Novotel, ibis and The Square on OMR

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Novotel ibis Chennai OMR is AccorHotel's newest combo property in Chennai. It's situated just before/after the Sholinganallur junction. 12 storeys high, the luxury brand has 3 room categories while budget brand ibis has 1. Together, they have a total of 342 rooms. 


The 2 hotels share a driveway and pillars divide the portico into 2. We had been invited to review Novotel's all-day restaurant, The Square. While waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, the MarCom manager took me around the property that has a contemporary, stylish look.

Reception area at Novotel; the lobby; kids' corner

Novotel's Lobby Bar; Spice It at ibis

The lobby is a compact one, the walls, floor and curtains are in shades of tan, colours pop out from the carpets and upholstery. What would gladden the hearts of parents who come in with their little ones is a kids' corner with activities to keep them busy. The lobby bar would have been a stark space if not for the bright red accents on the seating and cushions. This colour scheme is repeated in ibis and in their soon-to-be-opened restaurant, Spice It. It's a lovely space that exudes warmth, cheeriness and an air of informality.

The suite at Novotel
 
Meal stations at The Square

The Indian section

Dessert buffet

Clip art - fried snack and a refreshing malted drink

The Square is a busy place, if alfresco dining is what you prefer, you could step out onto the breezy deck. Back in the restaurant, Executive Chef G. Muthu Kumar had put in place a tasting menu for us. What kept the evening interesting was not only the food but also the quirky presentation.

Top: papads with brown onion sambal and tomato coriander chutney
Bottom: green veg & broccoli cheese dimsums with 2 dips

The brown onion sambal and tomato coriander chutney were both delish. Tiny papads were served to scoop them up with. I usually skip veg dimsums but I'm glad I did try both as they were yummy. The dumpling skins were a little thick but otherwise they were well made the fillings were flavourful and scallion, roasted chilli and tomato dip had just the right amount of heat and tang to accompany them.

Gosht gilafi seek kebab and blueberry yoghurt dip

Gosht gilafi seek kabab with its cheese crust was delicious. The meat was finely ground and the spice mix was perfect, no one spice dominated. Served with an interesting blueberry yoghurt dip in a gleaming little pan, I couldn't decide if it looked or tasted better!

Tofu and prawn roll with Thai chilli dip
 
Chalupa stand

Steel buckets on a bamboo frame caught us by surprise mid-conversation. The buckets held chalupas - roasted veg mash with Mexican spices, refried beans, sour cream, Monterrey Jack cheese and a slice of dehydrated orange that tasted like a dried apricot. To scoop it up was a polenta-masa harina nacho. This dish certainly brought smiles to our faces.

Palate cleansing lime syrup
Crisp chicken flower rice with Siracha sauce


Carrot pearls

Chicken burgers 2 ways

Our trays held a mystery box and they were opened to reveal chicken burgers. The meat was done 2 ways - pulled and crunchy. I preferred the pulled meat filling as the crisp chicken in the other kept falling out. The buns looked dramatic, were very soft and well made - they didn't crumble or break apart. The burgers were served with potato wedges and carrot caviar pearls.

Gosht roganjosh ; millet & ragi breads; murgh makhani

To showcase the Indian section, we were served murgh makhani and gosht roganjosh. With tender meat and balanced mix of spices, the tiny portions of ragi and millet roti were just the thing to mop up those gravies. The rotis were a little dry, guess you should eat them as soon as they are served.

Fantastic Four - and they truly were!

Dessert was served in a little dimsum basket - a river of whipped Philly cream cheese, macerated strawberries, soft-centered chocolate cake and an absolutely delicious chilli jangri. No, it wasn't spicy but the combination of heat and sugar was the perfect end to a dinner of surprises.

The Square has buffet services but if you'd like to have a meal like what we had, you could ask the chef to help customise one for you.

Novotel & ibis Chennai OMR
+91 44 6644 4777.

Dehydrated orange

Mayonnaise with wasabi

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Ever made mayo in a roomy bowl with just a wire whisk? Boy, was I happy when we could finally afford to buy a food processor. No more watching beaten eggs fly out of the bowl or after minutes of whisking, ending up with curdled goo and stiff arms. Of course, it became even simpler with the advent of stick blenders. A whirrr, blupp and presto! - mayo is ready!! (and I don't really care what old school chefs think about this.)

A lot of stuff can be added into mayo, mine had wasabi paste. The stuff in tubes is potent so proceed with caution. Here's how it goes:


Mayonnaise with wasabi

Ingredients
1 whole egg
275 ml oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard paste
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon wasabi paste (or as needed)

Method
Break the egg and gently slide it into the jar of the blender.
Add in all the other ingredients.

