Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Visit to Bungalow 9 - a lesson in Hubris.

As a comparatively new blogger (I only started this May) I was thrilled to receive an invitation from the Social Media Div., Percept Profile to visit and dine at Bungalow 9 - a restaurant they represent. They wanted to host me at their restaurant, wanted me to meet the Chef, and then write about my experience on my blog. I was thrilled and replied back in the affirmative. Ms Priyanka called me up and insisted that me and my wife come and experience a 'true fine dining experience' at Bungalow 9 a property which was represented by her company. We fixed Monday the 14th of November at 8.30pm. She was very solicitous of my comfort and recommended the outside seating as the weather was pleasant and confirmed to me that Monday would be perfect as the Chef wanted to meet and speak to me and that his day-off was on Tuesdays. Armed with all this, a careful perusal of the restaurants website, and a bucket of confidence I convinced Rhea (my wife) to drive all the way across town (45km away) with me to have dinner on a week-day (read working day) evening. 

We arrived after a 95 minute drive and gave our car to the valet and sauntered into the premises of Bungalow 9. Upon being greeted by the usher I gave them my name and informed them that I had a table for 8.30pm. They looked blankly at me and informed me that there was no reservation in my name. This is when it all began to unravel. I informed them that I had been invited here and told them that I was expected. The Maitre d' - or someone I suppose was the maitre d' - then came up and asked me who I was ... I gave him my visiting card and once again repeated that I had been invited here on this day at this time by the corporation involved in promoting their restaurant using social media. He looked blankly at me and pointed out that neither was my name on the reservations list nor had their business partners informed him of any such event. He went on to inform me that in such a scenario Percept Profile promptly emailed all details to the restaurant followed by a telephonic confirmation and that the restaurant had received no such missive or communication. He offered me a seat and led me to a small corner sofa instead of a table whilst I desperately tried to bring up the email details on my phone. To my increasing chagrin there was very low coverage and the phone couldn't access my emails. I then reiterated the same (previously mentioned) details to the maitre d' who looked at me in a rather doubtful fashion and informed me that there was no such communication and that if I so desired a table could be made available as they were not full up. By this time I was mortified, deeply embarrassed and had a very highly upset spouse at my side. I decided I had had enough and left.

An hour later after having caught up with an old friend and having accessed my email over her iPad I was in the process of dialing Ms Priyanka when she called. She informed me that she had been in a meeting and had just received a call from the restaurant and that there seemed to have been some mix-up. She continued to assure me that it was obviously just human error and that she had made a booking (for 2) and had confirmed the same with the restaurant, I then informed her that the restaurant had stuck the reservation book under my nose and that there was no booking in my name, surname or in the name of her company. Her reaction was - Oh! 

She then told me that it was a human error and that her colleague/junior had probably bungled it and that the restaurant had confused everything because I asked for a table for 8!! I was completely flummoxed ... there were just two of us at the restaurant and I had specified the same to the usher and the maitre d'. She asked if I could go right back to the restaurant, I declined. She promised that that she/the company/the restaurant would make this up to me and that she hoped that I understood this was just human error and that this could happen anywhere. I was with a friend and a rather irate spouse not to mention deeply embarrassed and insulted - I refrained from further conversation.

It was a rather expensive lesson in humility and in my father's old adage - there is nothing like a free lunch.

I have eaten at Mumbai's and India's best restaurants, both fancy and simple, and at some absolute dives ... in all my years I had never experienced this. I realised it was a fitting reply to my hubris. I was embarrassed, humiliated and insulted that too by someone whom I had never met and who appeared to have been asking a favour of me!! I will probably never visit Bungalow 9 ever again and I doubt very much whether I will ever take up an invite of this kind. 

I have been in the food business for the last 35 years (I was seven when my Mum started the business) and this has definitely been a new and unique experience. I understand mistakes happen. We have made them too ... but when one occurs you try and smooth them over ASAP, you pull out all the stops and bend over backwards ... I waited all day today for a call ... there was none. Neither was there any email. 

I wonder if this is how PR people treat all their targets or was this just for some blogger who didn't deserve any better? 

