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Pan Asian at its Best

The sleepy vicinity of Ansal Plaza has seen a dramatic overhaul over the last few years. My childhood was filled with innumerable unwilling shopping visits to this erstwhile godforsaken mall so it’s a welcome change to treat myself to some well-deserved delicious food several years later.

Walking into Triple 8 gives a distinct feeling of entering a theatre. The soft reds of the walls and the dim greys of the shadows sit comfortably on the eyes and offset the vibrancy of the flavours on the plate.

Our first course was a 5 Spiced Goat Brain Tempura with Spicy Mayonnaise. I have always been squeamish about offal and avoid it at all costs but I believe I am a convert. The crunch on the outside was expected but the cloud like consistency on the inside was a game changer. I knew I was in for a wonderful evening. We were then graced with two pork dishes which had both been braised and cooked for 6 hours – the Chilean Pork Spare Ribs Krapow with Red Chillies and Basil and the Pork Belly Yaki-Tori with a Spiced Miso Glaze. They were well balanced, crispy skinned and yum.

The attention to detail at Triple 8 is striking. The meat is meticulously chosen, often locally sourced, (along with spices) to promote sustainable farming while never compromising on quality. One of the dimsum dishes for example is made with Himalayan morels instead of truffles and I recommend you to try it over any of its meat brethren. The Head Chef, Vivek Rana who hails from the likes of Indian Accent in New York and Oberoi, not only loves his produce but also has a keen eye for interiors. The walls are adorned with monochromatic images of the restaurant’s food, the kind that leave you salivating even while you’re eating it. The bar which will hopefully soon have alcohol flowing from it is a thing of beauty.

Meanwhile, the food continued to amaze. Chicken Winglets Skewered with Pineapple had the right amount of barbecued Pineapple on the stick. I ofcourse, fall squarely in the pro-Pineapple bucket – in pizzas, chickens and life in general.

One can’t not eat sushi when in a restaurant like this, and so we did – a Sashimi and Nigiri Platter. It looked like a fish garden, if there ever were to be one. This was followed by Lamb Shank Malaca with Fried Mantao Bun. The bun was a tinge sweet and so exquisitely soft that it left us wanting more even in our inflated-bellied state. We ended the meal with a heady combination of Night Market Custard Bun and a Sticky Pudding Caramelized Banana.

Pan Asian food has always been home for me but it is rare to find a place with as much care and love for its food as Triple 8. To say that I had a good evening would be a disservice. I live for evenings like this and am already planning excuses to go back.

 

Location: 1st Floor, Ansal Plaza, New Delhi
Meal for Two: Rs. 3,000

Anjora cannot resist a good prawn preparation, finds home in Chinese food anywhere in the world but will eat almost anything if it looks appealing. She is a Potter head and has recently discovered pottery as a hobby (excuse the pun).
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A Grand Affair

SXVIII – All Day Brasserie, Noida

The Radisson in Noida pops out of nowhere, between the busy streets of this burgeoning city. It does face the famous Mall of India, a prominent location but I stumbled upon it from one of the side entrances. The restaurant décor and design seem to be inspired by baroque architecture. It is a regal spread with gilded candle and lamp stands and pastel columns and curtains. The chairs are also throne like. We sat in a pleasant corner, as I usually do in restaurants, to eat without any disturbance and to people-watch from a distance.

The buffet looked inviting but we went for the lazy option, a la carte. First up was the Tuna Nicoise, a dish I had been meaning to try for a while. It is a salad hero-ing tuna, cooked rare along with potatoes, hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes and beans. It was a refreshing preparation and the tuna blushed pink just how I had seen it on TV.

The menu reflects royalty as well. It has a badge of the restaurant on the first page – SXVIII, which if you haven’t guessed already is S-18 (since it is located in Sector 18, Noida. I took a while to get that reference and the roman numerals. Maths has never been my forte). The badge features a scarlet crown over the letter ‘S’. The commitment to the theme is laudable.

After great deliberation, we decided on comfortable classics – pasta and pizza. We ordered the Penne Pomodoro Con Pollo (pasta with chicken in a tomato sauce), a recommendation by our waiter and their Parma pizza. Parma ham is a thin slice of ham dry-cured in salt to make the meat supple so it was definitely on the salty side. It was loaded with meat and garnished with ricotta and truffle oil.

We ended our meal with an array of little desserts to maximize our sweet consumption including Orange Chiboust, Banana Crumble and Cream Caramel. The restaurant was brimming with people even at 11 in the evening and waiters were zooming past. The newly renovated SXVIII seems to be attracting young and old alike in large numbers, offering them a grand fine dining experience to indulge on.

