Not another Review!!

Not another review! What makes this different? Well, for starters, the person(s) reviewing stuff here are people who grew up in a world thats far removed from "the Reviews on Gruyere cheese and Asparagus..." In other words,
1. We love Amul butter - the salted yummy thing better than all the 'sophisticated' imported butter in the world!
2. We love the gooey, drippy sweetness of Indian sweets
3. We have, at some point in our lives, ate spoonfulls of Milkmaid conensed milk - right out of the can
4. We understand food and wine pairing (Courtesy the persistent lecturers in Hotel mgmt college), but would rather have chilled beer or the exotic looking potent cocktail with our spicy chicken tikkas or fish fries
5. Prefer to use words like 'delicate' for silks and 'sharp' for tools... NOT food!
6 Are dying find product which make lives easier for working mothers, wives, girlfriends or considerate (also read that as hen pecked) husbands and boyfriends!

So go on... pour your heart out about stuff you liked or hated!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Fern Hotel Ahmedabad - Review

Ahmadabad and I go back a long way. 36 years back, infact. Gujarati, it seems were the first words I spoke, when I would scamper off to the neighbours, who had a fridge, to ask for ice cubes. And every time my mother would talk about Ahmadabad, her face would light up - an indication of her love of the city that she walked into as a brand new bride. Unfortunately, we relocated from Ahmadabad much before the city could shape any bit of my personality.

However, I visited Ahmadabad recently, and the minute I stepped out of the flight (a harrowing experience that demands a COMPLETE post in itself!) I walked into the airport with a sense of belonging.

I stayed at a property called The Fern Ahmadabad and it was a surprise - the kind of surprise that makes you feel warm all over and smile peacefully even months after the experience. Now, I am a trainer by profession, and most of the time we find organizations in big metro cities and established brand names spending through their noses to get the behaviors of customer service personnel right.

I was intrigued by this hotel. I shall explain why, a little later.

First the tangibles:
The Fern is a chain of ecotels (10 and counting) - Ecotels being the term almost synonymous with responsible and eco friendly luxury hotels. So if you are the type who likes to reduce carbon footprints - this your chance!

1. Location : The good thing is that it is near the city, and any business venue you might have is merely 10 minutes away. However, be prepared for a 30 minute drive from the airport (on a clear road. However, in traffic it might take more), as it is around 18 km away. And after that harrowing flight experience we were talking about, the long drive was a true dampener.

2. Airport pickup and drop facility : As a part of the package, the airport pickup was a complimentary service. Here comes the signs of what lies ahead (what we like to call moments of truth) : the cab driver who came to pick us up was extremely pleasant, sans the 5 star arrogance (in spite of a 2 hour wait due to flight delay). Quiet but observant - and this was a regular feature across the service staff of the hotel. (Gosh! I have started gushing, haven't I?)

3. Check in : As I so like to remind people, I am a product of the hotel industry - one that unabashedly proclaims using extreme friction to polish its novices. This kind of polishing creates service personnel who breathe and dream courtesy. I was reminded again, how these young boys, had they been in any other industry, would be partying with friends on a Friday night.  But here they were, at 11 pm, smiling and patient, ready to understand our foul mood while checking in. Eyebrow raising efficiency, and a warm demeanour, an I was floored. They quickly checked me in - which requires tremendous skill, as you have to do away with many a formality. The bell staff were no less, firmly standing his ground to explain the gizmos in the room, even though it was quite apparent we wanted him out so that we could crash. Oh - and before I forget, the ride in the capsule lift just adds to the already heightened expectations from the room!

4. Room : Sigh!!! Had I known it would be this way, I most certainly would have taken an earlier flight into the city - if only to push buttons into the master-switch to see the curtains being drawn and the lighting being dimmed to suit the 'mood'. No matter how much you may argue that all premium hotels are now creating new levels of luxury, nothing quite prepares you for the washroom. I usually pick up the economy rooms in all hotels, and I did not, by any means, expect the size and the facilities in the washroom. A shower cubicle and a large, round, Jacuzzi-like bath tub. The softest towels, and well arranged toiletries. And not to forget the wonderful lounge chair with an ottoman - I have just added that chair to my wish list of a dream home! The bed and pillows comfortable as expected, but the plus here is the 'pillow menu' - where you can get a specific kind of pillow. Shall talk about this in length at a later post.

the sigh-worthy room!

5. View: Once you have had enough of the push-button-curtain-controls, you can take a look outside of the huge window - and see a wonderful view of the city. Bonus is the railway track far away, where watching a train pass by was an experience I had long forgotten.

6. Breakfast : Usually, business hotels like to spruce up breakfast experiences, as this is a very important deciding factor when booking rooms. No disappointment here - every type of breakfast dish usually found in 5 star hotels. The difference? Bingo - the service. Not a single grouchy service staff. Not even at 7 in the morning! From the elderly-looking maitre'd to the young hostess, they all seemed genuinely glad to see me. As my companion murmured "Wonder who trains THEM?" - As much as that was a blow to my ego, they certainly did seem to have some motivating factor amidst them.

