Tea, The Bard & Me 

Hello from Abu Dhabi. What am I doing here? Well of course I’ve come for a spot of tea to Shakespeare & Company- a Victorian era themed restaurant offering a diverse menu of reputed international fare with a elegant French patisserie for most of their short acts. 
The minute one steps into the gateway doors, is transported to a scene right off Downtown Abbey- sans the eloquent language in tow. As part of my #AbuDhabi #Foodtrail, this quaint little bistro is first off my list. From the overpowering interiors of Victorian frills and decor, to the friendly staff this has everything on spectacle- as an offering. 

The Dessert Bar 

The dessert bar, stretches far and wide with sumptuous fare, that tingles my tastebuds, leading me to the cardinal mistake of what we all suffer from- ones eyes being larger than ones stomach! I did eventually fall prey to the same and zestfully ordered more than I could chew, for lack of a better word. After all, I recollected the words of the famous bard in the background as I gorged on my first offering. 

Our bodies are our gardens,

Our will are our gardeners. 

-William Shakespeare

Will? Hah. Act One, as I lovingly called it was a Will, that fell as fast as the cookie crumbled.

 I decided to put my ‘smart consumption‘ skills to the test and try the Caramansi- a white sponge cake, coated with a creamy caramel chocolate and rice crisps sealed with oozing calamansi cream and lemon zest peel with noga for company in a sort of airtight containment formed this decadent dessert. 

Act One- The Caramansi 

Don’t let the photography fool you. This calorie monster, was no bigger than a bangle- in the palm of my hand. And I had the feeling of being well satiated with the serving as ‘apt sizing‘. However the buildup to the tea was the ultimate goal, so I truged along like a trooper. 

Act Two- Cheesecake

And then there was Cheesecake. You must be wandering how this dessert made its way in the middle of my choicest selections? Well, I’m a creature of habit and a cheesecake is a must have in any French patisserie. The quintessential raspberry jam with baked Cheese cream and a digestive biscuit base. They were taunting me with the word ‘digestive’ which was anything but, with all the calories flying around midair like scribbled crumpled pages to a rooms corner as did the famous bard. I could feel his snickering presence haunt me as to the faux pas I was in the process of committing. 

Act Three- Hazelnut Success 

This was NOT intentional. The server did not understand the gravity of the situation, when she mistakenly mentioned the following words;’ Almond Macaronade biscuit laden with hazelnut cream coated with caramelised Hazelnut chocolate coating’ , that sent all my senses into a tizzy much like a pinball machine on power surge with me almost demanding for one in a toned matter of speaking, ‘give me that and no one gets hurt‘. 

Think I scared her out of her wits as I didn’t see her for the remainder of the evening. As I said. Unintentional is the keyword I’m falling on. This is turning out to be a tea time snack of EPIC proportions. (No pun intended) 

Act Four- The Rising Flower & Caramel Eclaire

What I really did come to savor was the Rising Flower. The art and balance of carefully selecting a flower bud and allowing it to blossom inside a transparent tea kettle, watching it bloom entirely over 8 minutes (to the ‘T’)  was truly magical. The process of transforming hues with the tea light candle for company, was mesmerising and before one knew it the flower,had blossomed  with whifty tones of camomile & infused jasmine for that ethereal calming effect. Two sips and I decided to square it off with their signature Caramel Eclaire – fate a choux with caramel creame. It’s hard to describe the senses that rushed through my brain at first bite. The choux pastry was a perfect melted moment with the caramel creame for company oozing out at every bite. 

I sat there, with a satiated look on my face for the better half of the hour post consumption. However, this foodtrail has gotten off to a great start with the bard whispering in my ear, as I depart- “All’s well that ends well” 

A Spectacular Dream 

We all have dreams. However in order to make them a reality, takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort. Stand forth Aakritee & Virendra Sinh of A Reverie. It a feeling of excitement engulfing me, as I pen down the second article dedicated to this dynamic duo and their work of art located in Calangute. 

Why second you ask? I arrive at the gates of a restaurant that had the sense of old with the cloak of new. Everything has been redesigned. Only the hallmark of the place remains through the boundary walls that define its existence from a time before. The Dreamer stands right in the middle of the restaurant. One cannot fail to see him. Suspended mid air, gently eavesdropping on bar conversations it makes one sit up and take notice (no pun intended

This new concept (their dream, in a matter of speaking) has transformed their restaurant with a cutting crisp approach with defined sections ranging from the lounge, the space, the tasting room and the wine experience. All this in the confines of the original space. Those who have been here before would reveal in the transformation taken place for the season. 

