Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sweet London

This article was published in the Hindu's Sunday Magazine : :)
London is a city for walkers. As someone who, in a moment of folly, ended up taking an incredibly expensive cab ride I was doubly appreciative of this fact. The tube is efficient and fast too but quite a few of the tourist haunts are close to each other and walking gives you a greater opportunity to experience this incredible city. If you are like me, and I am hoping you are, then all that walking will invariably lead to a sudden, intense sugar craving. Fear not, London caters to the needs of the gluttonous and has various sweet shops and cute little bakeries everywhere. Here's a sneak peek into some of my favourites.
The Humming Bird Bakery (Portobello Road, Notting Hill):
This area sky rocketed to fame with the eponymous Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts movie and you can see why the director chose this quaint little local market with its coloured walls and antique shops as the backdrop. Intense hunger pangs and a recommendation from a charming old lady drove us here. Upon entering we were assailed by the smell of freshly baked goodies. The heady aroma, the lovely looking cupcakes and the massive queue added to our frenzied state of anticipation. The cupcakes were divine. They had a nice, rich texture and melted in the mouth. The icing on the cake, quite literally, was the frosting: Delicious and bound to give you a sugar rush. A cupcake here will set you back by £3.
Shruti's Pick: Red Velvet Cupcake.

The Wafflemeister (Portobello Road, Notting Hill):
Right next to the Humming Bird Bakery is the Wafflemeister. The sight of these warm, delectably topped waffles drew us like bees to a honey pot. The Wafflemeister serves soft, freshly baked waffles but the best part is their topping. You can choose from chocolate, marshmallows, strawberries, oreos and many other sinful sounding add-ons. These waffles are the perfect snack for the cold, crisp weather in which England specialises. Expect to shell out another £3 here.
Shruti's Pick: Waffles with whipped cream, milk and dark chocolate.
Ben's Cookies (Oxford Street):

This was my personal favourite. The fact that it was able to draw the manic crowds out of the innumerable shops on Oxford Street (on sale day, no less!) raised our suspicions and we paid it a brief visit. We decided to brave the biting cold and wait for a fresh batch of cookies and what a great decision that was. The triple chocolate chunk is true to its name and the three types of chocolates are enough to send the biggest chocolate aficionado into a rhapsody. My favourites, however, were the milk chocolate and dark chocolate chunk. The secret behind these divine cookies lies in the fact that they have huge chunks of melted chocolate embedded in them. Soft, chewy and massive (and massive on the Shruti scale is quite an achievement) – Do NOT miss out on these. They have branches all over England. If you do make it there, please bring me back a box. Each cookie should cost 80 pence or thereabouts.
Shruti's pick: Double chocolate chunk cookie.

The Belgian Food Company (Oxford Street): This outlet is another haven for tired shoppers on a cold English evening. While the variety of toppings here doesn't compare with that at Wafflemeister, what they make, they make very well. I devoured the waffle topped with scoops of chocolate ice cream and a sprinkling of chocolate sauce on top. Yummm! The warm waffle and the cold ice cream make a great combination (An Indian version of the gulab jamun-ice cream combo?). A waffle with toppings should be around £3.
Caveat: You will have to elbow your way through the massive crowds and quality is not always consistent.
Shruti's Pick: Waffle with chocolate ice cream
Covent Garden Eateries (Covent Garden): While I am generally a firm believer in the ‘food-over-ambience' school of thought, this is one place where I think the ambience is worth the average fare. There are a number of snack outlets located in the middle of the Covent Garden square and I suggest that you get a cup of coffee or a light snack here. The biggest USP is the eclectic atmosphere of Covent Garden. Cute little stores, performing musicians, stand-up acts... this place is bustling with talent. We were witness to an immensely good hopping violin quartet. (We even managed to catch a Bollywood tune or two). The Christmas decorations and the general festive air made it all the more special. We tried the waffle and cherry cheesecake. In all honesty, I have had better grub. However, I still recommend that you grab a bite here and enjoy the uniquely London air that Covent Garden exemplifies.
Shruti's pick: Steaming hot coffee

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I am going to take a break from the London posts and write a good old Bangalore restaurant review.

Sunny's is arguably Bangalore's most famous restaurant. And on most days, it lives up to this reputation. Another of those Old Bangalore restaurants (read: The Only Place), Sunny's livened up the eating scene on Vittal Mallya Road way before UB City got there. The menu here is vast and covers a variety of continental fare.

Due to the mammoth portions here and my insatiable love for dessert, I rarely order starters. But if you want something to tease your appetite, then I recommend the mushroom barley soup. It's light, refreshing and perfect for a chilly Bangalore evening. I have also had the crostini with tomato and roast peppers which is OK but nothing spectacular. Their complementary bread and garlic butter is also pretty decent.

The pastas at Sunny's are pretty darn good and my all time favourite is the black pepper fettucine with wild mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes (vegetarian). Lovely cream sauce, well done penne and the sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms add some great flavour to the dish. A special mention to the mushrooms at Sunny's which have a special flavour and texture that I adore. Warning: the cream sauce is very heavy. The angel hair pasta with basil and chunky tomatoes is pretty good too. Woogul had the almond crusted fish fillet last time and we quite enjoyed it. There is an undertone of lemon throughout (even the mashed potatoes are distinctly citrussy), the cream sauce is great and though the dish is a little bland, it worked for us.

