Thursday, 30 January 2020

Staycation | Here is My Experience of Checking-In to a Lovely Hotel in Aerocity

This trend of holidaying within your own city by checking-in to a fancy hotel has been around for a while, but since the real joy of travel for me lies in exploring new destinations and experiencing the charm of different cities, as well as countries, I had never opted for a staycation… until recently. Last weekend, my family and I checked-in to Andaz Delhi and came back feeling like we were away on a holiday!

To begin with, the kids’ excitement rubbed off on me. The process of packing, even for a one-nighter, got us in holiday mode. Not only is it absolutely stress-free, there’s zero tension of carrying excess baggage! So, when my little girl took out a bunch of board games to carry along, instead of having our usual tug-o-war of what to carry and what to leave behind, I packed them in with a smile. The next morning we all got up and got ready comfortably since there was no hurry to catch a flight or anything. We just loaded up the car, cranked up the music and off we went for our very first staycation.

Beautiful Installations. 
Andaz Delhi prides itself on its art collection. Must get a tour of the
property just for the art. 

Despite being a modern hotel ‘Made in India’ is the central philosophy of Andaz Delhi. One enters Andaz Delhi through the Kashmiri Gate, an iconic symbol connecting Old and New Delhi. Here it is represented in a seven-layered papier-mâché installation hanging above the main entrance, symbolizing the seven ancient cities of Delhi. Outside, the hotel fleet consists of vibrant-coloured Ambassadors and snazzy Jaguars – both Indian-owned brands.  

The Barrier Free Lounge

Their ‘barrier free environment’ means they have a lounge instead of a lobby. It’s fun to hangout in the Lounge since it’s littered with lovely art and installation pieces. The community table is a great place to meet people and strike up a conversation over a cup of tea or coffee at that is served there complimentary 24-hours, along with some nibbles and candy for kids. 

One of the highlights of staying at Andaz Delhi is its location. Aerocity is easily the most buzzing and vibrant part of New Delhi. It is an international-style hospitality district with worldclass infrastructure that offers quick access to the airport. Additionally, its location is central enough to provide easy approach for people from Delhi as well as Gurgaon. While there is a huge choice of hotels to suit varied price brackets for both business as well as leisure travellers, the many restaurants and bars offer plenty of choice within these hotels and as standalone establishments.  Within the last few months, Worldmark has come up as a swanky destination comprising offices and commercial space on the higher floors and high-end retail and F&B outlets on the lower floors. The two towers, Worldmark 1 and Worldmark 2, stand tall opposite each other, but are connected via a prettified underground walkway. From fine-dine options to foodcourt outlets there is literally something to cater to every tastebud. While it is great to be able to walk from Andaz to Worldmark to catch the vibe, the hotel itself lends a lovely view of the high-rises on one side and the airport runway on the other. 

Our room, with the view of the runway.

This brings me to the most exciting part of my staycation. I have an affinity for ‘rooms with a view’, this usually means either the sea or a beautiful hillside. Here, our room had a view of the runway. Not only the kids, even I was surprisingly fascinated with all the take offs and landings. It reminded me of a time, decades ago, when we used to drive all the way to the airport, Jumbo Point, to see planes flying low, almost overhead.

Each of the guest rooms features a unique curated piece of art by Rajeev Sethi. The hotel offers 401 rooms including suites, thus Andaz Delhi has put together a collector’s book entitled 401 Reasons to Fall in Love with Delhi. Written by well-known travel writer Fiona Caulfield the reasons include the city’s celebrated iconic monuments to its forgotten rituals and lesser-known places that are new even to the locals of the city. It is worth buying – depending on your interests, you may take your pick from Delhi’s Building Heritage, Taste of Delhi, Creative Delhi, Delhi Celebrates, Cultural Delhi, Sporting Delhi, Delhi Shops, New Delhi Architecture, Delhi Devotion, Delhi on the Move, Natural Delhi and Iconic Delhi. Each room is dedicated to one of the reasons from the book which you’ll find lying open to the corresponding page on a coffee table. The art piece also highlights that particular reason albeit in a contemporary way. 

The hotel offers a good choice of bars and restaurants that attract walk-ins from Delhi and Gurgaon as well. Juniper is India’s first gin bar that serves 35 varieties of home infused gins. Just to have some fun, they have also created a Delhi Sapphire, to play on the light-hearted rivalry between Delhi and Bombay (Bombay Sapphire being a famous gin brand). AnnaMaya is the all-day dining on the lines of a European-style foodhall where most dishes incorporate some local, artisanal produce like ancient Indian grains that are still grown in the hills of north India or burratta from a cheese maker from a farm near Delhi or olive oil from Rajasthan, and of course specially procured organic veggies and so on.

