Seven Kitchens for your Seven Senses!

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There was a time when, come weekend, we would furiously start making calls to all restaurants worth its salt – or sugar! – in the city, to figure out the next Sunday brunch destination. Despite living in far-flung areas in the city, and having to wade through killer rush-hour traffic everyday of the week, when it came to a Sunday brunch, any distance was doable for our food-worshiping gang. But like all good things, this one too came to pass… :(

But, after a big lull in the last couple of years, when prices had sky-rocketed and options had become jaded, the Sunday brunch has suddenly come to reinvent itself in the city, with bigger, better and bolder menu additions that are luring big eaters like us back to the live stations. After all, what is a Sunday brunch if not an ode to food and a celebration of appetites? :)

The Sunday Brunch at Seven Kitchens - a royal spread!Such a celebration was under way when our group of adventurers walked into the bustling Seven Kitchens at Palladium Hotel. Our table was on the other side of this plush 9000 sq ft temple of food, and our long trek prepped us for what lay in store… The Chocolate Fountain winked devilishly, and invited us to sneak in a finger… the roulette-wheel of icecream flavours held us captive… the glittering bed of Sushis tempted us to pop one into our mouths… the mysterious-looking Dimsum baskets floated tantalizingly on a cloud of steam… the roast Leg of Lamb sizzled coyly… the aromas from the Indian, Thai and Italian stations unrelentingly pursued us, impatient for us to get settled into our seats! Amidst all this, an army of chefs scurried around with plates of food, and servers balanced trays of tall cocktails as a live band struck up an up-tempo song. I remember feeling like one of the characters in The Great Gatsby’s mansion, mesmerized by my surroundings!

The eye-popping Sushi station

The eye-popping Sushi station

Teddy and I went on a long scouting tour, peeping into cloches, poking around the salad spread, randomly popping a macaroon here or a prawn tail there, while chatting up with the chefs about made-to-order pastas and stir fries…

A self-styled Seafood Platter one of many we blazed through :)A smooth baritone belted out the opening bars of Shaggy’s ‘Strength of a Woman’ as an ode to all women there. I turned to find my Mom, and there she was settled comfortably in her sofa, smugly digging into a plate piled high with her beloved Stewed Crabs, and a handpicked plate of her favourite Sushis right next to it. My heart leaped with joy!

Nothing like a a few humble ingredients to create a splash of warm colours

Nothing like a a few humble ingredients to create a splash of warm colours

Terrines and Salads nestling amidst some beautiful carvings…

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of salad plates and biryani domes; made-to-order Eggs Florentine and just-done Kingfish Grills; thick terrine slices and wafer-thin pizzas… all washed down with a bottle of crisp Bollinger Champagne and countless glasses of lip-smacking Raw Mango Daiquiri.

But some things stood out and cut through the haze of the 50 odd dishes we tried out, enough to fire up each of our senses…

For the taste buds, it was the Burnt Spinach Dim Sum, the Beetroot Periyal, the Couscous Stuffed Leg of Lamb. Oh, and the deliciously hearty Spaghetti Bolognese!

For the eyes, it was the popping freshness of the large Red Prawns, Octopus and Squid at the Seafood station, and the jeweled Cupcakes sitting prettily on a spiraling tree!

For the nose, it was the stop-in-your-tracks aroma of the Kebab Station that you just had to indulge in on every pass by.

For touch, it was that perfect wobble of the Caramel Custard as you cut into its burnished surface.

And for sound… it was Mom’s deep sigh of satisfaction on cleaning up her last plate of Fresh Waffles with buttery Vanilla Icecream.

The gorgeous tree of jewelled cupcakes

The gorgeous tree of jewelled cupcakes

Mom's last plate of Fresh Waffles n Icecream :)

Mom’s last plate of Fresh Waffles n Icecream :)

 

When I think about it, Seven Kitchens is one experience that appeals to not five, but all your seven senses! Confused?? Well, there’s the five senses as above. Then there’s the sixth sense that tells you you’re definitely coming back here for more ;) And finally, the seventh sense of ‘balance’ – the one that leaves you feeling one with the universe after such a great afternoon of food, love and togetherness!

The Legend of the Fiery Five and their Golden Dragon!

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Thousands of people… holiday-makers, businessmen, fishermen, college-goers, just-married couples, photographers, map-sellers, balloon-sellers, sketch artists, cops, tour guides, wage-workers… posing for pictures or pointing cameras, gazing out to sea or hopping on to the ferry, licking on melting ice-cream cones or crunching down some peanuts…

A file shot of the open, empty and breezy Apollo Bunder with the majestic Gateway of India and the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

When you visit the beautifully majestic Gateway of India in Colaba today, packed with people and traffic, it is difficult to imagine a time when ALL of this was just a small port, a peaceful lookout, nice for a relaxed and breezy evening stroll. A time when tape recorders and cassettes were just making an entry, and mobile phones belonged exclusively to Captain Kirk and his bold voyagers on Star Trek. A time when the superstar Khans of Bollywood were using their muscles to drag early school bags, and Narendra Modi was still serving tea in a canteen! A time when 5 regimental chefs were flown down from China to give Bombay its first taste of authentic Chinese cuisine… at the Golden Dragon restaurant at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba.

