While staying at the Taj Lake Palace I was fortunate enough to take a cooking class from Chef Chhote Lai Yadav at the renowned Neel Kamal Restaurant. This restaurant focuses on Indian cuisine and uses local Rajasthan ingredients in all of their dishes.
I was taken in to the main kitchen amongst the prep chefs preparing for the evenings dinner rush. I was immediately impressed by how immaculately clean it was, and that they were willing to take members of the public into the main kitchen.
The Chef showed me around the kitchens, went through an array of spices and explained the different tandoori ovens used. We then started cooking. We made two dishes – Mathania Lal Murg – a sauce covered chicken dish made from masala, tomato, turmeric, coriander, cumin seeds, chilli’s and other Indian ingredients. The other dish was a wrapped pomfret that was cooked inside parchment paper with bay leaves, yoghurt, turmeric and ginger.
The Chef took me through the methods of making each dish and we talked about the restaurant. The meals we made were regularly served in the dining room and both made from scratch, using fresh ingredients. It really is best when food is made this way. The food was authentic and each dish was rich in flavor. It was a valuable experience and allowed me a window to see how true Indian dishes are made. If ever at the Taj Lake Palace, it is worth taking in the cooking class. If was informative, enjoyable and the Chef was very professional. The best part is that you get to eat the dishes at the end of the class.
When travelling throughout India we finally made it to Udaipur, and I was excited because we were staying at the iconic Taj Lake Palace featured in such films as the one and only James Bond’s ‘Octopussy’. This place is truly remarkable. It is a marble palace that was built in 1743 and is sitting in the middle of a lake. It gives the illusion that it is floating on water and the only transportation to the palace is by boat. It boasts some of the most magnificent architecture I’ve ever seen and the entire building is magical. There is a price tag to match this level of wonderment, but the staff are professional, the rooms are beautiful and it truly is a 5-star experience all round.
The first night we were there, after being showered upon arrival by rose petals and receiving a free upgrade to a stunning marble terrace room, we decided to dine at the multi-cuisine restaurant Jharokha. It was eloquently decorated and our seats had a view of the City Palace through the night sky. It was really damn romantic.
Our waiter was prompt and helped guide us through the menu and the available options. I decided to go for the traditional Indian Mutton Curry with Rajasthani Rice and Local Pickles made from ingredients only found in Rajasthan. My wife went for the pasta. After ordering we were presented with fresh Indian Breads and an accompaniment of sauces.
The breads were a great way to get us ready for the main event. They were fresh and satisfying. Before too long our mains arrived and I dove right into my mutton that was divine. It was tender and fell apart with every bite. The curry that smothered each and every piece was rich in flavour and spice. There was some serious bite, but I specifically asked for it to be hot. They did not disappoint. Many restaurants are afraid to serve things spicy or rare or done right, but Jharokha didn’t shy away from any heat. The spice was not overpowering though, and the dish was still rich in Indian flavour. The fluffy rice rounded out the meal and really made it complete. I had a good sweat on by the end of the meal, and without the rice to balance things out, I’m not sure I would have made it. The curry was really well done!
The pickles that were specifically from the area and I was told could not be replicated elsewhere were of particular interest to me. I regularly search out rare and individual dishes, and to be presented with one unsuspected was a pleasant treat. Unfortunately I was not a lover of the pickles, but felt obligated to finish the bowl so I wouldn’t upset our waiter who showed so much excitement when explaining them to me. He even took me over to a special table of local spices and ingredients after the meal and explained exactly how the pickles were made and why they’re unique. I didn’t really get it. They were kind of bland and not really my idea of a quality pickle.
Aside from the pickles, the meal was fantastic. It was an authentic representation of local cuisine and ingredients. The food was prepared exactly as we requested and the portions were large – sometimes uncommon for fine dining establishments. We both genuinely enjoyed the meal and the atmosphere and we were attended to promptly and professionally. The wait staff couldn’t do enough to impress and the food was the best I’ve had to date since arriving in India.
The Taj Lake Palace is expensive, but it was the finest hotel I’ve ever stayed at and the food was delightful. If in Udaipur and can afford a night or two at the Palace, it is definitely worth a visit.
