Dining On The Rocks


There were ants crawling along the wall. Don't believe me? Here's proof -

The wall art leads to the entrance of On the Rocks at Sheraton Park Hotel.

The lower level of OTR reminds me of a library. The bar counter dominates the ground floor, vertical shelves rise up to the next level. It's not books on the shelves but bottles of wine and other fine spirits, complete with a ladder to access the higher reaches.

OTR, a fine dine restaurant with a bar, has turned 6 and its signature dishes are being showcased till the end of the month. Food is cooked on grill plates and lava stones, the latter done at the table. In fact at OTR, the theme is all about grills, roasts, bakes and flambes. The restaurant opens at 6 every evening, it's a good place to unwind after a busy work day. A singer is perched on a chair beside the bar, her soothing voice the perfect balm for harried souls.  

We are seated at the upper level, focus lights brighten just the centre of the table giving a sense of anonymity to the diner. The charming PR Manager explained the concept to us. A 4 course menu would be served, starting with an appetiser and ending with dessert. We perused the tablet menus and thankfully, the F&B guys were more than happy to help us navigate and make our choices. 

My friend chose the grill plate and I the rock. Being the Lenten season, we declined the pairing wines and chose mocktails instead - Italian Smooch with ginger ale and lime for her and Blue Dot, a concoction of blueberry, pineapple juice and ice cream for me. Nice choices!

Service started with OTR's signature supersoft focaccia with roasted garlic and a mixed vegetable dip. All manner of roasted vegetables had found their way into the creamy mash which also had piquant bursts of tang and heat.

Semolina gnocchi with wild mushrooms, baby spinach, garlic, panko and pine nuts read the vegetarian appetiser description. A play of textures of smooth gnocchi, chewy, earthy mushroom slices, crunchy pine nuts and crisp panko. The baby spinach was virtuously healthy and added colour to the dish.

The veg main dish was grilled wild mushrooms with fig, fettuccine and taleggio dolce and a carrot soup. There was a mix of mushrooms that included enoki, morel and button, herbs and pasta topped with the soft cheese. The mushrooms were delicious, no sign nor taste of fig though. The fettuccine, cooked al dente, was a tad dry so another serving of fettuccine was brought. This time, it was cooked a little more but had been merely tossed with a little olive oil and chilli flakes. The cheese topping was sorely missed.

However, the roasted carrot and sesame soup more than made up for it - utterly delicious, smooth and full of flavour. If carrot can taste this good, I'm going to have it every day of my life.

Roast chicken ravioli with roast chicken juices, another main, had plump pasta envelopes filled with bits of roast chicken.Maybe it was a bad day for pasta - the filling was quite dry and there was so little of the jus. Pity as it was delicious. The presentation was subtle and restrained.

Difficult choices to make - New Zealand rack of lamb, premium cuts of meat, breast of chicken and prawns were offered as mains on the hot stone menu; I opted for the jumbo prawns to be accompanied by vegetables and a jacket potato with sour cream, cheese and chive sauce. A lava stone heated to 400 degrees and placed on a tempered plate was brought to the table. Salt was sprinkled on the stone to prevent meat from sticking to it and then 4 huge prawns were placed on the surface. As it sizzled, Kevin, the F&B executive who has been with OTR since its inception, showed me how to turn the prawns around and cut the meat into smaller pieces so that all the surfaces would cook evenly. I chose 3 sauces - honey mustard, a delicious wine cilantro and a herb butter that was brushed on the prawns. I chose not to season the prawns to allow the freshness of the prawn to shine through and wasn't disappointed at all. None of the meats for the hot stone are marinated, the quality of the meat makes marination redundant. Seasonings and olive oil are placed on the table so the diner can play chef. Oh and with a choice of 16 sauces, flavours get lifted to another level.

The main courses are quite filling but when the dessert menu came around, we succumbed and ordered hot brioche doughnuts with raspberry coulis and vanilla sauce, chocolate truffle dome with truffle oil, creme brulee and a serving of the day's ice cream flavour - mocha. The doughnuts, being eggless were quite bland, the accompanying sauces brought them to life.

Mocha ice cream; truffle dome

Mocha is usually a hit and miss flavour but the house made ice cream was perfectly flavour-balanced. Chocolate chips and smooth ice cream completed the marriage.
We loved the truffle dome, a rich decadent mousse with hints of orange. This one will satisfy all your chocolate cravings and then some more.

