Monkey Bar – Bangalore, India

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In a cool, ramshackle district in the southern Indian city of Bangalore there’s an unassuming bar called Monkey. And if you weren’t a local you would almost certainly walk past the corner where its situated as the tuk tuks and buses fight for space.

Monkey has won interior design praise with its urban décor, retro cool decorations featuring old school vespas and star wars prints. Founded by the famous Indian chef – Manu Chandra of Olive fame, one could be in New York city or Leeds…but there is something else, an Indian twist to everything.

As very loud and very great tunes from the DJ upstairs blasted out we kicked off with a selection of house cocktails and special mention has to go to Mangaa, and Copper Monkey – vodka and whiskey based, infused with local flavours and spice. The food is a curious mix of western, Indian and Chinese along with straight bat wings, nachos, ribs etc. What was interesting was a whole section of offal – heart, brain, liver all delivered with taste attitude.

It’s a kind of Indian tapas style experience – very social with lots of small plated being shared – my favourites included:

Butterfly Chicken ‘Gangnam Style 😉Zesty shredded chicken sautéed with lime, basil, chili, black beans and green onions stuffed inside crisp butterfly shells

 Chilli BrainBrain cutlet with green chilli and fenugreek

Pickled BeefSpicy beef pickle with ker, sangri and curry leaves in gingery oil; served with hot pav and onion

Monkey is officially a gastro pub in Bangalore but for me it had none of the preachyness we can get in gastro pubs in the UK –  this was definitely a vibrant, unpretentious and essential place to come, eat and drink.

Prashad

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I love meat.

I really do.

Roasted, fried, baked, poached, grilled and especially barbecued.

It all works for me and all you have to do is follow me on Twitter or take a look back through some recent posts on here to realise that meat is my food master, for sure.

So when someone mentions to me ‘vegetarian restaurant’, I go cold. I start to worry. I think I’m going to miss my beloved flesh. Earlier this year we ate at the fantastic Terre A Terre in Brighton which was the first really, really good vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever been to and that was thanks to the persistence of my long-suffering vegetarian sister Gill and do you know what? It was the first non meat meal where I didn’t miss the meat.

Prashad is a vegetarian Indian restaurant that has been successfully ploughing a high quality food furrow in Bradford for years and rocketed to fame as runners-up in Ramsay’s Best restaurant TV show in 2010. Recently opening a spacious new restaurant on the Leeds/Bradford border, this smart move will open their pretty unique style of cooking to a much wider catchment area.

A large party of us booked on their opening night last week, which in hindsight was probably not the wisest move in the world – there were a few glitches with timings and service yet to be resolved – but we had a really enjoyable evening.

And I didn’t miss the meat.

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I’m not a huge connoisseur of Indian food but it seems like Prashad serves a kind of Indian continent fusion food. having visited India earlier this year, it really came home to me that india is a bit like Europe with the cultural diversity of many countries and cuisines to match. the food on offer ranges from hot and cold street food (Special Chaat is the very addictive signature dish of which Ramsay was particularly fond and ) to more traditional curries. We ordered a mixed starter plate for two that contained all the starter options – the textures and flavours were superb. It was a plate of food working its socks off I can tell you. the rest of the plates we all shared were all of the highest standard with punchy, shiny flavours at every turn.

Special mention has to go to the Chinese/Indian crossover Chilli Paneer, the Masala Dosa and the seasonal vegetable Handi – all served with a delicately light coriander rice and satisfyingly stodgy garlic naan.

The service is cheerful and made us all smile. It was opening night and it was a little laboured with new staff and systems clearly being bedded in. But Prashad is the kind of place that you readily forgive this because the food easily outweighs any negatives. You get the sense that the issues will be quickly resolved – the family clearly know how to run restaurants.

I predict Prashad will become as popular with the people of Leeds and move from its status of Bradford’s best kept secret to the go-to restaurant for non meat eaters and meat eaters alike. On top of all that, it’s only 5 minutes by car from where we live so very convenient for us!

 

Note: The pictures used in this post come from the Prashad cookbook, from which other Globetroffers have cooked extensively – and they swear by it. My shots from the night look a little haphazard, it could have been the wine…

Cafe Spice Namaste

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The third of my London triptych of blogs is all about Indian spice of the finest kind.

Cafe Spice Namaste is the famous London ‘culinary institution’ owned by Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala. The restaurant is just a short walk from the Tower of London so a little off the beaten foodie track, on the edge of the City of London.

Cyrus has been on television many times (including Saturday kitchen) and he is famed for his contemporary take on traditional Indian food using locally sourced ingredients from the UK.  Cyrus has even cooked for royalty, so this guy is no slouch in the kitchen.