Taj Lake Palace
Post Box No. 5, Lake Pichola
Udaipur – 313001
– 313 001
Tel: (91-294) 2428800
Fax: (91-294) 2528700
Food Quality 9/10
(Photography Credits – Kora Stephenson-Barrett)
On our way through Jaipur, India we decided to indulge in some Indian fair so we went to the well-known Handi Restaurant that specializes in Tandoori and Mughlai food. Handi is located on the busy MI road amongst high end shopping and other restaurants of various cuisines.
Our driver informed us that Handi was an old restaurant as it has been around since the early 80’s. They have making traditional food properly for over 30 years, and it’s obvious. As soon as we stepped foot in the place there was a man making traditional Indian breads such as Roti and Naan from scratch. The smell was welcoming and I knew that we made a good decision with this restaurant.
The dining room was fairly traditional, but functional. Nothing too fancy, but it did exactly what it needed to do. The majority of the people dining appeared to be locals and it was fairly busy, both good signs when travelling. We were seated and looked over the fairly extensive menu. I finally settled on the Handi Chicken based on a recommendation and my wife ordered a paneer based dish. We also got some rice and roti for the table and of course, our food was accompanied with various Indian sauces, as is the tradition around these parts.
Our food came and mine was fragrant and smothered in a dark, rich sauce. The dish smelled of cinnamon and spice and it was littered with beautifully moist dark chicken. It was very delicious. The roti was hot and made to order, and as a meal it all came together quite nicely. I ate until satisfied and was impressed with the overall quality and satisfaction I got from the meal.
We finished up and were presented with a breath freshener consisting of rock sugar and fennel seeds. I don’t particularly love this stuff, but it works.
The meal was a bit more than we were used to paying for meals thus far in India, but it was damn good and the restaurant appeared to be clean and client conscious. The service was professional, the food hot and the atmosphere comfortable. Overall a good dining experience.
Food Quality 8/10
One of my nicest food experiences to date in India came the other morning on our way out of Jaipur. We asked our driver to stop at the Indian Coffee House to grab a quick tea or coffee and something to eat. This is a local eatery that is fairly simple, has a solid Indian menu and serves hot coffee and breakfast fare to locals’ daily.
We were immediately greeted by one of their local patrons, the sole diner in the restaurant, who invited us to join him at his table. It turned out that he was a retired schoolteacher and an artist that just finished his breakfast and was enjoying his morning tea and a local paper. He recommended the Masala Dosa, which is an Indian style thin crepe filled with seasoned potatoes and onion. We were lucky enough to have ours accompanied with a savoury vegetable soup and a coconut sauce. That and a piping hot mug of coffee and I was set for the day – whatever it may hold.
The food was really delicious, as most things in India. They use an array of herbs and spices that are not so common in the west – coriander, masala, turmeric, ground local chilli, mango powder, ground ginger, cardamom (black & green), cloves, and the list goes on. The use of spices to enhance foods flavour and overall taste is brilliant. Our food was made to order and you could taste the fresh herbs and spices in every bite.
In addition to the food, the hospitality showed by our local table-mate made the meal truly memorable. He shared stories about his Indian past and helped us when ordering. This was one meal that I won’t soon forget.
If in Jaipur, the Indian Coffee House is a great stop for breakfast. The coffee is hot and cheap, the food is authentic and very fairly priced, it’s off the tourist path and you may even meet a friend.
Indian Coffee House
MI Road, Jaipur, India
Phone 077 42 161871
Food Quality 8.5/10
While in Agra to see the Taj Mahal, my wife and I decided to go out for a vegetarian meal at Dasaprakash, a restaurant that serves traditional South-Indian cuisine. I am usually not one for vegetarian meals as I consider myself a bit of a carnivorous meat man, but considering India has more vegetarians than just about anywhere, I thought why not. It is important to experience the culture and traditions when travelling, so off we went.
We got our driver to take us to our chosen restaurant, Dasaprakash. It was a nice place; clean, quiet (without background music) and there was only one other table occupied by a group of men who appeared to be in a very important business meeting. The tranquility, peace and quite suited me just fine after our overwhelming experience at the Taj Mahal of being continually groped by locals and travellers alike, mostly due to my wife’s blond hair. India is certainly a country of extremes.
Our waiter sat us and suggested a couple of menu items – the Fixed Thali and the Dasaprakash Delight. Both items contained a range of smaller dishes and would allow us to do a tasting or sampling type of meal. We were served: lemon rice, thali, uttapam, uppama, raita, masala, sweet potato, soups, sauces, roti, chutneys and a whole range of delicious menu items.
