Wednesday, May 31, 2006


ottolenghi is a simply delightful food and pastry shop located just around the corner from our home in kensington. i'm not sure if they are french or italian or british but i'd guess italian perhaps from the name. ottolenghi's philosophy is one of hand crafting all their food from raw, natural ingredients without the use of additives or preservatives.

on my way to the gym every other day and usually on weekends, i am very tempted by the meringues, clafoutis, puddings, cakes and tarts that adorn the shop window. it's a real effort on my part to not give in to the incredible temptation. i feel like i vicariously gain all the calories just from the eye candy pleasure!

it was only last weekend that i discovered the savory side of ottolenghi - you walk inside the store and they have a wonderful array of freshly made foods on display like a buffet. you choose a small or large box and then can hand pick your take-away meal from a variety of dishes from couscous salads and crunchy organic roast root vegetables to ricotta ans spinach stuffed portobello mushrooms. they even have a nice selection of soups and sandwiches.

what with the sun shining for more than a few hours on sunday, h and i decided to inaugurate our terrace with an ottolenghi lunch. i brought home cauliflower, celeriac and parmesan soup along with a few cold salads and organic potato and apple gratin with gruyere and thyme. we enjoyed our lovely lunch on the terrace and just as we were packing up, the sun disappeared withing seconds and it started to rain heavily. within twenty minutes, the sun was peeping through the clouds again and it was bright and sunny. london - the weather is really weird. no wonder the english are so obsessed!

ps - ottolenghi has eat-in facilities at their notting hill and islington locations.

Monday, May 29, 2006

dinner at fifteen

you all know how much i love jamie oliver, the original naked chef. you may even recall my giddy delight at meeting him personally (see picture above!) at the book signing of jamie's dinners in manhattan or my gushing praise for fifteen the first time i dined there when i was visiting london last november.

well i just had yet another wonderfully indulgent jamie oliver experience and i can't sing enough praises of jamie and his different ventures. h surprised me by securing reservations to dinner at fifteen at short notice. he even got us a table downstairs in the restaurant so i could try the vegetarian tasting menu. the only booking available this bank holiday weekend was sunday at 6:30 pm so he took what was available. we starved all day in anticipation of the big meal. we arrived a little ahead of the time despite london underground delays.

a jamie-oliver-look-and-sound-alike greeted us and asked us to wait at the bar till our table was ready. we sipped champagne while we waited on the ground floor where the trattoria is located. this is the floor that serves rustic italian food but there are very few tables and they are very hard to secure.

we watched a chef prepare a lovely platter of anti pasti - the cheeses, the cured meats and the grilled vegetables looked very tempting indeed. within five minutes we were shown to our table downstairs. we were seated in between a middle aged british couple on my left and an elderly american couple on my right. they had already started chatting with eachother at the bar upstairs and since we were seated between them, we happily joined the conversation as well. the american gentleman was also in finance so he and h chatted away on all wall street stuff.

to get started, i was served a spoon of marinated betroot with herby mascarpone and another spoon of ribbon zucchini with vegetable crudo. the zucchini spoonful was especially zesty as it was dressed in a lemony peppery dressing.

my second course was fifteen's fantastic salad of beautiful buffalo mozzarella, green figs, funky leaves, toasted whole almonds and eight year aged balsamic. i love fresh mozzarella cheese and this was the best of the best.

third course was cappellacci. this is a type of pasta stuffed with stinging nettle, baked ricotta and lemon zest in a butter broth. i had never tasted nettle and found it to be a bit bitter but nice and crunchy.

fourth course was arancini di roso - that's saffron and horse mushroom rice balls stuffed with mozzarella and finished with pea shoots and a tomato and basil sauce. it was a welcome change from the usual risotto i normally order at italian restaurants.

i could hardly eat by the time we got to the cheese course for which we were served a gentle british cheese called dorstone - it's a fresh, sweet, gentle cheese with ash rind and is served with organic medjool dates and fresh chutney.

and finally, dessert. we had amadei chocolate tart with new season strawberries and vanilla ice cream. the dark chocolate was simple heavenly.

