3 Vegetarian Must-Haves; Foodmantra for the WoW factor at Hakkasan

The beauty of Cantonese food is truly in its simplicity. Unlike the Indie-Chinese preparations that we are accustomed to, Cantonese food is not greasy or spicy. The spices are only used to compliment and enhance the flavor of the dish but they don’t dominate the flavor of the main ingredient. It is one of the eight traditions of Chinese cooking, perhaps among the most nutritious styles of cooking. Ingredients are used at the peak of their freshness; in fact some restaurants across the world also have aquariums to ensure freshest seafood. Steamed seafood and lightly greased, crunchy stir-fried vegetables are among my personal Cantonese favourites.


After a certain 2016 resolution I made to have mercy on my stomach and opt for light, nutritious choices, I was really glad that I had an opportunity to sample a Cantonese menu; the WowTables Fixed 4 Course meal at Hakkasan, Mumbai.


If you are ordering from the Ala Carte menu at Hakkasan, a meal for two comes to around 4000 rupees. So, at first when Wow tables contacted me, I did not understand what was so great about the Wow Tables experience if I would end up spending roughly the same amount for a meal for two! Isn’t it the same thing?

Actually, no, it is not the same thing as ordering from the Ala carte menu. There are a couple of advantages that you have, the first being that you don’t need to pay a penny in advance. Wow Tables or the restaurant does not charge any advance payment for the meal booking. Everything from the table to the set meal can be pre-booked online so your dining experience is smooth and stress-free.

The other advantage in my opinion is for a lazy, lazy evening where in the best of the restaurant’s selection is already hand picked for you, and you don’t need to spend several minutes figuring out the best option on the menu. The best part though, is that you get to sample more variety at the same price. The fixed menu offers each person 2 small eats, 1 main, 1 rice or noodle, an option of dessert and a glass of wine or martini. This range of dishes would cost you more if you were ordering straight from the ala Carte menu. Anything you order over and above these options in the fixed menu is charged extra.


The #Foodmantra Top 3 WoW Factors in this meal were the Crystal Dumpling, Mock Duck Salad (Perfect textured Soyabean meat for Vegetarians) and the Lotus Stem Stir Fry was amazing. I also enjoyed the Pakchoy dumplings, Duck Wraps and the Ginger Fried Rice a lot. The service was prompt, courteous and warm. #Foodmantra for this menu, do try out the vegetarian textured soyabean meats, it is unique and interesting.






Restaurant Review: New Thai Food Menu Haaochi Sun N Sand, Mumbai

Name: Haaochi, Sun N Sand

Location: Next to Novotel, Juhu Beach

Date of Visit: 12th December, 2014 (Dinner Hour)

What is your relationship with food? Do you look at it with honest love or passionate lust? You see, this questions becomes very important when you drool over butter chicken, but it is pure love when the item that you’re drooling over is Broccoli & Waterchestnut Dimsums – without sauce. As for me, my relationship with food started out as lust, pure greed and the have-it-now attitude but slowly it has grown into deep love. And one can only hope that yours will too, after this meal.

I first visited Haaochi, the Oriental restaurant at Sun N Sand, Juhu last year, right after its opening. Ever I always remember this place for its tea and dimsums. When you think of going for an extraordinary white tea with golden tips or think of gorging on gorgeous dumplings with subtle notes of flavour weaved in textured stuffings, think of going to Haaochi. After my extraordinary experience with the tea and dimsums at this place last year, I was really excited to taste their new menu with which they have recently launched Thai food.

One thing that is worth noting about this place is that the food and menu at Haochi has an edge. While they understand the Indian palate, common preferences and design their menu for our taste, it is still not a common menu. It is certainly not common food. Haaochi does their food differently, and not in the modern “playing with concept way” but they just make every dish very well. You can see study, balance and patience in each of their dishes. While I am not a fan of the slightly crowded ambience, I always enjoy the food because sometimes it is the hardest to do common favourites that well.

For instance, whether it is the succulent – Wild Catch Black pepper prawns from the new menu or that gorgeous piece of art that is called the Broccoli & Waterchestnut Dimsum, the flavour in every dish, doneness, freshness and texture is just perfect. I have cooked in restaurant kitchens and I have cooked at home, so I can tell you that this is food cooked with love. May be it helped that we were there on a weeknight, so there wasn’t a crowd.

