Sunday, October 31, 2010

Vineet Bhatia's Ziya

Ziya in MumbaiMichelin stars in Mumbai? Well, not quite. However, Mumbai has suddenly begun attracting starred chefs from Europe and America. Just this month, Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa flew down with a 26-strong entourage from London for culinary performance lasting a week. The price? Rupees 24,000 per person (approx. USD 550). Then there is Vineet Bhatia, who has two Michelin stars for his restaurants in London; probably the only Michelin starred Indian food restaurants in the entire world.

Vineet now runs two restaurants in Mumbai: Azok at Oakwood Premier in Juhu and Ziya at The Oberoi in Nairman Point. I had a chance to try Ziya during a recent visit and here are some impressions from that dinner.

Ziya at The Oberoi Mumbai
Ziya at The Oberoi MumbaiThe decor, like the food here, is contemporary fusion. Indian staples but with a modern twist. I chose the prix fixe option listed as the Gourmand Menu and sat back with a glass of wine.

After arranging small bowls of chutneys and papad rolls in front of me, they quickly brought out an amuse of jal jeera with mushrooms fritters.

Chutneys at Ziya
Jal Jeera Amuse at ZiyaThe Starter was exceptional. A Crisp Roti Wrapped Prawn served with Bloody Mary jelly, mint raita and white tomato soup. The Roti seemed to be made with a thin coating of semolina (not sure) and was very tasty. The soup was tangy and the Bloody Mary jelly really worked on the palate!

Appetizer at ZiyaNext came the Wild Mushroom Khichdi with Makhni Ice-Cream. Now isn't that interesting, or what? While the dish was made well and combination did work, I did not find it particularly exciting.

Wild MUshroom Khichdi at ZiyaThe Varq 23 carat Black Spiced Chicken Tikka was served next. The chicken came with crisp milk fritters and Saffron Upma! Now this dish was quite detectible. As interesting on the palate as it was on the plate with the gold varq shining on top. While I have consumed a lot of silver varq (which is standard on many Indian sweets), this was my first gold varq.

Varq Chicken at ZiyaA champagne sorbet as a palate cleanser came next before the first entree. The Grilled, Chilli and Curry Leaf Lobster was served in lobster sauce and brocolli khichdi. They dusted it with spiced cocoa powder at the table. The lobster was fantastic! This dish was the best so far. Great khichdi, crunchy lobster with a distinct South Indian flavour that worked very well.

The next entree was a Smoked Tandoori Lamb Chop with a silken potato mash, lamb samosa, spiced lamb & mint jus and lemon grass foam. I am a sucker for lamb chops and liked this dish too.

Lamb Chop at ZiyaBefore the dessert, they served me a a portion of cardamom baked yogurt that was quite delicious. Then came the Grilled Saffron Pineapple with Kheer Ice-Cream and Warm Coconut Basundi. I loved it!

Baked Yogurt at Ziya
Dessert at ZiyaThis was a fun dinner for me and very different from the typical Indian fare. It was fun to experiment with the combination of Chicken Tikka and Upma, Lobster and Khichdi, etc. While not every dish was a standout, overall this was a positive experience for me.

Please note that this restaurant serves pre-plated food that is not meant to be shared family-style unlike most Indian food restaurant. Prices are at the high-end but that is to be expected given the chef's reputation.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fine Dining At The MGM Grand

L'Atelier de Joel RobuchonI am back in Vegas after two years, this time at the MGM Grand. The last time I had stayed at the Venetian at the other end of The Strip. The hotel and the rooms are not as impressive as the more recently built Venetian, but the MGM Grand is a foodie's delight. Anchoring the fine-dining options in this large casino hotel is legendary French chef Joel Robuchon's signature restaurant and the only one to be awarded three Michelin stars in this city so far.

