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.


Flavours of the Malabar Coast

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Twenty seven years on the job and a native of Malabar - I would think those are qualities that define her as an expert in Malabar cuisine. She is Master chef Latha from Malabar Cafe, Grand Hyatt Kochi who is in Chennai dishing up a cuisine, variations of which are served in Chennai restaurants and food festivals but are not quite the real deal.

Masterchef Latha
Park Hyatt Chennai's The Dining Room is where Malabar Magic happens every night. There are appetisers and to drink there is buttermilk - morum vellam that will not only quench your thirst but also tone down the spice levels if they bother you.

Fried fish, prawn & banana stem cutlets as appetisers


Puttu, kadala curry & egg roast

A rotational menu is in place; the night we were invited to review, we watched masterchef Selvaraj make the famous Malabar parotas at the live counter. There was also puttu (steamed rice cake) served with kadala (horsegram) curry. The kadala, fragrant with the earthy aroma of freshly ground coriander, brought back childhood memories.

Pickles : lime; date; yam; fish & prawn

Dry chillies in Kerala are long and crinkled. When ground, it is incredibly red but not too spicy. Chef Latha's pickles were made with this chilli and the bright red prawn and the date pickles were stand out. Fish pickle had been made with tuna and the tiny cubes were quite hard. There was also a tangy lime pickle (personal favourite here) and a yam pickle.

Okra sauteed in pickle

Every masala paste is made in-house and all the spices she uses are roasted before being ground and that opens up the flavours. The indefatigable chef goes around meeting the diners and is very confident of her food and has no hesitation in sharing her "secret" spice mix recipe!

Chemeen curry

Drumstick & prawn curry








Malanadan chemeen (prawn) curry, reminiscent of a mappas curry was rich with coconut milk and  was definitely a favourite along with the murungika manga (drumstick and mango) curry. It was a wonderful accompaniment to the parota and plain rice.

Mutton cherully masala

Meen biryani

Vegetable dum biryani

Thalassery meen (fish) biryani was flavourful but the fish used it it was disappointing. The Kerala-style vegetable dum biryani was on the other hand, worth a second helping.

Coconut surija, pradhamum & payasam

Payasam, pradhamam, coconut surija and other Mopila desserts shared space with mousses and gateaux. Still, a glass of sulaimani tea would have been a good way to end.

Banana chips & papadum

Malabar Magic will be on till 30th November. It is priced at 1800/++ per head.

Food on sticks at Yakiniku, HRC

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Food on sticks! Yakiniku at the Hyatt Regency  Chennai has a yakitori festival happening till the end of November. While yakitori is mainly made with chicken, it could also be made with vegetables and other kinds of meats. Yakitori is usually had as an appetiser course and is great with drinks.

Skewers on the grill

Astuage; piman; yadai yaki

Chef Amlendu's grill plate was all fired up and our platter of vegetarian skewers were getting a grilling on it. Piman - green molagu chillies stuffed with smooth mashed potatoes, chopped jalapeƱo peppers and cheese was quite delish and a lovely combination of ingredients. Astuage is a marinated tofu skewer while yasai yaki is a skewer with cherry tomato, zucchini, mushroom and okra. The lightly grilled veggies still had a bit of crunch and they paired well with shio, miso and tonkatsu sauces. Shio is a dipping salt, this one had sesame seeds in it. The plum sauce was too salty to be appreciated.

Shio; plum sauce; miso ; tonkatsu sauce

Ebi; tsukune; buta; gyuu

Light and refreshing Asahi beer 


The non vegetarian platter had ebi - prawn, tsukune - minced chicken, buta - pork and gyuu - beef. The prawns were large but overcooked. Its sake-based marinade had a nice flavour; tsukune was a mix of minced chicken, spring onion and carrot shaped and cooked into juicy little sausages. The pork and beef were thinly sliced and very tender, the beef especially had a nice gingery warmth. More sauce could have been brushed over the meats which would have amped up the flavours. Both platters came with a side of salad veggies topped with sauce. The food is light and you could actually make a meal of just these sticks.