Aats ordered the chicken breast with sun dried tomatoes, white whine and cream. The sauce was almost identical to the one in the fish fillet. The dish was nicely done and satisfied our palettes.

Now as great as it can be, Sunny's can also serve some very average fair. I decided to break from tradition and order the penne with pesto and it turned out to be a terrible decision. The sauce had too much basil in it. And ended up tasting like penne in some sort of basil-mint chatni.

But I am willing to forgive Sunny's almost anything (even their occassionally atrocious service) for their superlative desserts alone. While the food at Sunny's is good, it is the desserts that really blow you away. It's cheesecake is amongst the best I have ever had: Cheesy, creamy and a a crumbly, 'lighter-than-air' crust.

My other favourite sweet eat here is the Paris Brest: A flaky pastry filled with nuts and topped with praline cream (Did you know that this pastry is named after the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race?).

I highly recommend that you try this. The Crillon chocolate cake and Tiramisu are also worthy contenders.

The service at Sunny's is whimsical, at best. On days, they can be perfectly nice and there are days when they think they are better than you. There are also numerous reports of racist behaviour at this place and while I have never witnessed that, I have been at the receiving end of some atrocious waiters. I personally think the food is worth the erratic service but the thought of the snooty waiters has been a deterrent on many occasions. The ambiance here is fairly nice and I suggest that you try the lit-up outdoor seating when the weather permits.

Sunny's is a little heavy on the pocket but perfect if you feel like splurging a little. Just don't count on the service.

Pricing: Around 1200 for a meal for two (without drinks)

Location: 34, Embassy Diamante, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An English Winter: To do and not to do

In this post I am going to talk about Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon. Both places represent great pieces of English history. The former houses a wonderful 11th century castle (11th century! The timeline of monuments in England never ceases to surprises me)with a haunting (quite literally) past and the latter is the birthplace of the greatest contributor to the English language: the omnipresent William Shakespeare. These two places of history have been managed in two diametrically opposite ways, exemplifying the best and worst ways to run historical sites.

Lets start with the worst: Warwick castle. A magnificent 11th century stone fortress, whose very structure inspires much awe.

Unfortunately, this has been taken over by a 21st century entertainment-management company; the much loved Madam Tussauds. The castle is overrun by magic shows, fake-medieval-music which would be more at home in a bad production of Don Quixote, atrocious floats, wax statues, an incredible number of girls dressed in pink (since when did pink become the only colour in which little girls were clothed) and other modern 'entertainment' monstrosities. I am sure the previous occupants are rotating in their graves seeing the degeneration of this glorious castle. Many learned magazines have placed Warwick Castle at the top of their destinations-to-visit-in-England list. If you have/are a bunch of sugar high-stir crazy kids, then this would be the perfect holiday . The over-priced shooting games, the magic show and Princess Arabella's tower are sure to fascinate. Since we belonged to neither category, this turned out to be a huge letdown. This highly commercialized venture destroyed the mystic atmosphere created by the castle itself. It is a little difficult to envision great battles and charging knights with soap-opera music blaring from not-so-discreet speakers and signs imploring you to part with a few pounds to go through an inflatable and well cushioned slide.

Ironically, Warwick Castle has a wonderful gift shop. They seem to have tied up with a pretty good arts-and-crafts shop which produces some wonderful keepsakes. Buckling to my consumerist needs I bought some of these (The Queen doesn't cook) and beat a hasty retreat.

Entry into Warwick Castle is incredibly expensive: 16 pounds for adults and 10 for children.

Stratford-upon-Avon: Just down the river Avon (and one short ride in the reliable Chiltern Railways) is the town where on a crisp, chilly, spring morning little William Shakespeare came bawling into the world. The house where he was born has been lovingly (and very competitively. Read the fascinating history of the caretaker who wouldn't leave) preserved by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The tour through the house is informative and in good taste. Everything has been maintained as best as possible and there are some very well-read guides (Dressed in traditional garb) who will explain in greater detail the life of Shakespeare. They are willing to answer any inane questions (and we had many) that you may have. The house, and the tour, offers an insight into not only Shakespeare's life but also life in England at the time. The tour is well worth the 8 pounds (and this is an annual pass) they charge and even if you are not a Shakespeare fan it will leave you satisfied. They have a nice gift shop (cannot compare to the one at Warwick) which had a great offer on Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare. Like most modern travelers, and any reader with good taste actually, I adore Bryson and his works. If you haven't yet read any of his books, I strongly recommend you do.

Getting back to Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon, there are lots of other attractions here like Anne Hathways cottage. We decided to skip the rest of things and headed for a walk down a (frozen) River Avon.

