Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Fat Duck

Beet root risotto by Bombay Foodie

How do you describe the most amazing meal of your life. It's almost a whole day since I got back from lunch at Heston Bluementhal's "The Fat Duck". And I still can't find the words to explain what you experience as you sit there for four hours, enjoying his decadent 14 course tasting menu.

Maybe I'd start where he starts, the amuse bouche that was one of the my favorite courses. Sweet aerated beets with horseradish cream, the whole package looking like a tiny red velvet whoopie pie. The next course was an apertif. In mad scientist way, the server brought liquid nitrogen and converted vodka and lime or campari and orange into meringue like things that numbed your tongue and set you up for flavor assault about to hit you.

The other courses that would make my top 5 hall of fame include this risotto you see above. It's not from his main menu, and I only got it because I am a vegetarian. This is beetroot risotto topped with radish carpaccio, some kind of foam and frozen sour cream pellets. The other unlikely candidate to make it to the bestseller list was smoked mushroom jelly with frozen pea like thingies (I am pretty sure they were not actual peas).

And rounding up the top 5 list is what I thought was the best course of the day - the black forest gateau. I've read Heston's book where he went in search of the best black forest cake. What came out of that search is a cake with flavors so complex they overwhelm you. Heston also revels in cold and frozen foods (there were plenty of them through the meal) but nothing came close to the kirsch ice cream that was served alonside our black forest.

I also need to tell you about the weird and whacky stuff. You've probably heard of sound of the sea already - where they hand you ipod in a shell so you listen to the waves as you eat a course made to look like a beach with sea foam and sand and fish. But even whackier was mad hatter's tea party. Inspired from alice in wonderland, you get served a mock turtle soup, a gold pocket watch that you dunk in the said soup and "toast sandwich" - which is quite literally a toast sandwiched between two other slices of bread. Made very interesting of course, with the addition of truffles and mustard and cucumber.

The tasting menu is pricey but the service standards there kind of make up for it. Tons of people hover around you, making you feel special. Every course comes with its own set of instructions and the servers know enough about the food to answer any questions that come to mind. Given how whacky the food is, I certainly had plenty of questions.

Once you've finished your meal and are on to coffee, they will even quietly order a taxi to take you to the station. And away from the wonderland. But you still have a copy of the menu and a bag of sweets (the last course that no one ever manages to eat!) to remind you it was not all a dream.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Chop!

Just when I thought he was getting old and a little bit fat, Jamie Oliver has landed himself another winner. His new "store", just opposite Notting Hill Gate, is called Recipease. On the ground floor is a takeout-cum-Jamie's signature cookware kind of shop. And some cooking counters, and stairs leading up to what at first glance is a chilled out cafe. But then, it's also a cooking school.

I signed up for knife skills class last week. It's something I've wanted to do for a while but also felt that it could be a bore - what's fun about chopping vegetables for a couple of hours. Well, let me tell you then, the class at Jamie's is actually fun. You walk in and get offered a glass of wine. Given that I was just about to be handed some very sharp knives, I stuck to water and saved that wine until after the class.

Then the class started. But it didn't feel like one. It felt instead, like you've walked into a friend's house, and she wants you to stand in the kitchen and chat while she fixes the dinner. Dinner in this case was an Asian prawn salad. And so the two women teaching the class started by cleaning the prawns. Then they showed us how to finely chop chillies, ginger, garlic and onions. At this stage, everyone went to their own stations and practised chopping everything that went into the dressing.

Next, we went back to the demo station and learnt to do a chiffonade with the cabbage that went into the salad. And chopped other assorted vegetables. Back to station, repeat the chopping for yourself, add the dressing and that's your dinner. Here's a picture of my finished salad, just before we sat down at one of the cafe tables to eat.


So was it all fun and chatting and eating out with friends? Oh no! although it never felt like we were in a class, I went home having learnt a lot about the proper way to handle knives, how to save your hands from getting cut and that "rockstar" cutting movement TV chefs always awe you with. The teachers make sure you have fun but they also make sure you learn something at the end of the class. Therein lies the genius of Recipease!

Friday, September 14, 2012

When in Rome...

It is impossible to do as the Romans do. Because there aren't any! Every person I saw on the streets of Rome was a tourist carrying a map. Ah well, travel is meant to burst long held myths and this was certainly not the only one. From the last month of travel, I picked for you what I think of as three top myths:

Myth No. 1: China is Cheap
It has to be, right? After all, they export everything to the whole world. But no, it isn't. At least, not where we were in Shanghai. Every restaurant meal I had was way more expensive than what I would pay in London. Shopping was nowhere less than London prices either. Even Starbucks sells their cappuccino at prices at least 30% higher than anywhere else. Now you go figure.