Slide whole egg into the jar, add in other ingredients

Position the dome of the blender just over the yolk.
Switch on.

Switch on and lift up the stick

Wait for the whirr and blupp, lift the stick a bit as the contents start to thicken. That's it - your mayo's ready.
Check seasoning.


Remove half the mayo, add wasabi paste into the remainder and blend again.

Pungent and creamy wasabi mayo

Pull-apart ham and cheese loaf with wasabi mayo

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Hello!
Nothing like a warm crusty bread to start the new year with, particularly one that involves a bit of pulling and sharing.

Isn't it amazing what you can do with bread dough - other that shaping it into a loaf of bread? Pull-apart breads, also called tear and share breads, are undergoing a revival of sorts these days. They make great conversation topics when you have a bunch of people over for a meal or are just the thing to serve with soup at a quiet family dinner. That's how versatile they are.

Cheese & chives

It was a day when I had some chives on hand. Usually I have no chives on hand. In fact, I've never had chives in the house. Never ever. Tried to grow them too but no luck. Anyway, the previous day, I had gone to the veggie store and seen this huge bunch of chives that had been grown somewhere in western India. It must have come to Chennai by air in business class as it was priced at some astronomical amount. Still, it looked fresh and green and the cashier was willing to sell me a small handful for 20 bucks.

A pull-apart loaf, or two, was what I had in mind; one with ham and cheese the other with just cheese and chives. Classic combinations, right? And wasabi mayo from scratch to dip it in. The dough for the loaf is simple to make, and it just so happens to be a no-egg one. Just bung all the ingredients into the bowl of your planetary mixer, food processor or on the countertop and mix and knead into a smooth dough. While it is rising, chop up the ham, the chives and grate the cheese. And oh... make the mayo (recipe here). The tools you will need are a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, a rolling pin, a brush, pair of scissors (or a pizza cutter) and a 3" round cutter.

When you've made your dough and the first proofing is over, divide it into 2 and roll out each into a 12" circle. It doesn't really matter if your circle is not really a circle, aim to have both somewhat the same shape and size.

There's mayo, ham, chives and cheese on this half

On one of the circles, spread a thin layer of mayo, leaving 1/2" of the rim plain. Sprinkle over the ham, cheese and chives, brush a little water over the uncovered rim and place the other circle over.

Ensure that the circles are more or less in position and stick the edges together. Transfer the roll onto the parchment-lined baking tray. Place the round cutter in the middle and mark a circle. Use the scissors or the pizza cutter and cut the dough into quarters and each quarter into half. You are now looking at 8 sections. Don't cut into the centre of the dough.

Mark off sections before slicing


Cut each of the 8 sections into 3, making a total of 24 sections. (In case your oven is too small to hold this size of loaf, make 2 smaller loaves and slice each into 16 sections.) Hold each section and twist it twice and place it down. Just make sure all the sections are twisted in the same direction.

...and twist into shape

This is how the finished loaf should look like. Brush a beaten egg all over and scatter a few black sesame seeds over the centre and leave it to rise for about 45 minutes or till doubled in size. Pop it into a hot oven and bake for about 25 minutes or till golden brown, whichever happens first.


Ta-da!!!
No wonder it's called a sunflower loaf.

You could stuff it with anything from nutella to brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, chopped nuts, cheese and chillies or pesto with minced meat, finely diced and cooked veggies or even garlic butter. Do remember that if you're doing a sweet version, skip the mayo.


Pull apart ham and cheese loaf

Ingredients (for 1 loaf)
350 gm plain flour
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon milk powder
1 teaspoon gluten
50 gm soft butter
About 200 ml water

Filling
1/2 bunch chives or spring onions, chopped
3 slices ham, chopped
100 gm cheddar cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 egg, beaten
Black sesame seeds

Method
Place all the ingredients for the bread, except for the butter and water, into the bowl of a planetary mixer.
Add in half the water and turn on the motor.
Add in the butter and enough water to form a soft dough. This should take about 10 minutes.
If you prefer to knead by hand, you could follow the instructions here.
Cover the bowl with a lid, leave to rise for about an hour or till the dough is double in size.
While the dough is rising, chop the chives and ham and grate the cheese.
When the dough has proofed, push down to expel the air and briefly knead it.
Divide into 2 and place one half on a worktop dusted with flour.

Almost the same shape and size

Roll out the dough into a fairly thin 12-inch circle, repeat with the other half of the dough.
Spread a thin layer of mayo all over one circle, leave 1/2 inch of the rim plain.

