars!!!

I would say China house is stylish but not over the top, the Chinese food sits well on the North Indian palate, but be ready for some surprises along your meal.

I am definitely going back for more!

I am definitely going back for more!

The meal left me more than satisfied and though I knew I’d have to run that extra mile to shed the extra fat, I felt happy about it. A meal that would set you back by Rs. 1200/ person and a place where you can go regularly.

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Singham Returns … this time with Lady Singham and Daya!!!

Hollywood may have the likes of Superman, Batman and the Avengers. But what we have can kick their asses all the way to their cradle 10 times over. With the likes of Bajirao Singham and Chulbul Pandey, the police which in the olden days used to come after the climax was over have taken over the hero and is right in the center of action. The action is the highlight of the movie and Singham can make Wolverine look like a pussy in front of him, with his roar, persona and out of the screen punches.

Singham Returns ... move over the likes of Superman, Batman & Avengers!!!

Singham Returns … move over the likes of Superman, Batman & Avengers!!!

Singham Returns as the DCP of Mumbai, much stronger, feared and powerful in the second helping of the hit movie with the name Singham. The movie has no relation to the first part, except the character, his village and parents. So even if you missed the first one (which I would not believe you would have if you are reading this review), you can still go and watch this one. From teaching the young kids who are on the borderline of breaking laws, to fighting musclemen on steroids, our lovable & dependable cop Singham does it all with a panache which would put ramp models to shame.

Singham & his band of cops!!!

Singham & his band of cops!!!

The pretentious critics call the plot predictable, and I call them idiots. Making the audience wait for the next sequence, keeping them on the edge of their seat, even when they know what is going to happen is something the team of Rohit Shetty and Ajay Devgn (hope I have spelt his last name right) have mastered with quite a few films under their kitty. The action sequences are amazing and Ajay has delivered them even more effectively than the first part, this time with his team of equally menacing band of cops. As soon as one action sequence finishes, you wait for the next one and the director has spared the action lovers the pain of too many songs. Big city, more powerful villains and even larger gang of policemen is what the movie is about, no surprises, but watch it if you want wholesome entertainment. There is also a message, that if the cops have a will to eradicate the crime, nothing can stop them. The climax effectively uses this concept to show if the corrupt politicians can twist the law to their convenience so can the lawmen.

The Logo ... maybe we will see some tattoos now!

The Logo … maybe we will see some tattoos now!

Ajay Devgn delivers a larger than life character, who is fights like a lion, loves like a college boy and bleeds like a common man, impressive, isn’t it? That is how it is meant to be. He has worked hard on this policeman’s character both in terms of physique and mannerisms, and though over the top, has garnered all the seetis and the taalis (whistles and claps). Ajay is believable as the top cop, and convincing enough as a protector of the weak. His band of cops has a lot of familiar actors, but the man who has stood up to Singham’s person is Inspector Daya, the big guy from the popular TV series CID with the same name, and the same name in real life too, Dayanand Shetty. He became popular for his door breaking techniques in the TV series and besides breaking bones in the movies, he does break a door in the climax sequence when Singham repeats the famous lines, “Daya Tod de Darwaza!” The auditorium was filled with claps and whistles so I figure Daya has broken the door and entered the films in style.

Ajay Devgn looks and plays the part perfectly!

Ajay Devgn looks and plays the part perfectly!

Kareena Kapoor aka Lady Singham is a tamed down version of the “Jab we met” version. Talkative, jumping to conclusions and clicking selfies with strange men, she tries hard to make the romantic track entertaining but barring a few sequences I just wanted her to move on. Amol Gupte (a director par excellence) plays the role of a corrupt, scheming baba (God-man) who you would love to hate along with his political counterpart Zakir Hussain. The villains are predictable and their acts equally sinister to make you want to hate them. Anupam Kher & Mahesh Manjrekar as the self righteous politicians are supportive but in not so meaty roles.

Inspector Daya stands parallel and makes his mark!

Inspector Daya stands parallel and makes his mark!

Rohit Shetty has become the unbeatable kind of action in the Indian film industry and along with his team has produced and directed another winner. The music consists of the Singham theme from the original and a Yo Yo Honey Singh song “Ataa Majhi Sataklee” at the end. Seems like, Honey Singh has become a lucky mascot for all movies now, though you will come out humming the song.

The unbeatable duo ... Rohit Shetty & Ajay Devgn

The unbeatable duo … Rohit Shetty & Ajay Devgn

Well if you go to watch a movie by my standards this is definitely a must watch for you. If you are an Ajay Devgn fan, then you should must watch it too, those who like action should positively watch it. For the rest of you find excuses or reading critics’ reviews, go before (as Singham Bhau says) “Ataa Majhi Satakli” (I loose my temper).

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Purani Dilli’s food in the heart of New Delhi … Al Karam, a place to MEAT!!!

When I was young, my dad used to tell me stories about how every time he used to visit Jama Masjid (more specifically Karim’s) way back in 1980s, the servers and the owners used to be greeting them, to the extent of even remembering their favorite dishes and how eating at these places was more gratifying than eating at a 5 star hotel, which was a big deal in those days. I never used to get it then but now I realize that Jama Masjid’s food has always been famous with food lovers around Delhi for a long long time, much before I was born too. So when I heard of Al Karam, opening its third outlet in the heart of South Delhi, I was a little skeptic whether they would be able to do justice to the rich cuisine fit for royals. Boy was I wrong!!!

