Austin Baingan Bharta, 450g [reviewed]

I was quite surprised and amused to see a can of baingan ka bharta staring back at me from the Amazon page I was browsing.

I’ve seen various sabzisdals and so on, in ready to eat packs, but never baingan ka bharta. This afternoon, I thought I’d serve it to Cherie for lunch, with a few parathas, some lemon pickle and the requisite raw onions.

First off, the homogeneity or uniform texture of the product was a bit of a turn off. Regular, home made baingan ka bharta has visible seeds, flesh in chunks, is somewhat smoky from being charred and so on. This was closer to a puree and immediately brought to mind the one word that stood out on the packaging – sterilised.

The taste has common notes with every ready to eat product I’ve tasted, was somewhat reminiscent of regular baingan ka bharta, apart from which the product had no character – no discernible texture, taste or view. The good news is, it wasn’t inedible or unpleasant and both of us finished our platters with little comment, negative or positive.

That said, as with most processed foods, the product has very high levels of sodium, one can containing a person’s entire sodium allowance for the day. It also is fairly high in calories with a 100 gm portion delivering 170 calories. Combine that with 200 calories per paratha and say you’re eating two portions of each – bharta and paratha, which comes to about 740 calories, not counting any additions to your plate. That isn’t earth shattering, though it is something you should know, considering the average person consumes a 2000 calorie diet, of which 740 calories is a significant portion.

I suggest keeping a couple of cans of Austin Baingan Bharta on hand for emergencies, unforeseen guests or other such situation.

Brand/ManufacturerAustin Foods & Beverages Pvt. Ltd.
ProductBaingan Bharta
Container size450g
PriceINR 140 (on Amazon)
Serving size100g
Pack size450g
Calories per serving170
Calories per container765
Ease of useVery easy
Visual appealLow
Sodium content per serving439mg
Sodium content per container1975mg
Significant source ofIron
Recommended forEmergencies, camping, picnics etc.

BigBasket: Is it worth your time?

Have you heard of the online grocery shop, BigBasket? Have you ordered from it? I have, consistently, for almost 2 years now.

Most of us work, or support those who do and as such have busy lives that we try to cram full of experiences. This leaves us little time for mundane routine chores like grocery shopping, which is where folks like BigBasket have their work cut out for them. On the face of it, a service such as this provided by BigBasket can be quite a welcome convenience. Are they able to deliver consistently though? Here’s what a few consumers from different parts of the country say.

Akum Raj Jamir from Chennai: “I order almost all my groceries and vegetables and other stuff from big basket since they cater to all the things that I usually require. My experience is quite good, though not 100% since they do goof up at times, especially with vegetables. I do however let them know through emails, where they take care of my grievances by crediting the amount in my wallet.”

Meeta Verma from Greater NOIDA: “I Love the discounts and the reasonable prices and finding stuff like cream cheese, mascarpone and whipping cream, which are otherwise difficult to find in Greater NOIDA. Plus delivery is on-time and the productions in good condition, i.e. fresh vegetables and fruits. I also like the courteous deliverymen and the easy to use app. Having said that I do wish product availability was more consistent and that more popular brands of foodstuff be stocked like Nanaji Papad, Moong badis etc.”

Sandhya Chebiyyam from Hyderabad: “I find BigBasket’s services good only for local produce like potatoes, onions and okra among others. If we order exotic or imported items like avocados or basil, they are usually not in a good state. Breads and diary like cheese is good too. I only order items when I don’t have time to go out for grocery or vegetable shopping. One big positive for me is that they always deliver in the time frame as promised.”

Sid Khullar from Greater NOIDA: “Going by the usual standards we see most businesses applying to their quality aspirations, service roll-out is usually inconsistent at best and product selection is quite location based due to the hyper-local nature of the service. Additionally, given it is local partners who fulfil BigBasket orders, there are numerous occasions when the quality of delivered produce is significantly inferior to what one might have expected.”

BigBasket - A Welcome Phone Conversation

<Mobile Ringing>
BigBasket: Hello sir, I’m calling from BigBasket. Our delivery person is at your doorstep. Can you please come and collect it?
Me: I am not at home currently. Can you please deliver it to my neighbour?
BigBasket: Sure sir. Please let us know if there is any issue with your order.