There is a nip on a cool moonlit night where I happen to dine at this establishment. Virendra and his bar, have been highlighted before. A proud conceptualiser of some of the most exquisite hand picked malts and spirits the world over he spoils one for choice. Having him on the table for company you know your nights going to end in ‘high spirits’.  

A special tasting menu hand crafted for mr. NObody was presented. The earthy feeling sets one right at ease, with the clever play of tones from cream to camel hide brown- which lulls one into a trance of being in touch with mother earths roots. A pleasant feeling indeed. 

Here’s a serve by serve of a few highlights of the meal. 

A Balancing Act 


Peanuts! You gotta love them. Be it Charlie Brown & Snoopy or just your average nut the peanut chaat has a twist on the Goan & Thai tryst balancing the scales. Here it’s a play between peanut and cashewnut tossed in flavors of the region- Thailand and Goa. The herbs used were from their organic garden outback with a few Thai herbs thrown in for good measure. The cashewnut was married to Thai spices as well. (Pro tip: Best consumed with a chilled beer or Single malt for company. Let the spice work your palate and the beverage quench it). 

Sweet turned Savoury 


Neureos & Churros. You got to love the combination. Anyone heading over to a good ol’ gathering in ones ancestral village/house, over festive season is bound to sample and savor Neuroes- the goan stuffed answer to the Churros filled with coconut shavings. Churros with their ever crunchy, sugar dusted Spanish origins made the perfect date for this dish. These were Chilli cheese toast filled Neuroes & Churros with beetroot sour cream. (I can see you faces cringe at the blasphemous thought of the absence of chocolate dip- try this. It’s expansive and mind altering…and yes do thank me later) 


Fishing for Compliments 


Oh;this dish indeed was aching for some and then some more. In all honesty, I loved the presentation and the throwback to weddings in goa- especially Catholic ones. With the ritualistic – wine and cake at the toasting of the married couple, this finger food finds its way on the plate as an appetiser in most settings. Their twist was a fish ceviche, Amla & orange water with smoked mackerel (kudos to staying local in the fish selection, quite a dicey fish -this. And fabulously prepared), mayo and what they like to call other stuff. Fun in a pani puri. There is nothing like eating this ‘street food chaat’ in a fine dining restaurant. Redefines the experience entirely.  (Read pani puri at chowpatty. The other stuff is what makes this finger licking good. Kidding! sic) 

A Latino’riental Conspiracy 


Everytime I hear the word Latino, I go all Ricky ricardo meets Speedy Gonsalves in my head. Sexual, sultry, voluptuous (oh wait we’re talking about food here, back to the basics)…. As I was describing the food is spicy , tangy, soulful and eccentric filled with passion. Aakritee’s madness did not disappoint. Crispy corn tacos (home made at that), French duck breast & hoisin sauce. (My only complaint was not getting more.)

————

A pause…. NO this is not the intermission, however I am pleasantly surprised to have Aakritee sitting on the table with us for more than 20 minutes ata stretch. In all my seasons of dining at this establishment she is the quintessential butterfly fliting between the kitchen and the table. It’s a surprise to have her nursing a cold with a stiff drink right next to me in animated conversation. I ask her ,whose manning the pass inside? 

Out comes; Chef Pablo Miranda. A gentle, yet towering demeanor -don’t let his boyish looks fool you. Under their watchful eyes, he has carved his credentials in a kitchen that was once pilgrimage to the hands of Aakritee herself. Having her relax outdoors is a silent testament of the work being belted out by this gent. A hands on/off approach in a matter of speaking. 

Back to more food. 