The magicians ... Umez Bhai & Varun Veigas

The magicians … Umez Bhai & Varun Veigas

The original Al Karam in Jama Masjid was started by Varun’s partner Umez’s father. Al Karam has existed in the walled city of Jama Masjid close to 65 years now. It was one of the earliest biryani eatery in Delhi. After taking over the effort has been to balance the traditional and contemporary for example using “meats” that aren’t traditionally a part of Mughlai cooking repertoire. This restaurant now reflect the passion for food from quality to quantity to pricing. Varun Veigas’s Al Karam (which I prefer to call it now) has taken that passion for food from the streets of Purani Dilli (Old Delhi) and for me is high up on that scale. Lucky for us Varun invited the members of The Delhi Foodie Club (TDfc) to his freshly opened outlet at Satya Niketan right opposite Sri Venkateshwara College. Never having tasted the Al Karam food before and considering it to be another copy of the Jama Masjid fare, the foodie in us still wanted to try it and we accepted the invite, strictly on a pay per person condition though subsidized.

A small place with seating for 19 people, but an old world charm with the wooden bench like seating and dark ceiling!

A small place with seating for 18 – 20 people, but an old world charm with the wooden bench like seating and dark ceiling!

A small restaurant with a seating for around 20 people, Al Karam is quite visible from the main road with its bright red glow sign board advertising Kebabs, Rolls, Nahari & Haleem. All specialties of Purani Dilli, Varun and his partner Umez have got it perfectly right for the meat lovers of Delhi. With wooden benches and textured Ivory coloured walls you are transported to the feel of an Old Delhi restaurant and its dining hall. No frills and no non-sense form the basis of Al Karam’s interior space and the simplicity is filtered all the way down from the décor to the servers and the straight forward service with a smile rule.

Hospitality has always been rated highly when you are eating in the lanes of Jama Masjid, and Varun has not only picked up the food and but also the concept of feeding diners like they were dining in his own home, which he believes they actually are. There are a few restaurants which are hospitable from the heart and treat guests with respect, and this place serves you direct “Dil Se”, a phrase coined by a fellow foodie friend of mine. The experience left me and others spellbound and satisfied at what these guys could conjure up for us in a small place.

Al Karam, though a small outlet, is big in flavours and that is what will make it stand out as tough contender to other restaurants trying the same cuisine. I have a lot of friends who want to try the flavours of the walled city but are apprehensive to venture through the lanes of Purani Dilli. For me the food served by Al Karam would be the closest and maybe better than what you get there. We let Varun and his team decide what was going to be served to us and over time I have realized that is the best to eat at a restaurant. Who would know better than the creator himself?

Mutton Gilafi Seekh Kebab!

Mutton Gilafi Seekh Kebab!

We started with the Mutton Gilafi while waiting for the rest of our mates as the aroma from the barbeque was getting unbearable and we had to start sampling the goods without delay. Varun had been forewarned about my love for meat and the assortment of Kebabs which started was mind boggling. Mix together with Mince Mutton, chopped onions, green chillies & coriander, the Gilafi was already being cooked on the charcoal when we had arrived and by the time it reached our table it was extremely well done with the aroma of the black coal which any Kebab lover swears by. An undulating texture while holding it converted into a softness so smooth it melted in the mouth as butter does. I finished a plate of 4 thick Gilafi Seekhs single handedly. An amazing start to our meal I could hardly wait for the rest.

Purani Dilli ka Butter Chicken

Purani Dilli ka Butter Chicken

Most of us who have visited Jama Masjid know about literal butter chicken one gets there. It is purely just Roasted Chicken poured over with a “cocktail” of yellow butter, dahi (curd) & some spices. Purani Dilli ka Butter Chicken is what we were served next along with a set of Roomali Rotis and Khameeri Roti. Talk about being spoilt for choice and only 2 dishes were served till now. The Chicken was juicy with the flavour of the marination completely dissolved in it and the left over gravy was polished off with the thick Khameeri Roti.

Tandoori Duck ... the star of the evening!

Tandoori Duck … the star of the evening!

We were silently eating without talking much, for obvious reasons, when our gracious hosts served us a dish which was to be the star of the evening. They challenged us to guess it and we had not imagined that we would be served Tandoori Duck, a speciality of the restaurant which is only prepared on 24 hours notice by the chef. In Varun’s words “It is marinated with your usual aromatic spices, tenderizer and ghee. Roasted in the tandoor and basted with more ghee, orange juice and the aromatic spice rub.” I don’t know the details of the aromatic spicy rub, but the aroma and the taste were something I have never sampled before. Never have I taken in a dish which looks tastes and smells so good all at the same time. For no other reason, if you are a meat lover, you have to visit Al Karam only for this.

Sutli Kebab, which has earned its name just for the fact of being tied with a sutli (thread), arrived next. A Kebab so soft it has to be tied around, and this softness was what we experienced when we untied the thread and devoured the kebabs. Originally made with buff we tried the mutton counterpart and the mince mutton flavour similar to the Gilafi tried earlier. I am sure the buff tastes much softer and juicier as this one was a little dry to my liking. I quickly moved onto another speciality on which was already on the table.

Roasted Quail ... another speciality!!!

Roasted Quail … another speciality!!!

Another bird on the menu which requires a 24 hour notice is Roasted Quail or more commonly known as battair. The first time I tasted Quail and I thought the meat was much tender than chicken, though lesser in quantity. The size seems like a small chick and the spices were well grounded into the bird. The meat came of easily of the bones and I loved chewing on the charred portions of the meat due to the excessive grilling at ends. The Quail roast is another reason to visit this place.