Celebrity chef run restaurants abound at MGM Grand: in addition to Joel Robuchon, there are restaurants run by Tom Colicchio, Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse here. In all there are 10 fine dining restaurants, an equal number of casual dining restaurants, multiple Starbucks and a quick-service foodcourt containing everything from Häagen-Dazs to McDonald's - all within this massive hotel.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon VegasLet me begin with my dinner at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. A very sexy decor in deep blacks and bright reds fits right into the Vegas landscape. The ambiance is casual, fun but sophisticated. The bar-style seating around the open kitchen affords a close-up view of the chefs creating their edible masterpieces.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon Vegas
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon Vegas
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon VegasI struck a conversation with the person seated next to me. He turned out to be a Frenchman from Geneva, who (as you can expect) knew everything about Robuchon, his restaurants in Paris, and the chefs cooking at this one. He pointed out the red-blue-white collar on the chef's uniform and said this was a recognition of winning France's Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition - the ultimate recognition for every chef in that country obsessed with culinary excellence.

They served some warm breads and butter and then presented an exquisite amuse bouche to begin tonight's dinner. The Foie gras parfait with parmesan port wine foam was perfect on the palate: an assortment of robust tastes and textures.

Amuse of Foie Gras Parfait at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon VegasThe soup followed next. Mussels and mimolette veloute with croutons. Mimolette is among of one the many interesting French cheese stirred into a velvety sauce for the soup. Intense, but I would have enjoyed a more contrasting flavor after the parmesan amuse.

Mussel and Mimolette soup at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon VegasThe Langoustine fritter with basil pesto followed next. A favorite with Robuchon fans and I could see why. These Norway 'baby' lobsters were perfectly crisp on the outside and flavorful inside; the basil was intense and worked very well!

Langoustine at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon VegasI had chosen the Halibut in pepper and tomato broth as my main dish. This did not disappoint either. The fish was cooked just right and the ingredients complemented the fish perfectly as did the shimps in the broth.

Halibut at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon VegasFinally, a platter of artisan cheese followed by a lovely selection of home-made ice-creams and sorbets. There was chocolate, lychee, raspberry, vanilla and yuzu.

Cheese platter at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon Vegas
Sorbets at l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon VegasA marvelous culinary adventure indeed. As I called it a night and walked back to my room, my new French friend was on his way to XS, the new hotspot for party-animals in Vegas. L'Atelier is a great place to try the cuisine of one of France's most celebrated chefs. If you like what you experience here, you can try his signature formal restaurant right next door where dinner is 16 courses, takes a full four hours, and costs about $500 - a bargain considering the prices at his Paris restaurant.

Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak at VegasTom Colicchio is an American celebrity chef most commonly known for being on Top Chef (until Padma Lakshmi stole the limelight from everybody else on that show). Craftsteak at the MGM Grand is a great exhibition of his talent and focus on the basics. This restaurant showcases the best meat along with some really creative and well presented starters, soups and salads.

The ambiance is sophisticated and warm. Lots of dark wood, antique glassware and chandeliers. The waitstaff here is excellent too.

Craftsteak at VegasI began by ordering an Espresso Martini and it was as interesting as it sounds! The drink was made of Van Gogh espresso, vodka, kahlua and fresh espresso.

Espresso Martini at CraftsteakOrdered a salad of roasted red peppers, garlic slivers, olive oil and basil. Simple but very effective both in the appearance and in the mouth. Ekdum jhakaas like my friends from Mumbai would say!

Salad of Roasted red peppers at CraftsteakThe 8 oz Flat Iron Steak was served with a side of baby spinach in garlic butter. The meat was flavorful, tender and very enjoyable. I was glad to decided to order the spinach instead of the traditional mac-and-cheese side.

Flat Iron Steak at Craftsteak Vegas
Baby spinach in butter garlic at Craftsteak VegasAll in all, this is another winner for anyone who loves his meat and is hungry for some sophisticated indulgence of the carnivorous kind in Sin City.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tasting Singapore: Part Two

Chilli Crab at Jumbo SingaporeAfter an elaborate seafood buffet and an exciting Taiwanese 'soupy' dim sum experience, what next? Actually, some even more interesting food to write about. Have you heard of Sundanese people and their cuisine? And no, that wasn't a typo; Sundanese are an ethnic group from Indonesia. Also, my first experience of Singapore's Chilly Crab, which many will declare is this country's 'national dish'.