There's Plenty of Choice of Drinking and Dining.

Many of the local producers are proudly named on the menu to give them recognition and some of their products can also be bought at AnnaMaya at prices that are only nominally higher than the MRP to also give them more business. You’ll thus find a range of natural millets, organic honey, flavoured salts and sugar as well as crockery, copper glasses, glass bottles and other qwirky bric a brac that are stocked up on various shelves all over the restaurant. The Hong Kong Club a multi-level Cantonese restaurant and evening destination with a bar, club and lounge.  Mixologist Agnieszka Rozenska is brilliant behind the bar and a pleasure to chat with. Of Polish origin and popularly known as Agni, this globetrotter likes to get to know her guests and happily talks about her experiences in India along with sharing the nuances of making perfectly balanced cocktails. The Sunday brunch at The Hong Kong Club is particularly popular and makes for a great day out with the family. Since customisation and artisanal products are the highlight throughtout the hotel, the spa too features an Apothecary Blending Bar where you can custom-make your scrubs and infused oils according to your preference and requirement. I will come back to experience this one since this weekend was all about spending time with the kids.

I have come to believe that a staycation is a great idea, especially if the hotel is well located and offers a great choice of dining and activities for you and your family.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Here’s Why You Should Check Out The Mexican Food Festival at Setz

Of the various international cuisines, Mexican is amongst my favourites. And I often lament the lack of good Mexican restaurants in Delhi. Even if good eateries do open, they don't seem to last very long.

Top: Appetiser Sampler
Bottom L-R: Potato Tacos Dorados; Chicken Tinga Tostadas.

As I had written a couple of years ago, after my interaction with the affable Mexican Ambassador to India H.E. Melba Pria at a food festival organised by the Mexican Embassy in India, there is a lot more to Mexican fare than tacos and burritos. In fact these come under the category of Tex-Mex or Mexican food that initially became popular in North America and spread to other parts of the world. In fact, the cuisine is so rich in terms of ingredients and diversity that it has earned the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

The current Mexican food promotion at Setz features Chef Tania’s interpretation of this beautiful cuisine. Being the executive chef at Mexico City’s Fonda Fina, she is in India to showcase some of her signature dishes. Her tantalizing selection includes Potato Tacos Dorados, Molletes, Prawns Aguachile, Tamales, Mole De Olla Lamb, Chicken Tinga Tostadas and more. She has tried to use the Mexican staple, corn, in most of her dishes that combine the wholesome goodness of grandmother-style cooking along with modern techniques and some local ingredients. While she has brought some special chillies with her along with ingredients like avocado leaf that she didn’t think she’d find her, she has also adapted some recipes to use produce that is easily available in India. Instead of using the Mezcal leaf sheet to make mixiotes, for instance, she substituted it with a banana leaf.

Coming to the food: we start with a platter of bite-sized appetisers (this was a sampler size, larger portions are served when you order a la carte), that we are encouraged to eat with our hand. Potato Tacos Dorados are made with soft tortillas that rolled and deep-fried. This is street-style wholesome food, she explains. It is served with fresh cheese and avocado, simple and comforting in every bite. Then there’s mollettes. You may think of this is a hearty cheese toast with the addition of beans and mildly spicy pico de gallo. Mollettes are usually made with a soft bread known as bolillo, but here she used baguette to make it. Since this is the first time I tried, I can’t comment on the authenticity, but it tastes good. And chicken thinga tostada is something that we are familiar with. A thin, crisp corn tortilla topped with chicken, refried beans and sour cream.

Top: Prawns AguachileBottom L-R: Tamales; Mole do olla Lamb. 

Among the mains, we go for the popular Tamale and Mole options. The vegetarian tamale is served fresh out of the steamer. It is like a corndog stuffed with cottage cheese, steamed in banana leaf and served in a piquant caldillo sauce made of tomatoes, onion, garlic and chillies and topped with fresh cheese, sour cream and coriander. Mole de olla Lamb is a delicious lamb rack done to perfection, in a rich and flavourful adobo sauce and served with corn on the cob and grilled zucchini and onions. Every component of this dish is packed with flavour, including the onions! As you may know, Mole is to Mexico what curry is to India. While the most popular mole is associated with a chocolate-based sauce, mole simply is any curry made with chillies and spices. Almost every household thus has its own distinct mole. The chocolate-based mole is the specialty of only one region of Mexico – Oxaca. For this one, Chef Tania used the avocado leaf, and reduced the consistency of the sauce to make it more intense in flavour. The result is a very robust sauce with well-rounded flavours.