Myth No. 2: French people are unfriendly and won't give you the time of the day if you don't speak French
Now come on, they were all so friendly. And absolutely everyone, not just the hotel people but passer-bys you ask directions from or wait staff in cafes, spoke some form of English. Or at least tried to, and made themselves understood. And they were amazingly helpful. When my friend got a little sick and went to a pharmacy, the lady not only offered suggestions for over the counter medicines but as a prescription was required in this case, phoned up a doctor and got an instant appointment.

Myth No. 3: You find good pizza everywhere in Italy
Not in Rome for sure! I assure you I went to more than one pizza place the guides recommend. And I insist I have eaten way better pizza in Mumbai. In fact, Rome turned out to be much harder to navigate than Paris, with far fewer people speaking English (and they were all tourists anyway! where are the Romans???). And even when, after lots of searching, I found a much recommended pizzeria or a restaurant, it usually disappointed.

What you do eat very well in Rome is gelato. Since I could not make myself understood well enough to find decent restaurants, I resorted to eating at least 5 scoops of gelato a day. And on this one, you can't go wrong even if you go to that chain called Blue Ice. But if you want to be completely blown away by how good ice cream can get, you have to look for artisan gelato makers. Like this one I went to repeatedly near Trevi fountain, where the lady sold us the most amazing melon and coconut flavors. Or the one next to piazza navona where the peach flavor was completely mindboggling. I don't remember the names of these gelato shops because I went to so many, but I never ate a bad scoop so just eat at the one nearest to you. A pity I can't say the same for their pizza!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Top 5 Things to Eat in Paris

When I planned my trip to Paris, I paid little attention to museums and art and all those things first time tourists think about. In fact, I only had two spots on my to-do list - Pierre Herme and Laduree. But because you can't live on pastry alone (well, you can, but let's say you need some variety!), I also bookmarked this highly informative post from my favorite American in Paris, David Lebovitz.

I stayed pretty close to the program, even though an occasional trip to Eiffel Tower or art gazing at a museum crept in, a temporary diversion from the feast in Paris. From all those meals, I've culled for you five things you should not even think about missing if you find yourself in Paris:

1. Start your day at Pierre Herme with a fantastic croissant. Or better still, a kugelof or a buttery koign amman.

2. If you find yourself at Pierre Herme after breakfast time, treat yourself to an ishpahan.

3. Or go to Laduree instead. You can linger in their tea room. But what's the fun in that. Instead, tell them to pack you as many salted caramel macarons as you can carry and eat them as you walk around the city or sit in a park.

4. People will tell you Angelina has the best hot chocolate in the world. On this, I disagree. But I urge you to go there anyway and eat a pain aux raisin. What makes this flaky confection different, and better, at Angelina is the addition of candied orange peel.

5. This is going to sound like really strange. But the best meal I had in Paris was a falafel. Guided by David to L'As du Fallafel, I found a crowded hole in the wall making the most amazing falafels.

But then, the best meals of Paris are not in any of its restaurants or cafes. What you need to do is make your way to Rue Cler, a pedestrian lane near Eiffel Tower. And there, you buy a grainy baguette, some soft cheese (tell the cheese shop what kinds you like, and let them find the perfect one for you) and fruits. Mirabelle plums were in season when I was there, and so were little wild strawberries. Add a bottle of wine and take it all back to your hotel for a picnic. Or better still, do as Parisians do - find a sunny spot on the bank of Seine and spread your picnic. A better meal you will not find anywhere else in the city!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ispahan

Ispahan by Bombay Foodie
We need to talk, you and I! In the two months I've been gone from these pages, I've collected so many stories I need to tell you. Stories of course, of experiences in London and school and what not. But also of travels to China and a trip out to Europe.

Or I could just sum up all these new experiences in one word - Ispahan! For the uninitiated, ispahan is a pastry created by the legendary Parisian pastry chef Pierre Herme. And in one little treat, it sums up everything that's right with the world.

What you see up there is a crunchy rose flavored pink macaron. The filling is a rose petal buttercream, which has some lychees mixed in. This is then topped with fresh raspberries.

A trifle sweet, a little tart, and very, very pretty - that's how life's been lately. And this time, I am going to be back and blogging regularly so make sure you check back to hear the stories.