Sundanese Sayang in SingaporeThe Sundanese are a people native to the western part of the Indonesian island of Java. They are thought to have orginated from Taiwan and migrated to Indonesia over 3000 years back. About 27 million people speak the Sundanese language today and is the second most widely spoken language in the country today (after Javanese).

Sundanese Sayank in SingaporeThe restaurant I visited is called Sundanese Sayang located in City Square Mall. The interior was decorated with local Indonesian artifacts and there was a display of traditional ovens and cookware at the entrance.

They served us an Indonesian sushi roll as we ordered. We sipped on a sweet-sour drink as we waited for our food.

Rice in Sundanese SayankSteamed rice was served in a bamboo basket lined with a banana leaf to enhance the flavor of the rice inside. A number of dishes had made their way to our table by now.

The Ayam Pangang Sunda is a chicken dish in a delightful semi-sweet marinade that was tender and flavorful. The beef Rendang had a thick curry bursting with the fullness of a multitude of spices.

Ayam Pagang Sunda at Sundanese Sayank
Beef Redang at Sundanese SayankThen came their signature dishes. The Sedap Ikan Bakar is a whole sea bass charcoal grilled in Sundanese style with a unique basting process. Prepared with exotic spices, this dish was amazing and worthy of a feast. The other interesting dish was the Ikan Nila Goreng, Sudanese 'dancing' fish. As you can see from the picture, the whole fish is served artistically with its body sliced through but the head in one piece. The fish was expertly deep fried retaining the juiciness of the fish.

Bakar at Sundanese Sayank
Ikan Nila Goreng at Sundanese Sayang in SingaporeThe squids were very nice too, in both presentation and taste. Slowly grilled, this dish is usually had with sambal belachan by the locals.

Squid at Sundanese Sayang in SingaporeFinally, we ended with a cup of Indonesian coffee in brightly colored cups.

Coffee at Sundanese Sayang in SingaporeHow could I leave Singapore without digging into their famous Chilli Crab. So, off we went that evening to Jumbo, Singapore most famous seafood restaurant on Dempsey Hill.

The evening was warm and muggy, so we ordered a jug of Tiger beer with our food. All we wanted tonight was crab, so we chose a medium-size one. Now here I must warn my readers from India. These crabs are far larger than the ones you eat back home. A medium sized crab may be good for two, especially if you are ordering desserts or starters too.

Jumbo Seafood in SingaporeAlso remember to order some of those (tiny) buns; they are very good with the chilly crab.

The dish, when it arrived, looked suitably imposing, in a large cast-iron skillet. Enough crab and gravy for four people (by Indian standards).

Chilli Crab at Jumbo SingaporeTime to get our hands messy. Thankfully, they give you large bibs to wear before you attack the crab. Even with the implements to crack the shells and pry out meat, there is no avoiding some mess. The crab was delicious. Hard work was rewarded with the most delectible crab meat.

Chilli Crab at Jumbo SingaporeFinally, we cleaned up and ordered the mango pudding for dessert. The dessert was simply wonderful. By now, every table was full in the restaurant. We were able to get a seat without a reservation only because we arrived very early. Keep that in mind if you want to eat here. Also, if you have already tried chilly crab, you may want to try the Black Pepper Crab, which is also a speciality here.

Mango Pudding at Jumbo SingaporeSingapore has the densest poplulation of restaurants I have seen anywhere. It seems everyone loves eating out and often. The shopping malls are filled with numerous choices and then there are the excellent food malls in addition to the speciality restaurants and the outlets in the hotels. And nowhere do you get the variety, all within a few minutes drive or in walking distance from wherever you are.

Previously in this series: Tasting Singapore


Monday, October 18, 2010

Tasting Singapore

Shucking oysters at Oscar's in SingaporeI fly in and out of Singapore's excellent Changi Airport multiple times every year. However, I had never taken the time to visit the city since my vacation here four years back. Nothing much seemed to have changed in this efficiently run 'city-state' at first glance. I was happy to get inside the airconditioned interior of the taxi; it was was very hot and humid outside. From the 31st floor of the Conrad Hotel, I looked down on the Fountain of Wealth around which the Suntec City towers rose into the skies. At a distance was something that was new - the Marina Center with its iconic Singapore Flyer.

