Restaurant Review: China1 in BKC, Mumbai

Restaurants in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) are big by Mumbai standards, aren’t they? China1 in BKC is. That’s what strikes you as soon as you enter the restaurant. Located in the Capital building, the place was easy to find. And park too. For, they have valet parking, unlike a couple of restaurants in the vicinity.

Dim lights, plush décor, well spread tables give the place a classy look. We took a table almost at the far end corner. And were greeted by ‘shots’ of Cranberry Juice soon after. Extremely refreshing, this is the first time I saw any restaurant offer it complimentary.

We started off with Sweetcorn Crab Meat Soup – steaming and with a dash of pepper, it was perfect for our daughter who has been down with cough off late. And then we hopped on to dimsums – Chicken and Prawn Sui Mai, Black Bean Prawn roll and Chicken Pokchoy Dumpling – every one of them simply outdoing the other, we realized, we simply couldn’t point to the best one! Next, was turn of the Thai Chicken – juicy and spicy too, and with this lovely lemon grass flavor. Was perfect with the Litchi-Melon-Vodka cocktail and the Long Island that we had ordered. We, however, didn’t much like the Cambodian Basa in Pepper Garlic, probably because we aren’t Basa lovers at all. The fish has absolutely no taste and doesn’t lend to anything. Avoidable. Prawns instead, any day.

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After the gala Starters’ spread, we wanted to keep the Mains light. And so went for Lamb with Ginger and Spring Onion, Chicken Fried Rice and Veg Noodles. The lamb with ginger went just perfect with the noodles. The fried rice was spicy, cooked with burnt garlic and red chillies, giving it a very distinct flavor. I could probably eat it without any accompaniment. Really good.

For Desserts, it was Mango Pudding. Good enough, but not great. Beats me why Chinese restaurants don’t keep good traditional desserts? I hate to eat a cheesecake or ice cream after a good traditional Chinese meal…

So what if China1 is in the business district? Even on a Saturday, we found it filled to the brim with mixed croud – both corporate and non-corporate. There was this huge bunch of ladies, probably on a kitty party. The prices looked reasonable to me for the overall experience.

Go. Dine.

(We had been invited to China1 for a review of the restaurant)

Restaurant Review: Mirchi and Mime in Powai, Mumbai

It was a special occasion in the family, and we wanted to eat out. Only problem, it was a Monday evening. Going out to dine down to the city or even Bandra was out of question. Who’d want to be minced by the traffic in the streets after a hard day’s work at office? And so, unanimously, we chose Mirchi and Mime, the fusion Indian restaurant that had recently opened in Powai.

Remember, Powaikars, in recent times, have seen the burgeoning of the food space in their vicinity. Good food. What with some of the best restaurants setting up shop here and in its neighbourhood – R City Mall and Sakinaka. So another Indian restaurant, in the already cluttered space, made us wonder if it made sense. That doubt dispelled as we entered the restaurant full of diners that Monday evening. Big, well lit and cheerful, smiling staff, why did I get the feeling that the place looked more Italian/Mediterranean than Indian? That’s because, the décor at Mirchi and Mime doesn’t have the usual Indian colours and upholstery, yet is stylish and global in its look. What further differentiates it is that fact that the majority of its staff are specially abled – which is why the ‘Mime’ in their name. Starting from the greetings to reading the menu card to explaining to the guy waiting on us what we wanted, it was Mime all the way, and the team helped us learn the language so that we could communicate…

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We started off with Beer and Rocksalt Margarita with Mutton Dori Kebab and White Pepper Tikka – both absolutely juicy and cooked to perfection. For the mains, we went for Pork Belly Vindaloo and Chicken Biryani. The Biryani was a lot like Yakhni Pulao, rich in aroma and taste, with tender chicken pieces. The Vindaloo, though, lacked somewhat in taste – didn’t really touch the tongue, somewhat a bland tomato gravy. For desserts, it was Sitaphal Pannacotta and a big glass of Custard and Jelly. Both very good, although we struggled to finish the Custard and Jelly.  The meal cost us about Rs 3,600. Stylish, yes. And expensive too.

