Getting Social at Cyber Hub

Cyber Hub in Gurgaon finally has its own buzzing Social. God knows the place has needed it, ever since the microbreweries-led revival of Sector-29, the old F&B hub of Gurgaon, began siphoning the buzz out of Cyber Hub. What used to be the go-to destination for all food occasions, be it ‘aaj to meri treat hai‘ to dazzling Delhiites and out-of-towners with Gurgaon’s own international food street, is now a steady, popular restaurant complex that mostly banks on its massive corporate catchment for its daily bread. But more on the relative trajectories of Gurgaon’s two major food hubs some other time.

Social.. <prefix> Social (read like Bond.. James Bond!), is an underrated phenomenon in the contemporary Indian culinary scene. Most restaurants get rated mainly on their food, bakeries on their cakes and confections and so on. Social has taken food and drink out of the equation as the main attributes, instead one goes to Social for the buzz. Their quirky food and drink menu is a critical element of their proposition though, tying the differently themed locations with a common thread.

Cyber Hub Social opened earlier this month – and it is part of the new set of restaurants that are opening up in the Cyber City buildings that ring Cyber Hub. This latest avatar of Social pushes the boundaries of what a restaurant / cafe / bar can wish to look like. As you approach it, a kitschy painted exterior welcomes you, reminiscent of the facade of a Mumbai chawl building with a row of shops below. Below the painted shop signages is a row of balconies out front, with clothes hanging on the line, and chairs and low tables to sit at. These, as one discovers later, are the alfresco smoking tables that the rooms inside give out to. Interesting, huh? One of these shopfronts is also the entrance to Social. As you open the door you walk into a dimly lit, cramped building lobby, with a name-board of the residents on one side, a shelf and a dusty TV-cum-music player on the other.

tv-plus-plus
I haven’t seen one of these before!

Take a step and half, and a narrow, dimly lit corridor stretches out on both sides, with room / kholi number boards, and a bulb outside each door. This is when you realise that they’ve taken the theme all the way in! It can be a bit claustrophobic in the corridor, as you walk past the kholis, which are small independent rooms set up as the workspaces that Social provides. The rooms, available in different sizes and layouts, work as small offices with a pretty private feel. On one side, the rooms have the exit to the balcony as well.

The experience is complete when you turn the corner to get to the main restaurant area – the well of the restaurant in from of the bar is brightly festooned and lit up in preparation for a community festival, and you’d think the kholi-wallahs might descend any moment and break into a jig.

Not a great pic, I admit!
Not a great pic, I admit!

It being a Friday afternoon, the aangan of this fancy chawl was packed anyway. A table for 2 was luckily available after a 10-minute wait. On to the food then – we quickly ordered a Kori Roti and a Dhansak. The rice crisps, or the Roti of the Kori Roti was not available, so rice was what that was served with.

The gassi of the Kori Roti was fabulous, thin gravy crackling with the flavour of the roasted ground spices – no wonder they offer unlimited gravy servings of this one. Too bad that the rice portion was fairly limited. The chicken was juicy and tender as well – although I couldn’t help feel that with rice, this dish would have rocked more with a couple of fillets of rawas fish instead of chicken! The serving of onion and achaar is well, quirky, but pointless.

Kori Rice!
Kori Rice!

The Dhansak came through when we were halfway through the Kori Rice – I suppose the kitchen is still getting into its groove. Similarly plated and presented, the brown rice seemed to have been cooked with caramelised onion (it definitely tasted that way, our server was too busy to confirm!). The rice looked great, tasted.. ummm.. too sweet – especially for the dhansak gravy, which is not spicy. The dhansak was beautifully done though, with the creamy pumpkin and potato powered gravy carrying a gentle aroma of spices and the mutton. And the mutton – aah, it was wonderfully tender and delicious. The overly sweet rice was an unfortunate partner on the plate though. The salad and the pickle? Unwarranted. I’d prefer a papad!

Mutton dhansak and sweet onion rice
Mutton dhansak and sweet onion rice

Once we were done, there was no delay in getting the bill – the chawl-wallahs were continuing to line up you see! You should definitely go (we plan to be back there soon) – keep in mind that Social works better when you are feeling more social, in other words, have a large group and are going at a more alcohol friendly time!