I have to tell you so much eating in one go did leave us a little overwhelmed and when Varun and Umez bhai announced that the main course was ready, we could not help but laugh. Now when I tell you we eat a lot, we really do and even this kind of hospitality was way over the top. The hospitality did not just rest at our table but two young guys were experiencing it too, when they were being served more food than they had ordered compliments of the owner. Well back our table we had to order a round of Thumbs Up, which we all bottled down NEAT, ready for the next round.

One of the best Haleem I have tasted ... Well grounded and smooth!

One of the best Haleem I have tasted … Well grounded and smooth!

The main course was Haleem, Chicken Changezi, Beef Nahari & Chicken Badami accompanied with Khameeri Roti & Sheermal. Refreshed from our bout of cold drinks we attacked the main course with renewed vigour.  For the uninitiated, Haleem, was originally cooked during the month of Ramadan, is made of lentils, meat and wheat, garnished with fried onions, chopped coriander and lemon juice. The Haleem served here was one of the best I have tasted, well grounded and smooth. Perhaps, the only way I would prefer to eat Dal (lentils). We polished of the Haleem with some potent Sheermal, a sweetened Naan almost similar to a Danish pastry in taste.

Nahari

Nahari

The Beef Nahari cooked in its own fat which can be seen floating in the dish when served is another speciality of Al Karam. Advertised in bold letters on its Glowsign board, the Nahari (not Nihari) is a stew consisting of the meat which is generally eaten in the morning, hence signifying its name. Traditionally cooked over night in a Deg (large utensil), the morsels were extremely tender and full of flavour of it’s own gravy. The meat was falling of the bones on touch and the Khameeri roti was a great accompaniment to savour the rich gravy. By the time the Chicken Changezi and Chicken Badami were served, I was upto my neck with food, but, eating such rich food requires dedication and I did give in to the temptation of tasting both, though will have to go back to do actual justice to them.

Chicken Changezi ... have to go back for more of this!

Chicken Changezi … have to go back for more of this!

Having devoured such rich food non – stop for 3 hours with only a 20 minute break, left us pretty satisfied with the both the food and experience. Umez bhai however insisted that we cannot leave without trying the desserts. Varun told us that their chef originally worked with a sweet shop and he had created his own version of Gewar resplendent with dry fruits along with Phirni and the Mango flavoured Kulfi. Even though I don’t have a sweet tooth I had to eat all this since Varun & his team would not lets us say no. However, no complains here too, and I am sure if you are a sucker for desserts, you will just love them.

Gewar & Phirni ... was too full to lift up the camera and click the mango kulfi, thereafter.

Gewar & Phirni … was too full to lift up the camera and click the mango kulfi, thereafter.

Don’t be surprised but we had a vegetarian foodie accompanying us and he was really bowled over by the herbivorous food. I apologize that I won’t be able to tell you much about it, but maybe someone else will soon. But, the point is no worries if you have a Veggie family member or friend accompanying you to this place too.

 

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Kick … Watch it just for a “Kick”

“Dil mein aata hoon, samajh mein nahi” … Salman Bhai delivers the review of his own film in the one line he says in the end.

From Dabangg to Ek tha Tiger to Jai Ho, Salman Khan has ruled the hearts of millions of his die-hard fans (me included) though we have no shame in admitting that the movie itself might not make any sense. KICK, in keeping with the tradition, also projects the larger than life persona of Bhai (as Salman’s fans fondly call him) and all the other actors no matter how good, sadly do get overshadowed by his antics. Sometimes, it is hard to figure out whether Salman’s presence is exponentially greater than his co actors and the story or is the story really is so mediocre that we don’t actually care about it.

Devil or Devi Lal!!!

Devil or Devi Lal!!!

The good thing about Kick is that Salman is his usual goofy self, has fun and does not take himself too seriously in the movie. With a name like Devi Lal Singh and a ride which is a mix between a Harley Davidson motorcycle & spruced up Autorikshaw he goes overboard (again) showcasing his idiosyncrasies  but this time in a more relaxed & fun mode. A small animation in the beginning and all is explained from his “Need for Kicks” to his “superhuman” strength. Surprisngly in this one, Salman doesn’t take of his shirt completely, guess midlife is catching up with the waistline. Back to the plot and this adrenaline junkie picks up fights, helps eloping couples and drinks like a fish with his dad. Salman does what he does best and entertains with some funny scenes, particular mention is the one when he is put in jail by funny man Sanjay Mishra and a character from Dabangg who refers to him as Pandeyji for a brief moment. Action sequences are his forte and with inspiration from Dhoom 3 the robber act is in place with a mask similar to Krissh, though I still found Kick to be more entertaining than the other Khan’s movie. Salman knows he can carry the movie on his shoulders alone despite the broken story line and this was quite evident from the whistles and catcalls everytime Bhai took the screen.

Randeep Hooda and Nawazuddin Siddiqui try to get out of Bhai's shadow!

Randeep Hooda and Nawazuddin Siddiqui try to get out of Bhai’s shadow!

