Start-up? Shut down please

Yes I realise the headline does not make for good reading. Alright, at least pivot please! Confused? Let me explain.

I popped into my neighbourhood Dunkin’ Donuts this week to pick up some donuts for the evening. I discovered a box of ‘DunkyDoos’, a six-pack of smaller sized donuts, at a much more repeat-worth price. I picked the flavours I wanted and asked the guy at the counter to box them up and walked over to pay. It might have been uneventful from here on if I’d not seen the guy placing the donuts on the lid of the box. I sparked chaos by pointing out that it might be better if the donuts were placed properly. 4 variously uniformed workers converged to set things right, amid some mumbled apologies. As I waited for the confusion to settle, I glanced up at the menu, and spotted ‘Bangalore Start-up Coffee’, in a list of new coffees.

Let me disclose right away that I’m not a coffee connoisseur, I don’t drink it often, and I can’t tell my Arabica from French Press (now that was all wrong wasn’t it?) I do love the generic aroma of coffee, and gravitate toward other coffee flavoured foods, such as ice-cream, all the time. And among coffee, I know 3 broad flavours – the instant coffee (aka Nescoffee), the cappuccino at the chain coffee shop, and South Indian filter coffee. The last named is my favourite kind of coffee to drink, and Delhi isn’t the easiest place to find a decent cup of filter coffee. True, there are a few places that serve a mean cup, Karnataka Food Centre in RK Puram for example, but in general good filter coffee in Delhi is found a minimum of 10 km apart.

The name sparked hope in my mind and I asked the cashier, who confirmed, to my delight, that Bangalore Start-up Coffee was indeed South Indian filter coffee. I immediately asked for one, to add to my DunkyDoos order (now settled snugly in the box the right way up). I walked out with my cup of Start-up coffee, tingling with anticipation and happy thoughts. As I waited for it to cool, I took a small sniff, and the lovely aroma of filter coffee wafted out.

IMG_20160719_193440693

That was it. It was all downhill from there on. From the first sip onwards, it was a fruitless search for filter coffee as I’ve known it. The funny thing was, it didn’t taste like any other coffee, or any coffee at all. All I got was a hot brown liquid, with a hint of sweetness and the occasional fragrance of the cardboard cup to go along with it. There is a fourth type of coffee flavour I’m familiar with, not mentioned above. It is the ‘wedding coffee’ – spat and coughed out by rusty ‘espresso’ machines at wedding banquets, especially up North. It is hot, sweet, milky, and has cocoa powder sprinkled on for flavour. Even if you haven’t come across this specimen, you can tell that it barely qualifies as coffee. After a few sips of the Start-up coffee, I began to think kindly of ‘wedding coffee’ (not going so far as to actually want it though).

Suffice to say, I poured the half of the coffee down the drain, to follow the money I’d spent on it. And instead of filter coffee on my palate, I had questions swirling in my head – such as, why does it continue to be so hard to get decent filter coffee in Delhi; who tasted this coffee at Dunkin Donuts before they approved it; was the cashier wrong in confirming that Bangalore start-up coffee was filter coffee, when it is designed to be sludge, to remind you that you are now in a start-up and don’t have money to buy a wedding coffee even; is this actually the coffee drunk at start-ups in Bangalore, and is that the reason the start-up space is in much trouble recently, and suchlike.

Dunkin Donuts has done some wonderful stuff since they’ve been here. Not least is to take a name that encourages people to dunk donuts in coffee, and establish a premium chain burger (and sandwiches etc) brand with it. That’s quite something – and I do enjoy the burgers at Dunkin. But this Bangalore start-up coffee? Not their proudest moment.