 

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This is what I call food

Had promised to write on Monday and now its Friday and I’m still sorta stuck with lots of work, hope its understandable considering that I was out of action for 5 days 🙂
OK!so as promised here’s the list of places that I absolutely love and I have special memories attached to them so that makes it doubly uber cool 🙂

1. China Club- Awesomest place for lovely food, nothing beats Chinese here I can’t claim it’s authentic as per the dishes I ordered and but it tastes just so right. The story behind this is that my best friend of one time had come to India from States after a really really long time and he invited me for dinner and I dolled up and met him at ‘The China Club’ ofcourse, the bill was exorbitant and I didn’t know I could eat so much, we finished an entire bottle of Australian white wine (sorry forgot the name) with tiger prawns as starters and the main course was Pork chilli and Lamb conje. LOVED it!! we ate and chatted for 3 hours. Can never forget that!guess what during the days of News-X had seen Peter Mukerjee also there sounds like a big deal.

2. There’s nobody else I would trust with ordering apart from Vijay, he’s a real foodie and I just request him to order for me whenever he’s there. We had gone on a work trip to Mumbai and I was dying to eat some good sea food so off we went to Gazali. Man!we started with Kokam Kadi and for starters had fried Bombay (Mumbai) Duck, then we ordered crab so the live crab clicking to glory. But the click click! turned into an awesome garlic butter shredded crab, roomali roti, Yellow Fish curry and meat.

Gosh! my mouth is watering already!

3. Solar Topi- Recommended to me by my ex-boss Kannan, he’s a Cancerian and a foodie like me, he suggested this place, its opposite ‘The China Club’ the food is nothing special roti dal sabji 😛 but had loved the ambiance its pristine white and feels like your sitting in a British Raj tent! Had taken my to-be and now my husband there, after he refused to eat anything at China Club. Don’t know if it exists any more, my haunt has changed to Delhi now.

4.Italiano-Had gone there after a grilling work out in gym trying to get this curly haired bomb interested in me. This place has awesome ambiance they light a candle on your table and the lights are dim, with the interiors made of stone/brick and guess what it was awesome because of this mid feb- mar type weather with a little bit of rain hanging in the air, I could smell summer and this really hot guy 😉 same Italian fair that you get every where bruchetta, crostini and the likes, I liked their mushroom risotto. Was located at Nathupur, don’t know if it exists anymore.

5. Olive Bar and Kitchen – The ‘lazy’ review can be found here, my hubby and I had gone there for Christmas brunch, guess who we bumped into Mr. Chidambram himself with no fan fare, just with a glass of red wine, my husband was like- ‘that’s him right?’ I said ‘ya we shouldn’t stare :)’ he smiled at hubby as hubby works for a news channel and has a fancy designation 😉 show off me, but I think this was paisa vasul, saw a couple of girls from my batch at college, some looked the same, some plumper. By the way I have never had such awesome turkey,its was perfect, all types of cheese had fun drinking wine,picking at food and they actually had sweet potato skewers,not my favourite but they tasted good.They also gave us some plum cake in a jam bottle. I was figuring out how did get the cake in the bottle ? May be they just baked it in the bottle? The service that day was terribly slow and if your sitting under the tree then be careful we had larvae trying to eat some pasta.

6. Mom’s Kitchen -Located in Central Goa near Panjim City, on our last trip to Goa, hubby and I hired a scooty and spent the whole day doing stuff that we would do on a weekend, try a new place to eat and watch a movie. I wanted to eat Goan fair so after we saw ‘Clash of the Titans’at Inox,on our way back to Cidade Goa (its was HOT! & April)we stopped at Mom’a Kitchen to eat Goan home cooked food.I loved the Dal and I had chicken broth with Cheeselings 🙂 reminded of the fights that me and Ira had on cheeselings, I was terribly plum and my sis skinny still she would beat me up on chips and cheeselings.

7. House of Ming- My first five star date with my ex I’ll never forget we saved up so much to eat chinese here 😉 We had wok fried noodles and lemon chicken dry specially made for us, we didn’t want gooey lemon chicken so requested the maitre de to get a dry lemon chicken, it was basically fried chicken with lemon sauce on top- yum. It’s located at Taj Mansingh Delhi, I still remember the chopsticks white with shiney silver top.

