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Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn

I probably wouldn’t have picked up the book if everyone and their everyone else had not raved so much about the movie. I am glad I did. (I need to add a few thrillers to the reading list occasionally) One of the indicators of how much I enjoyed a book is the number of days I take to finish it. This one was completed in half the time that had been allocated for it.

“You two are the most f*cked-up people I have ever met, and I specialize in f*cked-up people.” says Tanner Bolt somewhere in the last fifty pages of the book. That, arguably, is the best description of this book. From the time you wonder, just like Nick, what happened to Amy on their fifth anniversary, you’re hooked. That is the beginning of a roller-coaster ride, which keeps you on the edge pretty much all through the 400-odd pages. More

Toast & Tonic

Monkeys thankfully evolve, such is the nature of things, and one such has now done exactly that to become Toast & Tonic: East Village Style. (map) Our East Village experiences have been limited to a couple of trips around Shillong and Gangtok (no need to get technical about directions, now!) and we’ve never actually been inside a barn, so back in March, we decided to broaden our perspectives on both counts and celebrate D’s birthday there.  It was meant to be a surprise for her, and since I’d heard that it was usually packed, I reserved a table a day before. But we got delayed a bit thanks to our neighbour-friends surprising us both with a cake. While on our way, I wondered whether I should call and request them to hold the table. Before I could do that though, I received a call from them confirming our visit. They also asked whether they should arrange a cake for D because they wouldn’t allow food from outside. Very classy, and professional. Impressed even before I got there.

From the very second visit, the front door of Monkey has given me a “TARDIS feeling”. Partly because of the door panel shape, but mostly because the space inside is much larger than what I’d have imagined from outside. T&T feels even bigger – the chipped wood ceiling seems higher, and somehow the overall place is roomier. It could partly be because only a couple of tables were occupied when we got in, but even when fully packed (which was the situation by the time we finished lunch) it doesn’t really feel congested. Everything from the bar and decor to tableware exudes a casual elegance, making it a perfect spot for a lazy Sunday lunch, which was what we were there for.

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Tom Yum Thai

First published in Bangalore Mirror

I realised recently that if you want to save on the time and expense of international travel, and yet explore the cuisine of Southeast Asia, all you have to do is travel from one end of 12th Main to the other – The Fatty Bao, Mamagoto, One Night in Bangkok, Phobidden Fruit! These establishments though, are largely gastro pubs, and barring very few exceptions, end up costing as much as that international trip! And thus I wondered how a Thai restaurant on CMH road would play it. Though on the main road, it’s pretty well hidden, and the presence of a clinic on the ground floor might intimidate or assuage, depending on how you see it. (map) Perched on the top floor, its terrace section easily outscores the indoor option. So much so that we saw people waiting for a spot outside, even though there were tables vacant inside! The high roof, the Buddha, all lend a certain sense of calm, and with the kind of weather we’re having, the ambiance outside is spot on for a good dining experience. It also manages to minimise the potential damage that can be caused by “Hits of MLTR” playing in a loop.

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Aroi

This post is about Aroi in Kadugodi, Whitefield. For the Aroy in JP Nagar, see Aroy

I’ve always wanted to do that Wiki kind of redirection! 😀 Once upon a time Aroi used to be called Mekong and had outlets in Sarjapur Road and Park Square Mall in Whitefield. The latter has now been closed, and shifted to Shigehalli. (map) No, it’s not as bad as it sounds, and is only 15-20 minutes from Whitefield.

One evening, D was particularly in the mood for Thai food, and we knew from prior searches that the options in our neighbourhood were very limited. We had almost decided to make a trip to Indiranagar when I found, buried inside Zomato, the Aroi listing. It seemed relatively new, and since we had liked Mekong quite a bit, we decided to try our luck.  More

Mofussil Junction

Ian Jack

What a lovely read!

Now that we have settled that, let me elaborate. Mofussil Junction is a collection of the author’s articles about India, written for various publications, over a time frame of more than 30 years. There are essays, profiles, and some wonderfully wistful travel writings. The book is divided into five parts – places, people, (the Nehru-Gandhi) dynasty, ‘Life and Death’, and ‘Fellow Travellers’.