————-

The Cake 


They tout it as their much ‘celebrated’ dish. I would concur. The Cake is a Chicken liver pate with white truffle, onion jam infused with  Goan Port wine no.7. Not stopping at that- Add some black truffle coulis and cashew for company. (I wouldn’t really know how to describe it. You lost me at truffle. A dish so nice you have it twice- white & black indeed; I’ve died and gone to heaven

A-Maize 


A vegetarian’s orgasmic delight of truffled steamed polenta with baby spinach & mushroom ragout laced with a cauliflower purée, golden corn mash, sautéed vegetables & spiced crumble of -corn nachos, popcorn and cornflakes. (Quite a corny affair indeed)

More than what Meats the Eye 

This would be Porky & Petunia Pig’s (alongside their cousins) worst nightmare, at the delight of the carnivore in you. Aptly titled ‘pork few acts’, one is accompanied by a Belgian pork loin chop with hickory BBQ & GOAN bankal glaze. This double act is accompanied by Goan farm bred pork loin with a homemade mustard rub & mashed potatoes with Canadian bacon (re-salivation moment) and toddy fermented sauerkraut, sautéed vegetables & beetroot sour cream. I love the mad scientist at play working on so many classics with GOAN influences. It’s a tough act to pull and this was done ever so well. Kudos. 

Wake Up & Smell the Coffee 


Aptly described – it’s Coffee nirvana meets Lovers Paradise atop Gulliver’s Peak on an island far away. Espresso yourself indeed, is what constitutes the espresso ice cream, Columbian Coffee soil & Jamaican coffee truffle. That’s the first start to get your senses riled up. Round two heads to coffeeology intoxiology , a delicately balanced tiramisu with Goan coffee liqueur. Wait we’re not done yet. The third consumption is coffee jar- Coorg coffee creme anglaise, goan serradura custard with panko saw dust. And we top it off with the humidor- a Javanese coffee waffle cigar. 

The Banoffie Pie 


Aptly described as Reconstruct post a deconstruct of the Classic Banoffee Pie. Part of the trifecta is the first morsel is a smoking hot ‘chilled’ out sundae- which is ‘smoke’, banana ice cream, toffee sauce, condensed milk ice cream and cookie crumbs. 

Once you have satiated your senses you move over to ‘the humble pie’- (not so humble) A wafer thin chocolate Mille-feuilles, bananas topped with rum cream and strawberries. (Pro tip: try and consume in a single morsel to avoid making a faux pas of the event through spillage)

And what better way post the decadence, than to reach out to the land of milk and honey, with deep fried churros with reduced milk dip & honeycomb with an edible bumblebee. Mind you, the honeycomb wafer is pure unadulterated sin straight from an actual beehive!!

As I struggle to depart with the war of food battling inside, the Dreamer looks pleased. Here’s to the future, one which belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. 
Image courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography  Shot on Iphone6 

I want to EAT the WORLD & I want it NOW!!!!

I’m on a trip.  No, I am not under the influence of psychotropic substances or reaffirming my existence as a shaman in an alternate universe. However i believe at times I am almost there, when listening to one of my all time favourite artist- James Douglas Morrison. A poetic, retrospective frame of mind. And right about now, I want to Eat the world indeed! What better place to start at- Eat the World DXB

I must admit, I’ve been trolling (OK, stalking more like it – Milo & Hectors Ice cream ever since 2015.) The fat kid in me loves ice cream ever so much,gawked and drooled  at the ‘Ice cream sandwich’ like Kris Kringle to cookies and milk on a Christmas chimney shake shake. 

So on a prayer and an over booked flight, i make my way to the first of a series of #foodtrails this year and the first stop is Dubai. While most of you have been to this tourist destination, there’s not much to mention that you already are unaware off. So diving into the concept of Eat the World DXB– it reminds me of a gypsy caravan tent site. Mind you, the majority of folk there in participation were British, albeit the food anything but, the oh so famous -Fish & Chips. Each one setup across the sprawled lawns, right next to the majestic Burj Khalifa that played gracious and colorful  host with its amazing light and sound display, across the tower as well as the periodic dancing fountains in front of it. The weather was peppy and crisp with a nip in the air, that would allow you to curl up in a blanket and settle into the sounds of funk and some great covers from the band in the background. A camp site indeed (sans the bonfire and gypsies dancing around it in rejoicement and celebration.

  The Burj Khalifa. Need I say more? Didn’t stand a chance to get a glimpse of Shilpa Shetty though. Food with a view indeed. 

I have always pride myself in understanding the finer nuances and cheat codes of deciphering an all you can eat buffet, by trying to beat the system. Albeit, just like the discreet charm of a casino, the house always does get the better of me and win. With over 45 camper trucks participating with eclectic food ranging from Crab burgers and sushi to Mexican burritos, pizzas and gelatos this poised itself as a mini episode of Man vs Food with a selective calorie choice of sorts for moi. 

