Peppa Zzing

This review was first published in Bangalore Mirror, and though the title I had given was ‘Zzing is King’, someone obviously loves playing with articles, so it was edited to ‘Zzing is the King’ :| . Anyway, this is a revised version.

So, Peppa Zzing opened shop on October 4th, and is run by popular MC Mark Rego and his wife Rini. It owes its name to their daughter who thought ‘zing’ best denoted the food, happiness and colours of the outlet. The ‘Peppa’ just adds to the spice. And thus food soldiers on Infantry Road now have a new place to focus their attack on. Parking shouldn’t be difficult. There’s all of Infantry Road and even the Safina Plaza area. Walk a bit, trust me, it’ll help.

Pleazing, that’s how the ambiance can be described. Peppa Zzing has a typical fast food place feel to it, with functional furniture, and a prominently displayed menu. But the bright red hues and the pictures add a zing to what otherwise might have been a predictable setting.

Guests for the evening were Umesh and Ranjani. Many thanks to Umesh for not chickening out despite a minor accident on the way. The third person I’d invited called me just as I entered the place to give me a flimsy excuse after confirming just half an hour back. I’m just barely resisting the urge to link his twitter account here. Thankfully, good friend (of mine and all things edible) Gautam John was around to beef up the efforts.

The menu is not really big, but after my encounter with the Whammy, that’s not something I’d accuse the burgers of. They also have plans to add some steaks soon. Gautam, Umesh and I focused on the meatier portions of the menu, even as Ranjani volunteered to test the greener side.

(click for larger image)

The menu has burgers for three player levels – the regular Burger for the beginner, the Monster Burger for the advanced and the Whammy is quite obviously a multi-player option, except for those six brave people (including a woman) who have managed to finish it so far. If you can get there by 1 pm today, you can perhaps be part of the Whammy challenge and win a trip to Goa.

We started with a Bar-be-cued Chicken wings, which suffered thanks to a domineering sauce, and the Cheesed Fries were a bit too hard for our liking. But the Potato Wedges were done well, though tending towards bland. The lamb and beef burgers were fantastic. The patty was crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and the toppings we tried – mushroom, fried egg and cheese complemented it well. The Whammy Burger is a planet in itself and I just managed to explore half of it.  The Pasta with Tomato sauce also did not disappoint. A few more dessert options would help, as the Hot chocolate fudge we tried was only average.

The service was quick, helpful and there were hardly any delays. Though the place was definitely value-for-money, they don’t mean plastic money, but we were told that they’d start accepting credit cards in a couple of days. If you have any sort of inclination for fast food, this is definitely the place to drop in. You need solid guts to vanquish the Whammy burger, and from experience, it’s a battle you need to win in your mind first!

Peppa Zzing, G-18, Kedia Arcade, 92 Infantry Road Ph: 41232843

Menu at Zomato

Content, Media, Distribution

I read an interesting post at Social Media Explorer titled ‘Is content marketing the new advertising‘. More than the specific subject itself, which I write about occasionally, it made me wonder about the various entities that seem to be vying for the marketer’s attention. So even if we do limit ourselves to the thought that brands (and businesses) would create their own content, how does the distribution work?

I remember writing about this a few weeks back, and asking whether content is merely a titular king and distribution is the real power. Its ironic because much of the power of the web’s second wave is in the ability to create content and distribute it fast. But over a period of time, the platforms we use for sharing have undergone a consolidation. The presence of traditional media outlets and brands on these platforms validate this.

Now if we zoom out further and consider the various other things that are making their presence felt – social gaming, location based services (check out the Foursquare-Pepsi and SCNGR-Coke deals, and the new contexts of advertising they’re creating), group buying; apps on iPhone/ iPad (Murdoch and Branson are making a newspaper/magazine specifically for iPad) and Android. (do add on) This is in addition to the terrains that the incumbents – Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter will discover and develop at least for some more time, and the technological possibilities that will arise. (eg. Augmented Reality, and the return of QR codes) Each of them are building their own distribution systems, and its difficult to bundle all the ‘content’ that appears on them under one umbrella. And that’s only the digital world.

