My favourite eats of 2017.... A very good start to the year

Brought in the new year with our favourite
 Le 15 Patisserie chocolate macarons
Surprised by my choice of topic for the blog? 2017 best eats already, you ask? Is it a typo, you wonder?

Well I saw a slew of 2016 best eats articles towards the end of December written by various bloggers and journalists. I realised that if I was to do one myself then I would have to skim though my Instagram records as 12 months is a long time and 2016 is a year in which I have eaten very very well.

But then so has been the case with 2017 been so far. I have had some pretty nice meals at the start of the year. Which is why I thought I’d do this little diary like post. After all, as a twitter discussion this morning reminded me, such posts are what drove many of us to blog once upon a time.

The yearning for diary like posts
A staycation to celebrate the end of a good year

We did a staycation (hotel stay in your own city) to bring in the new year this time. This was at the Taj Lands End Hotel at Bandra. 

It has been a while since we’ve gone out to party/ eat out on New Year’s eve as we find most restaurant options very expensive and too-crowded. We now spend new year's eve at home in the company of a close friend or two over some good food and drinks. These evenings feel special.

This year a staycation seemed like a good way to me to end a year where both of us had a lot to be thankful for.

Do New Year Eve staycations make sense?

The view from our rather and spacious hotel room

What we realised is that a new years eve staycation is perhaps not the best way to get your money’s worth in a hotel. Specially from a food point of view. Coincidentally, a couple of our friends who had checked into a 5 star hotel at South Bombay on New Year's felt the same too.

The thing is, post lunch on 31st December most hotels seem to start preparing to host events/ packaged dinner parties at their restaurants and eating la carte is no longer an option. In which case you are back to the very expensive dinners which you might have wanted to avoid in the first place. And in the Taj, even Atrium, the coffee shop which we love, was shut in the evening as they were getting ready for the night. We were given the poolside as an option but the coffee and chilli cheese toast were as if they were from a figurative Taj Kolhapur, but at very Bandra prices. Which is a pity as we love the Atrium and that feels special despite the prices and you feel you have got your money's worth.

Options for food then, could be to go out like our friend’s in south Bombay did to local standalone restaurants, or order in room service like we did. 

Room service was sort of cool as the room that we got upgraded to was large and nice but hotel food is rarely at its best in room service and you might end up paying more for the same dish than if you had eaten at the restaurant. 

So do go with your eyes open if you are looking at a New Year eve staycation. Unless you are a couple who don't get to live together. Go for it then and pack sandwiches and wine from outside and take it!

A glorious start to the new year

Having our favourite macarons at the stroke of midnight
in our room at the Lands End

One option in Mumbai is to use delivery apps to call in for food from restaurants, including at hotels. Thanks to the efforts of Scootsy (one such app) and Le 15 Patisserie in responding to my tweets of desperation, we got to bring in the new years with our favourite dessert in the whole-wide world, the dark chocolate macarons from Le 15 Patisserie. The joy of getting them just before midnight was way more than the Rs 480 odd that we paid for 6 macarons.

The macarons started off a parade of of great eats in the new year starting with breakfast.

A king's breakfast to start off the year

Reliving my bachelor breakfast buffet days

Like our friends in their south Bombay five star staycation did, we too had to stand in a queue to get a place at breakfast served at the Vista at the Lands End. Breakfast was included in our package. Most hotel guests had woken up at 10 am to get over the celebrations of the previous night to catch breakfast. Some had come down even in their pyjamas and room slippers hoping to grab a fried egg before breakfast shut. Now the thing is, hotels have a certain capacity which they can handle and both our hotels were not equipped to seat this unusual rush. Another reason why a new year eve staycation doesn’t make sense.

Once we got to enter the dining hall at Vista, we bumped into executive chef Anirudhya Roy and he and his team took good care of us.

I was supremely impressed by the moist and spicy anda bhurji/ akoori in the buffet and the flavour packed luscious kheema too. The live counter scrambled  eggs, like in hotel live counters all over, was not as creamy as one can hope to get in good standalone breakfasts. 

I did take some bacon as it was the new year, and K tripped on the smoked salmon.

The first hotel which I’d stayed in at the start of my career as a market researcher was St Marks’ Hotel in Bangalore. I had gleefully binged on the cold cuts, freshly fried eggs, cheese and bread rolls at the breakfast buffet that time.

This menu became my routine for years when staying at hotels. Things are different now though.

I am older and have been told not to flirt with bacon that often from a health point of view. Plus I usually have some good quality cheese in the fridge which we might have up during our travels or has been given by friends who travel. In Bandra, where we stay, there are cafes that do better eggs than what one gets in 5 star hotel buffets. 

What we don’t get here in bandra though are good dosas. So I usually try to have dosas when at 5 star hotel breakfast buffets in India these days. 

I had a sada dosa AND a masala dosa at the Vista for breakfast. They they brought both as I couldn't tell the wait-staff for sure which one I had ordered at the counter. No I wasn’t hungover and hadn’t drunk any alcohol on NYE to be honest!

I was very impressed by both dosas at Vista. They were served hot on the table. This doesn’t always happen thanks to the air-conditioning in hotels and dosas often get cold by the time they reach you. Both dosas at Vista were a bit thick. Soft inside and crunchy outside. I love this type of dual-textured dosas and have rarely had them in a hotel buffet except at the ITC Grand Chola. The Chola is in Chennai, the land of dosas, of course. I was impressed to find the same quality in Mumbai at the Land’s End too. 

Which is why I had both dosas.

