The Southern Barbarians

The Southern Barbarians are actually quite hospitable, once you can find them. Walking through the beautifully lit streets of the French Concession, the address for the Southern Barbarians led me to one of the innumerable plazas that dot Shanghai.

It was late by Shanghai standards. The hustle bustle on the streets was slowly dying away. The address took me to the a deserted but glittering Shanghai plaza or shopping arcade. There was no sign of the barbarians. I walked the length and the breath of the plaza but there was a very little sign of life. Right at the back of the plaza, in an alley that was much seedier than the rest of the plaza, there were three rows of chefs standing in attention and being lectured by what looked like their stern and serious leader. Their faces had a sincere expression with a hint of alarm. It looked like they were being given a dressing down, which required privacy and so I turned back. Walking around Shanghai, it is not uncommon to see employees standing in attention listening to their respective leaders. I have no idea what wisdom was being imparted but the whole scenario certainly looked like it was in a martial tradition.

I finally found the caretaker and showed him the address I had. He pointed me back in the direction of the lined up chef and so I had no choice to head back to the courtyard. As I was plucking up courage to interrupt the leader and ask him about the address, an angelic girl emerged from the dark shadows. She was unmistakably as tourist. It took a lot of effort to reach the Southern Barbarians. But it was all worth it.

Southern Barbarians specialise in the cuisine from Yunnan. Yunnan is one of the southern most provinces of China and borders Burma, Vietnam and Laos. The vegetarian component in the menu was remarkable. I orders spicy yunanese roots against the advice of the waiter. The roots very crunchy with a slight hint of woodiness. They were certainly spicy and very refreshing to eat. Next came pomegranate flowers with garlic chives. I had never imagined that pomegranate flowers could be so tasty. The flowers very green and crunchy. They had been very lightly sautéed. The result was pure bliss. The meal was finished off with a generous portion of a wild mushroom hotpot. The mushrooms were plump and varied and the hotpot hot and comforting. It was a bit on the bland side allowing me to fully appreciate the variety of wild mushrooms in the hotpot.

Details:
Southern Barbarians
2F Area E
56 Life Art Space 169 Jinxian Lu
near Maoming Nanlu
Shanghai
Tel.: 1362 1797 634

Lake Palace Hotel

There are romantic places in the world. And then there is Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur. Emerging from the Pichola Lake like a ghostly apparition, the brilliantly white summer palace for the rulers of the Mewar dynasty is sumptuous in its offering. To add to the mystique, the hotel is only accessible by boats. It is built on a natural island, which is now entirely covered by the palace. From afar, it looks like the the palace is just floating in the Lake.

We went there on a really dark moonless wet night. There rain was like a fine mist in the air and the lake was brimming with water. As we approached the Palace on the boat, palace seemed to emerge from the dark waters of Lake Pichola. Flowing curtains in the window, subdued light in the courtyard and a restrained sense of opulence. Rivulets snaking along the walls of the palace refreshing in the usually oppressive desert heat of Rajasthan.

The palace was restored and converted into a luxury hotel in 1971. The Taj group runs a really exclusive hotel in the palace now. The hotel is as luxurious on the inside as beautiful it is on the outside. There are two restaurants, one for Indian cuisine and the other for multi-cuisine. The food is not exceptional but the ambience is fantastic. We ate at Jharokha, the multi-cuisine restaurants with a fantastic view of the lake. The service was polite and the food well presented.

In terms of ambience, it is very difficult to beat the Lake Palace Hotel. As one would expect, it is expensive. But, I think it is worth an occasional splurge.

Airport

At the Pudong Airport in Shangai, waiting for a delayed Air India flight and having my Kung Pao chicken. The airport like the city itself is a paragon of excellence. Free wifi and good food at the airport, what else could on ask for.

