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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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

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.

Grilled at last…

Bombay (yeah I know…but I don’t like saying Mumbai) – supposedly a haven for eating, dining, breakfasting, brunching…lunching…teaing and all that. I say ‘supposedly’ because I haven’t really had the opportunity to explore more than 10 eating joints in the last six years of my stay here, so going by what I’ve read and heard, that’s what it is – a haven. I should be ashamed of calling myself that with my fantastic record. But in my defense, of the limited joints that I visit, I am pretty much, a patron.

This post comes in the light of a slight deviation from the routine of six years. My very vegetarian in laws (just sis in law and hubby), my preferably vegetarian husband and the purely non vegetarian me decided to meet for dinner last Saturday. We almost entered the restaurant where we went to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, first Sundays of the month, buying a new lampshade, getting all traffic signals green, …basically anything. Anyway, just as we were entering, my SIL said she’d heard of a grill house nearby that we could check out. I was thrilled since the last time the four of us (or even just me) went to a grill house was two years back, soon after my marriage. That was something that had undergone more planning than the marriage itself…hey come on, we were going to ‘Kebab Factory’ (in Noida I think) for the first time and it was a big deal. We have been planning to go to Barbecue Nation near Bandra for the longest time but in vain. That’s another story.

Anyway, in less than five minutes we were out of our favoured restaurant and outside ‘Grillopolis’, in a place called Oshiwara located in the western suburbs of Mumbai. The name was about as far Greek as the place could get. Can be surer of that as my husband and I went holidaying in Greece last year and are pretty sure no façade there inspired what we saw in front of us. But I did not let that bother me…food (read grilled meats) was what I was waiting for and I was sure it would beat the ‘oh so famous’ (dunno why) Greek salad. Being a Saturday, we got a table in a record 10 minutes. Obviously we did not go for the a la carte since the buffet had five non veg and five veg starters, just as many dishes per category in the main course and desserts. Not bad. I didn’t even bother with the veg…and I’m not sorry. First up, I dug into the chicken kebabs that had some sort of a rice flour coating – soft and juicy on the inside, crisp on the outside. Lightly spiced but delicious. Then came the grilled fish with baked beans (didn’t know that could be a combo). It certainly wouldn’t have qualified for Masterchef Oz coz there were BONES!!! Did anyone watch the episode where Gary cooked a fish dish in a Masterclass and Callum found a bone in it…what a slap (or should I say prick) that was! Anyway, the grilled fish was decent. Found no more bones after the initial bits. Then followed some delectably soft mutton shammi kebabs served on tortilla chips (huh???). Didn’t bother with the tortillas but the kebab was lovely. It did not have the hit smell or taste of the original shammi kebab but it was fragrant and really really soft. Probably that’s why they served them on the tortillas so that they held shape. Then, dhan ta tan…grilled prawns. Was having prawns after eons. Didn’t mind how they were served…except raw of course. Spicy, well cooked. Very nice. Four down, one more to go. As I waited for it, I wondered what they could possibly serve – chicken’s done, so is fish and goat and prawn. Hmm…and then it came…chicken again!!! Well, that’s about as big as the non veg circle went. Pretty orthodox for a place called Grillopolis eh? But this time the chicken was quite interesting. It was a seekh kebab. Indian notes of garlic and earth spices in the beginning and then a kick of soya in the end. Sounds odd but it made for a pretty interesting combination. Quite nice, quite different. Had several helpings. Some of the names of these dishes may have sounded Indian, but they all had a pretty western hint in their tastes. A little here, a little there. If you go there expecting to find Karim’s kebabs’ copies…mmm…not that good an idea. The name of the place actually helps putting such expectations at rest.

Anyway, by now I had had my fill. But after a walk around the buffet counter for the main course I felt some empty spaces spring up out of nowhere within me. How else was I to stuff in the masala crab and fish and mutton biryani and drunken chicken and butter chicken??? (These guys really know their way around with chicken) Ah! Is there a cloud number 10? Well I was beyond that. Yeah I had to struggle a bit to maintain dignity while eating the crab. And that was not it. I had to make a pretence to my family (veggie, remember?) that eating crab was just like sucking on drumsticks (no not the chicken ones…the green ones you put in sambhar). But how…with crab…how??? Finally I found recourse in the wall of glasses and salt n pepper cellars that I created around my plate. Couldn’t eat the crab as much as (I mean to the last shred) I would have wanted to but that sufficed for the time being.

No more space left to create space for dessert! But the brave soldier marches on and the sight of those gooey, creamy, chocolatey delights made me brave enough to run. I had two helpings of dessert…hah! Strawberry pastries, chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream, baked Alaska – layered sponge and fresh fruits topped with soft peaked whipped cream and lightly bruléed. They didn’t do it too well as quite a few grains of sugar met their end between our molars. But what the hell…it tasted great and the attempt can at the least be appreciated. And the bottomline is…all good things come in sweet packages…

With a sumptuous meal down, we got discussing whether they served the same menu everyday. We said obviously not. I’m sure they know more than four chicken dishes. When will they serve those? Might go and find out soon.

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….