Overall, a lovely place with very good food and awesome service. The staff win you over with their smiles and bubbling energy. MUST GO!

 

Restaurant Review: Oh Calcutta in Andheri, Mumbai

We were looking for 2-3 pieces of furniture in the furniture market at Goregaon ( Read post on Where To Get Furniture At Best Prices in Mumbai) last Sunday, and never realized how 4 hours flew by in the exploration and negotiations. By the time we managed to wrap up at the shops, it was 2.30pm and we were famished! Headed to Oh Calcutta located almost around the corner.

Now, the last time we had been to Oh Calcutta in Andheri was about 8 years back, during our initial days in Mumbai. Greatly disappointed by their food, we never went back to the place, although the Oh Calcutta Tardeo branch went on to become one of our most favourite restaurants. Last Sunday though, we decided to give it a chance. Hoping that things would have changed in the last 8 years.

And change it did – for it was a bigger place compared to what we had seen in 2007. Dimly lit, Rabindra-sangeet playing in the background, posters of Bengali greats, a book shelf laden with Bengali books – the décor of Oh Calcutta is always so comforting, so homely. You hum along as you read the menu card, as you wait for your meal to arrive, as you eat and much after you have left the place. And the best part was, we saw a familiar face in the staff – one of the most senior staff members was now posted at the Andheri branch. That gave us hope…

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With that, we ordered our favourites – Smoked Hilsa, Kakra-Chingri Bhanpa, Bangali Pulao, Kosha Mangsho and Luchi. These have been our standard at Oh Calcutta for years, and it gave us great happiness to find their Andheri branch make all of the above exactly as per our expectation. Mouth-watering, tasty, awesome. We overate like nobody’s business. And then ordered Nolen Gurer Ice-cream. Ultimate Sunday afternoon meal.

Upon learning that we had returned after 8 years, the staff gifted us a Kheer-Kodombo each too. Pleasantly surprised, we devoured those too. And got back home for a late Sunday noon nap.

Oh yes, we skipped dinner that night! Happily….

Restaurant Review: Desi Deli at Bandra Reclamation, Mumbai

Desi Deli at Bandra Reclamation, is one of the latest deli to enter the already spoilt-for-choice Bandra eating-out space. A tiny place with just about 7-8 tables that can take probably 20-22 people at a time, Desi Deli is located bang opposite Salt Water Grill at Bandra Reclamation. Despite the space limitation, they have done up the place with nice bold colours making it look extremely cheerful. And I loved the fresh flower arrangements on every table!

We went there for lunch on Sayurday afternoon. As the name suggests, Desi Deli is just that – a Deli with a Desi touch. So they have west-style Burgers, Hotdogs and Entrees served with Indian spices and sauces. We ordered a Lush Lamb Burg, Anthony – Pork Sausages and the Champ. The Lamb burger was delightful with an extremely juicy lamb cutlet and served with potato fritters that resembled the Bengali jhuri-bhaja. Jayanta loved the Pork Sausage that came wrapped in a deep fried potato coating and a small bowl of salad. I absolutely loved the Mutton Champ which, you guessed it, resembled the Bengali Mutton Champ. Juicy and extremely tasty, my mouth has started watering as I describe the plate. And it came with a Pav, the Indian equivalent of a Dinner Roll!! Very very tasty…take my word!!

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Desi Deli seem to have cracked it with the ‘hatke’ food offerings. The only two negatives, according to me, is that their serving size could be somewhat bigger. Not saying they are small, but the one dish that you may order may not be completely filling. Which means, for 2 people, you may have to order 3 dishes. Get the point? For instance, they served the Champ with only one Pav. I had to order another. The other negative is the pricing. For the portions they serve, the rate seemed a tad too high. We paid INR 1250+ for the above meal plus Ice-tea and Sweet Lime.

Baring the portions vs the pricing, we had a pleasant experience. Food is definitely their USP. Their staff is cheerful and extremely helpful. We were pleasantly surprised by their service quality – they gave wet tissues after the meal. Awesome!!

Restaurant Review: Mamagoto in Bandra, Mumbai

The bustling Hill Road in Bandra spoils you for choice, doesn’t it? There during lunch hours yesterday, we choose Mamagoto.

Located where Nature’s Basket used to be, Mamagoto is not difficult to find. And it has a big bright yellow door to catch your attention.

Done up with mix and match furniture, oriental paintings, nice lighting and quirky décor items, the place is definitely interesting to the first-timer! And it is big too…..can accommodate quite a few diners!

For starters, we wanted something with Calamari since our daughter had been craving for Calamari for some time now. But no, it wasn’t available. We settled for the next best item then – prawns. Prawn Tempura – served with two different sauces, and served in a huge portions, we thoroughly enjoyed the prawns.

For Main Course, we choose something called ‘A Thai Lost in Hunan’ – Spicy thai lamb in red curry and served on pad thai noodles – we were in a good mind to order another dish when the guy who was waiting on us advised us that the lamb would be enough. Sure, we asked him. For we were 3 of us. He nodded in confidence. Allright, we said. And were pleasantly surprised to see he was right. Damn right. We struggled to finish even the lamb bowl. The guy smiled his knowing smile when we thanked him.

Rs 1200 for the above 2 items without drinks and desserts. Maybe the huge portions justify the rate. For, in any other place, we’d have to order 2 main course dishes and would have probably the same amount of money.

 

Chaukori – 5th Halt in Our Uttarakhand Road-trip

Chaukori was our 5th halt in the Uttarakhand road-trip. A halt, more to take a break and rest, than with tourist considerations. You see, Munsiyari to Chaukori is about 95kms. It took us a little more than 5 hours. Had we not taken the break, it would have been a drive from Munsiyari to Binsar which is close to 200 kms apart. That would have been a day long drive leaving us completely exhausted….

Drive from Munsiyari to Chaukori

We took the same road we had taken while driving up to Munsiyari (Read: Drive to Munsiyari). Which means, you drive down up to Thal and then drive up about 25 kms to a town called Udyari Band. Chaukori is only 3 kms away from Udyari Band.

Staying at the Ojaswi Resort in Chaukori

After the terrible stay at Milam Inn ( Read review: Milam Inn, Munsiyari) in Munsiyari, honestly, I was looking forward to our stay at the Ojaswi in Chaukori. Don’t get us wrong. We are not fussy travelers. However, a clean stay is what I consider basic and to that end, Milam Inn was terrible with house-keeping.

We had booked the Executive Room that came with a double bed room, a room with a single bed and a nice little balcony from where one can look out into the hills. Pity, the Himalayas weren’t visible at this level at this time of the year. Must be an awesome view during the clearer winter months.

The restaurant is housed in a separate building and the staff make everything that you may request. They ask you your preferences well in advance so that food is ready just when you want it. We were happy that they obliged with our requests of Bournvita milk and lemon tea too. No, there is no tea counter in the room. But room-service is prompt.

I loved the garden at the Ojaswi. So much so that I struck up a conversation with the gardener when I saw him the next morning. Huge roses, in a variety of colours, pansies, pitunias, marigolds…I brought back a few tips of how to ensure good growth and how to keep away pests.

They have free wifi at the hotel. We, however, used out own phone connections and data cards.

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Sight-Seeing in Chaukori

Chaukori, once upon a time, was known for its tea estates. Very few of them remain now. The hotel staff advised us to go to a nearby deer park, but its opening time clashed with our onward travel plans. Hence, we gave it a miss.

Being a very very small town, all that you can do at Chaukori is to go for walks. We did that post lunch and a short afternoon nap. We walked down a boulders-filled road that had been recently levelled, found an ashram on our right giving sermons in loud-speakers (Gosh, why do they use loud speakers in the hills and kill the tranquility?), an old abandoned stone house that had an eerie life-size idol of Goddess Kali (we, of course, ran away from the place) and a school. We sat down on the slopes of the school’s grounds to see the sun go down.

The next morning, we set of for Binsar, our 6th halt in the Uttarakhand road-trip…

Sight-Seeing in Munsiyari, Uttarakhand

Truth be told, the question of sight-seeing in Munsiyari doesn’t arise. For, when in Munsiyari, the ‘sights’ are right in front of you – be it the meadows or the hills or the Himalayan peaks — you simply do not allow them to be ‘out of sight’!

You get the point, don’t you? The moment we set step and our sight in Munsiyari, we gave it our heart. That was at the Kalamuni Pass. We demanded of Ratanda, our driver, to allow us to walk down to the beautiful valley. He wouldn’t hear of it. Said, we were late for lunch already and that the rain-clouds looked threatening. Noticing our smiles vanish, he smiled and said, he would get us to the meadows after lunch and leave us there. To graze, eer, gaze and loiter….

And that’s how we saw most of Munsiyari — loitering and gazing….

We rushed to the Nanda Devi Temple early in the morning. Immediately after an early breakfast. It was a very bright morning, and we wanted to beat the crowd too. Predictably, we were the first visitors at that hour at the temple premises. Vast and open, the grounds of the temple give an unobstructed view of the five peaks of the Himalayas, locally known as the Panchachuli.

Showing us Khaliya Top, Ratanda enquired if we’d be keen to do the steep 10km trek of the Khaliya hill. We couldn’t, since our daughter couldn’t. He told us about how popular the trek is when it is capped with snow. At the moment, however, there wasn’t any snow there. And admitted that the climb would be too steep for our 7-yr old.

He then insisted we take a tour of Munsiyari’s Tribal Heritage Museum. We were glad he did. For, this was not a govt run museum. Instead, it’s a private museum of an elderly school teacher and an expert in the area. The artefacts, coins, items he collected over the years are on display at this wing of his own house. The place helps build up a visual of how life is like in and around Munsiyari. Whats more, you can buy photographs, CDs of the festivals and fairs of Uttarakhand from here.

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Post lunch at our hotel (read review: Milam Inn in Mumsiyari), we walked up to the Balati Potato Farm.  A 45-minute trek, we walked down the woods from the main road up to the farm. Another fantastic view of the Himalayas and the valley below, we loitered around the farm for a good while taking photographs, chatting with the farm workers, watching them work ….

And from the farm, we wrestled from Ratanda what we had promised us the noon before — we asked him to drive down while we walked, trekked down. Across meadows and zig-zag roads, exploring the horticulture greenhouses here and there, trying to see if we could identify medicinal plants that Munsiyari hills are famous for, stopping by cow sheds and trying to strike conversations with its inmates, watching rain clouds gather and calculating if we could beat them and the running for shelter when they teased us with a drizzle, gazing at an abandoned stone house with beautiful grounds and wondering how beautiful a garden I could make of it…..and we filled our hearts with images such as these, with the crisp air to take back home so that we could cud and chew when memories struck….

 

Drive to Munsiyari, Uttarakhand

The drive to Munsiyari has been one of those best-ever drives! And I couldn’t help but write a separate post on the experience.

We started off from Jhaltola at around 9.30 am, post breakfast and a little break for the food to settle down, and reached Munsiyari around 3pm via the Thal road. It wouldn’t take so long had we not stopped by Avani on the way to buy some local items and artefacts, and then, stopped by every other ‘beautiful view’ on the way…..

Up until Thal, which is about 50 kilometers from Jhaltola, it was mostly a drive past kilometres and kilometres of pine groves. Upon crossing the little towns of Berinag and Chakori, the drive gets mostly downhill. And through the middle of pine filled woods. Stately though they look, it was only during our Uttarakhand trip that we got to know how pine groves are no good for bio-diversity, how they don’t support life and instead, take away from the soil much of its nourishment.

Beyond Thal, it is mostly an uphill drive to Munsiyari and it is from this point from where you get to see steep ravines on one side and high hills on the other. Lofty deonar trees cover the hills, but then, soon, vegetation starts getting sparse with the climb. And soon, you are mostly staring at naked hills. Amazed as we were at how people live in these higher reaches, Ratanji told that the locals were quite rich owing to the Winter Insect harvest they undertake during the summer months of May and June every year. Yar Tsa Gumba, or Cordyceps sinensis, the mushroom sells for exhorbitant prices owing to its medicinal qualities.

