180 Degrees, McIver Resort, Conoor

The Colonial Era has always been something magical for me. It takes me back to that age in my life where I was curled up with classics like Little Women, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights along with historical romance novels. Such a  lovely time in your life where you don’t have a care in the world – the stress of studying, getting a good job or managing a family is non-existent. I would imagine being back in the Colonial/Victorian period, wondered what it would be like to be dressed in corsets and be a part of the ‘Debutante Balls’, eating all the food that was described: pies, hot chocolate, toast with honey along with tea! Luckily for me, I actually had the chance to visit a place that has been so wonderfully restored and maintained to give me just that feeling and let the wonderful memories from my books wash over me.

S, his family and I took a trip to the beautiful town of Wellington, India this Diwali. I had been to Ooty when I was very young and apparently had been to Wellington, but I had no recollection of the place. The Wellington Gymkahana Club is steeped in a different kind of history – a mix of British and Army culture. The food is typical club food with great eggs, sandwiches and South Indian food but does tend to get a little boring, especially if you plan on staying there for 5 days. The 2nd Day, we decided to walk down and explore what was close to us. Wellington is a little way away from the Conoor market and there really isn’t much in close proximity. After a short 20 minute walk, we came across McIver Resort.

What a view! It overlooks the valley and you can seen the colorful houses that cover the Nilgiri mountains. They have the most lovely, colorful flowers planted in the property and that definitely puts you in a sunny disposition. We entered through their dining area and I felt like we were transported back to some other era. The dining area is all wooden, with accents of French decor and has a lovely fireplace. The windows are long and give you an unobstructed view of the valley, the tables are wooden and the chairs are simple yet elegant. We were the only ones in the restaurant and were happy to take up a table that would give us the best view.

The menu has cuisine options of French, European, Thai, Lebanese, Indian and Italian. A very mixed menu usually makes me nervous because the food is always a mish mash of the different spices. Nevertheless, I was quite sure I would enjoy what they had to offer because I had heard such great reviews about the place. We began with a French Onion Soup. As someone who has started eating onions just about a year and a half ago, this was my first French Onion Soup. It was a thin broth, flavored with the sweet taste of Caramelized onions with croutons that were topped with eggs. I personally enjoyed the flavors because it wasn’t very heavy on the onions.

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Next we ordered some ‘bruschetta’ which was actually bread, with a layer of basil pesto and some lovely melted mozzarella cheese. The bread was delicious, freshly-baked, home bread!  In the cool air, the aroma of hot, fresh bread awakened by senses. The basil pesto piqued my interest – I don’t know if it was just my imagination, but I swear I could taste a hint of tea as an end note. The hot, melted mozzarella cheese was a little much in my opinion, but it was piping hot which made it better. The bread came after the soup and the lovely weather just made everything go together heavenly.

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For mains, we decided to get a simple Veggie pizza. This was the only disappointing part of our lunch. We ordered one with olives, and they were charging a good Rs. 75 more for just the olives, and the pizza came with only onions and tomatoes. We did talk to the server who said they would not charge us for the original pizza and just for a simple pizza, but it was a bit of damper. The pizza was a square shaped one, with the dough tasting nice and yeasty. The pizza was not overloaded with cheese, which is something we prefer. The tomato sauce was simple and tasted fresh. All in all, we really did enjoy that piping hot pizza while looking out at the beautiful valley and feeling the clouds enveloping us every once in a while. All I missed was a nice glass of a Cabernet Sauvignon.

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By this time we were both so full but when we heard that the dessert of the day was ‘Apple Pie’ there was no way we could say no. Their version of an apple pie was completely unlike any I have eaten before. The pastry tasted very buttery, a tad salty and I think they did use yeast in the pie pastry. The apple filling consisted of apple slices that were sprinkled with a little bit of cinnamon and they had some absolutely plain, unflavored cream on the side. I personally feel the cream could have been sweetened a little bit, but after such a heavy meal, I was  happy to avoid it completely.

