Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Foodies Haven? Or Just the Lookalike....

Review: Villa 39

SoBo’s newest chic ristorante, Villa 39, is the closest you can get to depicting heaven in India or on our planet for that matter. If you’ve already been there, then you know what I am saying if you’ve’ not am about to make myself clear. WHITE –  is the colour of the flooring, the sofas & other seating, the curtains, windows, walls and even the cutlery. Everything at this place is ivory, milky, pearly white. Located at Amarchand Mansion Villa’s precedents have been the famous Golden Gate & Flags. Brainchild of first time entrepreneur Kaajal Fabiani, a lot of detail seems to have gone into designing this place.


These are the first things that came to my mind when I set foot here. It was a Monday afternoon an unlikely day & time to lunch out I know, but August 23rd  is special day and this elegant eatery was a natural choice. Immediately after we were seated on the 1st floor in a pearly divano (sofa), I couldn’t help but notice this wall of wine right across me. Exhibiting wine as object d’art, the wall has different types of wine well spaced and stacked. Quite different from the usual miniature wine cellars that one sees at today’s fine dining places. This was something you could go to with the maitre d’, look through, get some details and choose your poison.

Getting down to the food, we started with soup. Wait! before we move on to that let’s just rewind a bit, starting with the seating – pearly white as I mentioned earlier, the table is well laid out with ivory colored plates & sparkling silverware. Lots of sparking silverware I would say. Yes if you have been to a finishing school and learnt how to eat with those different types of spoon, knives & forks and you would like to practice your skill this is the place. For me I hardly know how to operate these things, but one tip I learnt is moving from inwards that is your first course cutlery will be always kept the outermost on both sides from your plate.

Anyhow let’s get down to business, we order for the food.  In the meantime they get us a bread basket with assorted breads. So we chomp on some bread dipped in the heavenly mixture of Olive Oil and Vinegar. If you’re wondering about this odd combination try it the next you go to an Italian restaurant - Make a puddle of olive oil in your plate the size of a golf ball and add about 2 or 3 small drops of vinegar one it. Dip your bread in the mixture and eat. It’s a great combination. The caustic taste of vinegar merges with woody flavor of the olive oil to give you a balsamic combination.

Our soups arrive, the first one - Mushroom Cappuccino, a frothy broth of mushrooms which is quite a delight. Served with a lavache on the side, it is a little bland but you will be offered some ground pepper to add some pizzazz to it. The Minestrone, a tomato based creamy soup is too thick and filling. The other one the  Asparagus Soup, served with small bread doled with some cream cheese and an asparagus stem, is also nice, a bit bland again but then again you know what you need.

We order for a portion of Bruchettas , fresh tomato finely diced tomatoes, pepper and cilantro make a beautiful combination. What I like is that it is not gooey that kind it gets otherwise. We move on to the Pizza. We order for a half and half combination (thank god for that option) of Margherita and Chicken Ham. They both are pretty bland. The Chicken Ham specially doesn’t impress us.
Then our Pasta arrives. A little dope I learnt about Italian food - incase of the main course, your plate should be piping hot so that the cheese of Italian cuisine (most of Italian cuisine has loads of it ) remains molten and does not solidify and become difficult to eat and swallow due to its heaviness. Villa 39 disappointed us in this case. Our plates were not hot or even lukewarm. However, the first one Penne Mamarosa a pink sause (combination of red and white) is ambrosial. Not too tomato or too creamy, a perfect combination of both and a little sweet. The Pesto Pasta one is a bit disappointing, quite tasteless if I may say and lacks the nutty flavor that pesto should have. The Spinach & Cottage cheese cannelloni also was quite unsavory, with hardly any flavor.