BigBasket - An Unwelcome Phone Conversation

<Mobile Ringing>
Me: (Hungry and waiting for groceries to arrive so that we can cook) Hello. My order was supposed to be delivered today. There is no communication from your end. When will it be delivered?
BigBasket: I am sorry sir. Could I please place your call on hold?
Me: Yes, sure.
<Call is on hold for 3 minutes>
BigBasket: Sorry for the inconvenience sir, but due to technical issues, your order could not be delivered. We will deliver your order in the next available slot
Me: @#$%*^*!

The Pros of Ordering from BigBasket

BigBasket stocks all sorts of fruits,veggies and other perishable items, and they are generally delivered fresh, at your doorstep, without having to step a foot outside. There are exotic items listed  (not usually easily available) and in case you’re really in a hurry, they have an express delivery option as well. And, if you cannot leave the house and urgently need some items that are not readily available, this is the perfect solution.

The Cons of  Ordering from BigBasket

The delivery system is flawed/overburdened, and many-a-time, my order has been delivered even a couple of days later, with no prior information whatsoever. The fruits, especially, may not be as ripe/unripe, as you want them to be, and can even be unusable immediately, in some cases. The prices are generally slightly higher than the market rates, and of course, you cannot bargain here.

BigBasket – The Verdict

I would order from BigBasket in two situations. First, only if there is no vegetable/fruit market near my house, or if they do not stock items that I require regularly. Second, if I am in a fix, and cannot step out to shop, but want to get items delivered at my doorstep.

What has been your experience with BigBasket? The best comment (on this page) will win an Amazon voucher.


Italia, Bangalore: RIP

I vividly remember nearly each of my visits to Italia in Delhi, housed in DLF Promenade Mall, Vasant Vihar. The food was consistently excellent, the decor decidedly brilliant and creative, and their understanding of flavours and textures and their manipulation, quite definite. Most of my visits to this restaurant, if not all of them, were therefore a delight in every manner.

Ordering was a delight because the waitstaff were well trained and knowledgeable about their menu; waiting for the food to arrive was never boring because of the lovely, thin crust focaccia that would be plonked on every table along with little white bowls of pesto, good olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese; eating the food was an unparalleled pleasure, especially during their frequently curated regional Italian speciality promotions and finally, interacting with the Chef was something I looked forward to. The decor was eclectic, modern and sophisticated and the restaurant as a whole looked like a million bucks.

Given however the Philistines who make up most of Delhi’s fine dining audience, Italia wasn’t received as well as it should have been. Further, however much fun it is to blame Delhi, the competition that opened up in and around the mall housing Italia also played a role in providing consumers with choice, in addition to high rentals among other factors, and this brilliant restaurant shut its doors to Delhi, which are still shut to this day.

When the opportunity arose to visit Italia in Bangalore, I jumped! A premature reaction.

If there is a team that is superbly equipped to destroy a brand’s perception, it is the one that runs Italia at The Park Hotel, Bangalore.

The decor now consists of four, mostly bare walls enclosing an area of about one and a half regular living rooms, flooring of scuffed planks painted black, shiny in places and dull at others. What should have been a prioritised restaurant is little more than an afterthought in a spare room, and a fading one at that.

The food is far below average at best with amateurish plating, no attention appearing to have been paid to flavours and pairings, and even more neglect accorded to the preparation of the food itself. Think canned artichokes, overcooked salmon, missing seasoning all across, frozen seafood and infantile concepts at best with even those childish menu descriptions being barely adhered to.

It is this sort of apathy and neglect that has brought to its knees, what was hitherto a superbly constructed brand. It is what I perceive to be an utter lack of interest and knowledge that makes Italia in The Park, Bangalore a crying shame and definitely a venue to scrupulously avoid.

RIP Italia, Bangalore.

Columns Contributions Default Reviews Travel Wine & Spirits

Losing Your Wine Virginity!

Are you a wine virgin? Would you like to savour your first glass of wine? This is a quick primer for beginners, who would like to know how to drink wine, with expert tips from Ms. Karishma Grover, Winemaker and Co-Owner at Grover Vineyards.

