Summer menu at Focaccia, HRC


If you're looking for true Italian food, you'll find it for sure at Focaccia. The Italian restaurant at Hyatt Regency Chennai serves some of the best Italian food in the city. Invited to review the new menu, we were wide eyed as dish after dish made an appearance at our table.

We like it when Chef Mauro Ferrari goes to Italy for a break. Cos we know that when he returns, he brings back new ingredients and new menu ideas to tantalize his diners. Yup, he's done it again!! The menu is perfect for Chennai's summer; the classic dishes are all there and new ones too with lighter interpretations and perfect plating. Yeah, I'm talking about the flowers 😍

Carpaccio di branzino, arcancia, cipollotto, mandrole tostate

Millefoglie di parmiggiano, flan di zucchine al tartufo, crema di carote e formaggio di capra

It's not only Japanese cuisine that has raw fish. Chef Mauro does a sea-bass carpaccio with orange segments and toasted almonds. It's delightfully light and a complete no-carb dish.
Not to be outdone was Parmesan millefeuille, truffle zucchini flan, carrot and goat's cheese cream. The dainty flan was more like a mousse on a sauce of carrot and goat's cheese. Parmesan crisps are studded into the sides of the flan in a spiral. Chef Mauro likes to add a touch of whimsy when he's plating up.

Panzanella, burrata, olive oil & basil; trio of flavoured cheese, dry fruit, apple compote & pear savoury tart

Insalata caprese featured decadent crisp panzanella and creamy burrata; it seems to be the cheese of choice in many restaurants. There was also a trio of cheese balls - feta, goat's cheese and Gorgonzola coated in hazelnuts, pistachio and raisins. We were told to eat them along with the spiced apple compote and a smidgen of balsamic vinegar. I tell ya - there was a party dancing on my taste buds - sweet, salty, spicy, cheesy, crunchy, umami ...did I leave anything out? The pastry of the pear tart was the only thing that didn't quite fit into the scheme of things.

Risotto allo champagne, capesante, riduzione di bisque

Casoncelli verdi all'aragosta fonduta di porri -
green lobster ravioli with leek Parmesan fondue and tempura prawns - so yummy!

Champagne risotto with bisque reduction and scallops was lovely. The creamy rice was so perfectly done, the scallops juicy and the seafood stock - I could drown in that flavour.

Branzino avvolto nelle zucchne, zabaione al pomodoro, verdure saltate

Filletto con riduzione di porcini e vino rosso, patate al bacon e verdue

The fillet of sea bass was wrapped in zucchini ribbons and baked. The meat was moist and the blush pink sabayon a wonderfully creamy accompaniment. There was stiff competition from the melting-ly tender medium-done beef tenderloin and sauce made from porcini mushrooms and red wine reduction, served with mashed potatoes, sautéed zucchini and asparagus.

Zuppa inglese

Meringa alla menta e cioccolato

You just cannot pass up an Italian dessert. Or 2!  It was as if pictures from a food magazine had come to life in front of us. While the zuppa ingeles had chocolate, custard and stewed apples, the mint parfait meringue was exquisite. Delicate crusty meringue, the smoothest of parfaits and raspberry coulis for a touch of zest.

Head on over to Focaccia to taste Chef Mauro's new à la carte menu. And those desserts.
A meal for 2 is about 2500/++.

Fusion Asian at The Flying Elephant


Chef Myo's salmon tataki wrap was rolled up with rocket leaves and cucumber wasabi mayo, the beef carpaccio too had rocket leaves and Parmesan shavings but dressed with a tangy wafu dressing. The strange thing was that this blend of flavours worked.

Chef Myo Zaw Aung

Chef Myo Zaw Aung is from Myanmar. A chef for the last 24 years, and in India for the last few months, he has a pretty good idea of the kind of food his customers like - Asian fusion with a slant towards Japanese and utilising modern cooking methods for sure. Fresh ingredients and fuss free presentation put all the focus on the food and only the food. For our tasting menu, he had chosen to showcase more starters than mains and a mix of both veg and non veg, according to our preferences.
Salmon tataki with rocket leaf, avocado, cucumber wasabi mayo & tobiko

Chef Myo's special beef carpaccio, wafu dressing, rocket leaf & Parmesan

It was definitely the first time I was tasting salmon tataki with rocket leaves and the combo was just wow. Adding more wow was the mild yet numbing cucumber wasabi mayo and crunchy tobiko. By the time the carpaccio came around, I was a fan of this fusion. The wafu dressing with sesame oil paired beautifully with the peppery leaves, cheese and wafer thin slices of meat, essentially an Italian appetiser with a Japanese twist.

Deep-fried sweetcorn with red curry paste & sriracha chilli sauce

Kakiage with chef's special yuzu chilli sauce and unamayo

Biting into the deep fried sweet corn was akin to biting into bubble wrap though of course, this was edible but the red curry paste was barely discernible. The kakiage was better, it had a good mix of shredded vegetables and was crunchy. Yuzu chilli sauce and unamayo drizzled over the top gave it a zesty finish. Both these were paired with sriracha chilli sauce.

