Sunday, 17 August 2014

Illusionary Food Art at Farzi Cafe, Cyber Hub, Gurgaon

“Eating is a complete sensory experience. It’s the only thing we do that engages all of our senses. What I try to do is play with this idea to extend and deepen one’s interaction with food. I want to create meals that are a delicious spectacles, where every bite is a delight to the senses". - Heston Blumenthal

If you are as hooked on to Masterchef Australia as everyone at my home is, I am sure you would be familiar with the term 'Molecular Gastronomy'.
Basically, Molecular Gastronomy blends Physics and Chemistry to transform the tastes and textures of food. It has now commonly being used to describe a style of cuisine in which chefs explore culinary possibilities by borrowing tools from the science lab and ingredients from the food industry.
My first brush with this modern style of cooking was when in one of the episodes in Masterchef Australia, Heston Blumenthal (he is an British celebrity chef most famous for his food experiments using Molecular gastronomy) prepared ice cream within a matter of seconds using liquid nitrogen. As he poured the liquid nitrogen into the mixer, I watched with complete awe and fascination as clouds of smoke tumbled out of the mixer giving you the feeling of being in a magical fantasy land. But I had never thought I would get to see the same magic performed right here in a restaurant, before my eyes. 
An invite for lunch at Farzi cafe had me experiencing the same magic, holding me totally spellbound and awestruck at their incredible culinary creations. I swear what I felt was nothing short of an mystical experience. 
Farzi Cafe, the hottest new dining spot in Cyber Hub, Gurgaon is creating quite a buzz within just a month of its opening. A modern Indian bistro, it is wowing its diners by serving the finest of modern Indian food using elements of molecular gastronomy for showcasing some of the iconic dishes and that too at a very affordable price. A brainchild of culinary maestro Jiggs Kalra and his son Zorawar Kalra, Farzi cafe is the third restaurant to be launched by Massive Restaurants after the resounding success of their premium fine dining restaurant, Masala Library and the casual dine-in chain Made in Punjab.
You will be perplexed as to why someone would name their restaurant Farzi (atleast I was) because to the best of my knowledge Farzi meant 'fake' or something that is not genuine. When I asked Sonali Priy Kapoor, Marcom head of Massive Restaurants and also our charming hostess for the day, she told me that the word Farzi here means creating illusions with food - a dish that plays with your senses and looks and tastes entirely different than what you would expect it to. 
Another thing that I was curious about knowing was that would the use of chemicals and synthetic flavors used in creating a dish with Molecular gastronomy be harmful to us. After all, in my mind the various processes like spherification, gelification, powderising, deep freezing using chemicals like maltodextrin and liquid Nitrogen just did not sound right to a layman like me to be consumed by our body in any possible way.
All my fears were dispelled by Chef Himanshu Saini, the young Chef de Cuisine at Massive Restaurants, as he explained that the "chemicals" used are all of biological origin and are extremely safe for consumption. The elements used in Molecular Gastronomy are all natural and mostly extracted from plants. Also we were told that very small quantities of additives were used which were approved by EU Standards. 
Truly, my dining experience at Farzi Cafe was one of the best I have had so far for the gastronomic value. It seems a lot of thought has gone into everything - the casual bistro ambiance, the imaginative menu playfully done up and the exquisite food which not only looks stunning but tastes amazing too. Frankly not a great Indian food fan, at Farzi cafe, I literally felt as if I was given a whole new definition to Indian cuisine. The flavors here are decidedly Indian but the approach is refreshingly modern. A whole new vocabulary of tastes, textures and techniques - an exciting new twist to the boring old Indian flavors.
On sitting we were offered Farzi OK, a delicious blend of fresh orange juice, kaffir lime juice with vanilla essence. Served chilled in a trendy mason jar it was a perfect start to our meal especially after I had spent the last half an hour outside in the heat, waiting to find a parking space. I understand not getting parking in Cyberhub on weekends but on a weekday at 1:00 p.m in the afternoon? It  just shows how popular Cyber Hub is becoming with the foodie clan.
We start our meal on a dramatic note with Misti doi spheres topped with strawberry coulis and served on a platter steaming with smoky liquid nitrogen.  Made with 'Reverse spherification', the Misti doi spheres were small jelly like balls of curd which when popped into the mouth exploded, leaving behind a refreshingly sweet, tangy flavor of curd. What a wonderful surprise!! My magical journey had begun and I just couldn't wait to discover what other mystical things lay in store ahead.
Next up was a Mini Raj Kachori with Crispy Okra salad topped with a chutney foam. Unusual though the combination might be, the crispy okra beautifully complemented the sweet and spicy Raj kachori. The chutney foam served on top, though deceptive in looks, tasted just the way it was supposed to, like a sweet tamarind chutney spooned on top of your chaat, making your mouth salivate and leaving your taste buds craving for more.
The Chilly Pork Ribs in Kashmiri Rista Reduction were cooked to perfection. The meat was juicy and tender. The marinade was delicious and combined well with the pork ribs. I literally had to stop myself from licking my fingers. 
Vada Pav #Farzified was another excellent reflection of the chefs creativity. Here the twist was that it was an inside out vada pav- that is the pav was stuffed inside a potato ball with all the classic flavors intact. Maybe this dish will be a trendsetter and take Mumbai by storm!!
Braised Lamb Chops Maple Soy Sauce Whiskey Cream Reduction was another example of deliciousness. Extremely tender and full of flavor, the meat was just falling off the bones. It took all my willpower to stop myself from taking a second helping as I did not want to fill up too much knowing fully well there were some more magical treats for us up the chefs sleeve.
Then came the Sarson Ki Galawat with Corn and Cheese Tostadas
Looking pretty as a picture, the  taste perfectly matched the presentation. Little kebabs of sarson accompanied with mini makai rotis and small balloons of buttermilk surely took our humble Sarson ka saag - makki ki roti to a new level. 
Chicken 65 lollipops, egg drops and tomato chutney was bursting with flavors of chilly and coconut with the fried curry leaves giving it a unique flavor. I loved the way this classic dish was made in the form of lollipops making it so much easier to eat.
There was drama brought to our table by the chef when he made the Farzi Apple foamintini right there in front of us on our table. The mocktail was made from fresh green apple extract mixed with elderflower syrup and mint foam on top. Having seen it only on Masterchef Australia before, It was quite impressive to see the chef shake the 'siphon canister' vigorously and take out a light frothy foam on top of the drink.
The Chilly Duck samosa with hoisin chutney was finger licking good. Though I wasn't really convinced about the use of duck meat inside the samosa. Somehow I felt that the duck meat encased in the thick outer covering of the samosa and then being deep fried did nothing to enhance the delicate flavors of the duck - for me it tasted no different than a chicken samosa. Of course, I understand the whole point is in being different and to present an unique experience to the adventurous palates of diners.
The vegetarian option was the Chilli Potato Samosa and according to my vegetarian friends was quite good.
Dal Chawal Arancini made me nostalgic with memories of my childhood. Arancini, which is essentially a Sicilian dish is given an Indian twist here as dal and rice are used to stuff the balls before being coated with bread crumbs and fried. On cutting the ball, you could actually spot the whole grains of rice and dal inside. Served with aachar and papad and chutney it reminded me of moms meals back home. 
Next we were presented with a book on the table with the charming picture of Audrey Hepburn on it. On opening the book, kept inside were sticks of Bailey's Lollipop which were chilled hajmola candies. Inside the restaurant, licking the lollipops made you feel like a small kid again.
The Pumpkin Khow Suey was accompanied with steamed jasmine rice and various toppings like crispy black rice, chives, nuts and lemon. Bursting with strong flavors of lemon grass and galangal, it was delicious. Being a hard core non-vegetarian I seriously didnt think that a vegetarian dish could ever impress me so much. This is a dish that I would like to go back for again and again.
Chicken Tikka Masala with Cornish Cruncher Naan made its grand appearance riding in a telephone booth, a replica of the telephone booths one can spot throughout London. Though popular throughout the world, we were told by the chef that Chicken Tikka Masala is now considered as the national dish of Britain. Coming back to the dish, the flavors were spot on with just the right amount of spices. The cornish naan too was delicious and could very easily be had on its own without any accompaniments.
The vegetarian version with paneer.

