I have travelled to London often over the last 30 years and have, on most occasions, dined at Indian restaurants because they served comfort food that I knew would please everyone in my family. During my most recent trip, I had the opportunity to dine at two outstanding restaurants specializing in contemporary Indian cuisine that don’t serve Indian food like Amma makes. With a fresh, exciting and fun approach, these restaurants have catapulted Indian cuisine to the top of the chart.

 

Quilon

Entrance to Quilon Restaurant in London.

Entrance to Quilon Restaurant in London.

 

My husband, son and I enjoyed a fantastic late lunch at Quilon during our most recent trip to London. Making selections from the set menu, we were able to enjoy several dishes plus desert as well as tasting each other’s selections. The contemporary atmosphere is fresh and new and the service is outstanding. Our waiter knew the menu in detail from top to bottom and was happy to share his recommendations with us. A delicious array of pickles, lemon, tamarind, and garlic were served with pappads. For starters we order the Cauliflower Chile Fry, The Coconut Cream Chicken and Pepper Shrimps; all were delicious.  A small cup of Tomato Rasam was served in a wine glass between courses. The Chicken Roast, Quilon Fish Curry and Manglorean Chicken were perfectly spiced and well prepared. The cuisine in this restaurant takes southwestern Indian food to a new level with its unique blend of spices, updated menu and attractive presentation. I can’t wait to try this restaurant again.

 

Delicious Indian cuisine from Quilon's menu in London.

Delicious Indian cuisine from Quilon’s menu in London.

 

 

Cinnamon Club

Entrance to The Cinnamon Club Restaurant in London.

Entrance to The Cinnamon Club Restaurant in London.

 

Without a doubt, this is the most amazing restaurant in London. With the chef’s fusion approach to cuisine, this food offers a celebration to the palate. If you want the same old Indian food, do not eat here. It is contemporary, fresh and exciting with presentation being as important as taste. The restaurant, located in an old library, is attractive and comfortable. The service is refined and polished and our waiter possessed a thorough knowledge of the menu and the chef’s vision of the food. I enjoyed this fantastic meal very much.

Delicious Indian entree from the menu at Cinnamon Club in London.

Delicious Indian entree from the menu at Cinnamon Club in London.

 

After our meal I met the Manager and Head Chef, Hari Nagaraj, who welcomed me to his restaurant. We briefly discussed the vision of Vivek Singh, Executive Chef and CEO, had when creating this heavenly restaurant. I was so excited by what they are already doing with Indian fusion cuisine that I knew I was on the right track.

 

If you have the opportunity to visit London, make it a point to visit both of these outstanding restaurants.

 

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Since I own about a half dozen of Sanjeev Kapoor’s cookbooks and have heard only rave reviews about his cooking, I thought his restaurant, Khazana, should be on my ‘To Do’ list while in Dubai.

 

Upon entering the nearly empty Khazana Restaurant, we were seated immediately at a table for two in the dining room that was subdivided into smaller, more intimate areas. When the waiter arrived we asked to see the wine menu. Since the waiter could not understand our English, we resorted to pointing to the wine we wanted. Since it wasn’t available, we made a few more attempts to order a wine that was in inventory. After two failed attempts, we received a bottle of wine. The poor waiter didn’t have a clue about wine or how to present and serve the wine. The wine list only offered wines with 2010 or younger vintages and were very expensive for what they were.

 

Ordering our meal was another experience. Because the waiter had a limited understanding of English, my husband had to speak to him in Hindi. In a country where most of the people are expats, I found this odd since English is the de facto common language. The waiter could not explain the menu to me so I could understand the preparation for the dishes. We ordered Dum Methi Murgh (chicken with fenugreek cooked dum style), Chemeen Purichathu (marinated shrimp fried with curry leaves and coconut) and Jeera Rice (plain rice with cumin seeds).

Dinner of Chicken with Fenugreek, Shrimp with Curry Leaves and rice at Khazana Dubai.

Dinner of Chicken with Fenugreek, Shrimp with Curry Leaves and rice at Khazana Dubai.

