Monday, 29 August 2016

ZORA... A Magnum Opus!!

Have you guys ever known a Magnum Opus, the likes of Ben Hur and Ten Commandments, to be short? Well, this one isn’t either! (Wicked grin)

For various reasons (read: health and personal commitments) the penning of this review kept getting delayed. I’m just not the type to upload slip-shod work hence I decided that it was better to write a late review rather than a shoddy one. I finally give you guys Joravar & Priyanka Sachdev’s Magnum Opus... ZORA!

When Zora, Pune’s new age, new baby on the block, extended an invite to Team Food Prowl, a food group that I am intermittently a part of, I could not help but wonder what the experience would be like. Having seen photographs of the new restaurant in the making, expectations were sky high. As I braved the torrential rain and made my way through the entrance of Arcade Six at Ishanya Mall, at first glance, I was blown away by the ambiance and the decor. 

A huge gold panel with the name ‘Zora’ is what first drew in my attention. Zora, is short for Joravar In Slavic, ‘Zora’ means ‘Dawn’. Dawn of a new venture: Dawn of a new, modern cuisine concept. The restaurant is the brain child and hard work of Joravar Sachdev and his pretty wife Priyanka. They, with their competent team, have given the city of Pune a restaurant that lays emphasis on Modern Indian Cuisine. 

As I walked through the restaurant I was further impressed with the detailed planning of the interiors. Each item was carefully chosen and aesthetically placed to give the restaurant a classy look. The chandeliers, the floor lamps at the entrance, the grandfather’s clock, that beautiful peacock floor lamp, the candelabras; all had been put together to create a harmonious fine dine ambiance. 

As we sat at our table I could not help but notice the tableware. It was beautifully and original! Crisp table napkins in jet black with the gold ‘Z’ insignia (in hindi) paired with the grainy dinner table stoneware gave the table a look that was radically different and chic!

As they began service, the first items served were two varieties of soup. One was an Indian Summer Chicken Soup and the other was a Kumbh Adraki & Broccoli Cream Soup. 

The Summer Chicken Soup was a clear chicken consommé infused with thyme and rose. The soup was served in a French Press and one had to pour it over pieces of peppers, basil and chicken. The flavor of the consommé was brilliantly robust and yet the soup felt fresh and light on the palate. Team Zora describes it as, ‘summer in a bowl’ and I couldn’t have said it any better. 

I love rich creamy soups and the Kumbh Adraki & Broccoli Cream Soup was just that. Rich in flavoured and velvety in texture. This was totally my ‘soup for the soul’. The chicken soup as I mentioned was superb, but for me, the Kumbh Adraki & Broccoli Cream won game, set and match! Both the soups were served with Lavash Bark. 

They then brought in two plates of salads. One was the Spicy Okra Salad in Amchoor Vinaigrette and the other was Stir Fried Fish in Creamy Kadi Patta Dressing. As most of you know, I steer away from the word ‘salad’ but as I love Okra I left out the raw veggies from the salad and dug my fork into the crisp, spicy, tangy Okra pieces. 

For the fish salad, I repeated the ‘deed’ of leaving behind the raw stuff and gave my full on concentration to the ever so deserving fish pieces. :D I will sum up the taste of Okra and the Fish in precisely two words, ‘Oh, yum!’ (I don’t say that lightly) 

We had heard that they would be serving us a dish using the dreaded Bhut Jolakia (Ghost Chilies). For those of you who don’t know, at one time, it was at the apex in the world of chilies in regard to its hotness factor. They are known to be 900 times hotter than Tabasco Sauce. How do I know this? Google for one and two, for having sourced them from Assam, I, sometimes, am insane enough to cook with them. The menu mentioned a dish, ‘Bhut Jolakia Tandoori Murgh, Cilantro Foam’. (Before any of you get wary of the dish, let me add, the chef at Zora is kind enough to adjust the quantity of Bhut Jolakia for this dish as preferred by the patron.) I could not wait for them to serve this one. They had, of course, used just enough Bhut Jolakia to make the dish two levels more piquant than the regular Tandoori Chicken because most people are unable to deal with the ‘heat’ that this chili emits. Two or three foodies, myself included, loved that extra bit of heat while the others reached for their glass of water or mocktail. (Wicked grin) I’d go back to Zora, time and again, for this dish! 

