Saturday, 20 January 2018

10 Chefs 10 Plates: Conrad Returns With The Best - Culinary Excellence Of 2017!

Over the course of the year, Conrad has quickly become a hot favourite of mine. It hosted many festivals last year and having kept an eye out for them I had the chance to attend quite a many. Having excelled at those festivals, the chefs at Conrad decided to give their patrons one last glimpse of all that we tasted last year and with that concept in mind was born Conrad’s first festival of year 2018: ‘10 Chefs 10 Plates’. 

They selected the ‘best dishes’ of the festivals and favourites from the regular menus of the existing restaurants and decided to present them as a ten course degustation dinner. When they extended an invite for this festival via Team #FoodProwl, as it is with most festivals that they host, I simply could not stay away!

I ordered a mocktail, the Berry Blast, to sip on while I waited for the meal to begin. This mocktail was a combination of Cranberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Soda and Lime Juice. It was sweet and tangy! Ideally, I would have preferred it to be a bit tangier but the sweetness toned down a bit as the ice in the drink began to melt. 

The server brought the first ‘plate’ to the table. It was a Mango Chili Ravioli; an amuse bouche. This was a smooth orb of mango and chili created by a culinary process known as spherification. As soon as I popped the silken orb into my mouth it burst in a flood of flavours on my palate. The mango flavour dissipated while the chili flavour retained its boisterousness a tad longer. 

The dish that was served next was one of my favourites; so much so that I am secretly hoping they will add this dish to their regular menu. This was the Wild Mushroom and Truffle Kulcha; a culinary gem from the ‘Culinary Turns Black’ festival that Conrad was bold enough to host last year. 

The kulcha is stuffed with seven varieties of mushrooms. Blackened gyoza skin is used for the outer covering of the kulcha and the black colour is achieved by using powdered black trumpet mushrooms. It is then garnished with a couple of black garlic cloves. These tiny garlic cloves are soaked in balsamic vinegar for 15 days. I remembered the deliciousness of these garlic cloves and unlike the last time when I was hesitant to put them into my mouth, this time I happily munched on them. To comprehend the beauty of this dish one must truly put a morsel of it in one’s mouth. They say the deliciousness of certain dishes moves one’s soul; this one will do just that! 

Our third ‘plate’ was the stunning Prawn Kataifi; one of the best dishes by Chef Tenzin at the ‘Dim sum Discovery’ pop up. The thought process of a dim sum chef merging Middle Eastern Kataifi strands to create a fried dim sum had intrigued me and I was ever so happy to know it had made its way to this current pop up menu. The prawns were wrapped in fine wisps of kataifi and deep fried. The fried dim sums were then drizzled with a gorgeous chilli-orange sauce. The prawns were succulent and the crisp kataifi with that sauce was an incredible combination! As always, the Kataifi was light and non-greasy on the palate.

Miang Kham (Thai Paan), was our fourth ‘plate’. The word ‘paan’ clearly implies a raw leaf which yours truly refuses to munch on hence I greedily ate the yummy filling of the Thai Paan and sneakily gave the leaf a miss.

The Spanish Patata Bravas by Chef Ashley Nunes was our fifth ‘plate’. These delicious babies were potatoes cut into 1 inch hollowed tubes, fried and served with dollops of aioli and a medium spicy, smoked paprika tomato sauce. I could have easily polished off a dozen of these. Sigh! 

For our sixth ‘plate’ they served us Braised Lamb Shank with Khow Suey. The braised lamb shank was divinely succulent and robustly flavourful. The Khow Suey flavoured polenta mash served with it was delicately flavoured and balanced the luscious shanks beautifully!

Before serving us the mains, they brought us a palate cleanser; ‘Chyawanprash Foam’ was our seventh ‘plate. 

I’ve never been very fond of Chyawanprash as a kid. It was usually forced down my throat hence I was a trifle apprehensive about this ‘plate’. Luckily, the foamy Chyawanprash was gorgeously subtle in taste and served as a perfect palate cleanser. 

Our eighth ‘plate’ was Malwani Sukka Chicken with Thepla Taco. The name says it all but I have to add that the chicken and the thepla with a squeeze of lime was like a well orchestrated symphony in the mouth; only difference being it was orchestrated by Chef Atish Pawar and not Zubin Mehta. (Bawi hu, kisi Bawa ka naam lena toh banta hai ;) ) I loved these stuffed theplas!

For our ninth ‘plate’ they served Tartar Gunkan; I opted for the non-veg variety, but of course. I am very allergic to cucumber and Tartar Gunkan were ribbons of cucumber stuffed with blobs of sushi rice topped with diced Yellow Fin Tuna, garnished with Salmon Caviar and served with a pipette of soy. Instead of Nori wrappers the chef had chosen to wrap these babies in cucumber ribbons. I would have loved for them to be done up in Nori but then that is just me being mean. I have gotten to love Nori but still cannot handle cucumbers. 
I did not want to miss out on the delicious that snuggled within the cucumber ribbons hence I unrolled the cucumber ribbons, kept them aside, squeezed a few drops of soy from the pipette and put that yum morsel of rice, tuna and caviar in my mouth. (Greedy evil grin!) 

Our dessert, the tenth ‘plate’, was Red Micro Cake, Strawberry Chocolate Ganache, Moët Rosé and Strawberry Sorbet. Atop the White Chocolate Mousse was perched a quenelle of tangy Moët Rosé (champagne) & Strawberry sorbet with chocolate mud, strawberry jelly and champagne soaked strawberries strewn around. 

Surprisingly, the red micro cake proved to be a vital part of the dessert. When had by itself it was dry and bland (please note: it is not to be had by itself; I did because I am wacky and weird) but when all the elements were eaten together, the micro cake melded beautifully with the rest of the flavours to bring out a perfect balance of sweet and tangy. I don’t usually eat fruits but I did bite into the champagne soaked strawberry and loved its freshness. 

The '10 Chefs 10 Plates' festival at Zeera, Conrad - Pune, is on until January 28, 2018. (Dinner only) The meal is priced at Rs 2000 AI. If you want your taste buds to come alive, if you want to experiment with flavours that blow your mind and warm the cockles of your heart then do not miss this festival. And, as it is with all Conrad pop ups/festivals..... prepare to be amazed!! 

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