A Welcome Shophouse Eatery

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A shophouse is a pretty common sight in many cities of South East Asia. Today, these restored townhouses from colonial times serve mostly as heritage homes, trendy boutiques and hipster bar addresses, set in narrow, deep, 2-storey brick buildings with typical louvred shutters and sloping roofs. Occasionally, you will find some old weathered ones languishing in their original avatars with quaint ground floor shops selling stuff from building supplies to Chinese medicines to steaming noodle bowls to aroma oils, with the owner living above in the comfort of lime plastered walls and terracotta floors.shophouses-emerald-hill-singapore

While walking past a cluster of these shophouses in a quiet, tree-lined lane off Orchard Road in Singapore, I remember marvelling at the diversity of people living in such homes. On one side was a traditional house, modest in its ornate Chinese woodwork, with a shiny bright red floor and dark interiors, from which had emerged a very old bare-chested and toothless Chinese Grandpa, quite cross with my curious stares at his beloved home. Directly opposite was one with a large carpeted porch, lit up with soft-glowing lanterns, leading into what looked like a plush minimalist anteroom. No grandpa here, but the two huge ‘Shi’s (Imperial lion statues) sternly guarding the tall gates, looked down with equal disdain at my trespassing eyes.tumblr_nbrnkzekbR1tnrsx9o4_1280

But my experience at our very own shophouse in Mumbai was quite the opposite of trespassing. Shizusan, the Asian Shophouse Bar and Restaurant that has recently opened at High Street Phoenix was warm and welcoming from the word go. From the subdued diner-style restaurant on the ground floor, to the oakwood and abacus stairwell, to the burst of colours and relaxed airiness of the bar and lounge upstairs, to the towering collapsible gates behind the bright red bar thrown open to reveal bits and bobs from an Asian household, to finally the bulky menu with helpful and very tempting pictures of the dishes…. there is a definite inclusiveness and large-heartedness to the whole thing, as if you are a favoured guest at a well-loved, well-travelled Chinese merchant’s lively living room ūüôā

We realised exactly how inclusive, when our group of three – Teddy, Di and I – were seated and Dee Dee (Deepti Dadlani) gave us a mouth-watering rundown of the must-try dishes, a happy mix of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Malaysian and even Filipino. And we realised exactly how large-hearted when the heaped dishes arrived in quick succession, the big portions clearly meant to make the hungry soul rub HIS tummy in glee – girls don’t rub tummies, just saying…

Friendly chef Paul Kinny and bar magician Tanai Shirali‘s frequent anecdote-filled visits to our table made sure we and our tummies had nowhere to hide. There were colourful Sashimi Platters, chunky Maki Rolls, delicate Dim Sums (21 different types, I kid you not!), pillowy Baos, crisp Tempuras, a plethora of delicious Asian Tapas along with on-point cocktails like Piss Alley Cat, Cucu and Mao’s Negroni which we had to hungrily and delightfully wade through before we could even reach the distant shores of the main course dishes. But some favourites that emerged out of the sea of beautifully-plated, flavour-punched, cleverly-textured dishes were –

Fish and Chips Maki Rolls

Goi Cuon Summer Rolls

Pork and Jalapeno Gua Bao

Lobster Moneybags and Korean Mandoos

Black Pepper Lobster

Buri Bop, and, the knock-out-of-the-park,

Mussels with Coconut Cream.

After demolishing all of that, it’s difficult to tell if it was a case of my taste buddies giving up on me, or the merit of the desserts themselves, but the 5-Spice Creme Brulee and the Tub Tim Grob both just about missed the mark for me… a tiny sin that then got washed away by the aromatic Mogo Mogo Hot Tea that ended our royal feast with a bang!

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After all the indulgence, our family of foodies felt like well-fed, well-satiated¬†Laughing Buddhas. And since Chinese tradition says rubbing the the tummy of the Laughing Buddha brings wealth, luck and prosperity, we all gave our tummies a nice gleeful rub, girls included! Only because tradition demands it, you see! ūüėČ

When Life Inspires Art Inspires Food…

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“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

Many a times this phrase helps one silence others and end all debate, often in¬†petulant¬†defence of one’s own appreciation of something that others have ridiculed. But dig deep and I feel it holds very true for those who are not ‘on the inside’ of the art world, and have an outsider’s opinion of say a painting, or a sculpture. The fact that the beholder, like me, is not privy to the history, the hype and the halo around the artist’s¬†name,¬†often brings to light a fresh and honest point of view, and an appreciation that is not studied, conditioned or even imposed…

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All those who are wondering¬†why I am jabbering on about art and the beholder, this train of thought started yesterday when I was having an intense conversation with¬†an artist friend about…. not art, but food! For someone with a very earthy artistic sense, and a vision to use art to raise awareness about environmental issues, my friend Vik may sound like an art activist, but he really is more of¬†a passionate¬†foodie. So much so that he knows of these amazing hole-in-the-wall places that even I have never heard of! Hopefully that’s a situation that will get¬†corrected by the end of this week! ūüėČ

IMG_9693IMG_9714This conversation flowed from another evening of art and food with artist friend Ananya Banerjee.¬†An experienced hand at successful food pop-ups, she had cooked up a storm last weekend. Set amongst her myriad beautiful paintings around her large living room, the¬†multi-course traditional Bengali dinner of Raan Musallam, Prawn Malai Curry, Nolen Gur Flan and other dishes laid out on the dining table, waiting to be devoured, looked to us hungry ‘beholders’ as delicious¬†pieces of art! ūüôā