Even though I was full to the brim, the dessert looked so inviting that even if I wanted to, I just couldn't resist atleast taking a little taste. enough not to give it a miss.  Parle-G Cheesecake was cheesecake sandwiched between two Parle-G biscuits standing in a pool of rabri and topped with brightly colored gems. The taste was so familiar - I remember as children my mom used to make this delicious dessert layering parle-g biscuits with cream. A real blast from the past - especially the gems really brought out the child in me.
Like all grand finales, the end of our sumptuous meal was also full of drama and extremely exciting. A huge tray  of semi solid phirni was brought to our table on which the chef poured liquid nitrogen. We watch in amazement as clouds of smoke start pouring out from the tray. Then the frozen phirni was hammered and broken down with a spoon and warm rabdi  poured over it. Quite a thrilling show. 
Even if you are not much of a dessert person, order it purely for the presentation. 
I loved everything about the Farzi cafe right from the cool ambiance to the well conceptualized menu, the friendly staff and of course the delicious food which I have raved about so much. 
My experience at the Farzi cafe was fantastic, full of fun, fantabulous, Farzisome, Farzifying - this is one 'F' word I would not mind using a lot from now on!!
If you haven't visited the place as yet and want to experience some of the Farzi magic too, I highly recommend a visit.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Pain au lait: My Bread Baking Obsession