Quite, incredibly cold and full of the small town natural beauty that is unique to England, this was one peaceful walk. After (foolishly) missing our train, we decided to visit Shakespeare's grave. The graveyard was pitch dark, with no one else around and incredibly creepy, Feeling like we were in the beginning of a bad horror movie (and realizing that Shakespeare's grave was shut) we hastened back to the city square. Bright lights, polluting cars and punk kids smoking suspicious substances assured us that we were back in the living world that we love.

Somewhere in the middle, we managed to catch a quick bite at a cute little tea shop called Mistress Quickly's.

I highly recommend the omlettes and the Chicken and Mushroom Pie.

The astonishingly good looking and very helpful head-waiter is another reason to patronize this establishment.

Entry to Shakespeare's birthplace: 8-10 pounds (annual pass)

P.S: Thanks to Google Images for pictures of the castle. My camera died and Cheesy girl still has not bothered to send the photos across.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

An English Winter: Cambridge (Part I)

If you have been wondering about the absence of posts (and my general well being), fear not. I was holidaying and have tonnes to write about.

I seem destined to travel westwards at the height of winter and keeping with this tradition (Actually, taking it a tiny bit further), I visited England during the coldest winter in living memory. Armed with a copy of the Lonely Planet, intense optimism and a jacket that was made for someone three times my size, I descended upon London. If you were/are a reading sort of kid (And no, Twilight doesn’t count. No number of screaming women and sales success can convince me that that is acceptable literature. For any age group.), then England must have made an appearance in most, if not all, your books. Enid Blyton also gave me my first glimpse of a non-rasam-and-curd-rice world. The Five Find-Outers (not to be confused with the pesky Famous Five) always found time to have the most exotic tea - buttered scones, clotted cream, cakes, puddings and other wondrous sounding things – in the middle of all their crime busting shenanigans. These teas and the possibility of meeting magic people were what most of my childhood fantasies revolved around.

Anyways, getting back to the point: I made it to England. And while I spent most of my time enjoying the sights and sounds of London, I am going to talk about that in another post. On this one, I am going to take you to Cambridge. Laughing Boy, Cheesy Girl, The Pimp and I visited this university town on cold winter morning. We took the bus to the centre of Cambridge and promptly fell in love. These old, old buildings took our breath away (The ‘new’ buildings were constructed in 1840. And the oldest building here was built in 1464. 1464!). Another structure that caught our attention was the Grasshopper Clock (see picture. Some of you may remember it from the movie Paa).

While Cambridge is a walker’s paradise, I would highly recommend that you take a boat over the River Cam (8-10 pounds). The boatsmen or punters (i.e., a very good looking, young student) take you around in the boat and explain the history of these buildings. And the origin of some very interesting phrases. Did you know that the term ‘daylight robbery’ came about because they taxed windows and the sunlight that filtered through. The view is marred by some misplaced hunks of brick and concrete (Lasdun Building, I think it was called). Once you are off the boat, walk into one of the colleges and take the atmosphere of the place in.

If you are there during the summer, which they assure me is gorgeous, you could even catch a play in the college gardens. There were posters and ads for all sorts of activities (suspect and otherwise) all over the place.

And if you are hungry while you are there, then there is only one place that I recommend: The Copper Kettle. We chanced upon this while looking for another restaurant and thanked our lucky stars. The place is warm, filled with people and great smelling food. This place has a wide menu that even includes some Turkish offerings. But that day we set our sights on the all day breakfast (5 pounds). For the meat eaters I recommend the Full English breakfast: bacon, sausages, tomatoes, eggs and toast. Need I say more? Incredibly good, filling and totally worth the money. They also have a veggie version of the breakfast.

But if you are veggie, try the A-la Turca Platter (6 pounds). This comes with one warm and very large baguette, feta and cheddar cheese, olives, boiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers. The quantities of cheese that they give you are very very generous. (The layers of holiday fat I have accumulated are testament to that). The feta cheese was very fresh and tasted lovely. I also recommend that you have some marmalade. While I am not a huge fan of the preservative parade, this is one that I liked very much. The ambiance at the Copper Kettle is good with some oriental lamps and kettles doing the rounds. Service is quick and efficient and they allow you to linger too. They also have a clean, well maintained loo.

While I am not a huge fan of the preservative parade, this is one that I liked very much. The ambiance at the Copper Kettle is good with some oriental lamps and kettles doing the rounds. Service is quick and efficient and they allow you to linger. They also have a clean, well maintained loo.

If you are in England and are looking for a relaxed day looking at pretty, historic buildings, walking lots and eating even more then head towards Cambridge. Cambridge has that youthful, optimistic vibe that most university towns have. Smart, successful, beautiful kids who think the world is their oyster. Ah! The follies of youth. When you are as old and as wise as me, you will know better. This little expedition has however convinced me to study in Cambridge. So if Cambridge is handing out scholarships to broke, Indian bloggers who like to eat lots, contact me immediately!

I have so much to write and talk about that I am going to be updating the blog pretty often. Stay glued!

P.S: As a result of an impulse shopping expedition with Cheesy Girl I am now the proud owner of impossibly high purple boot-type heels. Not that it is of any consequence to this blog. But I just wanted to share. :)