 

Location: Radisson Blu MBD Hotel, Sector 18, Noida
Meal for two: Rs. 4,000

Anjora cannot resist a good prawn preparation, finds home in Chinese food anywhere in the world but will eat almost anything if it looks appealing. She is a Potter head and has recently discovered pottery as a hobby (excuse the pun).
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South Indian with a Twist

Zambar, Gurgaon

When sushi burritos, ramen burgers and cronuts made an appearance on the food scene over the last few years, the sceptics and purists were appalled. But these eccentric dishes soon found their groove, primarily among Instagram hungry millennials. Food mashups are here to stay. And luckily, they’re tasty!

Zambar has swooped into a very traditional market to deliver a modern interpretation to south Indian food. It is upbeat and fun. There’s a colourful wheeled cart with alcohol and coconuts balanced on it at one end. Next to it, on the wall, a volley of pictures and videos depicting the backwaters of Kerala, traditional dances and markets are projected. The opposite wall is a window into Char Minar and other famous sites (paintings of course. If only Char Minar was actually visible from the 3rd floor of Ambience Mall). A little further is a well-stocked and pretty looking bar with a black board menu in the new Instagram font. The restaurant staff wore flowers in their hair and traditional sarees which was endearing.

Kaffir Lime Rasam was served first as a palate cleanser. The kaffir lime elevated the humble rasam dish, giving it a fresh and light citrus kick. I lapped up every bit of that hot concoction. I always want my rasam with kaffir lime in it now. The next dish, Zambar Net Dosai was stuffed with chicken and layered with delicious spices. The Goan Prawn Curry lived up to its name and heritage but the lamb in Achamma’s Lamb Curry was a bit chewy. Egg lovers will have a field day with Zambar’s rendition of utthapam and appam with a sunny side up perched on each of them. By the time we reached the dessert segment, I found myself loosening my belt, in a desperate bid to make more room. I tried the Coconut Jaggery Pudding which was their take on a mishti doi. It had a comfortable level of sweetness, with the coconut shavings adding a crunchy texture to the dish.

Zambar’s menu has cute drawings of lungi clad men playing tennis, women balancing pots on their heads and Super-Hot Man giving poses (his super power seems to be cooking hot food) along with historical excerpts and blurbs about southern Indian states – because education is important, wherever you may be! So go visit, for a tasty, playful and educational meal all packed in one.

 

Location: 3rd Floor, Ambience Mall, Gurgaon
Meal for two: Rs. 1400 (without alcohol)

Anjora cannot resist a good prawn preparation, finds home in Chinese food anywhere in the world but will eat almost anything if it looks appealing. She is a Potter head and has recently discovered pottery as a hobby (excuse the pun).
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Bringing Italy to Your Plate

Artusi Ristorante glitters, quite literally, with a trail of lights that follow you inside. It is inviting, warm and luxurious. The walls are adorned with paintings and there’s an actual fireplace with a live fire in the centre of the room! How often do you see lit fireplaces in Delhi*?

For me, the watershed moment in my love for Italian food was when Julia Roberts ate a plate of spaghetti while Mozart played in the background in the movie Eat Pray Love. I wanted nothing more than to devour that plate of pasta. After many unsuccessful attempts to replicate the dish, I have been on a lifelong quest to find the perfect spaghetti.

Artusi represents food from Emilia Romagna in Northeast Italy where pasta is the hero. They leave no stone unturned to perfect the dish. The pasta is entirely made by hand so the noodle is noticeably rough as compared to the smooth spaghetti cut by the pasta machine. This lends well to the spaghetti being ensconced in the tomato sauce, covering every ridge. It was not by chance that my plate was accompanied by crab. I would happily eat this spaghetti in a movie.

One of the finest dishes on the menu is a simple cheese with mushrooms and bread. Tomino is a soft cheese sourced directly from its motherland, Italy. It melts magnificently over the bread, sticking to the mushrooms, garnished with white truffle oil. Seemingly modest, the flavours are intricate and delicious. Try this dish even if you don’t love mushrooms. You will be converted for life. For dessert, pick the Panna Cotta. It is fluffy and soft, wonderfully offset by the crunchy praline, almonds and fig.

