Places

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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Shanghai Postcard 1

The Oriental Pearl Tower is, easily, the most striking structure in the Pudong skyline.

Err, The Skyline

Some buildings are meant to be useful. Some others are meant to look good. Some though are meant to look like friggin’ spaceships liable to take off without a moment’s notice.

Now, as with most buildings of such type, there is no dearth of notable notables willing to grace such places with their august presences. The Oriental Pearl Tower is no different. There are signature panels of all the eminences, grise or otherwise, who have deemed it fit to visit the place. India, if I remember correctly, was represented my Messrs. Somnath Chatterjee and A.B. Vajpayee. SC’s panel was fine; ABV’s though, was slightly more interesting:

Signature(s) Panel

Seriously guys, Shreyas, Jaydeep and Ashvin, well well done! Must be an incredible feeling, really, to know that of all the panels in the place, the only one which has been defaced belongs to our country. And hey, we live in democracy, who is to say that you fellas are any less important than Vajpayee!

Nits.

On a completely unrelated note, total time spent at the UKBA queue at Heathrow this time was 97 minutes! I counted!! Swear that had I been made of less sterner stuff, I might have actually considered hot-footing it back to DXB on the next Emirates flight. Fortunately, composed as I am of a high-density titanium alloy, the thought briefly crossed my mind, took one look at what it was up against, and then ran screaming for its dear life!

Woohoo

Got drenched. In the middle of the friggin desert 🙂

Funny thing is thunder seemed to be in mute mode (or perhaps it was just all that sand in my ears). And the rain drops were surprisingly big! You know the ones which just go splat, without any preliminary pitter-patter!

What is infinitely funnier is that I wasn’t even sure it was the real deal when the skyline started flashing up! Thought there were some slightly evolved versions of fireworks going off! See, that’s what the desert (especially, this version thereof) does to you!

Growing Up

Has had some serious growing up to do in the last week. First that, then this. You feel wretched, then you pray, and then you smile and you carry on.

Reminds me of this:

 

And this 🙂

P.S. First day in a brand new city by the way.

P.P.S. I should be damn kicked about this.

P.P.P.S. Actually watched Dubya-Man on the flight today (Fair Game; recco: great movie!) How unbelievably cool is that!!

Life

My laptop’s power adapter caught fire last night! I can charge my mobile phone if and only if it is inclined at an angle of 82 degrees to the horizontal (apart from the fact of course that it is operational only on speakerphone mode)! And my digital camera can easily give Methuselah a good run for his money in antiquity stakes!

In short, life (including most electronic appliances associated with it) is absolutely and irrevocably conked out 🙂

For all that though, I still somehow contrive to land up in places like these:

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

 Istanbul, teşekkür ederim 🙂

Tales from Wales

Or tales from the land which appears to have walked right out of Middle-earth.  

There are certain moments in life when you set out to do something, all pumped with enthu and righteous resolve. Then at a certain point, you get soundly walloped 🙂 Your thought processes at that point broadly range beween #$#^&* and “what on earth could I have been possibly thinking of”. The trick in those circs is to basically hold on. Hold on like a bloody leech. 

Now, now, don’t worry, patient and long-suffering reader. I am not going all metaphorical on you. Nor, have I yet added bestowing leetle life homilies to the long list of sins I am guilty of 🙂 Just letting you know what you is to be generally expected if you go mountain-climbing in Wales. 

Cadair Idris might not be the most imposing mountain in the world. Or for that matter, even in Snowdonia. But its gotta be one of the most storied mountains around. And, Lyn Cau arguably has the most dramatic setting for a lake I have ever seen. What Cadair Idris also has in spades, is seriously fiendish weather. All those who moan about weather in London have presumably never seen Cadair Idris in form. Freezing 90 mph winds, almost torrential rain, thick mist, a steep ascent and not exactly the most well-laid out of ’em trails. Good, good stuff. So, essentially if you are giving Cadair Idris a shot, and the weather-gods decide to give you a bit more bang for the buck, you basically hold on, hold on like a leech. (Related points of advice would include using contacts and wearing a few more layers of clothing than you did back in Cal)

In retrospect though, as much as I might crib about the weather, that  actually made the hike so much more fun 🙂 Hanging on to a rock, literally hanging on to it during a particularly bad spell, ultra-low visibility levels which meant the Robot, Mr Lightening and the Soccer-Man all had to bring their shtud navigational skills into play, setting up camp on the banks of Lyn Cau where the wind promptly proceeded to decimate the Soccer-Man’s tent, those two ghostly lights on the other side of the lake which had no business being there, and the truly psychedelic sight of watching your pee land some hundred metres away from where it ordinarily should.

Now, all that would/might have been perfect tosh in good weather. 

And when the sun does come out, and everything is back in glorious technicolour, there are few prettier sights anywhere in the world than Wales.

P.S. We went mountain biking too. We got lost there as well.

P.P.S. Welsh rarebit rocks!

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 🙂

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 🙂

Laundry Day

Yesterday was Laundry Day. As also Dryer Day. Which was all much good. Apart from the fact ofcourse that most of my ganjees came out in a peculiar shade of muted blue 🙂 Which I would say was moderately good.

Today was Ironing Day. Which was strictly so-so. I have come to the conclusion that I am far better at ironing solids than I am at stripes. Which probably boils down to the basic fact that greater the contrast, the more easier is it to spot wrinkles, or as in my case, an entire truckload of ’em.

And on which note I’d also say that our current Hon’ble HRD Head Honcho has his priorities all skewed up. The chap should forget about abolishing exams and concentrate more on introducing some core subjects at school-level. Like say, ironing and cooking. And thereby preclude the possibility of having disgruntled chaps (like me) cursing themselves for not having taken up Home Science at High School.     

I had actually forgotten over the last few days/months why I liked TT so much. Rediscovered a wee bit of that feeling last night.

London might be many things. And many things it might be not. But what it most definitely is, is the world capital of static electricity. I kid thee not. On an average, I probably receive some three to four mild-to-moderate level shocks per day. Mildly entertaining. Moderately disconcerting.