Unmasking Sustainable Food At Masque, Mumbai

Rubina A Khan reviews the Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masque, Mumbai: “an indulgent and wondrous night of sustainable culinary artistry, Indian style.”

The ‘it’ word right now, worldwide, is sustainable, making it lit to use it in any parlance. Sustainable and sustainability is used rather loosely by most fashion and food companies to sound evolved, aware and green-conscious, making the veracity of their sustainable credo rather questionable, but not at Masque, a wilderness-to-table restaurant in the erstwhile mill lands of central Mumbai. Masque’s ingredient-driven sustainable food experience is real, and how! Together, as owners of Masque, Chef Prateek Sadhu and entrepreneur Aditi Dugar have created an indigenously Indian culinary experience that is inimitably theirs, since September 2016, incomparable to any in the country.

Fern Mallis, creator of New York Fashion Week and the host of Fashion Icons With Fern Mallis at the 92Y, believes “sustainable is the new black”. A well-travelled, food enthusiast like Fern, not to mention fashion legend, made for the best company, unmasking sustainable food at Masque, starting the night off with a round of cocktails. She went with The Calabura, from their Wind series, made with Grey Goose Vodka, Aperol, Lemon, Panama Berries and Sweet Lime and I had the heavenly Aquacollins cocktail, from their Earth line, also made with Grey Goose Vodka, Rose, Fennel Seeds and Saffron Soda, which took me back to my time in Kashmir, watching my grandfather see off dinner guests at home with a box of the elusive saffron strands.

Masque’s 10-course chef’s tasting menu, a first for an Indian restaurant, comprises of seasonal dishes made from ingredients sourced locally and sustainably in India. The restaurant’s first course is always served on their pristine white kitchen counter, which is very conducive for the ‘gram. We chose to have all our courses atop their bar stools, amidst the harmonious and seamless action in the kitchen with a Harvey Specter (Suits) quote of the day courting us through the night. No screaming or flying pots and pans here – just a very decorous and synergised team alongside Sous Chefs, Kamlesh Negi and Rahul Sharma, creating art on our plates, taking us through the finest dining experience in Mumbai.

The first course kicked off with a sweet and savoury explosion of flavours with Kanji, made from seasonal black carrots usually found in Northern India, but are being grown on a land patch outside of Pune, especially for the restaurant. Next up was fresh Barramundi fish, not flown in from Australian waters, but from our very own Andaman Islands, with Raw Mango and Cucumber, followed by Masque’s version of a Caesar salad on a bed of ice – Romaine Lettuce with Garlic, Shrimp and Cured Egg Yolk which was beyond delectable. I had the the Eggplant Gujiya – twisted on its sweet ‘Holi’ head into a savoury creation akin to a Latin American Empanada, with Beetroot Yogurt and Fern had the Carbonara Gujiya. The Pani Puri was accompanied by a Cherry Tomato Tart after which the fresh Mackerel on Buckwheat Toast just blew me away! I have never had mackerel that didn’t come out of a tin, and definitely not one as delicious as this. By the time the Lobster Tzir Czot (Kashmiri style) with Gooseberry, the Katlam with Buffalo Tongue, Brain Butter, Salsify (a root vegetable I’d never heard of, let alone ever eaten) with Garlic Chive Butter, another round of Barramundi in a Curry Leaf and Coconut Broth and the Duck Liver with Gutti Aloo, Morels and Seaweed Butter came up, we were both overwhelmed by the culinary artistry of the chefs at Masque. “I could be anywhere in the world right now – it does not feel like Mumbai at all. This food is just unbelievable!” said Fern and I couldn’t agree more. The night ended only after four rounds of desserts (yes, four!) were washed down with the most deliciously warm Kashmiri Kahva (tea) with almond slivers.

Masque aims to use ingredients and produce that is locally grown and sourced, with exceptions like the duck, that doesn’t fly in from a freezer in China, but fresh off Gayatri Farms in Gurugram, Haryana or the Barramundi fish from the Andamans. The owners travelled across India to bring back the country’s forgotten ingredients, specifically from the Himalayan belt and it shows. There is no hard-selling of the food at Masque – it is all about the food you want to experience, with every dish telling it’s own flavourful story – from the roots it was made of to the salt sprinkled on it. The mountainous berry, Kaafal, a favourite, found in the Tehri Garhwal region, is what the chefs are working on to make desserts from, for their summer menu. The menu does not have any pretentious names for the dishes – just the ingredients, with the chefs expanding on how, and why, way they came to be. Informed chefs leading an engaged team is what makes for a memorable culinary experience at Masque. Occasionally, the restaurant hosts pop-ups with Michelin-star chefs, the next one coming up in May with Chef Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery in the Philippines.