I received a call from a very distraught Ms Priyanka, 45 mins after I posted the above blog,  who was very hurt that my wife and I held her and her company responsible. She told me that she would forward the email she had sent to Manasi of Bungalow 9. I told her I would append the same in her defense.

I then received a very polite call from Ms Irani the owner of the restaurant who said she had been informed of the incident and that whilst she she hadn't read my blog she'd like to tender an unconditional apology with no excuses whatsoever. She asked me to drop by anytime ... if nothing else for a coffee and a chat. I was very happy and felt somewhat mollified by her call.

Upon going home I opened my mail to find Priyanka's forwarded email. To add insult to injury it mentioned someone else's blog as mine and had that blog's statistics appended to the same. What I had thought was just plain 'human error' was actually gross negligence. I am pasting below her email.

Priyanka's email to me:
 Dear Kurush,
This is further to our conversation as to where Percept was not at fault in this miscommunication. Below is an email sent to the representative at Bungalow 9 about booking a table for 2 with all other preferences.
At no given point was Percept misinformed or has not informed the concerned representatives at Bungalow 9.
I hope this email below clarifies Percept’s point of view.
Priyanka Agrawal
Sr. Consultant- Digital Media
Percept Profile (A Division of Percept Limited), P-2, Level A3, Raghuvanshi Estate, 11/12 SB Marg, Lower Parel (West),

Her email to Manasi at Bungalow 9:
Dear Manasi,
Mr. Kurush Dalal of The Sassy Fork would like to visit Bungalow 9 on Monday, 14th November, 2011 for dinner at 8.30pm. He is visiting the restaurant with his wife and would prefer to sit outdoor.

Blog Details:
Profile Views: 1200+
No. of followers: 75+
Total Page Views: 58,000+

Priyanka Agrawal

I leave the judgement to the readers.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Silk: The latest in a long line of iconic avatars from Cadbury's Chocolates.

Was scrolling through my emails a few days ago when I came across an email from Cadbury's asking me if I'd  care to host a video of  the results of their latest competition (The Silk Affair) for their new flagship brand Silk.

Now Cadbury is synonymous in India with chocolate and the most common method of asking for a chocolate in India is to ask, "bhaiyya ... cadbury hai?". Here 'cadbury' generically means chocolate irrespective of the brand!! Imagine the impact Cadbury's have had on India and the Indian public that all over the country this name is the word that spells chocolate!

I was lost for the next half an hour in a very pleasant fog of memories all having to do with Cadbury's products eaten through the last 40 years or so. I thought back to those heady school days when one desperately craved the one rupee Cadbury bar - a thin slim bar wrapped in purple foil whilst hoping and praying that the parent or grandparent would succumb to ones viles and purchase a Cadbury Krisp (the predecessor of the perk - only with dark chocolate and twice as thick and twice as wide) or a Cadbury Plus (Choclate surrounding a thick almost jammy jelly) the closest thing I have ever found on the net is the Cadbury's Turkish Delight ....

(... I wonder whether it's the same .....????)

The next big thing was the Cadbury's 5 Star an absolute sensation with caremel and toffee all rolled up in smooth silky chocolate with very catch print adverts. The 5Star Bar soon bacame and absolute favourite and is available to this day in India. 

The 5Star Bar soon had competition in the form of the Double Decker Bar a bar with two distinct layers one with chocolate and crunchy cereal (puffed rice?)  and one (the upper) with a sticky chewy white nougat. I was in love!

Round about the same time Cadbury's introduced two creamy centred chocolates in slab form ... Caramello and Orangello .... Caramello is still available in Britain and Australia but the Orangello no one seems to have heard of outside off  India ... even here it had a woefully short career.

The 90's (actually 1989-1995) were perhaps the most startling for Cadbury's fans as Cadbury's entered the market with their own ice-cream brand Dollops ... they soon introduced bar shaped ice-creams called Dairy Milk, 5Star and Double Decker ... though these were a great hit and chocolate ice-cream has never been the same again in India ... Dollops soon closed shop and faded away. Leaving a load of fans in mourning.

The next great thing to come out of the Cadbury stable was a lovely nutty, 'cereally', raisin filled bar coated with caramel and covered with chocolate - it was called the Picnic. Launched with much fanfare in 1998 this really most healthy of chocolates  was a hit with kids and teenagers. Sadly this too is no longer available.