Advertisements

Mamagoto – go for the food, stay for the vibe

A few weeks back, when the summer in Delhi had still not bared its fangs, we were in Khan Market one weekend evening for a long planned visit to the excellent Full Circle bookshop, followed by dinner in the neighbourhood. And so it was that after the books were bought, we (self, the wife and the two girls) wandered desultorily in Khan Market’s middle arc – the one that most of the restaurants and cafes open their doors to. A few minutes of wandering among sated happy diners and others purposefully striding to their dinner reminded us to decide quickly, it being Saturday evening and nearly rush hour for the dinner crowd. Quickly scanning the lane for a place we had not been to before, Mamagoto (promising ‘fun Asian eating’) caught the eye.

We walked up the narrow flight of stairs wondering how the place was going to deliver the ‘fun’ along with Asian eating. As we reached the first floor (they have another above), the hubbub of a busy, happy cafe hit us. Bright and colourful, looking packed to the gills with chattering customers and waiters snaking to and fro, it looked promising – the only question was, would we find a table? Luckily there was one, and a nice location too – a table for 3 in one corner with a view (ok, of the lane outside and the car park). The place had a casual, cafe-like air, more buzz-y than relaxed, and with no overt Chinese or Oriental restaurant trappings. A waiter sauntered by soon enough, greeted and introduced himself, and handed us the menu.

The menu was interesting, riffing on flavours and techniques across the Orient. To begin with, we ordered a spicy fried calamari to go with a Mojito and a glass of white wine. It turned out to be a great choice of appetiser. The calamari was crisp on the outside, and chewy yet tender as you bit through and spicy enough without overwhelming the rest of the flavours.

Spicy fried calamari
Spicy fried calamari

As we munched through what soon started looking like a meagre serving (!) it was time to order the mains. It being our first visit to Mamagoto, we wanted to sample as wide a variety across the menu as was possible for two adults and a kid (our younger daughter is a little more a year old and so doesn’t count, yet. She spent most of the evening on the windowsill – they have only one high chair for kids and it was taken – or wandering about, looking at large noisy human beings at other tables). We decided to go for an Indonesian grilled chicken with coriander and peanut dip for our elder one, and a teriyaki meal in a bowl with chicken and Chiang Mai train station noodles for us. The name of the last dish was too much to resist, and it promised a khao-suey style preparation – so I guess we couldn’t go wrong.

The grilled chicken was excellent, with the smokey notes of ‘tikka-ed’ chicken mixing well with the slightly sweet and pungent sauce it was cooked with. The dip was nice too, and I used it later to add flavour to my teriyaki meal as well.

Indonesian grilled chicken
Indonesian grilled chicken

The teriyaki and Chiang Mai train station noodles took a while longer to arrive. While we waited, we sipped our drinks and longingly looked at the now empty fried calamari bowl, and wondered if it made sense to order another portion. And while the wine was great, the Mojito was served with ice cubes, instead of crushed ice – not sure that was an innovation that added much. Our friendly waiter was difficult to trace, and when he finally arrived to tell us that the rest of the food was almost ready, he introduced himself again. Blame it on a busy night I guess.

Teriyaki Chicken in a Bowl
Teriyaki Chicken in a Bowl

The teriyaki meal in a bowl was nice enough, with a hearty taste albeit a little low on flavour. The serving was generous and so towards the second half of the bowl I found myself reaching for the peanut and coriander dip to add some spice.

Chiang Mai train station noodles

The Chiang Mai train station noodles were a little disappointing – not bad mind you, but did not quite hit the notes we were expecting it to. Overall, it seemed sweeter and more tangy than it should have been, and low on the rich flavour of coconut milk (Maybe the coconuts are expensive at Chiang Mai station?). The sauce in which the noodles were cooked was quite thick, a little too many fried onions, and heavy on turmeric. Maybe the sub-conscious comparison with khao-suey affected this unfairly, but the balance of the dish seemed a little off.

The buzz at the place was great throughout, with large happy groups of friends and families at most tables – the crowd starting to thin out only around the time we were leaving. Asian eating it was, with hearty portions and certainly a sense of fun. I would certainly go back for the calamari, the Indonesian grilled chicken, and to try some of the other interesting offerings on the menu.