All an all, a pretty average place with not so average price. The per head cost would come upto minimum 800/- and with alchohol minium of Rs. 1000/-  plus taxes. Villa also offers a Sunday Brunch 11:30 - 4:00 it costs Rs 2,200 plus taxes

Food: Average
Ambience: Excellent
Service: Slow

Quicktip: Drop in only if you would like to enjoy the ambience and probably experiment with a little Italian food, don’t expect to be totally satisfied after the meal and do it obviously only if you have some extra dosh in that pocket of yours

The Co-ordinates
·        Villa 39, Amarchand Mansion, 60 Madam Cama Road, Colaba, Mumbai
·         Phone: 66573939

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Flavour that 'Ling' ers

Lings Pavilion

Lings Pavilion (source Burrp.Com)

There are very few places I would call home besides my own & Lings Palace is one of them. Located in the lane adjacent to Regal Cinema, Lings is now a part of the culture & heritage of South Mumbai or SOBO. Almost like a landmark of South Mumbai like you have The Gateway of India, The Taj Mahal, Regal Cinema, Lings Pavilion and now Leopold (famous due to the 26/11 attacks). Lings along with Golden Dragon (Taj) and Nanking (now shut down) formed the early Chinese restaurant culture in this part of town. 

Frequented by SOBOites (a name given to people like me- born and bought up in South Mumbai), if you see the demographics of its patrons there would typically be grandparents mostly in the age bracket of 50 – 80’s then the children in their 30’s – 50’s and then the grandchildren from new born to the one’s in their 20’s.  Hence I use the word 'patrons', Lings enjoys three generations of patronage. Typically you will see these families celebrating one of the important family days – birthdays, anniversaries or their weekly meal outside. If you see the younger generation sitting there, my bet is they have been introduced to this place by their grandparents if not atleast their parents. Lings Pavilion therefore in it’s true sense is a family affair. Again, I would call it an affair and not a restaurant because too many of us who have been going there since 'time without beginning’.It’s much more than just a restaurant.

There are three main factors that make this place so special 1) consistency – the food here tastes the same since forever. From the barbeque chicken to the friend rice – pure, delicate, appetizing in short Soulful. 2) the staff  - friendly, courteous and again have been here since really long, if not there is always Johnny, long would be an understatement to describe his tenure. He has been the maitre d’ since my grandfather frequented this place 3) the familiarity – if you’re a SOBOite (yes I am quite proud of calling myself that. If you’re not one you probably hate me by now, if you are one then you’re probably nodding your head away to this. However just bear with me I promise you this is worth it) you are bound to meet a family friend or your cousins (hence don’t get your date until its official) or a school/college acquaintance. If not there are always the fish. Right next to the entrance there is a small pond with baby sharks and other fish with a overhead bridge. These fish are my acquaintances, I have been watching them since I was 10 while I used to walk sometimes run up & down on the bridge. They still fascinate me like they used to when I was 10. Over the years the fish have become less. I wonder if that’s cause the Shark fin soup on the menu :).

I can go on and on about this place but there is one key factor or warning if you allow me to say - Don’t come here if you want to see your food while eating it! Yes you read that right.  Lings is a very dimly lit place and you can hardly see what you arer eating! I think it’s just a part of the ambience or the comfort the patrons already have with this place.

Now getting down to the food – I am a huge fan of soups so that’s what I always start with – it’ a family tradition ;). The Chicken Hot & Sour soup is great. It’s delicate & peppery, the right amount of sour and also finely chopped cucumber. Heaven. There is also the Clear Noodle Soup for the health conscious & vegetarians. It’s a kind of clear soup very light and yet delicious. Those of you who like black mushrooms can ask them to add it. They also serve khimchi which unlike the tomato sauce and cabbage one at Five Spice is delicious.

For appetizers I have the Barbeque Chicken served with grated cabbage khimchi style and peanut sauce. I used to like the barbeque chicken when they used serve it on a miniature grill. Johnny says they stoped it because people cribbed about the smoke  :(. It’s good now but earlier it was something else. The Peanut Sauce with it is simply amazing. Together it makes a great a combination. 

