The world through its burgers

For many travellers, a visit to the Hard Rock Cafe in any new city is a thing to definitely tick off their list. Have a drink, feel the vibe and buy a T shirt: that’s me. Despite the fact that HRC runs as a family-friendly cafe / restaurant in many places, I have never paid much attention to the food there.

Till recently, when I was invited for a burger tasting event at my friendly neighbourhood Hard Rock Cafe. The occasion was a preview of their World Burger Tour (from June 1 – July 31), which, as you have guessed right, is an offering of the most delectable tastes from all over the world, enfolded in a bun.

The late afternoon session started with a dazzling array of special cocktails (a bad idea for me, given that I had eaten nothing since breakfast and it was already past 3 pm then).And oh, every one of them had a surprise twist – they were all topped with beer, in keeping with the mood of the festival.

We started with an El Matador (luckily, the serving sizes were small shot glasses), with fresh strawberry, basil leaves, Bacardi rum and fresh lime juice topped with beer. And in rapid succession, we went through others with whiskey, rum, gin, liqueur and much more. At the end of this tasting session, it was all I could do to wait for the burgers.

Cocktails.jpg

And then they arrived at the table – and what an array! Chef Niranjan came to our table to talk about each of these burgers and the inspiration behind them.

The burger options did live up to its promise of world food – with tastes ranging from Mediterranean to Mexican, Lebanese, Italian and even Indian. And to my pleasant surprise, four of the eight burger options were vegetarian, a nod to the eating culture of this country. The chef also explained how each of the burgers had been designed keeping in mind local tastes and expectations.

Burgers.jpg

I did try a bite (or more) of the vegetarian burgers – and my favourite was the Mexican Quesedilla Veg Burger – with the flavours of polenta, sweet corns, beans and vegetables, avocado and nacho straws, all flavoured with a tangy enchilada salsa. You tell me, what is not to like?!

At the end of this burger marathon, there was one more waiting for us – the Burgerthon organised by the HRC guys. And as the sole woman in the group, I was batting (eating) for all womankind as I competed with guys who clearly knew their burgers and beer. To my credit, I finished half the burger and got rewarded with a huge Jagerbomb for my efforts!

The World Burger Tour is on at all Hard Rock Cafes in India till July 31st – go bite into that juicy burger now and come back to tell me about it here!

5 ways to experience Shreyas Yoga Retreat

I recently spent a couple of relaxing, refreshing days at Shreyas Yoga Retreat near Bangalore – less than two hours’ drive from where I live, and from the international airport. Spread over 25 acres of elegantly maintained grounds, Shreyas is in every way the quiet retreat that it promises to be. The focus here is on overall “wellness” rather than the mere practice of bendy postures that go by the name of asanas these days.

Here are my reasons for thoroughly enjoying my stay at Shreyas Yoga Retreat:

1. The discipline of Yoga

I cannot begin to describe the pleasure of a yoga session that is conducted with care by a proficient teacher. And I am saying this as someone who has practised yoga for many years trying to alleviate my chronic backache, and sometimes, with bad teachers, ended up hurting it more.

Classes are usually in the large hall open on all sides to sunlight and fresh air. When I was visited, there were only four other people and the attention was as personal as it could get in a group setting. Two of these four were on a silent retreat for a week, communicating with me through a notepad and pen – apart from the classic yoga practice, there are other forms of rejuvenation possible here. And although I can’t imagine being silent for a week, the general air of peace there makes it seem very natural.

We started with yoga early in the morning – at 6.30 am – followed by breakfast and meditation. I was recommended candle meditation for migraine but was unable to take that – what I did experience was a yoganidra session with an experienced teacher and I can tell you that it left me calmer than I had felt in days.

yoga1

yoga2

Apart from all this, what I really appreciated was the fact that everyone in the staff – from gardeners to teachers – are encouraged to attend a class every day. This makes sure that the ethos of yoga is not restricted to a few at the top but flows through the entire team.

2. Sattvic Food

food2I said sattvic food – and that doesn’t by any means mean unexciting. Every meal was delightful, with a carefully planned menu incorporating Indian and Western food, from soup to dessert. So, there was penne (whole wheat, of course) along with paneer, in a manner of speaking.

Although being a frequent traveller, I am used to eating on my own, it can get very uncomfortable or boring. Here, I was so engrossed in the menu – presented at every table before the meal – that I almost forgot to be bored.