All of this also makes me think of destination sites. I can count mine on one hand. Every other consumption is via Reader/Twitter/Facebook and occasionally email. When the web (and its consumption) is rebuilt around people and their connections, what value does a destination site (belonging to a brand) add? How does the brand deal with fragmentation? The good news for the brands is that there are many more options than ever before. Not every campaign needs to be a TVC, radio spot, newspaper ad, site banner. There are smaller, more scalable and more flexible options. The challenge is to find them, and develop things that enable them to connect with the consumers. We live in interesting times indeed.

until next time, many kings and many thrones

Decision Faker

Of all the books I’ve recently  read, one I liked immensely was Thrity Umrigar’s “First Darling of the Morning”. Some of it had to do with her wonderful articulation of the pop culture phenomena close to my generation, some of it had to do with her personal traits, which I could identify with (“The more silent and introspective I grew from the inside, the more smart-alecky and verbal I felt compelled to be“), and a lot of it had to do with her honest portrayal of human relationships – their gray areas, their changing nature with time, and many such nuances. Will put up a review here soon.

One of the things that made me think was this

And finally, I know that the world still belongs to the adults, and although, in their kindness and mercy they may pretend to share it with us, ultimately it is still their world. It is they who decide when we are old enough to stop playing with dolls, when we should give away toys that they’ve decided we’ve outgrown……”

I tried to think back to the first decision I had ever gotten to make by myself, but I couldn’t think that far back.  I remembered the days in engineering college – love, politics, future plans, all of which were perhaps my decisions. I also remember getting back from GIM and feeling exactly the way the author describes her last days in college.

I am nowhere close to being ready to be anything but a college student. The world suddenly feels too big a place for me to navigate.

And then it dawned on me, that however much I’d like to think that decisions are my own, they perhaps aren’t. There’s always a set of people who play a role in the decisions, directly or indirectly, influencing the outcome. But the decisions are made, for better, or worse. In her acknowledgment, the author uses a phrase “Thank God we don’t get what we deserve in life”.

When i see ‘kids’ these days, this one for example, or N, and the seeming ease with which they take decisions and handle themselves, I wonder if its a generation thing or a personality thing. Even at this age, there are days when, just before I sleep, I wish I could go back to those times, when by the time I got up, my parents/ grandmother would have fixed the mammoth problem that had seemed so future-threatening to me the night before. These days, I wonder if they ever felt all grown up and in control, or were they just pretending, like I do  many a time now.

until next time, deservedly so.

Confessions of an Indian Woman Eater

Sasthi Brata

Amit Ray, the protagonist, starts off by leaving home and his hometown – Calcutta. In his own words, “a gesture, like goodbye notes from failed suicides”. Narrated in first person, this beginning, sets the tone of the book – a certain abruptness that pops up every now and them amidst the otherwise leisurely pace of the book.

The book is actually more a lifestream, and is quite possibly autobiographical to a considerable extent. Justifying the title, the book chronicles his encounter with women of various kinds, across geographic locations, across relationship statuses, across situations ranging from tender to bizarre, and across time. All of this as he moves from one trade to another – shoeshine boy, reporter, lavatory attendant, engineer, and through most of this – writer.

There is a certain study of humankind that happens throughout the novel – not just of the principal characters, but even the ones that provide the backdrop. At some points, I was reminded of Pankaj Mishra’s ‘The Romantics’, if only for the curious mix of fatalism and romanticism.

The ending, much in character, is also abrupt, but it worked for me.

A social culture?

Even as I write this, Titan is looming on the horizon – not Saturn’s moon, but Facebook’s purported mail service, which can (potentially) stake claim on another front that Google has made much advances in, though its still only #3. And so the thoughts from last week’s post continue – on whether culture is the key differentiator that sets apart the dominant player in an era and everything else from superior technology to better marketing evolves from it.

The two posts I had linked to last time remain relevant in a Google vs Facebook  discussion – “Google’s real problem – GTD” at GigaOm and “Facebook and Google” at Piaw’s blog. Meanwhile, Robert Scoble wrote an excellent post last week titled ‘Why Google can’t build Instagram‘, which brought out a whole lot of other perspectives on what prevents Google from innovating at a rapid pace (also probably the reason why Facebook is stealing its thunder regularly) – organisational size (something we keep discussing here), controlling the scope of products/services, an infrastructure that’s not built for a smaller social scale, the necessity to support all platforms (because they’re Google, that’s expected of them, thought this holds true for FB too), the inability to use a competitor’s graph (in this case, Facebook), the need to ship a product/service that’s near perfect (because they’re Google!) and so on. Scoble also throws in a few pointers on how Google could still innovate, and I thought some of Android’s success could be attributed to one of those – sending it out and allowing developers to build on top of it. You can get another interesting perspective on Google and scale here. (via Mahendra)

The other understanding I developed was that with scale, even the organisation’s vision could change, (though the reverse is what we see regularly) and that would affect everything from competitor landscape to culture. So the challenge is to keep people hooked on – employees and users.

