The Ledbury

This summer, we were lucky enough to get a reservation at the Ledbury. It has two Michelin stars, and came in at #14 in the world’s 50 best restaurants in 2016.IMG_0500

As always, Hobbes opted for the standard tasting menu, and I asked for the vegetarian version. This strategy helps us sample a lot of food between the two of us 🙂

We started with 2 courses of amuse-bouche.

The vegetarian version.

The bread. The goat milk butter was to die for!

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The first course. Chilled Yellow Tomato Soup with Langoustine Jelly and Mustard Sorbet

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(V) Spring Vegetables – Pea and Lovage Cream, Parmesan, and Hazelnut Oil

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The second course. White Beetroot, Baked in Clay, Caviar Salt, and Smoked Eel

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(V) White Beetroot, Baked in Clay, Goat’s Cheese and Walnuts

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The third course. Warm Pheasant’s Egg, Celeriac, Arbois, Dried Ham and Truffle

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(V) Warm Pheasant’s Egg, Shaved Celeriac, Truffle Vinaigrette and Arbois

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The fourth course. Roast Scallops, Elderflower, Liquorice, and Fennel

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(V) Trompette Courgettes, Basil and Lemon

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The fifth course. Jowl of Pork, Apricot and Carrot Joice

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(V) Carrots Baked in Juniper, Apricot and Cracked Wheat

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The sixth course. Aged Pigeon, Cherries, Red Leaves and Vegetables

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(V) Roast Cauliflower, Jersey Royal Cream Cream, Girolles and Almonds

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Pre-dessert

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Desserts. Brown Sugar Tart, and Stem Ginger Ice Cream

And, finally, the mignardises.

The service was great. The staff compared notes so they could all carry a conversation forward from where their colleague left off. We found this very charming 🙂 Like all fine dining establishments, the portion sizes were small – but big enough to allow the flavors to explode in one’s mouth. We were quite full by the third or the fourth course and had to walk around to make room for more food.

The food was delicious, and the taste and the presentation were apt for their rating. The Ledbury was certainly one of the highlights of our London trip!

 

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The Ledbury

The Mina Test Kitchen

Michael Mina‘s pop-up restaurant showcases a new cuisine every few months. The current experiment features the flavors of India. The entire menu is served family style. Even though it wasn’t the best Indian food I’ve had (Don’t get me wrong – the food is tasty, just not the best. I’m not a seafood fan, but I loved the prawns and the fish), I still enjoyed the experience. Here’s why. It was Indian enough for me to get the comfort food feeling, yet it wasn’t the typical shahi paneer and butter chicken that seems to woefully dominate all desi menus. Recommended once for the novelty factor (and the gorgeous wallpaper!).

The Mina Test Kitchen

Attended a live performance of Swan Lake yesterday and was surprised at how different the womens’ and mens’ movements were. Man or woman – performing any work of art such that it completely mesmerizes the audience takes a lot of perseverance and hard work. And mesmerized I was, no doubt. But I also found myself wondering if this was an art form that was way more demanding of its female dancers. While the men had their feet flat on the ground most of the time, the women were on their big toes for most of the performance. They did twists, turns, and complex maneuvers while they were precariously balanced on their big toes. And sometimes their entire body weight was supported by a single toe! As someone who cannot even look at heels without wincing, I am amazed at these women who walk and dance on their big toes for hours at a time… And here I thought, dancing was all play and fun!

Delicacies from distant lands

Hobbes had taken a Moroccan cooking class sometime back, following which, we promptly purchased a tagine. I’m not a cook, but I find tagines beautiful to look at. In my opinion, they are one of the prettiest kitchen equipment. And so, for quite some time, our tagine occupied a prominent place at home as a decorative piece, and served as an excellent conversation starter.

Last summer, we had chicken tagine at a small restaurant in Rome. It was delicious and reminded us that we had an amazing piece of pottery at home, just sitting there and doing nothing. And so, after procuring all the necessary ingredients, it was put to good use. The end result was delectable!

Now that this tagine has been inaugurated with successful results, the plan is to procure more of these beautiful pots. And use them 🙂

On the same trip, we also got introduced to some amazing desserts, one of which was kunafah. Think gooey goodness in an edible format. And since we were completely wooed with it, Hobbes had to do what he always does. Another trip was made to ethnic grocery stores and unfamiliar label names were deciphered. It was all a labor of love, and well worth it. The kunafah was a big hit with our guests. They even asked for some to take home 🙂

Here’s to discovering many more foods from faraway lands. Not to mention, re-creating and relishing them in our own kitchen!

Delicacies from distant lands

For the love of reading

I had been a decent reader during and soon after my college days. But as life went on, I slowly stopped reading. Reading real books, that is. I would still read business and technical books, but most of my pleasure reading would be online. Every now and then I would pick up a book, but it would take me months to finish it. Or worse, I would abandon it half way through, justifying to myself that had I not been so busy, I would certainly have finished it. I feared that I had forgotten how to read for fun.

Over the last few months, I’ve been trying to re-learn how to read just for the pleasure of reading. The local library has become a favorite haunt of mine. Yesterday I picked up The Kite Runner. It was published in 2003 so I am very late in getting to the book. But what a book! Der aaye durust aaye. A part of the book happens in my corner of the world, so that familiarity and identification was an added bonus. Thank you Khaled Hosseini for assuring me that I can still get lost in a book. That a story can still fascinate me enough to forget about everything else. And that I can still finish a book in six hours.