Rating: 3.6/5

Ai nayi: Review of Ai

So as our weekly ritual, we went to spend the Sunday trying to figure out a nice place to eat. I had heard from Prateek that Ai’s Sunday brunch is supposed to be good.

So after I saw Sanctum since, reflexly hubby goes off to sleep after wearing the 3D glasses, we went to Ai. As usual the husband was given drinks menu and me the brunch menu (I wonder why?why can’t women order drinks for men?) Khair, so the menu looked impressive- there was beef, pork,chicken and fish. So started with salad which has 4 types of lettuce -iceberg, green and red, the got 3 sake size little cups of 3 types of soup- miso, miso with tofu and tomato infused with jasmine- this sucked big time! with cold starters of some sort of Sashimi – highly avoidable.

Now time for starters which surprisingly where hot and fresh but again didn’t have much imagination or variety so there were different types of skewers- Pork, Chicken, Mushroom,Fish they all tasted the same as they were dipped in barbecue sauce which is very off the shelf. What impressed me was there was this guy who served us freshly made sushi at our table, so i tried beef, salmon and asparagus. Its a no-go place for vegetarians for sure they have no choice if you don’t want to eat mushroom or asparagus.

Only 1 pre-made sushi was served which again had salmon in it hence, very little choice. Then the main course came so I ordered prawn curry with rice and hubby ordered veggies with noodles- the prawns were unimpressive but the veggies curry was good and the noodles were better than eating plain rice. The desserts had 3 really small portions of creme brulee, some sorta gooey brownie and ice cream hovering around average, with freshly glazed fruits and recommended Darjeeling tea ice cream.

I will give Ai numbers only for style and will recommend that you experience Yum Yum Tree at New Friends colony they are great – the service is good, the food imaginative, they’ll bring all the entrees and dimsums that you would ever want to eat. But let me warn you they don’t serve a main course. So it’s deserts and entrees, dimsums and lots of Jasmin Tea.So the last time when we went everyone wanted to eat noodles also so the cook specially prepared stir fried noodles for us which were so-so but I will give him marks for the effort he put. Also, the Maitre D here is more active and the service never subsides. Recommended food here are their glass dumplings with Prawns and their entree made of pork ribs.

 

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.

ZEST (Now Setz)

It was a last minute decision to head to ZEST to celebrate my mum’s birthday last night. We had all along planned to go to the adjoining DLF Mall, Vasant Kunj for a simpler meal, but I remembered at the last moment this super fancy place that had opened up to great acclaim and hype, and I wanted to show my mum a good time.

We arrived at the restaurant (I was wearing flip flops) fully expecting to be turned back (I wouldn’t allow myself in a fine dining restaurant in chappals). I knew ZEST to be super fancy, the new hotspot for Delhi’s elite. Up we went and were met by an army of bouncers/concierges/hostesses. “Do you have a reservation?”, “No”, I said “We weren’t expecting a crowd on a Tuesday evening”. “Can you wait for 25 mins”, he said. “No, we’ll rather go elsewhere. I am not dressed for the place anyhow”, I replied.

But what do you know; five minutes later we had a table. I wonder how the lady wearing a beautiful evening dress and sitting at the sushi bar felt when I walked in with my flip flops (I would be mad as hell, if that happened to me). Heh!

The restaurant allows children, but wasn’t really child friendly. No scratch pad or doodling paper for the restless kids waiting to mess up the food. No smiles by the hostesses acknowledging kids who don’t really understand that they can’t sit at a bar stool and order drinks. The expat bartender however, was wonderful and gracious, who offered my 6 yr old niece the apple juice she ordered.

The air-conditioning here is turned to “frozen”. I suppose this is so that the supercilious staff can carry off two button suits and stare down at the clientele. Aren’t the guests (sorry, paying customers) supposed to feel that way? Charming.