Here it is:

[mycred_video id=”C2ISig9T3S8″ logic=”play” amount=”5″ width=”780″ height=”360″]



Columns Contributions Default Reviews

Cooking Delights of the Maharajas: A Royal Treat

When one hears the word “Royal”, every word that follows it automatically somehow turns brighter, grander and more opulent. For a food-lover, it might be flashing images of royal meals be it grand platters or thaalis of rich and masterfully created delicacies or liveried staff bringing out courses after courses of the finest gourmet meals in silver platters. Cooking is and was a fine art to even the royal families of those times and  they were true patrons and sophisticated gourmands who took their meals pretty seriously, be it their daily meal or lavish banquets designed to impress and awe. Royal cooks of those days were nothing short of artists who created rich, elaborate dishes that had to please and appease the jaded palates of their employers and guests who were exposed to grand meals on a daily basis. This competitive work space had to be kept active with creativity and expertise, and the recipes that made an impression were closely guarded and in many cases, passed down father to son, as an exclusive legacy.

But time claims all and many exclusive techniques and recipes disappeared with the fall of kingdoms, modernisation, and newer generations of these cooks seeking out other lucrative fields to work in. In this context, to the relief of the many gourmands and food aficionados everywhere, one Maharaja who was also an excellent chef and lover of food, decided to do something to preserve the rich heritage of the delicacies he grew up enjoying. Cooking delights of the Maharajas, written by Digvijaya Singh,  former ruler of Sailana, a princely state in Madhya Pradesh. He painstakingly collected and compiled exotic recipes of bygone eras from authentic royal households like the Nizams of Hyderabad and Kashmir and the Begum of Bhopal.

In times like these where one cannot find truly authentic royal fare, this book is truly a priceless treasure. Every recipe is a true voyage back in time, with beautiful glimpses into the painstaking and elaborate processes and sophisticated methods that would go into any given royal meal. The richness, the unique diversity in ingredients and the exquisite order of addition of these ingredients is what kicks these dishes up an imperial notch.

The contents are divided into Meat, Chicken, Fish, Game, Rice and Allied, Vegetable and Sweet dishes. There are glossy, coloured images provided for most of the recipes. Variety, creativity and complexity of techniques can be seen in every recipe. Rich starts sounding like an understatement when you come across the recipes like Musallam Badam Piste or Sewain Pulao. These recipes are long and detailed, but result in a truly rewarding final product that is delicate, yet multi dimensional when it comes to textures and flavours. Shikaar or hunting was one of the greatest pastimes of the kings. And that love you will see in the red-meat preparations that is spread over more than half the pages of this book. For the true game-meat lovers there are detailed recipes for the preparation of rabbit and wild boar (pork) and a 5 ingredient recipe for Jungli Maans, in addition to a comprehensive subsection on game meat preparations.

For the less adventurous, there is an exquisite collection of unique recipes that suits every palate like the easily digested Be masale ka korma (korma sans spices) or the wildly elaborate and rich Do Peeaza Borani ( delicately seasoned keema stuffed carrots, which are then deep fried.)

It was very interesting to note the usage of oven and refined flour (unmistakeable western influences) in the recipes of Sasranga and Malgoba respectively. Malai ki biryani, Lehasun pulao and Aam ka Pulao are worth mentioning while Mutanjan pulao, claimed to be the oldest and grandest of pulaos takes the crown. Unique ingredients that are quite uncommon in supermarkets these days like, Kantola (spiny gourd), Goolar (wild figs), Palash/ Tesun flowers or even the commonly discarded mango seed become deliciously exotic in the hands of the royal cooks. Their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking can be seen in Ghosht ka Halwa, Ande ka Halwa and Gulab ki kheer. Yogurt and its versatility is appreciated as kababs, halwa, bhajiyas and even in a pickled (achaari) makeover. In molecular gastronomy, foam is used extensively but it blows the mind to know that the same technique was used back then in recipes like Nimish.