In a world afflicted, and unfortunately accepting of mediocrity, Masque is unparalleled in India in every aspect of hospitality – right from the reservations team, to its owners, bartenders, mixologists, management team, chefs and the star of the restaurant – its incredible food! Masque was an indulgent and wondrous night of sustainable culinary artistry, Indian style.

Masque is open Tuesday-Sunday, with 7:30-8:00PM and 9:00-9:30PM seatings for dinner. Closed on Mondays.
Sunday Brunch: 12:30PM onwards.
Masque Restaurant
Unit G3, Laxmi Woollen Mills, Off Dr E Moses Road,
Mahalaxmi, Mumbai 400011 India
+91 22 4973 7431/32 | 98 190 69222

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2019

RUBINA’S REVIEW: PADMAAVAT IS THE NEW PADMAVATI

Padmaavat, with Deepika Padukone playing the valorous Queen Padmavati of Chittor, finally releases on Friday with a gender swap in its title from the original Padmavati to Padmaavat. From a film on periods (Padman) being pushed to a February release by its lead actor, Akshay Kumar, to give the period drama that is Padmaavat more theatre play due to the fiscally debilitating off-screen histrionics around it, the ongoing PMS (Padmavati Movie Stress) hasn’t abated just as yet.

I saw the film on Tuesday evening at journalist and author, Shobhaa De’s screening in Mumbai. 120 minutes into the film, I simply couldn’t fathom why the director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali would even call his film Padmavati in the first place; he very well could have called it Khilji as it’s a glorified, and almost one-directional ode to Alauddin Khilji’s insatiable lust for immortality, battle and sex. And, his relentless desire to possess Queen Padmavati of course. The film highlights the Rajput and Kshatriya codes of honour and living in a manner most celebratory, Bhansali’s chandeliers, diyas and picturesque frames notwithstanding. In no way does it demean Indian culture and its customs, and no Indian will be affronted with the film. Though Bhansali does seem to unnecessarily lionise Khilji beyond his omnipresent pillaging fame.
imagesAs the antagonist Khilji, Ranveer Singh looks menacing and monstrous physically, but his wavering accent that switches from Arabian to contemporary Hindi to Afghan, along with an inept enunciation of the language of his Sultanate, makes it difficult to believe he’s a 14th century imperial Sultan. Singh’s performance is flamboyant, loud and open to interpretation sexually, but he is not convincing as an erstwhile ruler or wannabe Alexander the Great in the making in the least. And, as for the costumery, when Singh ascends the throne of his slain uncle, Jalaluddin Khilji (Raza Murad) he wears heeled boots with the royal regalia on his person! Sure, high-heeled boots for men were in use as early as the 10th century for equestrian sports, but it seems highly unlikely that Khilji would have had access to those during his time in India.

Shahid Kapoor as Maharawal Ratan Singh of Mewar is ineffectual in the film. But in his regal dhoti/lungi, he makes for an exquisite kohl-eyed, eight pack ab-fab model that Calvin Klein needs to add to its brand new Kardashian-Jenner spread immediately! As Queen Padmavati’s paramour and subsequent husband, he is rather rigid and impassive, which is very unlike Kapoor’s able celluloid skills. Padukone is flawlessly beautiful (more so in 3D) serene and poised in every single frame, looking as cinematically desirable as she possibly can, but Kapoor meets her stellar, restrained performance with a face bereft of any emotion, romantic or otherwise. There are no subtle layers or nuances to his performance as a royal in command and especially so in the intimate scenes with Padukone. And no one does the neck quite like Shah Rukh Khan, in Khan’s own words. The only time Kapoor shines in the film is during his duel in the desert with the lust-lorn Sultan. His quiet resolve and aggressive battle moves speak volumes here.

Padmaavat plays on Khilji’s self-serving megalomania and his obsession with Padmavati’s beauty. Padmavati is his unattainable dream in the film till Padukone takes on her role as queen in the last hour of the film’s screen time. In effect, the film is a take on Khilji and his obsession with her luminous beauty that is a mere catalyst to his narcissistic lust. The battle scenes are reminiscent of Troy (2004) as is the story line pertaining to the quest and conquest of a beautiful woman. The dialogues are rife with varying language styles – in some scenes, Kapoor says waqt in a Rajasthani accent when the word samay would have worked just as well for his character. The Ghoomar song is basic, nothing extra really. It is just another well-choreographed Bollywood number and incomparable to the greats Bhansali has orchestrated in the past in films like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Devdas (2002). But then, who knows what the uncut version of the song looked like! The film is based on the legend of Khilji and Padmavati, assuming everyone is aware of this historical obsession, and that does not suffice for 180 odd minutes on film. The screenplay does not offer any backstory to Khilji’s temperament or his dynasty’s reign, or take cinematic licence with Maharawal’s and Padmavati’s romantic interludes or add more authenticity to the time period the film is set in, besides heavily embroidered clothes and Bhansali-esque sets. Language, both verbal and body, is terribly askew in the film.