He had me hooked from the first chapter, when I learned that Bihar was the birthplace of George Orwell! There are vivid portraits of Bombay and Calcutta in the late 80s, but it is the tales of Serampur and McCluskiegunge (not to forget this chapter’s superb title) that truly amaze! More

One Night in Bangkok

First published in Bangalore Mirror

If you’re looking for a travel post, stop! ONIB is the name of a Bar & Grill in Indiranagar, run by the folks behind Plan B and Mother Cluckers. Reaching Indiranagar 12th Main is only marginally easier than getting to Bangkok, so we wanted to make sure that our trip wouldn’t be wasted, and tried to reserve a table. But that, we were told, wasn’t possible. Visa on arrival, just like Thailand! Street parking it is, all the very best!

A sliding door and a thick black curtain lead you into a relatively small seating area, though they have used the space really well. At 7.30, we had the place pretty much all to ourselves. That meant we could really look around, after adjusting to the darkness, at what’s being positioned as India’s first Thai dive bar. The Buddha statuettes, the Muay Thai wall painting and the menu itself easily take care of the Thai part, but I think the place is a dive bar more in spirit than in actuality, judging by the prices and the décor. The bar stands out like a beacon of hope in the otherwise dim lit ambiance. Despite mostly high seating – wooden chairs – the place somehow manages to give out a plush feel. The stylish dinginess, together with the DJ’s groovy playlist based on 80s music ensures that the place has the potential to become a favoured neighbourhood joint, probably for a crowd older than the standard pub/lounge set.

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The Black Rabbit

Am I the only one who finds it funny that Sunny has been replaced by a bunny in Indiranagar? Anyway, The Black Rabbit has been open for a while now, (map) and getting good reviews from all who had visited. That seemed a good enough carrot for us to ferry ourselves away from Koramangala’s ever growing dining options. They have valet parking, or you could just park on the lane parallel to 100 feet Road. They don’t take reservations during the weekend. Tables are easy to find around 7, but an hour later, you might have to wait.

They have a pleasant outdoor sitting area, and after a little tour to take a look at the options inside, (a couple of floors) we figured we liked the outside just a little more. Thankfully there weren’t any smokers around either. There’s a fairly comprehensive liquor menu with a few house cocktails thrown in as well. We chose the Currylicious and the Cuba Libre. The first had gin, sweet & sour mix, and just the right amount of curry leaves to give it that extra zing. The latter was a refreshing mix of light rum, cola and lime juice.

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Mother Cluckers

12th Main Indiranagar now rivals Koramangala in terms of cuisine diversity! Mother Cluckers belongs to the Plan B family and pretty much rules the roost in terms of popularity in the area. (map) I was told that finding a table among the dozen options available would be near impossible. But we were early cluckers and got a spot, near the ‘hippie entrance’. In about half an hour, the place was packed. Not surprising, since it’s not a really large space. In case you don’t get lucky, take your drink and spend some time in the smoking zone beside the entrance. They have made the most of the space – rustic brick walls adorned with plaques and posters that sum up the commitment to clucking good food. The glasses, tissues and even the menu show the lineage quite clearly – Plan B. The dim lighting (though they have done a fantastic job of ensuring tables are well lit) and a general informal ambiance and decor make it a perfect spot to unwind in the evening. That’s despite the mildly uncomfortable wooden park bench seating. The music went everywhere from ‘Walk of Life’ to ‘Summertime Sadness’, and the decibel levels don’t really encourage a lot of clucking.

