Friday, February 12, 2016

Wine Wednesdays at Maritime by San Lorenzo

A couple of weeks back Rhea asked me if I'd like to go to a Wine tasting evening at the Taj Land's End in Bandra and I very happily jumped to it. The event is called the Wine Social Wednesday and is held at the Taj Land's End's lovely Italian restaurant the Maritime by San Lorenzo.

We got there at 7.30 pm and were met by the PR Team and Ms Rajveer Kaur who put us at our ease and explained the background to this weekly event. The idea was to introduce the wines of Italy (and elsewhere) and pair them with Chef Allessandro's really simple but amazing Italian food. Knowing that they had a superior wine selection they also knew that the Indian wine drinker was a hesitant careful creature not very open to experimentation. So they came up with an idea where they would not only make a selection of their wines available by the glass instead of the bottle, but they would also showcase the low price point that was one of their USPs . The restaurant has decided to pass on the benefits of the good rates they are getting from their purveyors - a real winner for wine lovers in Mumbai!

They had a lovely selection of Whites and Reds all priced incredibly well. We started off with a Prosecco that was a lovely well rounded yet young tasting wine. Low in acidity, very fruity and not too sweet. With this the Chef sent out a lovely basket of Gamberetti and Calamari Fritti (Crumbed Fried Prawns and Squid rings).

We moved on to a really complex yet full bodied Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Very few people in India seem to even know about the absolute world class winners that come out of the vineyards of New Zealand. Both Rhea and I have always been very partial to the Waipara Springs Reisling thanks to our friends Sue and Imtiaz and are always game to try out a New Zealand wine. The Saint Clair Marlborough did not let us down at all. With this Chef served up his really interesting variation on a Focaccia ... a flat, thin and somewhat crisp focaccia with arugula and shaved Parmesan and truffle infused olive oil. I am a self confessed carbo-holic and I was very pleasantly surprised by this.  Chef Allesandro told us this was a Focaccia Tartufata and was a memory from his childhood in Italy. We asked him what else he could do with this and he sent out an absolutely fantastic variant (off the menu) topped with Parma ham, shaved Parmesan and his truffle infused olive oil. It was magnificent, truly Buonissimo!

I decided to try out one of their red wines and went in for the Chilean Trapaca El Rosal Pinot. I have learnt to have a very healthy respect for South American wines and have found them to often be finer than their Californian counterparts which are often more flash than flavour. I love my wines young and fruity, with a little body, not a great deal of tartness/acidity nor mouth puckering tannin or an excessively long finish. I know that wine enthusiasts are probably going to call me a barbarian but I like my wine young, fruity, with flowery and/or citrus-y notes, a well rounded body and a good finish. The Trapaca Pinot was all of this. I for one was truly happy and Chef's Calzone was a perfect accompaniment. I can recommend this wine to all comers - first timers, old hands and rebels.

Chef wouldn't let us go without dessert and he brought the evening to a fantastic end with his selection - an apple tart, a silken tiramisu and a heavenly pear and raisin 'pie' his mother used to make.

The wines are priced extremely well and 'by the glass' prices range between INR 400 and 700. The place has a lovely feel to it and their selection of both wine and food is truly charming. I'd really recommend this mid-week indulgence especially around Valentine's Day.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Land of Stone - An International Conference and a truly awesome Dakkhani meal!

Sometime in November 2015 my close buddy Abhijit told me about an International Conference being organised on the Pre-Colonial Deccan in Gulbarga in Jan 2016. So I jumped to it and demanded to be let in. The man organising the conference at the Central University  Karnataka (CUK) was the indefatigible Dr Nazrul Bari. he wrote in to me inviting me and I happily accepted. I was looking forward to meeting historians and others of my ilk in a place I had never visited before but which was in the top half of my bucket list of places to visit!

Gulbarga, today renamed Kalaburagi (kalla=stone + buragi=land in Kannada), or The Land of Stone was the original capital of the the Bahamani Sultanate formed when Hasan Gangu captured Daulatabad after Md. bin Tuglaq had abandoned it. 

Tuglaq had moved the whole of Delhi to the Deccan to centralise the capital of his Indian empire ... a brilliant idea but one he was unable to maintain. Hasan Gangu or Zafar Khan (as he had been renmaed by Khilji  was appointed governor of Daulatabad. According to one legend Hasan Gangu was the Turkic slave of an astrologer from Delhi called Gangu (Gangaram), another legend says he was actually a Brahmin who converted  to islam and hence named his dynasty after his previous caste affiliation - Bahmani! 

He ascended the throne with the regnal name  Abu'l Muzaffar Ala-ud-din Shah Bahamani and founded the Bahamani Sultanate in 1347AD. He was a bit vary of Daulatabad and its lure and moved his capital to Gulbarga where he built a beautiful fort. The Gulbarga Fort with its squat round bastions, stocky bartizans and oversized crennelations is the prototype of the Bhamani style of defence architecture and the precurcessor of almost all the defence architecture in the  Deccan for the next 400 years. The thick rounded bastions with bartizans offering a secure position for defending archers was a Turkish innovation and the style of architecture employed was also of Turkish or Saracening origins. The Bahamanis employed this with absolute aplomb and ensured virtually impregnable fortresses. The sucessors of Hasan Gangu soon spread outwards and soon the sultanate expanded. In 1425 Ad the capital was moved to Bidar. it was from the safety of Bidar that the Machhiavellian Primeminister Mahmud Gavan expanded the empire by reconquering Goa from the Vijayanagara kings.

Gulbarga was by then an inescapable part of the Deccan or Dakhan and has its own flavour of Urdu called Dakkhani as well as its Sufi mysticism thanks to the famous Sufi saint Khwaja Bande Nawaz.