Legend goes that these five chefs were a terror in the Taj kitchens – rigid to the bone, unrelenting task-masters and fiercely territorial, not letting anyone touch anything that belonged to them… But boy, could they cook! Word of their expertise spread fast and thick amongst the discerning foodies of Bombay, and people made a beeline to sample their stuff, choosing the real flavours of China here, over the Calcutta-Chinese that was the regular fare everywhere else in the country.

Many decades later, last week, some handpicked signature dishes were showcased to us – a trio of food aficionados namely Roxanne Bamboat, Shirin Mehrotra and me – so that we could savour those menu favourites that have stood the test of time and are still as great as when they were first served by the ‘Fiery Five’, all those years ago!

A dramatic beginning - Chinese tea being poured from a very long-spout kettle

A dramatic beginning! Chinese tea being poured from a very long-spout kettle…

As we settled in with some hot tea, served from a kettle with a really long spout (this was to avoid eavesdropping by tea-servers at strategic military meets in ancient China!) Nikhila Palat and Parveen Chander took us back to the Taj of olden days with their stories and trivia and little nuggets of history. For starters, there was a startlingly beautiful plate of 4 Dim Sums, each different in texture and flavor, and if I had to pick my favourite at gunpoint, I would choose the amazing flakiness of the Flaky Radish and the fresh crunch of the Lotus Root and Celery. Both vegetarian! :)

The Dim Sum platter of Steamed Sea Bass, Flaky Radish, crunchy Lotus Stem and Celery, and crisp n woolly Prawn Taro

The Dim Sum platter of Steamed Sea Bass, Flaky Radish, crunchy Lotus Stem and Celery, and crisp n woolly Prawn Taro

The red potful of Song of the Dragon Chicken with cute red peppers

The red potful of Song of the Dragon Chicken with cute red peppers

The light n crisp Song of the Dragon Chicken is a menu favourite for years

The light n crisp Song of the Dragon Chicken is a menu favourite for years

Before you jump to conclusions, the Golden Fried Prawn was just perfect, and, while nibbling on its tail, I jumped at the sight of a pretty, bright-red clay pot headed our way. Another intriguing vessel with a story? Not this time, but what it housed in its belly was the intriguingly-named Song of the Dragon Chicken – crisp n light chunks of succulent fried chicken with just a hint of fire from the plump, red peppercorns that it nestled with. It’s no wonder why this has been a favourite for decades now!

Conversation shifted gear to our own special memories attached to the iconic Taj Mahal hotel – from family outings to gaze wide-eyed at the Christmas decorations in the lobby, to partying-till-dawn at Beyond 1900s – and then Insomnia – with the ensuing hilarious ‘walk of shame’ of our teenybopper days, as Nikhila so rightly put it :) Can you even imagine what the walls of this 110-year old edifice would have to say if it suddenly decided to speak – in a deep, soothing baritone voice??

Fragrant n soulful Sharkfin and Crabmeat Soup served in a beautiful silver bowl

Fragrant n soulful Sharkfin and Crabmeat Soup served in a beautiful silver bowl

Meanwhile, a shining silver, samovar-style bowl had been placed before me, which revealed a superbly fragrant Sharkfin Crabmeat Soup, definitely recommended for the heart and soul! And soon after, a plethora of dishes were marched up to our plates, amongst which my favourites were the Standing Pomfret – it’s carved in such a way that it actually stands fin up on the plate! – the Konjee Crispy Lamb, and the Wothib Asparagus, this last a light pancake that leaves you with a lingering aftertaste of earthy asparagus and smoky soy.

Earthy n light Wothib Asparagus in Soy Chilli Sauce

Earthy and light Wothib Asparagus in Soy Chilli Sauce

Finally it was time for dessert and along with the traditional Toffee Banana, the Chef decided to give us a taste of a newer favourite on the menu – the Candied Ginger with bitter Chocolate Dim Sum. I would happily go back just to have these silky translucent globes filled with oozing chocolate and bits of ginger, floating in a flambéed orange sauce!