Always up for a challenge, I meticulously surveyed the carts and the first hour went by the admiration of these food trucks. Reminded me of the Jon Faverau movie Chef. Cuteness overload with sayings and innovative artwork & design- it called out to my creative senses. A kids area with inflated islands made me wish I was young again- just to bounce with no care in the world. 

  

This dynamic duo kept the feet tapping all night with a heady mix of contemporary jazz to covers. 

There were a few live seminars and cooking demonstrations that had a captivated audience, understanding the art of baking the perfect cake, to mixology sessions for ones next house party.  As much as I would have liked to sit through it all, I had a mission. A mission to ensure I ate my heart out (figuratively speaking). 

  
Live cooking sessions underway. I love the Brits and their sense of humor. 

Here is a spotlight of the event through my IPhone. A snippet of each dish would be self explanatory, in order not to send you into a inception like comatose state. I’m nice that way. NOT!! 

  

Gelato’s drive me wild. On a stick, they take me to the brink of insanity. Especially freshly made and a wide variety of choice- Walnuts, pistachio, coconut, Vanilla bean, Belgian chocolate & Strawberry to name a few. 

  The Crunchy Crab burger is the stuff dreams are made off. Beer batter fried chunks of crab in a wholesome bun with loads of coleslaw and secret sauce. Hits the spot. 

  The folks from Made of Dough, stole my mind and thought for innovative design. An old Land Rover Discovery converted into a stone slab wood fired pizza oven was innovative and compact and looked so good. Quite practical indeed. The pizzas were nice. 

  Onion rings with crab sauce and fiery chillies was your gastronomic orgasm for the fast food fiend in me. Gulliver would be proud given the size of em rings. 

  Ever tried Haloumi? A delicious Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, (sometimes cows too). Slightly coarse in texture and deep fried with pomegranate seeds and melted fondue, this was definitely an acquired taste. 

  One can never really go wrong with French fries, especially when you are listening to La bamba being belted out live in front of you. Lest to forget the crab dressing accompaniment. Sweet sour and tangy. 

  Braco’s sliders-These are undescribable. I shall do a great injustice even trying to explain the same. Let me stick to the ingredients and let your mind run wild in all different directions. Here’s goes.  

 Grass fed rib eye beef with chimichurri & British cheddar cheese torched with a flame gun (shown above) and served buttery. A calorific sin of magnanimous proportions. 

  Churros Churros Churros. Fresh off the boiling vat. Whoop. Little sticks of chocolate doughnuty heaven indeed. 

  This organic cooler was a thirst quencher. Fruity with a tequila base and some Thai cucumber- it was indeed (almost) organic. Aint tequila in some cultures considered organic too? 

  Italiano in UAE. Love the enthusiasm of this bunch and they were so much fun not to forget mentioning some of the best Buffala I had on my trip there. 

  

‘The dream’ fulfilled. Milo & Hector’s caramel ice cream with sprinkles sandwiched in double chocolate gooey cookies. Heaven in every bite. Screw the calories. It was so worth it. 

Stay tuned as I tunnel my way back to the real world. 

Eat your Greens!

This is part of a series of articles written for Goa Times (Times of India) on people and happenings in and around Goa. 
This article focuses on the importance of veggies in ones diet, their significant benefits as well as how restaurants in and around Goa, are taking global culinary cues to ensure the salad is the main focus and no longer a side dish. 
An interesting trend and filled with loads of goodness and benefits. 
Click on the image to enlarge it and read. 
  

Resolutions lie in Paris Brest 

For all those wondering where had #nolansatwit disappeared for the season- well, I was working out! NOT. Whilst I see a sarcastic grin on the face of my nutritionist (yes, I have one of those and she’s awesome) and my yoga teacher, who probably has no will left to teach me, given all the calories I’ve gained over the last fortnight (I’m sorry, I’ll shed them all, I promise)In all fairness, I did bid them sweet goodbyes before I decided to partake in a wild season laced with eating binges and reckless abandonment for waistline safety. 

This post is more of a reconciliation effort to the dedicated professionals who keep my waistline in check and a peace offering to have them take me back to the fold of ‘eat right, workout left‘. 

It’s been a while since I put thumb to phone screen, more so take a decent picture of food and granted that I’ve been sober for more than 56 hours is making progress in the New Year, and to a different progression of blogging. 

