South African food festival at Sofitel Mumbai


Last night, I ditched my diet and threw myself into the exploration of South African cuisine and culture at the on-going South African food festival at Pondichery Cafe, Sofitel Mumbai BKC. The festival kicked off on 27th April, which is South Africa's Freedom Day, with a grand celebration of ethnic music and dance. I missed that, but I was glad I made it before the end of the festival (7th May). You should do, if you like food adventures and bunny chow.

  

I've experienced so many food festivals at Sofitel Mumbai BKC but every time, the entrance looks different. They have a really stellar decoration team who make you feel like you've entered South African territory. Two wonderfully made animals guarded the entrance and on either side, visitors could take a picture using an already set-up background and props like hats and binoculars. You can see one of the pictures I clicked at the start of this post.


That's Mavis Netshituka, one of the three South African chefs that Sofitel has appointed to whip up all the delicacies at the food festival. I found her posing with dishes such as Sliced Lamb Shank Bredie, Cape Town Smoked Fish Pot Pie, Chicken Frikkadels and Vegetarian Bobotie. Being a vegetarian, what I managed to taste were the mashed potato with green bean (delicious), braised rice cooked with cherry tomato and herb (a wonderful accompaniment to the vegetarian ratatouille), butternut feta (sweet, soft squash), vegetable wraps, carrot soup (with generous amounts of chopped carrot), eggplant coated in a sour batter and fried and a round South African fried bread, that can also be stuffed with meat and served. Here's a look at some of the dishes served at the festival.


Butternut feta

Vegetarian ratatouille

Green beans mash
Visitors could even try African style hair braiding and face painting at specially set-up stalls. A stack of brochures provided information on tourist attractions in South Africa. What I really liked about this festival was that it provided a holistic glimpse of South Africa as a travel destination. Be warned, if you have a meal here, you might just find yourself on a flight to Johannesburg next month! Oh and Sofitel is also running a contest where you stand to win a free night's stay in the country.


Face painting - a hit among the kids!
South African cuisine is an interesting melange of Malaysian, Indian, Dutch and Indonesian flavours, all of which found representation at Sofitel’s unique food festival. I enjoyed my dinner in the familiar luxury of Pondichery Café. They now have a coffee booth as well, and the dessert spread remains as impressive as ever. On that day, there was a live deconstructed white chocolate mousse counter and of course, I had to try it. The creamy white mousse wedged between two slabs of chocolate cake topped with white chocolate crumbs and cream was sheer perfection.



Details of the festival:
Date: 27th April - 7th May 2017
Time: 7:00 pm onwards
Venue: Pondichéry Café, Sofitel Mumbai BKC

Something has gone seriously wrong.


If you're reading this, please do so with a pinch of salt. Because it's that time of the month when hormones range and every other thing seems justifiable cause for tears. Or alternatively, a post like this.

Let's cut to 2012, when I was working in a Hindi channel (obviously, it wasn't the right place for me) in an insignificant job with no interests except finding love, getting drunk and occasionally writing fiction and poetry. It was a scary period in my life because I felt directionless. Then, I found a better job in a better place and at the end of the following year, I found love as well, though I was lonely otherwise. I was still drinking, writing and having spiritual epiphanies now and then. Life wasn't all that bad.

2015 though, was a euphoric year. My job wasn't living up to my expectations but I discovered travel writing. It ignited every recess of my soul and the few readers I had, encouraged my humble, dreamy travelogues. Then, I went on a trip where I met many 'professional' travel bloggers and my perception of the vocation changed. I discovered possibilities that could possibly turn my little blog into a career and leave me free of the obligation of having an unsatisfying job. The sad truth is that jobs rarely make you happy. At times, you have an enjoyable work culture and colleagues. At other times, you have a job description that is supposedly everything you ever wanted to do. But the indisputable truth is that you will always be following orders. And at some point or the other, there will be a dissonance between what you want to do and what you are expected to. For some people, this kind of discord is matter of course. For me, it causes deep-seated and long-lasting anxiety, bordering on depression.

As a child, I was always sure I wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a novelist. I thought I'd find great success and live with love and nature around me. Today, I find myself devoid of the motivation and inspiration required to be a novelist. The readers of my blog berate me for having 'sold out'. And my job is in jeopardy for reasons I cannot reveal. My personal life is all right but that was never the focus for a driven introvert like me.