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McIvers Resort has some beautiful, restored rooms that really make you feel like a part of history. There are old style fireplaces, beds with canopies, old style tables, corridors that are decorated with French-style painted plates and fresh, clean air that really takes you back in time. I loved the place and would love to stay here for a night or two whenever I go back to Conoor.

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More information can be found about McIvers Resort here.

After all that delicious food, we needed to stretch our legs and walked around the property. Here are some pictures of the resort.

The French-Style plates

The French-Style plates

The View from the Dining Room.

The View from the Dining Room.

Fireplace

Fireplace

An outside view

An outside view

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The view of Connoor from outside

The view of Connoor from outside

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And we had to walk through the clouds to go back! A perfect ending!

And we had to walk through the clouds to go back! A perfect ending!

Next up, I’ll be posting about where we stayed – Wellington Gymkhana.

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Malaka Spice, Koregaon Park – Pune

You know the saying, “Opposites attract”? I never believed it and could not understand how two people who are completely different could live together. That was all until I met S. If you know one of us, it is so very easy to know the other one without ever meeting them. You just have to remember that if I like something, S won’t and vice versa. Let me try to explain this better with an example.

I never enjoyed Asian food. I don’t think I would even go out with my friends if they decided to go for Chinese food. The only time I remember joining them was when I was 16 and had just entered Junior College or High School. A friend’s older sister kept raving about this teeny place in one of the lanes of Koregaon Park called Malaka Spice. The restaurant served South Asian food, which was not such a popular concept a few years ago, that made it a ‘must-try’ place. Koregaon Park was the most happening place to be and we decided to go and try this restaurant out. None of us really knew that much about Vietnamese food or Thai Food of Malay food at that time.  We ended up ordering a bunch of things that did not really go well together and hated it! For the longest time I kept thinking that the restaurant served bad food, not once thinking that maybe we did not know what to order. I didn’t go to Malaka Spice for almost 6 years! Then I met S……..

S loves Asian food! He can polish off anything remotely Asian, sometimes even after eating dinner. His mom once told me that she would hide the bottle of soy sauce because he would love to pour it on everything. Back to 2 years ago, S was coming to Pune and I knew that I had to find a good Asian food restaurant otherwise he would think that the only restaurant I knew in Pune was Dario’s! After doing a lot of research online and talking to a bunch of people, I was convinced that the food at Malaka Spice was good and it was just us who couldn’t pair the food correctly.

We went to the new Malaka Spice, which had opened in place of a very popular nightclub ‘Lush’, in Lane 3. The atmosphere was wonderful! Lots of red paper lanterns, wrought iron furniture, very green and oh-so-cool. They do have an indoor seating as well but I have always enjoyed outdoor more. We took a table in a quiet spot and I decided to let S order. This time around, the food went together perfectly. I enjoyed all the flavors and I decided to bring it back from the “Never-go-again” list to the “Go-To” list for Asian food.
We went back many times again but we went last with my mom when we were in Pune. By now, we each have our favorites. We always start with the Vegetable DimSums, follow it with Pad Thai or any flat noodles, order some curry – either Red Curry or Penang Curry with herbed rice to end a super satisfactory meal. I have never had any space for dessert after eating all the yummy food and honestly, have never missed it.

The food tastes fresh, flavorful and is always served on time. The servers are well-trained and know how to pair food with alcohol. The vibe at the restaurant is very relaxed and it makes for a great place to meet with a large group of friends and enjoy a few drinks together. There is plenty of seating and the restaurant gets noisy only if you go for dinners over the weekends. I have had some hiccups here- once the rice was not cooked through and once they served us very foamy draught beers but both times, they made up for their mistakes. They could be more gracious and accepting of their mistakes but they have never been overly rude and have corrected the mistake without much arguing.

To sum it all up, this is a great place to try some authentic and very delicious South Asian food in Pune. I keep going back here and when I am in Pune, the first place I have to take my mom is here! For a wonderful ambience combined with good food, I give Malaka Spice a 4 on 5!