The restaurant is very unassuming and could be anywhere in the country and the emphasis is very much on the food. I was dining alone on this occasion and it’s worth noting that I absolutely love eating out alone. I have no issues with my own company and I’ve noticed that a lone diner finishes their meal about ten times quicker as there is no chit chat to slow things down, apart from my tweeting along the way…

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Back to the food. My strategy is to usually go for the specials – after all that’s what the chef has made for that day and they are usually spot on. To start, I opted for their take on the humble but much-loved, by me at least, Scotch Egg (which according to the menu came from India originally, named after Walter Scott apparently) – their version was a spiced quail egg and turkey. It was on the money, small but perfectly spiced.

For my mains, I ordered from the specials again, and went for the breast of Langley Chase organic mutton Goda Masala. The lamb was marinated and roasted then served in a masala sauce especially made for the restaurant by a couple in Bombay. Lovely attention to detail. Although the menu did warn me this dish was ‘hot’ I wasn’t prepared for the deep heat emanating from the dish! It really had a depth of flavour not found in everyday Indian cooking, but it was hot, hot, hot. I overheated dramatically and drank around four litres of water and had to calm my tongue down with a large portion of roasted fig ice cream – at least that’s my excuse.

Prices and service are what you’d expect for a restaurant of this quality but surprisingly not over the top cost-wise given the stature of the chef. Just go.

Chole – Chickpea Curry

My first two dishes from the Prashad Cookbook were relatively simple affairs even for the novice cook that I admit to being. Wanting to push the boat out a little after my modest success, I was eager to cook Chole – a cinnamon spice chickpea curry that I had on my very first visit to their fab little restaurant in Bradford (& shortly Drighlington). This, of course, is the dish that propelled them into the homes of millions after Gordon Ramsay picked this one out as his personal favourite

The cookbook advises that the spice preparations make all the difference to the flavours of the finished dish. Having now made the dish I can report it also gives me an altogether different appreciation of eating it too. Coriander seeds, cinnamon, red chillies, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves & cumin seeds are all tossed in a pan & fried to create a garam masala for the upper flavour. Unfortunately, on my first attempt, I set the heat too high causing it to burn, having to re-prep & do it all again….not the best start on a tired Friday evening

Cumin seeds cooked with onion form a base note and these are fried separately (Note – 2 pans!) with tomatoes followed by ginger, salt, red chilli powder, turmeric and sugar. I thought this was a simple dish of essentially 3 tins of chickpeas & some other spicy stuff but it is a very sophisticated and complex dish, with layers of flavours

The chickpeas are boiled in a large pan (that’s 3!) & I think this is where my dish went slightly wrong. I added additional warm water (as instructed) to my boiled chickpeas that had been left in their cooking water when adding the garam masala and cumin/onion mix. Ultimately it left the dish overly wet despite the additional cooking time employed

The consistency of the dish failed to live up their restaurant standard but the taste sensation was most definitely on the money. A point worth mentioning here, is this is a super cheap meal to make. With tins of chickpeas 50p a pop or less, it is fantastic food for a low outlay. We also had half left over which we took ‘en-flask’ to our annual salmon jumping expedition the following day. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it was 2nd time round, sitting by Stainforth Falls on a cold Saturday afternoon, with the chilli heat ‘warming me cockles’

Bangalore

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I’m quite a fan of Indian food and being based in West Yorkshire does mean that we have an incredible choice of Indian cuisine (although I suspect quite a lot of it doesn’t actually originate from India).

So I was quite keen then, on a recent business trip to Bangalore in southern part of the sub continent, to try as much of the food as possible. The one caveat I applied to this concept was my fear of upsetting my finely balanced constitution. I used to think mine was iron, but visits to Egypt have proven me wrong on that one.

I needn’t have worried. Restaurant food in Bangalore is by and large excellent. There are always the dodgy ones of course but I was kept well away from them by my hosts for the trip. It’s won’t go into every meal in endless detail as I think a snapshot will give the reader a sense of the food.

Breakfast speciality in Bangalore is the Dosa which is a fermented rice pancake made from rice batter and flavoured with whatever’s lying around,. I had a tomato one for breakfast and was quite excited by the soothing quality of the rosa and the spicy potato stuffing.

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Lunches by and large were sandwiches at desks and these again were flatbread wraps style, stuffed with different types of meat – chicken, mutton, beef. I was surprised that meat eating was as widespread as it was – I thought that part of India was firmly vegetarian. I suspect this reflects the growth of the city and its prominence as a world centre for out-sourcing.

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After turning down the option for a western style dinner, I insisted we tried the local cuisine on my last night there. The restaurant food I had that night was of the highest quality (it was a pretty fancy place I admit) and rather than try to navigate the menu, I asked my hosts to order for me and the simply grilled meat and fish was outstanding. The food was no hotter than Akbar’s in Leeds – in fact, less hot – and the Indians I dined with marvelled at my ability to eat what they thought was overly hot food. I was slightly nervous as I flying the following day but I needn’t have worried.

My only regret was that I didn’t try a really authentic Bangalore restaurant (I think my hosts were reluctant to take me to one) or any street food. Perhaps next time I go I might be tempted to try these as I’m sure there will be delights to be found although in mitigation, the Bangalore food landscape is quite a daunting place even for an adventurous foodie like myself.

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