Quite a contrast to this dinner was yet another art-inspired evening I experienced a few¬†weeks ago. It was the swish setting of Romano’s Lab¬†at the J W Marriott in Sahar, the rich oak, dark leather and smooth gold interiors quietly gleaming in the soft light of the ¬†pendant chandelier. I swivelled into a¬†chunky high chair at the bar and got ready to enjoy an evening of fascinating story-telling. Because, with Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador Nick Ord, there is never a dull moment at the bar! And true to form, Nick did not disappoint at all. He kept our small group of whiskey aficionados engrossed in the¬†interesting less-heard story behind¬†Martini and Bianco Vermouth, a potboiler for another time. But despite Nick’s immense knowledge, and ability to stir up the perfect cocktail just for your mood, what impressed me more that evening (sorry Nick!) was the captivating stories behind the women subjects of some of the best known art pieces of the world, told with wit, emotion, and a little personal touch¬†by a self-assured and immensely talented up-and-coming mixologist, Feruzan Bilimoria, the star bartender at Romano’s.IMG_8717

Sure it was by design that a talented lady with bright¬†green hair¬†should be doing a tribute, to women made famous in art, for the Marriott’s special celebration¬†of International Women’s Day. But the taste of the pudding, as I always believe, is in the eating, or in this case, experiencing the whole drama, creation and presentation of¬†the three art-inspired cocktails for the evening. The first was inspired by Leonardo¬†Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa,¬†with a hint of sweet honey and a faint¬†bitterness that kind of summed up the story behind the enigmatic lady in the painting.

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The next one,¬†inspired by the stunning sculpture of Pieta by Michelangelo, was a¬†Limoncello-based cocktail as a nod to the sculptor’s Italian roots, served with an intensely aromatic slice of dehydrated lemon.

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The last one was inspired by the awe-inspiring painting of the mysterious baker woman in Raphael’s La Fornarina, presented with a small bunch of fresh¬†thyme as a tribute to the myrtle bush in the background of the painting.

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That evening made me realise that even if you are living under a rock, and know nothing about anything in art, you could still experience a little bit of the genius of the master artists, the aura around their masterpieces and the mystery around the much-talked-about women central to their works of art. What you need is a good storyteller, a representation of that art before you, and, as I truly believe, your keen eyes as the beholder!

 

 

 

 

The Follow The Eaten Path Table Is Born!

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The life of a food blogger/consultant is without doubt one of the most exciting ūüôā

There’s hardly a day or night when I am NOT out attending the launch of a new restaurant, bar or cafe, witnessing the birth of a new kitchen tool or a fresh food product,¬†tasting a seasonal or festival menu, ¬†interviewing¬†a promising new entrant or a reputed celebrity chef, following¬†a cooking demo by a specialist, joining a discussion or debate on the vast topic of food and beverage,¬†trying out exciting¬†new-age cocktails by brilliant mixologists, learning new things about good wines, whiskies, olive oils, coffee regions, refined¬†chocolates, aromatic teas, indigenous ingredients, sustainable farming¬†and so deliciously on…

But a couple of weeks ago, a very special event took place that, before it¬†happened, became one to be seen at, and after it was done, became one of those you show off (just a little bit!) as having been there done that ūüėȬ†It was Follow The Eaten Path’s very own, very exclusive and very talked about Chef’s Table.

On International Women’s Day, I felt a need, an urge to do something that lies somewhere smack-bang in the middle of two extremes – the necessary but way too short-lived spa pampering at¬†one end, and the way too serious debates and sloganeering on feminism at the other!¬†My idea was to celebrate the women who have done something significant in life, however big or small, women who have defined the very definition of success by carving out a niche for themselves, and have enjoyed¬†the¬†journey as much as reaching their destination, with an inimitable zest for life. And so was born a table of 12 Power Girls – a gifted¬†singer/composer, a¬†popular¬†radio jockey, a vivacious show host, a bubbly model and stage actress, a¬†talented¬†film¬†actress, a senior corporate communications¬†director, a¬†sought-after celebrity stylist, a cutting-edge diamond merchant, a well-known wine consultant, a high-energy international beverage head, a well-traveled photographer¬†and culinary graduate. And moi! Not your regular dirty dozen, eh? ūüėČ

 

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The table was to be powered by the delicious, classy, French brand of Triple Sec, Cointreau,  and when I took the concept to celebrity Chef Vicky Ratnani, he was extremely excited about doing it. So much so that he not only conceptualised, created and perfected a 5-course meal (after several secret trials!), pairing each course with a Cointreau-based cocktail, but also decided to infuse Cointreau in each of the dishes in his signature, progressive style of cooking.

The resultant Chef’s Table at one of the city’s poshest and best-loved restaurants The Korner House,¬†was one to remember for a very long time. The delectable Confit Duck, Mushroom Mille Feuille, food and the delicious cocktails were both a visual and sensual treat for us all. But apart from our common love for good food, it was also the uncommon levels of energy that created a bond between the ‘Power Girls’ who¬†brought the house down with their singing, dancing, joking, laughing,¬†and wholehearted¬†celebration of the indomitable spirit of today’s successful woman… with dollops of gossip, of course! By the time the fun afternoon rolled into a groovy high-energy evening, they became BFFS, and yes, since I last checked, they still are!

Here are a few crazy, adorable Follow The Eaten Path moments from the Cointreau Power Girls Lunch¬†that will linger on in memory, with many more moments in the making…