India has a lot of concepts that cater to allowing food lovers to sample and dine at fine dine restaurants at a much more reasonable cost. The Taste Festivals go one step ahead with live demos, bucket loads of food and lots of fun. 2012 saw Taste Festivals in 16 cities; and this year Mumbai was added to the list. The festival hit off with a preview to the restaurants that would be showcasing their delicacies and signature dishes at the fest. So media persons were taken on a ‘Taste Safari’ one evening in early February and yours truly was a part of it (from my magazine, of course)! We visited Arola at JW Marriot for entrees, Kofuku at Bandra for some sumptuous sushi and Japanese cuisine, China House at the Grand Hyatt for the main course and Prego at Westin Goregaon for dessert. We got to meet with the chefs and sample the food. A similar troupe set off to restaurants from South Mumbai, which included Koh at The Intercontinental Marine Drive, Smokehouse Deli, Olive Bar and Kitchen, etc. It was so cool! The Taste of Mumbai was to take place later that month but was postponed to the same dates in March due to the labour strike. Nonetheless, the buzz had been created and people were left literally salivating for the festival to start.
The festival was divided into 3 parts for the public. After paying quite a hefty fee, one had to buy a prepaid American Express gift card (the main sponsor) to be able to spend on the reasonably priced food made freshly available by the restaurants. The ‘Taste Theatre’ was a hub filled with live demo sessions by top chefs of the industry and the Social Kitchen was a fun centre with Masterchef cookoffs and the likes. There was a Farmer’s Market with great organic and regular produce, an artisanal bakery (The Baker’s Dozen) and some pottery.
The food served at the restaurants at the periphery of all the activity was simply amazing. I had some perfectly cooked Lamb Osso Buco from Olive Bar and Kitchen with the most amazing saffron risotto; Prego’s Garetto de Agnello — lamb shanks with saffron risotto — only beat it on tenderness. Prego also dished up the most flavourful Spaghetti Aglio Olio in a vegetarian (with cherry tomatoes) or seafood (with clams and prawns) version. I loved both and happily ate it all! Their tiramisu too was a rave. I’m not big on coffee or alcohol, but this one was simply divine. Smokehouse Deli’s Citrus Prawn Tempura and Spinach Ricotta Ravioli were flavourful, with the former having the perfect crunch and citrusy-chilli flavour.
I’ve never had Spanish food, but Arola (from JW Marriot) opened my eyes with the Patatas Bravas (just warms your insides) made from confit potato cylinders and then filled with a special tomato sauce and garlic aioli, garlic prawns and chicken salsifies (I’m in love with balsamic vinegar!).
But, all this is pretty normal fare when we compare it to what came next. Graffiti is a restaurant in New York run by a Mumbaiya Parsi Chef Jehangir Mehta — a runner up of the Next Iron Chef 2009. His signature dish was a Goat’s Cheese pizza that was just divine. Mumbaiya Khari (or puff pastry) generously lathered with soft goat’s cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and truffle was, well (pun intended) a riot of flavours, and textures, in my mouth. Compare the crustiness of the pastry with the soft cheese and chewy mushrooms and voila, while it isn’t authentically a pizza, who’d want to be a purist when this concoction is in front of them.
If it was possible, something else completely overshadowed Mehta’s pizza. And, that was Abhijeet Saha’s, pioneer of molecular gastronomy in India, offerings at Caperberry. I never had much respect for the slivers of molecular gastronomy that I’d seen on Masterchef Australia. But, then, I’d never really experienced it, so who was I to judge? Caperberry was a revelation. On the menu were three seemingly simple dishes — Assorted Spherification, Caluflower Espuma, and The Stuffed Morel. I wasn’t excited by the name of the first, so simply ordered the stuffed morel. But, then I saw three spoons holding egg yolk like things in soup spoons and was promptly intrigued enough to order it. So, while the morel and espuma were simply amazing in terms of science, flavour and texture, I’m just going to talk about the spherification. The three spoons had three flavours — tamarind and spice, mango and feta, and a mozzarella and balsamic reduction. I was asked to eat it in the reverse order according to the density of flavours, and, wow! As soon as you take a spoonful, what enters your mouth is a slimyish substance with a membrane. But then as you apply a little pressure with your tongue, the whole thing simply explodes in your mouth filling it with myriad flavours before you know what hit you! And, there, just then, is when I fell in love with molecular gastronomy.
Oh! I also won a cookbook my Italian ‘Diva’ chef Ritu Dalmia from HT Cafe, duly signed by the chef herself, and can’t wait to try it out.
Overall, I think the Taste Festivals are a great platform to bring fine dining and good food into the fore front. Moreover, the unsung heroes of restaurants and kitchens — the chefs — get some spotlight and are celebrated for their sheer talent and skills. Unfortunately, this post will be too long if I go into anymore detail. But all I can say is visit the next one and experience the magic for yourself. I, for one, can’t wait!