The food was brought out in tiny dishes and it was exactly what I was looking for. Sweet, spicy, salty, savory and more. Each dish had its own distinctive flavor that paired or contrasted the others. We had creamy sauces to cut the spice, sweet dishes to help curb any craving and salty goodness throughout. It was a lot of food for two people, and even though it was completely vegetarian, I was outright full by the end of the meal.
Agra is a busy town and the Taj Mahal can be intense, but it is possible to find peace and good food there. Dasaprakash provided both for us.
9 Bansal Nagar, Fathehabad Road,
Behind ManSingh Hotel,y
Food Quality 9/10
Delhi you truly are a maniac, but I kind of like you…
We arrived in Delhi last night, and this being my first trip to India, I was excited. As previously noted on the weather channel, Delhi’s forecast called for 17 degrees and smoke. I was confused. That confusion has passed. Ever since the airplanes descent into Delhi, (which felt like we were heading into an apocalypse due to the smoky haze) it has been what the locals like to call foggy – in other words – smoky. This continual output of pollution is hard on the respiratory system, but makes for breathtaking photographs. The sacrifice will be worth it.
This city is organised chaos and much more impoverished than I expected. The poverty is intrusive with beggars wrapping at the car windows and children asking for money in the streets. It is confronting. There is no getting around it, if you come to India you will see severe poverty. It sucks.
Aside from the chaos and negative side to Delhi, there is also a bit of charm from days gone by. The city is scattered with overwhelming temples, picturesque ruins and breathtaking parliament buildings. Government official’s drive around in 1960’s style ambassador automobiles and it is a hotbed of culture and opportunistic entrepreneurs. People are on the streets trying to make a living doing whatever it takes.
Ok, let’s get real here – I came for the food. The touristy stuff is fine and a lot of people get all hopped up on seeing ancient temples or statues of religious idles, but my main purpose in travelling is eating new and exciting food. I am not an expert on Indian food, nor do I pretend to be, so I there is a lot to learn.
Since being in Delhi I have not had the most authentic Indian food experiences with the exception of breakfast on the street this morning, but even eating at tourist traps or our hotel, the food has still been good. I have tried a couple of traditional meals at our hotel that I haven’t heard of before such as parantha with pickles and curd, I had butter chicken at a tourist trap in the city and I had a fried pasty with curried potatoes from a street vendor for breakfast. Aside from the street food this morning, these are not my most desirable dining options, but that will soon change.
I am looking forward to getting away from the beaten path and eating some truly Indian cuisine, but so far so good. The food has been fresh, bursting with flavour and satisfying. I am excited for the rest of India and the culinary adventure that I am about to embark upon.
The Amazing Mill Market are located in Daylesford, Australia. This is a place that sells all kinds of funky used items ranging from clothes, vintage chairs, old tools, antique radios, books, and most anything one could think of. It is a maze of wonder and discovery.
Within the market is a small café that services patrons as they wonder through the wonder that is the Amazing Mill Market. We went on a weekend after doing some work in the morning and we all quite hungry so we stopped in for a bite to eat. The café had the regular fare of salads, sandwiches, cakes and coffee but I decided upon the homemade beef pie with side salad and a flat white. For those of you outside the Australian context and don’t know what a flat white is, it’s a coffee that is similar to a latte but with less froth. I prefer them to latte’s and I feel that the coffee flavour is more prevalent.
We grabbed a seat after ordering at the counter and waited for our food. The pie was quite decent and with the salad, quite filling. It was hot, crispy and it had a moist, meaty filling. It was brought out with a side of tomato chutney and the salad was a typical garden-variety salad.
The Amazing Mill Market Café was filling and hit the spot. The food was fresh and tasty. The service was satisfactory and the market itself is definitely worth getting lost in for a few hours. You don’t go to the markets for the cafe, you go to explore.
The Amazing Mill Markets
105 Central Springs Road, Daylesford
Food Quality 7/10
This afternoon I was invited to go out for a Sunday Session and a meal in Geelong at the newly opened Little Creatures Canteen and Brew House. This has been an incredibly popular spot in Geelong and it’s the only one of its kind in the area, so we expected it to be busy. Little Creatures opened a new brewery in an old wool factory and it’s a great venue for this type of place. It’s historic, a bit industrial, but it has lots of open space and some really cool old school architecture. I was excited.