Do attempt to hide your shock when you don’t see pizza on the menu. I assure you that you won’t miss it. Pizza is a southern Italian signature whereas the northern regions have influences from countries such as Germany. Ask the owner, Oscar Balcon about the food from his homeland and he will passionately and painstakingly explain the regional variations in food across Italy. He’ll throw in a joke or two, staying true to his Italian heritage. This restaurant, he says is his retirement project. I can only hope that my retirement project is half as majestic or delicious someday.

 

Location: One Horizon Centre, Golf Course Road, Gurgaon
Meal for two: Rs. 4000

*Alright, Gurgaon

Anjora cannot resist a good prawn preparation, finds home in Chinese food anywhere in the world but will eat almost anything if it looks appealing. She is a Potter head and has recently discovered pottery as a hobby (excuse the pun).
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Frozen Treats in January

We’re hitting ice cream season early this year (global warming at work again, do you think?) with the newly opened American ice cream chain – Cold Stone Creamery in both the Ambiences in Delhi and Gurgaon. I think there is a special charm in eating ice cream in the winters. First, it doesn’t melt. Second, you feel like a warrior, fighting the odds.

Cold Stone has been around in the US for about 3 decades now and has been rapidly expanding into other countries over the last few years, including our flavourful neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Creamery boasts of the famous frozen stone slab (on which ice cream is folded), often found in its natural habitat – Instagram stories.

You can add your preferred toppings to the parent flavours and shuffle between waffle cone sizes, choosing from a list of ice creams already curated for you or freestyle and go crazy with your own combinations. Go on, no one is judging. For the lactose intolerant, there are a couple of tangy sorbets on display including Passion Fruit and Pomegranate. Those who are delusional enough to want to be healthy while in an ice cream shop, can fool themselves with smoothies or carry some ice cream home for a cheat day. There is something for everyone. Ice cream is very inclusive.

When I walked into the Creamery, the employees simultaneously burst into a chorus of 90s pop music and kids songs. Though startled at first, I found myself humming along soon after. Now I do not know if I had the special privilege of being serenaded by ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, but I sure have a new found admiration for live music with my cup of ice-cream.

 

Price: About Rs. 160 for one ice cream
Location: 1st floor, Ambience Mall, Gurugram (the one I went to)

Anjora cannot resist a good prawn preparation, finds home in Chinese food anywhere in the world but will eat almost anything if it looks appealing. She is a Potter head and has recently discovered pottery as a hobby (excuse the pun).
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Tibetan Delights

Majnu ka Tila or MKT as we called it in college, is a Tibetan refugee colony tucked away in the by-lanes of North Delhi. What it offers is an insight into the exuberant culture and food of Tibet. Bustling with people at all times of the day and night, the narrow lanes are almost always under a flooding crisis but it doesn’t stop the hawkers from selling little trinkets, Tibetan prayer flags, colourful woollen caps and gloves. Every once in a while you bump into a beautiful Tibetan temple with puppies playing in front of it.

The food in MKT is best represented by two of my favourite joints called by almost the same name – AMA Café and AMA Restaurant. AMA Café has the city’s best pancakes on offer. They can be customized according to your taste but being a traditionalist, I go for the banana and Nutella variety. The pancakes are fluffy but not bread-y which is key in pancake making. They are only available till noon so get there early and stay put for the rest of the day. The Apple Pie is another beauty; crunchy crust and soft and crumbly on the inside, it is a scrumptious dish. The décor is bright and fun with Tibetan motifs and photos on the walls and travel books on shelves. It is a great place to sit by yourself next to a window on a winter afternoon, sip a cup of coffee, watch the hustle and bustle down the street and try to get some work done.

After spending most of the day at AMA Café and hopefully catching up on work, move over to the AMA Restaurant down the lane. Comfort food for me is mostly a plate of rice and stir fried chicken or a hearty bowl of meat soup. All and any combinations of Chinese food can get me out of a bad mood and the AMA restaurant serves some of the most affordable and delightful Chinese and Tibetan food in town. The place by itself is basic and not as pretty as its sibling but food is a showstopper. The Momos and Chilli Potatoes are mandatory eating and without a doubt lovely. For the main course, go for Chicken or Buff Thupka and Spicy Fried Pork with Steamed Rice. The pork is succulent and sweet, a taste you will remember long after it is gone. The food is not for the weak of stomach. Go with agreeable company. Eat at leisure. Return a happier person.

Anjora cannot resist a good prawn preparation, finds home in Chinese food anywhere in the world but will eat almost anything if it looks appealing. She is a Potter head and has recently discovered pottery as a hobby (excuse the pun).