Food

The best restaurant in Britain?

Gymkhana

A few months back, The Guardian ran an article on this Mayfair joint called Gymkhana, which somehow was interesting and infuriating in equal measure. For starters (no pun intended), the place supposedly served food family-style, the food itself being of a peculiarly gutsy variety. Firstly, the restaurant in question has as strong a Colonial hangover as any I have ever seen. Muted lighting, oak panels, stuffed animals, state-of-art daguerrotypes and dapper waiters (whose sartorial styles were at least a few notches above mine). Hardly my idea of a family-style dinner (but perhaps I am just being a pleb). Secondly, food ‘cannot’ be gutsy. A chef can be gutsy, say, if he serves up tripe (of the figurative variety), a customer can be gutsy if he partakes a course which plainly appears to be tripe, the whole tripe and nothing but the tripe. However, the tripe in itself cannot ever be gutsy, much in the same way as a murgh malai can never be morose or a seekh kabab of a studious temperament (or I can never be a food critic)! However, as usual, I digress. Coming back to Gymkhana, I just have have two words of advice if you are in London: go there. I have been to a fair number of Indian restaurants this neck of the woods, from Lahore Kebab House to Punjab to Dishoom. Gymkhana stands alone – I have frankly never had better Indian food outside of India (not even in good old Dubai). If you do go there, I would highly recommend its Muntjac Biryani and Ajwani Salmon Tikka. If you are veggie, fret not – it does a mean dal and paneer as well. My personal favourite though is the humble raita. With a sprig of mint, a few pomegranate seeds, a sprinkle of black salt, and curd beaten to just the right consistency, ’tis the stuff to compose culinary sonnets in the honour of! Also, if you one of those true-blue food aficionados / ranking fanatics / show-offs, these chaps were awarded a Michelin star, I think this October. For all that jazz though, the restaurant is quite reasonably priced – it has a brilliant early-evening four-course selection priced at around 25 quid and the quantity is almost enough for two reasonably-sized appetites! Best restaurant in Britain? At least amongst the ones I have been to. Tick.

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Of Food and Festivals

When I was a child growing up in Doon, Diwali was THE festival. Dusshehra might have meant assorted pyrotechnics involving a 30-ft ten-headed effigy of Ravana (and his unfortunate cohorts) at the Brigade Ground; Holi probably took the cake for all-round revelry; while Christmas-time meant jingles, and carols, and cakes, and general chhutti from studies and whatnot! But, Diwali was, well, in a league of its own. The scene changed a fair bit when I moved to Cal though. There ‘twas the Durga Puja. Period.

I’ve always thought there is something about India which is instinctively festival-friendly. Think colour, think passion (hell, I sound like Javier Moro), think general vela-giri. Heaven knows we as a country have enough issues to drive us up the wall. And the Gods must have said to themselves, ah, well, lets cut these chaps some slack, shall we. And that’s the thing about festivals, you forget the drudgery of your daily lives, you smile for no discernible reason, and you just feel bloody festive 🙂

When I left India, I really didn’t expect to see stuff like that again. Alrite, there is Christmas here, but there is also probably some upper limit to your festivity-quotient when yer body is trying to choose between frostbite on one hand and a chilblain on the other. And the Brit version of Diwali is Guy Fawkes Day. ‘Nuff said.

What I certainly did not expect was to have my first Onam in the heart of London.

The Indian YMCA might have its faults. Its probably a tad on the costlier side, it has this smashing snooker table locked up inside a room, it has an 8:30 pm dinner curfew time which is bloody early, and we could probably also do with a lift which breaks down a little less frequently. That being said, there are more than a few things it does pretty well. The event alluded to above comes in the latter category for sure.

There was Rangoli, there were ornate candle-stands, there were banana-leaf plates and then, there was proper authentic Onam cuisine, the works basically. And from what I was told, there were more people inside the YMCA dining hall since, well, probably Onam last year 🙂 Most importantly, we did not have any utensils. Had kinda forgotten how good it felt to eat that way!

For your viewing pleasure, I attach the menu below:

Also, just to rub it in, the food was superlative. People who know me would tell you of the contempt in which I generally hold vegetarian food. I gobbled it all up. Some of it was even decidedly squishy. (There were no brinjals though, or so I think!) My personal favourite though was this ultra-tangy ginger concoction called inzupulli; followed closely by kuttukurry.

Credit for all the magnificent items cooked go to Rashid and the rest of the gang at Indian YMCA.

Special notes of mention also go to Jose, Tintin, the Jacobean, Sharry and RKC who did a stellar job in serving through out the evening. A further note of mention for RKC who served the servers themselves and one other git who landed just in time for the spread.

