Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Gong : Wonderfully Asian – Wonderfully Modern!

Bright interiors done up with a unique lattice of wood work, tables set with crisp monogrammed napkins and cutlery that included chopsticks; my attention was drawn to all these as soon as I walked into Gong, a modern Asian restaurant at Balewadi High Street. 

I had been reading about this restaurant for a while but as it is situated at the other end of town (a side I rarely venture to), it remained on my ‘to-visit’ list… until now. 

At the onset of the meal, a refreshingly delicious cranberry sphere was served as amuse bouche. 

Our first course was a Green Papaya Salad which I did not eat as I am “allergic” to salads but everyone at the table found the salad to be fresh, albeit a tad spicy. 

For the second course we were served Asparagus Tempura and Ebi Tempura Roll (Prawn), both of which were absolutely gorgeous in flavour and texture. 

I am a very big fan of Cheung Fan and I was ecstatic when I saw it on the tasting menu. 

They served us two varieties: Crisp Vegetable Cheung Fan and Crispy Prawn Cheung Fan. As these were the Zhaliang (also written as Zha Leung) variety of Cheung Fan it had a light and crisp inner layer with a silken outer covering; they were perfect and a delight to bite into!

Next, we were served Edamame & Truffle Dumplings. These were steamed to perfection and the dumpling wrapper was beautifully thin. The filling of Edamame & Truffle was smooth and lush on the palate without being pasty. We all loved it!

The Asian Cottage Cheese Ravioli and the Asian Crab Ravioli were served in a very unique way; in stem glasses. Both the raviolis were lovely but of course the carnivore in me preferred the one filled with crab. 

I’m not a big fan of lotus stem but my palate declared the Crisp Lotus Stem to be a winner among the vegetarian items served. Crisp, sweet and spicy; the chefs had turned a humble vegetable into a delicious preparation. 

The Vietnamese Fish Parma Fingers were also nicely done. The fish was batter fried to a lovely crunch and served with crisp lettuce, sauces, kimchi and grated Parmesan.

For the next course we were supposed to be served a Mushroom Cappuccino and a Chicken-Asparagus & Lebanese Cucumber soup but that never made its way to our table. As this was a tasting invite, we decided not to question our host about the same.

For the mains there were two vegetarian dishes which I avoided as tofu and greens are not things I relish. I thought it would be unfair to review something my taste buds cannot handle. As for the non-vegetarian mains, the lamb shanks were delish but they would’ve been better had they had more meat on them. 

The Burnt Garlic Fried Rice and the Soba Yaki Noodles were an excellent accompaniment to the flavourful Chicken Pixian which was cooked in special Chinkiang vinegar. The crisp tuile served with the chicken gave a dish a very classy look.


The first dessert they served was the Chocolate Dome and the only thing I can say about it is, ‘wow-wow-wow!’. (Do check out the uploaded video)

The chocolate log filled with mousse was also quite nice. The only drawback was the chocolate log had a very thick covering of chocolate which made the dish a bit clumsy. A thinner, more delicate covering of chocolate would’ve worked better. 

The mango pudding wasn’t enjoyable. It was made of canned mango pulp which lent an unappealing aftertaste to the palate; I’d give this a miss and exchange it for that decadent Chocolate Dome on any given day. ;)

All in all, the chefs at Gong Modern Asian sure know their food and that knowledge clearly reflects in the flavours and textures they serve their patrons. I will definitely go back and try some more non-vegetarian dishes from their menu as the ones they served were very good.

This was a food tasting invite via team #FoodProwl who also happened to be celebrating their 100th food tasting event that day. *a loud happy shout out to the entire team for being as awesome as it is*

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this review are solely my own based on the food served and they are also based on how my palate handled the food. Your views of the place and the food may differ depending on your experience and I will respect them; please respect mine!

Link to.... Chocolate Dome Video

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Culinary Turns Black – Awaken Your Senses!!

When I was informed about the #CulinaryTurnsBlack pop-up at Zeera-Conrad, Pune, I realized that Pune was finally travelling into the unknown realms of culinary experimentation, the likes of which this city has never seen or experienced before. This was a first in our city and there was no way I was going to miss this pop-up.