8.Fresco- Have been here on three occasions already , at Ambience Mall twice and at Janpath once -all celebratory lunches ,first occasion, Rahuls’ Cherry Honda and to celebrate a great pitch with the girls Rashmi and Kudrat. At Janpath the business card did the trick, just a little bit of thank you and the fact that Fresco was newly opened got us the best service, the pizza was freshly made and served at our table, didn’t like the deserts so a cake was specially made for us. 😉 now I like being pampered

9.Bukhara- At the Maurya, I know for sure one place where hubby gets best service, the business card does the trick, loved the wine, the kabab platter. I think Dal Bukhara over rated. Steady and sadly the standard has been slipping here.

10. Punjab Grill- Love ordering in this place when I’m with my side of the family, chicken shikan works for me here, no roti and only boti. Thsi time when my sister was travelling with her hubby my nephew (Anay/googley coz I love his cheeks) took them here, Kurkure are nice, the chaap is awesome but if you want to order a platter then that’s the best option here or anywhere including Punjabi By Nature or Colonel kababs. That reminds me Dahi Meat at Colonel Kabab is good. Then we had good ol’ butter chicken and naan. Gosh, I was stuffed and they had the left over the next day!That’s a hearty meal.

Let me know what all would you like me to write about, More restaurants or something else? Would love to know your opinion on this.

Wokamama – Saturday serendipity, a review

Saturday afternoon found us at a loose end around lunch time in Gurgaon – the wife and our 4 year old T, and I. We’d just wrapped up some work, and we’d had Thai food on our minds for some time, so out came the phone to search for options. Among the many names offered up by Zomato.com (their mobile version has quite a helpful, minimalistic interface that makes restaurant search easy for the partially decided and vaguely aware), one stood out looking fresh and feisty – Wokamama – yes, I tried saying it a few times in the martial-arts-movie way as well!

It was nearing peak hunger time, so a quick call to confirm directions (not too far) and seating and we were on our way. As you drive down M G Road towards Delhi, the left turn soon after Guru Dronacharya station (I wonder why the name – did the great warrior teacher have his tuition academy in the vicinity?), past Neel Kanth Hospital leads you down a dusty path to Nathupur village. About half a km down the road on the left stands a modest mustard yellow 2 storey ‘haveli’, with Wokamama on its terrace. Its location is quite in keeping with the current trend of hip, new restaurants opening in the dusty, old villages of Delhi.

The bright winter afternoon sun felt fabulous as we sat at our table outdoors. As we often do at Chinese or Pan Asian restaurants, we ordered dimsums right away for T, steamed chicken with celery and basil this time. The dimsums took their time to appear – but they arrived as fresh and delicately flavoured as expected.

While we waited, we ordered Huai Yang crab meat soup (1 by 2, Indian style), and holy basil Thai fish fingers with roasted chilli paste. The soup was astounding, bursting with flavour and generously laden with crab. A quick check on Wikipedia tells me that Huaiyang cuisine is regarded as one of the 4 great traditions of Chinese cuisine. Not at all a bad introduction then! The fish fingers were robustly flavoured too – fried sea bass with skin, basted with spicy paste. The stronger aromas and taste of the soup and fish though, somewhat overwhelmed the dimsums when they arrived.

So far the three month old restaurant (they opened in Oct ’10) had done nothing but please, including the service, which was attentive, friendly and helpful throughout. Ahem.. no doubt aided by the fact that I took photos right through our time there, which must have made them think I was an influential reviewer or some such thing. And in another detail, they did what many established top-tier Chinese and Oriental restaurants often fail to do – they asked if we wanted any jasmine tea. We said yes, and we had a carafe of steaming brew on our table for the rest of the meal.

For the main course, we continued in the Pan Asian vein that we had ordered in until now. A chicken in Thai yellow curry with steamed rice was combined with a Teppanyaki selection – basa fish and sticky rice with broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers and pok choi, in katsu sauce. The Thai curry was the old reliable, the Teppanyaki was the calculated risk. The portions were huge, and we wished our server had hinted at that when we ordered. The katsu sauce was a little over-salted but otherwise the plate of rice and fish and the vegetables came together very well. And the Thai yellow curry was superb, sweet to begin with, flavourful through and ended with a spicy pungent kick at the back of the mouth.

Full and sated, we almost did not mind the surprisingly long time they took over the bill. And did I mention how the menu separates the good news from the bad – by listing the dishes in evocative detail on each page but mentioning the prices down at the footer. A surprisingly satisfying discovery – and next time I really do want to check out the terrace on a cool spring night, under a full moon.