Restaurant Timings: 11:30 AM to 11:30 PM

Restaurant Contact: +91 8956938147

Website: http://www.malakaspice.com/

 

Dario’s, Koregaon Park, Pune

I don’t know how many people have heard of the webpage, GourmetItUp. I found it on Facebook and decided to try the offer they had going for Dario’s. Since it was my last day in Pune, I wanted a place somewhat closer to the airport and a place whose food I enjoyed.  Dario’s has been my favorite Italian restaurant for a while now since I love the fact that all the ingredients taste very fresh unlike another popular Italian chain whose food quality, in my opinion, has deteriorated. The atmosphere is absolutely fantastic and you feel like you have come away from the city. This restaurant is situated right next to the Osho Ashram and the outdoor section is green and very calming. There are always a lot of foreigners at this café and it is one of the few places where you can sit alone on a table and enjoy your coffee whilst reading a book.

Gorgeous Trees surrounding the restaurant.

I booked my table for Dario’s online and immediately got a confirmation email, the SMS followed in a few hours. I wanted to make sure I would get a table on the exact date, hence booked almost a week in advance. The whole process went by very smoothly and even when I had to change the reservation’s timing, it was no hitch. We reached Dario’s at about 2:30 PM and were looking for a table outside so we could enjoy the beautiful winter afternoon. The restaurant was reasonably crowded, with most of the outdoor section full. We managed to get a table under the big purple umbrella and settled in.  At Dario’s they have a separate menu that you choose from for GourmetItUP customers. You have the choice of choosing from a four course menu (Found Here) which is quite filling for two people. I love this idea of a tasting menu! I’ve been to Dario’s at least once every 6 weeks but I am a complete creature of habit. I always order the same thing over and over again (the Tobasco pizza and the ravioli in a 4 cheese sauce, with Nachos to start with) that I have never bothered looking at the menu. In this case, I had to try something totally different and I loved it! I was pushed to make a different choice.

We decided to start with the ‘Polpette di Lenticchie (lentil balls served with a spicy tomato garlic sauce) instead of a soup. These were so delicious! They were deep-fried and it has been a while since either one of us has had anything deep-fried and we completely relished them.  These had a couple of herbs packing some good flavor into them, I know I could taste some beautiful thyme and the dipping sauce added just the right amount of spice to them. As much as my brain kept telling me to stop after one, I just could not and ended up having 3! They were worth every bite.

Dario's lentil balls served with a spicy tomato garlic sauce

Dario’s lentil balls served with a spicy tomato garlic sauce

Next up was the salad. We chose the Insalata Sant’ Agata , a fresh garden salad with roasted tomatoes, rocket leaves with a lovely light dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and mixed herbs. It was light on the palate and the stomach. The salad was very fresh and the leaves still had a little crunch. That for me is the mark of fresh vegetables. I think Dario’s serves some of the freshest food and that was evident in this salad.

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For mains, we ordered the ravioli, which was stuffed with peas and cheese, in a pink sauce with smashed peas, rosemary and chickpeas. I wasn’t really sure about this when we ordered it but all my doubts were put to rest once this came on the table. The ravioli was tender with just the tiny hint of a bite. The stuffing was lightly seasoned and had a smooth texture with the ricotta giving it just a tiny hint of richness, which went just perfect with that rich, creamy herb sauce. I’m quite sure the rosemary used was dried which gave the tiniest hit of a crunch. Now, I’m not the biggest pea fan so while I did have a few bites of the sauce with the peas, I avoided them largely. The sauce is very heavy and creamy and you do feel quite full in a few bites. Nevertheless it is quite delicious and you know you are over eating but it is just difficult to stop! I’m not very proud to admit this but, I loved soaking all of that creamy, herbed sauce up with a piece of their fresh bread and eating it. So good!

homemade pasta parcels stuffed with spinach and cheese, served with tomatoes, smashed peas and chickpeas, rosemary and cream

homemade pasta parcels stuffed with spinach and cheese, served with tomatoes, smashed peas and chickpeas, rosemary and cream

Speaking of the bread, they normally provide a complimentary bread basket to every table but for some reason you always need to ask for it! They have about 2-3 pieces of bread in the basket, depending on your table size, and I’ve always loved their herb bread (rosemary, I think). This time when we asked for the basket, he gave us a stale one for some reason but when we brought it to their notice, they replaced it with a much fresher one. The fresh breads are divine! Just give me some butter and I’ll be a happy bunny.