I was excited but I was a tad apprehensive too. I thought everything would contain activated charcoal and wondered if that would be fun to look at and good to eat. I have absolutely no problem admitting I was under a false impression; Chef Mandar Madhav and Chef Ashley Nunes proved me wrong. Except for a couple of things on the menu, nothing contained activated charcoal. The chefs have put immense thought in giving each dish the perfect  black colour which is the main focus of this pop-up. The plating is superb and the dishes, though black, look as fabulous as they taste. They have ensured, though black, the food not only looks fabulous because it is plated beautifully but tastes superb too.

I chose the Black Spice for my drink. This was a combination of palm heart, tandoori spices and lemonade. My friend chose the Peppermint Iced Tea with activated charcoal. While the iced tea was on the sweeter side my drink had a sweet and sour hint to it because of the added spices. Both, though, were very refreshing.

We began the meal with an amuse bouche: Amrud and Reshampatti Ravioli. Reshampati chilies were roasted to a black char, ground to a powder and added to guava (amrud) juice. This combination was then shaped into a liquid sphere, a black orb, using a culinary process known as spherification. The orb was as delicate as a bubble and burst in your mouth releasing the guava juice with that fabulous hit of reshampatti chilies. Guava and red chilies are usually paired together in our country, but experiencing them this way made it a totally unusual and amazing experience!

Our first course was Wild Mushroom and Truffle Kulcha. The kulcha was stuffed with seven different varieties of mushrooms which had been cooked to a well flavoured creamy consistency. Blackened gyoza skin was used for the outer covering of the kulcha and the black colour was achieved by using powdered black trumpet mushrooms. The kulcha was garnished with a couple of black garlic cloves. These tiny garlic cloves had been soaked in balsamic vinegar for 15 days. I hesitantly put one in my mouth and realized it was garlicky and yet because it had been cured in the balsamic, the flavour was not at all overpowering, in fact, it was yummy. I quickly cut another piece of the kulcha, put the second garlic on it and happily munched away.

The second course was the Batata Wada Bao. Instead of the regular pau they had opted for a soft, slightly sweet bao and had used purple potatoes in the wada. These potatoes had been cooked to a delicious spicy flavour. Onion petals were slow roasted for over 24 hours to help them attain a black colour without them turning bitter. These were then powdered and added to the besan (chick pea powder) for the batter to give the wadas that gorgeous black colour. It was served with vibrantly orange garlic chutney and the fried and salted green chili. Both the chutney and the chili lent a burst of colour to the white and black palette and a burst of flavour to our palate. The humble wada pau blossomed into an exotic wada bao and we happily embraced this transformation.

Lamb Kheema Mutter Pops was our third course. Perfectly spiced and and marinated galouti mince balls were rolled in roasted and powdered black naga rice and then baked. This ensured a beautiful crisp texture on the outside while the meat within remained juicy. In fact, the exterior was so gorgeously crisped that we believed it was fried until the chef told us otherwise. These dark as night delights were served with roasted, black corn kernels and Japanese mayo. The different textures of the kheema mutter pop with the creamy mayo and that bite of kernel all came together beautifully. Told you, they aren’t using activated charcoal for everything. ;) Btw, the vegetarians can opt for Aloo-Baingan Pops.

Molecular gastronomy played a big role in our fourth course. We were served dhokla in the form of slurry foam. Pureed and sieved dhokla was filled into siphon guns charged with nitrogen. These siphon guns were shaken vigourously after which they were held upside down to dispense the foam. 

The yellow dhokla foam made up the bottom layer while the blackish-green chutney flavoured dhokla made up the layer above. Who would have ever thought that dhokla served in foam form would taste just like regular dhoka and yet would be more spectacular because of the velvety texture? The splash of tadka (tempering) of mustard seeds and crisp curry leaves and the gentle sprinkle of freshly grated coconut lent a lovely flavour and feel to the palate.

Our fifth course was the Java Plum (jamun) Sorbet. The coarsely pulped jamun was both sweet and tangy, though more tangy than sweet and it was a refreshing palate cleanser.

For our sixth and penultimate course they brought us Madras Prawn, Pulao, Moilee. The Pulao was black sticky naga rice cooked with squid ink. 