Jacqueline Fernandez as Dr. Psycho (that is what she is called lovingly by Devi) is the wax doll with dialogues and expressions which would put Sajid Khan to shame. She does a good job of looking hot in the song Jhumme ki Raat and that is just about it. Randeep Hooda’s presence is felt and he gets a meaty role as a self appreciating Police Officer who chases Devil (Salman’s do-gooder Alter-ego) around the world and still feels happy for not being able to grab him. Randeep is a great actor, but has been over-shadowed in this one completely. The actor who however has made a mark is Nawazuddin Siddiqui, as the corrupt politician cum social worker and going after his band of crooks what gives Devil the Kick. His knocking sound with his tongue and the evil laughter does create a sinister feel to the character. Mithun Chakraborty as dad tries hard to match to Salman’s histrionics but is passable, as is Archana Puran Singh (blink and miss role) as mom. The movie seems to be a mélange of talented actors along with Saurabh Shukla and Rajit Kapoor, all supporting the Superhero and Dabangg Salman Khan, but hardly getting any screen space to make a mark.

Slick action sequences!

Slick action sequences!

Music by Himesh Reshammiya & Yo Yo Honey Singh is alright with “Jhumme ki Raat” & “Yaar Na Mile” already topping charts. Action & chase sequences though slick, with use of a lot of technology, at some places seem to be forced. But in this age of middle aged heroes taking on guys double their size, action has to be the focus of the movie. Sajid Nadiadwala has hugely banked on Salman Khan’s star power and fan following and he would not be disappointed. My only grouse is why could the production team not do a tighter plot and not leave so many loose ends and broken up sequences. Only if instead of a guided tour of Warsaw, Poland they would have invested more time in the writers (someone mentioned Chetan Bhagat was also a co-writer).

Salman is himself no matter who the heroine is!

Salman is himself no matter who the heroine is!

Salman the bad boy shines again and this is a must watch for everyone who loves Bhai. A few similarities in real life, like helping people through Being Human though being a bad boy of the film industry, Salman’s character in the movie also portrays the same shades of this aspect of his personality. And, if you are not a fan of Bhai, someone in your family would be, take them for the movie.

I personally might watch it again just for a “Kick”.

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When we ODed on the richest food and some amazing Mehman-nawaazi!!!

Get me a food lover from Delhi who has not explored the streets of Old Delhi in search of the rich delicacies they serve and I would promise to make him fall in love with the food the oldest part of our city serves. Every year during Ramadan our food lover group takes a walk through the famed street of Matia Mahal (opposite Gate No.1 of Jama Masjid) during Iftar time to sample the amazing food the people of the area have to offer.

The imposing structure against the patters of twilight.

The imposing structure against the patters of twilight.

Iftar time commences.

Iftar time commences.

The Majestic Jama Masjid

The Majestic Jama Masjid!

 

Venue                  : Food Walk around Jama Masjid area, Old Delhi

Duration              : Ramadan

Time                    : Iftar

Now, this experience is neither very innovative nor is it that the first time anyone has done it. Consequently countless blogs, food walk pictures, opinions and write ups are available online. In fact I did a blog post too one year ago with a lot of tempting pictures and added to the sea of other posts about Old Delhi food walks, which are already floating in the cyberspace. So I asked myself, “What was the point of keep on adding to the similar (sometimes identical) posts?” And, the point is that the hangover, from the food, hospitality and the passion to serve you, is so high, that even after a week of experiencing it, I cannot get it out of my system unless I document it.

The troops gather!

The troops gather!

The best time to start for me has always been around 7.30 pm, just after Iftar when the fasting Muslim community breaks their fast at sunset. More so, because the festival mood is setting in, the shops getting ready for their shoppers and the fresh smoke from the recently flamed charcoal of the food stalls. The imposing architecture of Jama Masjid against the twilight greets one majestically as one walks to the famed eateries housed in the by-lanes of this mosque.

This time we went in for full on Non-vegetarian fare and took to some not so well-known eateries branching out in the by-lanes from the Matial Mahal lane or as one of my foodie friends fondly calls it the Food Gully. The food has always amazed me but the large hearts of the men cooking and serving is something which will always touch a cord with you. The warm hospitality and their welcoming nature would make you feel as if you are a guest in their own home, which is actually true. These are the real torch bearers of the age-old Mughlai cuisine and for them this everyday fare has become a second nature. The tastes, textures, use of spices and the smoothness of their cuisine has remained consistent and no matter which restaurant or street side stall you walk into, you would want to come back for more.

The best part is that there are no NO pretentious servers, NO unnecessary waiting in lines, NO fancy cuisines with complicated names & no paying through the nose for a meal. This is where it gets as real as possible and when you experience real food from the “heart” you would not prefer it any other way? Also, surprisingly we observed that the lanes were very clean and even though people worry about the hygiene issue, we were surprised that this did not even concern us standing on the side of a road eating a hearty meal.

Just in case you wanna call!

Just in case you wanna call!

The Seekh & Boti Kebabs at Lalu

The Seekh & Boti Kebabs at Lalu

The Masterchefs at work.

The Masterchefs at work.

The creation!!!

The creation!!!

The food as always is the best part of going to Jama Masjid and walking up to Matia Mahal, you would not be able to resist the flavours emitting from Lalu Kababee’s charcoal grill. If you have no qualms about eating buffalo meat or buff (commonly known as bade ka meat in the area) then the Seekh & Boti Kebabs here are a definite yes for you. The meat in the Seekh Kebabs is like butter, melting in your mouth and leaving an exceptional after taste to savour. Grilled to a dark brown colour and burnt at some places this is the real deal. With a combination of well-done Boti Kebabs next to them and served with Onion and mint chutney, the whole plate for a cost of Rs. 50/- each is a much more than a steal.