Marchés Folkloriques in Vevey

It was earlish by my standards. I was skimming inches above Lac Leman’s (Lake Geneva to the philistines) enigmatically blue waters in an immaculately clean Swiss local train, wondering about my destination. It was a small village called Vevey on the shores of Lac Leman. Vevey was where Charlie Chaplin spent his last days. There is the famous Charlie Chaplin statue that I knew I would not be able to resist getting myself photographed besides it. But, I was not headed to this tranquil Swiss village to either see the Charlie Chaplin statue or to be in the presence of the table Jean-Jacques Rousseau used to eat at. I was there to experience the Marchés Folkloriques, a Saturday village market with a difference.

By the time I got there it was almost 11 AM. Hemmed between the calm glistening water of Lac Leman and a muscular neo-classical structure vaguely reminiscent of the pantheon, replete with the obligatory Corinthian columns, was a bustling village market. Between the stalls of fresh produces, swaying joyfully to the sounds of a band, surprisingly ebullient for the time of the day, were scores of people with wine glasses in their hands. What happens when fresh produces meets the mellow wine before noon cannot be described – it can only be experienced.

The deal is that you have to buy yourself a glass. And then you can refill the glass from the stalls of local wine producers till you are in a position to ask for refills. Chasselas is the most common grape grown in the area. Given my fondness for vin blanc, I stuck to the golden blancs. And they were beautifully paired up with soft and juicy plums from the market.

Numerous vineyards line the northern shores of Lac Leman from Lausanne to Montreux. Given the steep slopes, I was reliably told that the grapes get double sun, the direct as well as the reflected sun from the lake. The wines were on the drier side with lots of fruity tones. For me, the common sensation was a strong after taste of honey. It is a fantastic experience to sit on the stairs of the 200 year old La Grenette, the aforementioned Pantheon like structure and sip wine basking in the glory of the double sun.

The folkloric markets is held on Tuesday and Saturday mornings from second week of July to the end of August. It starts at about 10 in the morning and gets over at 1 in the afternoon. The village of Vevey is easily accessible by trains from Lausanne and Montreux.

Dishoom Dishoom in St Martins Lane

So, what does Dishoom means. It is actually a onomatopoeiac word, which is a clever name for the kind of restaurant Dhishoom aspires to be. Dishoom-dishoom is the sound of people hitting each other in Indian movies. Every physical blow is accompanied with the sound dishoom. This expression represents the panache the restaurant aspires to, which is far far away from reticence even the most glamourous Indian restaurants have had in expressing their Indianess.

When we walked in through the door on a summer evening, the place was buzzing with energy. The first thing that struck me was that a large group of people on a table were drinking rose in chai glasses. So, unlike the Indian restaurants of yesteryears, here was a restaurant with the confidence to serve wine in the petite conical glasses in stead of the usual rounded goblets. These tea glasses are ubiquitous in India. The whole country recharges on the hour across the country with espresso like sweet milky thick tea shots served in these petite glasses. Watching the rose wine swishing around in the these glasses was unusual, yet made perfect sense for a place that does not shy away from its identity.

Dishoom is modelled on the irani cafes in Mumbai. These cafes were set up by the 19th century Iranian immigrants and were the Indian equivalent of the Viennese cafes. These cafes are very businesslike with rules clearly laid out near the entrance. Nissim Ezekiel, the eminent Indian poet has famously chronicled the instruction from his favourite irani cafe in Mumbai in a poem. A truncated version of this poem can be found near the entrance of Dishoom. The rules are at one level practical and businesslike – “no talking to the cashier”, “no credit” and “no change” and at another level start intruding in the moral space – “No discussing gambling”, “No talking loud” and “No telephone”. The institutional economist in me has a lot to say about this. People were certainly talking loudly and the resturant staff were very friendly. So these were de jure and not de facto rules.