I followed my nose to an old haunt of a friends cafe, situated in the midst of the fields with the ocassional kite for company. This is what greets you at Baba Au Rhum Cafe. It’s sublime, earthy and tranquil and the music is transcendal. I promised Dayini, I would head on over once the madness of the stated ‘outsiders‘ left us all to our mundane routine and normalcy prevail. Having said that, it was packed, though it still had an overtone of calmness and peace within. 

Known for her love of organic and holistic approach from fresh juices, meaty homegrown burgers and wafer thin crusted pizzas, it was indeed something in the reckoning to start this year with. 

Before you write me off, for all the decandence of gluttony in #foodporn that I am responsible for (falsely accused and awaiting trial) I stumbled upon this piece of  heaven which does have a irrefutable historical significance engraved in sport and fitness. (An evil snicker entails, with the item in question being of sinful repute

This my dear ladies, gents and kids of all ages, is the Paris Brest– a French dessert made of choux pastry made of almond praline creme with hazelnut and dusted with sugar snow. What stands chaperone is the Cortado– a single orgin coffee espresso with foam to light up ones brunch.  

Did you know? 

The Paris Brest was created in 1910 to commemorate a bicycle race from Paris-Brest-Paris, that took place in 1891. The circular choux pastry is representative of a wheel. It became popular with riders due to its high energizing calorie value and is a common fixture across patisseries all over France. 

Whilst there try the Bacon delight  (a freshly baked croissant with avocado, local Gouda, a fluffy egg, homemade bacon and spring onions) some fresh juices with quizzical mysterious names- I stuck to a fresh beetroot juice and the Ham & Cheese quiche. And for those following my Instagram you saw the pizza. For those yet to follow me, check out my handle @nolansatwit 

Bacon Delight   
Ham & Cheese Quiche   
Did someone say Breakfast of Champions? BINGO.  
Happy New Year and here’s to more madness from my travels and foodploits this year! 
Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography. All images shot on Iphone6 

Spa’z #staycation & how!

I remember reading the diary of Axl Rose (from Guns’n’Roses fame), wherein one of his mates said- ‘one can never comprehend the time in his world. Your on the Axl’s time zone’. I get the same feeling every time I finish an out of town #foodtrail. This last one in Mumbai though thoroughly satisfying, had me beat. What better way to kick back- than to, get into ‘Spa’z #staycation‘ at the Alila Diwa Hotel Goa

Many who converdsed with me during my long soaks in the bathtub (look at that beauty in the image above) envied the ‘double whammy’ of heading back to Goa and that too in the lap of such luxury.

What can I say? It’s a writers life-indeed. 

So, heading back to my ‘Spa’z #staycation‘- being the klutz, that I am, I happily checked into the hotel without any identification. Top it off, that too, dead in the middle of the night. They were kind enough-NOT to keep me waiting for long and after a few online checks identified mr. NObody. Some serious CIA stuff over the counter took place that night. What was it you asked? If I told you I’d have to kill you. To avoid the harassment don’t do a NObody, and check in with proper identification,please. 

Though a suffering insomniac- I was deadbeat. The bed enticed me, to snuggle in, while the AC cranked up the chill. Being a technosavant, the room had me written all over it. Yes, I’m that guy, who enters a room and needs to check out all the electricals. Fancy lightings and switches. What connection does what. Cause and effect really. 

There was also an ‘I spy with my little eye’ contest with so many minute details taken care of by the management. Like-the personal hand written note,by the General Manager- Mr. Siddharth Savkur (Yes-I stress on this a moment longer, given that while hotels do personalize real well these days, going the extra mile- i have mostly bared witness to printed stationary with the name and signature signed off by hand. The art of ink to paper is purist and much appreciated, from this old soul). 

Lest we forget the psychoanalysis of my near and dear ones gracing a printed card accompanying, would have made any psychoanalyst proud. The art of class indeed.  (let’s not forget Facebook for the pictorial courtesy

 It’s personal  
I am up early next morning in full witness of the view below. It’s one of those moments, where one gets lost in time and in the process almost missed breakfast just staring into the sapphire blue pool ahead with lush palms for company. I could have sworn, I heard peacocks well in the distance. 
 Room with a view  
After a rather scrumptious meal- (you have seen my breakfast posts, hence I shall NOT traumatized you, especially with all on offer and just let your imagination run wild on this count), I relaxed by the swimming pool and waiting for my appointed massage. I was slotted in for the Theraputic Massage for an entire hour and a half.  Tissue deep and aromatically infused are two words to describe this treatment. At the iron fisted hands of Ravi, who is a certified Masseuse from Kerela, I was kneaded into (quite literally) a snore. Rather embarrassing to say the least, but he didn’t mind the hypnotic tune I belted out, during the procedure. He found it rather relaxing (or maybe he was being polite, one would never know) An outdoor shower, amidst a lush garden had me soak in the sun (literally) with cool water streaming down my back- temporarily fooling my senses to a tropical paradise far far away. 

