Travel

From Russia With Love

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I write from magical Moscow. The spirit of Russia is distilling itself in the photograph I shot. I’m not referring to just to the vodka and the epitome of epicurean pleasure, caviar (which the chef is holding), but also to the spectacularly beautiful Red square (flanked by the Kremlin and the cathedrals) which is visible. I shot it from the glamorous rooftop lounge of Moscow’s most luxurious landmark done up in the classical gilded luxurious glamor of nineteenth century Russia. The magnificent Red square has been witness to  centuries of  Russian history and culture and art. It continues to throb with the vibrance of modern Moscow. And here in this uber hotspot rooftop lounge, the knowledgable and brilliant French executive chef Yoann Barnard explains the centuries of connection between French and Russian cuisines. Did you know that during the reign of the Russian Tsars, the nobility spoke mainly  French? French food was the norm and many French chefs worked in the Tsars kitchens and those of the nobility too. This French-Russian style continues to be popular even today. I taste this fare in “Café Pushkin”in “Matryshcka” in the innovative and highly awarded “White Rabbit” and the many spectacular restaurants of the Ritz Carlton too. Here I do caviar tasting and learn to distinguish the fine from the rest. I continue to explore vegetarian food in Russia…but that is a very long story.

Designer Dinners

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Foodie-ism is the rocking new “ism” of our times. Even highfalutin fashion brands have jumped in to set up restaurants and hotels. I’ve dined Dolce Gabbanas Gold (humdrum except for the gold bar dessert), Armani (worlds worst Caesars salad), great swimming pool in Bulgari (London), a Gourmet stay in Palazzo Versace (Gold Coast). So when the jet setting glamorous gourmets and real estate tycoon couple Anurag and Meera Bhatia invited me to Italian fashion czar Ferragamo’s recently opened “Il Borro” it became worth my while to stop in Dubai just for this dinner. Loved the sleek, glamorous Tuscan bistro and it’s traditional Tuscan flavours, snowy buratta to the salt baked fish, crisp vegetables (all flown in from Ferragamo’s gardens of Il Borro in Tuscany).  Mukesh Luthra, chairman of his beauty and wellness global empire, sparkled the evening and we raised a toast to his birthday. With Ferragamo’s “Il Borro” wine of course.

Historic Celebration

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I was privileged to get a taste of modern era’s culinary history-in-the-making. It was a historic feast in every sense of the term. Never before have such great chefs come together and shared their views on the future of gastronomy… Ferran Adrià (Spain), René Redzepi (Denmark), Joan Roca (Spain), Massimo Bottura (Italy) and Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (partners; New York). Each of their restaurants has been at No. 1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants over the last decade. The who’s who of gastronomy flew in to Barcelona only to celebrate the World’s Most influential giant of gastronomy, `World’s 50 Best Restaurant Academy’s’ 15th birthday. Since inception, the `World’s 50 Best’ has been shaping the global culinary landscape. It has once again created history. May your 15 turn to a 115. Happy 15th Birthday!

The Edible Heart Of Art

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I’m thrilled to art  in sunny Barcelona. Every conceivable form of art, breathing art, seeing art, hearing art and of course tasting art. Over the years, Barcelona has been my most favourite city which has nurtured global superstars of art, architecture and cuisine. I’ve been a constant and ardent fan of trailblazers Antonio Gaudi, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and of course my culinary hero Ferran Adria. I have luxuriated in their immortal art forms and dining at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli was an experience I’ll treasure forever. And this time, thanks to my ever helpful friend in China, Vito Romeo, I even stay in the aptly named and the stunning Hotel Arts, designed by the globally renowned architect Frank Gehry.

Please take a look at the accompanying photograph, the intriguing flying Fish sculpture that you see, is named after a  Spanish dance (Sardana) performed in front of the cathedral and for sure the Hotel Arts, while not a cathedral has a similar dominating presence. And standing below is the brilliant Calatan chef Antonio Saez , who at a very young age worked as chef de cuisine in a three Michelin starred restaurant. He masterminds the wealth of dining options here and shares with me amazing insights about Spanish cuisine. The dapper and dynamic Raul Salcido helms this 25 year old iconic landmark and ensures that it delivers superb food and equally superior service.

DINING IN THE ARTS

All under one roof; A mind blowing wealth of dining options, I dine at two Michelin-starred Chef Paco Pérez’s Enoteca. And am blown away by his sheer genius and creativity which fuses textures and flavours into a delicious parade of dishes.

Lunching on Michelin starred Chef Sergi Arola’s fresh ingredients straight from the Boqueria market is a treat.

Seafood from all the coastlines of the world dazzle at Marina, which is situated in the gardens with views of the Mediterranean.

Its always been my most favourite summer soup. The very simple to make, Gazpacho. Not sure whether it’s recipe finds place in the first ever culinary book which was written in Barcelona in the 12th century.

And though Barcelona  has assimilated cosmopolitan cultures, over a 1000 years, it continues to hold it’’s own roots, culture, language and cuisine in high regard.