It may as well be that they were taking special care back in the kitchen but the new menu was not that regular old satays and Thai Curry rant, it was really new, and different and had the right balance of flavours. Like any other Thai food it was fragrant but designed for the Global Indian taste buds. How often do you hear that “Mieng Kham” or a Thai paan is being served at a restaurant? Not very often. In fact I had never tried this chaat-like Thai style appetizer before. It was a betel leaf served with five bowls of accompaniments, lime, peanuts, plum sauce, ginger and spring onion. I won’t say it tops my chaat list but it was interesting. Then came the spare ribs, charred, with were way to sweet for my liking and a wee bit tougher meat than I like. This was followed by the wild catch prawns from the new menu, topped with browned lemon grass julienne and my hot-favourite crystal chicken and vegetarian dumplings from the old menu.

The main dishes included Massaman Lamb Cury along with coconut fried rice. The fried rice was a fresh concept and fairly coconuty and its light sweetness paired nicely with the robust flavours of the lamb curry. The curry had great consistency with deep meaty flavours, an enjoyable addition to their menu. Some of my proud “Bangkok-return” friends might say that the food doesn’t taste the same in Thailand. These dishes are as authentic as easily accepted by our Global desi palate. If it doesn’t taste exactly the one that you had in Thailand it is because it is designed to comfort our taste buds aka Global Indian taste buds. The food must be enjoyable, balanced in flavour, consistent and pleasing in texture and theses dishes from the new menu most certainly all that. Haochi is one of those restaurants that can easily become your comfort zone. It is familiar food designed to please, the ambience albeit a little crowded, is no-frills, old fashioned and pleasing. It serves Chinese food with gorgeous Dimsums made by an expat or imported Dimsum specialist from China.

This new addition to the menu offers Thai Curries and delicious fried rice, noodles and extends that comfort zone some more. After all curry is always a welcome addition, right? Haaochi is the right place to go with family or to plan a business lunch because with the new additions in the menu there’s something for everyone, even choosy kids! When you don’t know what everyone will eat, curry & fried rice are always that safe bet that ought to be there. And that is the “That thing about this place”. If I have to describe it in 3 words, I will call it – Comforting, delicious & simple. I was at Haochi for a review invite. The new menu includes Thai food delicacies and will now be permanently available on their menu.


Ambience : 3/ 5

Menu: 3/5

Food: 4/5

Service: Not Applicable due to Invite

Value for Money: 3/5

That thing about this place: 3/5

Rating: 3/5 – Good    

6 Wicked Ways To Drink, Pair & Cook with Whisky; The Johhnie Walker Tasting at ITC Maratha

Whisky and kebabs on a chilly evening, ahh! That’s what makes winter worth the wait. Few close friends, a dinner with colleagues or just an evening in front of the television calls for a drink, and in India we like to drink whisky. Not just any whisky, Scotch whisky. So I decided to bring in the season of celebrations with a Johhnie Walker whisky tasting at ITC Maratha, Mumbai. The whisky was paired with food from China and food from Japan by Chefs at the Pan Asian restaurant for China Japan debate on a plate.

More than wine, whisky is something we already know and love. In fact one of our prominent politicial leaders carries around his bottle of Johhnie Walker Black Label wherever he goes to dine! I know so many of my friends, even my father’s friends who like to stick to their favourite brand of whisky wherever they go. It is safe to say that whisky has been in my blood for generations. If you too love the flavour of whisky, here are 6 ways to enjoy whisky in every way. Drink, pair & cook with whisky!

1)   Cocktails

It’s not easy being the guy everyone wants to party with! Have fun being the bartender this season and mix some charming new drinks. Classics like Rob Roy are made with vermouth, angostura bitters and Scotch whisky, or Whisky Sour (Whiskey with an E*) with lemon juice and sugar have always been on the list, why not come up with new custom-made classics for your party this season.

Here is something that you could try. Adding a theme to the cocktails, like tropical, Spanish or Japanese flavours. Here’s how Johhnie Walker made their cocktails borrowing some ingredients from the Oriental kitchen.  We were welcomed with two interesting cocktails made with Johhnie Walker Black Label. The Rising Sun cocktail with a mélange of sweet, sour and spicy Japanese and Chinese flavours like wasabi and pomegranate made it very suitable for the Indian palate, it had the charm and excitement of a paani puri. The other cocktail was one called the Mao’s Tipple served in a Martini glass and made with Oolong tea and Sichuan Pepper syrup flavours.