Very good dosas at the Vista

Chicken Hakka noodles from Mamagoto

I was wondering what to do for lunch after we came back home after checking out from the hotel. I wanted something light, as breakfast was heavy and sumptuous. I felt like some Chinese food. But nothing high on MSG. I went through the options for calling in on Swiggy (another app) and decided to take a chance with the chicken Hakka noodles at Mamagoto. 

‘Chance’ as I had not eaten at Mamagoto in a long time and wasn’t overly impressed by it when I had when it was new. Plus I had recently called in for the bacon fried rice that I used to really like at Fatty Bao and it didn’t taste half as good at home as I remembered it did in the restaurant. I was not sure if Mamagoto would be any better.

Poetic chicken hakka noodles from Mamagoto, Bandra

Well the noodles from Mamagoto turned out to be just superb. Light and well flavoured. Though the meat in it was chicken and nothing fancy like bacon, it was still juicy and tasted very good. The strands of noodles were nice and separate. The vegetables had a slight crunch to them just as I like it to be. You do know that I am my favourite cook don't you?

The chicken Hakka noodles turned out to be a complete meal and I didn’t need to any of the sauces that came with it. Nor did I miss the presence of a side dish. It was as close as something I would have made myself at home as possible. The portion, at Rs 350 odd, was slightly more than what one person could eat. Money well spent if you asked me. An option I will look at in the future for sure.

Ham sandwich from Ashmick's' Snack Shack and the tale of two fathers

Having my late father in law's favourite ham sandwich
At a table where we have shared many new year meals together

In the evening we called in for an egg sandwich to take for a J who was in the hospital and was craving for sandwiches. Earlier, my friends in a nearby hotel had most kindly sent him some. These we called from Snack Shack using Swiggy again.

I called in for a ham sandwich for myself.

The ham sandwich was very old school. The ham was juicy and generous full bodied. The bread soft and generously buttered. I took a bite of the sandwich and remembered how much my late father in law loved this. As I sat at our two seater dining table, I remembered the many new year meals that my father in law and I had eaten together on this table.

And then I remembered my own father. When I was a child he never imposed any religious restriction on me. It’s thanks to him that I learnt to eat and appreciate all types of food. 

When he had moved in to Kolkata in the early 1980s and ham and sausage were not easily available, he found a small shop called Happy Season in Selimpur to get me both and salami too. I am told that he really used to pamper me.

Both our fathers left us for the other world well before their time but at times when I see people suffer as they grow old, I find it hard to grudge them this even though I miss them both.

Chilli Crab party at Ling’s Pavilion

Everyone in this picture featured in my book,
The Travelling Belly

We caught up with some close friends at Ling’s Pavilion, my favourite restaurant in Mumbai, at night. These were the sort of friends with whom you don’t mind meeting even when you are dead beat as you don’t have to put on your best face for them. Plus we were all united by our love for Ling’s.

One of them showed my book, The Travelling Belly, to the owners, Baba and Nini Ling, when we reached.

The brothers got so happy that they threw an impromptu part for the book without telling us that they were doing so. Baba Ling said, “Kalyan dear, I am sending you some chilli crab.”

I gulped awkwardly. My friend had been trying to get me to have the chilli crab at Ling’s for ages. I would violently say no as I hate the sweet and ketchupy chilli crab of Singapore. I prefer the pepper crab there and Ling’s does a great version of it too.

With the world's biggest chilli crab fan

“It’s different at Ling’s” my friend would say and yet I’d brush off her suggestion to order chilli crab with disdain in the past.

She grinned this time as she knew I could not say no to Baba. And sure enough, the chilli crab was different at Ling’s from that at Singapore, as my friend had said it would be.

Getting into the meat of things

The sauce in the chilli crab at Ling's Pavilion was savoury and tangy and not overtly sweet unlike the ones I have had at Singapore. It had a distinctive chilli hit here and the cheerful taste of fresh ginger in it. The quality of the crab (from Gujarat and not Sri Lanka unlike in Singapore pointed out Baba) was superb. The crab was meaty and had been seasoned well. It combined well with the sauce and was not overshadowed by the sauce unlike what I had feared it would be.

It’s no wonder that Ling’s Pavilion remains my favourite place to have crabs in Mumbai.

Chilli crab with steamed bread at Ling's Pavilion

Kulchas for breakfast but at Bandra and not Bhatinda

My luck with good food in 2017 continued beyond the first day. We had missed the post Satya Narain Puja kulchas at our friends Manoj and Annu’s place on 1st evening. So come morning of the second, Manoj, who had got kulchas made and packed for K and me the previous evening, sent them over along with chhole and huge laddoos as prasadam.

I heated the kulcha in the oven and made myself a Davidoff instant coffee and proceeded to have a most amazing breakfast.

Kulcha chhole from Manoj and Annu with ladoo
I used a laundry bag for instagram as I couldn't find a table mat!
Leftovers for lunch

I had some of the fried rice from the previous night's dinner at Ling's for lunch at home along with the some of the meat from the pan fried noodles. The memories of the dinner tasted as delicious the next day as it looked pretty.

Thanks to the poor lighting there food shot at Lin'g rarely look pretty
However the leftovers do the next day when I get them home

And alu posto for dinner

I made some alu posto for our dinner. Our cook, Banu, had parboiled the potatoes and ground the potatoes too. This made cooking it supremely easy and K took a bite of the dish and said, "It's superb."

Alu posto fresh from the pan
Yes, 2017 couldn’t have got off to a more delicious start.

Wish you all a most wonderful year and may your plates be full and your bellies forever happy.

As for me, my motivators for this year are my takeouts from the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International President Dr Daisaku Ikeda's tguidelines for cultivating youth and youthfulness in 2017:

1. Focus on learning 
2. Challenge yourself
3. Have dialogues with others