The Art of the East- Memories of China

Think of one of the most popular cuisines; Chinese cuisine is sure to pop into most people’s minds. You see them almost everywhere and that is a fact. They are given changes according to where they are found to suit people’s palate; Indian-ized, Western-ized. So much that at the end of the day you really have to ask yourself, “What does real Chinese food taste like? Have I ever had any?” Well let me assure you that in most cases the answer would be ‘No’! It was such with me till I walked into ‘Memories of China’ at Vivanta by Taj at MG Road.

 

We were greeted in by Murali Babu, the senior Restaurant Manager and he made our whole evening one of absolute pampering. I had to just think of something and it was served. The staff made you want to lounge, relax and they help you enjoy every nuance of the food and drinks served to you. The ambience was quietly elegant and had a chic charm. The gold leafed roofs, the shimmering white walls, the exquisitely engraved window panels; the clichéd idea that all Chinese restaurants were done in red and gold with elaborate fan decorating the wall was completely done away with. Wooden structures warmed the white and gold deco and the delicately designed modish deco did justice to the restaurant that saw influences of ‘The Paris of the East’; Shanghai.

 

We sat down and the mysteries of the East unfolded in front of our eyes. It was a true Odyssey into the best Chinese that I have ever savoured. Paired with some delicious Chardonnay which I was surprised to experience suited my dishes, every bite was sheer pleasure.

We started with the Amuse Bouche, an ensemble of honey chilly lotus stem, asparagus and black fungus, pan fried silken tofu with black bean dressing. Each section was so beautifully arranged that I almost felt sad to dig in; but dig in I did. This was followed by a Crab Meat soup that I saw my husband tasting with his eyes completely closed in delight and a hot and sour vegetable soup for me; properly thick, with the right tempering of the two flavours. The vegetables used really worked its magic on my taste-buds; the highest quality of ingredients that were so fresh that you could hear them crackle in freshness with each bite.

 

We tried a few different appetizers, but I will mention the Crackling spinach. Now this was a recipe I have tried unsuccessfully to master in the past and I was envious at the perfection with which it was cooked here. Chef Thomas personally came out to chat and explained the secret behind the recipe. This was an aspect of service I really enjoyed at Memories of China; personal attention which made all the difference to our evening. I saw the chef having a quick chat at every table and asking people for personal preferences in taste. How many times have I gone for a meal and struggled to order only to be left disappointed. I felt here that each dish was customized to my taste, and it was.

 

The main course was food made in heaven. I had the burnt garlic fried rice, mapo tofu, wok tossed string beans and spicy Schezwan noodles. The tofu was buttery and perfectly cooked. Juicy and full of the most amazing flavour while the beans were fresh and tender. But the Peking duck stole the show. I am vegetarian, but seeing the wonder on my husband’s face, I have to give points to it. The chef, Amar Daimari, prepared it in front of us and it was quite the spectacular moment of the evening. Having specialized in Cantonese and Schezwan cuisine, the deft artistic way he put the dish together was quite the sight. The duck, imported from Singapore, had been tempered and seasoned for a whole day. It was cut into tender slices and rolled in soft rice pancakes and served with fresh veggies and a sweet red bean sauce. Each slice of the duck had a crispy golden skin, but what amazed me was the sight of the inside, soft and tender and almost like butter. The other highlight on my husband’s plate was the stir fried king prawns and scallops in ginger oyster sauce.

 

And all this royal food was rounded off with chocolate mousse, baked cheese cake and Madeline’s. Perfectly crumbly pastry with soft, rich filling inside. The evening couldn’t have been any better. Great food can be an art that comes with perfection. But what makes Memories of China stand out is the magic they create with the ingredients at hand that is customized to suit their guests. A twist here and there and it is the most perfect morsel to have ever graced your mouth. The care to details and attention to guests was remarkable. I saw a lot of people sitting around and treating the place like their home. The repeat guests are here for one reason; to experience the truly remarkable evening that memories of China offers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Evening at Graze

There are many people who share my story; a life that is brimming with activities, travelling around, being busy behind the laptop all day, taking care of your home, taking care of your family and the list goes on. In between all this you find yourself craving for little time to relax, to sit back and enjoy the finer things in life and to be able to share this with someone you love. Like lot of other couples, Bart and I love to have an evening out every now and then. But we walked into Graze in Vivanta by Taj at M.G Road last night and we realized that we have been missing out on true dining experience all this while. All we have been doing is eating, not experiencing.

Graze has a very charming feel to it as you walk in. The warm colours of wood, the soft lights and the spectacular display of wine and fine scotches plead with you to sit down, unwind and enjoy an evening that is all about being pampered. You have a choice between cosy seating around the restaurant or of being the privileged audience to impressive live cooking at the interactive counter. We chose to sit here so that we could try and discover the secrets behind Graze’s amazing dishes.

And under the watchful eyes of the Restaurant Manager Ashvin Singh and the gifted chef Uday Nath our dining experience began. Rated amongst the Michelin star restaurants in the world, Graze is the only European restaurant in India. They promote real European cuisine and do not call themselves a Multi-cuisine restaurant. With a tagline that says, ‘The lighter side of European Cuisine’, we soon discovered why it was so.

