Friday, 15 March 2019

New Restaurant | Comorin: Dil Hai Hindustani

Let’s face it: we’re all done with ‘fusion cuisine’ and tasteless, senseless garnishes. Even when people eat out, most want real food. Now, celebrated chefs across the world are talking about going to their roots, preserving traditional recipes and evoking nostalgia through food. But they also need to tread the fine line between homely fare yet something that is fancy enough to eat at an upmarket restaurant. And that’s why we welcome Comorin with open arms!

The spacious and airy interior and exterior of Comorin.

As the 30th restaurant in the basket of Old World Hospitality (that includes the highly acclaimed Indian Accent in New Delhi, New York and London) Comorin serves Indian food that is sure to take many down various memory lanes. Chef Dhiraj Dargan, who has been with the group since he was a management trainee, is the executive chef under the inimitable expertise of Chef Manish Mehrotra, who is the consulting chef for this restaurant. They have created simple dishes like khichdi and bread pakora but served them with unusual combinations. While the former is made with sweet corn (corn porridge is a traditional breakfast dish from the streets of Indore) and enlivened with crunchy sem ke beej along with various chutneys that balance each other out, the latter is zinged up with bacon and green chillies.

Top: Baby Back Ribs
Bottom L-R: Sweet Corn Khichdi with Sem Ke Beej;
Haleem with Butter Toast

Comorin is named after Cape Comorin, the erstwhile name of Kanyakumari, the tip of the Indian peninsula. The menu is thus designed to take you on a journey through India with elements from various states, while heartwarming comfort lies at the core of each dish. Dry moong dal comes with a crunch of dal moth and freshness of edamame, Andhra gongura chicken is served with crispy murukku, delicious haleem is accompanied by simple butter toast and green chilli prawns are India’s answer to wasabi prawns and served with puffed black rice. Being an all-day restaurant the two-page menu offers adequate choice of dishes appropriate for different times of the day and is split between small, large and extra-large portions. If you’re a pork lover, do not miss the baby back ribs. Doused in chilli Old Monk glaze the tender meat just melts off the bone.

Craft Cocktails 

The drinks on offer have been given equal thought and loving treatment. The bar features craft cocktails, including an innovative sous vide infusion counter, a seasonal cocktail on tap, and a unique selection of house-made beverages and sodas. Like the food, classic cocktails have been given a refreshing twist. Negroni, for instance, is made with house infused gin, khus vermouth and Campari. Whisky Sour has taken the form of Walnut Sour, with walnut infused bourbon, pineapple, lime and homemade mole bitters. Bartenders are happy to showcase their skills at the sous vide counter or churning the Ramos and Roses’ Gin Fizz in the fancy cocktail shaker for six consecutive minutes. Then there’s the Mai Tai that is served on tap as it is infused with nitrogen to give it the right amount of fizz without altering the flavour by introducing carbonated soda. While many drinks have complex flavours, they are presented in a minimalist style, and most are even stripped of any garnishes in order to keep the focus on the perfect flavour notes and balance of the cocktail.

The Retail Section has a huge variety from cold brews and bottled kimchi
to bar accessories and serve ware.

While you will traverse the menu at your own pace we would urge you to finish with two things: malai cheeni toast, an old-fashioned go-to dessert in many north-Indian homes, except that here it is served on crisp yet melt-in-the-mouth brioche, and coffee liqueur that hits the beautiful notes of dark roast coffee and vanilla beans. Finally, you can take some of the goodness back from the eclectic market space that is priced well and stocks special syrups like basil flower or Swiss chard, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and cold brew shots, roasted coffee, among many other things. I personally loved the glassware, cool bar accessories, some ceramics and platters that have been sourced from unique vendors.

House Liquors

Pro Tip:
All the cocktails are made with special House Liquors. There is a selection of seven house liquors that include Light and Dark Khus Vermouth, Walnut Bourbon, Vanilla Cognac, vodka based Coffee as well as Fennel Liqueur and Velvet Falernum. We recommend the tasting portions of each of these that are priced at Rs 100 for 15ml each.

Comorin, 101, 1 Floor, Plaza Level, Two Horizon, Golf Course Road, Gurugram. Telephone: 0124- 4984224          
Timings: 12 Noon- 1 AM.
Average price per person: Lunch Rs. 700 | Dinner: Rs. 1,000 plus taxes (without alcoholic beverages).

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Iconic Restaurant | Serving Delicious Fare For The Last 80 Years

At a day and age when new restaurants are sprouting in every nook and corner of Delhi, there is an equal number of those that shut shop because they cannot survive in the face of fierce competition. Yet, there are a handful of restaurants that have stood the test of time, those that have been around since pre-Independence years and still continue to thrive.