The other starter served was Amritsari Bombil with Mango Chili Chutney. The bombils (fresh Bombay Ducks) were crisp on the outside and melt in the mouth from within. Even by themselves they were delicious but when partnered with the Mango Chili Chutney they were explosive in the most wonderful kind of way. We loved that Mango Chili Chutney so much; we requested them to send us another bowl of the same.

The third starter they served was Indian Spiced lamb Chops with Red Bell Pepper Achaar. The chops were spicy and cooked to the perfect ‘fall of the bone’ extent. I rarely, if ever, enjoy mutton chops at a restaurant but in recent times this was the second time I loved chops. I am extremely finicky when it comes to chops hence take my word for it when I say, if you like spicy food and if you like chops then these are a must-try! Although I did try the Red Bell Pepper Achaar, with the chops being so flavourful by themselves, I did not feel the need to pair it with the same. I happily munched on the chops without the achaar. 

For the vegetarian starters, they served us Paneer Tikka with Jalapeno Pesto Paste, Spicy Lotus Root Chips with Tamarind Chutney and Pickled Ginger, Almond Yogurt Kababs and Mushroom Galouti with Red Bell Pepper Achaar. The Paneer Tikka was good, though, I would have preferred the paneer to be a tad softer. 

The Lotus Root Chips have shifted their role in the menu now and have gone from being a starter to being an accompaniment. I was a little apprehensive about them as I’d never eaten lotus root but having had them; if I did not have other things to taste I would have begged for a bowlful more. Crisp, spicy, and when dipped in Tamarind Chutney, a layer of tanginess adhered to it. I loved it! 

The Badam Yogurt Kababs were soft and totally melt in the mouth. This dish is ideal for people who cannot tolerate spicy kababs. 

I find Galouti Kababs irresistible for their ‘melt-on-the-tongue’ factor. I’m extremely partial to any and all Galouti Kababs (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) when made to perfection and this one was no different. These were just the kind that I thoroughly enjoy. These babies deserve a perfect 10/10 score! 

For the main course we ate Roasted Chicken Steaks in Pink Peppercorn Malai Gravy partnered with Onion Basil Kulchas, Prawn Balchao with Theplas and Hari Mirch ka Thecha and Lal Maas with sharp Cheddar Naan Pancakes. 

The Roast Chicken Steaks were delicious and the Pink Peppercorn Malai Gravy was extremely flavoursome and partnered the chicken steaks beautifully. 

The Prawn Balchao was spicy but as usual what I concentrated on was the texture of the prawn. It was spot on! I still had loads of other dishes to try and hence gave the Thepla and the Thecha a miss. 

The Lal Maas was truly lal (red) because of the red chilies used to give it flavor and its distinctive colour. The Maas (mutton) was succulent and tender. For some reason I could not lay my hands on the sharp Cheddar Naan Pancakes hence I cannot voice my personal opinion about the same. :( This truly saddens because as you all know by now; cheese is one of my favourite foods. Let me add, though, I did hear plenty of praises for them around the table.

For the vegetarian mains we were served Beetroot Tikki in Tomato Gravy with Roomali Roti Squares, Soya Chops in White Makhani Gravy with Mango Pickled Puri, Grilled Baingan Steaks in Coconut Curry Leaf Gravy accompanied with a Peanut and Tamarind Pilaf and lastly, Mushroom Koftas in Spinach Cream Sauce with Ajwain Baby Kulchas. By the time I was done tasting the non-vegetarian food I simply had no stomach space to eat too much of the vegetarian dishes. 

I did try a bite of the Soya Chops In White Makhani Gravy and the Mushroom Koftas in Spinach Cream Sauce. The Soya Chops were nice but did nothing to ‘wow’ me. The Mushroom Koftas in Spinach Gravy, though, were another thing altogether. The koftas and the gravy were very tasty. The sauce in which the koftas were drenched, definitely deserves a special mention. It was creamy and well balanced in flavour! 