When asked what people think of real European cuisine, it is astounding how many people have the idea that it is heavy; and without a question it cannot be argued that the ingredients going in are rich. Think of a creamy pasta sprinkled with parmesan or a rich truffle pastry dressed in its buttery glory; it isn’t an out of whack perception that you will find walking back to your vehicle difficult. But this is what Graze completely proves wrong. European food can be cooked in such a way that you feel light and sated after a multi-course meal. The quality of the ingredients served is so high, that they do not need to mask it with heavy sauces. Graze is one of the few restaurants I have eaten at where the sauce enhances the food and not drown it.

We were educated on the sous-vide technique of cooking by Chef Uday who talked about how the food is cooked in air-sealed plastic bags that are immersed in a water bath and cooked at low temperature for a long time. This ensures that each ingredient retains its fragrance and texture without shrinking and when served is juicy and a delight on the palate. Another tip I learnt yesterday is not too have too much going on in one plate. Two to three strong ingredients and all the necessary accompaniment to enhance flavour; this is where Graze differs from other restaurants. That they know how to create magic with the ingredients at hand. True artists in my opinion.

With the restaurant manager helping us pair our wine with food, I had an amazing glass of Chardonnay that was smooth without the acidic bite and Bart had a Pinot Gris which we were told would go well with our main courses.

Then the food magic began. Watching Chef Uday cook can give any self proclaimed cook a complex; stunningly artistic, maniacally clean and completely entertaining. He talked us through all the courses and explained what went in and what flavours to watch out for. Ashvin took us through how to pair the wine with the food; something we never experienced before where the chef and the wine expert tells you the right way to understand your meal. Two soups that were so creamy and frothy that I had to swoon and consider swapping Bart for the chef, the five spice poached figs with fresh greens and shaved Manchego cheese salad that was fresh, crisp with the best dressing that my palate has ever experienced, a main course of gnocchi that epitomized tender and was full of flavour, the sea bass imported from Chile that Bart claimed melted like butter in his mouth topped up with Crème Brulee Napoleon that had filo pastry floating like air on top of it and almonds stuffed into it. And to make it even better, we were presented with a second dessert of lemon tart with a Sabayon sauce. Tangy, crumbly and perfect.

We normally have evenings where in 45 minutes we eat our food and leave the restaurants. Restaurants these days seem to be waiting to get you off the table and bring the next guest in. But at Graze, they strive to create an experience where you take your time to savour the food, enjoy the wine and actually sit back and listen to the wonderful band live band that is there for your entertainment. Between your salad or appetizer and the main course, you are served a sorbet so that you get a break between the courses to take time and enjoy the company with you and around you. We sat there for two and a half hours; the longest we have sat at any restaurant. And it truly was an experience; from the food to the wine, presentation, ambience to the dedicated attention and care we were given. And all this done in an unobtrusive, friendly manner. One word to describe our evening- SPECTACULAR.

Think about the last time you have had such an evening experience. It isn’t too hard a task. Just make a reservation at Graze. And you can thank me for it later.

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A Lazy Sunday

In life we crave for things to happen; to be on the go, to be successful, to have excitement, to have something happen that will completely rock your world (in a good way though). But we forget that it is the moments in between when we stop to catch our breath and look around us at the others who are besides us in the race, that we create memories. So this post is about one of those slow-down days that I am going to look back and smile upon.

A crazy Friday night (Hobbes, full tight is sure right!!!), a narrow escape for Hobbes and Vikram, a busy Saturday morning, a tired from work Saturday night. Quite an eventful weekend and I was wondering what the one above (and the ones below) had in store for me on Sunday. Malik was down from Chennai but with a fever and headache and the morning sped away in between running around for medicines and worrying about temperature. Then the afternoon crept in with a million wake up calls to Hobbes(who played the part of being the stuffed toy instead of a tiger and refused to get up!). Plans to meet up for a late lunch with Teena, Hobbes and Vikram and I was on my way to Orange Peel leaving Malik behind to sleep for a while and then catch up with us.

Here I have to take a moment and talk about Vikram’s beautiful restaurant. I think getting together for meals is almost a festive occasion. Food taste good with good company and ambience and good food makes the ambience and company better (see the delicate connect between all the good things in life?). A tastefully done up place that is bright and sunny in the morning and glowing with a feeling of warmth and the relaxation we all crave for in the evening. Right from the glasses, to the white chairs throwing the lights of the candle around the place, this is one place you can come and sink into your comfort zone. And now I come to the food; good food is a boon. And to have the ability of whipping up creation definitely sees god’s hand at play. Vikram being the owner of Orange Peel and the chef had our sense buds reeling with one great dish after another accompanied by incredible cocktails and mocktails. The freshest of vegetables doused in the most aromatic mouthwatering sauces really set the mood for all of us. So for all of you out there looking for a place to go to in Bangalore, let Orange Peel be your pit stop.

Now that I have raved all about the place, let me get back to my thoughts on the slow moments. We did nothing exciting the whole day; saved no lives, didn’t dance till we dropped, didn’t climb any mountains. We sat around for 7 hours having the most inane conversation in the world. It was a table of 5 with no one talking the same topic, everyone jumping from one topic to another, all dazed and lost in their own world, but all really comfortable and relaxed with each other. These are the best times. To have people you are comfortable being quiet with, not minding being picked on, laughing at the silliest of things which no one else will find funny, sharing stuff in between that you generally don’t talk about, having a lazy day to remember when you are low or a bit out of sorts. So Vikram, thank you for sharing your beautiful place with us and keeping the conversation going , Hobbes – thank you for making my weekends fun and being such good company, Teena –  Thanks for being there to share all my good and bad times with and Malik – Thank you for coming all the way and for being you. Love you guys so much. And here’s to more lazy days ahead.

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