Veg rice paper roll with chilli lemon dipping sauce

Vietnamese-style rice paper rolls were filled with sliced salad veggies and strips of watermelons with chilli lemon dipping sauce. Chopped peanuts added the crunch factor and the rolls were light, wonderful to snack on after the previous two dishes.

Sushi platter: salmon; tuna; crabmeat; tamago; sashimi & nigiri with fusion makimono 

Cajun soft shell crab with wasabi mayo & togarashi

Chef Myo's sushi platter had salmon, tuna, tamago sushi and assorted makimono. It was a good variety and the freshness of the seafood was definitely a plus point. The parade of starters ended with Cajun soft shell crab with togarashi, where I thought the flavour of the crab was a little off.

Grilled Australian lamb chop with red wine miso and pistachio

Marinated deep-fried prawn with panko

Baked baby chicken with miso and soya

The red wine miso on the lamb chop was an unusual flavour pairing but it was the baked chicken that stole the show. A whole little chicken that had been boned, marinated in soya sauce and mirin and grilled. The charred bits were fantastic, the meat so tender. Served with pickled ginger and more soy, the flavours were truly delightful. 

Dragon fruit soup with lychee and lemon sorbet

More than the elements of the dessert, the presentation was the showstopper. Dragon fruit halves filled with chopped fruit and a light syrup, lychees and a scoop of lemon sorbet under a spun sugar cage. As the sorbet melted, it added zestiness to the "soup". Wow!!

Chef Myo's Asian Food Festival is on only till April 22nd and only for dinner. The menu is à la carte and is about 3500/++ for two.

For reservations, do call +91  8939871109.

Park Hyatt Chennai
39, Velachery Main Road (near Raj Bhavan)
Chennai 600032.

Pulling wires at the Wire Room


Walk into the Wire Room and your eyes will be drawn to the ceiling. All you see are wires and even more wires that crisscross each other which will keep your eyes riveted (pun intended) to them.

Spools and weights

Plumb bobs and wires

Illuminated carvings

"Madras checks"

Design Hotel Chennai by jüSta lives up to its name. Right from the entrance, up the lift and to the corridor leading to the rooms, there are textures and designs on the walls. However, it's the newly renovated Wire Room Bar + Kitchen that evokes the most interest. 20 kms of copper wires run across the ceiling and down to the floor, making the famous "Madras checks" pattern. The ceiling is covered with painted wood shavings and plumb bobs hang down like fat metal raindrops. Spools hold weights, each spool holds 6 weights each weighing 1.5 kilos and it's these weights that keep the wires that run across the room taut. Behind the bar counter is a series of carvings that are lighted up and enclosed in glass, intensifying the sense of depth.

Cushioned seating is arranged around each table and the DJ spins tracks at the console. I'm still mesmerised by the wires when Karthick, Wire Room's Associate Head of Business and Operations tells me that they need to tighten the wires every two months to prevent them from slackening.   

The DJ and his console

Taste of nostalgia - thaen mittai; ginger chips & sliced mango


Magzhchi and a familiar face

The decor is not the only thing representative of Madras. From the names and ingredients in the cocktails to some of the food, there are touches of whimsy, nostalgia and fusion in the menu that started with a plate of thaen mittai, mango slices sprinkled with chilli powder and salt and then ginger chips. Karthick revealed that with his background in mixology, he has designed the cocktail menu and suggested Covealong for me, a mix of whisky and panneer soda. A lovely cold, cold drink that helped to quench my thirst and cool some of the gingery heat. My friend's Less Old Fashioned was a twist on the Old Fashioned with maple syrup, smoke and drama! He also had a Marina Mule with vodka and nanari while I tried Magzhchi - gin with ginger, karupatti and egg white. One look at it and I'm sure you'll figure out how it got its moniker!

Galouti Shots

Executive Chef Mir Hafizur Raheman's food menu is quite delicious. He calls them Galouti Shots, put one of those kebabs into your mouth and they'll just melt without any effort. Deft spicing, superfine meat and the almost biscuit-y ulte tawa ka paratha make it so memorable.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

If you like quinoa, you'll flip for the Mediterranean Quinoa Salad. The coloured stack has a layer of mashed avocado over the top and topped with salad greens and pea sprouts. Blue pearls jazz up the plating. Definitely a well balanced dish, if you know what I mean!

Cilantro pesto and harissa prawns...spicy!

Tikka taster platter

Harissa and Cilantro Pesto Prawns are big and juicy and the harissa paste is deliciously spicy.
The Tikka Taster has 5 kinds of kebabs on a platter, nice but no wow factor. 

Surf & Turf

Surf and Turf was the main course with large, juicy prawns and medium done steak. Accompaniments were asparagus, mashed potatoes and gravy in a toy sized pressure cooker. The meat was juicy with a faint hint of rosemary. The portion was generous enough for the two of us to share.