From a home-cook point of view, every one of the unique and complex recipes are worth a try, even though the cooking times and detailed steps might look daunting at first. Most recipes average between 2-3 hours in the making and with highly perishable items like nut-pastes, meats and cream, might not exactly last more than a day.  It is definitely not a beginners cookbook, but more in the lines of a brilliantly compiled history textbook purposed to educate, and refer back. Every recipe nailed will give one a tasty bite of history and glimpses of rich, diverse heritage in its essence.

Cooking delights of the Maharajas is not your average cookbook. It exudes a higher class, a wisdom, an appreciation for the finer things in life, a very sophisticated taste and pedigree from the moment you turn the first page and that feeling lasts even after you have put it down. Strongly recommended for every lover of Indian Cuisine and history buff.

Gulab ki kheer:

50 grams fresh rose petals

2 liters milk

250 grams sugar

Select Edward, Bussarah, or any scented variety of roses. Pluck the petals discarding the stigma, the central portion.

Boil milk along with rose petals (whole), till it reduces to half. Add sugar and boil further till it is of thick consistency. Serve cold.

Columns Contributions Reviews Travel Wine & Spirits

Wine Tours in Bangalore – Part 2

This is our concluding part to the wine-tours article. This is where things get more interesting. These tours are more for the Wine-Enthusiasts, who are looking to experience some top-notch Indian Wines, in the company of knowledgeable winemakers. As we continue our quest to scour Bengaluru for Vineyards, both the Wine and the scenery get better. In case you missed reading the first part of this article, here is the link to it:

Wine Tours in Bangalore-Part 1

Grover Vineyards

Grover, Wine, Tasting, Barrel Room

The Grover Vineyards are located at Doddaballapura, Bangalore and the Vineyard Entrance is right on the Devanahalli Road, which makes it easy to find. It is nearly 50 km from M.G road, and I would suggest taking the Telecom Layout road route, for the last 20 km, to experience a peaceful and scenic drive.

While Grover Wines are highly acclaimed Indian Wines, their Wine Tour is less than spectacular. It begins on the lawns with a brief history session about Grover, proceeds through the winery, and culminates in their barrel room which really has a charm of its own, and the best tasting room in Bangalore in my opinion. You get to taste 5 of their wines, 4 of which are from their Art Collection, 1 Red, 2 Whites and a Rose. The last Wine you get to taste is their critically acclaimed La Reserve, which is a delightful Indian Red Wine, destined for greatness.

Grover Wine Tour

Their Vineyards are around 3 km away from the Tasting Room, and you can also take a tour of the Vineyards, if you have the time. The food they serve is decent, and pairs appropriately with their Wine. You can also have Wine by the Glass, if you wish to sample more of their wines.

They also provide Wine-Stomping facilities in special vats, for large groups only.

Wine(s) I would buy:
Grover Zampa Chêne: This is one of my favourite Indian Wines. A blend of the Spanish Tempranillo and Syrah grapes, this beautiful fruity wine is superbly balanced and has an elegant finish.
Zampa Soire Brut Rose: Sparkling Rose Wines are rare, and this Brut Rose made with Syrah grapes is certainly a must-have in your special-occasions wine-collection. Light, creamy with a hint of strawberry, this is the perfect wine to savour on a dinner date with someone special. Serve Chilled!
Wine Tour and Lunch Weekdays              : INR 850 per person
Wine Tour with Lunch Weekends            : INR 1000 per person

Bangalore Soma Vineyards

The Bangalore Soma Vineyard is located at Sonnenahalli, close to the Makalidurga fort. It is nearly 70 km from MG Road and about 20 km from the Grover Vineyards in Doddaballapura. The last kilometer from the main road to the Vineyard is a bit confusing if you are using Google Maps to navigate. My Advice: Follow the arrows on the road, to reach the Vineyard.

This Vineyard is by far, the most scenic Vineyard on the list, flanked by the Makali Hills on one side, and the Gundamagere Lake on the other. It boasts of 3 artificial ponds, and should you wish to swim in them, you would need to inform the management in advance. They currently grow 3 grape varieties in their Vineyard, which are also exported to other wineries. The tour starts off with a Vineyard walk, where the 3 grape varieties are shown and their farming/texture/properties explained in lucid detail, if you would like to know more. Then comes the tasting of 3 of their wines, and each wine is paired with a specially designated area, to ensure that you can enjoy the wine more. This is a beautiful concept and equally well-executed. For example, they serve their Rose Wines, as you watch the sun setting over the Makali Hills, and needless to say, this is one sunset you are unlikely to forget.