In 2000 Cadbury's launched Perk followed by Ulta Perk in 2007 ... they were reminiscent of Krisp and a direct competition to Nestles KitKat.

Perk in its larger XL avatar.

Ulta Perk had a soft chocolate centre surrounded by a biscuity covering.

Through the years 2000 to 2010 Cadbury's concentrated on pushing it's bar chocolate through their brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan and through a series of very punchy adverts on the telly ... including the now famous 'Pappu pass ho gaya' thereby re-positioning their flagship brand Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate.

In 2010 Cadbury's launched a newer smoother, creamier chocolate called Cadbury's Silk ... as a diehard fan of the old school Cadbury's Dairy Milk I was originally skeptical of this new avatar was this new impostor going to get my vote? The only way to find out was to go and get myself some ... the result was a new love affair with Cadbury's ... Silk is a gorgeous sticky, slightly gooey, all round 'chocolatier' chocolate, it's smoother and has a lower melting point thus making a mess sooner than any other chocolate in India. 

But it's every bit as addictive as the girls in the bharatnatyam recital advert for the product make it seem.

This here is the link to the contest where their winner will get a Fairytale Trip to Paris for two!!

Enjoy :)

Friday, October 28, 2011

On Golden Sponge Cake

This post is dedicated to my wife - the world's greatest cakemaker.

For the record - I have an incredibly active sweet tooth coupled with an obsession for carbs and the two of these come together in their most holy union in plain ole Golden Sponge Cake.

I am an absolutely shameless glutton and a very snooty connoisseur  of Sponge cake ... Sponge Cake/Golden Sponge Cake/Plain Sponge Cake, etc -  is deceptively simple looking to cook and extremely easy to screw up. 

My wife Rhea makes some of the worlds finest sponge cake keeping alive a tradition started by her Mum ... Her mum Manisha is the first person I have met (and the only one to date) who bakes without precisely measuring her ingredients and yet manages a perfect outcome every time! Rhea has resolutely and effortlessly followed in her footsteps and her Golden Sponge Cake is a thing of beauty and of immense joy to me and all those who have eaten it. The perfect Sponge is neither too light nor too dense and is just a shade undercooked (moist) on the inside and a shade overcooked (golden and chewy crusted) on the top. Don't ask me how she does it 'coz I have no clue. Perhaps it has to do with the loads of TLC she mixes in.

You'll find her recipe here and a variation on the same here.

In this version she added some Vanilla and Cinnamon flavoured sugars that fellow blogger Vinda Dravid had given us at one of the Bloggers Meets. The hints of a lil' extra vanilla and the faint whispers of cinnamon sure enhanced an already perfect creation.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Mumbai Food Bloggers Dinner at the West View Bar & Grill, ITC Grand Maratha

The title of this blog is kind of self descriptive but doesn't even skim upon the absolutely fun time we guys had there.

Rushina magically conjured up a dinner for The Mumbai Food Bloggers at the West View Bar and Grill at the ITC Grand Maratha, Mumbai on the nite of the 1st of October 2011. It was a very erudite and eclectic gathering of Vegans, Vegetarians, pro Food Writers, a Tea afficionado, Food Bloggers and a lone Caterer (namely me). We met up in the small lobby cum Wine display area of the Grill and were immediately set at ease by our host Rini Sinha (of the ITC) and her team ... the bloggers descended on the meat, veggie and salad display like paparazzi at the Royal wedding!! Oh what joy!

Rini and Rushina soon rounded us up and we introduced one another over some lovely Prosecco and some nice Gouda, Edam and what I thought was pretty weird and according to Shanky - a Provolone ... not my strong suite these Italian cheeses.

We moved on to our tables (where we were served some superb light and airy but heavenly herbed Focaccia .... in its very baking pan) and pontificated on the concept of the Grill Restaurant. The Grill is essentially a New York favourite that has permeated the entire restaurant world. A classic example would be Les Halles - Anthony Bourdain's last place of employment. A Grill is essentially a place that has a wide choice of meats (and in India veggies) which are grilled to the clients specs and then plated straight off to the table. It's essentially a meat lovers paradise.