Having a tough day? Just head for the kitchen and bake yourself a bread!! 
Seriously making bread from scratch is actually quite therapeutic. You can pound, knead, thrash the dough with all your might leaving you feeling much lighter and free of all your pent up frustrations. On the plus side, you are rewarded with a delicious loaf of freshly baked bread, the heady aroma completely healing your soul.
That is why I am so glad to be a part of this bread baking group "We Knead to bake" on facebook where you get to bake a new bread every month. (Though it is another matter that the healing therapy is required much more than just once a month but I cope). Each member is supposed to make the assigned bread where sometimes it is quite interesting to see the variations the members come up with. Aparna, who is the admin, does a lot of research and comes with amazing new breads every month, which probably would be hard to discover on your own. Check out my recipe of the two of these breads which I baked along with this group - Flaounes, which is a delicious Cypriot bread made on Easter and Foccacia Caprese. The recipes given for the breads are tried and tested by Aparna herself and not once have the breads failed to 'rise to the occasion'. 
Another great bread that we baked recently was Petit Pains au Lait which are basically small French bread rolls enriched with milk. As might be evident from the title, the only liquid used in the dough is milk and of course a generous amount of butter. The resultant texture is rich but still not as rich as Brioche and have a light airiness about them. Pains au Lait typically have a hint of sweetness in them and the pearl sugar that dots the surface adds to the sweetness. They have a beautiful golden crust on the outside concealing a soft flaky inside because of the unusual technique rolling and folding technique used. Then they are decorated by cutting through the top with scissors in a manner which results in a beautiful pattern typical of a Pain au lait. 
This dough is also pretty good to shape into any pattern of your choice.

(Adapted from Gourmet by Kat - )
2/3 cup warm milk (you might need a little more)
1 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup bread flour*
1/4 tsp salt
60 gm butter, soft at room temperature
Extra milk for brushing
Pearl sugar for topping (optional)**

*If you don’t have bread flour, put 2/3 tsp vital wheat gluten in your 3/4 cup measure and top up with all-purpose flour. Mix this well. 
If you don’t have vital wheat gluten, then just use 3/4 cup all-purpose flour like I did.
**This topping is optional. The pearl sugar looks pretty and adds a little crunch. You can also use large crystals of sugar or a bit of regular granulated sugar.

You can knead by hand or use a machine. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer. (No, please I am not trying to show off my KA machine here but I just can't stop telling everyone how fantastic it really is!!)
Put the warm milk, yeast and sugar in the bowl. 
Whisk it for a couple of minutes. 
Then add all the flour and the salt and mix until it looks crumbly.
Add the butter and knead until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough that’s not sticky. Add a little more milk (in teaspoonful at a time), if your dough is dry, until you have the required consistency of dough. 
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl, turning it over to coat with oil. Cover loosely and set aside to rise until double in volume. Punch the risen dough and knead well.
Once the dough is ready, punch out the air and make 10 equal parts.
Use a rolling pin to roll out a circle of about 8 cm.
Roll up the circle from one end, jelly roll style into a cylinder.
Pinch the ends and place seam side down on a greased tray. Allow to rise again.
Before baking, brush the dough with egg wash
Using a sharp scissor make diagonal cuts and sprinkle with sugar. 
(Check out the video here if you are interested to see exactly how to make the pattern on the bread.
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Bake in a preheated oven at 200 C for about 15 minutes or until they are golden brown.
Let them cool on a rack. Serve them warm or at room temperature. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Taste Of An Age Old Tradition - 'Bukhara' Celebrates 35 Glorious Years!!