No meal  is complete without dessert and when you’re in an Italian restaurant, you have to order Tiramisu. I personally think Dario’s has some of the best Tiramisu in town. The cake is soaked with delicious coffee and is super moist. The mascarpone layer is rich, yet somehow airy. The sprinkling of cocoa on top helps cut the extra sweet and gives a little explosion of flavor in each bite. Sooo good! I really haven’t found a better tiramisu in Pune.

Tiramisu

Service. The only thing that’s a pain at Dario’s. For some reason the service is rather slow even though they have so many attendants running around. I’ve always found the managers more pleasant than them. It is a challenge to get anyone’s attention and I honestly don’t know why. I always prepare myself mentally to avoid getting annoyed because when I do get annoyed I can’t completely enjoy the delicious meal in front of me.

I enjoyed trying the Gourmet It Up experience because it allowed to try something other than what I normally order. There was no hitch with the bill, no hidden costs and it was plain and simple. I will definitely be going to Dario’s again and will also be trying other restaurants in the Gourmet It Up list.

Dario’s get a 3.7 out of 5 from me for the food and their service. And of course, for the yummiest Tiramisu in town!

Jimmy Hu, Koregaon Park – Pune

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I was back in Pune for a break and was happily enjoying my mani-pedi at the newly opened b:blunt in Koregaon Park. We got done around 5 pm and were wondering where we could go for a quick bite. I don’t think many people will know about this amazing, but super tiny, pizza place called Pizza Hot. It is completely negligible since he barely advertises it and a plant hides it now. They have 4 tables and can seat maximum 10 people in that space but they have some excellent pizzas! My first visit there was about 12 years ago when someone told my dad about it. At that time, there was only one Little Italy, the original one, which was in Hotel Srimaan. Little Italy too had maybe 20 odd tables. For a change, we decided to try Pizza Hot for their thin crust pizzas. We relished it completely! After that, we have gone back many times and have always been met with that smiling face offering the same, consistent quality of pizza. If you don’t mind taking home a pizza and waiting for 30 minutes for it, I highly recommend Pizza Hot!

 

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Coming back to how I found Jimmy HU, since it was 5 pm Pizza Hot wasn’t open (they open at 5:30 pm). We didn’t want to go too far and we remembered that a new place had opened where the old Yellow Chilli by Sanjeev Kapoor was. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to go and try it. At first glance, I loved that the entrance has two Vespa-like scooters parked in front. We entered and since we still had a few minutes of sunlight, we went ahead and took a table outside. We were probably 2 people of the 5 there at that time. The staff seemed busy organizing the place for the upcoming Christmas festivities. It’s a wonderful atmosphere outdoors with the all wood, red and turquoise décor. I enjoyed sitting on the high bar chairs which were surprisingly very comfortable. There are cute little knick-knacks around the place and on the tables too. The napkin holder is in the shape of a little pail and it definitely adds a burst of color to the place.  They have a Happy Hour everyday from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM where they have some really good deals. The menu is small and does not have a lot of options. Jimmy Hu is more a pub than a restaurant and I am glad they have designed their menu in keeping with the concept. We went ahead and ordered the Barbeque Mushrooms and the Chilli Potato. They classify these as ‘Food on Sticks’. It seemed perfect for us since we weren’t really that hungry.