the american couple left before we did so we said goodbyes and wished them a wonderful week in london. they had just arrived from america that morning so were understandably jet lagged. we asked for the bill a few minutes after they had left while we continued to chat with the british couple exchanging central london restaurant recommendations.

our bill showed £0.00. at first i thought it was a big mistake. the waitress had a weird smile on her face and we couldn't figure out what was going on. the british couple also got a bill which said £0.00. we were all in total shock. after a minute of allowing us to be in shock, the waitress understatedly informed us at the american gentleman who had just left the restaurant had settled the tab for all three tables. i gasped. we debated endlessly on why why why but then slowly his sheer generoisty and kindness of spirit began to seep in. wow. thank you. thank you. thank you. we don't know what we did to deserve this amazing treat other than be interesting conversationalists throughout the evening.

i remembered when i woke up this morning that h had scribbled the address of my blog and given it to the american gentleman who had been very amused that i was taking pictures of the food and not of anyone else. h then explained to him that i had a blog and asked him to check it out.

so, mr.john lewis, if you still have the scrap of paper and found my blog and are reading this post, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your unbelievable generosity. last night was definitely an unforgettable evening for us all. it's definitely a story that i'm going to be telling many times over in my lifetime!

ps - my only disappointment last night was jamie wasn't at the restaurant. i learnt from one of the waitresses that he had just celebrated his birthday on saturday and that he was spending the weekend with jools and the girls. good for him!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

bombay diary: soam for lovely gujarati food

soam is a fairly new pure vegetarian, family-friendly restaurant in bombay located opposite babulnath temple near chowpatty beach. it specialises in the cuisine of gujarat and offers a clean and modern indian ambience. the menu changes every month so there are always new things to look forward to every time you go. my father has been raving about soam so i was keen to check it out when i was in bombay last weekend.

we went to soam for lunch on a sunday. it was only around noon when we got there but the place was buzzing already and many families were patiently waiting to be seated. luckily for us, my mother has called ahead to book a table. we ordered lassis to cool off from the scorching heat outside while we browsed through the menu wondering what to order.

the farsan plate looked most appetising as a starter. farsan means savory snack in gujrati and usually refers to anything salty, fried and crunchy. that encompasses everything from chivda to khandvi. i think that all farsan is made from chickpea flour and it's pretty amazing how many different creations are possible starting with this basic ingredient. we were treated to kachoris and dhoklas along with spicy coriander chutney. the kachoris were filled with a yummy peas filling. the dhoklas were cone-shaped and came wrapped in a dry leaf.

my main dish was a mango curry with rotis which was surprisingly delicious given the combination of sweet and sour flavours. i was stuffed on the farsan so could not eat much of my main dish. i must go back to soam to taste all the other delicacies of gujarati cuisine.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

punjabi thali


i cooked last night after almost two weeks. though i was dead tired at the end of yet another exhausting week at work, the only thing that perked me up was the idea of whipping up a full course meal. so we skipped going to the gym (bad call), cancelled our plans to see da vinci code and ended up staying indoors in the anticipation of a nice home cooked dinner.

h doesn't usually request that i cook indian food so i jumped on the opportunity when he said he was in the mood for baingan bartha and mirchi ka salan. don't know how these randomly popped into his head but it certainly made it easier for me to decide the menu. i quickly scanned my cookbooks and noted the ingredients, did a quick trip to waitrose to buy what was needed and then got started.

i made baingan bartha first because i just i love the aroma of baingan (eggplant) roasting on the gas flame. i then made masoor dal with spinach. and the last dish i prepared was mirchi ka salan from red peppers as green ones were not available last night at waitrose. i served each of in a katori on a big thali along with yogurt and onions. i used ready-made parathas as i was running out of energy after an hour and a half in the kitchen.

overall, i have to admit that it was a bit over the top. each dish turned out rather well but they are individually so rich that we were unbelievably stuffed at the end of the meal. i don't think i can manage to eat more than one punjabi dish at a time. no more punjabi thalis for me!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

bombay diary: energee

there are a few things that i just have to do every time i'm in bombay no matter how short my visit. eating pani puri at kailesh parbhat and drinking energee from an aarey milk booth are my top two.

