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/

 

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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

Seasonal Tastes, Westin – Pune

Who doesn’t love a good buffet? Buffets signify elaborate, generous and decadent food. While I always feel I can never do justice to a buffet because I cant eat that much, I always enjoy observing how they have set the buffet up and how well they have decorated it.  My favorite counter, without any doubt, has to be the dessert counter. There are always those few standard cakes that you know there will be. There will be a super indulgent chocolate cake, a fruit based cake, some cookies, ice cream and a few Indian sweets.  Its very rare that hotels change the menu of the buffet and sometimes its nice to know exactly what’s there to eat so you can plan beforehand your strategy!

 

The Westin, Pune is a very interesting building. The hotel seems to scream opulence but the décor inside the hotel is clean and modern. I wish I could say it is as impressive as the Taj or Oberoi in Bombay, but it is bigger and lacks in any real character of itself. It’s a grey building and tends to remind me of a commercial building rather than a luxury hotel. Perhaps it is aimed towards the business clientele and hence it is simple and basic in design. I do love the scultptures that they have in the hotel. My favorite is that of a man who seems to be playing some sport. Westin has 3 restaurants that I know of – Kangan, their Indian restaurant; Prego – their Italian restaurant and their 24 hour restaurant, Seasonal Tastes. Apart from these three restaurants, they also have their coffee shop and two bars.

 

Seasonal Tastes offers one of the most elaborate buffets in the city. They have an Asian counter where they will prepare stir fried as well as vegetables or meat in sauces for you. An Indian counter, a salad counter, dessert counter, cheese and nuts platter and my favorite, the Sushi bar! I love Sushi! But since I am a vegetarian, I should re-frame it as I love California Rolls. Westin prepares some delicious sushi and has wonderful accompaniments to it. Some beautifully pickled ginger, pungent wasabi, soy sauce and so on. I normally end up filling my tummy on the delicious California Rolls. I swear, my mouth is drooling as I type this out.

 

I have eaten the Indian food on a few occasions and the last time I had a veg Biryani. It was wonderful. Beautifully cooked with lovely spices and wasn’t dried out as rice sometimes gets in a buffet. The vegetables are always a little less spicy and ‘masaledaar’ than outside, but I am sure that is keeping in mind the tastes of the many foreign guests who stay at the hotel. The only time I actually have eaten the Asian food is when S was with me. S loves Asian food and I am not particularly fond of it. If I remember correctly, it was a little too oily for my liking but they were nice enough to accommodate S’s request for something off their standard menu. The desserts are quite good though I do feel J W Marriott has better desserts. I normally am not jumping towards the dessert counter.

 

I have had breakfast on one occasion and it was a GREAT spread! Wonderful breads, cereals, pastries. They had an egg station which made pancakes and waffles too!  Since this has been quite a while back, I don’t really remember what was on the menu. I remember having a wonderful morning and spending about 3 hours at the restaurant. I was happy with the overall quality of the food and the only complaint I had was that the breads were not very fresh. They seemed a little dried out to me. What I did appreciate was when I mentioned this to the server he promptly called the bakery chef and I could speak to him personally.

 

Westin has a great ambience, but lunch and dinner are always filled with loud, corporate groups. If you are looking for a relaxed, quiet meal, it’s better to try any one of their other restaurants. Seasonal Tastes is dependable and offers food that soothes the palate. For their variety and number of cuisines, it is definitely the number 1 buffet for me in Pune. I give the buffet at Seasonal Tastes a 3.5 out of 5. 

Trois Kitchen & Bar – Pune

We wanted to go to this new place which supposedly had wonderful food and excellent wine choices. I had read wonderful reviews about it and I was very excited to try some fine dining restaurant other than Olive Bistro.

 We went on a Thursday, mom, my husband and I, to look for this restaurant. Thank God for Google Maps! I don’t think I could have found this place very easily without it. Its right opposite the Big Bazaar in Kalyani Nagar, tucked away in the a corner. My first impression was, this can’t be right! It looks like someone’s home. But it turns out I was wrong. Trois seems to be a home that has been converted into a restaurant. The ground level has an open kitchen and the wine cellar. As you climb up the stairs, without railings or a support, you see a small dining area. We were keen to sit on the terrace and enjoy the wonderful Pune weather. The terrace has about 5 tables with a seating capacity of about 40-50 people. I am sure they can add more tables and seat a larger number of people if needed.

 The menu looked impressive. Not cheap by any standards, but looked exotic. We started off with French Onion Soup and a vegetable ratatouille.  We were happy to notice a beautiful warm bread basket was put in front of us. I love bread but its always disappointing when restaurants serve a cold bread basket. I understand most places are busy and maybe it costs just a little but it definitely leaves an impact on the customers’ minds. Anyway, back to Trois, they served a white bread, bread with sesame and an herb whole wheat bread alongwith some Lavash and bread sticks. The bread was wonderful. Gorgeously soft, smelled beautifully yeasty and with butter, it was wonderful! We ended up asking for another basket. The French Onion soup was glorious! Beautiful colors, onions caramelized well and just the right seasonings. The ratatouille with grilled vegetables was bursting with fresh vegetables and had all the right flavors! While some may think the portion sizes are small, they’re just right to enjoy the beauty of the flavors.

 For mains, we ordered a pasta in a pesto sauce and a vegetarian lasagna. Both the dishes had a generous amount of Parmesan cheese and were well presented. I loved that all the dishes tasted of fresh ingredients. Salads that came on the side had nice, crisp lettuce, all the mains tasted of vegetables cooked just right and the herbs and seasonings complimented the vegetables. Nothing was over powering but the meal was extremely satisfying. While the pasta definitely felt heavy on the stomach, the lasagna left you satisfied just right. You definitely didn’t feel hungry at the end of it.

 The experience at Trois is wonderful. The servers are attentive, well trained and well versed in fine dining etiquette. They are well aware of the menu and suggest good wine pairings as well. Sitting to the open sky, surrounded by lush greenery and looking onto the quiet lanes with a candle lit table sure makes up for a romantic dinner. It was also a wonderful place for us to talk to mom in peace and solitude. The tables aren’t placed too closely to each other so you feel some privacy. While a little bit on the expensive side, (Mains from Rs. 450 onwards) and the alcochol being slightly on the higher side (Sula wines from Rs. 300 onwards) the place does offer a very different ambience. My only complaint was, the wine glass was less filled than I normally have seen at other restaurants. It kind of upset me and made me undermine the management. Other than that, I cannot complain about the food or the service. We were too full to have dessert but I have heard their desserts are amazing! Trois is open all day.

 If you are looking for a different fine dining experience, Trois is the new ‘IT’ place! I give it 4 stars. 1 star less because of my unhappy wine experience! Happy dining!!

Restaurant Timings: 12 noon to midnight
Contact Information: +91-20-65220068