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It must have been surprising for the staff that we didn’t order any drinks since that is exactly the atmosphere of the place. Our server brought over some cocktails that sounded very interesting. We tried a few sips from both of them but I personally found them very sweet. But then again, I prefer beer over any drink so maybe other girls may actually enjoy these. While we were waiting for our food I wandered indoors and loved the quirkiness I saw! One entire wall is covered with doorframes! Now I love old structures and these fascinated me! They had all different kinds of wooden door frames, some that will remind you of the ones you saw at your grandparents’ house, latches, old locks and windows! I just wish there was better lighting so I could’ve taken a better picture. But it is a wonderful sight especially if you are as silly as I am. They have a good-sized bar indoors and a couple of booths which make for a very cozy atmosphere. I also adored the bright pink barrels and the little cupboard. Very eclectic and definitely makes a statement. They do have a projector and a screen and I bet the place would be very lively at the time of matches.

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After taking some not so great pictures in the very dimly lit room, I went back outside to join Amy. The food arrived just as I was settling in. The presentation was simple and clean. The mushrooms came on skewers served in glass over some salad of onions and herbs. They don’t serve plates with these, which makes them perfect pub food. They’re quite easy to eat although it isn’t very elegant. The mushrooms were cooked beautifully. They were still firm and the sauce stuck to them well. There was a hint of smokiness and the flavors all came together very well. The chilli potatoes were a disappointment. They were not marinated at all so once you bit into them they were completely bland. They were under seasoned and we had to send them back. They did add some more salt and reheated them but they were nowhere up to the mark.

 

I have mixed opinions about the food since I loved the mushrooms but found the potatoes to be quite dissatisfactory. The service was good when we were there but then again there were only 2 tables that were occupied. They were polite and courteous and a few of them knew the food well. This is one of the two places I have gone to where the hostess explains the Happy Hour offers to you without you having to ask for it. I think that’s a great step. The menu is small but perfect for a pub and is quite well-priced.

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All in all, Jimmy Hu looks like a great place to hang out with friends over a few drinks. I’m still undecided about the food but I would definitely go back here. For its quirkiness, relaxed atmosphere and delicious mushrooms, I give Jimmy Hu a 3 out of 5!

Restaurant Contact: 02030570433

Restaurant Timings: 5:30 PM – 11:30 PM

Mandap, Express Hotel – Baroda

Thalis. The name itself scares me because of the sheer amount of food that is put in front of you! I am also a little scarred by the experience that I’ve had where you have 15 servers hovering around you trying to dump things in your plate. It’s a little scary for a little to sit with a giant plate, 10 bowls and 15 people trying to fill up your plate as though it was the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest plate serving! It also didn’t help that we would eat Gujarati food everyday at home and a thali place did not provide us with any novelty. I think I must have been to 2 thali places and that scarred me enough to never go back.

 

Coming to present day, we had a friend visiting Baroda and we were wondering where we could go for a nice lunch. He wanted to eat some Gujarati food and the only place that S knew of serving good Gujarati food was Mandap in Express Hotel.  I put aside my fears of a thali restaurant and we went ahead. Express Hotel was one of the first hotels that were set up in Baroda. They were the first ones to introduce éclairs and croissants in the city through their bakery. S also tells me that he’s been going to their restaurants since he was a kid and he has seen the servers age while they have seen him grow! I find that story absolutely adorable. Its kind of like the story I have in a Pune restaurant called Vaishali that we used to frequent so much that a lot of the servers knew our orders! Always good to be where people recognize you..

 

The restaurant has a lot of wood. They have old wooden jharokhas or windows decorating the walls, cloth tied up above tables to give you the feeling that you are in a tent, ‘sankheda’ chairs and wooden tables. I loved the thalis! Unlike a lot of other places that serve stainless steel thalis, their plates are made of ‘kaansa’ or bell metal. They are a light golden-ish color and you have the same kind of bowls and spoons. A refreshing change.  At the center of the tables, there is a dish with all kinds of condiments to help enhance the flavor of your meals. So colorful and beautiful! There was the standard mixed pickle, some fried chillies, fried capsicum, lemon wedges, imli chutney and green chutney. The colors were gorgeous and it all looked very inviting.