Its consistency was more that of a risotto than a pulao but I’m not complaining because it was delicious. Atop the rice were perched two large, plump, juicy crustaceans (prawns). These luscious babies had been coated in a mixture of semolina (rawa) and roasted-powdered black naga rice. They had then been deep fried to perfect succulent texture. 

A tiny jug of coconut-y Moilee curry/gravy was then drizzled over the rice and prawns. The flavour was smoothly subtle and yet so yum! I had a wee bit of Moilee gravy let in the jug which I poured onto my spoon and sipped on. I simply did not have the heart to waste it. Sigh! Vegetarians please note: They have a vegetarian version for the main course which, I was told by a foodie friend, is just as marvellous as the non-veg one.

The seventh and final course was the grand finale to the magnificent six courses that preceded it. It was Black Mousse (70% cocoa) Cassis Cremeux, Black Mission Figs Jam, Black Truffle Macaroon. 

I took a tiny bit of the delicious fig but that was all I could manage. I then offered it to my friend who happily took it off my plate. As most of you know by now, I am not overly fond of fruits. 

The dark mousse was superb as was the raspberry flavoured cassis cremeux snuggled within it. The sweet flavour of the mousse and the tangy flavour of the cremeux were perfectly balanced. It was served with a thin sheet of tempered chocolate and a beautiful lattice. 

The lattice was not sweet and I bit into it intermittently to give my palate a refreshing change from the sweet dessert variants on my platter. The tiny domes of chocolate and truffle oil ganache were delish! As for that Black Truffle Macaroon, nowhere in Pune have I had a macaroon made to such perfection! This dessert was a sheer delight in terms of visuals, textures and flavours!!

The pop-up for a seven course meal is priced at a very reasonable 1300 + taxes and is on until Monday, July 31, 2017. For the kind of food they have put up, trust me, it is indeed a very reasonable price. Most people have been a tad apprehensive of giving this pop up a try. If you read my reviews and have trusted my judgment in regard to my previous reviews, please trust my judgment on this one too. It is not a pop-up to be missed! In terms of culinary excellence these chefs have outdone themselves. Give it a try, you are sure to come away amazed and enchanted. This pop up was like a symphony. At times the notes were gentle and sometimes they played loud. In between the music softened to a peaceful hum and finally the tempo soared to a fantastic crescendo leaving us fulfilled in the most beautiful way. All our senses of sight, smell, sound (the crunch of the curry leaves, remember?) and taste tingled. These chefs had it in them to take the bold step of hosting this rare and exciting pop-up in our city; now, it is up to us to give this pop-up a try and trust them for they are indeed knowledgeable about what they have put up.

Chef Mandar Madhav and Chef Ashley Nunes, I send forth to you and your team a standing ovation for having had the guts, the vision and the excellence to execute this pop-up so brilliantly!

Black is not just beautiful, it’s delicious!!

Food: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Ambiance: 5/5

Address: Zeera, Conrad, Pune, Mangaldas Road, Pune
For reservation call: 020 67456745

Zeera - Conrad Pune Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Some more photographs:

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Mughal Sarai... Praise-worthy!

I had never heard of Mughal Sarai and was quite curious as to what it would be like. As I entered the building, I stepped into the lift that zoomed up to the rooftop level. A passageway opened out to a beautiful terrace. 

I took in the ambiance and walked towards the air-conditioned section of the restaurant which happened to be just as lovely. The vibe of the place was positive and vibrant, and I was ever so glad that I had accepted the invite for the tasting at Mughal Sarai; extended to me via Team #FoodProwl.

We were offered mocktails to quench our thirst and we chose Fresh Lime Sodas, Khus Sherbet and Blue Lagoon mocktails. While I found the Blue Lagoon a tad too sweet, the Khus Sherbet was cool and very refreshing! The lime sodas, too, were perfectly balanced in flavour.

We began our meal with shorbas (soup) and appetizers. We tried two shorbas; the Chicken Yakhnee and Gosht Paya Ka Shorba. At the first sip of the Chicken Yakhnee we went, ‘wowww!’, the soup was hot, hearty and lip-smackingly good. We then turned our attention to the Gosht Paya Ka Shorba. If the Chicken Yakhnee was ‘wowww’ then this soup had us saying, ‘Oh my God! This beats the Chicken Yakhnee.' The paya shorba was simply superb! Each and every one at the table loved it!