For the love of reading

Tajdar-e-Haram

Now a days it’s fairly common to hear new versions of old songs. Seems like everyone is doing that. Sometimes they are cringeworthy, sometimes they are an interesting fresh take on an earlier rendering, and sometimes they are so good that it’s like meeting an old friend after many, many years. This one falls in the last category.

Sure it’s no technical singing. But even without any aalaaps or harkatein, Atif manages to create a special atmosphere with this. Soulful. I sat through the whole 10 or so minutes without any movement and experienced a strange calm come over me. My ears were delighted and I certainly had some new-found respect for him after listening to this.

It wasn’t just the singing. It was the entire mahaul, the samaa. The poetry, the musical arrangement, the vocal and instrumental accompanists (I will always be partial to the peti), and the clapping, made the whole listening experience somewhat magical.

Of course I couldn’t talk about this and not mention the real thing. So, for the musical purists out there, and for those who can still experience the old world charm of qawwali induced trances, here are the original masters with their amazing classical finesse and control. It is expression, sureelapan, and tenderness all rolled into one. Listen to them sprinkle in a few verses of an exquisite zehaal-e-miskeen at around the 7:25 mark.

The two versions are beautiful in their own way. And in the world of music lovers, there is plenty of space for both!

Tajdar-e-Haram

In search of swaad and swaasth

A few months back I embarked on a journey that focuses mainly on diet and lifestyle changes in order to achieve a healthy life. As part of that, I have been slowly reworking my meals. This has been quite an interesting and a revealing journey. My diet prior to this journey usually consisted of:

Breakfast – tea with sugar and (one of) omelette with 2 slices of bread, cereal/granola with milk, pancakes
Lunch – whole wheat rotis with a vegetable
Dinner – whole wheat rotis with a vegetable and legumes/beans
The vegetable was usually substituted with meat (chicken or goat) once or twice a week, and eaten with white rice.

This formed a basic framework for my meals, but Hobbes being, well, himself, they were often punctuated with pizzas, pastas, desserts and all kinds of awesome food from several cuisines! (all made at home from scratch).

The first (and only) principle that I diligently embraced was a no-wheat, no-sugar, and a no-white-rice diet. Everything else (for e.g. dairy) is on a best effort basis. This is not Paleo or Atkins or another one of those substitute-your-favorite-diet-name here. This is more like a mashup of all of those, and doesn’t really have a name. The goal here is to come up with something that I can follow for a long time, and not just for a few weeks. Unlike most diets, weight loss is not the biggest motivating factor either, though it wouldn’t hurt if I can fit again into those beautiful dresses hanging in my closet!

Surprisingly enough, sugar was the easiest to give up. I have never been a fan of American cakes, desserts, or ice-creams so I just avoided them whenever they showed up. I considered myself a chai addict but somehow just stopped it cold turkey and it didn’t bother me. I take 2-3 sips from Hobbes’ cup when he has chai around me and that has probably given me psychological comfort that should I need it, it is around the corner 🙂 Earlier I would get headaches if I went without tea for a little while, but thankfully, that has not happened so far. (Tea without sugar never had any appeal for me). I continue to eat fruits, so I am not aiming for a zero sugar diet, just no added sugar. I am also not a religious fanatic about it, so some honey and molasses every once in a while is fine.

White rice goes really well with Indian curries, but given that I was already eating it rarely, it wasn’t that big of a change. I substituted brown rice, and while it doesn’t taste as awesome as white rice, it’s not a bad tasting alternative. I even make brown rice dosas now!

Wheat was an altogether different story – it was present in every meal, and having an Indian meal without roti or naan just doesn’t seem normal. The good part about this is that I no longer have to make rotis! I’ve done it long enough that I have optimized the process and can do it on auto-pilot very efficiently, but not having to do it is even better 🙂 I still needed something to eat my daal-subji with and so quinoa became my new staple. Doesn’t need washing, and what’s better, gets done in 15 minutes with no supervision. Perfect for lazy cooks like me.

While quinoa simplified my lunch and dinner quite a bit, breakfast was proving to be quite a challenge without wheat. So far I have tried sausages (too much meat first thing in the morning), eggs (my first choice), oats (both steel cut and rolled, I find that they taste blah and still need some kind of sweet additive to make them tasty), and plantain pancakes. I think after all the experimentation, I am going to stick with eggs. An omelette loaded with onions, green coriander, and green chillies tastes awesome, cooks fast, and I can eat it without toast – making it a very low-carb breakfast. The plantain pancakes can be more of a luxury breakfast on weekends and such, since they need a bit more work, but are tasty nevertheless.

As for lunch/dinner, I am trying to embrace salads along with the traditional Indian fare. Mixed greens with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers thrown in and tossed around with a simple dressing make for a quick and hearty meal. Hobbes usually has some sous-vide chicken lying around in the freezer and a few cubes of that supply the necessary protein. Since starting this diet, I attended several desi parties where all I could eat was tandoori chicken. And while I have always eaten it in the past as an appetizer, I was pleasantly surprised by how it can make for a delicious, complete meal.

I am still new to this kind of eating. Indian food, which will always be comfort food to me, has surprisingly a huge repertoire for healthy eating if you cut out the breads and the rice. There are so many veggies, dals, and beans that you can eat combinations of those for many days without repetition. Not to mention the flavorful spices, that can enhance any ingredient. While I have always eaten amazing home cooked food, thanks to my karmic jackpot of being married to be a foodie who loves to cook, I am now taking a more active interest in my food. Earlier my participation was limited to consumption, now it is slowly spreading into the realm of introspection and preparation 🙂

P.S. Merely an attempt to document my experience so far, not looking to impart advice on food, health, nutrition, etc. Every individual is unique and all that good stuff.

In search of swaad and swaasth