There is also Concurd for the vegetarians – crispy on the outside & soft on the inside served with a sweet honey like sauce. I prefer to eat it with the peanut one. The Chicken Wantons are great both fried & steamed. The steamed ones are topped with garlic & spring onions. Again both go really well with the peanut sauce. So if you’re not having the Barbeque Chicken order a peanut on the side it goes well with any starter. The prawn starter that is amazing is Prawn Chilli Garlic. Delicately spiced with garlic and chilli, it is stir fried. The perfect blend

Moving on to the main course – I have tried 4 types of rice here and all of them are great! First there is the usual Fried Rice. Besides the usual veggies it has peas. Don’t cringe am not too much of a vegetable fan too but this actually tastes great. Then you add a bit of spice to it and make it Schezwan Fried Rice, not for the faint hearted though. For a more authentic experience I would suggest trying either the Pot rice or the Bamboo shoot rice. The pot rice come in earthenware topped with mushrooms (you can skip if you don’t like that) vegetables and chicken if you would want to add. The bamboo shoot rice comes in a huge bamboo stick shaped wooden cylinder and waiter would take this fragrant rice out from the cylinder and serve it to you, steaming hot. If you love authentic Chinese sticky rice, both pot rice & bamboo shoot are great. 

For the main course,  I personally love the bland Chicken in Three Mushrooms, it’s intricately flavored with soy & the juices of the mushroom. For spice lovers there is Hong Kong Chicken, a red gravy with shallots, peppers and cashew nuts. There is also red cooked chicken again red gravy, it’s pretty spicy, with shallots and chopped chilly pieces. Note the red cooked usually comes with shredded chicken. If you’re not too much a fan of that you could ask for diced chicken instead.  Then there are the usual Hunan, Cantonese, black bean etc. 

For vegetarians there is the pure & heavenly Buddha’s Delight, a bland preparation of exotic vegetables like avocado,bamboo shoot, brocolli, peppers and water chestnuts in white sauce. Again it’s very intricately flavoured with garlic & vegetables. If you want it spicy you can also ask Johnny, he would happy suggest black bean sauce or schezwan style Buddha's Delight.

For noodles, there is the American Chopsuey, am not too fond of it usually but this one is less sweet. There is also Pan Fried Noodles, a combination of crispy noodles, soft noodle and vegetables and sprouts you could add meat to it if you may want.
On the side you could call for their Jasmin Tea. It helps keep the meal light and aids digestion.

For desert (usually I am stuffed with all the above) there is Honey Fried Noodles, or your choice of ice creams. What I suggest and what I have been doing since I was 10 is – 2 scoops of vanilla with chocolate sauce. If you not full don’t’ share it! If you are, offer it to the people around you (earned me some brownie points).

The pricing is moderate around 300 – 500 per head if you are a moderate eater.
All in all this place won’t disappoint you. If you hate the ‘Five Spice’ kind of Chinese and you’re not quite there with the authentic Royal China bit. This is the place for you.

Quick Tip: Celebrate an important family day here or take your grandparents (if they like Chinese that is) and request for Johnny to take you order (He usually does that if you arer sitting on the ground floor). Take it from me you won’t be disappointed

The Co-ordinates
·      Lings Pavilion, 19/21, Mahakavi Bhushan Marg, Behind Regal Cinema, Colaba, Mumbai
·         Phone: 22850023, 22850024, 22824533

Disclaimer: I have no personal association or partnership with anyone at Lings Pavilion. Nor am I going to get any monetary consideration of some sort after writing this review. The review is an unbiased account of my experience
(thought I should spell this out incase people thought I was being paid to write good things about this place. Let me tell you the owner of Lings Palace Mr. Baba Chang, a shrewd Chinese businessman, couldn’t care less who wrote what about his restaurant)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is China 1 The One? ......

Ch1na Restaurant

When we reached Infinity Mall in Andheri West and took a right from the signal, a decrepit road lead us to the precarious Morya Estate. A garbage dump greated us at the entrance, we took another right to enter the building where China 1, the latest addition to Andheri’s Chinese eateries, is located. 