Before I voice my opinion about the food, I need to mention that the idea of writing the name of the restaurant on some of the platters actually marred the look of the dish instead of enhancing it. The platter would look way classier without the ‘Mughal Sarai’ scrawl. (Please take this suggestion in a positive way because my intention is not to demean the person who thought of it)

For appetizers we were served; Karari Roti, Dahi Ke Kebab, Paneer Shahjani, Murg Ki Raseed and Keftey Kebab. The Karari Roti was the best I have ever had. Paper thin, crisp, brushed with ghee and sprinkled with spices; this one was perfect in every sense of the word! 

The Dahi Ke Kebabs and the Murg Ki Raseed were also delish. The Paneer Shahjani was a dish of sautéed mushrooms sandwiched between soft slices of paneer and was nicely done! What stole my heart, though, was their signature dish, Keftey Kebab. These were mutton mince kebabs! Beautifully seasoned and cooked to a perfect succulent texture; these babies were stellar! A must try!

For the main course we tried Nalli Nihari, Murg Makhani, Paneer Lababdar and Dal Bukhara. The Murg Makhani was creamy and rich, just as it should be. However, the vegetarian Paneer Lababdar and Dal Bukhara gave the Murg Makhani a run for its money. The paneer was soft and that decadent lababdar gravy was luscious; together, they played a 'dhinchak' tune on my palate. 

The Dal Bukhara was velvety, buttery and finger-lickin’ good! I couldn’t have asked for a better one. My carnivorous mind was a bit dubious about these vegetarian dishes but after tasting them, I believed they were tied with the Murg Makhani at the finishing line. 

The Nalli Nihari was mutton braised in sensational gravy to fall-off-the-bone-soft-melt-in-the-mouth texture. The gravy, without a doubt, was exactly how Nihari gravy should be. It had that light sticky texture which clearly indicated that the mutton had been slow cooked for hours; all the flavours from that mutton and those shanks had slowly infused into the gravy, giving it that superb robustness. Sigh!

The mains were served with various naan and parathas. I only ate half a piece of the Peshawari Naan as I was quite stuffed. The naan was yummy even when had by itself. It was buttered and sprinkled with finely chopped almonds. There were absolutely no complaints around the table in regard to the other flat breads (naan/parathas) so I’m guessing they were all just as good as the one I ate.

I truly did believe I was stuffed (snickering greedily) until the servers brought out a bowl of Kachhe Gosht Ki Biryani. It was lightly spiced and fragrant. The meat was well marinated and juicy and this came across as soon as I had the first morsel. Yes, I could not resist the biryani and did eat it. (Sheepish grin)

While we sat content and satiated they brought in desserts: Firni and Kulfi-Rabdi. The firni was different in texture and that is precisely why I loved it. I’m not fond the thick, pasty firni and this one was kept to a light semi-set consistency. For me, this consistency was perfect! The malai kulfi was served with a heavenly rabdi and a sprinkling of chopped almonds and pistachios. What a fantastic end to a marvelous meal.


Having tried their food all I can say is, their food is excellent; don’t miss out on the deliciousness that they so generously serve. I’m definitely going back for more!


I have been saying this to restaurateurs and chefs for years but from now on, I plan to add a paragraph to all my ‘tasting event’ reviews. It will seem a tad repetitive but I’m going to write it, anyway, because I very strongly believe in it. As a person who loves good food (my bane and boon, sigh!), as a food blogger and a restaurant critic, what I love the most, and what I want to see, is a restaurant do well. I believe every passionate restaurateur deserves to succeed in their food ventures. Hence the paragraph!

“Please don’t cook excellent food merely for bloggers and restaurant critics. Every time guests sit at a table, order food and pay money to eat at your establishment, serve them the same fabulous quality of food as you would to bloggers and food critics. Give each guest the same attention you give to bloggers and critics. Rest assured, those guests will come back and they’re sure to recommend and bring more people with them. The day each restaurateur understands this simple concept and follows it, their revenue and ratings are sure to soar.” 

Address: C-1, 3rd Floor, The Brahma, Kondhwa Road, Kondhwa, Pune
Tel: +91 9130084817 / +91 9130084819 / 020 30163579

Some more photographs: