Monday, November 21, 2011

Hotel Review - Le Meridien, Coimbatore

If you are surprised what this French brand is doing in Coimbatore, don’t be. The city is on its way to become an IT hub in South India and truly deserves five-star luxury. It’s also in close proximity to Chennai (about 8 hours), Bangalore (about 6 hours), Kodaikkanal (about 4 hours) and Ooty (about 2 hours) and with Le Meridien opening here it’ll soon become a favourite weekend destination. The hotel has hosted numerous corporate events within a year since it started operating in phases.

The hotel is around 3.5 kms away from the airport and it took us about less than 10 mins to reach there. A modest entrance decorated by a pond led us to the concierge where smiling staff welcomed us with eye-opener shots that left our insides burning – a spicy mango and peach drink.

Lobby – The hotel lobby has a grand décor and works as an interaction point for the guests. A 28 mtrs long chandelier hangs in the centre from the eighth floor. It is handmade by the University of Milan and is the biggest in Asia. If you look closely, you will see a white line going through the lobby floor. This is the latitude. Interestingly, Coimbatore is on the same latitude as Washington, the head office of the Starwood group.

The Lobby
The Lobby


Rooms – We were settled in a beautiful room which had chic and modern furniture. It was equipped with spacious wardrobes with a locker, a study table, couch, an LCD and a comfortable bed. The luxury bathroom had a bathtub, shower cubicle and was separated from the room by just a glass wall.
There are suites for families as well as single female travelers. But the highlight is the Tamil Nadu Suite. It has carvings on the door like the ones you see in South Indian temples. Interiors and furniture are done up with carved mango wood. There is a jhoola in the living area, a dining space, a small room for meetings, a royal bedroom, a walk-in closet and a spacious bathroom.



Tamil Nadu Suite
Tamil Nadu Suite

Tamil Nadu Suite
Tamil Nadu Suite

Restaurants – The hotel houses an all-day diner called ‘Latest Recipe’, a Pan-Asian restaurant called ‘Ponzu’, an Indian restaurant called ‘Peacock’, a pool-side Italian restaurant called ‘Favola’ and a cafe ‘Illy’. While Ponzu and Favola have not yet opened, the other two were up and running. ‘Latest Recipe’ had a huge breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet with live kitchen and a wider dessert counter. A cast-iron gazebo stands in the centre of the restaurant and looks beautiful when lit up. A mix of Indian, Japanese, Italian and Chinese cuisines was interesting but the food was average. Desserts were something that caught our interest.
‘Peacock’, which serves Indian food has a traditional décor with brass goblets and old-style furniture. A peacock made of marble greets you at the entrance. The restaurant has a corner dedicated for live musicians. ‘Ponzu’ was opened for the party and served some great Mongolian and Teppenyaki food.

Gazebo in Latest Recipes
Gazebo in Latest Recipe


Latest Recipe
Latest Recipe


Pool side
Pool side

Bar/pub – ‘Latitude 11’ is cozy bar with a lounge feel. Adjacent to it is a Cigar Lounge which stocks cigars from all over the world, especially Cuba.

Latitude 11
Latitude 11

The room service was good but not flawless. The call for water and iron board went unnoticed. But given the launch party stress, we believe that it was just a one-off case.

Le Meridien has also focused on art created by the artists who are part of their Unlock Art Program. Under this program Le Meridien has collaborated with artists from all over the world to create artwork for their hotels. The entrance has beautiful carvings depicting the culture of Tamil Nadu. Even the key cards are painted by these artists. The one I got had a painting by Hisham Bharoocha. In Coimbatore, Le Meridien has partnered with the Contemplate Art Gallery to create paintings and art installations in the hotel premises.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Food Review: Manchester United Cafe & Bar, Malad (W)

As we were beginning to think that Malad was getting super crowded and Jughead’s got jam packed on weekends, the suburb got a breather. After successfully operating in Lower Parel and Mulund the Manchester United Café Bar opened its gates for the suburbanites a couple of months ago. We hopped in the new drinking destination and came out buzzy…err...happy.

After struggling to find the elevator in Infinity Mall we finally reached the food court and headed towards the mezzanine floor where the Manchester United Café Bar is located. A glass window separates the Bar from the chaos on the lower level.

If you are a true Soccer fan (read Manchester United fan), you will definitely love the interiors with all the members of Old Trafford smiling at you from the walls and Manchester United merchandise on display. If not, don’t be disheartened because the bar doesn’t miss on playing any big cricket match on its numerous large screens.

The décor is dominated by red and black and the lights are just good enough to help you read through the menu. Music adds to the ambiance and the DJ knows what people want once they are couple of drinks down. The evening started with commercial numbers and slowly graduated to Bob Marley, Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd.

The bar menu is extensive and offers a great mix of Indian and international beers. We however, gave the beer a miss and ordered a long island iced tea and a mojito. If you are in the mood to experiment try the Jager bomb (Jagermeister infused in a glass of red bull) or whiskey with beer, if you are brave enough. Sit at the bar and the friendly bartenders will make sure you have a great time while they mix your drinks.

Since it’s a bar we didn’t expect the food to be great but to our surprise it didn’t disappoint us. For starters we ordered spicy pepper wings, Mangolian satay chicken and Greek salad. Being in the true sports’ spirit we ordered a BBQ chicken pizza with broccoli and crunchy apple. The thin crust freshly baked pizza made us want to order some beer but we resisted.

With beer, chicken, great music and sports at one place this Café Bar, as they like to call themselves, is on its way to give a lot of drinking joints a run for their money.

On the burp scale:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dining with the Chef: An evening with the Italian Chef

Nothing big or absolutely crazy but Yes, I had this small dream of eating in a restaurant by a lake or sea while a Chef cooks for me. Well, it came true when I went to interview the Italian Chef Vincento Zizza in Fratteli Fresh at Renaissance, Powai. Those who are well versed with Mumbai suburbs might know that Renaissance Hotel is located by the beautiful Powai Lake. From the restaurant, all you see is a green patch of dense forest and a quiet lake. As I sat down to chat with the Chef I didn't know that a great evening was in store.

After a brief round of Q&A Chef Tony asked me if I would like to try few dishes from his new menu. Gladly, I said sure. Chef took me to his open kitchen were he had already prepared few dishes. I watched him at work while he cooked mozzarella and ham in carrozza.The cheese was soft and fresh and so was the bread. The tangy sauce made from tomatoes and onion was a perfect accompaniment.

As I sipped on a glass of Pinot Grigio the second course came in. Per carlo (chicken stuffed with artichokes and seasoned with wine and herbs) served with asparagus, porcini mushrooms and baby potatoes. The chicken was tender and artichokes gave the dish a nice sour flavour.

For desserts I had Passione (meaning passion) which is red berries and raspberries cooked in wine and topped with cream blended with brandy. It made me forget the regular tiramisu or any other chocolate based dessert.

The scrumptious meal ended with some Limonchello which helped me digest all the cheese.

An evening well spent with great food, wine and lovely company. And...yes, I did hug the chef for feeding me so well.

Follow the link to read the Chef's interview;'s-heart/25639

Friday, September 9, 2011

Food Review: Opa, Juhu

The European restaurant in Juhu is a new hot-spot for the Gourmet lovers. I dined there after a week of its opening and was delighted to see the dishes which looked straight out of a Masterchef kitchen.

The name Opa means ‘celebration’ in Greek and the menu promises to take you on a gastronomic journey beyond olive oil and garlic. If you ignore the location (the traffic jammed road in Juhu) you’ll find yourself in a quiet little restaurant with comfortable seating and pleasant ambiance. They have an open-air section too which is more inviting than the air conditioned one. The al fresco area has a communal bar table and accommodates a group of 10 people. It gets a little noisy due to traffic on the road but then these are the perils of eating at a restaurant in Juhu. The staff doesn’t serve food in this section because of the unhygienic conditions (of the street) but was courteous enough to make an exception on our request. They provide valet service too so you don’t have to worry about parking your car on the busy street.

The drinks menu has an extensive range of cocktails and wines. The bartender has concocted some interesting drinks like lychee and kokum sorbet and, grapefruit and celery cooler. On his recommendation, we ordered a tamarind margarita (Rs 450) which is their speciality. The tamarind and jaggery flavour overpowered the taste of tequila but was quiet different from the regular cocktails.

The food menu has a decent range of sandwiches, salads, starters, pastas and main course dishes to choose from. For starters we ordered marinated artichokes and fresh mozzarella with green and red pesto (Rs 325) and braised baby lamb chops drizzled with harissa (Rs 400). The salad was a good blend of veggies and cheese but could’ve done with more pesto in it. But at Opa our wish seems to be their command because we only had to make a mention and we were given an extra serving of green pesto. Lamb chops were highly recommended by the Maitre d’ and totally deserved to be among the best dishes. The succulent meat cooked in sweet and sour sauce made for a perfect starter. Despite the lesser choice for vegetarians in main course we went for chargrilled vegetable mousakka with feta cream and olive crostini (Rs 425). The dish wasn’t what we expected it to be and too much brinjal made it taste like an Indian sabzi. However, the assorted vegetables and bread served with it were good accompaniments. For the non-veg lovers the lobster risotto is highly recommended.

The dessert menu is not ready but with Jack Daniels mousse on the list it’s something to watch out for. We ordered a lemongrass and ginger crème brulee which was as light as air and had a lingering aftertaste. The food scored full marks on the presentation part and we didn’t have to wait for too long for the service.

In short, worthy of a visit when you are in the mood to splurge on wining and dining.

On the burp scale: 4.5/5

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A drive to Nepal

I have been born and brought up in a city called Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh which happens to be one of the closest to India-Nepal border. Still, I never went beyond Bhairahawa (a town on the Nepal border) and Butwal (22 kms from Bhairahawa) that too with the school picnic.