As I enter the premise of Ch1na, I can’t help but be caught on by the contrast of the locality and this place. The spacious outer area of the restaurant is done up in a chic and elegant manner with lounge like seating areas and palm trees. The interior of the place was swanky as well. The décor of the restaurant seemed to be highly influenced by Michael Jackson’s famous number Black or White since the entire restaurant was adorned by either colour or both. From the murals on the walls to the cutlery to the upholstery all of it. Couldn’t help but imagine how a zebra would feel so much at home here!

The place was quite occupied even on a Wednesday, mostly by mademoiselles celebrating their few hours of freedom from domesticity with each other. Chatting up on everything from the upswing in the prices of onions to the latest Loius Vuitton patchwork bag. I feel quite fashionably as well as domestically enlightened after my luncheon thanks to my neighbours. Don’t get me wrong I don’t eavesdrop, they were a tad bit sonorous emphasizing a lot on the Hermes, Guccis and Jimmy Choos.

Getting down to the food, we opted for the buffet. Priced at Rs 470 (inclusive of taxes) with one drink a beer/ice tea/ freshlime soda, it was quite an attractive offer. We started with the soups – the Clear Chicken Soup with vegetables was a ‘knorr’ kind of thick broth which tasted sweet. Quite a letdown in the first go. However the thick spicy Corn Soup, a spicier cousin of the sweet corn was tasty.

In the appetizers, the spread for vegetarian was as good as the non-vegetarian. China 1 would earn a point for that since many of my vegetarian friends complain of being discriminated against and not having much choice. First there was the Spinach & Corn Fried Wantons. A fusion dish I presume, since it had cheese, nevertheless it was quite a savoury. I gobbled up plenty. Then was the Crispy Vegetables, batterfried vegetables tossed in soy sauce which also was an equal delight. The next were the Chinese Greens were brilliant with crunchy deliciously steamed vegetables tossed in soy sauce. In the non-vegetarian appetizers there was Chicken with Cahewnuts which was delectable. The juicy chicken woken fried with peppers cashews, spices and sesame oil was sapid. On the other hand the Fried Fish in Hot Bean was rubbery and didn’t seem fresh to me. The Crab in a sought of garlic red sauce although looked scrumptious was a letdown. It tasted stale.

The Chicken Dimsum was beautiful. Minced chicken and vegetables enveloped in translucent rice wraps. Succulent. The Prawn Dimsum and Vegetarian Dimsum were passable but no match to the chicken one. On the whole while the poultry and vegetarian dishes were palatable the sea food was unsavory and tasteless.

For the main dishes there Chicken in black bean sauce – mildly flavoured with garlic and peppers it went well with the corn fried rice. One thing I noticed however was that the quality of rice was not that great. The Hakka Noodles were Plain Jane nothing outstanding about it.

When it came to the desserts, there was an enormous spread from blueberry cheese cakes to chocolate soufflés, to chocolates fountains and brownies. However all except the fresh fruits were a humongous disappointment. The chocolate sauce from the Chocolate Fountain was syrupy and not thick. It tasted like cement with sugar (not that I have tasted cement but you get my point), the Choco Sticks to be had with the sauce was limp and stale. The Chocolate Brownies, I think were  for people suffering from diabetes with no trace  of sugar or any other taste. The fresh fruit spread was nice with kiwis, strawberries, melons, papayas and grapes but however couldn’t compensate much for overall dessert disappointment.

Verdict: The Food is a Mixbag, Hospitable Service, Good ambiance

So getting back to my question, Is China 1 the one? The one Chinese restaurant that appeases both the gourmand and the miser in you? The miser maybe but not the gourmand. Although the spread is value for money, my suggestion would be to skip it or go only for the vegetarian and poultry dishes. Don’t bother to tryout the sea food or the desserts. I see a huge compromise in quality on that front.

QuickTip: Take those uninvited relatives who you hate but have to entertain. After all its value for money!

