Smoked Out barbecue

You’d probably not find it if you weren’t looking for it. Which is probably a good thing, since the place would work for you only if you enjoy this kind of food, and the ‘tasty’ smoke that comes with it. Else you’d most likely be smoked out. It’s located on 8th Main, Koramangala, the same as Ooty Chocolates, and the one that goes from Dalma on 100 feet Road towards 1st Block Koramangala. If I have confused you enough, here’s a map. Parking should be a breeze.

There are about half a dozen tables, and you can see your meal getting cooked. You can watch the road too, and generally relax to some good music. The only thing you’d probably miss is a beer. In essence, a place you would consider keeping a secret, just so you can easily find a table the next time you’re there. ;) There’s a sprinkling of attitude too, check out the coasters. Also loved the menu board!

 

The menu (click to enlarge) is to the point, so don’t expect to see casual mentions of noodles or butter chicken anywhere. We decided to start with a Grilled Beef Burger and a Whole Thigh, and add to it in case we felt hungry. The Burger was excellent, crisp on the outside, superbly ground meat inside and helped by a tasty sweet and spicy sauce. The French Fries deserve a mention purely for the flavour that they brought to the table. Cheesy, mildly salty and overall a great complement to the burger. The Whole Thigh is served with a veg salad and garlic bread. Though it was quite decent, I’d have liked the chicken grilled a bit more. Since we were still hungry, we also got ourselves a Grilled Chicken Fillet Burger which was as impressive as its beef cousin. Continuing the theme of the restaurant, the desserts are also grilled (fruits). But we had a movie to catch and therefore skipped.

 

Thanks to Poshvine, the bill came to less than Rs.450. Reasonably good service, the owner is usually around and helps you with choices and takes the order himself. If you are fond of barbecue, or want to try it out, this should be in your to-do list.

Smoked Out barbecue, 8th Main Rd, Koramangala 4th Block, Ph: 9980199822

PS: 9 years is around the time one gets too old for birthdays, but can’t help mention that this is the date on which it all started 9 years ago. The amazing coincidence is that though the review has been published now, I visited the place on my birthday in March!

Baliday – Days 2,3

Continued from Part 1.

On the second day, we began with all the predictable touristy stuff – the Barong dance was first and we saw Sahadev and Kunti take on prominent roles in local mythology! On the way we had also seen a statue of Bhima battling snakes at a city circle. Our driver- guide looked barely out of his teens and required prompts to get talking. :)

 

A batik gallery was next, and after the silver workshop that followed, we begged off the wood carving center which was on the itinerary and moved to Lot Tunduh village for some paintings. Very interesting stuff, but seemed too costly for our meagre wallets! On hindsight, we could’ve bought at least a small one – Tanah Lot or a local Rama/Sita version. In case you plan to, do some heavy bargaining. The rice fields at Tegallalang Village were up next. Picturesque stuff, and we trekked a bit, refusing help from kid guides, before it suddenly started to drizzle. We were then off to Kintamani, Mount Batur (an active volcano) and its neighbouring lake.

Lunch was arranged as part of the package at The Grand Puncak Sari. It was a buffet and we couldn’t complain much, consuming fish, pork, beef and chicken while enjoying the splendid view.

  

A coffee plantation was up next and we managed to see (well, the later parts at least) one of the world’s most expensive coffee being made - Kopi Luwak! Or poop coffee, since it’s courtesy a civet that consumes the berry and shits it out in the morning. The berries are collected in the morning, even as the civet sleeps as part of its call centre shifts. In addition to several free flavours we got to sample, we tasted a pot of the famous poop coffee for Rp 50000. Strong stuff. We liked the vanilla and coconut coffees best though.

The last official item for the day was the Tirtha Empul temple, which had a back story involving Indra. As if to prove the point, it started raining heavily. Thankfully, umbrellas were part of the package. The watchful attendants asked us to wear a sarong, but that and the rain made us all too lazy and we just ambled around a bit before walking through a conveniently placed collection of shops near the exit where shopkeepers just shouted out a price without even asking whether we were interested and in what! We saw very few people buying anything, and I wondered aloud if any of them made any money!