P.S. In case yer interested, Raga apparently does the same spread. Some designated day of the week. For about 32 quid.

Of Churches and Burritos

Haven’t blogged in like, ages.

Somehow, I don’t think I have a taste for burritos. Calamari though, is an entirely different matter.

Had gone down to Greenwich yesterday. Which, in my considered opinion, is one of the loveliest areas in/around London. I also kinda figured out why the Lightning-Man is so reluctant to leave that place 🙂

Got my tennis racket re-stringed. Had busted it while playing against the Architect. There happens to be this shop in the upper reaches of London called Gefen Sports. Just off Queen’s Park. Which deals almost exclusively in racket sports. And the chaps who man the store are exceedingly nice and watch IPL on TV. All of which is much good 🙂 Not too mention the fact that I think I got a pretty good deal with my strings as well.

Had recently gone for the evening service at All Souls, Langham Place with the Jacobean. ‘Twas beautiful. For a moment, I thought I was back in school (doosrawala).

Had out first NUJS London Reunion thingie about a week back. Some enterprising sorts even made it out down from Oxford to attend this gig. Some non-enterprising sorts didn’t even make it down from London 🙂 Which was kinda sad. For Maida has this amazing dish called Chicken Tai Pai. And, that, is just friggin’ awesome.

Had gone gallivanting in Camden when Yellow Bags had come down to London. Its essentially like a bigger, more psychedelic version of Portobello market. With lots of tattoo artists. And some dirt-cheap basement-rate bargains. Not bad at all.  

Go. See. I Am Love. Or lo sono l’amore. This is probably as European a movie as they come. Lush colours, ridiculously awesome cinematography, cult camera angles, the works essentially. But then, that is precisely what has been the bane of European Cinema for so long. These auteurs tend to get so carried away by the brilliance of their art and technique that they forget that there is somebody else who would be watching their product. Pithily put, form often trumps substance 🙂 And even here, while walking out of Cineworld, I heard at least a few people go on about how they couldn’t make head or tail of this flick. In this case however, I’d beg to differ. And Tilda Swinton is amazing.

I have a new favourite piece in classical music now. Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor by Vivaldi. Watched it being performed by the Belmont Ensemble at St Martin-in-the-Fields last night. Much, much good. Dunno if you will find this on Youtube, but probably worth a shot.

What I know, you should find on Youtube, is another track this piece reminded me of; Building a Family by Mark Isham. Come to think of it, I don’t think its that similar. Or perhaps, at all similar. But then, you really don’t have any control over the stuff yer reminded of, do you. And especially, when the ‘stuff’ in question is as unquestionably sublime as this!    

Go on, don’t be shy, google it. You can thank me afterwards 🙂

A worm, eaten as a delicacy

After much deliberation and heartburn, I have finally decided to activate the WordPress app for Facebook [Yeah, I know, ultra-cheap publicity gimmick] Turns out there are a surprising number of people, who want to stay in touch with a git like me and kinda remain in the loop as to the various antics I might be upto. Which might be a bit redundant actually, considering that my life, as I had cause to remark recently, “is nothing but work and laundry”. 

Ergo, or perhaps, yet, FB app it is.

Go, see The Blind Side if you haven’t caugh it yet. Highly, highly recommended. Great performances, brilliant background score and an OST which I plan on getting my hands on soon. And of course, Sandra Bullock in an Oscar-winning role. Also, I don’t know why, but Big Mike reminded me so much of Forest Whitaker. Mind you though, the Travolta-starring Phenomenon-wala Whitaker, and not that McAvoy-starring psychotic despot-wala version.

Can’t say so much about Shutter Island though. The one thing which I can say, is that this must be one of those ultra-rare instances, where a cinematic adaptation turns out to be so much better than the original product. Decidedly so; Lehane’s novel was err, umm, slightly iffy to put it mildly. And just by the way, either there was something wrong with the Cineworld I had gone to, or the editing was so bloody chopped off , that a sous-sushi-chef might very well have been at the helm of affairs.

Sous-sushi-chef, aah, always wanted to use that in a sentence somewhere. Well, always, as in, since the moment I thought it up, which was roughly 30 secs back. Much, much good 🙂   

Had been playing tennis with The Architect yesterday. Which was good. I busted my tennis strings though, which wasn’t all that good. Re-stringing probably costs a bomb here. Either that, or it might be time to go Lillywhites ahoy!