So, this time when my sisters and I along with our husbands planned to visit Gorakhpur for a wedding my father chalked out a 3 day trip to Nepal. The itinerary included Pokhara and Kathmandu. A winger was booked, bags packed and we set out on our journey. After a 2 hour drive we reached Sunauli (Indian town on the border). We crossed into Nepal and headed to a restaurant for lunch as our driver went to finish some paper work. At the restaurant, we were received by a weedy eyed waiter who sleepily took our order. Time passed as we patiently waited for the food. After 30 mins or so my father himself went into the kitchen to inquire. We were then informed that no restaurant keeps food ready in Nepal. So, that was our first lesson; order well in advance.

After lunch we proceeded to Pokhara which is a 6-7 hours drive from Bhairahawa. On this drive we found out that our driver was quiet a Gorakhpuriya (my friends from that part of the country will know that term). A typical Gorakhpuriya is a person who will never give a straight answer to your questions, will always be angry, will have complete disregard to what you want and will think that he's doing you a favor even when you're paying him for his services. And. to our amusement, his name was Vijay, so we chose to call him 'angry young man'.

However, the drive was pleasant and filled with scenic beauty and we enjoyed it to the most. We reached Pokhara around 9.00 pm and as per the first lesson the first thing we did was order food. So while we checked in our hotel to freshen up our dinner was getting ready. As we were planning our next day the driver broke the news; 'Kal Pokhra band hai...chakka jam. gadi nai niklegi' (Pokhara is closed tomorrow, no vehicle on the road). Since democracy has taken over in Nepal, a city or the other is closed every now and then.There went our plan. The next day we set out on foot, had our breakfast by the famous Fewa lake and went on a boat ride. The lake surrounded with tall mountains was absolutely enchanting.

There wasn't much to do after that since the shops too were shut. We were told that the 'bandh' will be over by 4 and then we can go sight seeing. So the youngsters decided to pick up few bicycles and go for a ride while the elders rested. We rented the bikes (cleaned them and pumped air in the tyres too :P ). We din't go far when the first one got punctured....and after a while the second one hour was spend trying to mend them but in vain. We went back and immortalized the saying 'khaya piya kuch nai, gilas toda barah ana' (don't ask me the meaning now).

After lunch at Laxman's restaurant and Bar (I must admit, the yummiest momos I've ever had and some great fish curry with rice) it was time to get the wheels out. As we moved towards the Devi's Fall we found out that the band wasn't over yet and sensing danger went in a casino (and blew off some money too :D ). We came out after 20 mins and finally went on to see the Devi's fall, Gupteshwar cave and Bhadra Kali temple.

As we were heading back to our hotel from Bhadra Kali temple it started raining and there was a sudden urge for 'garam chai'. We went in a small tea shop. Since it was raining and we are Indians, we also wanted some 'pakoras' but the shop owner didn't sell any food. So, we offered to make them ourselves in her personal kitchen if she gave us raw stuff, which she did. And there were hot pakoras and 'adrak wali chai'. Amongst this merry making we forgot to talk money and the shop owner charged us a hefty 500 Nepali Rupees for that. But our 'angry young man' intervened and we paid only 300 NC.

We went back to the hotel, planned our next day which was to see the sunrise point and head to Kathmandu. The day was pretty much over for the senior people but the 'young gang' was not done yet. It was my husband's birthday the next day so we planned to head out for a couple of drinks. We found an amazing restaurant at the lake side where the bartender mixed up some flaming cocktails for us.

Next morning we went to the sunrise point. The Himalayan ranges (annapurna, dhaulagiri) turned beautiful golden as sun cast its rays on them.

The sight was breathtakingly beautiful. After a cup of tea and some light breakfast we started towards Kathmandu, again an 8 hours drive from Pokhara.

We reached Kathmandu at around 3 in the afternoon, checked into the hotel and as we were going out for lunch another bomb blasted. Kathmandu was also closed the next day (21st May). Since we had a flight to catch from Lucknow on the 23rd we only had an evening in Kathmandu. We planned to make the most of it and decided to visit the Pashupatinath and Swayambhu temple right after lunch. Thankfully the restaurant in Kathmandu had the food ready and our order arrived in 10 minutes.

As we were going towards Swayambhu from Pashupatinath, our winger broke down and we waited for another one which took us to the temple. Swayambhunath or The monkey temple as its famously called (because of the resident monkeys) is set atop a hill and is visited by Budhists all over the world. The Stupa is beautifully lit and you can see the whole town from the top.

After the temple visit we came back to the hotel and planned to leave early in the morning as Kathmandu was 'bandh' and yeah...our car had broken down so we had to adjust ourselves in the smaller one. 9 of us in a Tavera. We started towards India. On our way we stopped at Manakamna temple. The temple is accessible through a cable car from Kurintar, 2 hours drive from Kathmandu. To our relief there wasn't much crowd and we got into the longest cable car in Asia. It crossed through 3 hills with a river flowing at the bottom. The car ride was amazing but to our bad luck the temple was closed for a special pooja. We chose to have breakfast instead and then took a cable car back to Kurintar. Well, the 'bandh' didn't just leave us there. As we were on our way back the cable car also stopped for a couple of minutes. But it wasn't scary and we had a nice view of the hills.

Praying no more 'bandhs' on our way we headed straight to India.

Nepal is a beautiful country but is heavily affected by the current political scenario. So, if you are planning a trip to Nepal make sure that you don't bump into a 'bandh'.
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