I am fascinated by this complex yet amazingly simple cuisine and the high state of gastronomy in Catalonia. And thanks to Chef Antonio Saez I taste and learn more about it.

GAZPACHO

Interestingly, Gazpacho may be served as a starter, main dish, or tapas. Its old and original recipe includes garlic paste, bread, olive oil, vinegar and salt. Chef Antonio points out  “You can many different kinds of gazpachos. Cherry gazpacho, beetroot gazpacho or peach gazpacho”, he explains, “What you need to do is, change 1/3 of the weight of the tomato for cherries, peach or beetroot.You will have a totally different gazpacho.”

 1.5 kg of plum tomatoes/400g of cucumber

150g of green capsicum/50g of onion

500ml of mineral water/½ garlic clove

250g of Extra virgin olive oil/25g of cider/ vinegar/ Salt

Blend all the ingredients, but not the vinegar and salt. Using an upright blender, blend for 5 minutes at maximum power, pass through a fine sieve and keep in the fridge. Adjust seasoning with the salt and vinegar. 

Serve very cold in soup plates, finish with garlic croutons, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

MORE GREAT SPANISH RESTAURANTS

ELBULLI

Crowned the “worlds best restaurant” five times over, Spanish wizard Ferran Adria’s “El Bulli” was a phenomenon. I was fortunate enough to have dined here, before Adria shut it. This is where Ferran Adria coaxed science to copulate with imagination and deliver brilliant surprises in texture, temperature and taste. His innovation of  “molecular gastronomy” (though he hats the word) continues to inspire the world.

CELLER DE CAN ROCA

Multi-sensorial Techno-emotion cuisine seduces at worlds best (twice over)  Located an hours drive out of Barcelona, the three Roca brothers fuse science, poetry, melody, into an orchestra of flavours & textures & memories & stories. This is my second dinner here and once again I come away thrilled.

DISFRUTAR

My last meal at the Michelin starred Disfrutar (means Enjoy)  more than lives up to it’s name. The brilliant chefs Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch conjure a delicious extravaganza of innovative surprises.

Taste Of London

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Here in this definitive showcase of London’s latest and most exciting restaurants, India is shining. In the lush and sprawling Regents park the bi annual “Taste of London”  has awarded the seven month old “Jamavar” restaurant the “Best of Taste” award. This fine dine Indian restaurant has been wowing London with Chef Rohit Ghai’s menu which serves up delights from the Royal kitchens of the North and South Indian fare too. Cyrus and Pervin Todiwalas Café Spice Namaste (London’s 22 year old popular restaurant) is drawing crowds. The Todiwalas also continue to raise funds for the needy, support sustainability and fight food waste. It’s a delight to catch up with my old friends and rockstars of the culinary world and to meet the Michelin starred Luigi Taglienti of Lume Milano too. Most of all it’s the flavour of India that thrills. Be it the brilliant young Samyukta Nair’s “Jamawar” or the Todiwala’s  “café Spice Namaste” which hosts “khadrass or the Greedy pigs club”,  a Gourmet showcase for India’s  Parsi heritage. Indeed a yum “Taste of India” in the  “Taste of London”.

Food For Soul

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It’s a privilege and a blessing. I came to London, only to be able to volunteer as a part-time waitress in the worlds best chef Massimo Bottura’s truly noble and innovative “Food For Soul” non-profit project. Lara and Massimo Bottura are blessed alchemists: not only do they ensure that many a homeless and vulnerable is fed but do so by orchestrating the collection and use of wasted food. And here’s the exciting part, 30 of the worlds greatest chefs have volunteered and each one cooks daily. From Massimo Bottura himself to Georgio Locatelli, Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux jr and many more. They do so in the simply but elegantly decorated Refettorio Felix.

“Chefs have risen to celebrity heights,” Chef Bottura commented. “I believe we, chefs, can reflect these lights to illuminate the most pressing issues facing society today. Cooking is a call to act.” Admiration!

P.S. Already the brilliant Chef Vicky Ratnani has put a message on my Instagram feed and offered to cook here, should you be in London and be willing to volunteer to help or if you are a chef to cook then please do get in touch.

Romancing China

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It does not get more romantic than this, in China. I’m surrounded by  the magnificent, shimmering and tranquil West Lake in Hangzhou, as I dine in the award winning Jin Sha. Nestled amidst an exquisite garden along the shores of a lake deemed heaven on earth by explorers of old, Four Seasons Hangzhou  is rooted in centuries of dynastic lore. It is a 21st-century luxurious prism through which the past is reflected. It’s luxury amid nature that pampers and the masterful Chinese fare seduces. I sit by the beautiful glassed in dining area of Jin Sha set amid 17 acres of landscaped gardens and interconnected lily ponds and I’m luxuriating in MasterChef Wangyong’s flavour and textural masterpieces  be it marinated blackfungus with  lilybuds, a dramatic colourful  salad of organic vegetables and fruits too. I love the  roasted cauliflower with truffle and the simply made pickled radish delights with it’s tangy crunchiness. I also eat the worlds best Crispy chicken with salt here.  The dapper Wayne Tan and Alleen Woo helpfully translate and also explain the intricacies of Hangzhou and Shanghainese cuisine.