Olive Bar & Kitchen – A ‘Lazy’ Review

As the bleary winter sun struggled to descend through the clouds and trees on a Sunday afternoon, we walked into the meticulously Mediterranean Olive Bar & Kitchen at Mehrauli in Delhi for a long-planned and much anticipated ‘lazy Sunday brunch’. (No matter that most only turn up around lunch time, and then spiritedly chat over copious wine – it must always be called brunch. And lazy.)

The six of us – the wife and I, another couple, and our one 4 year old daughter each – walked past the whitewashed walls through the tree studded white gravel courtyard, initially thankful that we did not get reservations at any of the courtyard tables on this cold, weakly lit afternoon. But as we walked through to our table indoors, past the gas fires and coals smouldering in the ‘karhais’, we realised that outdoors would have been cosy enough. Unfortunately, a ‘private party booking’ in the courtyard put paid to those thoughts.

Once inside, the wine was quickly served (the kids had juice, in case you were wondering). The Chilean red on offer was quite crisp, with a fresh, cool bouquet (cannot yet tell the raspberry / plum notes, or the pine / oak finish!) – although cold as the weather was, a wine with a little more body may not have gone amiss. The Chilean white seemed quite nice as well, as far as the blurry photo below can tell!

On to the food then. The smorgasbord of cold cuts, terrines, salads, sauces and relishes was inviting enough and we sampled a fair selection. It wasn’t too bad but I’m not sure if that sort of food carries enough flavour for this weather. Oh well, my under-developed palate to blame I suppose. Who can however resist a freshly grilled plate or three of tiger prawns, tenderloin steak, lamb and basa fish. We couldn’t, so we duly got three steaming plates of lightly spiced, gently flavoured meats.

The service was prompt and efficient, the wine barely got to the bottom of the glass before it was refilled, and the mandatory broken glass (toppled by yours truly) was quickly mopped clean. Could it however have been a little more smiling and friendly? Especially since they weren’t busy serving a la carte? Yes, perhaps. We had to make do with cool and surly (broken wine glass to blame?).

The pizza was very warm and friendly by comparison. Rarely do desire and fulfilment follow as closely as they did when the pepperoni (with olives, sun-dried tomatoes and onions) pizza made it to our table in under 10 minutes, gushing with flavour and laden with just the right amount of cheese. Six slices were almost too few! A second pizza, of chicken and sundries, followed soon after.

Another interesting sight in the courtyard was of the beer-bummed chicken. I can think of no other name for the whole chickens grilling on the coals, hoisted on cans of beer, looking somewhat like headless chickens laying a particularly bizarre kind of egg. The chef explained that this was to infuse the grilling chicken with the flavours of beer (I can think of other ways of doing that, but that’s another post). This was a must-order, but it disappointed. The chicken was tender but flavour of beer or any other kind was hard to find.

Another wine, and it was time for the main course (you might be wondering what I think we’ve been having all this while). I suppose they expect people to stay lazy and boozy, eat up way too much salad and terrine, get conned by the beer-bummed chicken (guys certainly!) or seduced by the pizza. Because between all that and dessert, there was all of a live pasta station, one vegetarian risotto, looking like a green ‘khichdi’ turned out in rage, and a shrimp risotto, that had clearly been sitting on the buffet fire since Saturday morning. I actually hadn’t noticed the vegetarian option until I pointed out the caked shrimp risotto to the manager who agreed it had gone dry, looked at his watch and said they were near closing time, and then pointed out the green sludge for me to try if I wanted my risotto ‘wet’. The last station was then the one where your pasta would be cooked ‘live’. Thankfully, as live pasta stations go this one turned out better than expected, although the wife’s pasta was below par.

Dessert was wide-ranging and varied – I didn’t have any, not being particularly keen on dessert (and I had not planned to write this review!). The rest of the table evidently enjoyed, since what was brought to the table was quickly wiped out. Twice.

Terrific setting and ambience then. The wine’s not bad. And food is pretty good overall – the grills and pizza would be the pick of the lot. And I suppose if one doesn’t take up the offer of ‘lazy’ brunch too literally and lands up well before closing, the risotto may be great. I wouldn’t know though, my loss entirely. And just a live station for pasta is a little underwhelming, I guess laying out a few special / specific options would make the live station more fun.
The service is definitely hit and miss – one doesn’t expect feudal fawning, but some more ‘happy to see you’ would be welcome. And did anyone say good bye?