The pairing of snacks with the wine is appropriate, and their-quality is top-notch. If you are visiting in a small group, catering is done in-house, and the food is thoroughly enjoyable.

If you would like to stay over, you need to request for it well in advance, and it is at the discretion of the owners.

Peaceful, picturesque, breath-taking, this is one Vineyard I could keep visiting every weekend and still not get enough off. Their wines are decent, and unfortunately, the Reserve wine was unavailable when I visited. The passion of the owners, the attention to detail in the Vineyards and the enchanting views, make this one Vineyard whose progress I would follow closely.

Tip: In case you are travelling here early morning, a trek to the nearby Makalidurga fort and temple can also be planned.

Wine(s) I would buy:
Bangalore Soma Sauvignon Blanc: This is a crisp White Wine, with its acidity being on the higher side but with a smart finish. It pairs beautifully with Indian Food.

Wine Tour/Tasting with Snacks            : INR 1500 per person
Wine Tour with Lunch/Dinner              : INR 2500 per person
Overnight Stay and breakfast (On Request): INR 2000 per person

Bangalore also has another Vineyard called the ‘BlackBuck Vineyard’, which is not owned by Salman Khan! On a serious note, it is located nearly 120 km from Bangalore in Maidanahalli. Unfortunately, I was unable to contact the owners through email and phones in-spite of repeated attempts. Though I understand, they have a full day package with stay included at INR 4000 per person.

This concludes the two-part Wine tour series in Bangalore. Stay tuned to this section as we take on the Wine-Makers on their own turf and ask them some hard questions about Wine-Making, Grapes and the best wines on their list.



Maggi Hotheads Chilli Chicken Noodles: Unfulfilled Promises

Every once in a while I want to breakfast on a steaming hot bowl of noodles, a newspaper and a cup of black tea. Spying the daughter’s stash of noodles, I picked out a pack of Maggi Hotheads, Chilli Chicken Noodles, taped to a large pack of regular noodles – perhaps free with the purchase.

As enticing as the graphic on the packaging looked, I’m afraid the product tasted just as bad, or perhaps of nothing at all. One makes it as one always does – mount a pot of water, mix in the contents of the taste maker sachet, add the noodles, bring to a boil, simmer for a bit and it’s done. No surprises there. Surprising was the complete lack of anything close to chilli chicken in there, and in fact anything close to anything in there. It tasted chilli hot and that was it.


One would think the folks at Nestle would be a bit more careful with what they release, considering the brand’s perception has taken a clobbering all across. Then there’s the matter of the chili graphic, which is remarkably close to what Nando’s has been using for a while, and where a little more originality really wouldn’t have hurt. And then there’s the issue of 945mg sodium content within. NINE HUNDRED AND FORTY FIVE!! That’s more than half our total allowance for the DAY! In case you weren’t aware, high sodium has a significant role to play in high blood pressure conditions among other health related concerns. Then there’s the matter of my finding not a single piece, even a tiny one, of chicken. Small wonder, given that chicken constitutes about 5% of the total and chicken fat, 2%.

If you ask me, this product is a total rip off and Nestle might want to deliver a swift kick up the rear end of whoever approved this product for open market. Even worse, make the charlatan eat the nasty stuff. All said and done, Maggi Hotheads Chilli Chicken, has only chili, no chicken, no flavour, no taste, no nutrition – in short – don’t buy it.


