Bangalore: MKOP (My kind of Place)

So many new restaurants in Bangalore. Even since this writing.

My Kind of Place: Bangalore bustling with activities
Shoba Narayan

January 2, 2014 Updated: January 2, 2014 14:23:00

One-page article

Why Bangalore?

This capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore recently lost its king. The Mysore Maharaja died in early December, depriving the city of its last royal – the king had no sons. In recent years, however, Bangalore has become known not so much for its royal trappings (Rajasthan does that better) or for its software industry – which gave the world the phrase “being Bangalored” to indicate jobs in the United States that were outsourced to India – but for gentler pleasures, such as music and theatre.

This city of 5.5 million people is demographically diverse and the second-fastest-growing metropolis in India after Mumbai. Attracted by its cool climate and convivial citizens, North Indians and non-resident Indians have moved to the city and end up staying for years or decades. For tourists, the city offers pleasures throughout the year.

A comfortable bed

A slew of new hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton and the JW Marriott, have opened in the city.

With 277 rooms in the heart of the city, the Ritz-Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com; 0091 80 4914 8000) is bedecked like a bride. Artwork from local and global artists confronts you at every curve. An aluminium Picasso stares at visitors at the entrance. Giant abstract paintings are hung in the banquet area. At the hair spa by Rossano Ferretti, the chief stylist Carlos dances around clients giving them a haircut. Three dining outlets serve Chinese, Indian and international cuisine. Double rooms for US$225 (Dh826).

The soaring, three-storey lobby of the new JW Marriott (www.marriott.com; 0091 80 6718 9999) is a welcome change from the congested traffic of Bangalore. The Bangalore Baking Company is designed along the lines of its Mumbai sibling and serves great coffee and cakes. The location, opposite Cubbon Park – a huge leafy oasis in the centre of the city – makes it perfect for those who like to run amid trees every morning. The Sunday brunch, with a balloon artist and face-painter, is popular with expat families. The rooms are well-appointed and the manager greets guests personally. Double rooms for about $150 (Dh551)

Find your feet

The best places to start are the pedestrian-friendly areas along Brigade Road and Commercial Street. Both are crowded, bustling and have hordes of locals and tourists bargaining and buying everything from swathes of fabric at Lal’s, jewellery at Khazana, saris at Prasiddhi Silks, holy basil tea at Fabindia and men’s shirts at Prestige. Bargaining is expected, although the prices are so low that it seems a waste of time. The National Gallery of Modern Art on Palace Road is a great place to escape the crowds. Walk down to the Hindu temple to see the statue of the monkey god Hanuman. Across the street from the gallery is Smriti Nandan, where yoga classes and cultural shows are held.

Meet the locals

Enjoy lunch at any of the dozen outlets at UB City (next to the JW Marriott). Toscano serves great pizzas; Fava has good salads; Rajdhani offers steamy and speedy Gujarati thalis (plates); Café Noir is best for sandwiches.

Afterwards, browse the shops for any of the luxury labels such as Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton or Kimaya for stylish Indian clothes. Get a friend to take you to the Bangalore Club to see old Bangalore families – uncles and aunties – sit on the lawns and gossip. The Venkatappa Gallery has fifth-century sculptures and coins. Right next door is the Visvesvaraya Science Museum, which is great for kids to run around in. Both are near Cubbon Park. With Bangalore’s pleasant weather, you can walk through the trees even in the middle of the day and not feel the heat.

Book a table

Sunny’s on Lavelle Road is among the oldest stand-alone restaurants in the city and serves consistently good European food. Try the baked Brie. Next door is the Smoke House Deli, with quirky black-and-white cartoons on the walls and simple soups, salads and sandwiches. Walk next door to Tattva for high-end Indian food and further down to Glasshouse for good pizzas. Olive Beach is set in a lovely bungalow and serves Mediterranean food and a popular Sunday brunch. The sprawling grounds of the Taj West End is home to one of the best Indian restaurants in the city, Masala Klub. Similarly, the Leela Bangalore’s Jamavar restaurant is popular for business dinners.

Shopper’s paradise

Jayanagar 4th Block Market is the place to see the locals buying puja and altar items, plastic garlands, decorative curios, scarfs and shawls. Jayanagar is home to Angadi and Nalli Silks, which have great choices for those wishing to buy cotton and silk saris. The Leela Galleria, which adjoins the Leela Hotel, has a nice selection of boutiques including Anokhi, the Oxford Bookstore and Plantation House for simple clothes. Raintree, which is in a lovely old bungalow, showcases Indian designers like Ritu Kumar and Amrapali.

What to avoid

The touts on Mahatma Gandhi Road, particularly outside the curio shops known as “cottage emporium”. These so-called government shops sell overpriced handicrafts of poor quality.

Don’t miss

Bangalore’s Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, which were designed by Tipu Sultan, with its ancient rock formations, organic shops and old trees. The Rangashankara and Jagriti theatres play host to shows and plays through the year.