And as we often save the best for last, let me finally tell you about Prawns Aguachile. This light and refreshing dish is part of Mexican cuisine, but inspired from the Peruvian classic – ceviche. Typically, prawns are marinated in lime juice and served with refreshing yet piquant sauce made with habanero chillies, cucumber and coriander. Served with freshly made nachos, this one is a star dish that I would urge you to go and try.

Although various insects, including fried crickets tossed with vegetables are also part of traditional Mexican fare, Chef Tania has left them out of this particular menu. What you have on offer though is tasty comfort food, with refreshing flavours.

Venue: SET'Z (Third Floor,) DLF Emporio, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.
Dates: 13th-19th January 2020.
Timing: 11 am - 11 pm.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

A Fine Modern Japanese Restaurant in the Heart of Delhi

Yokoso is Japanese for ‘welcome’. With this new restaurant The Lodhi, New Delhi welcomes guests for a modern Japanese dining experience. Helmed by Chef Shubham Thakur who comes armed with the experience of working in the finest Japanese kitchens in the city - Megu and Wasabi – Yokoso showcases meticulously crafted culinary gems integrating authentic Japanese ingredients and locally grown produce.

Chef Shubham’s knowledge of Japanese cuisine and eating culture is extremely impressive. Thus you will do well to try his Omakase, wherein he’ll ask you about your preference of protein and any allergens, after which you will be treated to a culinary extravaganza course-by-course.

Culinary Delight
Top L-R:
Shira Ae; Yellowtail Carpaccio
Middle L-R: Salmon Kale Cups; Tuna Avocado
Bottom L-R: Miso Eggplant; Lamb Chops

Although he brings modern twists to many dishes, Chef Shubham feels that some classics should not be tampered with. We thus start with the traditional Shira Ae, pressed tofu in a sesame sauce. In keeping with the season it is accompanied by some thin slices of fresh cucumber and red radish. This is followed Hamachi Usuzikiri - carpaccio thin slices of yellowtail topped with citric soy and jalapeno to lend a hot kick. Amongst the new creations are salmon kale cups, crispy tuna and pork ribs. While the first is a delicious and healthy rendition of sashimi grade salmon served on a bed of guacamole, encased in cups made of fresh kale, the second is a beautiful flower made of ponzu marinated lean tuna served over crispy shisho leaf. Both these dishes represent Chef Shubham’s understanding of the fine balance of textures and flavours that are intrinsic to Japanese cuisine. Even the Toro Tartare that can easily be drowned in excess mayonnaise or soy sauce is presented with utmost perfection. Here, the fatty tuna belly tartare is accompanied with fresh scallion, flying fish roe, rice puffs to lend some crunch, aromatic mayonnaise and finally drizzled with just the right amount of artisanal soy that lets the flavour of the fish shine above all the rest.

Needless to say, there is an excellent choice of sashimi and sushi, and immense care has been taken to source the best quality seafood in order to serve it raw. If you want to try something different try the Baked Shrimp Sushi. While white soy sheets replace green nori, and rice encases shrimp tempura, topped with chopped shrimp mixed with mayonnaise and flying fish roe and torched before serving to give it a wonderful smokey flavour. Amongst the large plates there’s the ubiquitous black cod with yuzu miso, sea bass with a delicious peppery mustard sauce with wasabi and spring onion oil and a hearty pork kakuni served with barley cooked in the residue of pork juices.

The menu is well thought out and offers a good mix of small and large plates, an impressive choice of noodles and a teppanyaki counter where guests get to interact with the chef and each dish is literally made to order. While there is a range of wines and classic cocktails, sake or Japanese whiskies round of this meal well. And for the finale, tofu cheesecake accompanied by a berry compote and topped with light as air vanilla candy floss is as fun as it is tasty. But if there’s only one dessert that you’d like, do not miss the homemade black sesame icecream.

Sweet Endings 
Tofu cheesecake with vanilla floss; Black sesame ice cream..

Barely a month old, Yokoso is already pulling in diners by word of mouth. Even though we visited on a mid-week evening, there was a buzz in the restaurant and we could hear people gushing about the beautiful creations on their plates.

Yokoso, The Lodhi, Lodhi Road, New Delhi-110003.
Ph: 011-43633333

Timings: Dinner 7pm – 11.30pm.