Grunge and Gravy

You’re weary. The pack you’re lugging seems to be getting heavier by the minute. You’re out of ammo, motivation and stamina – it’s been a rough ten days out there – constant action, gun battles, ambushes and bullets flying all over. Fortunately, your company was given a 2 day leave into town and you’re planning to use it all up eating and drinking. Boots crunching gravel, rifle slung over your shoulder, empty canister of water rattling against your belt, you quietly enter the R&R (rest and recreation in military speak) sector, numbered 29 in the list and look over towards the tall building in the distance. The top floor is where you want to be, going by the many rumours of great food and strong brews.


img_20161101_152959-01You duck instinctively on hearing the sounds of men and machines exploding in the distance even though they’re much too far away now. All that’s on your mind is to get some warm food and cool drink inside and the rest of life would wait while that happened. Climbing to the top floor and opening the roughly hewn maritime-style door, you throw your pack to the ground on the left and look around. Never before was there such a collection of odds and ends put together into a functional mess like this. Pipes transporting steam to some unknown machinery, gauges with wildly flickering needles, exposed gears, and meshes for patrons to hang up their boots, weapons and sometimes other patrons, a bartender trying his best to keep up with the rush, platters of food finding their way to hungry tables and hungrier diners, the noise of conversation trying its best to be heard above the music, couples concentrating on their own phones, a chef in black, wearing vintage leather motorcycle goggles laughing like a maniac over spluttering glass tubes and beakers, huge steel vats of brewing grain, steam rising from mildewed corners. Yup. Feels like just home.


img_20161101_145514Looking around you spy an empty table in the far right corner and head towards it, punching the lights out along the way, of a snot nosed supply depot rookie who had the temerity to have the same idea. None of the dishes in the menu look like anything you’ve heard of before and nor do the drinks sound familiar, except for the ‘beer’ part of their names. Beckoning a man who appeared to break necks for a living, but taking dinner orders for the moment, you jab a finger at a few items, nod at his grunt of acknowledgement and look up from the menu to see him shuffling away towards the kitchen. A model truck laden with two spoons of stuff lands on your table with a thud. It’s a couple of bites from the kitchen, probably to keep hungry mercenaries from shooting up the place.


img_20161101_151717-01A few minutes later, just as you’re wondering if a .500 bullet into the bartender would break any of the bottles behind him, arrives a winnowing fan laden with little pockets of bread, topped with a slice of chicken, a few leaves foraged from the great outdoors and little green spheres. A few minutes later, there remained a solitary winnowing fan and the vaporous remnants of a burp. Picking your teeth with a grimy finger, you admit it looked poofy, but tasted fine. The insides of the little pillow-like pieces of puffy bread were stuffed with hot, flavourful and creamy liquid that made the first bite a surprise, the second loaded with anticipation and by the third you want to throw it against the stained wall and see what kind of a splatter it makes, but, and here’s a compliment, you’d rather eat the stuff and you do.


img_20161101_155202-01Crisp little balls were next, lined up on a platter. For a moment you think they’re going too far and should stop at recycling the enemy for food. They turn out to be spiced rice rolled and coated with crumbs, accompanied by discs of yogurt and topped with crunchy fried onions. There’s rice in there, flavoured oil and the whole thing tastes quite familiar, like biryani, and yet exotic. You’re beginning to think this was a good idea, even better than a good fight. Stuffed Kulchas arrived soon after, accompanied by gravy in a glass. On it’s own, a good mouthful and a half of mildly charred, good bread stuffed with chicken. With the gravy – butter chicken! Was there any end to this? Any more and you’d have to apply to apprentice with the cooks in the langar!

There’s only so much a man can eat and you’re bursting at the seams of your combat trousers. You look around for a bit, and surreptitiously unbuckle your trousers to let out the old belly. Finishing up with a smoking and smoky meal of curried goat with flatbreads, you’re feeling mellow and decide not to shoot the bartender after all. Perhaps the Chef at Molecule, Gurgaon, but only after a few more meals like this.


Walnuts: Fodder for a Themed Meal?

This article is part of a four part series based on my recent trip to the walnut orchards in California, facilitated by the California Walnuts Commission.

Sometimes it’s such a challenge and a fun exercise too, to design a  meal to exacting specifications. For instance, there was the time we were expecting friends over and fortunately, asked them their preferences and restrictions a few days prior.

As it turned out, the friend, her friend and her mother were vegetarians, the daughter ate only chicken among non-vegetarian choices, the husband ate anything at all and the father was a vegetarian and in addition, ate no onions or garlic. The cuisine preferences turned out to be Chinese and Italian. Planning, designing, cooking and serving that meal was likely one of the most fulfilling culinary acts I have since indulged in.