energee is my all time favourite beverage but sadly it is available only in bombay. actually that probably makes it extra special as it is something i really look forward to when i visit. energee is produced by the maharasthra state diary products company that sells its milk and milk products under the brand is only available at aarey milk booths scattered all over the city.

i was first introduced to this flavoured milk when my parents moved to bombay in 1987. we used to live in a building called hill park in malabar hill and there used to be an aarey milk booth not far from our building. the first flavour i tried was pineapple and i loved it instantly. the cold, sweet milk was such a great way to beat the summer heat of bombay. the chilled drink cools you instantly and the sweetness perks you up from the lethargy that can set in when it is so hot. i had a lot of difficulty getting used to the heat in bombay after a decade in bangalore which in those days used to be known as the air-conditioned city of india. energee quickly became an addiction for me and i found it hard to stop after just one bottle of milk though i always regretted buying the second one when i was half way through it and found myself about to burst at the seams!

when i was in bombay last week, i had elaichi flavoured energee. it tasted just as refreshing as always and i found a new appreciation for the original glass bottle that the milk comes in. enegree is such a part of the fabric of bombay and i'm happy to see the brand retain its simplicity and authenticity without the over-the-top commercialisation that one sees with carbonated beverages like coke and pepsi. despite the lack of advertising, aarey milk booths seem to be thriving all over the city. three cheers to that!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

dinner at the quilon

we find ourselves eating out at many more indian restaurants in london than we did in either san francisco or new york. so far we haven't been disappointed. in fact, every restaurant that we have tried thus far has something unique that will make us want to go back for another experience. chutney mary on king's road in fulham has a terrific sunday brunch menu. amaya in knightsbridge has a youthful, trendy vibe and i adore their grilled dishes. cinnamon club in westminister is great for a candlelight dinner. and masala zone has delicious desi street foods.

last night we ate a very memorable meal at the quilon in the crowne plaza london st.james near buckingham palace. the hotel is owned by the taj group and hence the ambience, food and service are all of a very high standard. the restaurant's signature drink is the spicy tomato rasam served in a white wine glass.

h's uncle who was staying at the hotel treated us to a special dinner prepared by head chef sridhar just for us. sridhar is one of the top chefs from india who is best known for having conceptualised and run the karavali restaurant. he has been at the head of the quilon since 1999 and has really carved out a name for himself in the london scene making quilon one of the most consistently top-rated restaurants in the city.

the quilon specialises in south indian coastal cuisine. think aviyal, appam, malabar curry, lobster, prawn, lots of black pepper. the food is a combination of traditional dishes and nouveau fare inspired from the ingredients and spices found in what is probably the most exotic part of india.

sridhar started us off with a vegetarian plate with the spice level increasing leftwards. between sips of sancerre to make sure the spice didn't get to me too much, i made my way slowly from left to right relishing the char-grilled asparagus with crushed pepper and garlic butter sauce, the banana flower vada with ginger thokku and cauliflower chilli fry. the flavours of each item on the starter plate were unique and really delightful to the senses. i really enjoyed the crushed pepper and garlic butter sauce which i think would be good on may grilled veggies.

having stuffed myself on the starters, i didn't have much room for the main course so i ended up just having a few bites of each of the dishes presented - crispy okra (thinly sliced, batter fried and tossed in onion, tomato and crushed pepper), baby aubergine masala, cabbage poriyal and aviyal - along with half of a malabar paratha and half of an appam.

dessert was a bowl of freshly cubed alphonso mangoes and rasamalai :)

i highly recommend the quilon if you are looking for some change from the regular north indian fare at most indian restaurants.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

portobello mushroom-blue cheese burgers

i used religiously watch watch food tv almost every day when i lived in america for over 5 years. one of the first recipes that i was tempted to try after watching it being made on tv was emeril's potobello mushroom blue-cheese burgers with lemon aioli and bitter greens. i must have made this burger over fifteen times by now and i am amazed at just how much it gets appreciated by h and friends alike every time. if you're looking to impress, give these burgers a try. they are absolutely delicious. the tenderness and juiciness of the grilled portobello which has been marinated in balsamic vinegar, rosemary, garlic and olive oil is to die for. i would suggest a glass of chilled rose champagne as the ideal pairing for this burger.