I was a topper throughout my student life. I've heard a lot of people say it's only about rote memory but I thought I was intelligent, not just in the scoring marks kind of way (please indulge me). The impression I usually left, was of one who'd pursue success. But I haven't, have I? Success for my soul means writing only the good stuff. And that's not going to pay the bills. To be paid for writing the good stuff, you have to be f***ing brilliant - path breaking journalism, talking to the locals, delving deep - that kind of thing. Me - I'm only good for waxing eloquent about the light between the leaves and the sweet curves of a ravine. The worst thing about all this is that I'm not even free to vent on the world wide web. We're all being monitored. I always thought that was paranoia earlier. I know better now.

In spite of all that has gone wrong, I know deep down that I'm responsible for most of it. And I do believe in guardian angels. They keep us afloat even when we make bad decisions, fail to listen to our hearts or see the big picture. Best of all, they remind us that change is always possible. I could remedy most of what has gone awry. But many questions remain. And I've begged the Universe for guidance.

District Lounge, The Shalimar Hotel, Mumbai


I just read through some of the reviews for this restaurant and I’m wondering how on earth did these people manage to eat so many dishes at District Lounge! Because the portions at this bar and restaurant are really, really generous. And if you’re only two people, you won’t be able to have anything more than one starter, mains and dessert with a couple of drinks each. Apart from the portion size, the taste, service and pricing of this restaurant are major USPs, despite being situated in the premium Shalimar Hotel, an iconic landmark of South Bombay.


The hotel is at Kemps Corner and a twenty minute cab ride away from CST station. Walk straight ahead from the reception and you see the ornate ochre and brown door with floral carvings. Inside, the bar looks small at first but then you see the extended seating space and the array of bar stools and you realise there’s much more to District Lounge than meets the eye. We wanted privacy and quiet, so sat at one of the tables closer to the entrance. Inside, there were some boisterous regulars who were gracious enough to apologise about the noise. We didn’t really mind though.


The waiters at District Lounge are humble and quick to meet your demands. We scanned through the menu, an exact replica of what’s available online. Like always, I already knew what I wanted. The papad paneer rolls had looked quite interesting in pictures so we went for that. Unfortunately, the cocktail I wanted (Sazerac) was missing a key ingredient (absinthe) so I went for my usual favourite, a sparkling wine spritzer. My friend had the long island iced tea, which turned out to be quite special. Later, we ordered good old paneer masala with roti and were quite stuffed by the end of it. But our server insisted we ought to try dessert and recommended the Dutch truffle. Who can go wrong with that, right? It was classic chocolate pastry elegance.


All in all, District Lounge is complete value for time and money. The service is quick, the drinks are competitively priced and your final bill should be around Rs 2500 for two with alcohol and Rs 1500 for only food. My only recommendation is to pay more attention to the lighting and music, to create that pub-like ambience. Now for those of you who are interested, here are the details.

Starter: Papad paneer roll (Rs. 375)

Four gigantic papad rolls came to us, each generously filled with chopped paneer and an extremely spicy masala. The dish was tasty, attractively presented and filling, but the chef could go easier on the chillies and masala. Having two of these was like a meal in itself!

Mains: Paneer tikka masala with roti (Rs. 415 + Rs. 95)


I loved the paneer tikka masala with its faintly sweet and creamy gravy and large chunks of paneer. The paneer was soft and fresh and we mopped up most of the gravy with the warm rotis. 

Dessert: Dutch truffle (from the next-door bakery)


There are no desserts on the District Lounge menu but there’s a bakery next door with an attractive array of the sweet stuff. The Dutch truffle is known for its perfection and we weren’t disappointed. It was the perfect end to a satisfying meal.

Cocktails

Aperol spritzer (Rs. 695)


A delicious concoction of sparkling wine, aperol (a kind of liqueur) and soda, this bright orange cocktail came wedged with a thick slice of orange. I loved its fizzy goodness but felt that it wasn’t very potent. I may have been wrong though, because the next drink had me really tipsy.

Long island iced tea (Rs. 445)


Every bar does its own version of this classic favourite but District Lounge really aced it. The seductive dark concoction of vodka, gin, white rum, tequila and triple sec was served in a beautiful tall and curvy glass and the drink felt super smooth on the tongue.
District Lounge - The Shalimar Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

You could also try their creative new-age cocktails while you’re there. The ‘hookah pots’ might be a good option for larger groups. Beer starts from Rs 165 and wines from Rs 295 per glass. There is a decent variety of mocktails as well on the menu. Food options aren’t too many but the non-vegetarians have slightly more to choose from. If you live in town, make District Lounge your Friday haunt. And if not, make the trip for a special occasion.