Top it off in the lap of luxury with a fine meal with the team- Siddharth and Rashmi who generously took time off their busy schedule to fuss over me. Delving into the spotlight of food you must try their fresh Kokum bar at the breakfast counter and their wide variety of eggs to order. The cheese and mushroom with sage was meticulously fluffed . Not to mention their king prawns which were every so fresh at the lunch table. Fresh catch of the day at the hands of Chef Alex Ensor. 

It’s a quick #staycation, as i have been away from home far too long and miss the babies- Mojo,my Labrador and Cupcake June, my Persian cat. 

The 5am, pee-o-clock alarm from the mutt beckons. 

Spa’zin out till next time. 

Spa treatment  
Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography Shot on an IPhone6 

An Ode to forgotten Hospitality 

I love house parties. The madness that prevails before the guests arrive to ensure one puts their best foot forward- silverware polished, best China laid out, wine cellar stacked and the glassware spotless. It’s a lovely feeling to have close ones over on a pre planned date to ensure all is in order just like clockwork. 

What happens when one saunters over to a friends uninvited on a working day in bustling Mumbai is when the real McCoy presents itself- a simple yet elegant home cooked meal with a few last minute additions. 

It’s funny how friends meet, especially with the friend in question- Madhu. I resonate guarded attributes amongst my friend circle and in this case I shall just leave it at the name due to privacy clause I hold ever so dear. Madhu and I happened to meet all by chance at a furniture shop in Goa and hit it off instantly. Ever since then there has been no turning back and I can carelessly invite myself over to her place- unannounced only to incur the wrath of her in iron curls post a long jog on the beach. The simplicity and uninhibited warm and welcome feeling reciprocated is something not even family members can live upto in this day and age and I speak from experience. 

There was nothing earth shattering or ground breaking to report except chatter and then some more for a lazy afternoon ahead. A lady who knows her art, is refined and poised with grace yet throws the most elegant and subliminal parties filled with aplomb and panache. It’s a heady concoction to be in the presence off and we rage in theory from drapes to silverware with a hint of stocks and shares with artwork openings thrown in good measure. It’s stimulating and drives my grey cells into a frenzy. We were in hope of her son joining us for a meal but he had a rather ‘working’ late night and decided to sleep in. Catch you on the next one buddy. 

So, after all the fancy dining options in the past few days, this was a meal worth ‘gate crashing’ for. Home made and filled with love and presented ever so effortlessly. The flavor of Indian spices in the all vegetarian meal, tickled my tastebuds beyond measure. From Arbi Fry, Okra (bhendi) masala, Panchmel daal and some dum Aloo, i was in seventh heaven. Let’s not forget the Dahi Bhala with Paratha. 

But this is not about the meal at hand. It’s about the hospitality which is seldom practiced in these times. An uninvited guest these days, irks the criticisms of all and sundry between family members and becomes pillow talk long after the guest is gone. Sure it’s all about priorities and so called fast friendships these days and ‘time is of the essence’. Heck, I confess to having done it a long time ago and I am not proud to say so. 

It’s the simple things that go a long way to forge bonds of steel that can never be broken. An expression of surprise for sure, with a hint of twinkle in the eye to cook up ‘left overs’ and ordering some ice cream to the elaborate daily meal consumed by members of the family is what was presented to me and this by far outdoes some of the parties I have been invited too over the years. It’s that spontaneity, which is cherished. The meal was fabulous and here’s a BIG thank you my dearest Madhu. 

The Mini Grand Indian Thali  Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Shot on Iphone6 

A Date with Opa’s Arak 

I’ve dated a German before. Well, a few actually! Such warm and reserved folk and so dedicated to a cause. So when I heard, I was heading to OPA Bar & Cafe it perplexed me a little(OPA in German means Grandfather). I enter with a few friends only to have the fragrance of exotic mixes of sheesha fill the open air lounge. It’s heady and intoxicating almost instantly- with hints of green apple, paan, mint and orange filling the air. So much for my expensive perfume which was engulfed in entirety. 