Go there

Etihad flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Bangalore. The journey time is about four hours and return flights start at Dh2,000, including taxes.

weekend@thenational.ae

Culinary Crutches

Met Chef Imitiaz Qureshi today.  What a guy! Very authentic and knowledgeable about Awadh style cooking.

Listening to “There she goes” by Taio Cruz.  Here is my last Mint column

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

 Two years ago, Olive Beach, a restaurant in Bangalore, made a special tasting menu for a group called The Bangalore Black Tie, of which I am a member. Typically, these are off-menu dishes that the chef specially crafts for the group, paired with wine. Each member pays a fixed price. What was unusual about this meal was that the chef, Manu Chandra, had made it vegetarian. Not just that, he had used Indian ingredients such as drumstick, jackfruit, lotus stem, and even bathua, a local green, if memory serves me right. That’s the thing: memory; food memory; the thing I obsess about.

What makes a meal memorable? The element of surprise makes for a memorable dining experience: paan shots at the Pink Poppadom restaurant at the Ista Bangalore; sake bombs at Edo in the ITC Gardenia; Brahmi juice for Sunday brunch at The Gateway Hotel are some from recent memory.

Eat, experiment: You are bound to be surprised by the results. (F Poincet/courtesy Shangri-La hotel, Paris)

Eat, experiment: You are bound to be surprised by the results. (F Poincet/courtesy Shangri-La hotel, Paris)

For professional restaurateurs and chefs, introducing the element of surprise is tricky because the spontaneous creativity that leads to surprise goes against the cardinal rule of a restaurant kitchen: consistency. Customers come back because they like your grilled fish or Chettinad chicken. Change the recipe and you may incur their wrath.Amuse-bouches are one great way to ask your chefs to be creative. It is off the menu; can be created on the whim of a particular chef on a particular day depending on what ingredients are available; and it forces chefs to be creative. Another method is to remove a chef’s crutch or cushion. This thought occurred halfway through a sublime vegetarian tasting menu at L’Abeille at the Shangri-La, Paris. The restaurant, named after the bee, which was Napoleon’s favourite emblem, is the signature fine-dining restaurant of this relatively new hotel. Owned by the Kuok family of Malaysia, the hotel has undergone a massive renovation to return it to its original state of being the home of Roland Bonaparte (Napoleon’s grandnephew).

Thanks to an introduction by a French fashion journalist, the restaurant invited me for a free vegetarian tasting a few weeks ago. We had delicate white and green asparagus, which were in season, and several courses of excellent vegetarian dishes. Here’s the thing. I know I enjoyed the meal but I can’t remember individual dishes unless I look at my notes or reach for the photos I took. But there’s one thing I remember right off the bat. The dessert was listed as “exotic fruits and vegetables”.

Oh, come on, I thought to myself. I didn’t come all the way here to eat the fruits I get in my homeland. I don’t want mangoes, pomegranates, or whatever it is that the French consider “exotic”. I want rich chocolate and painstakingly prepared pastries.

The dessert plate was ceremoniously placed in front. Along came a violet—the flower that is; on the plate, among cut fruits. I could eat it, said the waiter. I have never eaten a raw violet flower in a fine-dining restaurant. I have had squash blossom flowers in American restaurants, some of which were deep-fried like a tempura. As a child, I ategulmohar flowers and roses. But I haven’t seen flowers served as part of the meal at any of our Indian fine-dining restaurants. Why not?

Since I am vegetarian, I dined at L’Arpège, in Paris. Most of the vegetables come from chef Alain Passard’s 2-hectare kitchen garden outside Paris. The meal for three cost about €450 (around Rs. 31,050 now). It isn’t cheap, but it was wonderful. I remember several elements about the meal, but the surprising thing for me was how sparingly spices were used.

Every culinary tradition has a signature touch: an ingredient, cooking style or technique that is essential to their notion of what makes a good meal; something they cannot give up. Put another way, every culinary tradition has a signature crutch; something that suffuses their dishes; something that they cannot give up. These are the culinary stereotypes: pasta for Italians; sushi for Japanese; French sauces; Indian spices.

Really great restaurants—and meals—rise above these stereotypes. The way they do this is not by reinventing an entire cuisine, which some do. One way they do this is by removing culinary crutches. So the next time you have to challenge your chefs at a restaurant or hotel, ask them to prepare an Indian meal; or at least one dish; or even just an amuse-bouche—without the usual spices. You, and your diners, may be surprised by the results.

Shoba Narayan is wondering why Indians don’t use our abundant betel leaves to create a dish besides paan. She is chewing on a paan as she writes this. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com


Beer Story for Cathay Pacific

This is a story called Bengaluru Beer.  There is a fear that Delhi might over Bangalore as the Pub City of India– or has it already?  The one person who I wanted to interview for this piece but couldn’t do it by deadline was a man from a company called Ambicon.  They make equipment for brewing beer, which to me, is a sign that craft beer in India has come of age.

BengaluruBrews