Be warned that the serving of creme brulee is quite large. It was brought to the table along with a snifter of Cointreau which was warmed, set alight and poured over the custard. Drama all right. It tasted superb and the silken texture of the custard was punctuated only by the crunch of caramelised sugar.

We thought we were done but no, the restaurant decided to pull out all the stops and brought us chocolate shooters with a truffle. It was died-and-went-to-heaven good. Happy birthday indeed, OTR!

All birthday party attendees get return gifts. This was ours. I used some in an omelette. Can a humble omelette taste so good?
In all respects, it was substantial meal. For us, it was a mid week treat - for a couple of hours, we could forget work and deadlines and savour a truly continental meal. Service was efficient and discreet.
The 6th anniversary menu, as mentioned earlier, will be on till the end of March. It's an a-la-carte menu and a meal for 2 will cost around 7000/- ++. For more information, call 044 42992008.

Parsley and garlic rolls


Old wine in a new bottle and all that - some bread recipes are so simple and uncomplicated. When I have one of those last minute orders, this is the recipe I use. If the filling sounds familiar, it's only because it's similar to the one that's used in garlic bread- you know - slices from a baguette that are spread with garlicky butter and finished off under a grill, or whichever way you make garlic bread.
For the filling, I've used garlic paste, parsley and butter.

This time, I decided to bake them in muffin pans so the edges would be neater.

So here goes the recipe -

Bread dough
375 gm flour, sifted
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp gluten(opt)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tbsp oil
1 1/2  tsp instant yeast
About 1 cup water

40 gm soft butter
10 garlic pips made into a paste
4 tbsp minced parsley
1/2 tsp salt
30 gm grated Parmesan cheese

If you're using a stand mixer, fill the bowl with all the ingredients except the water. Switch on the mixer and slowly trickle in the water. You may not need all the water so do go easy with it. When the dough is formed and well kneaded, remove it from the bowl, grease the bowl and put the dough back in. Cover the top with cling wrap and allow the dough to proof till double in size.

If you're using a food processor, follow the same method as above. Pour the water through the funnel opening and when the dough forms into small lumps, stop the machine and check the consistency of the dough. (Do not wait for the dough to form into a ball, that usually means that you've exceeded the quantity of water required.)
Remove the dough from the bowl onto a work top and knead, adding more water only if necessary. When done, place in a large greased bowl, cover the top with cling wrap and allow the dough to proof till double in size.

If you are going to make the dough with sheer muscle power, place the dry ingredients into a roomy bowl. Make a well in the centre, pour in the oil and about 3/4ths of the water. Work the ingredients till they combine into a dough. Remove the dough onto a worktop and knead it well, adding more water as necessary. When done, place in a large greased bowl, cover the top with cling wrap and allow the dough to proof till double in size.

While the dough is proofing, grease a 12  hole muffin tray and keep it aside.
Mix together the filling ingredients, except the cheese, till well blended.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and knead it briefly.
Place the dough onto a lightly floured worktop, press into a flat disc and roll out into a 18' x 12" rectangle.

Spread the filling all over the dough evenly, sprinkle the cheese over it.
Roll up the dough into a fairly tight roll, cut it into 12 even pieces.

Arrange them in the centre of each hole and leave to prove for another 20 minutes.

Bake at 200°C for about 12 minutes, till golden.
Remove the pan from the oven, brush tops with a little extra butter.
Remove from the pan and leave to cool on a wire rack (if you have that much willpower) (!!).

Currying flavours at the Taste of Britain Fest, Hyatt Regency Chennai


An eew!! moment...did you know teeth hold many secrets. For instance, did you know that 4000 years ago, people in the Indus valley ate curry? It appears that traces of cooked ginger and turmeric mixed with starch grains have been found on human teeth dating from that age...eew!! But interesting, right?

Essentially a dish from South Asia, a curry dish has curry paste or powder as its base. Ingredients include among other things, turmeric, cumin, coriander, chilli, ginger, garlic and spices like cinnamon, cardamom and clove. There are as many ways of making a curry as there are curries around the world.

Curry made the long, hoary trek to Britain thanks to the silk and spice trade from the Indian sub continent. Selling ice to the Eskimos? It's now done an about turn and come back to its place of origin. Hyatt Regency Chennai is hosting a curry celebration at the Taste of Britain Curry Festival at two of their signature restaurants, Spice Haat and Focaccia. A team of chefs headed by Michelin Star Chef Mark Poynton is in town to cook 60 different curries which include styles like jalfriezi, balti and of course, the British version of chicken tikka masala. Chef Mark is the Chef-Patron of Michelin-starred Alimentum at Cambridge, UK.