Suntec City is best known for its upscale shopping mall and restaurants spread between five towers. The towers are built around the large Fountain of Wealth - once the largest such fountain in the world. Every evening, lights and music are turned on to create a festive atmosphere for the visiting hordes of shoppers. The Marina Bay with its fancy residences, hotels and the Singapore Flyer is relatively new and a popular attraction in Singapore. The Singapore Flyer is now the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world (larger than the London Eye).

Singapore Marina Bay
Singapore Fountain of WealthHowever, what I love most about this city is its medley of cuisines. Food is a national pastime for Singaporeans. Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Western traditions have come together and created the perfect culinary potpourri for the adventurous foodie.

The Conrad Hotel itself is home to Oscar's. The Sunday champagne brunch seemed to be popular with guests and locals alike.

I went over to the sashimi bar and watched while they prepared slices of tuna, salmon and sword fish for me. I have grown to love sashimi; nothing like sinking your teeth into slices of fresh fish dipped in good wasabi and soya sauce.

Fresh seafood at Oscar's in Conrad SingaporeI returned to the cold seafood bar and got myself some oysters. They had a few varieties and I tried some of each. They also had a variety of crab, prawns and lobsters with a variety of dips.

Appetizers at Oscar's SingaporeThen to the noodle bar for some won-ton soup prepared a-la-minute for me. The girl at the bar was doing this for the first time, got quite flustered and one of her colleagues had to help out! At dinner the next day, I tried the famous Laksa soup made with rice noodles, prawns, bean sprouts, a quail egg and that special spicy prawn paste that gives the soup its distinctive taste. Yummy!

Noodle Bar at Oscar's
Wonton Soup
Laksa SoupThey had a variety of Chinese, Malay, Italian and Indian dishes available. I had gorged on the appetizers so only had space for some Chinese seafood fried rice. Finally ended with some desserts and a cup of black tea.

During lunch, my colleagues took me to a Taiwanese restaurant. Din Tai Fung is an award-winning restaurant that specializes in xiaolongbao, small steamed buns or dumplings.

The Menu at Din Tai Fung
Din Tai FungThe xiaolongbao was exquisite. Served in steaming bamboo baskets, these 'dim sums' were filled with meat and soup. Yes, soup! Which means, popping them straight into your mouth will guarantee a few blisters. I followed the lead of my local colleagues by making a little hole in the dim sum and slowly sucking the soup from them before eating the rest.

Xiaolongbao at Din Tai FungThey served up a complimentary dish of thinly sliced tofu and glass noodles with seaweed that was quite appetizing.

Tofu Noodle appetizer at Din Tai FungWe also ordered a dish of Crispy Golden Prawn Pancakes that were delightful. Prawns inside that seemed to be batter fried in egg.

Crispy prawn pancake at Din Tai FungThe Spare Ribs of pork were very tasty too as were the other accompanying dishes of prawn fried rice and stir-fried spinach.

Spare Ribs at Din Tai Fung
Dim sum at Din Tai Fung
Stir fried greens at Din Tai Fung
Fried Rice at Din Tai FungFinally, came the very interesting Longevity Peach Buns in pink and white! These buns, also known as shao tao are made in the shape of a peach and filled with lotus paste that is quite fun to eat. Peaches are well known Chinese symbols of longevity and there is a Taoist story about the Queen Mother of the West who has a magical peach tree which bears peaches granting immortality to those who eat them. The tree however only bears fruit every three thousand years. The peach shaped steamed buns are made to symbolize those magical, immortality granting peaches.

Longevity Peach Buns at Din Tai FungAll in all, an excellent lunch experience. One more day to go and if opportunity presents itself, hope to try out the famous chilli crabs and Hainanese chicken rice at places recommended by locals.

Next in this series: Tasting Singapore Part II