Padukone is the only actor who stays in character, in language and poise, and costume throughout Padmavati-turned-Padmaavat’s over three hour runtime. It is her aura and acting prowess that Padmaavat will be remembered for, not to mention also taking home the highest fee for any Indian actress to date for the film. And just for that, I am glad the film was named after her central character, with or without an “I”.

Did I like the film? Well, let’s just say I was forced into a massive historical throwback and it’s not even Thursday yet!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2018

RUBINA’S REVIEW: TIGER ZINDA HAI

It’s been half a decade since Salman “Tiger” Khan’s romantic action thriller Ek Tha Tiger hit theatres on Independence Day in 2012 to a resounding ka-ching at the box office, that Yash Raj Films is all too familiar with. The film ended with India’s most indispensable RAW agent Avinash Rathore aka Tiger vamoosing off to Havana, Cuba to live a life of quiet anonymity (hah!) with his Pakistani ISI agent love, Zoya (Katrina Kaif).

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The sequel’s title says it all – he’s alive and kicking up powder in Austria with his son, Junior, fighting off packs of wolves (without killing them) unarmed with bare hands, skiing down the slopes, without taking off his winter jacket even once in the sequence. It cannot get any more real than that in Bollywood. And when he’s not busy playing dad or a spy in voluntary retirement, he spray-paints his love for wife Zoya on snow-capped mountain slopes to Atif Aslam’s Dil Diya Gallan in big-eyed wonderment. Nothing much has changed for Khan and his indomitable cinematic appeal since Ek Tha Tiger, though the same cannot be said for Kaif, despite her enviable pilates lean body. This Tiger is burning brighter than ever and Khan wings the film with indefatigable ease, never mind a couple of awkward supporting cast members and an askew, inconsistent pace of the film which could have been sharper and faster.

What I loved about Tiger Zinda Hai:

  1. Sheer girl power in the film. Where in Bollywood films does a wife rescue her husband in a war-struck country and drive him around without him switching to the wheel mid-save? The said wife, Katrina, is a bad-ass Bhabhi from her current location in Austria who swivels guns better than rolling pins in Ikrit, Iraq.
  2. Salman Khan skiing on the Innsbruck slopes, fully clothed.
  3. What’s better than a shirtless Salman? A bloodied warrior Salman toting double guns saving 39 Indian and Pakistani nurses!
  4. I loved Iranian born and UAE resident, Sajjad Delafrooz’s consummate performance as the antagonist Abu Usman, but for a verbose sermon he had to give Tiger at the tail end of the film. Restrained and confident acting on his part.
  5. Horses in the action sequences remind you why fast cars and bikes use horse power units of measurement in the first place and with Salman riding one, it’s a cinema freeze frame for life.
  6. Not using divisive political tactics in the film’s narrative, but humanitarian ones.
  7. The White House representative with an uncanny Sarah Huckabee accent, sans any Trumpa Loompa.
  8. The film only has two songs picturized on the lead cast of Khan and Kaif – Dil Diya Gallan in the beginning and the second, Swag Se Swagat at the end.
  9. What Khan’s presence in the Liwa Desert does for Abu Dhabi tourism is incomparable to anything they could have envisaged for themselves. And Khan wasn’t just another mirage!
  10. I had fun watching Tiger Zinda Hai and wanted to clap in all of Katrina’s bad-ass Bhabhi scenes, and most of the cool sequences.

©Rubina A Khan 2017

Shaken, Not Stirred Martinis At The House Of Nomad

Rubina A Khan reviews the House Of Nomad, Mumbai: “this is where the wandering liquorists are at, conversing and laughing up a storm over shaken martinis, cocktails and wines.”

There’s a splendid new drinkery in Mumbai that’s shaking and stirring things up, in and out of the Bandra zip code. It’s called House Of Nomad at the Taj Lands End hotel in picturesque Bandstand. This is where the wandering liquorists are at, ensconced in its mellow confines, conversing and laughing up a storm over shaken martinis, cocktails and wine. An intimate space, designed on the lines of a 19th century British private club, it is just the place to kick back a few, away from the endless human footprint at the astir hotel. The Taj Lands End is a quintessential Bollywood sighting spot in Mumbai, with Shah Rukh Khan’s residence, Mannat situated a mere second away from the hotel and Salman Khan’s apartment a minute further down at Galaxy, not to mention an events calendar that has celebrities walking in and out of the property almost every single day. It is also the Khans’ preferred choice of venue for most of their work commitments, making fans gravitate to the hotel in a bid to catch a glimpse of them, or better still, score a selfie with the indomitable Khan’s or Bachchan’s or Kapoor’s.