Founder Mr. PL Lamba entertaining high profile guests
including Pandit Jasraj.

Kwality in Connaught Place is a shining example of an iconic restaurant that has stood the test of time as well as the challenge of the evolving palate of Indians. Over the last 80 years the look of the restaurant may have undergone several changes to keep up with the times, but the consistency of some of the best-selling dishes is something that old timers can still swear by. While the puffed up bhatoora that accompanies the delectable bowl of chana is almost synonymous with Kwality, it serves many more inimitable specials including cheese balls, mulligatwany soup, prawn cocktail, paneer shashlik, chicken a la kiev and the likes that were introduced to India during the Colonial era and hence gave rise to Anglo-Indian cuisine.

Early Days
Sunil Lamba takes us back to the early days, when Kwality first opened its doors in 1940. “My grandfather, PL Lamba, opened this restaurant in partnership with his brother in law, IK Ghei, before I was born,” he shares. The coveted location in the then uppity Connaught Place and in the vicinity of prime entertainment hubs like Regal and Rivoli brought in the numbers to this family run restaurant. Being a part of the family buisiness since his youth, Sunil Lamba proudly attributes Kwality’s initial success to the vision of its founders. On one hand they catered to the rich Indian families of the time, on the other they included Continental dishes to suit the British as well as the American GIs who were stationed here during the 2nd World War. With their dedication, foresight and multiple international trips they soon become the icons of the thriving restaurant industry in India and also opened many successful restaurants across the globe including London, New York and Japan. It was during one of their trips to America that they learnt the craft of making icecream bricks, as opposed to home-made icecream that was earlier served in their restaurants. This too helped them to enjoy unparalleled success for many years as Kwality icecream became market leaders in north India.

The New Look

Newly Created Old World Charm
Coming back to where it all started, Kwality restaurant still stands tall at its original location. Of course, the original interiors were in line with the simplicity of those days, but today they have been redone to create a plush aura of the bygone era. The young Divij Lamba (Sunil Lamba’s son), has spearheaded the project to revamp this iconic restaurant in a way that the core originals remain intact while adapting to modern challenges and catering to the evolving preferences of food connoisseurs. The new interiors almost create a time warp with period furniture that includes a lot of leather, fine wood and brass, a piano lounge and a typical maharajah style polo bar littered with antiques. There are almost 70 original photographs of Connaught Place spanning over a period of 40 years by the famous photographer Madan Mahatta. And the delcious food is served stylishly with bespoke crockery and cutlery from Villeroy & Boch, Germany.

Left: The iconic chana bhatoora.
Right: High Tea is worth experiencing for the delicious array of food
along with a daily piano recital.

Along with the new look, the piano is put to good use with daily recitals during afternoon high tea and dinner service; weekends are likely to see jazz performances as well. Over time, Divij hopes to bring back traditions such as a dress code, foreign brass bands, formal high teas and midnight dances.

Address: 7, Regal Building, Parliament Street, New Delhi 110001
Phone: 011 23742310 / 23742352
Time: Noon to Midnight
Meal for Two: INR 1400++

A version of this article first appeared in The Hindu MetroPlus on 8th March 2019.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

A Luxurious Haven for Wellness

This was a work trip that I was really looking forward to. Being a travel writer most of my trips end up being very indulgent with various hotels and tourism boards wanting to showcase the best that they have to offer. This also means that my travels for work are usually very hectic. But every once in a while comes along an assignment that allows me to commune with nature, relax and rejuvenate. This is exactly why my weekend at Dharana Wellness at Hilton Shillim became memorable when I was invited to experience their wellness program. 

Hilton Hotels and Resorts is an American multinational hospitality company. The chain is known primarily for contemporary, full-service hotels and resorts in more than 540 locations across the world. Given its pristine location in the Sahyadri mountain range in Maharashtra, Hilton Shillim opened to rave reviews and soon became a popular choice for a luxury offsite retreat, weekend getaway from Mumbai and Pune, and even a preferred wedding destination. That the resort had an award-winning spa only became an added plus. But over the last one year, there has been a clear shift towards establishing this property as a wellness retreat.  

Commitment to Wellness
The resort is divided roughly into two zones: primary wellness and secondary wellness. This means that those who come specifically for wellness have the entire gamut to look after their well-being and attain desired health goals, but those who choose to come here for a holiday will also benefit from the activities on offer and healthier alternatives to indulge in at the various restaurants on the property.

For guests checking in for a wellness program there is a range of personalized goal-oriented packages on offer. With the minimum stay of 3 nights, the packages go up to 5, 7, 14 or 28 nights depending on specific goals. The wellness team, under the expert guidance of Dr Arun Pillai, Director of Wellness, ensures that everything is taken care of right from consultation and guidance from experts in the field of Ayurveda and Naturopathy doctors to the execution of therapies from skilled and qualified therapists, yoga teachers and nutritionists.

My Transformative Journey
The beautiful winding road that leads up to the retreat offers a good glimpse of the natural beauty that one can expect at Hilton Shillim. After a quick registration I am whisked away for a ‘foot ritual’. I am taken in by the serenity of the place as I remove my shoes by the banks of Nature Pond and my feet are carefully dipped in a copper bowl filled with warm water that contains some herbs and aromatics. Simple as it may seem, this warm welcome instantaneously helps me to get into the slow, relaxed rhythm of the place.

After a lunch comprising of a delicious, local vegetarian thali I am taken for a consultation with the doctor. Since I had signed up for the 3-day Detox Program, the doctor discusses the format of my stay and asks about my specific likes and dislikes so that she can customise my program to suit my requirements optimally. It is concluded that I will experience the Panchkarma cleanse which involves expelling of toxins through the body’s own organs and channels of elimination (colon, sweat glands, lungs, bladder, stomach, intestines etc). The intensity of the cleanse depends on the individual as well as the duration of treatment. Since I am here only for 3 nights, I am introduced to a basic version of this ancient Ayurvedic treatment that is ideal for cleaning the body of toxic materials accumulated by poor nutrition and environmental toxins.

Panchkarma is a five-fold therapy and includes warm oil massage, herbal steam therapy, lymphatic massage, herbal enema and other special treatments. My treatment starts with a relaxing Vanaushadhi massage. The warm raw oil squeezed from locally grown seeds, flowers and roots is massaged by an expert therapist in the Ayurvedic style. This treatment is meant to promote health of the skin and make it supple and lustrous. This is followed by a light and early dinner at the Green Table, the resort’s wellness restaurant that specialises in healthy food that is prepared to suit various Dosha types and ideal for specific treatments.

The next morning I go for the Abhyanga, a traditional full body massage is said to liquefy toxins and induces relaxation while eliminating impurities. Soon after this luxurious massage the doctor visited me in my villa, gave me an Ayurvedic concoction that helps my body to start the elimination process. I am advised to take it easy on this day and my meals are sent in the villa to enable me to relax completely. The luxurious setting, with a private plunge pool and the very caring team to look after me ensure that I am completely taken care of during the entire process. The following day I wake up refreshed, rejuvenated and feeling overall lighter. The day starts with an invigorating hike up to the Shillim plateau. After a couple of hours, I find myself back at the Green Table indulging in a fresh bowl of fruits. This is followed by a few more therapeutic massages and relaxing activities.

The Retreat
For a city dweller like me the pristine setting and the sound of silence interspersed with the song of birds at any time of the day is a real treat. Accommodation options include a choice of villas with the hill or forest views. Pool villas, as the name suggests, come with a private plunge pool. And for a truly luxurious experience there are three presidential villas that have glass walled bedrooms to let in the verdant beauty of the hills, a fully functional kitchen, expansive living and dining spaces.

Recommended Activities
The retreat offers some wonderful activities to keep you in tune with the surroundings and a holistic lifestyle. There are wonderful tracks for walking and cycling, as well as a couple of hiking trails within the property to make the most of the outdoors, enjoy the great weather and take in lots of  fresh air. Then of course, there’s yoga and meditation that take you inwards. Pottery making and horse-riding is something that the kids will certainly enjoy. Finally, the one that I urge you not to miss is a cooking class at the Green Table. After a round of the organic kitchen garden, the table is set with farm fresh produce for a cooking demonstration. I am utterly impressed with all that one can do with raw food. Very healthy and very easy to execute recipes are shared joyously. This session educates me even more about how to make healthy choices without compromising on taste. From zucchini noodles to chocolate mousse, there’s plenty to choose from.

Before check out of The Retreat I am armed with a prescription, some daily morning rituals and a list of recipes to help me keep up with the healthy lifestyle that I have been introduced to. I am feeling great and leave with my skin glowing and a few pounds lighter.

Dharana Wellness at Hilton Shillim 
Village Shilimb, Pawana Nagar, Taluka Maval, Pune – 410406.
Phone: +91-2114-712468

This article first came out in a leading UK-based travel publication in March'2019.