One gigantic menu, one side of which is occupied by solids, and the other by liquids. The focus is clearly on bites that can go with drinks, which does make eminent sense given the place’ intent. We decided to test out the standard stuff before the specials. The Long Island, despite not skimping in alcohol, fell rather flat. The Caipirovska didn’t have as many illustrious ingredients, but was a much better drink – smooth and refreshing. The obvious choice for me, from the house specials, was Chutney Mary – a mix of vodka, guava juice, and spices. I suspect the ‘spices’ were chaat masala, but the drink is fantastic, if you’re the kind who doesn’t mind the drink being ‘hot’. Also, it does set the tone for the food. From “The Clucker’s Arsenal”, we asked for the Fiery Clucker, boneless chicken, grilled and marinated. Tasty enough, but surprisingly, despite the name, it turned out to be relatively less spicy than the other starters we tried. The Chilli Fried Pork, on the other hand, did live up to its name, and is only for those who can handle the heat! The Beef Chili Cheese Fries occupied the middle ground, with the cheese tempering the spiciness of the beef. The bacon with sausage, was exactly like all things that have bacon – great! The crunchy prawns were true to the name, and though the batter was bland, the mildly pungent dip made up for it. It was also a good respite from the spice assault! This is not really the best place for herbivores, but the Stuffed Mushrooms are totally worth a try, thanks to the delicious cheese and spinach stuffing.

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The mains options consist of burgers and a reasonable selection of other dishes. We started with the Pandi Burger, probably the most unique one in the list. Instead of the patty, there’s spicy Coorg pork, with a zesty tang to it. They have a crab burger as well, in case you prefer a sea adventure. The Smoked Spare Ribs is another dish that stands out from among the spice crowd! The marinade is sweet and only mildly spicy, with well cooked meat. Yet again, there was a pleasant veg surprise, this time in the form of Baked Eggplant, with a healthy dose of cheese and a tasty sauce.

The menu doesn’t display desserts, so we had given up hope, until one of us noticed the board outside with four options! We chose the Banoffee pie and a Chocolate cheesecake. It’s counterintuitive to go to a pub for desserts, but you’d be forgiven in this case. Spectacular stuff and a sweet mother clucking end to a meal!

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A meal for two would cost around Rs.1500 (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) – a couple of cocktails, a non veg starter, a main course dish and a dessert. There are only two things that can bring tears to your eyes – your preference for veg dishes (if any), and the spice levels in pretty much all the dishes. If you’re fine with that, and a hoarse voice that comes from shouting over the music, you’ll completely enjoy the place. The place is built for carnivores who enjoy their drinks. The rest of the world would unfortunately have to go cluck itself.

Mother Cluckers Bar, 957, 12th Main, HAL 2nd Stage, Indiranagar Ph: 9886092625

Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

Devdutt Pattanaik 

I consider myself more well-versed with the Mahabharata than the average person, because of my interest in Hindu mythology and the amount of reading I’ve done on the subject. But I’m really glad I read this, not just because of the small details I learned about (I counted 6 things I hadn’t known about – Sahadeva’s precognition gained by eating Pandu’s flesh, Draupadi cursing dogs to copulate in public for stealing Yudhishtira’s slippers, Vibhishana being present at Draupadi’s swayamwar, a couple of stories on why Krishna stepped in to protect Draupadi when Dusshasana tried to disrobe her, why Shakuni did his best to ensure the destruction of the Kuru clan, Draupadi’s regret over Karna and at least a couple more interesting tidbits) but because of the wonderful lessons it provides. The author also mentions several variations of the tale, regional renditions and folk variations adding layers to the original story. Even as one feels the familiarity thanks to the places (which still exist) mentioned and can identify with the experiences and tribulations of the mortal characters, there is also an awe created by the elements of divinity.

The excellent illustrations and the simple yet elegant and evocative storytelling took me back to a time when I first started hearing these stories – childhood. So vivid is the prose that one can easily create visualisations of the events. The explanation of events are done on many planes – rational, metaphysical, spiritual, bringing a lot of clarity to the complex tale. The concepts of dharma and justice are explained beautifully and even as the Pandavas grow their perspective during their exile and their pride, anger etc get tempered before and after the war, there is tremendous learning for the reader too. It is easy to understand why this is indeed considered the greatest story ever told, and continues to be relevant through ages. The original tale is epic, and so is this narration. Very highly recommended.

Jaya

Stomp

First published in Bangalore Mirror, though I had no hand in that unintentionally hilarious USP! 