 

The dishes were tasty even though one was served on a chipped plate. The chicken in the Dum Methi Murgh was moist and perfectly cooked, not over done; it was all dark meat, though. The Chemeen Purichathu was prepared in the standard Kerala style and was quite tasty. There was too much oil in the Jeera Rice but I have to admit it was really good. The cuisine, in my opinion, was standard Indian cooking, not redefined, chef-inspired dishes.

 

The hostess and manager never asked us about the food or our experience at the restaurant. My rating of Khazana is that the food is good (not outstanding) but overrated. The front end of the restaurant operation needs significant training starting with the waiter to the hostess and the manger. Sadly, I was disappointed with this lackluster experience but am glad that I tasted Sanjeev Kapoor’s cuisine.

 

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Before leaving for Dubai, I did some research to learn a little bit about Emirati cuisine so I could take advantage of every possible opportunity.

 

Al-fanar is the local term for the kerosene lamp that was used in Dubai years ago. This term is quite appropriate for the design of this restaurant…

 

Ann Vinod and her husband dining at Al-Fanar Restaurant in Dubai.

Ann Vinod and her husband dining at Al-Fanar Restaurant in Dubai.

 

Before we realized that we had found the restaurant, we came upon an outside dining area that was intermixed with the recreation of a 1960s Bedouin village. The display includes an old Land Rover hauling goods, a camel herder and several manikins performing daily activities like cooking and fishing. My husband had told me that we had to see this village based on his previous visits to this part of town, Festival City. He was surprised with I told him this was part of the restaurant at which we wanted to have lunch. With the weather so pleasant we decided to eat outside at one of the covered dining tables. Half of the fun of the restaurant is the atmosphere that transports the guests to an old village before Dubai started growing into a business center.

 

Decorations to set the mood outside the Al-Fanar Restaurant in Dubai.

Decorations to set the mood outside the Al-Fanar Restaurant in Dubai.

 

The menu was quite extensive. Since we didn’t know the specialties of the house, we asked the waiter for recommendations: Samak Mashwi Seabream (broiled whole seabream fish) and Beryani Laham (lamb biryani). I have to say they were excellent picks. The fish was cooked perfectly, gently flavored and was easy to remove from the bones. The Beryani contained tender pieces of lamb on the bone and the rice was delicately flavored. The contrast of the two dishes was delightful. By the end of the meal we were stuffed and content. To end the meal, we drank tea and enjoyed the atmosphere along the canal.

 

Beryani Laham (lamb biryani) at Al-Fanar Restaurant in Dubai.

Beryani Laham (lamb biryani) at Al-Fanar Restaurant in Dubai.

Samak Mashwi Seabream (broiled whole seabream fish) at Al-Fanar Restaurant in Dubai.

Samak Mashwi Seabream (broiled whole seabream fish) at Al-Fanar Restaurant in Dubai.

The restaurant also offers an inside dining room that is beautifully decorated – wooden tables, beautiful artifacts, stone walls, trees and high ceilings. Different areas of the restaurant also have different themes, including a souk, a pearl merchant’s home and private rooms. The staff was very friendly and welcomed me when I wished to take pictures inside.

One of the booths at Al Fanar Restaurant.

One of the booths at Al Fanar Restaurant.

 

In summary, I thoroughly enjoyed this restaurant’s atmosphere, cuisine and its friendly staff. 

 

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We dined at a well-known Singapore-style restaurant in the Grand Hyatt based on my husband’s recommendation. Yet again, he picked a great restaurant.

 

In this quiet and understated dining room with an excellent view of the large fish tank, we experienced excellent service and delicious food. As our first dish we enjoyed Mud Crab with Black Pepper sauce. This preparation is usually offered with mud crab from the Indian Ocean or golden crab from Libya. The night we visited the golden crab was not available. We were told that the crab would take a little extra time to prepare. Since we were notified in advance, it was not a problem for us at all. The presentation of the crab was beautiful – it was cut into manageable pieces (with the shell on but lightly cracked so we could access the meat without too much work), reassembled and covered in the most delicious spicy pepper sauce. The crabmeat was sweet in contrast with the spice of the pepper and the tang of the sauce. Absolutely delicious! Fortunately the waiter brought finger bowls so we could continue eating comfortably. (I don’t see finger bowls often in the U.S. anymore.)