I place myself at a table post the meet and greet and transcend almost instantaneously to the by lanes of Marrakech- a gentle morning session with the bustling streets with a cuppa chai and a sheesha for company a long long time ago. The chai in this case was the Arak Haddad Elite. Fast forward, to the first time I consumed this unassuming rather potent drink at a close friends place in Mumbai. It was an import procured by her on a recent trip to Istanbul. It was cause for a celebration with her husband and we decided to go for it at the stroke of midnight. In the confines of her house with no recording devices for proof, I distinctly remember the taste as clear as an hour before. Post consumption the next I find myself  waking up next to cat litter (thank god for small mercies my face was far away from the spoils of war). Remember the word unassuming? My point exactly! 

Since then I have kept this incident at the back of my mind. Apart from the deadly trio (Absinthe being one of them) which I hold and respect in reverence to the way they can turn you into a clapping monkey- Arak ranks high with its potency range of 40-63% proof. 

Dried dates with feta cheese and almonds 

Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

The dried dates filled with Feta Cheese and almond shavings were delightful. While this was the item not coveted on the menu served by many, it had a significance in its role given the hardiness of the dates in fiber as well as the feta cheese to line the walls of ones stomach for that perfect sealant lining. It’s the best prevention for massive drinking (in this case minimum damage with a shot or two) to prevent the impending hangover. 

 Arak Haddad Elite
Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography

I have been informed there is going to be a dedicated section in the near future serving Moroccan tea and sheesha under Bedouin tents atop the terrace under the stars. As a concept and I look forward to those aromatic blends with gusto. There is nothing quite like it – a bucket list item so to speak. So if you feel lazy to hop into a flight to Turkey, head on over to OPA instead. 

Dining with ‘Legend’

I admit. I have procrastinated over this article for over 2 weeks. I have scribbled and scratched paper (the old fashioned ink to pen) tossed it in the garbage – had a cuppa more than needed and still run short to deliver what I thought would be a befitting article to what I ultimately penned. That’s when the realisation hit me. This article was never going to match up to anything in my head for two primary reasons- the gentleman written about was a Legendary Chef of the Taj Group of Hotels in his time and the more discerning fact of him being my grandfather who I never had the chance of meeting in person. Welcome to the Miguel Arcanjo @ Taj Exotica Goa.
Miguel Arcanjo fondly known as ‘Maskie’ Pic courtesy: Mitter Bedi Photography 
They say Legends are what one makes of them. Passed on thru time immemorare, it’s the build up which makes them larger than life. I happened to chance over his accolades (4 scrap books and counting) way back in 2006 when my mother decided to pen a biography about ‘Masci’ – as he was fondly known, which eventually won her the Special Jury award at the Gourmand World Cookbook awards in 2008. If your wondering what’s that? It’s the same award Julia Childs won a few years earlier. That book Masci- the Man behind the Legend is a short documented snippet of his life interspersed with a few management lessons and a few forgotten recipes of the maestro for company. It has been out of circulation since its award and is scheduled for a second edition sometime soon- back by popular demand!
It’s an lovely feeling sitting with people who ‘claim’ to know my grandfather over the years. I’ve heard multiple accounts of his life from a few people who are alive. All the stories percolate to two distinctive traits that shine through- him being a stickler for discipline in his kitchen and a maestro in everything he put his hand too. Genius is a word never used lightly however in his case use effortlessly by one and all who met or interacted with him. He cooked up a storm for dignitaries, celebrities, heads of state and rock stars alike and what grabbed headlines eventually was somewhere in the 70’s the Taj gifted him a kitchen worth a crore. Do the math it’s close to a Rs.55-60 crore kitchen in today’s day and age given inflation rates. 
Let’s focus on the task at hand though. The restaurant is revisited by me for the third time- however this time with the daunting task of me being settled into my writer avatar. No pressure, I assure myself as the specially crafted menu makes its way to our table. This is a tasting menu for the season ahead and has a revisit of some of Masci’s old documented recipes. 
I shall shed a spotlight for this post on ‘Nostalgia‘ which was his signature love for all things Portuguese and Goan. A simpleton at heart- Masci was known to relish his wife’s Deoniza cooking. He would head home for his afternoon siesta in between working hours for his power nap and his fish curry rice at my grandmothers hands. And just as he laid command over the kitchen at the Taj Mahal hotel he willingly handed over the same to his wife back home. It was her domain and that was the end of it. While the whole of Mumbai and the world were his ardent fans he had mad love for her and her cooking. 
The Taj Exotica Goa has painstakingly documented and researched his works and menus extensively and with their own twist have recreated some masterpieces from his hand written menus. Known for his Chicken Liver pate en encroute with toasted brioche and garnitures to the Chorizo de Goa– home cured pork sausages they came up with a delicate infusion of his famous Chorizo terrine, croquettes and Phyllo chorizo parcel the team as recreated magic all over again. Master class indeed- Would Masci have approved? I sure hope so given his soft corner for his home cuisine. 
Chorizo de Goa  Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