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As soon you enter and sit down, you are served plain chhaas and a mocktail. The mocktail, on the day we went, was ‘Blue Lagoon’. I typically don’t like it so did not bother to try it either. The chhaas was nice. Plain, with salt, and thin, like a gujarati chhaas. Very refreshing. As it is with all thali places, hoards of servers come asking you 50 questions to a minute, holding out all kinds of food! We were starting off with the quintessential Gujarati farsan, patra and samosas. The patras were ok, a little too firm and thick but the samosas were yummy! Simple potato filling, nothing fancy, just well fried and well-seasoned.

 

The person handing out vegetables followed the farsan. We had four vegetables- Punjabi Chhole, drumsticks in besan gravy, potato and peas vegetable and ladyfingers! It might seem strange to have chhole on a gujarati thali, but I really like the idea because I do not always enjoy all the Gujarati vegetables. This makes it possible to eat something that can be quite tasty. The chhole was good- nothing extraordinary but nothing to complain about either. The aloo-mutter subzi had a nice balance of spices and had a little bit of clear gravy. Normally this vegetable is very oily wherever I have had it before but this time, it wasn’t that bad. I actually appreciated the fact that most of things were lower in oil, comparatively. I love bhindi and was so glad to see some on my plate! Well cooked, and a little spicy but tasted good when eaten with the roti. My favorite was the drumstick vegetable! It is a ploy to put drumsticks on your plate because I don’t know of anyone who would be able to eat the drumsticks in a dignified manner outside. In any case, I love the besan gravy – spicy, tangy, sweetish and rich. I am a huge fan of anything made from besan so maybe my opinion is biased, but I still think it was very well made.

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Next came the person with the dals! If you’re in Gujarat, and eating a Gujarati thali, you have to have kadhi! Mandap offers your four choices of dals and kadhi and you can choose 2. Since we are Gujaratis and have the same flavored dal and kadhi at home every time, I went ahead and asked for the ‘Punjabi’ dal and kadhi. I put Punjabi in inverted commas because it is not really a Punjabi kadhi! I think its just kadhi and dal that has a little less sugar or jaggery, and has some more garam masala. I enjoyed it a lot more than the Gujarati kadhi or dal. I do think the Gujarati kadhi must have been really good because a friend relished a couple of cups! He said that it was the perfect impression he had of Gujarati kadhi – sweet and tangy.

 

After we were served the vegetables and our dals and kadhis, we were served rotis and theplas. The theplas are the cutest I have ever seen! They’re small, almost like mini puris, and thick! They were really tasty and I have never had anything like them. They had ghee rotis but when we asked for plain, they were happy to oblige.

 

Now my favorite part – the desserts! We had so many choices, I felt utterly lost. There some gajar ka halwa, gulab jamun, fruits in a custard sauce and ras malai. I decided to stick to the gajar ka halwa and the gulab jamun. The gulab jamun was not good. The syrup was fine, but the gulab jamun itself was very dense and heavy and was quite thick in the center. They were very passable. The gajar ka halwa on the other hand, was very good -Not very sweet, just right and rich. It didn’t have too many dry fruits, was pure and simple. I loved the consistency and sweetness in it and enjoyed it more because it was warm. The perfect winter dish!

 

The service at Mandap is better, it’s a slightly more fine dining place. The waiters are courteous and don’t look hurried. They will not give you 5 seconds to choose and then move on. They do a better job of pouring things in the correct bowls and don’t make it look like a mess, like other thali places. I have been told this is not the best thali experience you can get and there are others that are better, but I was extremely satisfied with this experience and the food.

 

For making me enjoy going to a thali restaurant, I give Mandap a 3.5 on 5!

Restaurant Timings: 12:00 pm-3 pm and 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm

Restaurant Contact: 0265-3055000