I arrived at Gulbarga on the morning of the 13th of Jan and was picked up by a very courteous Md Rafique sent by Nazrul. He took me over to the Central Park Hotel where a lot of old friends from Deccan College were waiting for me. Abhijit, Ganvir, Joge, Guru and his wife Reshma were all present as was Tejas ... after a quick breakfast we were off to CUK. The Univ is about 25km away from the heart of Gulbarga and has a sprawlingly large modern campus. Nazrul and his able team of student volunteers had put together an absolutely lovely Conference. After the usual inauguration function we got down to the academic sessions. My paper was titled ' A Preliminary Report on the Medieval excavations at Chandore 2012-2015' was in the first session and was recieved very well. The rest of the day flowed into session after session and there were some amazing papers by old friends as well as a number of new folks (to me atleast). Abhijit Dandekar, Gwendolyn, Gopal Joge, Shrikant Ganvir, Reshma Sawant, Gurudas Shete and so many others read some really lovely papers.

After a full day Md rafique took us back via a friends tea shop where we had some of the finest meat and chicken samosas I have eaten. These looked just like the ubiquitous Punjabi samosa but were stuffed with nonveg goodness. The meat (read 'buffalo') samosa had a coarse mince flavoured with spices, mint and a touch of dill. The chicken samosa was a revelation. The filling was tiny cubes of chicken breast cooked to perfection in a simple onion, garlic and blak pepper base. 

That night we went off to a dinner hosted by the Conferences patron - the Karnataka Minister for Minorities. The food was nice but what sang in the entire meal was the Gulbarga version of Khubbani ka meetha (stewed dried apricots). 

Day two of the conference started with us taking off a bit late and on the way we spotted the outer walls of Gulbarga Fort. This was too good a chance to miss and we played truant from the conference for the next half an hour by asking our driver to take us around the firt. When we got to the main entrance he surprised us all by driving right in! The fort is still tenanted by a few families who claim decent from its original denizens. Inside was a slightly sad sight. The Gulbarga Jama Masjid was in good nick as was the central bastion ... the rest was in a sorry and dilapidated state. This mosque at Gulbarga is the greatest example of the Persian style of architecture and stands testimony to the master architects of the 14th c AD.

We raced off to CUK and to our surprise arrived just as the first paper of the days first academic session started! The day then proceeded in a whilwind with presentations by Tejas Garge, Abdul Aziz Rajput, Danish Moin, Rekha Pande and Anne Feldhaus amongst many many others. The day came to an end with a simple valedictory function where the VC of CUK announced the creation of a full department of History and Archaeology! Nazrul had pulled off a fantastic event.

Abdul Aziz Rajput speaking on Bahamani Architecture

Danish Moin speaking on Bahamani Coinage and its secular nature

Dr Rekha Pande delivering a very interestalk on the Tawaifs of Hyderabad

Dr Nazrul Bari wrapping up the Valedictory function

Abhijit and team left early that evening leaving tejas and me to fend for ourselves, We soon teamed up with Prof Ayub of Hyderabad and went of in search of the famous Gulbarga sweetmeat the Maal-Puri from the famous Mama Puri Mithai shop. Md Rafique came to the rescue and led us through a maze of small lanes to the treasure.

After dropping off Prof Ayub, Tejas and I asked Md Rafique to take us to eat at a place where he would and he took us down the lane from Bande Nawaz's Dargan to a small eatery called Nawaz!

The menu was limited to four main courses (actually just two) Gravy Chicken or Mutton and Biryani once again Chicken or Mutton. We orderd the Chicken Gravy with Rumali Rotis and one each of the Biryanis.

The chicken was cubed and boneless (to my surprise) but with a slightly punchy, smoky, creamy gravy with a soft silken texture. It had nuances on so many levels it surprised the hell out of me. The rotis were thin but soft not dry and went perfectly with the chicken. 

The Biryanis came next. Md rafique had very proudly proclaimed that this wasnt just the best in Gulbarga but better than any Biryani from Hyderabad. A claim that surprisingly was spot on. The Mutton Biryani was subtle, the meat soft and pink inside, the rice fragrant, separate but not dry, it was a Biryani of sublime proportions. It was served with a thin Curd raita and a kick-ass Mirchi ka salan. The Chicken biryani was completely different it was full of a fried onion birasta coating the succulent chicken (thankfuly on the bone) pieces that nestled in long grain rice cooked to perfection. The three of us were glubbed when the waiter suggested very strongly that we have dessert. When asked he said the options were (you guessed it!) two - Khubbani and Froot. We had had the Khubbani the previous nite so we opted for the Froot. I didnt expect much, boy was I overwhelmed. We got a very very subtle fruit salad with custard variant where the fruits had spent some time soaked in a mildly sweeted heavily reduced milk rabri. The milk had thickened further on being sucked in by the apples and the milk-macerated fruits were a sensual delight in the mouth. They put out the fires f the biryani and overlaid a gentle blanket of sweetness.

Chicken Biryani on top left Mutton on bottom right


The Froot!

We gently rolled out of Nawaz after paying a bill of Rs 692/-!

Later at the Hotel, Tejas and I contemplated moving to Gulbarga. Especially after Md. Rafique had regaled us with tales of a divinely inspired Nalli Nihari sold from 4.30am onwards outside the Dargah of Bande Nawaz which he swore was better than any other takers. After the biryani boast we were wont to taking him very seriously and I have promised I will be back to Gulbarga if not for anything else then for this. 

Tejas left for Aurangabad via Ahmednagar at midnite and I slept like a log till 7.45am ... when I rolled out of bed and almost directly onto the train to Mumbai.

Gulbarga left a mark on me, on both my academic interests and my palate, both far larger than I had expected. thank you Nazrul and Md Rafique and thank you Abhijit for roping me in.