The Shammi Kebabs ready for the evening!

The Shammi Kebabs ready for the evening!

With some food in our bellies we had that extra spring in our step and the muggy weather along with the heat could not deter us, though the Sharbat wala down the Matia Mahal road (20 meters ahead of Aslam Chicken) was a life saver. We started with a wonderful concoction of the Watermelon-Roohafza-Milk-Ice cooler and then tried the Apple-Kesar-Milk-Ice. Two glasses each and we were “Eating fit” once again. Two sizes of glasses for Rs. 20 and 10 are available, and you would be offered a spoon in the end to eat the fruit leftover from the Sharbat.

Sharbat coolers ... don't think there is a better way to wash down the food.

Sharbat coolers … don’t think there is a better way to wash down the food.

Turn around and you will spot the cycle wale bhaiya, who has set up a stall now and I finally got to know his name. Nadeem Bhai and his brother setup the assortment of food in huge utensils full of some great mutton dishes. They start around sunset to finish much before sunrise every day in Ramadan. Specialties from Nadeem Bhai’s kitchen are Keema … Mirch Keema … Daal Ghosth … Brain Curry. One better than the other, devoid of any singular/ master gravy and the Bheja (brain) took my heart away. Polished it all off with the Moti roti and a couple of Roomali roti (Indian bread as thin as a handkerchief). The love and hospitality they showered is definitely worth a mention. From arranging a make shift table in the middle of a busy road, to asking us to eat more and not stop, the welcoming nature was heartfelt and devoid of any vested or business interest. You cannot miss him on the Matia Mahal, Chitli Kabar chowk and you should not miss him.

The specialities at Nadeem Bhai's stall .... (Clockwise from the Top Left) Mirchi Keema, Daal Gosth, Brain Curry, Keema.

The specialities at Nadeem Bhai’s stall …. (Clockwise from the Top Left) Mirchi Keema, Daal Gosth, Brain Curry, Keema, Roomali Roti.

The Brain Curry

The Brain Curry in all its glory and equal amount of richness!

Nadeem Bhai’s stall did upset one thing and that was that we ate more than we anticipated and for the rest of the evening we had to tread carefully. But No complains here and our next stop to Pehelwan Biryani was a good and sweaty walk, which helped us work up an appetite. The Biryani is one of the best I have tasted and Pehelwan Miya sits at the Degh himself and serves you a plate full with chunks of meat for just Rs. 50/-. The man again would insist you sit and eat, but you cannot help standing next to him, chatting with him while you eat and listen to his stories. A big man, with a large heart and a lot of character on his benign face, arguably one of the most flavourful biryani I have had in my city.

Pehelwan Miya ... The man with a large heart!

Pehelwan Miya … The man with a large heart!

Pehelwan Miya ki Biryani ... one of the best I've tasted.

Pehelwan Miya ki Biryani … one of the best I’ve tasted.

A short hop from there is the Haji Shabrati Nihari Wale and if you don’t mind buff Nihari, then come directly to this place. The Nihari served with smooth gravy was soft and so smooth that it came apart by a single touch of fingers and melted in the mouth. The Magaj (brain) masala is something which I can promise you have never tasted before. An innovative way, which is not for the faint hearted, but if you are a fan of the brain curries around the city, there is no way you can miss this one. I still thank my friend who introduced me to this joint and you can obviously thank me when you visit it. Stand out and eat and you would be treated to the locals coming in to collect their fare, much to your amusement and entertainment. Good food and great people. This is a place I would be going back again and again.

Haji Shabrati ... This is the place to be if you want Nihari and Brain.

Haji Shabrati … This is the place to be if you want Nihari and Brain.

We had decided to stop by at Aslam Chicken and then Karim’s on the way back, but after this carnage were so full, that we skipped Aslam and finally landed up at Karim’s to park ourselves in the air-conditioned dining halls and sip some Thumbs Up. Sadly, this time the standard at Karim was not upto our liking, though fortunately we had stuffed ourselves already and did not miss much. Last year my experience at Karim had been much better, but might go and try them again soon.

Sadly, the food at Karim's was not as good as he previous visits.

Sadly, the food at Karim’s was not as good as the previous visits.

Seekh Kebabs at Karims were extremely dry!

Seekh Kebabs at Karims were extremely dry!

This much stuffing of the stomach requires a digestive and what better way to do it than to try the Paan at the corner of the road. Walking back out I wanted something cold and could not resist the Ganne ka ras (Sugarcane juice) at one of the many stalls outside Jama Masjid.

The bazaar is full of these melange of colourful dry fruits.

The bazaar is full of these melange of colourful dry fruits.

Having eaten so much in these bylanes, the food never disappoints but what elevates the experience is the warmth and “mehman nawaazi” (hospitality) of these people who serve you from the heart and insist that you eat not only to your but their heart’s content too.

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Soulitude … Coz your soul needs a vacation too!!!

There are home stays and then there are home stays. Soulitude of course falls into the latter category. A jewel of a place nestled in the Kumaon Himalayas on a peaceful hill in Gagar (enroute Mukteshwar), Soulitude luxuriously takes you into the lap of nature. Situated close to the hustle bustle of the ever crowded hill-station of Nainital, this home cum resort is a discovery for most of the overworked city folks like me. The place is so serene, relaxing & hospitable that we, along with the kids, dropped the idea of visiting Nainital and take in the beauty of this place … though we still wished we could stay another day and then another.