No wonder Jinsha has been declared the only four-star restaurant in Hangzhou by Forbes Travel Guide and is in the most prestigious list of China’s 50 Best restaurants too.

MY CUP OF TEA

Grown right here is the worlds most fabulous green tea. And I get my first taste of it in Jinsha. I’m feeling like the empress of china sipping on the famous and incredibly addictive and prized Longjing tea which was granted the status of GongCha, or imperial tea, in the Qing dynasty by the Kangxi Emperor. It continued to be the favorite of emperors. And they came specially to Hangzhou where it is grown. Much like champagne even longjing tea to be called longjing has to be grown in Zhejiang province in China, in the West Lake area in Hangzhou or within the Xihu District.
Like most Chinese green teas it is roasted early in processing (after picking) to stop the natural oxidation process, which is a part of creating black and oolong teas. This is done by “firing” (heating in pans) or by steaming the leaves before they completely dry out. So Longjing tea leaves experience minimal oxidation. I love the mellow yellow-green color of the tea when the leaves are steeped in hot water. And the complex long finish.
The tea contains vitamin C, amino acids, and, like most finer Chinese green teas, has one of the highest concentrations of catechins among teas. It is excellent for health, digestion and even weight loss. What can be better than the imperial Longjing tea? It’s the fabulous hightea in which Chef Stanley infuses every pastry and bagel with longing tea. Macaron, green tea cheesecake green tea chocolate mousse and green tea scone too.

Its known as sipping your tea and eating it too.

BLESSEDLY VEGETARIAN

Right after lunch and high tea, I pay homage to  the most sacred, largest and most visited of Buddhist temples Lingyin, located a few minutes drive away. And this temple was founded by our very own Indian monk 1600.years ago. I’m dazzled  (in the center of the Hall of the Heavenly King) by  the statue of the fat, bare and bellied Buddha with a smiling face – the laughing Buddha.

And then I go into the temple’s restaurant for a taste of the inexpensive and pure vegetarian meal. In the functional, clean eatery, which serves slippery moist prosperity noodles, longevity noodles (10 RMB, roughly Rs 90  each) served in large bowls.  After Jin Sha’s  dazzling meal,  heady high- tea, amid beautiful nature and Lord Buddha’s blessings… I came away feeling rejuvenated and

JINSHA’S PICKLED RADDISH

White radish 1kg//Soy sauce 35 gms/
Monosodium glutamate (optional) 3 gms/ Sugar 75 gms /Dried chilli 1gm /Dark soy sauce 6,5 gms/ Garlic 2 gms

Wash the white radish; peel and cut white radish into julienne. Marinate the white radish with salt for one night than wash  off all the salty and spicy flavors. Dry it- Put soy sauce, monosodium glutamate, sugar, dried chili, dark soy sauce and garlic together and boil it until the sugar melts. Cool the sauce. Immerse the raddish in  the sauce for 24 hours. Serve it to add crunch and tang to your meal.

Sichuan’s Best

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Come sizzle with me… in the finest global capital of spice, Sichuan. It is not just the cuisine of China’s Sichuan province but has become the global synonym for the finest spicy food. And I’m fortunate to learn the secrets of this 4000 year old cuisine from the best chefs. And even more to taste the best of the best, in the highly renowned LiXuan restaurant perched in the luxurious landmark of Chengdu, The Ritz-Carlton. A truly seductive taste of Sichuan here is due to their global “scenography” (sense of place) reputation. At this renowned fine dining Chinese restaurant, the dynamic Vito Romeo (who honed his skills under the likes of Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon) and Chef Michael impressed with their knowledge and flavors of sophisticated interpretations of classic Cantonese and Sichuanese dishes. I get high on Sichuan’s vibrantly addictive flavors. The chef shares his super recipes of  kung pao chicken, ma po tofu… the signature Sichuan dishes. Should you want them please mail rashmiudaysingh2016@gmail.com

Zen Paradise Found

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I’m rejoicing and laughing. Not only because I bowed in reverence at the original laughing Buddha sacred temple (founded 1600 years ago by an Indian monk) but also because I am immersed in stunningly beautiful nature in China’s most romantic city, Hanghzhou. And here’s the best part. I am feasting on my best Chinese meals in the award winning Jin Sha restaurant which is surrounded by 17 acres of landscaped lush gardens and lily ponds located on the magnificent Westlake. I am luxuriating in MasterChef Wangyong’s flavour and textural masterpieces ( fabulous vegetarian wows too ) and the world’s best crispy chicken with salt. The dapper Wayne Tan and Aileen Woo helpfully translate and also explain the intricacies of Hangzhou and Shanghainese cuisine. And to top this mind blowing experience, is the highly prized (and expensive) longjing tea.

Unmatched fine fragrance, beloved of emperors, superb for health and weight loss too. As though this is not enough, Masterchef Wangyong serves up the most sublime longjing tea crèmebrullee. I’m having my tea and eating it too. Zen paradise redefined!