At this point in time, I thought to myself, they truly need to stop feeding us now but I guess with a load full of deliciousness in my tummy my subconscious ESP mode just went kaput. They brought in platters of Biryani: Reshami Malai Chicken Tikka Biryani and Schezuan Paneer Chili Biryani. I tried a tiny bit of the Reshami Malai Chicken Tikka Biryani. It was different from the regular Biryani in terms of texture because of the malai added to the rice but in terms of flavor, it was delish! I wanted to keep a wee bit of space in my stomach for the desserts that were yet to come hence I sneakily gave the Paneer Chili Biryani a miss. I’m sorry I have no clue how it tasted but, yet again, from the comments I heard at the table, I can tell you it was a well made dish. 

For the grand finale our desserts were of the ambrosial kind. We laid eyes on plates of Falooda Panacotta served with Gulkand Chikki slathered with Rose Compote and Dried Fruits. The second dessert was Dark Chocolate Gulab Jamun Tart served with Tender Coconut Ice Cream and Caramel Splat. The much awaited dessert was Chocolate Puri with bachpan ki yaadein ( #bachpankiyaadein #bachpan ). 

The Falooda Panacotta was perfect in texture. It merrily jiggled when we shook the plate and was smooth and silken on the tongue. The chef had done a marvelous job to get it right. Kudos! The Rose Compote complimented the Panacotta and contributed to adding extra oomph to the jiggling marvel on the plate. 

The Dark Chocolate Gulab Jamun was luscious. I took a bite of the dessert but those Chocolate Puris beckoned hence I focused my attention on those babies. 

The Chocolate Puri with its various accompaniments (Butterscotch Sauce, Chocolate Sauce accompanied by Nutties and Popping Candy) is what sweet dreams are made of. The only words that aptly describe this dessert are, divinely delectable! 

Everyone at the table combined the accompaniments in the Chocolate Puri according to their preference. The collective result of each bite, from each and every one of us was a resounding, ‘WOW’! We were stoked to have experienced such a marvelous dessert! What a fantastic dessert to finish the meal on! It couldn’t have been any better than this! 

We were served an array of mocktails all of which were blended beautifully. I’m a teetotaler hence I cannot comment on any of the cocktails but the rest of team who sipped the cocktails looked like happy puppies. That reaction says it all, yes? :-) Zora also make in-house sodas in various flavours. I tried the Elderflower and the Lavender flavoured sodas. I liked both but, for me, the Elderflower was a clear winner!

The service, the food, the hospitality, the ambiance, all of it, was so fantastic that one cannot help but applaud Team Zora. I also noticed that I was very wrong when I assumed that a meal at Zora’s would be a high priced affair. I requested for the menu card to check out the prices; I was amazed. This is a restaurant with everything (food, service, and ambiance) that speaks the fine-dine language at prices that don’t make the wallet feel queasy. What could be better than that? In conversation with Joravar, I also got to know that each main course comes with its own unique, individual accompaniments (roti, naan, paratha, thepla, etc.), so patrons don’t end up paying a separate amount for the same. He also mentioned that 12.5% VAT was already included in the rates mentioned for each dish on the menu card. When I put the added accompaniments and the added VAT into perceptive, I realized that each dish was very reasonably priced. My advice to you all is, don’t go by the grandeur of the restaurant and make the mistake of waiting to visit the restaurant for a special occasion. With the food they serve and the warmth with which they serve it, any day you visit it will automatically become a very special occasion.

I get a tad wary when restaurants claim they add modern twists to an original dish. I say this because at most times I see twists falling flat on their faces. Team Zora, though, have not only incorporated new age twists beautifully; they have ensured that none of the original dishes lose their inherent spirit. In fact, they’d been taken to a new high. Commendable, indeed!

A few words of advice for Team Zora, if I may, please!

You have come up with a unique and workable concept, now the thing to do is to ensure each dish is perfect every single time. Treat each dish that gets sent out from the kitchen, to the table of the patron, as if it were being sent out for a standing ovation. If Team Zora can dish out a perfect plate of food every single time, I promise, regardless of the fact that the restaurant is a tad out of the way in terms of distance; you shall have very happy patrons who will disregard the distance and return to your restaurant time after time.

Heartfelt thanks Joravar, his lovely better half Priyanka, Daneesh and Team Zora for your warm hospitality and for an evening full of deliciousness! In Arnold Schwarzenegger style, I have to say, ‘I’ll be back!’ :-)

Address: Ishanya Mall, Arcade 6, Opp Golf Course, Yerwada, Pune
Tel: +91 9172205060 / +91 9172205063

A few more photographs...

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