I’ve come across excellent posts on both these. The organisational aspect is the core theme of Gautam’s blog, and so its not surprising that I’ve seen two posts in the recent past that tackle this subject – Inspiring People, and Making Work Meaningful. The other must read in this context is the 2010 Shift Index, specifically the ‘Passion and Performance’ part. From a consumer perspective, few people can articulate it better (especially since a toon is usually more popular than a 1000 words) than Tom Fishburne, and again, two relevant posts – App  of dreams (as a devout Angry Birds player, I identify completely) and The Antisocial Network.

Despite approaching it from two different sets of stakeholders, the common thread is easy to spot – that brands/organisations need to figure out a reason for existence that goes beyond their business mission and balance sheets. This would then help them identify the ‘something’ that people – both employees and consumers  can identify with and would want to belong to. Coincidentally, this is the drawing I got on my Gaping Void subscription today. :)

(Hugh credits Mark Earls for first voicing this thought)

Not very long ago, Google spearheaded a revolution of sorts, by creating an algorithm that connected a web user with the information he sought. The only thing that topped it was the business model they built on it. Many have attempted it before and after them, but there was only one Google. The world changing mojo seems to have been transferred to Facebook these days, and even to Twitter to a certain extent, as, in different ways, they connect us to people we know/want to know in various contexts. Information sharing then becomes one of the applications of this connection. This phenomenon is called (by) many names, including social media. :D

Perhaps brands and organisations fail to understand the philosophy of social platforms/interaction and get lost in the applications. A bit like wanting to build a social layer on top of everything you have created so far and meanwhile, firing an employee for telling the world he got a bonus and raise ;)

until next time, titanic shifts :)

Bonus read: The Heart of Innovation via Dina

Putting on an act

For a while now, Renjith has been the gold standard (for me) in Malayalam cinema. Yes, he still disappoints occasionally, but his good works more than make up for it. So I had no hesitation in booking tickets at PVR for Pranchiyettan and the Saint. In addition to writing, directing and producing the film, Renjith also lends his voice to Saint Francis’ character, who starts speaking fluent Malayalam at the end of a hilarious sequence in which Mammootty questions whether the Christians of Kerala were being idiots by praying in Malayalam to a saint who couldn’t understand it.

If someone had shared this script with me a few years back and told me to pick a lead actor, I’d say Mohanlal. But not anymore. The two superstars of Malayalam cinema have always been contrastive, on and off screen. Mohanlal earned his chops with portrayals of characters that we could either easily identify with or be in awe of. We laughed with him, cried with him, egged him on. In the mid nineties, he moved on to roles that had more serious shades. Less than a decade later, the actor in him died, leaving fans like me fighting discussion crusades that lacked heart. His last good performance was Thanmathra. When people talk about his supposedly superlative performances in films like Bhramaram, I wonder if they have lowered the bar, as a favour to their favourite actor.  I can understand that, most of his other releases make me cringe. I also wished movies like Pakshe and Pavithram hadn’t been made earlier, so that he could’ve done them now. His interviews make me wonder how this serious person with a philosophical perspective on even mundane things could ever have done those amazingly funny characters early in his career. Its a glimpse of the abundance of acting talent he possessed. Now he is just a superstar.

Mammootty, on the other hand, I had never considered a brilliant actor, despite films like Thaniyavarthanam. It was his screen presence and the strength of characters that carried him. Cop, lawyer, CBI sleuth, he brought a special something to the role, which made him a star. But the thought of him doing comedy was funny, despite coming across in interviews as a very witty, fun loving person. Over the years, he has slowly scaled his repertoire. Now he dazzles us with films like Kaiyoppu, Loudspeaker and Paleri Manikyam, each a different genre and style, and even in utterly nonsensical films like Pokkiri Raja (a Tamil film made in Malayalam, go figure) he displays a comic timing that makes you forgive the movie. In an equally masala commercial movie called Daddy Cool, in one scene he references a character he played 13 years back! Instant Classic. At 56, the method actor has arrived.

