Sunday, March 28, 2010

FIFA World Cup 2010: Stadium Tour

FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg StadiumYessir! I was here first. :)

Here's a pictorial tour of the main soccer stadium in Johannesburg that will host the opening and closing ceremonies during the FIFA World Cup 2010. Like a billion fans around the world already know, this BIG event kicks off on June 11 here. I was very excited with the opportunity to get a tour of the stadium, a walk through the team dressing rooms and a visit to the heart of the facility that contains the high-tech nerve center that will let the world's media beam back images instantaneously to fans back home.

FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg StadiumSoccer City, as this stadium is popularly called, has seen a major upgrade for this event. Its design has been inspired by African pottery, the calabash. At night-time, the mosiac of earthern colors will have a ring of lights at the bottom making the stadium look like a massive pot placed over fire. As we went through the gates, we could see workers busy with the finishing touches outside.

FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg StadiumFinally, we were inside the massive structure. The green field surrounded by rings of orange seats made for a colorful picture.

FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg StadiumI was here on work (yes, I know, lucky me!!), but let me explain the hat I am wearing. The yellow hat represents a miner's hard-hat and South Africans tend to arrive with elaborate decoration on them during matches. The other person in the picture was our tour guide who gave us several interesting nuggets of information on the stadium. Below is the players' tunnel followed by the dressing and shower rooms.

FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg Stadium
FIFA World Cup 2010 Johannesburg StadiumAt the top of the stadium, the mosaic made for a pretty pattern against the deep blue skies. The day was pretty warm, but 74 days from now when the world tunes in, the Johannesburg winter ought to make for a much more pleasant day-time temperatures.

Previously in this series: A taste of Johannesburg.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Taste of Johannesburg

Lekgotia Sandton City JohannesburgFor all the travel I do, I had not visited the Middle-East or the African continent until now. Last weekend I flew Emirates and got into Johannesburg on a bright, sunny morning. While the city itself is no different from other modern cities, as you begin to look closer you see the electric fencing and notice the signs proclaiming Armed Response on perimeters of every gated residencial colony you pass by. Violent crime seems to be a real thing here. On the positive side, all the South Africans I met were friendly, fun-loving people and very hospitable. As an Indian visitor, it was also fun to see sports pages devoted to IPL even when the country is preparing for the FIFA World Cup! It was a revelation to see so many South Africans of Indian origin, who came here as traders or indentured labor many generations back.

As for the foodie, Johannesburg has much to offer. I found South African food very exciting - they have brought together influences from their European, native African and Indian heritage and created a cuisine that's very appealing indeed. South African food is a delight for lovers of meat and spicy food - some of the stuff I tried were fiery even by Indian standards!

Intercontinental Sandton TowersDuring the four days I spent here, I stayed at the Intercontinental Sandton Towers in Sandton City, a posh commercial and residential suburb of the city. Wanting to try something exotic, I picked the Loin of Gemsbok from the menu for lunch at the hotel. Googling quickly from my Blackberry as I sat at the table, I discovered the gemsbok to be a large antelope common in this region.

Loin of Gemsbok at the Intercontinental Sandton TowersMy lunch arrived soon. The meat was grilled to perfection with a peanut and ginger basting that was heavenly - bringing together the Malay influence in their country. The hasselback potatoes and wilted boy choy in spiced olive oil went perfectly with the splendidly done meat which was robust, gamey and very flavorful.

BiltongOn another day, after a full quota of meetings and events, my host introduced me to the local Castle beer and another comfort food ubiquitous here - the Biltong. Biltong is air-dried meat and similar to beef jerky but far more tasty. While Biltong is made of a variety of meats including ostrict, the one I tried was beef which was quite addiction forming I must say!

African drums in JohannesburgJohannesburg owes its origins to the mining industry. South Africa witnessed a gold rush to Witwatersrand (from where the local currency got its name) in 1886 and eventually led to the creation of Johannesburg. This region alone has accounted for almost 40% of all the gold mined in the world until now! Castle beer was founded to cater to the tastes of the miners and prospectors and has been popular ever since. Biltong and Castle beer - no better combo at the bar to wash away your tiredness at the end of a busy day.

Lekgotia JohannesburgUpscale dining places are aplenty in Sandton City, Johannesburg - all within walking distance of the Intercontinental. I walked out of my hotel and into the nearby Nelson Mandela Square home to some of the largest shopping malls and restaurants. A large bronze statue of Mandela dominates the square.

For a taste of Africa, there is no better than Lekgotia. Drummers, staff dressed in African clothes and face painting make for an exotic dining atmosphere. Local wines abound in their celler: South Africa has a rich tradition of wine that dates back to the 17th century. Much of it comes from areas in and around Cape Town.

African music at LekgotiaGoing with my hosts' recommendation, I settled for a carpaccio of Springbok and an entree of Beef Fillet. The springbok is a gazelle that is also the national animal of South Africa. I was also introduced to the pap, a porridge made of coarsely ground maize topped with a fiery savoury relish of peppers and vegetables called Chakalaka.

Carpaccio of springbok at Lekgotia
Chakalaka on pap at LekgotiaThe springbok was interesting, but it was the Beef Fillet that was really fantastic! Extremely well-seasoned, the meat was tender and a medley of flavors and textures on the palate. The pap and chakalaka made the meal even more satisfying. I had ordered a pepper sauce for the steak which added to the spice level! After all that meat and starch, I just couldn't find place for a dessert. :)

Beef Fillet at LekgotiaOn another night, I walked into Montago Bay located in the same area. The outdoor seating looking out on the Square and candles on the tables made for a lovely ambiance after sunset. Montago Bay specialized in seafood and their menu straddles sushi and local creations with equal panache.