Soulitude in the Himalayas

Soulitude in the Himalayas

Soulitude is not a hotel or a resort but a destination. Whether you’re are travelling in a group or as a small family the experience is similar to staying in a home, a vacation home to put it more aptly, with personalized service and attention to small details by the hospitable staff. Soulitude is owned by an enterprising and friendly Manish Chandra and you can get in touch with him through the property’s website or by giving him a call on his cell phone (which is also mentioned on the website). The property has 10 rooms, all done up differently and in a unique style. Four are very large rooms termed as suites and I would suggest while booking you should definitely try for one of these depending on your taste … Awakening for privacy, Bliss for blissful living and amazing views, Quietude for quiet and peace & Nirvana to literally attain Moksha.

180 degree views of the Himalayas

180 degree views of the Himalayas

Roadtrip to Soulitude is highly recommended especially if you are from Delhi

Roadtrip to Soulitude is highly recommended especially if you are from Delhi

Rustic elements gives u the place a personalized feel.

Rustic elements gives u the place a personalized feel.

A strong influence of Hill architecture

A strong influence of Hill architecture

Cozy corners and terraces are fun areas for the kids

Cozy corners and terraces are fun areas for the kids

The resort architecture has a very strong influence of hill architecture with extensive use of stone and wood, materials and elements which are easily available in and around the mountains. What makes the place more special are the use of small rustic elements and the cozy interiors, giving a personalized feel to the whole place and making one feel at home the moment they drive through the gates of Soulitude. Every corner and every detail of the house has not been left unattended. The use of colours on the wall, the heavy wooden beams supporting the wooden trusses and roofs and the perfect angles created by the amalgamation of various elements create a space which is difficult to express … don’t even know why I am trying. The landscaped areas and the terraces add to the rustic old world charm and you are in heaven for the duration of your stay. The property is very well maintained and both the main house and the cottage are very high end. We were lucky to get Bliss, which is on the top floor of the main house and done up in a bright shade of yellow, deodar coloured wood and brick tiles on the wall. Bliss has a 270 degree view of the mountains in front and you would be treated to fresh cool breeze when the windows are open. Lots of surprises in this room like the skylights above your bed looking into the sky or at night at the stars OR the sunken bath with a large picture window with a view of the mountains. The kids loved it and Bliss and Awakening are the only 2 rooms in Soulitude which have a TV, just in case you cannot stay without one.

Bliss .... Whoever said "Ignorance is Bliss" never stayed in this room

Bliss …. Whoever said “Ignorance is Bliss” never stayed in this room

The staff and the service make or break your vacation. The service however supersedes any expectation you would have had from a Home stay or even from resort. From the moment you book your vacation at Soulitude, a pleasant email greets you with all contact details, directions to the place and suggestions enroute in case you are driving. Feel free to ask and re-ask anything and Manish or Prithavi (the GM of the property) would be prompt with their replies. The day we were supposed to leave from Delhi, I got an early morning text message on my phone, explaining me the directions in detail, along with a suggestion to call them in case I was lost. The treatment is VIP and Prithavi called at least thrice on the way to confirm where we were and give suggestions for food on the way. The drive is magnificent and when you reach Soulitude, the staff is eagerly expecting your arrival. A welcome drink made from the local Rhododendron flower would greet you after a long drive. There are no conventional check-in procedures and Prithavi himself saw us to our rooms, delicately explaining the house rules and giving us a tour of public areas. Once settled, the check-in was done at leisure in the common TV room at my convenience.

Old world charm

Old world charm

Cozy interiors

Cozy interiors

The amazing use of colors livens up the whole place

The amazing use of colors livens up the whole place

Cozy interiors

The quaint little dining area

The food as guest you have to consider would not be lavish like a resort or a hotel but closer to home food. Soulitude takes serious note of wastage and they cook as per the no. of residents or any guests if expected. Chef Rawat, is an amazing person, open to suggestions and constantly works hard to incorporate your tastes, preferences and occasionally your fancies. The first night of dinner I had some suggestions for Prithavi and Chef regarding the menu and the food and they surprised me beyond my dreams when they took pains to please me and every other guest with their efforts. Most of the veggies are grown on the property in an organic way. The quality of ingredients and the food was excellent and no complains there. The food would seem a little on the expensive side, considering the choices are limited, but the way the staff feeds you and the extra care they take in considering each individual’s preference more than makes up for it. The individual attention was quite visible when the Chef did a non-vegetarian barbeque only for me as the rest of the guests including my family were vegetarian one night. I would highly recommend letting the Soulitude team know your allergies, preferences and any special dishes you prefer and they would be more than happy to serve you.

Let the staff know your preferences in nearby Souiltu and they would be happy to comply.

Let the staff know your preferences and they would be happy to comply.

The ever smiling Chef Rawat

The ever smiling Chef Rawat

Soulitude is a place to relax and I am sure Manish conceived it like a luxury home in the rustic Himalayas with all the comforts of a modern home but not the banes of the modern society. You can do a lot of stuff around the area, from Village walks to treks, driving to Mukhteswar Dham temple or just explore the area on foot and eat Maggi on a roadside shop. I would also suggest you do a complete research of the property on their website, www.soulitude.in which mentions every little detail, as it is not a conventional hotel.

Nature Walks are a fun part of Soulitude

Nature Walks are a fun part of Soulitude

On the way to Mukteshwar try stopping at this amazing chocolate shop.