VERDICT : Ahmadabad was a pleasure - from the Law Garden shopping to the Induben Khakhrawala namkeens. But the spot that bags the first place in the list of 'loved-its' in Ahmedabad was The Fern.

Pricing : Published tariff for room is Rs. 8000 for the basic category on a Bed and Breakfast for a double room. But corporate rates vary from company to company, and my company being a regular user, we got it at a lower price. This was during December, which is supposed to be peak season, so it might get lower during lean period. 

Go right ahead and see the pictures here - I haven't added any of my own pictures, because for a change, the rooms look EXACTLY as good (if not better) than in the website!!  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ramgarh - the lesser known cousin

The moment my husband walked in and declared "We are going to Ramgarh for the holidays," I reeled in horror. The first image that cropped into my mind was Gabbar Singh of Sholay and his army boots! A little more research with our good friend Google (yeah, what else??) revealed that Ramgarh is quite a hidden treasure.

Where : In Uttarakhand, (the same state where half of scenic-spot-starved Delhi throngs to each weekend to visit more famous spots like Nainital, Mallital etc.) a road forks away from the main highway to Nainital. The altitude is over 7000 ft, which makes it higher than Nainital. So, in the summer months, it is a few degrees cooler than the bustling Nainital city. In fact, it is a good base for all places to visit from Nainital as well. Hotels are fewer, but cheaper, and probably newer.

What : It is a hill station, with all the goodies associated with one. Fruit orchards, clear, crisp mountain air and tasty food. Ideal combination for a short trip from Delhi. The advantage Ramgarh has is that it is still comparatively less commercialized. Which means it doesn't feel all 'touristy' and retains some of the natural charm that these resorts were once known for.

Where we stayed : We stayed at resort called Himalayan Heights (which also has branches in Mussorie and other hill stations) which was kind of by chance. It proved to be a good gamble. Sensible rates, good food, loads of entertainment, an enthusiastic Manager who lives in the premises - all the makings of an excellent holiday.

A common sit-out for 2 rooms

the flower corner

one of the many flowers

a spread out property, with stairs like this leading to room clusters

Tea time in our room - a view of the hills and the fruit orchards

Fruit baskets had home grown fruits too

the view from room

one of the flower beds in front of the room

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Amici Khan Market

My visits to Khan Market always sees me having a new adventure in food! And this time was no different. A colleague of mine insisted I was missing something if  I did not go with her to this 'cute' place for lunch. As if I needed much prodding for an Italian lunch....

Now, this colleague knows about my passion for food, and given her loyalties with Amici, she began on a defensive mode. She was of the opinion that anyone who likes creamy, saucy, cheesy Italian stuff will not like the 'authentic' stuff they served at Amici's. Well, I certainly like the sinful variety of pastas and pizzas, but was looking forward to the other renditions as well.

The ambiance first - as is with almost all outlets in Khan Market, one doesn't get to know the size or decor from the outside. In fact, I most certainly would have missed the entrance - it was from one of the back lanes, and the only proof of existence of the cafe was a narrow door with a guard standing outside. One had to climb a set of stairs to reach the outlet, It is spread over two floors; the first floor has traditional cafe style seating, with the patisserie and drinks section glaring at you when you step in. Good strategy!

But the exciting bit was the second floor. There is this glass enclosed baking section, which looks straight out of a fairytale - the white walls, the red brick kiln, and the long bakers' peel and white dusting flour all over the white counter. Also interesting in the second floor is the outdoor seating space. Of course, the outdoor space is comfortable only during mild winters.

The service left us with mixed feelings. The manager - a young gentleman by the name of Xavier, was pleasant and efficient. I don't know if it is a common factor, or if we were just plain unlucky with our server. The gentleman who served us was a tad strange when we asked him for his suggestions. His repetitive answer was "Everything is good here." When we asked him again if the pizzas were more popular or the pastas, I swear I saw the 'which-planet-are-you-from' look. But he stuck to his ground and said "Both sell well HERE."

Finally, we settled on a vegetarian Lebanese pizza, which seemed to have interesting ingredients. Aubergines, feta cheese in addition to the usual pizza ingredients. We also wanted a pasta dish with pesto sauce. (I now seem to have a thing for pesto thanks to a hotelier friend who is obsessed with pesto sauce!!) Interesting dude server asks "Penne, spaghetti, macaroni?" And though we knew the answer we would get, we asked him his suggestion anyway. He did not let us down... "They are all good." So we decided on spaghetti with pesto sauce.

The food : well, we were famished at the end of the server escapade. And we were told that pizzas take a little longer to arrive. But we were pleasantly surprised. The drinks came almost instantly, and the pizza and pasta were on our table before any significant wait. The pizza was exactly what one would expect of an Italian cafe to churn out - thin crust, coarse tomato sauce (not the ketchup version) and very little cheese. The topping, in our case was mashed aubergines, and feta cheese. The pizza had come together pretty well. The pasta was exceptional - in texture and taste. If you order cheese garlic bread, don't expect the pizza hut variety here. What you get is a split baguette with a generous cheesy layer.