Nigiri sushi - ebi; tuna and salmon

Miso soup with tofu

Yakiniku has a good Japanese menu so we decided to order nigiri sushi for mains. Our platter was made with prawn, tuna and salmon sushi. Even better was the umami flavour-rich and comforting miso soup that followed, with seaweed and tofu.

Financier 

Strawberry cheesecake

Yakiniku has just 2 items on its dessert menu and I've tried both on earlier visits so we decided to have our desserts from the neighbouring Spice Haat. Of the two, we preferred the strawberry cheesecake. Yakiniku's dessert menu does need an overhaul.


Sunday Brunch at The Residency

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The Sunday brunch at The Residency, Crowne Plaza Chennai has a lot on offer - 55 dishes and 5 live cooking stations. As you enter the restaurant, it's the dessert counters that catch your eyes. One other thing you can't miss is the activity area for kids.

The Residency

The usual cuisines are all there - Indian, pan-Asian, Western and shawarmas, salads and appetisers. Executive Chef Deva came over to explain the specialties in each section. We asked him why it was called a brunch when it starts at 12.30 in the afternoon. He laughed and then told us that that they need to find a new name. Most restaurants do start their brunch service at that time anyway.



The restaurant has a semi-formal setting. The pleasing colour scheme and wooden furniture add a touch of class. There's live entertainment and the sultry voice of the singer adds to the atmosphere.

Chaats, veg tempura and fried prawns
Dahi vada 

Three kinds of chaat were served at the table and they were seriously good. The fried components like papdi and sev were very fresh and the  contrast of piquant, sweet and spicy flavours were in sync. The veg tempura was also very nice but the fried prawns stole the show. Fresh and fried just right, the tangy chilli dip was all it needed to have us all almost licking the plate clean.

Salad with feta

Prawns and chillies

Chef Deva told us he'd send across a salad. What landed up was this plate of the most beautiful colours made up of lettuce, peppers, orange segments, beetroot and feta cheese tossed in a light dressing. This was followed by prawns and chillies and that was another yummy dish.

Laksa

Laksa for me is a bowl of noodles, sprouts, slices of egg and prawn cake ...ok, just prawns at least. What I was served was a really good laksa sauce with a couple of pieces of fish. I could have sworn that I did taste prawns as well!

Tandoori platter 

The galouti kebab in the tandoori platter had a crisp crust but it was melt-in-the-mouth tender. The paneer was a little sour but everything else had been well marinated and cooked to tandoor perfection.

Rolls


Selection of pre-plated appetisers



Pan-Asian section

The pan-Asian section looked inviting but the contents were the usual fried rice and noodles though the Thai curry was quite nice.


At the shawarma corner, the chef was deftly making the rolls. They tasted rather flat and the roll kept unrolling. I think I figured out why a sheet of butter paper is usually rolled around them.

Baked veg at the Western station
Copper pots at the Indian section

Vegetarian specials - avial; porial; dal; brinji; paneer; methi mutter chaman

Mutton biryani with zafrani murgh; veg biryani with dal bukhara

Mutton milagu curry; kozhi idiappam biryani

It's not at all difficult to figure out where the Indian station was. Gleaming copper handis held biryani while skillets held dals, paneer, a mean brinji and veg gravies.

Dessert table for young guests 

Selection of desserts. That chocolate cake is divine!

Popcorn and cotton candy station

Desserts...to share 

Oh yes, you'll be spoilt for choice at dessert time. There's a good mix of Indian and Western desserts but the stand out is definitely the chocolate cake.

There's plenty of variety at The Residency's buffet, the pan-Asian could do with an overhaul while the Indian section was what most guests made a beeline for. The idiappam biryani was a crowd favourite. They have a good mix of vegetarian and non-veg dishes but what stood out was the freshness of the food.

Activity zone for kids

We had a cutie patootie with us and she was quite occupied at the kids' zone. She strung herself a bead chain and got a tattoo on her hand while the man with the balloons made her a few shapes. Her menu was customised and she too enjoyed her afternoon. 

The Residency's lunch buffet is priced at 1800/++ per head and 900/++ per head for kids.

Do call 044 24994101 for reservations.


 
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