If you want to try them out with Johhnie Walker Black Label at Home, here is how you can make them

Oriental Flavoured Cocktails

Rising Sun

Johnnie Walker Black Label – 45ml

Fresh Lime Juice – 20ml

Pomegranate syrup / Grenadine syrup – 15ml

*Soy and wasabi mix – 5ml

Fresh Egg white – 10ml

Shake all ingredients well and strain into a glass filled with ice. Garnish with a side of Japanese pickled ginger.

* Soy and Wasabi mix –

Combine equal parts by weight of light soy sauce and grated wasabi root / paste and Mirin (optional). Eg. 100gms soy to 100gms wasabi to 100gms mirin.


Mao’s Tipple

Johnnie Walker Black Label – 45ml

*Oolong Tea and Szechuan pepper syrup – 15ml

Sweet vermouth – 20ml

Stir all ingredients well and serve in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a light sprinkle of oolong tea leaves and cracked sichuan pepper.

*Oolong Tea and Sichuan pepper syrup.

2 tbsp of loosely cracked Sichuan peppers

2 Oolong Tea bags 4gms each

500ml hot water

500gm of caster sugar

Add tea and pepper to hot water and let it seep for 10 minutes. Remove tea and pepper from the brew and add in sugar. Stir until all the sugar dissolves. Do NOT boil tea and pepper in water. Do NOT boil to dilute sugars.

It is hard to give-up the straight drinks of whisky, neat and perfect, yet every once in a while it is fun to mix it up! For those that enjoy the subtle notes of whisky but not the harsh taste of alcohol, here is a simple and homely recipe you can experiment with.



Scotch Whisky           1 measure

Lemon                        Squeeze half a lemon

Orange Juice  ½ measure

Mint                5 leaves, muddled

Himalayan Pink Salt (Sendha Namak)       a pinch

Sparkling water cracked ice

Garnish with a spiral of lemon

Method: Stir in all ingredients except ice in a tall glass.

Fill the bottom half of a martini glass with cracked ice.

Pour the drink into the martini glass, garnish with a spiral of lemon.

2)   What’s the Best Temperature for Drinking Whisky

The Whisky guru from Diageo, Raveen told us, ‘when it comes to drinking whisky, it’s all about temperature’. For instance the light smoky flavour of Johhnie Walker Gold Label along with notes of cocoa are best communicated when it is served ice cold. We were served Gold Label with ice water, but without a dark chocolate truffle, which it is best paired with.

Richer whisky such as the Johhnie Walker Platinum Label and Johhnie Walker X.R 21 have more intense flavours with deep fruity notes, and these are more pronounced at room temperature.

In whisky drinking you can nose the aromas 15 degrees Celsius onwards, so sipping at room temperature for richer blends where you want to relish the aromas is a good idea. Whisky tastes different at different temperatures, and it is a good idea to read the label on the bottle to drink it right.

3)   Pairing Scotch Whisky with Hot or Cold Food


It is not only the temperature of whisky itself but also the temperature of the food that it is served with, that adds to its flavour. This is a lot like smelling coffee beans when you’re trying out different perfumes. When you sip the whisky at room temperature and alternate it with a cold dessert, the flavours are clean in every sip. The contrasting temperatures amaze and alert your senses each time.

For instance we really enjoyed the way the cold wasabi ice cream that hits the nose and at the same time intensifies the deep flavours of Johhnie Walker XR 21 that was served at room temperature. The sharp flavour of wasabi also makes the fruity notes in the whisky definite, and that’s the beauty of a whisky drinking experience, isn’t it?

4)   Pairing Whisky with Cuisines

Japanese Seafood Soup

Japanese Seafood Soup

Juicy kebabs, spicy curries and naans with whisky are the perfect desi combination. I find Scotch whisky to be the perfect desi pairing with Indian food. Pairing is really about personal taste, you can even pair French fries and ketchup if you prefer. There’s no wrong, yet depending on the light citrusy or fruity flavours of a whisky certain foods add to the experience.

Whisky is believed to enhance the flavour of food due to its wide flavour profile. Our Indian palate is used to bold flavours like those in Sichuan style of Chinese cooking, and we enjoy our whisky with Chinese food because of the contrasting bold and subtle notes and its familiarity factor. I’d say it pairs well with Japanese food, because due to the subtle taste of this cuisine, the taste of the whisky is boosted and easier to identify and enjoy.

5)   Flaming Food – How to flambe food with Whisky?