I whined when I was asked to do this review, because it was in Whitefield! The Koramangala snobbery in me called it a 2D/1N package, specially thanks to traffic. But it was a good thing that I finally visited. A visit to Stomp manages to bring out both the meanings of the word. I can imagine people stomping their way (angrily) through Forum Value Mall (map) trying to find the place. They have hidden it well in a corner! But once they manage to get in, I can understand why they’d want to stomp – dance with a rhythmic stamping step.

There’s a small alfresco section, but the rest of the ambiance immediately reminded me of Richard O’Brien’s Crystal Maze – this would be the Medieval zone, with some ‘Industrial’ thanks to the large pipes. Add to this a Gothic touch, and the picture would be almost complete. Almost, because music is an integral part of the pub’s character as well. I loved the church-like stained glass ‘windows’ featuring Ozzy, Hendrix, Morrison and so on, and the quotes by famous artists that pop up at a few places. With all of that as the backdrop, we were mildly disappointed when we walked into a James Blunt song video playing on the giant screen. But that was quickly redeemed with a blast of Floyd, Dire Straits, Guns N’ Roses, The Police, Bon Jovi and videos we hadn’t seen in a long time! A hark back to the days of my youth, but as the night progressed, the playlist became younger. Avicii woke me up to the fact that I was older and Icona Pop reminded me that “You’re from the 70’s, but I’m a 90’s b***h”! The food proved to be a good distraction, and I let the non-veg mafia croon ‘Don’t you worry child’ in their own comforting way!

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The menu is mostly Indian, and even when they do stray towards Continental and Mexican, there’s an Indian touch to it. The good news is that alcohol is relatively cheap and there are some interesting cocktail options. We tried the Purple Slurple, made from cabbage juice and white rum, and the strong and frothy Whisky Lass-y. The white wine Sangria was also different from the standard, apparently using a pulpy soft orange. The complimentary Guava Martini wasn’t bad either. Solid consumption began with the Beef Chilli Fry, which was quite tasty – well cooked meat and spicy. A house special – Ghaati Chicken Sukha was up next, and it reminded us of the coastal Sukka dishes. This was our favourite non veg starter with a mildly spicy masala and finely grated coconut for texture. Baingan Burani tha, in fact it was quite good and in appearance and flavour reminiscent of chaats. The Chilli Pork was the last of the starters to arrive, and except for the animal involved, was a replica of the beef dish we’d had earlier. But we had been  warned, so I wouldn’t really complain.

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Understandably, the main course section has fewer options compared to the starters, but what was disappointing was that quite a few dishes were unavailable. All dishes are served with Indian bread/rice variations. We had to go with the Dal Gosht because the Dabba Gosht, Maamsam Koora and the Sri Lankan Beef Stir fry were not available. Unsurprisingly, this bland dish proved to be the least favourite. The Prawn Chilliajo made up for it with juicy, brilliantly cooked prawns in a delicious onion and pepper based thick gravy. The only vegetarian in the group tried to interest us in the Pesto Penne, which was quite good, though heavy, according to her, but we were preoccupied with the superb Chicken Farfalle in Makhanwala sauce – thick, flavourful and an example of a happy cuisine marriage.

There are only four dessert options and the house special wasn’t available. The Gulab Jamun turned out to be quite good, though not extraordinary. The shocker was the Shahi Tukra. Though they weren’t stingy with the milk ‘sauce’, it wasn’t really rich, but the bread was the kind that could be successfully used for interrogations. You must pray that the tooth prevails!

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For about Rs.1800, you could share a couple of cocktails, two non veg starters, a non veg main course dish and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The service is friendly, but occasionally careless. They also need to be coached on dishes. I had to wonder how many people coming to Forum Value Mall would be interested in this kind of an offering. A pity because once you find your way in, the only thing that could piss you off is the lack of a toilet – you have to use the mall’s common facilities. Despite all that, I think the combination of good food, excellent ambiance, and different and interesting meal deals through the day will help this wonderful hangout establish a stomp of authority in Whitefield’s pub scene.

Stomp, 12A, Ground Floor, Forum Value Mall, Whitefield, Ph: 080 49420000