Montago Bay Sandton City Johannesburg
Seafood display at Montago BayI started with the popular Knysna Bay oysters, freshly shucked and served on a bed of ice with green and red Tabasco, coarsely ground black pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Doesn't get any better than this, especially on a lazy evening with a tall glass of chilled Castle.

Knysna Bay Oysters at Montago Bay
Castle Beer at Montago BayThe entree that followed was as terrific. Fresh line fish perfectly blackened in Cajun spices and served with rice and creamed spinach. This dish was another hit with me. A must have in my next trip to this food-loving city. As I look back at the food I sampled in this city, I can't remember anything I tried that I didn't like.

Fresh Line Fish in Cajun Spices at Montago BayAnother much recommended restaurant I didn't have time to sample is the Butcher Shop & Grill right opposite Lekgotia. This is a must for steak lovers or those looking to sample game meat in Africa.

Soon, this city is going to flooded with soccer lovers. For the foodies amongst them, there is going to be a double bonanza waiting - quality soccer and fantastic food!

Coming Next: I was here first! - A tour of the National Stadium where the FIFA World Cup 2010 will kick off in June.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

China House @ Mumbai

China House MumbaiAfter a day full of meetings and calls, I decided to go down to the excellent China House at The Grand Hyatt in Mumbai for a drink and a quick dinner. This time I took a seat at the bar, getting a chance to both watch the bartender go about his business of mixing some interesting cocktails, but also to get a chance to obverse the Chinese chefs hard at work turning out dim-sums and roast duck with equal panache at the open kitchens right opposite my vantage point.

Snacks at the bar at China HouseMy appletini was served with bowls of spicy glass noodles and boiled peanuts. Both of them addiction forming! The wet towel was a welcome touch, especially since I had just come in from the hot and humid Mumbai streets.

Appletini at China HouseSteamed cystal prawn dumplings were excellent. Delicate wrapping, fresh prawns with light spices and crab apple (?), served steaming.

Crystal Prawn Dumplings at China HouseSichuan chilly chicken with peppercorns and green onions was good but not for the fussy eater. Loads of red chillies and cashews made up this dish.

Chilly Chicken at China HouseSichuan seafood noodles with spicy sauce and vegetables seemed a wee bit too oily which took away from the natural flavors and taste of the seafood.

Sichuan seafood noodles
China House The Grand Hyatt MumbaiThe Jasmine tea-ramisu (!) provided a fantastic ending. This green-tea flavored tiramisu was served with home made orange-vanilla ice-cream.

Jasmine tea-ramisuChina House is an excellent choice for upscale Chinese cuisine in Mumbai. The ambiance is particularly unique with show kitchens, a variety of seating areas, and an exciting bar area. The decor and service matches the high quality of the food served here. This is a place to see and be seen, especially on weekend evenings.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Haute and Hauter - Part III

Fifth Floor San FranciscoI was back at the Fifth Floor in San Francisco for a taste of Jennie Lorenzo's New American cuisine, a change from the French inspired creations on the menu until last year. Simpler sauces, fresh veggies and...well, not very unlike New French cuisine that's the rage in Paris.

Amuse bouche at Fifth FloorThe crudo - raw is in vogue now - of tuna was pretty good and the transparent green caviar that came on it burst and crackled delightfully in the palate. The zest provided by gratings of Buddha's hand - an unique citrius fruit I only learnt of recently.

Crudo at Fifth FloorThe pork belly was superb and different from last time's presentation. This dish was prepared with brussels sprouts, fennel, cauliflower and truffle sauce. Absolutely lip-smacking!

Pork Belly at Fifth FloorDuck was good too. Today's presentation was of seared duck breast marinated in sake with Savoy cabbage, braised duck leg and spiced oil with a hint of citrus.

The duck at Fifth FloorDuring my last visit to Paris, I realized that French chefs have been experimenting with veggies in earnest and cooking with a lighter hand than ever before. Alain Passard at L'Arpege and Yannick Alleno of Le Meurice are two examples of this trend. Alleno, who recieved his third star only this year, is known for his light touch, teasing out flavors from fresh meat, fish and greens at his opulent restaurant on Rue de Rivoli near Place de la Concorde.

Back to my dinner at the Fifth Floor. The soup which had materialized in front of me had elements of Waldorf salad but in a steaming walnut-pine cream concoction. The fruit slices contrasted nicely with the warm soup in my mouth.

Hot soup at Fifth FloorThe stuffed chicken was another winner with a perfect balance of creativity, taste and presentation. It comprised of leeks soubise, pine-nut, arugula among other things.

Stuffed chicken at Fifth FloorI also loved the fried doughnuts with ice-cream. The doughnuts tasted like Indian Gujiya which is widely served during the Indian festival of colors, Holi.

Fried doughnuts at Fifth Floor
The bar at Fifth FloorThe Fifth Floor continues to delight, even as its menu has evolved. The restaurant has a lively atmosphere during the evenings. Their breads are stand-outs too and their wine menu is extensive. Finally, we are beginning to see more and more creative women take up the Executive Chef's hat in Haute California and I am hoping this trend will show up in France too!

Prev Post in this series: Haute in California.

PS: You can find my other visits to the Fifth Floor here and here.