Stop by Birthi Falls which is about 35 kilometers from Thal. Park your car by the side of the road and get ready for a steep climb of about ten minutes through a cemented pathway to the foot of the waterfalls. We loitered around the steps for some time clicking pictures and feeding the mountain goats that were busy grazing and seemed quite used to our attention. How we longed to trek down the huge boulders of the waterfall to the street below where our car was parked, but Jayanta ruled out such ‘unplanned’ adventure! Once back from the waterfall, we stopped by the IRTC hotel at the foothill of the falls for a cup of tea and coffee. They readily obliged.

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Stop by KalaMuni Temple which is on the Kalamuni Pass. You can see the Munsiyari valley below from the Pass. But what hits you best, at this phase of your drive to Munsiyari, are the Himalayas right in front of you just as you hit the Pass. If not for religious reasons, go inside the temple complex to check out the hundreds of bells that devotees tie while making wishes. A few photographs, and we were soon on our way…

Once past the Pass, the drive is past verdant meadows with deonar trees. Not once do you want to lose sight of the snow-capped Himalayas though. And caught in the beauty around you, you so long to run out of the car to embrace the hills. Ratanda, our driver, smiled and told us that he’d bring us back to the meadows post our lunch. Oh of course….we were already late for lunch!!

We promised ourselves to make the most of our two-day stay at Munsiyari…no, we’d only walk. Ratanda could rest…

 

Munsiyari – 4th Halt in our Uttarakhand Road-trip

Jeolikote. Abbott Mount. Jhaltola. And now, it was time for Munsiyari – the 4th halt in our Uttarakhand road-trip. Located 110 kilometers away and at an altitude of 2200 meters, every one told us that Munsiyari would be cold, but told us that that’s where we’d get to see the Himalayan ranges. Finally! We were dying for it…

Drive from Jhaltola to Munsiyari

 The drive to Munsiyari has been one of our best drives. We started off from Jhaltola at around 9.30 am, post breakfast and a little break for the food to settle down, and reached Munsiyari around 3pm via the Thal road. It wouldn’t take so long had we not stopped by Avani on the way for some local items, and then, stopped by every other ‘beautiful view’ on the way. For, as I mentioned, it is an extremely picturesque drive….

Mostly a downhill drive via the small towns of Berinag, Chakori up until Thal, it was a drive past kilometres and kilometres of pine groves. Beyond Thal, the uphill drive started and this is the point from where you get to see steep ravines on one side and high hills on the other. Vegetation starts getting sparse as you climb higher, and soon, you are mostly staring at naked hills with a few deonar trees here and there Beautiful and exciting, the moment you reach Kalamuni Pass and cross over to the other side, you hit Munsiyari, and right in front of you are the majestic Himalayas. It is at this point in your road-trip, that you want to get out of your car and run to embrace the beautiful beautiful ranges…

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Read my exhaustive post on the scenic Drive to Munsiyari, Uttarakhand.

2-night stay at the Milam Inn, Munsiyari

 Touted as the best hotel in Munsiyari, the stay at Milam Inn was, without mincing words, pathetic. One look at the room and I wanted to change the hotel. But our driver, Rantanji, told us what we already knew – Milam Inn was the best that Munsiyari could offer. Terrible hygiene, cockroaches in the bathroom, noisy guests in the adjacent rooms, pathetic house-keeping – it was bad bad all the way. The only saving grace was the view from the room/hotel – pull the curtains and the Himalayas lay in front of you. A stunning sunrise and a cheerful room-boy who doubled up as the restaurant boy were the only good things about the Milam Inn.

Munsiyari – 4th Halt in our Uttarakhand Road-trip -- Milam Inn

We stayed there for 2 nights shutting off our senses for cleanliness and peace. Pity. How a place like Munsiyari doesn’t have a decent stay option. Milam Inn was Rs 2500 per night for a superior room!!! What do you expect in return??

Beats me why they do not involve the local residents and start basic yet clean homestay options.