The Co-ordinates:
Ch1na, G-05, Morya Landmark 1, Plot B-25, Off Link Road, Andheri (W), Mumbai
Landmark: Opp. Infinity Mall
Phone: 42723333

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Let There be Light...

Rays Café & Pizzeria

Nestled in one corner of Hill Road Bandra, Rays Café may just go unnoticed while you’re driving through Mumbai’s hip suburb and even hipper Hill Road. But don’t make that mistake because this namesake of New Yorks famous chain of pizzerias (Rays Original), is really worth it for those looking for a nice Italian supper.

Once you enter through the wooden gate and the façade you feel as if your transported to Italy more precisely Tuscany (not that I have been there in person, Discovery TLC  zindabad). The flooring is made of natural stones, the one’s you find in cathedrals, with wooden tables and chairs under the shade of huge umbrellas. There is also an air-conditioned section again characterized by white walls and wooden seating. Gives you the feel of those road side café’s in Italy (again TLC and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam)

Enough about the ambiance and the interiors will get right down to the main purpose of my visit – FOOD. Rays offers an amazing variety of pizzas in 9, 12 and 16 inches. And the best part about this place is that a limited selection of pizzas is also offered in Single Slices! Yes you heard me right for those of us who like eating a little bit of everything than just 4 pieces of the same pizza, this is the place. So I tried the Margherita which was excellent, just the perfect amount of the homemade of tomato sauce, cheese and sprinkled herbs on a thin base. My next was Barbeque Chicken, in Shania Twain’s words “that don’t impress me much”. I thought it was a bit sweet for barbeque. I also tried the the Rays Special, a pepperoni pizza, which was muchos  delicias! After slurping on it (yeah am quite a slop) I kissed my fingers. I wanted to kiss those of the chef as well. But my friends just rolled their eyes and asked me to behave!

Now am about to tell you what you must order if you are non-vegetarian –Weisswurst Sausages. German smoked pork sausages that are out of this world. Am not much of a fan of pork and hence I called for the Chicken Sausages but when my friends called the pork one’s and I tried  that, the chicken was damp squib. These pork sausages are mouthwatering and delicious and a must have at Rays.
Moving on to the pastas, the Linguni with Asparagus and cream is a delight for those who prefer white sauce pasta’s. You may want to add a little salt to it but otherwise its delicately flavoured with asparagus and cream, the right ‘kiss the chefs fingers’ blend. However the Chicken in Tomato Cream Penne  a bit drab. For the red pasts fans the Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato and Herbs is fiery with the generous amount of  chilly flakes and cooked in that right kind of home made arabiatta sauce.

There are a variety of salads to choose from including the Classic Ceasars and also the very Italian.  Insalate Capreseis a simple salad from the Italian region of Capri, made of sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil. But I am not a very Salad person so I did’nt try. Salads,I feel, are food for ruminating animals and not for humans who have better options like the ones I described the one above.

There is also sandwiches, burgers & hotdogs but by now me & accomplices were ready to hit the bed so none for us. They serve wine over the weekend – Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays.

Verdict: Good Food, Good Ambience, Service is a bit confused maybe because they have hired new staff.  The Damages: Rs. 500-600 per head(if you’re a moderate eater). Yes it’s a bit stiff on the pocket because of the 10% service charge. So don’t tip

Quick Tip: If you’re a guy, blindfold your girl/wife take her to Rays in the evening and get a table in the patio area (non air-conditioned), now would be the perfect weather for it. The moonlight, the breeze and Italian food would make for a perfect romantic date (yes I am a total sucker for Mills & Boons). If you’re a girl, ditch your guy and just take your best girl buddy (one who you would have married if she was a guy) and forget the diet for that day.

The Co-ordinates –
Rays Café & Pizzeria, 133 Hill Road, Gazebo House (Behind Godrej Nature's Basket), Bandra (W)
Mumbai, Maharashtra 400050
022 26451414
Timings: 12:00 PM to 11:00 PM

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