A special mention here for the chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. We were tempted to order one, and between the three of us, we polished it off. The chocolate sauce was not too sweet, and the brownie was soft in the center, crunchy at the top - ideal!

When the food arrived, we were a little disappointed with the portion size. (Given that places like Big Chills kills you with the portion sizes!). But once we started eating, we discovered the portion sized were just right. You had eaten enough to fill you up, but were not writhing in agony after over eating - absolutely perfect for business lunches.

A meal for three cost us around Rs.2000 without beverages. Definitely recommended for people who prefer the healthier version of their Italian favorites, and for people who cannot afford to doze off in the middle of a post lunch meeting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Basil Ikon Bangalore

I love Bangalore.... or Bangaluru - if you want to be politically correct. Not because of the pubs, the cosmopolitan feel or the famed MG road (ofcourse, that is a contributing factor), but because it is a city that fills me with exhilerating thoughts about my time spent there. We had very limited finances (unlike the young 20 somethings of today!) but had imagination and friends, to make the best of everything.
Stayed in a hotel called Basil Ikon in Indiranagar. It was not a hotel I had heard of before, and I was contemplating maybe moving to another place the next day if this one was not all that great. Discovered I didn't have to.

It was easy to locate this place- its gate is right on the main road (even though the hotel is practically invisible from the road, and you can only see the signage of the hotel from outside). The reception was sleek, no nonsense, and very basic. The staff are quick, no nonsense and courteous - exactly what you would expect in a business hotel.

I stayed in a room which was large, clean and comfortable. The room lived up to the image of the contemperary business hotel. Room service is prompt. In short, the hotel was true value for money in that location. It is located on 100 ft road, which has numerous offices, retail outlets and happening restaurants within 5 minute walk. Which is a good thing (especially the restaurants), because food is a department this hotel can really improve upon.
Tried a cutlet in the evening through the room service. While the food was served hot and presented well, it tasted like thermocol. The performance repeated itself for dinner, with a classic - Fish and chips (incidentally, this was suggested to me by the order taker himself.). Breakfast too, was a let down in terms of the variety of what is available in most other business hotels. Another area that was below average was the single restaurant that existed in the lobby level of the hotel. This looked like a rectangular room hurriedly filled with non descript chairs and tables to make a restaurant cum coffee shop. What did look good during breakfast was the table service of your choice of south indian breakfast items, fresh fruit juice (in my case, grape) or eggs made to order.
Overall experience was definitely good, and I wouldn't mind repeating a stay at the Basil Ikon.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Saucy? Maybe...

Tomato ketchup and I go a long way back. From the time I would put it into my maggi noodles as a kid, and then beefing up the volume of a paltry half portion soup as a college student to now a working mom who has to make food look like an adventure park for the kids to dig in!

As Hotel management students, we knew a few tricks ..... if you are 2 people and want value for money, order for a soup "One by two" - only make sure you sound as confidant and preoccupied as possible, so that the server thinks you just want to get done with the soup to dig into the main course. And this is done in even good restaurants. If 3 people, go for a "two by three" .. and so on and so forth..that works as well.

Now the trick is that no self respecting eatery would send in a soup bowl with very little soup, and risk the danger of the soup turning cold before you sip it (as ideally, a soup should burn your tongue if you are not careful - weird Frenchmen!!).

So two of you end up getting a decent portion size for the price of one! And if you are as enterprising as future hoteliers are, you end up using soy sauce and tomato ketchup to double the volume....

More on that when I have a little more vodka in the bloodstream.....

But now, I have been tempted to write in about this new (well new for me!!) bomb in the guise of a condiment. Its called TWANGY and is a product of Del Monte (no...not Fullmonty, you idiot!)

The pros:
  1. Comes in a nice , convenient, non messy plastic container with a flip on lid (a life saving quality if you have 3 year olds who like to break stuff!)
  2. Has the sweet tomato ketchup taste... yes, it is a little sweeter than your average tomato ketchup, but that's because it has pineapple (yup, you read that right - pineapple) paste and pieces.
  3. The best thing is the subtle flavor of bell peppers - along with little pieces of it in the sauce. Tastes like a relish, but the consistency is thinner.
  4. Guaranteed hit with kids!!
  5. Gels well with Indian foods - I've tried it with Samosas, kachories, even Vadas. Can be used as a dip with salad batons, or wafers... tried it all.
1. If you don't like sweet sauces, you may not like it
2. Gets over in a jiffy... so be prepared to refill sauce bowls

Facts :
  • A 520 gm pack of Twango comes for Rs.75/-.
  • Another flavor (not tried yet) called Zingo (chilli garlic may be a better choice for people who like it hot!)