Chop the filling fine

Scatter chives (or spring onions), ham and cheese evenly over the circle.
Wet the rim and place the second circle over it, tug lightly to align the edges.
Press the edges together and place on the lined baking sheet.
Transfer the roll onto the parchment-lined baking tray.
Place the round cutter in the middle and mark a circle.
Use the scissors or the pizza cutter and cut the dough into quarters and each quarter into half.
You should now have 8 sections. Don't cut into the centre of the dough.

Cut into 8 sections

Cut each of the 8 sections into 3, leaving you with a total of 24 sections. (In case you are making a smaller loaf, slice it into 16 sections.)

Almost there...

Hold each section and twist it twice and place it down. Just make sure all the sections are twisted in the same direction.
Brush beaten egg all over and scatter black sesame seeds over the centre.

And done...

Leave the loaf to rise for about 45 minutes or till doubled in size.
Pop it into a preheated 190°C oven and bake for about 25 minutes or till golden brown.
Remove the baked loaf onto a wire rack.
Serve with mayo or wasabi mayo.

I made a second batch of dough and stuffed it with just cheese and chives.

Mark, slice & twist

Ready for 2nd proofing



Christmas Eve at Vasco's

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A white Christmas tree stands in the lobby of Chennai's Hilton Hotel. Above and around the tree are strings of white lights. We are told that white trees represent peace, the global symbol of Christmas 2017. Beside the tree is a pretty gingerbread house; more than 2800 gingerbread slabs have been used to construct it. The pastry chefs at the Hilton have certainly been busy!


Invited to review the Christmas Eve dinner, we were escorted up to Vasco's, Hilton's all-day restaurant. Can you believe that a staggering 260 dishes comprised the entire buffet menu? And another thing - the chefs are pretty proud of the effort they have put in because they took us around to all the counters to show off the results of their labour.

Gingerbread house centrepiece

Vasco's is a quirky space. It's high-ceilinged and that's because the PDR, shaped like a crow's nest, sits above. There's also what looks like an upturned table beside it, the legs going all the way up to the ceiling. In honour of the intrepid traveller Vasco de Gama, there are miniature replicas of Santa Maria placed around the salad counters! The centrepiece on each table is a tiny gingerbread house, just the thing to put you in the mood for Christmas.

Salad and appetiser spread 

The menu has plenty of choices for vegetarians and even the fussiest of diners. The salad section looked like a garden. Of course I chose the one with Christmas colours - watermelon slices decked with basil, rucola, maple syrup and feta cheese. Yummy!

Waiting for the grill

Char siu
Grill and barbeque counters had been set up in the deck area. Skewers with cubes of beef, pork, chicken, lamb and an array of vegetables only need to placed on the red hot grills. In fact, it's so pleasant out there under the open sky that we were tempted to dine under the stars.

Starters
Chaat counter
   
Cheese and cold cuts; mezze
The cutest little pita I ever did see

Every station was a riot of colour. The cheese and mezze counters had all kinds of dips and tiny pita breads to scoop them up with.

Vietnamese fried rice

Baos, dumplings & siumai

Sushi!

Executive Chef Achal Aggarwal specialises in pan-Asian cuisine and there is a fair bit of South East Asian dishes. Com chien thap cam - Vietnamese fried rice with sausages and prawn was delicious with  the Thai red curry. However, the chef's art lies in the the presentation of sushi. If sushi is your thing, just go for it - it's outstanding and the seafood is so fresh.

Turkey and cranberry sauce

Christmas and turkey go together and this golden brown fellow looked simply magnificent. All around lay roast baby potatoes, fries, sauteed brussels sprouts and pastry-wrapped sausages. The meat was carved expertly and oh so tender.

Arabian-style chicken

Spinach gnocchi in eggplant sauce
Pancetta-wrapped pork; sammak sayadieh; cheese, pear & rosemary tart; thyme & mustard chicken drumsticks
Dumba biryani

Wild mushroom tart

A whole section dedicated to Western-style bakes and the one that caught my eye was sammak sayadieh, a Lebanese dish of baked fish and rice. While the skin on the fish was thick, it did a good job of keeping the flesh moist. The rice was lightly spiced and very fragrant. If the wild mushroom pie is on the menu the day you go, just go for it. It may look rustic but is so exquisite.

Live music by Johnny, Cindy and Chester 

The dessert table had everything from mince pies to macarons to marshmallows, meringues, gateaux, chocolates, Yule log and puddings, even a croquembouche! The strawberry tree dusted with powdered sugar was my favourite.

What a feast!

Dessert mayhem - gingerbread houses; strawberry tree; macaron tower; Yule log & strawberry tart


Christmas may be over but I hear New Year's Eve at Vasco's will be more lavish  yet family-friendly.
For reservations, do call +91 9500075219.

Baketales wishes everyone a New Year of hope, peace and joy.


 
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