We were taken in by the place even before we started eating. The food was great. We had Bombay Sausages (£3.90) to start with. The sausages were sauteed with onions and tomatoes. Simple yet very very tasty. This was actually the tastiest thing on the menu. Next came Lamb Boti Kebabs (£7.20). They were nice but my quibble would be that boti kebabs are best done with meat on the bone, whereas here the kebabs were chunks of boneless meats, which were slightly on the dry side. Having said that, the lamb pieces were chunky, well marinanted and grilled to perfection. We followed it up with Chicken Berry Biryani (£7.50), a take on the famous berry pulaos of the Irani cafes. The biryani was done in a pot sealed with atta that was opened on the table in front of us – steam aroma and all that. The chicken was done perfectly and had the right amount of the masala yoghurty marinade sticking to it. The rice was fluffy and aromatic. The most important thing in a berry palao is the berries and I must say that the berries had the perfect sweet and sour taste, which perfectly complemented the rice and chicken. We also had the house black dal (£4.50) which was done very well even if it was a tad expensive for the quantity. The only thing that disappointed us were the lassis. They lassis were diluted and really bland. Nothing like the real thing. All in all a fantastic experience.

Dishoom
12 Upper St Martins Lane
London WC2H 9FB
020 7420 9320

Haozhan

I have wanted to visit Haozhan for a very long time. Its claims are tall – modern oriental dinning experience. There is certainly something different here. The dishes are tasty and well done. But, for some reason, everything is very very unhealthy, doused in oil. I must admit that after a long summers day of sipping wine, bubbly and pimms, I really enjoyed it. Though, I have feeling that I may hesitate to go back there soon.
We had soft crab shells and spicy quail for starters. For mains, we had mongolian beef fillet curry and  schezwan roast duck. The meat was tender and there was plenty of flavour. If only they could douse it with less oil …
8 Gerrard Street
London W1D 5PJ
020 7434 3838

Tierra Brindisa

A delightful place with a bistro feel, serving exquisite tapas in Soho. We had duck salad with dandelion, watercress, hazelnuts and beetroot vinaigrette, warm squid salad with saffron potatoes, piquillo peppers and parsley, crispy pork belly, olive oil mashed potatoes with pimenton de la vera, lamb chops and finished with an orange sorbet and pistachio ice-cream. Excellent! The food is delicate, yet lively. Fresh ingredients and done to perfection. The wine list more than sufficient and not too pricey. We were able to get a sofas on the pavement, which is the best seat in the restaurant. Every one that went by looked at our food with envy, which may have added a notch to the experience. Highly recommended. Continue reading

A Greek Gem in Fitzrovia

Ate at Andreas on Monday evening. It was balmy and we sat on table on the pavement. For starters, we had DolmathesPastourma (char-grilled beef sausages, marinated in red wine) and Keftethes (meatballs of lamb, onions, parsley, herbs and seasoning), each at a fiver a piece. The service was brilliant and attentive. The food was fresh and well prepared. For mains I had a Kleftiko, which was juicy, succulent and perfectly well done. At 15 quid, fair value for money and much better than the usual fare you get in London. The house was more than adequate at 5 quid. A very pleasant way to spend a summer evening in London.

Andreas Restaurant
40 Charlotte Street
London W1T 2NW
Map

Le Fumoir

An excellent upmarket bistro at the eastern end of Louvre. If you get a window seat, you can see the Claude Perrault’s Colonnade from the windows. The wine list is decent starting from 5 euro. Link to the lunch Menu Card.
We had the Fines Tranches De Boeuf Mariné (thin slices of marinated beef) and Harengs (Matjes) Et Concombre À La Crème (herrings marinated in xérès and served on a spiced bread with creamed cucumber) to start with. For the main course we had Poisson Du Jour and Risotto Aux Girolles, Abricot Et Verveine (wild mushrooms risotto with apricot and verbena). We finished with a Assiette De 3 Fromages and Fraises Marinées Aux Épices Et Granité Au Rhum (strawberries marinated in spices with a rhum sherbet). Blissful.
6 Rue de l’amiral Coligny  75001  Paris
Tel: 01 42 92 00 24