After a bit of 'chit chat' and all around introductions we set forth to pile our plates with the choicest of meats and some of us with some veggies ... me I'm a Meateatarian and very allergic to most forms of veggies ... esp at a Grill!! Just kidding folks.

There was an amazing selection of fish, fowl and red meat along with some very nice looking German sausages. The non-veg spread included: Himalayan Trout (Maseer), Andaman Tuna, Indian Salmon (Rawas),  Snapper (Ghol), Butterflied Tiger Prawns, Chicken Legs, Beef Tenderloin, Mutton steaks, Mutton chops, Bacon and three kinds of German sausage - including Weiss Wurst. I was already in heaven!

I took my plate over to the chef and asked her to do my tenderloin medium-rare and to do with the rest of my plate of fish, prawn, chop and wurst as she deemed fit. We then turned our attention to the rather well stocked Salad Bar. I've been to the ITC's restaurants on numerous occaisons and as always there was a superb spread. Unlike many other 5Star's the ITC really does a super salad spread and their cold cuts are some of the best in India. As usual they did not disappoint. Amongst the usual suspects was a new addition - a Mulberry balsamic - and it was superb, I kicked myself for not having thought of this and filed it away for future reference.

We returned to our tables with our salads and Shanky and I got a nice glass of Sula Red to go with our greens. The cold sliced Ham was the show-stealer amongst the Salad section.

The plates soon arrived at our tables whilst Rushina marshalled the troops and warned us of a competition post Dinner. The spontaneous arrival of 20 plates had created a bit a a snarl and a small bit off confusion and the first couple of plates were kinda lost ... order was soon restored by Rini and her staff who apologised for the mis-plating(?).

We clicked and zoomed and clicked away in a frenzy before knuckling down to the eating.

The meats were superb and my tenderloin was near perfect! I was one happy puppy. The chop, wurst, prawn and the trout were also cooked to perfection. The tuna though was overcooked and very dry. The meats and fish though were very lightly spiced and whilst this appealed to me it did'nt appear to go down too well with everyone. Many of my fellow bloggers felt the fish was overcooked. My only real complaint on the other hand was with the jacket potato which had obviously beein boiled/par-boiled in advance. But considering that they had to plate for 20 of us in less than 20 minutes and that too with plates piled high this was understandable though a tad bit cheeky. Jyotika then tried her hand at some chops, prawns and veggies with her 'Papa's' spl masala mix and added a very nice twist to the taste.

After all that meat (and veggies) we circulated from table to table talking shop and catching up and before we knew it all the tables were being cleared and a small granite super-heated granite/basalt slab in a ceramic vessel/plate/case was placed before us and we were asked to quickly marinate and cook some lamb chops ... which we proceeded to do with gusto.

Team Rushina won the challenge which was judged by Chef Padmaja herself .... Team Kurush got an honourable mention in dispatches :) - Team vegan had the most fun though ;) (see pic below)

Just when we thought it was over Rini and her team brought out a small very carefully planed set of desserts keeping in mind, vegan, veggie and non-veg preferences!! The carnivores got a lovely slice of Apple Strudel, a generic Choc cake/mousse and an absolutely heavenly and fantastic Lemon Grass flavoured Creme Brule!! The Creme Brule had a delicate taste reminiscent of Summery English High Teas and with a very nostalgic trip down memory lane for the Parsi in me. Parsis have been making lemon-grass tisanes for ever and have regularly added it to tea and milk.

The very cherry on the cake was a packet of Laya-chana from Jyotika and a very pretty hexagonal box with hand made tea bags (with Shri Lankan tea in them!!) from Snighda. What a wonderful end to a funky and phenomenal dinner - Good Food, Good Company & Great Ambience.

Thank you Rushina and thank you ITC.

PS This blogpost is dedicated to my friend Gurleen - Enjoy!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Travancore Treasure - squeezed out of the blood of the common people.

There has recently been an enormous hullaballoo about the treasure found in the 'secret' vaults of the Padmanabhaswamy temple in the erstwhile state of Travancore in modern Kerala.