This is all drama, drama & more drama! Because flaming food with alcohol is done just before serving and right in front of the guests, you can imagine the impact it creates. This lends great flavour to food too. It works best on meats and desserts. The food, sauce or cake gets the flavour of whisky and the alcohol is burns when you light it. It adds more character and depth to the flavour because the food caramelizes or chars lightly when flambé it.

Flaming sauces is an old school gimmick for fancy French restaurants. The way we like to do it here, is make flaming kebabs.

How to flambé your kebabs?

What you simple need to do is take alcohol in a ladle, carefully light it up and then pour the flame on to 90 percent cooked kebabs on a stone tile that doesn’t break, or a cast iron plate will also work well.

This does two things, one, it flavours the kebabs with whisky and secondly, it lightly caramelizes the kebabs and makes the flavour deeper.

If you do want to go about flambé-ing sauces in the traditional way, it is a great way to flavour meat and dessert sauces and here’s how you do it in two simple steps.

Two Steps to Flambeing you sauces with Whisky.

Step 1: Make your sauce, so you sauté the shallots for you steak sauce, add in the mushrooms, sprinkle paprika and stir in the cream.

Step 2: Then lower the heat, and slowly add in a cap of whisky by pouring it along the sides and stirring into the sauce. Be careful, and make sure no one, including you is standing close enough to catch fire. (Have a fire extinguisher ready, kidding!). If you do want to create more drama though, (have a fire extinguisher ready, not kidding), increase the heat on the pan, move back and pour a cap of whisky along the sides of the pan, make sure the sauce is on that side of the pan. The sauce will flame up directly for just a second, and longer if you pour more alcohol and the heat isn’t too high.

This is really all about experience, once you do it at home safely a couple of times, you’ll have the confidence to showcase your skills at a party too.

6)   Flavouring Food with Whisky

Whisky has a great flavour spectrum, with the flavour of oakwood, citrus and even herbs that enhance the flavour of the food. In fact it is believed that whisky in many ways acts like salt in its ability to enhance the flavours in a dish. I just love adding in that X factor to my food.

This is a great way to spruce up even a simple vanilla ice cream.

Foodmantra for Whisky Ice Cream

Vanilla Ice cream       4 scoops

Scotch Whisky           3 tablespoons

Honey             4 tablespoons

Almonds, sliced          6-8

Cinnamon Powder    ½ teaspoon


Mix in the whisky, honey, almonds and cinnamon into softened vanilla ice cream.

Freeze to desired consistency and enjoy!

Foodmantra for a Whisky flavoured Meat Sauce

Once you are done grilling or roasting meat in a pan, pour 3 tablespoons of whisky and deglaze the pans with the remaining tit bits. Add in some grilled/ roasted shallots and mushrooms (you can roast them on the side when your meat is cooking), add in fresh herbs and parika and sour cream to the pan. Lightly heat it up and pour the sauce to be served on the side.

You can also add in leftover marinade from the grill or the roast if you like.

The Johhnie Walker Scotch Whisky tasting was a delight. It was great to know so more about drinking whisky and pairing it up with the right food. I’m a Japanese food lover and inclined towards seafood. Whisky is said to bring out the aromas of the sea in seafood, so my food went nicely with the beverages that were served that evening. While I loved the modern Japanese appetizer of steamed river sole roulade with prawn coulis and miso, the main course of Atlantic salmon and a special kind of ginger called Hajikami (or something!) was only average. I was just missing my wasabi hints in the food and also sushi, which I love. Nonetheless, modern Japanese food was a good experience if you treat it as French instead Japanese cooking. The cherry tart was very appetizing but the wasabi ice cream was a winner for me, especially with that Johhnie Walker XR 21.

I did not opt for any of the Chinese dishes, because I was in the mood for something above the usual. I did try some of the garlic prawn appetizer that tasted a lot like bhajiyas, the fried rice with the main course meat looked very, desi, spicy yet appealing because of the fragrant spices and the fried ice cream reminded me of ice cream pakoras in Sharma uncles’s son’s shaadi. This so-called chinese dessert was very gharelu (home-style) for me, but if you like it, you like it. The sizzling fried rice was very dramatic as Chef Liang poured the sizzling sauce on to the rice. Every grain of rice was crispy, like puffed rice crispy and with it was a sweet and spicy sauce that reminds you a lot of american chopsuey! This dish is great for kids. Overall, the whisky was good and the food was decent, that turned out to be a lovely evening.

*Funfact: Whiskey with an ‘e’ stands for Whiskey from Ireland and the United States, while whisky stands for Scotch, English, Wales, Canadian and even Japanese whisky.