here's the link to emeril's recipe for portobello mushroom-blue cheese burgers from food tv's website.

bean poriyal

poriyal is a tamilian word for dry curry. these vegetable based dishes have no sauce and are the perfect accompaniment to spicy foods like rasam and sambhar. some of the vegetables used to make poriyal are cabbage, yam, beans, potatoes, eggplant and plantain stem. from the cookbook dakshin (by chandra padmanabhan), i learn that poriyals can be steamed, boiled lightly in their natural juices or stir-fried over low heat. this is very healthy way to ensure that the freshness and wholesome goodness of the vegetables are retained.

my favourite is bean poriyal with freshly made rotis, a light daal and lots of raw onion. to make bean poriyal, you need about 500 g (a pound) of fresh green beans finely chooped, grated coconut (it's ok to use frozen though obviously fresher the better!), a teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon of urud dal, a teaspoon of chana dal, a few red chillies, a pinch of asafoetida and a handful of curry leaves or chopped coriander.

temper all the ingredients (except the beans and the grated coconut) in a few tablespoons of oil. when the mustard begins to crackle, add the beans. season with salt and then add a few tablespoons of water. cover and cook the beans till they are tender. right before you are ready to serve, add the grated coconut (and coriander in case you didn't use curry leaves in the tempering), mixing thoroughly before serving.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

spanish omelette

it was nice to be in london all weekend long for a change. the city has really come alive in the past week ever since the weather got a whole lot warmer. sidewalk cafes are doing brisk business, the crowds at pubs are overlflowing to the streets and the city's parks are full of londoners and tourists making the most of the sunshine. we even recorded 25 degrees centigrade last thursday. it looked like summer was going to be here sooner than expected and i was as happy as can be but it rained yesterday evening and the temperature has dipped again to normal spring time levels. we'll have to wait for another month or so for that lovely heat!

i wanted to spend most of saturday walking outdoors so i ate a big brekfast to load up on lots of energy to get through the day without stopping for lunch. i made spanish omelette using free range eggs bought from tesco.

i finely chopped a big potato, a medium onion, a medium yellow pepper and a small clove of garlic. i also sliced a few tomatoes.

on medium heat, i sauteed the potatoes in two tablespooons of extra virgin olive oil for about ten minutes. i added a few teaspoons of cayenne pepper to spice it up a bit. just as the potatoes were turning brown, i added the chopped onions and peppers and cooked for another ten minutes. right at the end, i added the chopped garlic and waited for a minute before taking the vegetable mixture off the heat. in a separate pan on high heat, i added a tablespoon of olive oil and cooked the tomatoes for about three minutes, until just soft.

i then mixed 6 eggs (using only 3 eggs if you're making just one omelette) with a dessert spoon of water and added a fistful of finely grated cheddar cheese. i seasoned the eggs with sea salt and freshly ground pepper before making the omelettes.

i then returned the non-stick pan to a medium heat and added half the egg mixture. i then spooned in half the vegetables and half of the cooked tomatoes. after three minutes, when the eggs were cooked to my liking, i folded over on a plate and quickly chomped down my spanish omelette with a few slices of toast and lots of orange juice.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

paris diary: photo montage

i'd love to share more stories about paris but i'm getting tired of narrating something i experienced over a month ago now so i'm going to end my paris diary with a bunch of my favourite photos from my trip. enjoy!

au revoir paris!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

paris diary: place de la madeleine

i found it incredibly hard to decide which food shops to visit when i was paris for three days last month. i had a long list of recommendations from the trendy pierre hermé patisserie to the much loved androuët fromagerie. the problem was that these shops are scattered all over the city and it takes quite a while to go from one end of the town to the other even by the venerable metro. if only someone had told me about place de la madeleine, i'd gone straight there and worried a lot less about not getting the most out of a gourmet lover's paris.

around place de la madeline you can find more gourmet food stores than anywhere else in paris.

fauchon and hediard are probably the two of the most famous gourmet food stores. hediard was as fascinating as fauchon though i resisted the urge to buy from there having spent a bomb already on my chocolate spree earlier in the afternoon.

there's also a chocolatier at place de la madeleine called foucher that has a spectacular array of the most divine chocolate goodies.

and finally, slightly off place de la madeleine on rue bonaparte, i also visited a tea room called ladurée which has the most delicious macaroons and meringues.

ladurée's newest brand just opened at harrod's london. got to head over to knightsbridge for tea soon!