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste, experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for a wholesome and rich experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt                                   
Bukhara is celebrating a milestone!!
The much acclaimed Indian restaurant 'Bukhara' at ITC Maurya, New Delhi is celebrating 35 glorious years of excellence in authenticity and taste and we had the honor to be a part of this iconic legacy. The restaurant has been the consistent recipient of numerous awards and accolades, both national and international making it a perennial favorite with everyone, including foreign dignitaries and various visiting head of states. Topping the list of the distinguished guests who have dined here are President Barak Obama, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bill Gates, Bryan Adams, Hilary Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenneger to name a few.
In this world of ever changing restaurant  trends and innovations 'Bukhara' proudly holds on strongly to its roots and tradition.  Infact since its inception in 1978, nothing has changed. Executive Chef J.P Singh, who has been associated with the restaurant since the last 23 years, proudly claims that the dishes found on the menu are exactly the same today, without a single new addition, as they were on the menu when it began. Even the taste of all the dishes is exactly the same as it was 35 years ago. Really, hats of to the chefs!! It is indeed quite a task to master this kind of consistency and perfection and deliver the same taste and flavor over a period of so many years. 
To achieve this level of perfection in making every dish a masterpiece, the menu is kept short and crisp with limited dishes and standardized recipes so that the quality and taste are not compromised on. Maybe this very reason alone beckons loyal customers to come back again and again to savor and indulge their taste buds with the comfort of their favorites flavors and aromas that are etched in their memories. 
Infact we were told that even the decor- the stone walls, log tables and stools, copper utensils hanging from the walls, the bead curtains and the earthenware crockery we were served in remains unchanged till date from the time the restaurant opened. 
All the food cooked here is made in tandoors or clay ovens, reminiscent of the traditional style of Indian North-West Frontier region. Though Chef J. P. Singh claims all the dishes served in the restaurant to be extremely popular, the signature favorites stand out to be Sikandri Raan, Murgh Malai Kebab, Paneer Tikka, Tandoori Jhinga, and of course the legendary Dal Bukhara. I believe 25 Lakh Dal Bukhara's have been sold till date. How is that for a benchmark? 
To commemorate the celebrations, Bukhara is holding a 10 day long promotion from August 2 to August 11, where every diner will get unlimited, complimentary Dal Bukhara and a glass of Champagne besides a big bowl of Phirni to take back home. Also the restaurant will be adding two new dishes and a bread to their menu after 35 years as a surprise element which will be unveiled only on 2 August. Not only this, every day at 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm there will be 'Celebration hour' where you get a chance to be a part of the 'Chef's Winning Table" where a table will be picked out randomly and the dinner for the lucky winning table will be on the house. 
Not only is the food at Bukhara unique but the entire hotel is a spectacular work of art and is no less an experience in itself,
As you walk around the hotel lobby you get an unparalleled art gallery experience. You can see showcased a rare collection of contemporary masterpieces by eminent Indian artist inclluding Tyeb Mehta, Krishen khanna, Akbar Padamsee, Sanjay Bhattacharya and M F Hussain.
One look at the huge central lobby of ITC Maurya is enough to take your breath away. The luminous central dome of the lobby has been created in the style of Chaitya(Buddhist hall) with the surrounding walls containing a beautiful 3000 square foot mural by Krishen Khanna, one of India's leading painters. Also in the lobby is a series of paintings on glass by M.F. Hussain, which illustrates Kautilya's "Arthashastra" written in Mauryan times.
The wall outside the restaurant is filled with framed photographs proudly holding testimony of the visit of every dignitary, head of state and celebrity who have enjoyed the flavors at Bukhara. Also on the wall is a framed photograph of M F Hussain and a painting of his trademark horses, a memento of the memorable time he had at the restaurant.
As you enter the restaurant  strong aromas of grilled meats engulf you, firing up your entire sensory buds and immediately making you salivate in anticipation of things to come. 
As we made ourselves comfortable we were made to don aprons - red ones for the non vegetarians and green one for the vegetarians. Not only do they help the server to distinguish between  the meat eaters and vegetarians but also serve as great napkins to wipe your hands as in Bukhara there is no concept of using cutlery and the tradition is to eat with your hands. So go ahead and lick your fingers - no one will really mind!! 
We were also told that the table that we were sitting on was the same one on where President Clinton had dined. This obviously had us all feeling mighty pleased.
We were fortunate enough to have Executive Chef of Bukhara J.P. Singh join us for the evening. He walked us through the amazing journey that they had undertaken the past 35 years to make Bukhara the legend it is.
According to the chef strict precision is followed while preparing each and every dish. When the  Prawns and legs of lamb are procured they have to be within a strict weight range otherwise they are rejected. The sourcing of meats and raw materials are done by local suppliers making it easier to procure and maintain the consistency. The Jumbo Prawns, each weighing approximately 80 to 120 grams were specially cultured by the hotel in water tanksAlso no artificial coloring agent is ever used in any dish and only natural agents like Turmeric and Red chillies are used if the dish need any color. The cooking time and cooking temperatures are separate for each dish which the staff is trained to adhere to strictly. No wonder for these very reasons Bukhara is counted amongst the world's best restaurants.
Our gastronomical journey began with the server getting us four dishes precariously balanced on one arm. As he laid down the plate before us one by one, beautiful aromas began to tickle our nosebuds. The Paneer Tikka was soft and had a lovely smokey flavor. According to the chef, unlike the traditional way, there was a special technique used in making the paneer which helped retain its moisture and remains soft. Tandoori Jheenga were huge and really delicious. Both the Seekh kebab and Murgh Malai Tikka were exceptionally succulent and just melt in your mouth. Seekh Kebab made with lamb mince mixed with ginger and green chillies and spices which we were told were made fresh in the restaurant itself were served whole unlike other places where they are cut into pieces and served.
Till now I had considered the Burrah Kebabs at Karims to be the best but here the Burrah kebabs won hands down. Full of flavor, the kebabs were so tender that the meat literally fell off the bones. If you enjoy your meats, Sikandri Raan is a must try. It is a whole leg of lamb marinated with malt vinegar, black cumin, cinnamon and red chillies. Finished in a tandoor and then shredded to pieces it is served on top of a leg bone to give the illusion of a whole leg. Nicely charred and smoky from the tandoor, the taste is divine.
Amonst the vegetarian food, I thoroughly enjoyed the Paneer Khurchan and Tandoori Aloo. The Aloo had a tangy chatpata filling of mashed potatoes mixed with lemon juice, chopped ginger and nuts for texture. Another favorite was the Tandoori Salad which had grilled pieces of capsicum, onions, paneer and pineapple. You can't imagine how good the grilled pineapple tasted.
The best part about all the dishes apart from the fact that they were all grilled in the tandoor, was that they were not overladen with spices which meant that we could actually enjoy the true flavors of the dishes served.

