Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Palate in a Coma

After months of dining on pasta, rice, pasta, rice, pasta, Mars Bars, rice; an explosion of fabulous tastes suddenly brought my ailing palate out of its coma this week.  As it spluttered back to life, it must have thought it had been transplanted into the body of some international epicurean off on a round-the- world bender.
The first signs of recovery for my poor palate appeared on Friday night when we were invited to the home of some French friends who had recently returned from Paris. Fortunately, those whip-smart, eagle-eyed customs officials at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport had missed the duck, goose-fat, stinky melting cheeses and saucisson they smuggled through in their Louis Vuittons.
Emilie whipped up her Parisian contraband into something which left us all speechless at the table. The potatoes cooked in goose fat were, and I can think of no other word to describe them, orgasmic. Accompanied by full-bodied French wine, the meal was a triumph and after such a yearning hiatus, it was all the more appreciated. Emilie, my palate thanks you. (My muffin-top, however, does not.)
On the Sunday we were invited to the home of our driver, Sameer, whose wife and mother cooked an authentic Indian meal for us. Although the setting was very different, the same love had gone into the preparation of the meal and the spiced-fried chicken was, indeed, finger-lickin’ . We all had three platefuls each of the biriyani , leaving little room for the fragrantly flavoured milky rice dessert swimming with cardamom  pods.
So, I’ve gone French, I’ve gone Indian, how about a bit of Cantonese? On the Tuesday, Mumbai Connexions members were invited to a preview lunch celebrating the opening of a new restaurant, Hakkasan in Waterfield Road, Bandra.
Well, I don’t know what I was expecting but any expectations I might have had were certainly blown out of the water.  Wow. Big wow!  The place is fantastic! From the outside, it looks like nothing, like most places in Mumbai, but once you get past the beautiful stick-thin girl in the pink satin dress on the front desk downstairs, you are whisked into the elevator and transported to another, dark and atmospheric  world  full of attentive waiters , cool and understated lighting and hip background music .
Hakkasan is  “a modern restaurant serving authentic Cantonese cuisine in a contemporary style” says the invite. Yes, it is all those things, but it didn’t mention just how melt-in-the-mouth  bloody gorgeous the food is.
The waiter (trendy two-tone glasses, looked a bit like Gok Wan) was quick to deliver both menus and cocktails. Our table particularly enjoyed the signature lychee cocktail which tasted like it contained a fair splash of vodka. Other members said the house wine was excellent (definitely not Sula) and, for the second time that week, my dining companions were utterly speechless when the food arrived.
After  two lychee cocktails and two glasses of wine, I cannot read my notes (for the ex-pat rag) but this is what I remember… everyone loved  the beef tenderloin – we all sat with mouths full, slowly chewing and staring at each other going: “mmmmmmmmm”  It was tender fillet beef from a cow not a buffalo and it tasted like heaven. One of my companions  had just come from the dentist and had a mouth full of stitches yet was able to eat it without any problems. We also had jumbo prawns as big as your fist, delicately cooked in aromatic spices. The sea bass just fell away and melted in the mouth.  Everything, without exception, tasted exquisite. Between courses I did a little table hopping to find out what others members thought.  One declared the duck rolls the best she had ever tasted and another  said it was the best food she had ever tasted in the whole of the indian sub-continent. High praise indeed!  The only criticism I could squeeze out of anybody was that the waiters  came around a bit too often  to ask if everything was ok, interrupting conversations. But, hey, I’m prepared to let that go, it’s nice to get such attentive service.
We ordered far too much for the five of us and I felt a bit guilty (as I shoveled in another prawn) because I had nothing in for tea for Mick and the kids. Looking at the succulent untouched sea bass (we ordered two!) I politely enquired if they would wrap it to carry out. “No madam, we don’t do that.”  I shrank back into my seat but wished I’d bought a Tupperware box in my handbag.  I was fit for nothing when I got in so the kids had to order from Dominoes.
Hakkasan is Michelin starred and has restaurants in London, Miami and Abu Dhabi. More sites are planned for Asia, the Middle East and North America.
There is such a thing as a free lunch because we just had one but nice marketing Hakkasan,  if you are thinking we will all return with our spouses , friends and families, you are right. I did notice it is a bit expensive, but not prohibitively so.  Hakkasan -  you are our new favourite Mumbai restaurant, so put that in your cocktail and shake it!

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