The 5 vaults that have been opened (the sixth designated 'B' has been kept closed due to its accursed nature!) have yielded a treasure comprising mainly of gold coins, gold chains, gold statuary and associated jewellery and gemstones. Much to the surprise of the country the treasure has been primarily evaluated at Rs 1 Lac Crores (Rs 1,00,00,000 X 1,00,00,000) 10 trillion rupees ... that's approx US$ 222,222,222 .... yes 222 billion dollars!! The Tirupathi Balaji temple has been left behind trailing in the dust with a mere 95 billion US$. 

The immediate fallout was that the people of India, especially those leaning towards the right, appeared very concerned about the future of this enormous wealth. As an archaeologist I was most interested in the Napoleanic coins reported from there as well as the impressive gold sculptures like the image of Padmanabhaswamy shown by the media. To me this wealth is automatically the wealth of the state of Kerala and it's people and the wealth of the country, the archaeological, art historical and numismatic treasures are the treasures of the nation and should immediately be catalogued and put on display in a Museum befitting the find. But this was not the general consensus. The general consensus was that this was the wealth of the temple and had been donated to the said temple by it's devotees and was therefore under the rightful ownership of the presiding diety and his to do so as he pleased! This was akin to giving the prophet Mohammed the ownership of the Kaaba and all the mosques and giving the ownership of the cathedrals and churches (and their contents) in Rome to Jesus Christ.

The general fear seemed to be that the 'corrupt' government machinery would pounce upon these treasures and not only deprive the Lord but use it to line their greedy pockets. There were quick clarifications to the contrary by the Chief Minister of Kerala and the office of the Prime Minister. This was the accumulate wealth of Lord Padmanabhaswamy and would remain in the temples possession, adequate security at Govt. expense would be provided by the temple.

We now come to the main reason for this post. As usual no one bothered to check with any historians or archaeologists about the antecedents of the treasure and the Travancore ruling dynasty. Neither did anyone bother to think as to how this enormous treasure could have remained a secret all this time.

Whilst the complete extent of the treasure was not known or computed prior to the last month - that it existed was a well known if not widely touted fact.

The history of the treasure dates back to the 15th and 16th c AD when the Travancore region was controlled through the temple by a league of eight and a half votes (ettara yogam) - seven Potti brahmanas, one Nair and half a vote for the King of Travancore. The region was further divided into 8 Nair controlled territories whose power soon rivaled the King (Marthanda Varma). 

The King  a was forced to run away and made a quick getaway to the neighbouring state. He returned with new army and defeated and killed all the eight Nair lords, he then put down a series of rebellions and civil wars. Realising that the monies collected as fines from the Nairs and their families and their back breaking punitive taxes (which were inturn paid by the commoners) were in danger of being looted Marthanda Varma played an amazing hand, he handed over the throne of Travancore to Padmanabhaswamy (the reclining for of Lord Vishnu) in an abdication ceremony called the tripadidanam, declared himself Padmanabhadasa (servant of Padmanabha), and promptly transferred the treasury to the temple. Thus ensuring it's safety by according it divine protection. 

The taxes of the period were upwards of 50% of the crops and everything was taxed, birth, death, marriage and even the right to breastfeed. Yes the Travancore state was probably the only known medieval state where mothers had to pay a Breast-Tax (mulakaram) so as to officially breastfeed their babies. It was this money from taxes levied on the common people that ended up in the vaults of the Padmanabhaswamy temple.  A loot of the people tainted by faith, fear, death and conquest. All atoned for by giving it into the safekeeping of the Lord.

Thus as is amply evident this is the money squeezed out of the Keralite people by a medieval despot. Let it be used for the people. The bullion should be systematically sold and the art and archaeological treasures should be put on permanent display alongside a litany of the events that made this hoard possible.

Additional Links (Posted on 12th July 9pm IST)
DNA Sunday 10th July http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epapermain.aspx?queryed=20&eddate=7/10/2011
The Open Magazine 9th July http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/the-rs-100000-crore-headache

Additional Link (Posted on 17th September 11pm IST)
The Looting of the treasure has a long tradition.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pasta Veggies and Chicken - Dinner at Home

Spent the day (yesterday) doing a lot of nothing ... and spent the evening supervisong the boys from work cleaning the windows and window ledges. Suddenly decided that I was going to whip up dinner.