On a recent trip to Sacramento, California, where my first dinner was at Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, a beloved and highly regarded Sacramento restaurant, Chef Mulvaney had put together an entire meal that not only featured walnuts as the centrepiece of every dish, but also showcased local produce. At the same time, this meal was a stark reminder of how India and Indians too must begin stressing on the multifaceted goodness of local produce, as well as an apt illustration of just how one can get really creative with the thread of a single ingredient running through the fabric of an entire meal.


If you take a look at the menu, which Chef Mulvaney graciously signed at my request, you’ll find he’s used different walnut derivatives throughout the four course dinner and prominently at that.

Another lesson that came my way arose from the realisation that I need so much more exposure to fruits and vegetables cooked and eaten without very many additional flavours. The all-round appreciation of natural flavours is a journey that lies ahead of me.


In case you were wondering, the inspiration for the restaurant's name came from the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life".
In case you were wondering, the inspiration for the restaurant’s name came from the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

We began with a platter of sliced tomatoes of different varieties, the last of the season, as you must have seen from the menu – sliced and diced and delimited with white onion and cucumber and then drizzled with walnut oil, leaving diners to add the final touch of salt and a scatter of freshly cracked black pepper.

The succulence of the tomatoes, complemented by the mild pungency of the onions and crunch from the sliced cucumber made the first course quite enjoyable. All the more interesting for me were the very different natures of the different varieties of tomatoes in there – meatiness, succulence, tartness, flavour and more. The salad was accompanied by a basket of of some very well made bread, artisan bread in fact, made by the Artisan Bread Company, accompanied by more named produce – Sierra Nevada Butter and Molokai Sea Salt from Hawaii.

Have you ever eaten a slice of fresh bread, slathered with butter and sprinkled with coarse sea salt? It is one of those textures that one never really forgets; soft bread, crusty edges, smooth, creamy butter and the whole interspersed with the delightful crunch lent by the coarsely ground salt.


Moving forward in the same vein, our next course was pasta – Full Belly Potato Ravioli with Caramelised Walnuts. Think about that bit about showcasing ingredients. There’s the soft, al-dente flour casing of the ravioli, the soft and creamy potato filling, some tangy balsamic reduction, shavings of grana padano and then there’s the hard, sweet and crunchy caramelised walnuts, bringing all at once to the dish, sweet, nutty and textural influences.

The tough part of focusing an entire meal around a single ingredient, is the positioning. The ingredient, in whatever shape or form being used, mustn’t have too much competition in the same size/shape, in the same platter. The issue here is the dilution of the diner’s perspective of the ingredient. For instance, in the first course, including almond oil alongside the walnut oil, may not have resulted in the walnut oil being as effectively showcased as it was.


Our Entree, Griddled King Salmon and Walnut Pesto, was served with Sutter County rice and Dwelley’s (a local farmer) beans. Similar to the previous two courses, the use of walnuts in this course too brought a uniqueness to the platter, not supplied by any other ingredient – flavour overtones in the form of a pesto. If you’re not entirely sure of what a pesto comprise, let’s say it is an Italian condiment consisting of a nut, a herb and a hard cheese, the lot ground together, the originals being pine nuts, basil and Parmesan cheese. In Chef Mulvaney’s version, the pine nuts were replaced by walnuts.

So there you have a fine piece of griddle cooked King Salmon, texture and crunch provided by the rice and the beans, the whole flavoured by a dollop of pesto with distinctly wal-nutty undertones.


Finally, dessert – Courtland pears, baked into a tart and topped with crumbled walnut florentine with a twirl of Rooftop honey cream alongside. If you aren’t sure what’s Rooftop honey, it’s the honey Chef Mulvaney produces in-house, from a hive perched on the restaurant’s rooftop!

That’s how Chef Mulvaney went about creating a bespoke meal themed around walnuts. How would you do it? What dishes would you include? Would it be north, south, east, west Indian or would it include dishes from all over India? Vegetarian or non-vegetarian? Cocktails and snacks or a full dinner? Plated or buffet style? Leave a comment below and we may actually make that dinner happen – even cook it with you!


This feature was brought to you by California Walnuts.