On the way to Mukteshwar try stopping at this amazing chocolate shop.

Morning views

Morning views

Views at night

Views at night

Soulitude is definitely for people wanting to get away from the city madness, the over-crowded typical hill-stations and the pollution laden air.

Attention to detail

Attention to detail

A romantic dinner!

A romantic dinner!

Bonfires!!!

Bonfires!!!

Small Details make Soulitude what it is!!!

Small Details make Soulitude what it is!!!

You would not want to leave once you settle in and make sure you book a minimum of 3-4 nights when you stay there.

Posted in Architecture, Design, Food, India, Lifestyle, Nature, Photography, Review, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Artusi … the Art of Italian food in the heart of Delhi

George Bernard Shaw said, “There is not sincerer love than the love of food,” and this holds true for both the people who create the food and those who love to eat. This sincere love for food is what I saw with the team of Artusi, from the owners, to the chef and all the way down to the staff.  This passion for food is what makes a place stand out & the recently opened Artusi, in the busy M-Block market of GK II, Delhi, is definitely doing a good job of standing out within a month of its opening. So an invitation by the Artusi team was jumped upon by me both because of their innovativeness and some already great recommendations.

Ms. Gurpinder Balcon the lady behind the restaurant along with her husband Mr. Oscar Balcon is a well travelled couple, largely due to Oscar’s banking job. Oscar hails from the Emilia Romagna region in Northern Italy, which besides its rich food heritage is famous for trend-setting fashion designers and the dream machines, like Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Ducati. No wonder, the clarity and the understated elegance is clearly reflected in this venture, which is their own little Emilia Romagna in the heart of Delhi. Gurpinder has spent quite a few years in Italy and is an avid cook herself.

The Artusi Team ... Gurpinder and Oscar Balcon both trust their Chef Romina!!!

The Artusi Team … Gurpinder and Oscar Balcon both trust their Chef Romina!!!

The name Artusi is borrowed from Mister Pellegrino Artusi, also known as the founder of Italian cuisine and author of “Science in the Kitchen” and “The Art of eating well”, which is considered as a bible for modern Italian cuisine.

Chef Romina Lugaresi has taken the food legacy of her region Emilia Romagna and has been more than happy to introduce the people of India with the actual authentic Italian cuisine. With a witty side to her, she does not shy away from mentioning that North-Indians are almost as similar to Italians with their loud mouths, insatiable appetite and even larger hearts. My first ever interaction with an expat Lady Chef, I admire the way she has settled into the Indian structure maintaining her individuality at the same time. Happy to pose with us for pictures, Chef Romina went the extra mile to cook up a meal for us which left us very full.

The Interiors ... Art Deco elements and the yellow colour is the most striking part of the design.

The Interiors … Art Deco elements and the yellow colour is the most striking part of the design.

As soon as you enter the restaurant, the bar area welcomes you along with the warm yellow color (which will be flowing all through the décor) and the oak finished wooden paneling and furniture. The motifs and moulding elements used in the furniture are very Art Deco and Oscar takes pride in explaining to you how he worked closely with design team to achieve this very European Art Deco theme. The bar counter done in Oakwood finish has a glass display housing all the desserts along with the signature Espresso machine at the back. The bar area has a seating facing outside consisting moulded plywood bar stools with leather cushioning making them comfortable and adding a spring to the seating. A great place to park yourself, have a drink and even a meal if you are dining alone and prefer to look at the crowd pass by on the busy street outside. As you enter the main dining area which is right behind the bar area you are overwhelmed by the interiors, largely due to the use of the earthy colors, wooden textures and placement of motifs which, though you might have never experienced it does transport you to a different era. And, when Oscar mentioned that he had replicated “His Grandma’s Dining room” all questions about the design, lighting, seating, etc. came to a rest. The place is cozy and the warmth and passion of the team is aptly complemented by the use of yellow color.

The other most striking feature of design is the artwork and graphics on the menu mostly done by a talented artist called Faiyyaz R. Khan. Artusi’s portrait at the beginning of the menu bears a striking resemblance to him and the paintings in the restaurant though post-modern complements the Art Deco style of interiors perfectly.

Service for me always makes or breaks a dining experience. The GM of the restaurant Aman is a well travelled man and has worked in Italy for quite some time, another great find for Gurpinder and Oscar. He has trained his team well, though I did observe the service to be a tad slow and the staff was kind enough to recognize this and make amends accordingly during our meal itself. The training shows and I believe on my next visit the staff would be much more polished and efficient. The knowledge and names of the dishes, which are tongue twisting and have to be pronounced correctly, have been taught well to the servers and they take pleasure in explaining what they are serving you. If you tell them preferences (including your allergies) they would be happy to inform the Chef. The team is eager to know how you liked your food and I presume they work on your suggestions.

I still don’t believe I am a food critic and my critique is limited to what I enjoy or in some cases don’t enjoy. And, when you are invited for a Chef tasting rest assured the feeding frenzy continues for hours, but who’s complaining.

Ferro

Ferro

What is Italian without its salads and The Ferro Salad was with what we started our meal. Made with Baby spinach (which I confused as Rocket leaves), grapes, pears and goat cheese salad and finished with toasted pine nuts and balsamic vinegar. Overall fine … but a veggie overdose for me and I would have preferred more cheese in it.