Mammootty is now extremely comfortable as an actor and is not afraid of even having fun at his own expense. The things the mimicry guys used to feed on – his dancing skills (lack, that is), hand gestures are all part of his own comic repertoire now. On the other hand, Mohanlal is a shadow of his former self. One can actually see the labouring that goes into his acting now, where, once upon a time, his portrayal of characters seemed so natural that we regularly forgot it was an act.

I thought about both of them in the context of talent and passion – last week’s post. Having seen the above two, I have to wonder again whether passion commands more perseverance than talent.

until next time, cut.

O! Ustaad

This review was first published in Bangalore Mirror. This is a much modified account.

Thanks to the Gateway Hotel, you could end your gastronomic journey on Residency Road with ‘Arre huzoor, wah Taj boliye’. But in case you were wondering how to begin, you now have hope, in the form of O! Ustaad, at the other end. This is right after the St.Marks Road/Residency Road junction and placed under a certain Purple Haze, literally. Here’s a map. (the arrow mark is the right location) Parking should not be too difficult, since you have Hayes Road/ Convent Road also nearby.

O! Ustaad claims to be an ‘asli Indian restaurant’, serving you the best fare from Lucknow to Mumbai and Delhi to Konkan with nazakat and nafasat, but we journeyed from the delight of Wah! Ustaad to the despair of Waah! Ustaad.

This is one of the places where you shouldn’t go by outside appearances, because though the frontage might seem a tad dingy, the interior is bright and peppy. O! Ustaad definitely serves up an attitude and has a penchant for wordplay, judging from ‘Facebhook’ and ‘LaLoo’. The photographs of street food, and an eclectic mix of music from Junoon to classic rock, all add up to a unique character. So much for the mahaaul, now for the real haul.

The menu may not be spread over a lot of pages, but it covers much ground in terms of geography. Kebabs from Lucknow, fish dishes from Goa and Bengal, vegetarian fare from Himachal and Punjab, and Old Delhi specialities, together ensure that both vegetarians and meat eaters are kept happy. Add to this the uniqueness of many of the items and the day’s special dishes and you’ll find that there’s no dearth of choice. Take a look. (click for larger image)

From the 3 starters we tried, the Mutton Kulfi (one of the Day’s specials) was easily the best. The combination of melt-in-the-mouth mutton and a green chilly laden coating made it a unanimous favourite. The two starters we ordered from the regular menu were disappointing. The Pondicherry Bullet Paneer had no proof about the bullet or Pondicherry, and one of my friends had to be pacified as she felt she’d been conned into buying a Paneer Pakoda! The accompanying honey-lime dip didn’t make a good combination either. The ‘famous’ Chicken Salli Kebab was more potato than chicken.

Himachali Dhingri Dhulma Lucknowi Gosht Korma Prawn Malai curry Bengali style Anda Paratha

In the main course, the ones that impressed were the Murgh Khatte Pyaaz, with its unique gravy of vinegar soaked onions, pepper and yogurt, and the Himachali Dhingri Dhulma, with mushroom, capsicum and paneer in a slightly spicy gravy. The Lucknowi Gosht Korma, though decent, was lost in the bargain. The Anda Paratha is definitely worth a try too, and though the Gobi Paratha had an extra helping of chillies, it was still reasonably good, as was the Aloo Paratha. The Prawn Malai curry Bengali style had an excellent creamy gravy which was ruined by the overcooked, rubbery prawns. The Chicken Nasi biriyani, which was another Day’s special, was, as one of my friends put it, Tomato rice with chicken. Somewhere in the kitchen, a cooking oil well has been discovered, judging by the liberal usage. Though the menu lists 4 desserts, which we were eager to try, we were told that they weren’t available. The apple and chocolate pies we were offered instead were both quite avoidable.

The service was quite prompt, and Jitesh, who looks after the Bangalore outlet, did a good job of helping us choose the dishes, especially since the day’s specials didn’t have explanations. O!Ustaad is worth a visit when you’re in that part of town.  A meal for two would cost about Rs.800. Though some of the dishes fell short of expectations, the uniqueness of the menu and a cheerful ambiance should make up for the shortfall. They also have lunch buffets which seemed reasonably priced.

O! Ustaad, Below Purple Haze, 17/1, Residency Road, Bangalore – 560025 Ph: 080 41518147