Though we had a dinner option in our package, we had asked for a package without, but there was still some confusion. So we decided that we would take a call the next day and would buy our own dinner. And thus back in Kuta (where Legian is located), we dropped in at The Kopi Pot. I tried the local Arak while D ordered a Bali Cooler. The former was standard strong arrack fare. I don’t know about the rest of Bali, but both of us felt distinctly cooler after we drank the latter. Excellent stuff. The food consisted of Ikan Balado and an Ayam Betutu. The first being fish (ikan) in stir fried chilli paste, that was spicy and tasty and the second being a traditional chicken dish, mostly bland except for the sambal accompaniment. We felt Rp 189420 lighter. :)

  

On the way back, several shady people (separately) kept popping out and asking if we wanted hashish! To the point when I said my name wasn’t Ashish. Yes, a very bad one, but strangely, that worked like a charm every single night! Thus ended day 2. :)

Day 3 was the one I’d been dreading! Wake up time was 3.30! We were supposed to be on vacation, but the dolphins at Lovina Beach couldn’t care less, I guess. So wake up before 3.30 we did, and set out for the 2 hour+ journey to catch the dolphins dropping their kids to school. We were dressed in readiness for getting wet during the boat ride, and our young driver decided to set the a/c to full blast. We spent some time shivering before asking him to unfreeze us. D’s spare sarong managed to save 2 lives!

We reached the beach around 6. Thanks to the sub zero car temperature and the journey, we had to use what was euphemistically called a toilet there. Scarred! And someone had the temerity to charge money for it going by the sign, though they seem to have backtracked on that! It was just before sunrise when we set off on one of the many boats out for the same purpose. Typically one person per plank with about 6 planks and some kind of wooden structures on both sides would describe the boats. The Japanese were out in full force!

Sometime during the ride, we witnessed the sunrise. We stopped the boat in about half an hour, hoping to catch the dolphins. And see we did, though unlike in the movies, they don’t jump too high. The moment someone in a boat spotted a dolphin, all the boats would rush there, scaring away the creatures. Both of these meant that I got just a couple of Loch Ness like pictures! Our ‘captain’ had about 10 English words in his repertoire, but he insisted on chatting to us in his language. I tried Hindi and Malayalam and gave up! He was very excited about the whole trip though, to his credit and told us to shush even if we saw a dolphin so that the other boats wouldn’t rush there. He also took us to a part of the ocean where the water was clear enough for us to see some very colorful fish and a few corals! As we landed back at the shore, one of the boatmen introduced himself as Rahul, and further started humming KKHH for good measure! Heh, SRK apparently is a very popular figure here!

 

We returned in about 2 hours, appetite whetted, and quickly went for breakfast at the neat and clean Melamun Hotel nearby. It was run by an Australian lady who had been here for over 4 years now. She soon started chatting with us, and asked us where we were from. She had apparently been to Bombay once, when it was still called that and had found the in-the-face poverty too tough to handle. She said that in Bali, the poverty was a little less obvious, something that I’d ponder over and agree with in the next few days. Two sumptuous Continental breakfasts cost us Rp 80000 and kept us well nourished till lunch.

Stop 2 was the Banjar village – hot springs being the attraction. This time we had to pay to pee as well as store the extra set of clothes. The water was lukewarm actually and we thrashed about for a while in the 1-2m deep pool, with local college kids (some of them ogling from outside the pool) and a few foreigners – one couple with a baby, before moving on. The next stop was the Gitgit waterfall, which included a 500m walk. Quite a nice sight, and it began drizzling as we walked back.

The Ulun Danu Temple and Lake Beratan in Bedugul was next, an extremely click-inducing venue. The Japanese were relishing this and it was fun watching the various experiments in poses. They had their uses though, since we got them to take good snaps of us together. :D This is also a kid-friendly place and we saw several animal shaped boats, which D refused to let me try! There was a good restaurant on the premises with an awesome view of the lake, but our destiny was elsewhere.

As we continued for lunch, the area looked familiar and we wondered whether we were being taken to Kintamani again for lunch. That wasn’t the case, lunch was at Pacung, but the food was almost an exact replica! Once again, the view was fantastic. The journey immediately after was also the beginning of Ayam wordplay. Ayam meant chicken, and the inevitable ‘Ayam Chicken. who are you’ kind of nonsense happened. :D

 

By this time, I had picked up this habit of snoozing off in the car between venues. :) Quite a useful habit, I must say.

The penultimate stop for the day was the royal Taman Ayun temple, which seemed to have just finished hosting some event as we got there. We got the feeling that this was what it had been relegated to, a pity since it seemed a calm, serene complex, despite the bustle of the event paraphernalia, and with gardens and forest areas behind it. Entry into the actual temple was also restricted to temple staff, so we had to satisfy ourselves with snaps from the outside.