Looked around and decided to make a healthy dinner - as healthy as I could whilst still being tasty. Quickly cubed some carrots, cut some beans into one inch lengths and chopped some celery finely. Cut some boneless (Godrej) chicken breast into strips and marinated it in some salt, pepper, some superb Portuguese olive oil and a dash of white wine vinegar. Drained the beans, sprinkled in the celery and then drained the carrots over that to release the celery flavours whilst keeping the little bits crisp. Quickly put some bow-tie pasta to boil and grilled the marinated chicken strips (with a spriknle of dried parseley) in some more of the Portuguese olive oil. Slapped all the ingredients together in a large glass bowl, drizzled a spoonful of melted butter over the top and - Voila!! - dinner.

Monday evening comfort food ... nothing spectacular, just solid, healthy one bowl dinner. Farfelle with Carrots, Beans, Celery and Pan fried strips of Chicken.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lunch with Appu and then dinner with Sagar - Potpourri, Inorbit Mall, Vashi

One of our favourite eating out places in Navi Mumbai is Potpourri at the Inorbit Mall at Vashi.Rhea and I are willing to accept any excuse however trivial to dine there. There are 2 main reasons for this; the food is excellent and the Chef (Raunak) has become a good friend and 'cause we enjoy our food he goes out of his way with specials, recommendations and service.

Some days back our friend Appu reminded us that she had promised to take us there for lunch and was fed up of postponing the event ... so Rhea and I gleefully agreed and went over to Vashi. 

Potpourri usually has a buffet lunch which is simple but delicious and most importantly ridiculously under-priced. Yes you read it right - Under-priced! Agreed that the non-veg dishes are chicken and never any other meat but still  - A salad counter (that has ingredients changing every day), veg/non-veg pizza, usually a live pasta counter, 4 mains, 2 desserts, 1 glass of complimentary Iced tea and all this for just Rs 350/-. They also have a very well stocked bar which we have discovered makes a mean Mandarin Mojito.

We got there early and proceeded to chat up the chef and buy some of the gorgeous bread that he makes on the premises .... we settled for a Sundried Tomato and Onion Plait.

We had decided to go A la catre and called for some Mandarin Mojitos (sugarfree version for diabetics available on request!!) and we called for Raunak's famous Spicy Pork Sausage with Beef Bits and Baby potatoes for starters and we

The first batch was made for us with Raunak outside the kitchen and his sous chef substituted regular sausages instead of spicy chorizo ... Raunak was aghast and immediately went into the kitchen to remedy the mistake.

Chorizos with Beef Chunks and Baby Potatoes in a spicy sauce

When Rhea heard that Appu and I were going in for the Steak she opted for the Farmer's Pizza ... thin crust, stone base oven pizza with spicy suasage, ham and bacon bits.

My Steak Medium Rare ... pink on the inside with nice peppery wine reduction, Cajun potato wedges, grilled veggies and salad.

Appu's steak .. rarer ... with a gorgeous mashed potato topped with an olive puree butter, veggies and salad.

The ladies finished with the Philadelphia Cheese Cake ... of which there was sadly only a single serving!

I decided to boldly try something new and went in for the Gooey Chocolate Pie ... It was downright awesome and I didn't even miss the Cheesecake one little bit!


To my surprise I was back at Potpourri the next night itself catching up with an old boarding school buddy - Sagar Ronghe who work as a Petroleum Geologist in Perth and was down to train our ONGC boys in a Marine Geo software that his company develops. He was being put up at the Four Points at Vashi and didn't even have something remotely charitable to say about the food.

Dr Sagar Ronghe, Marine Geologist, Husband, Father, Friend and Old School Buddy

We called for drinks ... beer for my Aussie friend and Mandarin Mojitos for me ... with  them we called for some Oriental Prawns (Top) and Bacon Wrapped Herbed Chicken (Foreground) with a really nice dipping sauce ... which was seriously appreciated. 

For the main course I went with the Farmer's Pizza (Above) and Sagar decided to go for the Roast Chicken in a Beer Gravy ... whilst the pizza was great the chicken was a truly delightful dish (Below) and was not just pan fried to perfection but superbly complimented by a simple beer gravy that appeared to have been made by 'deglazing' the pan in which the chicken had been slowly fried.

We finished of course with the Baked Philadelphia Cheese Cake! :)