Rape e Noci

Rape e Noci

Rape e Noci was next with Roasted beets, water cress, green apple, walnuts, goat cheese -finished with croutons and balsamic vinegar. The server mixed the contents and served it, though I felt, it should be served as presented on the plate. Let the diner try savour each ingredient. I loved the crunchiness of the ingredients and the excellent presentation made it looked like a work of art.

 

Pollo Tiepido ... Warm chicken breast was cooked juicy, just the right temperature and cooked to perfection.

Pollo Tiepido … Warm chicken breast was cooked juicy, just the right temperature and cooked to perfection.

Pollo Tiepido was which lifted my spirits after 2 vegetarian salads and the Warm chicken breast was cooked juicy, just the right temperature and cooked to perfection with. It was set in a fennel salad with oranges and olives and oregano which lent the citrus flavour to the whole dish. This was a Salad which caught my fancy and I finished the whole plate.

Tortelli & Cappalletto

Tortelli & Cappalletto

Artusi makes their pastas in their own kitchen and the textures you experience as you bite into one are amazing and make you reach out for more. We were served the Tortelli hand-made pasta pockets which seemed to be made by an artist filled with a mix of pumpkins and potatoes, set in creamy Gorgonzola cheese sauce. And, the Cappelletto which were hat-shaped pasta pockets, intricately made by the Chef, filled with ricotta and Parmiggiano Reggiano cheeses. The light tomatoes and basil sauce gave it a desirable and tangy taste.

Gnocchi Pesto e Patate & Pappardelle Faraona (Pic Courtesy: http://tigersexperience.blogspot.in/)

Gnocchi Pesto e Patate & Pappardelle Faraona       (Pic Courtesy: http://tigersexperience.blogspot.in/)

Pappardelle Faraona & Gnocchi Pesto e Patate were the next serving and though by that time, my taste buds were craving for meat, I still loved the Gnocchi in fresh pesto sauce. Didn’t even feel guilty coz it was “green”.

 

Risotto (Pic Courtesy: http://tigersexperience.blogspot.in/)

Risotto (Pic Courtesy: http://tigersexperience.blogspot.in/)

The Risotto Ortolano made in very high quality Carnaroli rice, seasonal veggies and authentic Grana Padana cheese. This traditional Italian Risotto added to the Italian dining room charm made me feel closer to Italy (though I have yet to experience it first hand).

After downing the marathon of Pastas, I had to get up and take a walk. It seemed we were nowhere close to the completion of the meal and I had to digest the amount of food I was fed.

Lemon Sorbet topped with Sparkling wine to cleanse the palate.

Lemon Sorbet topped with Sparkling wine to cleanse the palate.

Luckily, a surprise was waiting for me at the table in the form of a Sorbetto al Limone or simply a Lemon Sorbet topped with some sparkling wine. I also sampled the Sorbetto all’a Mela verde, Green apple Sorbet, but the Lemon Sorbet is what I stuck with. The sorbet was an excellent detail to cleanse our palate and for the meats that would be waiting for us.

 

Branzino Cartoccio (Pic Courtesy: http://tigersexperience.blogspot.in/)

Branzino Cartoccio  …. A must try (Pic Courtesy: http://tigersexperience.blogspot.in/)

I was delighted to smell some fish when they served the Branzino Cartoccio wrapped in an Aluminum foil. The Oven baked Sea Bass filet was served with artichokes, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and olives. Due you to its wrapping in the foil, which is opened on your table, the flavours and fragrances of each ingredient remain intact. I could down a couple of these if I was not expecting more food. The Chef floored me with this one and if you happen to land up at Artusi, you have to try this one.

Angnello & Costine di Maiale

Angnello & Costine di Maiale

The meats were next starting with the Lamb Chops, Angnello. Lamb chops imported from New Zealand were grilled with a touch of pistachio lemon oil and served with baked potato, grilled eggplant, tomatoes and crunchy leeks. The marination of the meat lent it a yummy flavour and even after so much food made me hungry. Soft and succulent I loved this and if you are a meat fan like me, please don’t miss this one.

 The ribs or the Costine di Maiale served with French fries & grilled vegetables were a little disappointing. The meat was tight and a little hard coming off the ribs. I really wanted to try the complete rack and the Chef said I should come back for more … well I already have a reason to go back.

Oscar joined us when the desserts were starting and it was a pleasure to go through with him through every little detail of Artusi. Chef Romina was back too, to check on us and to serve us her signature desserts.

The Pana cotta

The Pana cotta

Now, I am not a person with a sweet tooth but had heard so much about the Panna cotta that would have been a fool not to try it. The pudding served with caramelized figs and roasted almonds, this was the real deal. Every bite melting into the mouth and the colours on the pudding made it look like a work of art. I could frame a picture of it and hang it on my wall.

Crema Pistacchio e Caffe'

Crema Pistacchio e Caffe’

However the bitter sweet dessert Crema Pistacchio e Caffe’ was the one which took desserts to another level. A smooth pistachio custard cream with coffee gelatine, finger shaped butter cookies & pistachio crackers done in two layers of green and coffee brown, served in a glass was an amalgamation of flavours. By the time I tried to figure out what it was, I had already polished off the whole glass. If you like the innovation and surprise in your food, you definitely have to try this.

I cannot give a verdict on a restaurant, but I enjoyed my time and my meal at this place. More on the expensive side and might lighten your pocket by around 5K for a meal for two, I would still recommend you try this if you love Italian food and want to sample genuine Italian hospitality in the heart of Delhi.

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