Shreyas also offers 7 day culinary programmes that start with an introduction to the organic garden and the kinds of plants and herbs found there and go on to teach the concepts of Indian vegetarian cooking.

food1

3. The organic farm

farm2An hour’s exploration of the organic garden in the afternoon was so delightful – especially knowing that a lot of my food was coming straight from the farm. The large area is dotted with coconut trees and vegetable patches and fruit bearing plants, people working cheerfully on the soil. And that little machan (sit-out) in the middle of the farm! It made me want to immediately take a book there and spend the rest of my evening.

Apart from the farm land itself, the entire property is filled with trees and plants of all kinds, with lily ponds to break the monotony of the green (as if!) I still remember the sitafal and mangos hanging from the trees, lush and tempting.

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farm3

4. The Spa-mpering

I had a couple of massage treatments at the spa, including an excellent back massage after waking up with a stiff back. From traditional ayurveda treatments like abhyanga and shirodhara, to beauty treatments with a variety of scrubs, the spa is a great place to unwind and spend the hours away from yoga (and let’s be honest, how long can you do yoga in a day?) And for those who are at Shreyas seeking treatment for any specific ailment or problem, the carefully planned treatments would go hand in hand with the yoga.

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5. Pitching camp

tent2There are two kinds of accommodation options there: rooms by the pool and tents in the garden. I spent a day in each type, and really enjoyed the extremely private and quiet tent experience in the middle of the garden, complete with air-conditioning and fluffy towels.

With a verandah in the front – with planters’ chairs – to while away those rainy evenings, and an open-air enclosed bathroom at the back, it offered all the comforts of a luxury room.

tent1

FInally – although I have filed this also under ‘Hotel Reviews’, don’t take that literally. Go there with an open mind about your wellness – and that means no alcohol, cigarettes or meat – and remember, if yoga is really not your thing (and why not?), then Shreyas is ideal as a weekend or even a week’s break away from the noise and stress of city life. Unwinding took on an entirely new meaning there for me.

(All photos courtesy Shreyas Yoga Retreat).

Bye bye Bangalore, Hullo Haryana!

So it’s bye bye to Bangalore after five years. And a good five years it was. When I moved to Bangalore in 2009, this was my third stint in the city. I was not particularly fond of it, though I didn’t actively dislike it.

My husband and I were both fans of Bombay and suffered a massive Bombay hangover for close to two years. But I slowly fell into its languid rhythm and grew to like everything about Bangalore. Well, almost everything. And leaving has not been easy. Especially for a place like Gurgaon. Ah, well, the things we do for work…

I will definitely miss Bangalore. As I sit here sweltering in the north Indian summer, my thoughts ran to all the things I will miss about Bangalore:

~ The weather: This has to top any list about Bangalore – the lovely, cool, breezy days and the al fresco dinners that are possible almost through the year. I am so tempted to block all Bangalore friends on facebook because all they seem to talk about is how cool their city is. Grrrrrr.

~ Kharabhath and filter coffee breakfasts: Airlines was already shut by the time we left, but there is still MTR and Ballal and the dozens of small places that dish out lip smacking masala dosa and kharabhath. Sunday mornings will never be the same again.

<Also read: Breakfast in Bangalore 1, 2, 3, 4, 5>

Masala dosa

~ Cubbon Park blooms: This was one of my absolute favourite parts about living in Bangalore, the fact that we could drive through Cubbon Park and always see some trees in bright bloom through the year.

Cubbon Park

~ Summer evenings at Lalbagh: Although I didn’t do this as frequently as I would have liked – one of the things I took for granted – walking through Lalbagh was always a delightful experience. Apart from all that greenery, I loved the people watching opportunities that Lalbagh always offered.

<Also read: A summer evening at Lalbagh>

Summer

Lalbagh

~ Drives on Mysore Road: Another favourite weekend activity, long drives on Mysore Road, especially during the cooler months. Kishore Kumar or Gulzar on the speakers and the windows rolled down, the breeze caressing my cheeks, bisi bisi thatte idli within calling distance… need I say more?

~ The markets: Mangos at Gandhi Bazaar. Street side bargaining on Commercial Street. Fresh flowers at KR Market… Avenue Road. Malleswaram. The annual crafts mela at Chitra Kala Parishat.