 

Mud Crab with Black Pepper sauce at the Grand Hyatt Dubai.

Mud Crab with Black Pepper sauce at the Grand Hyatt Dubai.

 

 

We also ordered Spicy Shrimp and Chicken Fried Rice to complement the crab. It was mildly spiced with plenty of shrimp and white meat chicken pieces. The wine my husband selected was a pinot noir which complemented the dishes perfectly.

 

The service was very attentive during our meal. If we needed something, all of the staff members were happy to assist us. Our waiter knew the menu very well so he was able to answer any questions I had.

 

The meal was expensive (as are most things in Dubai) but it was well worth the price for a special night out. The Singapore-style pepper crab is one of a kind and is only available at the restaurant by the same name at the Grand Hyatt. I can’t wait to go back!

 

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Food truck dining is the new trend in DFW and around the country. Dallas already has over 50 trucks cruising the city; Fort Worth’s trucks are expected to triple this year from the current 160 (plus). They don’t serve the cheap food of yesterday but serve top quality, international gourmet cuisine.

 

Many trucks drive from location to location stopping for a few hours to serve their dedicated followers, however, special food truck parks are being built so the trucks can stay in one place and build loyal followings. Dallas offers two parks, in the Arts District and in Heritage Village, where trucks can park for extended hours; Cowtown Chow Down has recently opened in Fort Worth. I expect to hear of many more locations in the near future.

 

The surprising part is the diversity of food. It is not just hot dogs, sandwiches and tacos any more. Each truck specializes in a unique cuisine, from Cuban food to designer cupcakes.

 

I have heard about this phenomenon in the news over the last year but have not really paid much attention until I was in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago.

 

Now I will get to the topic of this post…

 

Last week in Austin, I drove by a food truck called “Naan Stop.” I was amused by the cute name (and colorfully painted truck) but I was awed by the fact that it served Indian food! Of course that shouldn’t be surprising since Austin is a college town with many international students. Open for just one year, it seems to have become popular with the locals.

Naan Stop food truck in Austin, TX serves up Indian specialties.

Naan Stop food truck in Austin, TX serves up Indian specialties.

 

Unfortunately Naan Stop was closed when I drove by. I was able to pull off the road and snap a photo of the truck. If you are in Austin, please check out the food and let me know what you think! (I will have to make a return visit to check this out.) The menu is posted on their website. The website needs more work but the menu contains popular dishes like Samosas, Chicken and Paneer Tikka Masala and Channa Masala. Some of the appetizers are intriguing: Potato Chip Chaat and Chhat Bitat (with French Fries).

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We stayed at the ITC Maratha in Mumbai. It is one of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan hotels in India. The photo at the right is of the lobby dining room in which we ate breakfast each morning. The buffet was wonderful with a mix of Indian and western cuisine.

 

One of the Indian restaurants in the ITC Maratha Hotel in Mumbai.

One of the Indian restaurants in the ITC Maratha Hotel in Mumbai.

 

We had dinner at two of the restaurants on site. The first one we tried was called Peshawri which specializes in the cuisine of the north-west frontier of India. It is known for the kebabs of seafood, chicken and meat that are prepared in a tandoor. My son tried the chicken kebabs and my husband and I demolished the sampler of vegetarian and non-vegetarian kebabs. It included cauliflower bhajia and two different paneer kebabs along with the meats. The other specialty of the house was the Dal Peshawri which had small red beans in a thick and creamy curry. Cooking this dish for over 24 hours gives it the rich aromatic flavor. I absolutely loved it!


The second restaurant we tried is Dum Pukht which specializes in the 200 year old cuisine of the Nawabs of Awadh. The first dish we tried was the Kakori kebab which is made of a moistened mixture of finely ground lamb onions, cashews and spices. The lamb biryani we had was prepared in the ‘Dum’ style. This means that it was cooked in a clay pot, called a handi, that was tightly sealed to keep all of the flavors and moisture inside while it is cooked over a slow fire. This preparation was very simple without too many spices or ingredients that one finds in a standard recipe. It was absolutely fantastic in flavor and texture! I will look for a handi when I get home so I can work on creating my own recipe.

Dining at such fine restaurants with such exquisite food and service has definitely spoiled me for the rest of my trip.



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