The last stop of the day was also the highlight of the tour, especially for D, who had taken a fancy for Tanah Lot, from the time she first saw the pics on the web. The place is indeed awesome, and you have to walk a little through the mandatory shopping area before reaching the temple area. A good time to mention that the traditional rabbit cliche has been taken by Ralph Lauren Polo in Bali! One of every 3 outlets belongs to that brand!

 

We roamed around the temple a bit and thanks to a low tide, could even walk to the temple platform. There was also a cave which apparently housed a serpent tasked with guarding the temple. I heard a foreigner telling a would-be guide that he’d rather let the snake do its duty than disturb it. :D Since there was yet time for sunset and we had already clicked away much, D went off to shop a bit, leaving me to guard the place from where we could catch the sunset. We had initially thought of watching it from a cafe along the cliff, but this seemed good enough. D returned in a while, but the sun cheated us by slinking away into a corner for its setting procedure! But here’s a few thousand words that could describe the scene better.

In our research, the name Karthika Plaza had kept cropping up, and confirming that it was walking distance from our hotel, though a long walk at that, we asked to be left at the Discovery Mall there. The mall was like any other mall with known brands, eateries and versions of our own clothing retailers. On this street is the famous Bubba Gump restaurant which plays Forrest Gump on its screens in endless loops! But for dinner, we chose another name that had been praised much – kafe Batan Waru.

And it was here that I discovered a drink that will remain my favourite for a long time to come – the Es Cendol. Made from shaved ice, coconut milk, a green jelly and palm sugar, this is superbly refreshing as well as unique in taste. Must must try! D also ordered a Soda Gembira, and thought it was good, it was easily eclipsed by the cendol. We then asked for a Bebek Goreng and a day’s special – Ayam Panggang Bumbu Rujak, duck and chicken respectively. The former was a crispy dish, accompanied by the usual suspects and the latter, a spicy dish. For dessert, we asked for a Klapert Tart, a divine dish with a splash of rum. In essence, at Rp 304843, this was our best meal during the vacation.

We started on our way back, via Kuta Square and its many brand outlets, dashing in and out of a few, before crashing at Tanaya, after a looong day!

Lag

One week of vacation meant that I didn’t get time for a decent post here. I’ll resume the normal schedule next week. Until then, you could check out the Bali series on my other blog or if you insist on work related content ;) take a look at my India Social presentation videos from my panel here.

 

Baliday – Days 0,1

Air Asia informed us earlier that the flight to KL had been delayed, and thanks to that, D and I had a small mix up on the time front. Despite this, this was probably the most peaceful start to a vacation that we’ve had. We stood in the queue silently but scornfully commenting on the family in front of us repacking thanks to Air Asia’s luggage prices. “Don’t these people weigh their luggage?” A few minutes later, as we hurriedly took out one plastic cover from the check-in baggage and D stuffed it in her handbag, we ate our first meal of the tour – our own words!

On the flight, we had a sense of deja vu as Tamilaysia was repeated, this time with more BO. :| Meanwhile, the lasagna I had pre-ordered had apparently been taken off the menu. In their infinite wisdom, Air Asia didn’t care to inform me as they handed over the packet, but since even they couldn’t claim that the airline food version of lasagna looked like spaghetti and beef slices, they duly apologised. Since D has no escape routes inside a plane, I choose these occasions to chew her brain. :D So, comments on suing Air Asia for outraging the sentiment of a Hindu (though I had ordered a beef lasagna) and cattle class jokes followed for a few minutes. I think she has learned and has her own protective measures, because after a few sips of water, I was out like a light, and when I woke up a few hours later, the bottle had been disposed.

At around 1 Am on Vishu, the Malayali new year, I awoke to smiling air hostesses announcing that we would soon arrive at LCCT, KL. On landing, we discovered that one of our bags had developed a minor tear. The flight to Denpasar was a few hours away, but that’s not news we’d lose sleep over. So sleep we did, fitfully, on a media tie-up unheard of in India – DNA and Malayala Manorama. We had a mixed neighbourhood. One set had sleeping bags, another trusted the floor cleaner implicitly. After breakfast at McD where Ringgit was given back for $s, and I scalded my tongue with a Milo, we were on our way to Bali by 9, with MM and DNA now fortifying the bag’s torn area.

The Denpasar arrival was quite awesome, with the airport right on the coast. It almost seemed like we were about to land on water! And what a view! We exchanged USD into Rupiah at the airport (a costly mistake, later we figured out that the exchange rates on the street were way better. 9200 Rp versus Rp 8800 for every $. In our defense, we weren’t warned, and earlier experiences elsewhere were mixed) The documents we carried weren’t needed at all for the visa (on arrival) and only the $25 fees/person mattered. Our tour operator was waiting for us, and thanks to his assistant, our trolley bumped into everything it knew (or didn’t until then) at the airport.