KR Market

Commercial Street

So, bye bye Bangalore. I hope to be back. And for now, I will leave you with a collection of my posts from Bangalore. Regular programming to resume soon, from Gurgaon from now on.

Breakfast in Bangalore – 5

Airlines
(Source)

Continuing from my other Breakfast in Bangalore posts – although there hasn’t been one in this series in a while now – here is Airlines Hotel (circa 1968). This is a particularly timely post since the fate of this iconic alfresco hangout is hanging in the balance of a court judgement.

Before you go any further, read about the history of Airlines Hotel here…

Bangalore’s version of the adda, Airlines is an open air little restaurant (for want of a better word) just off Lavelle Road close to the turn for St. Mark’s road. This place is busy at any time of the day, and especially so on weekends and weekday evenings. There is a ‘No Smoking’ notice hidden away in one corner and from what I have seen, locals insouciantly puff on its face.

Filter CoffeeLike many Bangalore institutions (think MTR, think Koshy’s), getting the attention of waiters here too is an art form. Or perhaps not. I think it is to do with your luck that day – the waiter for your table might be in a particularly good mood or just like your face a lot and in that case, you get served real quick. Quick enough for Bangalore, that is. Buat anyway, again like those other Bangalore institutions, who goes there to eat? The idea is to meet, greet and chat your way through several cups of filter coffee and the lives of friends not present there.

Menu

UpmaAs such, Airlines is known for its dosa and upma (genuine white and fluffy upma and not the tangy Bangalore kharabhat variety) but they also have a chaat corner which I have never tried. In the evenings, they pull out all stops and serve everything from chhole bhature to gobi manchurian.

There are a few more eating joints inside the premises now, including a small pizza joint and a chocolate shop. Corner House also has an outlet there with outside seating. And oh, Airlines itself is a drive-in place and I am told that eating crisp masala dosa from the comfort of your car seat used to be a favourite Bangalore pastime.

But given how lovely Bangalore weather can be through most of the year, I prefer to get out and find a chair under the sprawling banyan trees.

Perhaps, no longer?

The Holi brunch

Holi haiIt’s just a couple of days after Holi; the colour and chaos have settled, the high of the bhang is lost in the humdrum of the weekday and the three-plus hour brunch at JW Marriott seems a distant memory. When I reviewed the JW Marriott a few months ago for a travel magazine, I wrote, “Any Bangalorean will tell you that one of the city’s biggest assets is its perennially pleasant weather. And the newly opened JW Marriott Bengaluru—located on Vittal Mallya Road between the verdant Cubbon Park and the upscale shopping and entertainment hub, UB City—is all set to make the most of it.” What I had in mind, above all, was the Sunday brunch – with the alfresco seating looking out on to the open spaces of Bangalore (give or take the high walls that assure complete privacy).

Alfresco

Summer vegetables
(Summer is here)

MezzeThis Sunday, husband and I finally made our way there, after a late and lazy start to the day. To our delight, the Holi theme was on: delicate pats of colours on our cheeks and then we were on. One of the things I need from Sunday brunches is a large spread – never mind that I end up pecking at a fraction of what is on offer but I like to feel that I have options. And the JW Marriott does not disappoint – I remember that from the Juhu hotel too. So, there were, of course, all the usual suspects, each at individual islands – soups, salads and mezzo (as an aside, I can live on mezzo all my life – there, you learnt one new thing about me today. Aren’t you happy?), pasta and Asian wok dishes, meat and sushi (I have marked the vegetarian sushi on my next-time list), Indian (again with a separate area for Indian vegetarian food). And a cornucopia of desserts. Just my kind of place.

And then there were the Holi specials – outdoor counters for chaat, pav bhaji, other salty snacky thingummies like Nachos and grilled vegetables, and of course, fresh gujiyas and jalebi.

Chaat

Jalebi

Gujiya

To wash it all down, a delectable paan Martini. The Holi motif was carried on with thandai, a colouring area for children and all the waitstaff with daubs of colour on their faces. In all, a wonderful, slothful Sunday brunch – just the way it should be.

Martini
(The name’s Paan, James Paan)

Bar
(The Martini maker)

Colour

That apart, I like the small touches here – the space for children to play while parents brunch in peace (as if! but if bouncy castles, bow and arrows can’t do it, what can?), the attractive displays of spices and ingredients, the attentiveness of the staff and above all, this pickle shelf that caught my fancy the first time I visited.

Chilli

All things good

Achar

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