Monday, May 01, 2006

sindhi koki

it's been over a month since i last cooked in london. right before i left on my travels, i made sindhi koki one night, totally out of the blue. i was rummaging through my fridge and pantry when i realised that i hadn't been to waitrose or the indian grocery store in ages. no pasta. no rice. no maggi noodles. not even any frozen left overs. the only thing i seemed to have in abundance was pickles. all kinds of them. mango chunda, mango chilli, vadu manga, manga thokku, green chilli, andhra onion, to name just a few. all thanks to my dad who can't send me enough of pickles through h who is in bombay every other week on work!

the pickles were so tempting that i searched desperately for parathas in my freezer but with no luck. that's when i decided to make parathas myself. i had loads of chappati atta and a little bit of coriander lying around from some rasam i had made a few days back. i used them both in this recipe (from tarla dalal's subziyah cookbook) for double parathas also called sindhi koki:

4 cups wheat flour
2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
6 green chillies, finely chopped
2 tbsps coriander leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsps ghee to be added to the flour
sufficient water to make the dough
salt to taste

add the finely chopped onions, green chillies and coriander leaves to the flour. knead a slightly stiff dough with ghee and salt. make equal portions. roll out each portion like a thick round chappati. i like to add a little bit of yogurt at this stage to make my parathas really soft. with a knife, make a design of diagonal lines criss-crossing each other from one end of the chappati to the other. this is to ensure that the koki gets cooked well. rub the tava with a touch of ghee and cook the koki on a low flame, (adding ghee when turning from one side to the other) till golden.

paris diary: fauchon

fauchon is a super upscale food store located at place de la madeleine in paris. it is such a popular attraction that it often gets mentioned in the same breath as architectural marvels such as the eiffel tower, arc de triomphe, notre dame, hotel de ville and the obelisk of luxor to name a few! a few people mentioned that it has become too touristy and that i should avoid it at all costs but i ignored their advice and having experienced this 117 year old food store firsthand, i have to say that a pligrimage to fauchon is an absolute must, especially for those of us new to the food scene in paris.

the signature bright pink colour of fauchon is well integrated in the design of the store which is divided into several sections stocking everything a foodie would want from the finest pastries and chocolates to teas and coffees, from preserves and spices to cheeses and spreads.

i spent a lot of time just soaking in the atmosphere of the store and taking a good look at the thousands of fine products that fauchon stocks. i wanted a little bit of everything - it was just so hard to prioritise what to buy and take back to london given we had only brought carry-on luggage.

the chocolates and other sweets were by far the most tempting. i decided to buy nothing but chocolate to take home to london. i bought many flavours of jujups (fruit puree covered in sugar) simply because they tasted like heaven. i also bought a few bars of chocolate - chocolat noir aux ecorces d'oranges confites (dark chocolate with candied orange peel) and chocolat aut lait au cafe d'amerique latine (milk chocolate with latin american coffee). i also got a big cube of coffee beans covered in dark chocolate as well as ginger sticks covered in dark chocolate.

after tasting so much chocolate, i needed something salty. so we headed upstairs to brasserie fauchon for lunch.

i eat the most divine vegetable club sandwich ever. the bread was toasted just right, the vegetables grilled to perfection, the greens dressed to seduce. the sundried tomato and the yogurt dill sauce added the top notes to this fabulous dish.

dessert was raspberry sorbet and earl grey tea. the tea was served with a few chocolate covered ginger sticks that quickly become terribly addictive. to say that the raspberry sorbet was the best i've ever had would be an understatement. i simply have no words to describe the pure goodness of the fruit. the french really do get food like no other country in the world.

as you can see from this overly glowing praise of fauchon, i was quite smitten. do check it out if you find yourself in paris. it's worth every extra euro you spend just because it's fauchon.

ps - just found that manhattan has a fauchon. too bad that i didn't know about it when i lived in new york!