Had gone to Foyles recently. As should you. As should any one else. As should the whole world. For a bookshop with a wikipedia entry like this can be no ordinary bookshop. Also went generally rummaging around in the vicinity of Tottenham Court Road, and discovered quite a few places which ain’t too bad themselves either. Next stop, perhaps next week, is this cult bookshop opposite Old Vic off Waterloo.

I thought I always knew what would be the first book I’d get out of India. I didn’t get that book.  

Had possibly, what might pass for our first NUJS batch outing here in London a few days back. The Power Couple were hosting it. Snag and Ms. Steinbeck were fashionably late. The One with ‘Em Stevie Wonder jokes, spent something like two-and-a half hours trying to figure out the way to the Power Couple’s pad. She did arrive eventually though. I though, would have been dot on time. Well, would have been, if the Tea-Boy hadn’t kept me waiting for something like half an hour at the Bank DLR. I would have probably pummelled him in other circumstances, but thankfully (for him) had a Peter Carey for company, and was feeling generally charitable towards the world around me.

But, as usual, I digress. Coming back to the batch thingie. Good, good fun. Scintillating conversation, topics ranging from Govinda flicks to abstract art, from theorizing on why people get divorced in UK, to attempting to decode that cipher called Lady Gaga; some cheap digs, some more; thoda sa PC (woh doosra wala, and that too only towards the beginning, mind you); some decidedly foot-in-the-mouth moments; a phone call to you-know-who in re you-know-what (heh), and ofcourse, glasses upon glasses of absolutely stud mango lassi. And lest I forget, a honourable note of mention goes to Mr PC who makes these friggin awesome gobi ke parathe. I believe Ms. PC doesn’t cook 🙂

You should check this link out. Was sent across to me by the Mayan. The man, for all his faults, does do something useful once in a while.

A coberra is apparently, a worm, eaten as a delicacy. So saith the novel, I am currently reading. Reminds me of the time, when I had gone along with the Robot and the Skulker to the Chinese Breakfast place at Poddar Court, and where the Skulker, in a spirit of reassurance and calm, had told a nice, middled-aged lady harbouring suspicions about our abilities to imbibe certain non-tradtional meatforms, “Hum Sab Kucch Khata Hai” 🙂

FIP, Whither Art Thou??

Kinda miss the chap’s blog. The answer to that question though, is writing a book. Or rather, that statement should be in the past tense; the book’s already been written. The Gamechangers, if yer so interested. And which, in keeping with the abiding tradition of publication sleight of hand, has its release perfectly timed to cash in on all the IPL hoopla. And which should also mean a hefty bonus or two for the editors in question. Don’t think I’d want to read the book though. 

Ancient Hindu tradition has it that there are four phases to human life; Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and SanyasaI though, am of the sincere opinion that the sages and the powers-that-used-to-be missed out on enunciating a fifth, and possibly, the most important phase of ’em all; Laundry. There is a school of thought which posits that other religions like Jainism and Buddhism evolved primarily as a reaction to such lax identificatory paradigms as prevalent in Hinduism. The true trailblazers in this respect were/are ofcourse, the Digambar Jains.

Crawford’s sells this small pack of custard creams for 59p. Absolutely love ’em. For one particular reasons. Back at law school, we used to have this entire array of shacks outside our side gate. And they basically used to sell only two, no, make it three, things of note; Dim-wala Maggi (mentioned in passing here), Kismis Bars (which are bloody brilliant, and which I’ll probably blog about, along with Pudina Chips and Phantom Cigs sometime later), and finally Parle-G creams priced at some 5 bucks a packet.

These creams, if memory serves me correctly, used to come in flavours like orange, pineapple and elaichi. And used to be bloody awesome. Many must there have been days when I used to wake up a min or so before the classes begun and had to rush pell-mell into the acad block, or for that matter, those days when there used to be something shady for breakfast (which to be fair, happened only on those glorious occasions we used to be served uttapam. And a brief digression here: Imagine. Imagine, waking up, for the first time in weeks nay, months, in time for breakfast. And then Imagine, being served, but with what, Uttapam @#&%). ‘Twas then, that these Parle-G creams used to come into their own. And by God, they were a lifesaver. I might not get Parle-G in London. But, Crawford’s ain’t too bad either.

Was watching Two and a Half Men yesterday. To be honest, its a bit like Two and a Three-Quarters now. Ultra-weird.