Dessert ahoy! Silky globes filled with oozing bitter chocolate and ginger served in a flambeed orange sauce

Dessert ahoy! Silky globes filled with oozing bitter chocolate and ginger served in a flambeed orange sauce

We foodies would have flatly refused to budge from our seats after that lavish a meal, but guess who had a tiny window of time for a quick chat? The legendary Chef Hemant Oberoi, the darling Big O, who never fails to mesmerize with his fascinating stories of the kitchens, and beyond! This time round, he recounted experiences of the ‘Fiery Five’, and it was almost as if you were watching the movie ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ with flying swords, leaping fighters and twirling ponytails right before your eyes… except that this was no ‘wuxia’ fairytale! This was and always will be the true legacy of the oldest Chinese restaurant in the city, STILL standing tall and proud!

The legendary Hemant Oberoi, Executive Chef at Taj Mahal Palace, with decades of experience... and thousands of interesting stories!

The legendary Hemant Oberoi, Executive Chef at Taj Mahal Palace, with decades of experience… and thousands of interesting stories!

When the whole city gets Dunkin’!

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A few years ago, when Shakira’s hips arrived in town, huge crowds gathered to watch her… sing! Last year when Avicii thumped out ‘Wake me up’, even larger crowds thronged to the racecourse before you could say ‘…it’s all over;) And this weekend, when Dunkin’ Donuts urged Mumbai to get its mojo back, the city turned up in giant numbers… not just to claim its mojo, but to be SEEN doing it, and to be counted amongst the hip and happening!

Because it’s nothing short of music to the ears to hear the chomp of the much-loved, much-hogged Donut being devoured, or a tall glass of the signature Iced Drip Coffee or the perfectly striped Stirraccino being slurped, or a juicy Heaven Can Wait Burger being greedily gulped. And it’s nothing short of a huge victory for the city’s young and restless to be counted amongst the first 500 in a snaking queue of well over a 1000, to get their own booklet of free donuts for the year!

For those who missed out on all the fun, madness and excitement of one of the biggest launches that this city has ever seen… Or those who are wondering what the hype and hoopla are all about… Here are a few snapshots from this Saturday morning when the Dunkin’ Donut – the global giant for donuts and coffee that made an immensely successful fast-food empire out of a simple breakfast habit of dipping donuts in coffee!opened its doors in Mumbai at Linking Road, Khar (and at Market City Kurla).

Donut worshippers  started queuing up at 3.30 am in front of the Khar store...

Donut worshippers started queuing up at 3.30 am in front of the Khar store…

... by 8.30 am when the DD store opened, the queue had grown to 700, snaking along Linking Rd. and curving into the next lane,  nearly a mile long!

… by 8.30 am when the DD store opened, the queue had grown to 700, snaking along Linking Rd. and curving into the next lane, nearly a mile long!

It's not just the youngsters... these parents are as eager and excited as they wait for their resourceful daughter to ferret out a few more boxes of the goodies :)

It’s not just the youngsters… these parents are as eager and excited as they wait for their resourceful daughter to ferret out a few more boxes of the goodies :)

Who's got more? Two different groups compare their conquests :)

Who’s got more? Two different groups compare their conquests :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most beautiful moment - a girl walks up to the security guard and offers him a cold coffee and a donut, in appreciation of the hard work he is putting in in maintaining order...

The most beautiful moment – a girl walks up to the security guard and offers him a cold coffee and a donut, in appreciation of the hard work he is putting in in maintaining order…

 

Another special moment - John and Rohan, complete strangers till now, hold up their 'Free Donuts for a Year' booklet, and - just like that! -  tear up a few coupons and hand them over to me!!!

Another special moment – John and Rohan, complete strangers till now, hold up their ‘Free Donuts for a Year’ booklet, and – just like that! – tear up a few coupons and hand them over to me!!!

 

Meanwhile, the big boys are loving the fanfare... Gaurav Sharma and Anurag Pandey from Fever 104 FM, the enthu guys who have been pushing Mumbai to get their mojo back at the DD store, with CEO and donut magician Ajay Kaul.

Meanwhile, the big boys are loving the fanfare… Gaurav Sharma and Anurag Pandey from Fever 104 FM, the enthu guys who have been pushing Mumbai to get their mojo back at the DD store, with CEO and donut magician Ajay Kaul.

Hogging in progress inside the snazzy store... Fans cheering and shouting and singing outside!

Hogging in progress inside the snazzy store… Fans cheering and shouting and singing outside!

This is one Chocolatey group... and they are loving their stuff!

This is one Chocolatey group… and they are loving their stuff!

My password to heaven!

My password to heaven!

Finally at the counter... Can I have it all?

Finally at the counter… Can I have it all?

It's one big party, and everyone's enjoying themselves - the wait, the anticipation, the first yummy bite and all the delicious ones that follow!

It’s one big party, and everyone’s enjoying themselves – the wait, the anticipation, the first yummy bite and all the delicious ones that follow!

 

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