Keeping in mind the Anniversary celebrations each dish had little flags to let the customer know how many of each dishes have being sold till date.  
Seekh Kebab
Murgh Malai Tikka
Lamb Burrah kebab 
Sikandri Raan
Chicken khurchan
To delight the Vegetarians :- Paneer Khurchan, Tandoori Gobhi, Tandoori Salad and Tandoori Aloo
Naan Bukhara accompanied the iconic Dal Bukhaara with much fanfare. We were told that virtually the Dal Bukhara is never put off the fires until it reaches your table. The chef told us that in 40 to 60 kgs of dal only 2 kgs of butter is used so it is actually not that rich as it is believed to be.  Actually the dal gets its thick creamy consistency due to it being constantly simmered for  a long time. Daily easily 135-140 portions of dal are served. The Naan Bukhara served with the dal was a spectacle in itself. At 4 feet long the naan is so huge that it can be easily shared by 5-6 people. The dal did not disappoint at all and truly lived up to our expectations.
Once we were through with our main course, we decided to give our poor tummy's a little break. The Chef was gracious enough to take us for a tour inside his kitchen. It was an experience in itself watching the humongous Naan Bukhara being made.
After the kitchen tour we were back to our tables to relish the Desserts. Amongst the sweets, a special mention to the Rasmalai (which I have always been partial to), but believe me it is a killer here. You literally can't stop at one!! Perfectly sweetened, the Phirni was smooth and creamy with an exquisite taste from the lightly infused saffron and pistachios.
Our gastronomical adventure ended perfectly with a plate of meetha paan.
Thanks ITC Hotels and Chef J.P. Singh for inviting us over and being such gracious hosts. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

You too go ahead and prepare yourself to join the celebrations and be a part of this iconic legacy. Get prepared to wrap yourself with the rustic charm and lose yourself in the warmth and comforting robust flavor that Bukhara so famously stands for.