And now a word about food. And related follies. Had fried squid yesterday. At this place called Tai Won Mein in Greenwich. Snag’s b’day celebrations. The Soccer-Man and Ms. Steinbeck were there as well. Bloody, bloody awesome. The rest of their fare was strictly middling though. That being said, for the monies paid, the portions were humongous. Which was much, much good 🙂 There is this pub off Shaftesbury Avenue called Freud, which the Soccer-Man considers possibly the last word on pubs with “Character”. It is this dark, dingy, sub-terranean hangout, you know, and to be fair to the man, the place probably has as much character as it is possible for anything embedded in the bowels of earth to have 🙂

I Eat, Therefore I Am.

I had some grub from the Land of Carib today. Something called (and quite aptly so) Jerk Chicken! And, which, in case you are wondering, was pretty darned pathetic. So, the basic philosophy as appurtenant to that particular delicatessen would appear to be: You Eat, therefore You Are. A Jerk, of course.

To be fair though, the only reason why I tried that stuff out was because it was called Jerk Chicken. Which would kinda vitiate the a posteriori part of the above paragraph. And thereby render, members of my tribe, and all those attracted by snappy appellations, as A Priori Jerks.

Played tennis recently. In sub-zero temperatures. And in rain. Much, much good 🙂 Took the first quarter of an hour just to warm up my limbs though. Not to mention the fact, that no matter how hard I hit the ball, the blasted thing never seemed to carry. Later, while chatting up with this cricket-maniac South African tennis coach (who incidentally, I almost managed to persuade to relocate to Mumbai), I was told that at current prevalent temperatures in the City by the Thames, tennis balls suffer from something called the Dead-Rubber Syndrome. Which Ain’t Good. Neither is rain for that matter. And twits playing in such weather should be confined to straitjackets at the earliest available opportunity. To quote him, “Yer crazy, man”.

Reminded me a bit of playing with the Foul-Mouthed One at BTA though. Think Monsoons. Thinks puddles the size of swimming pools. And two maniacs sliding all over the place like a bloody show of Icecapades. Strangely enough, if my memory serves me correctly, the reaction back then (from the Admin-guy, I think) was pretty much the same. Almost verbatim stuff 🙂

I am not sure whether I’m a big fan of open-book exams. I am a big fan (ok, make it moderately big) of Cinnabon. Especially their Carrot Cake, which I haven’t yet tried, but which looks oh-so-bloody-scrumptious.

A Week

Been a week now. Almost to the hour. 

Last few days have sure been pretty hectic. An accelerated version of an accelerated version of a law degree; Scouring around the city (and Gumtree) (and Moveflat) (and lots of other places) for somewhere to stay; Futzing around in general; And the COLD.

The funny thing about locating acco in London (for me, at least!!) is that, taken cumulatively, I must’ve spent at least some 50, 60 hours on websites like Gumtree and all, either searching for acco, mailing ’em flat-wallahs, or for that matter, replying back. In London itself, I must have easily gone to at least half a dozen places. Not to mention shortlisting two places, and almost drawing up and signing a contractual agreement with one of ’em (Sorry IC and Am). But at the end of it all, (and after, (heh) a thorough perusal of the terms and conditions of the aforementioned contract!), putting up at that place, which I might have very well finalized from India itself.

I know I’m a git. I just keep on reinforcing the fact over and over again.

Immigration clearance at Heathrow takes a long, long time. At least, now it does. 1 and a 1/2 hrs is a lot, don’t you think. Still, I shouldn’t complain too much. Given that I’d forgotten to lock my suitcase when I loaded it in Cal. And got it back with all my stuff pretty much intact. There’s something called gratitude after all 🙂    

And finally, a word about the COLD. In Cal, I had a bit of a rep for being an Eskimo. Which was kinda redundant, considering the fact that Cal is almost entirely populated by Bedouins. AND, has a predominantly Bedouin-Land-like climate 🙂 ‘Em Desert-Dwellers should come to London though. And find out what ‘COLD’ really means.

P.S. Here. Cookies. Are. Seriously. Good.

P.P.S. Portobello’s probably more of a Haat, than a Haat itself.      

P.P.P.S. Dunno why, but walking on Bond Street, whilst wearing a monkey cap seems like an amazing, amazing thing to do 🙂

Of Fosbury Flops and Angst-Ridden Ditties

Read a piece yesterday about how Air India chooses to treat Sarods and maestros (Had blogged previously about Air India’s unsurpassed consumer relations skills here). The moment I read that though, I couldn’t help but think of this classic video:

Never knew locating decent acco in London would be so much of a goshdarned  hassle. I don’t think I have researched as much even for my final drafts! Hell, for my IPC paper…., but, I digress 🙂

My stomach’s screwed up. Like, seriously seriously screwed up. Its currently doing Fosbury Flops and Ferris Wheel imitations every half an hour. Like  clockwork. Of Swiss Vintage. From the Old School. Probably serves me right; Karma, comeuppance, the works. There’s only so much cheap, Jewish fast food that one should hog! (Do not worry 🙂 ; the only way yer getting that reference is if you stay in Golf Green and/or frequent the narrow bylanes of Bijaygarh)

Zurich is No More

Zurich is no more. Long live Zurich.