Things to do/ Places to see in Munsiyari

 What we didn’t get in stay, we recouped in toto during the sight-seeing in Munsiyari. For, the little town is very very beautiful.

Start your day with a sortie to the Nanda Devi temple that simply enthrals with its vast expanse and its lovely view of the famed Panchacholi ranges, go to the Tribal Museum for a glimpse into the life of the locals and then go for innumerable treks, for, Munsiyari offers a whole lot of them. From half-day treks to treks of 5 to 8 days, choose from treks in meadows to glacier treks.

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For the one and a half day that we were there, we only walked walked and walked across hillocks, meadows and even a potato farm. And saw how clouds and sun play hide and seek with the Himalayas, and how happy the hills look with green grasses and stately deonar trees…..

Stay at the Misty Mountains in Jhaltola, Uttarakhand

We were to be stationed in Jhaltola for 3 nights and 3 days (Our 3rd halt in the Uttarakhand Roadtrip). Misty Mountains was where we’d be parking ourselves. Err, slight correction. Your car can’t go up to where Misty Mountains is. Explanation — located about 3 kms from the village in Jhaltola where the Ram Mandir is, a jeep is sent down for every guest of the Misty Mountains. And it is only that jeep that can brave the rugged roads of Misty Mountains. Some adventure that!

How is the stay at Misty Mountains?

Tucked away in the middle of Oak and Pine forests, Misty Mountains is a destination in itself.  Spread across separate lodges with gardens, dining area and activity centre, we were sure we didn’t want to venture out even when Ambika, the owner, told us about the all so important Shiva temple, Patal Bhubaneshwar. Nope, even the Lord, couldn’t get us out of here.

For, when at Misty Mountains, you will be amazed at how well you can wander aimlessly, and engage yourself with tasks of extreme importance. Like how Jayanta would chase the many beautiful birds for most part of his time, and for the rest, try all his DSLR tricks on the flowers. While I, ‘endeavoured’ to park myself in the garden bench in front of our lodge, looking out into the horizon where the Himalayas stood hiding behind the veil of fog and sipping lemon tea every 30 minutes. And ‘planning’ (vigorously, mind you) how I’d do it up in my way if I had a garden such as this one.

Our daughter, giving up on her parents, made friends with the children of the other guest who were visiting from Pune, caught hold of the guides for her rounds of rappelling and tree climbing, played rounds and rounds of carom and badminton at the activity center. Why, we even learnt a Pahari song from one of the guides….Kaele baja murali o behna unchi niche daano ma…

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We did go for the sunset trek one evening. And an early morning trek to Lamkeshwar another morning, that had an eerie-looking Shiva temple, but from where you get one helluva view of the Himalayas. We caught only a glimpse though. The fog stayed adamant. However, we got a good glimpse of the proud mountains on our last morning at the Misty Mountains – had rained the previous night and we seized the opportunity the next morning, woke up even before the lark and stood out, waiting. The sillouhtes were clear, panning out from the east to a great deal south. We did get a good idea of what it must be like on clear days.

Food at Misty Mountains:

Food is good and they provide everything from the humble lemon tea to Bournvita milk for the kids to rotis, rice, chappatis and Chicken. I only wish they had a tea counter inside the room – you see, I wake up really early and tea at Misty Mountains doesn’t come in until 6am. They, of course, supply it throughout the day at your slightest request…

The staff here is awesome – be it the house-keeping guys or the kitchen staff or the trek/activity guides. They go out of their way to make your stay memorable. So is the owner, Ambika, who would brief us about everything Jhaltola whenever we’d meet.

Finally, I warn you, Misty Mountains is not for those who cannot disconnect from their everyday lives. Which means, it is for all those souls who find happiness in sun-bathing on a garden bench, ruminating in garden stairs, admiring the Himalayas while sipping lemon tea, sitting down with a pencil to draw the scenery in front, collecting moss from the jungle for the garden back home, exploring old and locked bungalows, trekking up and down hills for the sunrises and the sunsets. And the Himalayas…

Travel and food stories from around the world, through the eyes/lenses of a Mumbai-based husband-wife-daughter trio…

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