We arrived and there was already quite a line. The security told us that we should expect to wait around 15 minutes and that we would find a table once inside. They didn’t take reservations, so it was run on a first come first serve basis. The staff did something that was really nice and not at all ordinary – they circulated throughout the line offering people water, cookies and they even brought out freezes or icy poles for the kids – I was immediately impressed. It really was a kid friendly venue and there were lots of young families out for a meal and a drink.
The line moved fairly quickly, we were inside within 15 minutes and the bar line was minimal. We immediately found a table and enjoyed our first cold one while we looked over the impressive bar menu. We decided to order a few dishes and share them all while washing it down with freshly brewed, fantastic Australian craft beer. The Australian Craft Beer scene is outstanding and one of the most overlooked beer producing nations globally. Australia is known for their wine, but I would say that the beer is just as good or better than any wine produced here, so we were in a good place.
We decided upon a spicy meatball pizza, lamb ribs, frites with garlic aioli and muscles with bacon and delicious cream sauce. It was a great idea to share among the three of us and we all had the opportunity to try various dishes.
This food was really high test for bar food. It was like pub grub gone gourmet. The pizza was my least favorite of the lot but still quality, the muscles were cooked right in a salty goodness type of sauce, the frites or fries were skin on, home cut, crispy badness and the lamb ribs were probably the best lamb ribs I’ve ever eaten. Tender, fatty and full of flavor, fall off the bone heavenly satisfaction. They were amazing. Everything I look for in a rib, and to think that I ate this at a pub style restaurant is quite astounding.
In addition to good food, the service was better than I ever expected it to be. The staff was really concerned about everybody having a good time and being satisfied with their experience. It was a new restaurant (only open for 3 weeks), but they ran it like a well-oiled machine. We were initially sitting outside but it started to rain so everybody rushed in mid-meal. We found a home on a pile of beer slabs and they came by with stools for us to sit and enjoy. The staff also gave us a free order of ribs in all the commotion and when they forgot a portion of our order, they were overly apologetic. Everybody makes mistakes, but they handled it with grace. This experience was among the best customer service I’ve experienced in Australia – and to think they weren’t even working for tips like they do in North America. If Little Creatures keeps up the professionalism that they showed during their first month of business, I expect they will do exceptionally well. I’ll be back whenever I’m in Geelong and I’ll be sure to invite others along.
Little Creatures Brewery – Geelong
Cnr Fyans & Swanston St.
(03) 5202 4009
Food Quality 8.5/10
Melbourne is a great food city, there’s no denying it. There are always new and innovative ideas hitting the scene and it really is a wonderful place to live. Recently, it seems that American style cooking is becoming popular and I am not one to argue. Slow cooked smoky style BBQ has been creeping into the Melbourne food world and now it seems as if there is no stopping this magical transition. I am passionate about BBQ’s and meat, so this American Invasion is more than welcome in my opinion. That good old southern style cooking gets me every time.
I was recently invited out to dine with a friend at Fancy Hanks Bar-B-Que, also known as Mercat, located next to the famous Queen Victoria Market. This is a place that is doing it right. We made our way up to the bar to order various slow cooked meats by weight. I decided upon a quintuplet of flavour and excellence and went with the Angus Beef Brisket, 16hr Pulled Pork Shoulder, Kansas City Style Pork Ribs and the Beef Ribs. I topped it all off with a crunchy dill pickle, some homemade hot sauce and a pint of American Pale Ale. It was all served up on a cafeteria-style tray and cut to order. Nothing fancy, they just focused on their product.
The food was great. The brisket had the pink ring that one looks for in smoky BBQ style meat and the ribs were tender, well seasoned and made you work for them like they’re supposed to. It was also nice to be able to order by weight so you could have as little or as much needed at any given time – until of course, they run out. The thing about a 16-hour cook job is that when it’s out, it’s out. They can’t just whip up a new batch, so I’d advise getting there early.
Fancy Franks was a hell of a good meal. The meat was tender and juicy, the beer was cold and the prices were reasonable. They even made their own hot sauce, which is always a big turn on for me. If you’re in the area it’s worth stopping by, because let’s be honest – there’s nothing better than slow cooked meat and cold beer.
Fancy Hank’s Bar-B-Que
Mercat Cross Hotel
465 Queen St
North Melbourne 3051
03 9417 1377
Food Quality 9/10