Mr. Syed Pasha, Chef Mark, Mr. Joshi, Chef Subrata and Mr. Syed Belel

At the press preview, we met Chef Mark and his team of chefs, British Deputy High Commissioner, Bharat Joshi, Chef Subrata Debnath, Executive Chef of HRC, Syed  Nahas Pasha and Syed Belel Ahmed, Editor in Chief and Editor of Curry Life (yes, they have a magazine celebrating curry). That's where we learnt how much the Brits love their curry - chicken tikka masala is their de facto national dish. There are some 12000 curry restaurants in Britain and supermarket chains carry heat-and-eat Indian curry meals on their shelves. And guess what - Indian curries outsell fish and chips.

Naturally we were all keen to know what the visiting chefs had in store for us at the tasting session at Spice Haat, one of the two restaurants showcasing the Festival.

Pic courtesy Hyatt Regency Chennai

What is interesting is that the produce used at the Festival is sourced locally but the method is all British. There were two starters - chilli chicken tikka and rosemary lamb tikka. The chilli chicken was boneless, well cooked and mildly flavoured; the rosemary lamb tikka also was tender and the flavour of the herb was just enough so as not to overpower that of the meat.

Chef Mark's roast sea bass with cauliflower textures, raisin and Pedro Ximenez sauce with a chicory leaf artfully arranged over the top was quite a sight. A beautiful melange of textures and flavours, the fish flaked beautifully, the cauliflower looked deceptively raw (but wasn't) and the sauce punctuated with plump raisins was so absolutely delicious. This dish was in a class all by itself.

Fish Madras; chicken tikka masala; dak bungalow lamb curry; prawn and squid balti

The chefs were quite chuffed to present their Fish Madras, pomfret being the fish of choice. Personally I like pomfret as it a good vehicle for a well made masala. This too had a mild flavour and it was served on the bone. Prawn and squid balti had a nice thick gravy which was perfect with the accompanying Indian breads.

The much awaited chicken tikka masala made its appearance. Thick, red gravy that coated chunks of chicken, garnished with slivers of ginger and blobs of cream was a bit of a disappointment for me - sweet, fruity yet tart with a coconut-ty aftertaste. The chef revealed that the gravy had been made with mango pulp, sultanas and a paste of almonds and coconut. It reminded me of recipes in old English magazines which called for a bottle of mango chutney to be added into a curry. Both lamb dishes, Dak Bungalow and Shatkora were well cooked, with nuanced differences in taste.

Another favourite was the chicken country captain. Faintly reminiscent of the Kerala style of roast chicken, the meat was well done and the dark, thick gravy was finger licking good.
Naga mixed veg; baby potatoes chilli masala, Anglo Indian dal; paneer kabuli baigon

The vegetarian dishes were tasty, particularly paneer kabuli baigon. Some of my fellow diners enjoyed the well tempered Anglo Indian dal with steamed rice. On the whole, all the dishes were mildly spiced, had good balance of flavours and the use of oil was very restrained.

The 2 kinds of pilao, Komala (presumably because of the bits of orange rind) and sunhera with corn kernels, fried onions and cashew nuts were also served.

Dessert was another of the chef's creations -baked vanilla yogurt with strawberry sorbet, topped with strawberry bits, pistachios and wafer thin vanilla meringue. The sweetness of the meringue and the smooth sorbet were the perfect foil for the tartness of the yogurt. Ahh...heaven in a glass.

The Taste of Britain Curry Festival is on till March 14th. At Spice Haat, one can taste the UK style of curries; at Focaccia, Chef Mark will be presenting his experimental style of cuisine.

Flipping through a copy of Curry Life magazine, I came across Chef Subrata's recipe for appam and chicken stew. How's that for coming back to your roots?

At 1299/++ and 1499/++ for the lunch and dinner buffet respectively at Spice Haat, a-la carte at Focaccia.

At the Quiche, Pies and Tarts Too workshop


Tender, crumbly, buttery...

There's been a lot of pastry work going on in my kitchen this past week. Shortcrust is one of my favourite kinds of pastry, lots of quiches and pies and tarts have been the result.

Like these...

Spinach and paneer quiche

Chicken and mushroom pie

Tandoori chicken tart

Lemon tart slices

By then, the ladies felt quite confident and went on to make their own custard filled tarts.

Just yummy, right?

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