Let’s not forget a few exotics that made their way to the table. Masci known to experiment back in the day would be pleased. The Capesante- Canadian scallop with a sinful plum relish, sauce vierge sweet pea purée & angel hair crisp leeks was stelar. It took me all of 5 minutes to just admire the creation let alone contemplating eating it. 

Capesante  Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

The beauty of a course menu, is one gets to know what’s in tow and I waited in anticipation for the Atlantic Black Cod baked with fermented soy bean,wilted young spinach with a brush of stewed rhubarb soy soil and lemon balm. It begged my mind to demand second serving. Table manners prevailed and I refrained. The infusion and blend of flavour is hard to describe. It’s a must try for sure. 
Atlantic Black Cod   Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography 

A set menu is never complete without a single origin Jamaican Mountain brew. Exquisite and well balanced. It complimented the Opera perfectly. What is the Opera? Click here to find out more. 

As I sign off with a huge sigh of relief, I feel like Po from Kung Fu Panda having attained a glimpse into the enlightened gastronomic world of delicacies and Master Shifu being none other than the legend, the man, my grandfather who I fondly knew as ‘Papa’- Miguel Arcanjo Mascarenhas or to the culinary world ‘Masci of the Taj’.

Thank you for this schooling time and again. 

Richter scale cupcakes 

Today was a good day. A peaceful day. A day when one just wishes to do nothing significant, nothing impactful, nothing earth moving or so I thought.  (let’s hold that thought till a little later in this post

Wash the bike, clean my room, stand in line to pay the bills, fill up gas, watch an odd movie and jump to the opportunity to baby sit a cutie pie from next door. My little bundle of joy- Anaaya, who happens to be my bestie’s niece. She’s my go to girl when I need a few shitz’n’giggles. And that’s saying a lot considering I’m mostly on the doleing end. A hop skip & jump had me head over to Anaaya’s place and we decided to bake some good ol fashioned cupcakes with aunt Ayesha at the helm. 

There is nothing like being schooled by a kiddo on the art of making a perfect cupcake. I was tempted to take Cupcake  June along to showcase my quota (without having to go through the process of baking it myself. Her name would suffice and carry me thru I suppose, but then that would be cheating now

So off went the three Musketeers to the kitchen in the quest of the perfect baked cupcake. Ayesha busy on the recipe book following it to the tee had time for Anaaya and I to goof around galore. (Evil smile) Moments later, I’m playing with gummy bears and smarties. Condiments to the final product but they created quite the battle of Gettysburg scenario dying for a good cause in Anaaya’s mouth. She devoured them and then some. I joined her too eventually. The temptation was too great and those bears had to die for a eventful cause. 

We played see-saw where Anaaya was a mountaineer climbing Everest (being my thighs) she almost squished my ‘family jewels’ at base camp though, an honest mistake, given I wore loose khakis and she never really knew where to tread on.  Ayesha as usual had a hearty laugh at my expense. Redefined the termed ‘cracking one up’ for the both of us, equally painful in minor respects or so I hope- what do you think? her lock jaw or my trap jaw. Which would be more painful?  I’ll leave you the be the judge of that. We created the Richter cupcake eventually in this fabulous video. Link: https://youtu.be/Q8m5wC0IUg4

You have to watch the professionalism of Anaaya playing horsey with me not having a tripod. A classic Hyperlapse for the ages. 

Much love my rockstar. Till we bake cupcakes again. 

P.S. How did they taste? Fantastic with a extra oodle of baking powder. That’s how. Booyah!!!! Baked out. 

Choco chip cupcakes   Pic courtesy: Nolan Mascarenhas Photography