A quiet dinner for two

I was back from China, and The Family was missing all the Chinese food she hadn’t eaten. So we decided to compensate with a visit to a new pan-Asian restaurant in one of the by-lanes of Colaba. Pan-Asian is a silly name because it is based on a “race” classification in the US which seems to lump together Malays and Koreans, among others. To be more accurate this restaurant served modern food influences by countries to the east of India.

The shrimp roll to start was a choice that we were very happy with. The steamed rolls with shrimps and fresh veggies rolled in a thin chapati made with rice flour came with a peanut and soya sauce options, and shavings of deep fried onions and garlic on the plate. The peanut sauce was an interesting combination, heavy, without hiding the freshness of the roll.

The cocktails were really exciting. The Family made the most interesting choice: a margarita infused with rice kanji. We had a sea bass for the mains. The little dab of green that you see on it turned out to be a very flavourful coriander based sauce. This was light and perfect as the major protein. The dessert was the amazing dish you see in the featured photo: a lemon tart topped with black sesame ice cream, black and white sesame wafers and little shavings of almonds. The food will bring us back to this small, quiet, and intimate place.

Güllaç, Baklava and Ekmek Kadayifi

When we planned to visit Turkey during the month of Ramazan, one of the things we looked forward to was the food. “There’s bound to be special food that’s only made in this month,” The Family told me. So when we finished our dinner on the second of the month, we asked the friendly waiter about special Ramazan sweets. That’s how we encountered Güllaç (pronounced guellash). We were too full to try one of these enormous helpings that evening (featured photo). When we did later, we were charmed by the thin layered pastry, filled with crushed nuts and pomegranate and oozing milk. The food of Ramazan is usually very traditional, so Güllaç is probably close to the origins of Turkish food.

Our evening’s guide through the esoteric world of Turkish sweets led us to the counter where varieties of sweets were on display. Another speciality of Ramazan, we were told, is the Ekmek Kadayifi. Ekmek is Turkish for bread, and the name of this dish would translate to bread pudding. It is essentially bread soaked in syrup and topped off with clotted cream (called kaymak). What made it special? Perhaps only a cultural connection with this month. I understand that the Id which signals the end of Ramazan is celebrated as Seker Bayrami, a time when plates full of sweets are served to family and friends. The simple Ekmek Kadayifi finds a place on this plate.

The cafe was full of Turkish families at their Iftari dinner. The children were happy at this treat at the end of a long and stressful day. Many of them ended their meals with Güllaç or Ekmek Kadayifi, but a significant fraction also had the perennial favourite, baklava, on their table. Baklava was another syrup soaked delight that I would get to love a little too much. After the trip I had to work hard to shed a couple of kilos which I attribute entirely to these nut-filled syrupy pastries.

Breakfast of Champions

When I was young, so much younger than today, I wouldn’t mind having a stiff drink in the morning. Now those days are gone and I’m happy to spend an evening in a nice cozy table for two next to a nice well-lit bar trying to choose from a long menu of options. I selected something that I could stick with through an evening.

When we’d finished dinner, The Family asked “Dessert?” I said I could take a spoon or two from whatever she ordered. What we got was a plate which reminded me of breakfast. It wasn’t really a sunny side up surrounded by scrambled egg, as you might have guessed. The central “egg yolk” is mango, with a layer of ice cream below it. The scrambled egg is custard “fried” in liquid nitrogen, and the “greens” are pistachio. It was served up with wonderful drama, with the server breaking eggshells filled with custard on to a frying pan, then dropping liquid nitrogen over it while moving it with an egg whisk. Brilliant, and it tasted good too. The Family said “That’s more than a couple of spoonfuls you’re taking, you know.”

Wasabi and Chocolate, Raspberry and Nitrogen

A long lunch with friends was interrupted by an unasked for little dish. A crescent shaped bowl, with a dab of dark red, immersed in a dense fog. This was a visually arresting little thing between courses. What was it? A raspberry sorbet served over a plate with a drop of liquid nitrogen. Immense drama, and a delightful palate freshener. I was won over.

Later we shared a plate of chocolate tart. I don’t usually want an ice cream in such a dessert, because I want to concentrate on the flavour of the chocolate. The chocolate was nice and bitter. The Family said “Try the ice cream.” I did. What was it? That interesting flavour? Wasabi! And the sauce under the whole thing was sour mango. Little bits of candied ginger with it all. A dessert, but full of unexpected flavour. Such a wonderful accompaniment to the conversation.

A month’s worth of desserts

The cheesecake which you see above came close to being my favourite sweet of the month. The old-fashioned Parle-G biscuits around it gave a nice crunch to the dish. The sauce at the bottom of the dish was a rabdi which did little jiggs on your tongue. The Gems on the plate looked nice, but I couldn’t imagine they would do anything to the taste, so I let the secret sharers take them away. A lovely retro-modern dessert, which I wouldn’t mind eating again. This was The Family’s favourite of the month.

A working trip to Odisha wouldn’t be complete without digging into chhanapoda. This is lightly sweetened chhana bunged into a hot oven until it becomes crusty. It can be lightly dusted with cinnamon, or not. I like it either way. It doesn’t last more than a day, so I spent my youth hearing about it without ever eating it. It was not so far back, on my first visit to Odisha, that I finally tasted it. I can’t do without it once in a couple of years.

This is a kairi tart to beat all kairi sweets from your local canteen. The taste is amazingly tart on the tongue, with an aftertaste of sweet. The mango flavour suffuses the dish. The salt, the light sprinkling of red chili powder, and the crisp pastry all go so well together, that The Family took a photo of me grinning loopily after finishing this. This was definitely the dessert of the month for me, and the runner up for The Family.

This was a nice chocolate sweet which wasn’t very inventive. Good cooking, nice presentation; just the thing to have with two nieces who are both chocolate fanatics. I wouldn’t mind having it again when I’m ahead of the game in terms of calories.

What a lovely presentation for a coffee mousse! It is billed as a hoity-toity Kerala coffee, sweetened with jaggery and accompanied by banana fritters served on a banana leaf. It is just coffee mousse with banana fritters, but a nice end to a meal. I liked the fact that it was served in a coconut shell. And I loved the plate it came on.

The enumeration of the month’s best wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the mouth freshener. It came in this complicated stand which holds lollipops filled with Bailey’s. This is undoubtedly the most interesting digestif that I’ve had in recent times.