Many might there be Picadillies, and French Loaves and Cream and Fudge Factories, but there shall be (was) only one Zurich.

Got into a fight today. With an auto-wallah of all people. In re two bucks of all things. But as always, a fight though triggered by specifics, is never about them. Nor can it be broken down into disparate components. A fight is always about generalities, of principles, of sahis and galats, and similar platitudinal excesses 🙂

Today, the entire sequence consisted of the auto-wallah pocketing ten bucks instead of his usual eight; of being almost run-over in rush-hour traffic; a 100 metre dash behind the offending party; a proper shove-session in front of the traffic policeman in front of South City, who true to form, washed his hands off the affair, with the exception of proffering a suggestion to register a complaint at Jadavpur P.S.

Then, trundling back to Lord’s; being accosted by the Auto-wallah there who had somehow tracked me back, and being threatened with dire consequences if I registered a complaint (and at which point, I truly lost it). A psychedelic 2-3 minute hand-to-hand combat session, which almost culminated in my shoving that git’s face into a vat of boiling oil where jalebis were being fried. And finally, getting back two rupees.

A honourable mention goes to the Skulker, who was comrade-in-arms, for the entire bit till we trundled across to Lord’s and whose cell probably still has stored, the offending auto’s license plate number.

Also, on a slightly more personal note, the most psychedelic moment of the entire episode probably occurred when in midst of grappling with that jackass, I picked out a complete stranger and asked him to hold on to my specs, so that I could let loose. For in sooth, though I mind not specs, they do hamper you, come fights. That, and also in terms of utter psychedelia, abusing him in English 🙂

Saw me a movie recently. Thought ’twas alright.

I still remember the first copy of Sherlock Homes I ever picked up. I must have been in Grade V then. Rajpur Road used to have this really old bookshop called Jugal Kishore. I’d got it from there. I think I even remember the first story I read; The Adventure of the Speckled Band. And I was HOOKED. Next year I came to Cal for the first time. The first bookstore I visited was Oxford’s. The first books I picked up were The Adventures, The Case-Book, The Memoirs, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes (I read His Last Bow only a couple of years later).

Guy Ritchie’s Holmes though, is not one (only) of cobblestone streets or meershcaum pipes. His is one of kinetic excesses and excess coolth. And one, who is, a tad vertically challenged. The greatness of true literature is that often it not only leads itself to translations, or transliterations, but also to transmutations. Take Mahabharata; you have Mrityunjaya by Sivaji Sawant, Randamoozham by Vasudeva Nair, and Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray (a strand later  taken up by Chitra Divakaruni), all of which use entirely different narratives in respect of the same overarching structure. And more pertinently, succeed in doing so.

Whether Downey Jr.’s Holmes also falls into the same category is for you to decide. I though, for one, shall stick out my neck, and say, verbal fencing and witty repartee apart, there was little to distinguish it from say, a cerebral version of Van Helsing.

Fourteen, Nineteen

It takes fourteen minutes to walk down from Green Towers, Golf Green to South City Mall.

It takes nineteen minutes to walk down from Green Towers, Golf Green to Jadavpur P.S.

I recently re-discovered Muscat Halwa. Tucked away somewhere in a nondescript sweet shop, in the narrow bylanes of Central Cal. Most sweets leave me cold. The saccharine overdose is often too much for me. Certain things though are just plain awesome. Say, Soan Papdi, a couple of Malai Chops, properly made Kulfi, or even freshly baked Chhena Poda. Muscat Halwa falls into the same general category of awesomeness.

Sunny’s to Sharma’s: Not so long back, Tamarind was probably the only decent South Indian restaurant worth its name in Cal. Then, suddenly, it just bloody disappeared. Now, I am not exactly the greatest aficionado of grub originating from South-of-the-Vindhyas (To wit, I love Vadas, I hate Uttapams, and I am pretty much ambivalent to everything else in between as long as I am not served anything squishy), but I did kinda miss the blasted place. Then, recently, I caught sight of it again. Its barely a few hundred metres away from where it used to be originally. On the same bloody road. Its probably on the first floor now though.

I don’t like justifying myself. Now, you can either take that as an admission of a deeply personal nature, or a mere expression of typographical intent.