Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Masala Klub, Taj West End

This food blog has been getting quite a bit of attention over the last year. I've received a handful of review requests from restaurants, catering services, lounges, and websites over the past few months, but haven't been able to keep up due to my work schedule. However, a recent enquiry stood out. Taj West End requested for a review of the newest in their Masala Klub chain, the fourth such restaurant in the country and first in Bangalore. I've reviewed Taj's food a few times in the past for The Hindu, but was especially intrigued by this new theme.

The theme isn't entirely new, so to say, as others had attempted it quite unsuccessfully in the past - Serving up traditional Indian recipes with light, contemporary, healthy preparations while still retaining its authenticity. But why does this theme matter as much?

If I look back at the last five years, we've seen a multitude of restaurants cropping up all across this vibrant city as the urbane population has started to love to eat out. But more often than not, the stir fried dishes and oil sopping gravies leave you feeling like a stuffed turkey reaching for the nearest bottle of antacid! No, this isn't an easy task as our Indian cuisine thrives on the explosive mix of masalas and thick pastes in the gravies.

The Taj West End is off Race Course Road (see Google Map for directions). Located by a 120 year old tamarind tree on the heritage grounds, the Masala Klub is elegantly designed, with an open patio area near the pool, a decorated lounge area, an interactive teppanyaki style bar, and a barbecue section. We would recommend the patio for a lunch outing.

As you step into the restaurant from the patio, you see their large selection of wine. They serve over 50 varieties of French wine including several Grànd Crù and vintages, and there's sommelier Jean to help you with your pick. He recommended a nice, fruity white wine to start with and a light and slightly dry red wine to go with the meal.

Sous Chef Rishi and Executive Sous Chef Satya Narayan walked us through the concept and the day's menu and delighted us with a lovely spread. The preparations use olive oil and light gravies with freshly ground masalas.

When you decide to reinvent the world, why not start at the beginning? Now, this wouldn't be the traditional, spicy rasam, would it? It sure was - and it was as refreshing as the original, albeit lighter with an invigorating whiff of lemon grass. Welcome the globally appealing drink.

The next course consisted of a scrumptious spread of sea food and vegetarian options - Malabari soft shell crab, Bhatti ka jheenga (prawns cooked Tandoori style), Makai Motiya Seekh (Corn kernels and pimentos rolled in), Khumb Galouti (Mushrooms made in lamb kebab style), and Sarson ke Phool (broccoli in mustard marinade). While the broccoli seemed too soft from overcooking in the tandoor, each of the other items stood out for their distinct flavors. The mushroom kebab, made in classic Lucknowi tandoori lamb galouti style and served on wafer thin crisp potatoes complemented the soft mushroom well.

What made the lunch memorable was their signature Tamarind Sorbet, served in a genie lamp style dish (see pic) replete with dry ice fumes - a homage to the aging tree flanking the patio.

We loved the baingan saraf, a spiced up mushy aubergine served in a sliced eggplant. Not to forget, the savory, well tempered Achari Lobster, that is sure to appeal to all who like sea food.

A phulka counter nearby serves freshly rolled and puffed phulkas at your table.

The other exclamation point was the Chilgoza Falli (see pic), a combination of string beans and chilgoza (pine nut) tossed together in a light, tangy sauce. I tried looking up this innovative dish and found that it is offered by Ravi's Cumin, an Indian restaurant in Australia with even an identical menu description. If anyone knows the origin of the dish, please let me know.

Of the desserts we sampled, the Peak, a baked ice cream and gulab jamun combination stood out. Not only is it an innovative combination of Indian flavors and baking techniques, it tastes splendid and is quite filling too!

P.S: A special note of thanks to the Taj for their patience - this post has been delayed significantly first due to work commitments and later with technical issues with my food blog. I am still on the older blogger template and need to upgrade.

Cost: Rs. 1,500/-5,000/- for a couple
Cleanliness: Excellent
Quality: Excellent
Service: Excellent
Ambience: Good
Bottomline: Light, contemporary and healthy Indian food at its best. Great for corporate lunches and healthy conscious diners.

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