Chocolate Marquise & lime sorbet

Chocolate chilli baked yoghurt

We tried 2 desserts, absolutely loved the dense and flavourful Chocolate Marquise. The lime sorbet  was certainly very refreshing. If you're not too fond of chocolate, there's Chocolate Chilli Baked Yoghurt with a chilli-studded chocolate disc that toned down the overall sweetness. The little gulab jamun that sat in a chocolate cup was a nice touch.

Just in case you're wondering where the Design Hotel is, it's at Phoenix MarketCity. Cocktails at Wire Room are about 600/++ each and a meal for 2 people would come to about 1400/++.

Old fashioned English trifle


My dad had a patient, an Indian man, who owned a petty shop very close to the clinic. He called it a corner shop; it wasn't even a shop, rather, the outside wall of a store against which he had racks and shelves stocked with hairbands and hair clips, chewing gum (this was before it was banned in Singapore), needles, safety pins, embroidery thread, dried snacks, sweets and chocolates, make up, magazines and a whole lot of knick-knacks. It was amazing to see the load of stuff he could store in that tiny space. Home for the holidays, I'd walk over to the shop from the clinic and browse through English magazines like Woman's Own and Women's Weekly before making a selection. Pictures of beautiful English homes, gardens and kitchens fascinated me.

Ok ok! It wasn't the homes and kitchens that interested me but the recipes. Pictures of cakes, biscuits, pies and desserts, all beautifully captured, were tantalising and I must admit that a lot of my baking "education" came out of those pages. I'd wait for my parents to organise a dinner party for their friends just so I could make a dish from one of those mags, usually dessert.

The English trifle was about the easiest to do. It was absolutely delicious, colourful, a crowd-pleaser and by the end of the evening, THE topic of conversation. The best thing was that it could be made a day in advance so the flavours could mellow and merge. My preparations would start two days earlier when I would bake the cake and make the jelly. On my shopping list would be canned fruits, custard powder, sliced nuts, whipping cream and sprinkles. The next day, it would be quick work to chop the fruits and sandwich the cake with jam. Trifles need to be presented in a clear glass bowl and Mum would let me use one of her best ones. Dad's finest sherry would be used to moisten the cake slices once they were arranged in the bowl and topped with chunky squares of jelly and fruit. Cold custard forms the middle layer and then softly whipped cream is spooned or piped over the top. A few fruits, toasted nuts and sprinkles were all that would be needed for the finishing touches. The sprinkles, by the way, are mandatory :)

The trifle is one of those desserts that you could either spend a lot of time over starting with the cake and créme anglaise (custard) or like me, make it with custard powder. I get my stock from home and it's as good as made-from-scratch custard. The jelly too is made from a pack, my favourite flavours are orange and strawberry.  As for the fruits, it's always a large can of cling peaches. For texture, I like to add toasted almonds. As for the cake, I always bake a pound cake, slice it into thick slabs and sandwich them with strawberry jam. (A trifle is a great way to use up stale or leftover cake.)

Trifle trivia - Trifle history reveals that the first trifles were a combination of biscuits (sometimes cake), custard and alcohol and were probably made around the mid-1700s!

Here's the recipe:

Old Fashioned English trifle


500 gm vanilla pound cake.
1/4 cup sherry (can use orange juice)
1/4 cup peach syrup (from the can)
2 packs fruit flavoured jelly crystals
3 tablespoons custard powder (I use Bird's)
4 tablespoons sugar
600 ml milk
I large can peach halves, cut in large squares. Reserve some for the top.
200 gm whipping cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar

An 8" glass bowl

To decorate
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Start a day earlier, follow packet instructions to make the jelly. If using two different flavours, set them in separate moulds.
To make custard, mix the custard powder and sugar with a little of the milk. Place the remaining milk into a saucepan and when nearly boiling, stir in the custard powder-sugar mixture.
Whisk the custard till it thickens, allow to come to a boil and simmer for a minute.
Remove from heat, cover with cling film to prevent a skin forming.
Cool to room temperature.
When you are ready to assemble the trifle, slice the cake into slabs, sandwich with jam.
Cut into cubes and arrange them inside a large clear glass bowl.
Moisten the cake with the sherry (or orange juice) mixed with the peach syrup.
Scoop out blobs of jelly, place them over the cake, top with fruit and most of the toasted nuts.
Stir the cooled custard till smooth and pour over the jelly and fruits (if the custard is warm, the jelly will definitely melt).
Leave to set in the fridge for a couple of hours till the custard is cold.

Whip the cream with icing sugar till it forms soft peaks.
Pipe or scoop over the custard layer, top with the remaining diced peaches and toasted nuts.
Leave to set in the fridge for about 8 hours or even overnight.

*To make this a completely no-egg dessert, use an egg free cake and packaged custard powder;
*Any fruit can be used, stew them before use with the exception of mangoes, oranges and bananas;
*Nuts may be omitted;
*You could substitute sherry with any other liqueur
*Omit liqueur especially if giving to young children;
* You could make your own créme anglaise in place of packaged custard powder.

Baketales is now 6 years old and how better to celebrate than with a recipe! So go on, make a trifle and impress your family and guests. Thank you for keeping us going!

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