The staff are really silly. Very well dressed and all that, no doubt. The trainees wear white overalls and are the bottom rung of the hospitality food chain (I think they are not allowed to interact with humans). You have the servers (shirt, pants & weird pointed shoes) and then some sort of special people (wearing suits, I don’t know what they are meant to do). And of course the pretty hostesses wearing dresses and makeup and scarves and all that. Very posh, you may say. And I thought so too… except our special suited gentleman had his name tag wrongly tagged (so vineet becomes teeniv). He proceeded to shove the menu at my face, killing whatever is left of chivalry in India- there were two women sitting at the table, who apparently didn’t deserve his attention. I suppose in Delhi, the guy who pays the bills and look at staff in the eye gets all the attention. Ridiculous!

Another “Indian” thing I noticed… the size of the chair (roomy, I suspect, to accommodate for our large posteriors). I also found it strange, and this is typical of all Indian restaurants, that most of the table were built family style; in 4-6-8 configuration. The couple tables were apologetically placed at the far end of the room. So sad, really. I should imagine that restaurants would encourage romantic couples and such (I think, young couples out on dates and anniversary tend to order expensive cocktails and what not).

So anyhow, in due course another brisk lady appeared and shot off a question to my mum “would you like still or sparkling water?” (I burst out laughing, I am sorry, I couldn’t help it). I asked her to get us regular water. But no, it wasn’t going to be that easy. This is a fancy place, remember. Another guy came up with a bottle (I think it was Evian). “Would you like…” No, I cut him off; we have already given our preference for plain old drinking water, thank you. Mind you, by now, I have spoken to/been spoken to by 5-6 different people. Whatever happened to personalised service?

Onto the next disaster… We poured over the menu, and I decided my mum should try the tajine (you know, the Moroccan stew sort of thing). But what do you know, they don’t have it. “Why is it on the menu”, I asked. A shrug was all I got. No worries, could the chef at the Arabic live kitchen please show my mum how a tajine is cooked. “No, we don’t have the tajine at all”, the waiter/trainee/hostess/steward type guy responded. I was beginning to feel angry. Don’t have it on the frigging menu if you don’t have the bloody thing. Or let me know before hand that X & Y are not currently available. And for god sake, take the live kitchen and shove it somewhere. What’s the point of showcasing all the stuff, if people can’t experience it?

Moving on to the next disaster… I asked for chopsticks (I was having a Chinese wok), and they got me a – hold your breath – off the street cheap as hell pair. You know the one that is glued at one end that you have to break open? Remember this is a fancy restaurant with wines priced at Rs117,000 (plus taxes). I mean what the hell? I have better chopsticks at home (someone special sent me a nice collection from Chinatown in NYC, but I digress). I was really shocked. This place pretends to be at the upper end of the dining experience – what were they doing handing out take-out style chopsticks?

Oh, By the way- we weren’t shown a drink menu; I had to beg for one, literally. I am not sure why, maybe they thought we weren’t drinking… but my brother had already stopped at the bar for a beer (and the apple juice for his daughter). Very strange. Earlier, we had waited at the bar for the table to be ready, and shockingly the bar guys made us settle the bill at the bar itself, while we were walking in for food. Inexplicable, don’t you think? And then the final straw, the fancy drinks menu didn’t list any Indian/IMFL booze, yet people all around me were chugging kingfisher (including, eventually myself). Apparently the menu and its owners were too ashamed to actually write Kingfisher and Smirnoff alongside “Maison de pommes bla bla bla” (or maybe there was another Indian drinks menu, which is even worse”


Look, the food was great. The ambience was chic. And so ZEST had a lot of things going for it. But I didn’t like the fact that it wanted to come across as pompous, supercilious and fake. Be real. We are real people. Be nice. Make us smile. I am not impressed by white skin waiters and French wine lists. I am not cowered down by hostesses wearing dresses and ear pieces with wireless headsets walking efficiently around the floor.

Don’t pretend to be what you are not. Zest wouldn’t get a Zagat or a Michelin star, but would certainly win as a superb observatory of the quite revolution that is sweeping our elite.

I wonder what Vir Sahgvi would make of this place….