The streets, the architecture all reminded us of Cambodia, though this was a much more touristy version. As we turned off a busy main road with restaurants and shops into a smallish lane, we worried whether  our choice of hotel was flawed, in terms of location. In a few minutes though, we were on to a snazzier road with seemingly unlimited eateries and shopping options. This was Jalan Legian and  right there was our hotel – Tanaya. They  welcomed us warmly but immediately took care of business too. Swipe 1. :) We loved the room – small, functional and neat. So was the rest of the hotel – the dining area on the terrace and the corridors.

 

We asked at the reception for lunch suggestions and from the options, selected one that was on top of our list too – Made’s Warung. We quickly made towards it, and realised that the metric system here was different. 100 metres for the Tanaya folk was much much longer than our norm! The snooty waiter at the restaurant disdainfully turned down our request for a table we fancied. We responded meekly with an order for a Banana Honey Juice, a Coconut Milk Shake, a Pork Sate, and a Beef Rendang. The juice was not bad, but the shake’s coconut flavour was the barfi (hindi not english ;) ) kind. The pork sate was spicy and very tasty, and we couldn’t get enough of the rendang masala. After quickly mourning the desserts we had to give up, we asked for the Blackrice Ice Cream. A very interesting flavour, though the rice part was quite subtle. Damages were at Rp 225000, a little less than our budget. The place seemed like a combo of Koshy’s in Bangalore and India Coffee House. It is a sort of cultural landmark and the waiters, knowing it, think they should be paid for looking in your direction! The sulking waiter did turn on the charm around the tipping point though. Heh. :)

 

 

Back to Tanaya for some sleep before dinner. I woke up from dreams of Raveena in a yellow sari to realise that the AC was leaking! In half an hour we had changed rooms. Dinner was at the nearby Warung Mina. There we sampled the famous Bintang beer for the first and last time. (The name is not a coincidence. It’s probably the Bin Laden among beers! Ack!) D ordered a ‘Love Sense’ mixed juice to accompany the Tutu Gurami and the Fillet Gurami, both fish preparations. Neither did anything great to the palate but the experience was pleasant enough, mostly thanks to the peaceful ambiance, and cover versions of favourite songs being played by a tiny live band. Rp 138500 eaten up.

 

 

We then tried the ice cream at a nearby gelato and it just worsened an already bad tummy luck. We decided to just sleep away the bad luck. Thankfully, Raveena didn’t reappear.

Dreams For The Dying

C K Meena

The book is an interesting statement on gender and sexuality. Its also quite a compelling murder mystery, and even though it might turn into a ‘what is the connection’ than a whodunit in the second half, it retains its intrigue till the end.

The author also manages to create a series of well etched out characters, and devotes enough prose for us to figure out their motivations and notions about the events and circumstances in their life. They remain very ‘slice of life’ but when we peer into their lives, they get interesting.

The story is set in Chennai, Bangalore, Coimbatore and the Indian Railways, and centers around the murder of Uma, the ‘weekend wife’. Right from her purchase of Hrudayam during a journey, a magazine whose USP is forbidden love, and her figuring out that people would hesitate to initiate a conversation or borrow the magazine, her character promises to be interesting.

A promise that is delivered, as it is with another prime character, ‘Magnum’ Mahesh, the investigating officer. I quite liked the connection made with Parvathyamma, an older character who adds to the intrigue. You might get overwhelmed with the repeated influx of characters, but it’ll pass. :)

Though the book is studded with some excellent wit in the first half, it morphs into a layered seriousness in the second. The detailing is excellent, not just of characters, but of places, and events, and even the working of a person’s mind. The author manages to leap from descriptions of external phenomena to internal ones with amazing ease. It is difficult to say which is the backdrop – the murder mystery or the statement, such is the intertwining. This also means that you have to watch out for the subtext of both in the narration. All that, and the switching between time-frames and character viewpoints makes it a very gripping read.

Naushad Big Chef

The review first appeared in Bangalore Mirror.

Until a few months back, the domain after Barista on 1st A Cross could very well have been called Keramangala, thanks to the proliferation of Kerala food joints. But when Paramount shut shop, after finding that it really could not be true to its name as long as Empire was around, and the spot immediately after Barista turned into Coconut Grave, courtesy the deep pit that appeared in place of the similar-sounding restaurant, Kerala was beginning to lose its gastronomic hold over Koramangala. But a new hope soon arrived in the form of NBC – not the television network- but Naushad, the Big Chef. For those in the habit of watching Malayalam channels, Naushad would be a familiar figure, rattling off easy-to-make recipes from across the world into the airwaves, for about seven years now. He has a Bangalore connection too – he did a hotel management course here. From a catering origin, NBC now has branches across many cities in India and plans to expand in the Mallu homeland across the waters too – the Gulf. I have been to one of the restaurants in Cochin. Though the menu does vary a bit across the outlets, keeping in mind local tastes, the biryani, which has found great favour in Kerala, is a common factor.

The restaurant is just before Empire, (map) on the right. Parking is on the street, but the parking lot next to Empire is a short walk away too.

The starters section is predominantly North Indian and Chinese and the one item that caught our attention – the Chilli Fish NBC style was still in its natural habitat, and therefore unavailable. We took this opportunity to test out the North Indian representatives in the menu and asked for a Chakori Kabab and a Nilgiri Kabab. The former was a chicken kabab with a mutton mince filling but was a bit too sour for our liking. The Nilgiri Kabab –chicken again, was much better – tangy and mildly spicy. The Prawns Pepper Fry was the best of the starters, with juicy, succulent prawns and a very spicy masala.

Just like the starter section, this one too has quite a lot of North Indian and Chinese items, but we were quite focused. The fish continued to give us the slip even when it came to the biryani. The Chicken Biryani, NBC’s signature dish arrived first and was very good – flavourful, non sticky rice, just the right amount of masala, and well cooked chicken. It seemed more Travancore style than Malabar, in terms of taste as well as the conspicuous absence of the boiled egg. The other dish that gave it good competition for the top spot was the Chicken Ulathiyathu, a dry dish with some excellent spicy masala. Try it with the soft and fluffy appams. The (Mutton) Brain Roast is quite unlike the versions you’d find elsewhere, both in texture and taste. But it lost its impact thanks to the oily aftertaste. We finally got the fish in the curries – Alleppey and Malabar – both coconut based, and if you like a sharp tang, you should try the former. Watch out for the fish with a swollen head though – mostly bone.

The Meen Pollichathu though, was quite a disappointment with an uncharacteristic bordering-on-bland masala and a pomfret that seemed to have extra bones in its body. The Dosas and Kerala Porottas performed their role reasonably well. The latter was quite crisp but lacked that hint of butter that has now become a characteristic of the Dosa based combination.

In addition to the various items listed on the menu – mostly standard fare, they also have a juice and ice cream counter. We thought it was very unfortunate that they had chosen not to have any Kerala representation in this section. But we decided to try out the Date Pancake, which unfortunately, not only had an overdose of sesame, but was deep fried enough to be called a Date Poori! The Rasgullas turned out to be overly rubbery and rather insipid in terms of flavour. The Gulab Jamoon were probably the only item that we were not totally disappointed with, though it would be wise to check its temperature before swallowing it whole, since one of us was ready to spew smoke after this stunt.

For Rs.550, you could share a non-veg starter, a biryani, a couple of Kerala Porotas and a non veg dish for the main course, and a gulab jamun for dessert.

Many dishes were unavailable and the service swung from helpful to chaotic, the excuse being that there was some party in another section of the restaurant. In essence, the signature dish was the only redeeming factor in what turned out to be an otherwise botched experience. Unless there is a significant improvement in the quality of the dishes, especially the Kerala cuisine, and the overall levels of service, the Empire need not bother striking back.

Naushad Big Chef, #125/A, KHB Colony, 5th Block, Koramangala,  Ph: 080-41465252

Life After Like

That was the title of my presentation at Indian Social 2012, where I was one of the speakers (row 3, column 1) at a panel whose topic was ‘Measurement beyond Fans, Likes and Comments’. It was quite an amazing experience with some excellent speakers and panels. Ours was a power panel with a ’10 slides in 10 minutes’ guideline. (see the  presentations from other panelists here) Thanks to that, I was told by Dina, Surekha and Gautam, who were present during my talk, that an x/2 speed version of my presentation would really help. :D The slideshare embed and the scribd doc talk flow should help it move at whatever speed you are comfortable with. :)

So, that’s how it went – the wonderful experience of putting faces to names I’ve virtually known for a long time, meeting new people whom I’d like to stay connected with, and most importantly, being part of something that in my view will be (if it isn’t already) THE gold standard for social media events in this part of the world within the next couple of years. A big thanks to Rajesh Lalwani and the entire India Social gang for making it all happen.

until next time, real socialising :)

PS: Coverage on Exchange4Media