House of Nomad’s Guava Martini, which is not on the menu at the moment, is delectable and you just can’t stop at one, or two or six! Be sure to request for at least one. The Slap & Tickle cocktail crafted with Aperol, peaches, mint, lemon tea syrup and bitters on cracked ice is just as heady as it is refreshing. The julep tin it was served in took away from what I like to call a flaming orange sunset in a glass, but none of its divine flavours. The Chanel No 6 vodka martini with lychee, coconut and bitters makes a pomp and show of an entry on your table, replete with an edible lipstick made of raspberries and an atomiser, and it tastes great! A floor to ceiling wine wall stocked with wines from India, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States of America has wine aficionados and connoisseurs enthralled.

House of Nomad serves up tapas and small eats like Lamb Sliders with Spiced Potato Wedges,
Peri- Peri Popcorn, Jalapeno and Cheese Popcorn that are delightful, my favourites being the Wasabi Popcorn, the Burrata Focaccia Croutons and the Bandra Sheermal Lamb Seekh Rolls. You can never go wrong with smashing cocktails and kebabs, ever! The Lamb Pie with Tomato Chutney didn’t quite cut it with its dry pastry and overdone lamb filling.

Not everyone likes to hang out at the hotel’s very popular atrium for the very abused “coffee catch-ups”, and the disinterested “Hi’s” you have to engage in for politesse.  House of Nomad, however, feels like your very own private bar, with a playlist that ranges from progressive to house to pop music, where you can have a good time with friends or be deeply engrossed in a business conversation, even on a busy Friday night.

House of Nomad is where Scandal Water happens, except it is not in olde England, but in modern Mumbai over Tea Punch and Slap & Tickle and not English afternoon tea!

House Of Nomad is open everyday Monday-Sunday 3.00PM – 1.30AM
Taj Lands End
Byramji Jeejeebhoy Road, Bandstand, Bandra West, Mumbai 400050 India
+91 22 6668-1234 House of Nomad 

@Rubina A Khan 2017

London’s Top 5 Luxury Hotels

“What good is money if it can’t buy happiness”, questioned British author Agatha Christie, in the thriller The Man in the Brown Suit and rightly so. London’s most luxurious modern hotels swear by that very question, albeit discreetly. The olde order of luxury in London is being challenged by a new league of modern luxury hotels where it’s all about whetting your desires and going to unimaginable lengths, realizing bespoke experiences for you. While it’s not decorous to talk about money, it’s fashionably cool to spend it in London where your money can buy you total exuberance, not just happiness!

Rubina A Khan reviews the top five hotels in London that are redefining luxurious living, irresistibly:

Rosewood London – A historical 1914 Belle Époque building on 252 High Holborn that used to be the Pearl Assurance insurance company, has shifted shape in a manner most luxurious under the direction of Tony Chi to give way to the Rosewood London, that has even the most seasoned jetsetter enthralled with its relaxed elegance and vintage charm. The central carriageway entrance and dome open into a grand Edwardian courtyard, that lead you into the hotel. Through the contemporary rose-bronze doors, you take in live finches and budgerigars chirping contentedly, inanimate British bulldogs that don’t bark, the exquisite art on the walls that’s set off with seductive lighting and staff walking about in Saville Row suits, making for a theatrical first impression of the Rosewood. The value of the seven kinds of rare marble like Swedish Green and Statuary, used on the seven-storey Renaissance staircase is £40million! The interiors of this Grade II listed heritage hotel are fitted out with Cuban mahogany and the 262 rooms and 44 suites reflect High Holborn’s history, culture and sensibilities, in line with the Rosewood philosophy of “A Sense of Place”.

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Rosewood London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The shower rooms, yes rooms, are heavenly and designed to make every bathing ritual a sensual one, even more so after a Swedish massage by Yarmila at the Sense Spa. The champagne breakfast, with Baked Eggs, Asparagus and Truffle at the Mirror Room is the most delicious way to wake up and seize the day. Cabaret performances, held every alternate Sunday evening at the Scarfes Bar, lined with illustrations of artist Gerald Scarfe, including an adorable one of Prince George of Cambridge, over endless flutes of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut and Lobster Momos are an excellent way to enjoy some risqué British culture after a day at the British Museum close by. The most memorable feature at the Rosewood is sheer excellence with the staff and butlers exuding genuine warmth, bereft of the faux made-to-please smiles. Nightly rates for a Deluxe Room here are upwards of £360 (Rs 36,000) and a Grand Premier Suite costs about £1,800 (Rs 1,80,000). If money is no object, then the Grand Manor House Wing, with its six bedrooms, three living rooms, a private elevator and entry, and the only suite in the world to have its very own postcode, should be your choice at £25,000 (Rs 25,000,000) at the Rosewood London!

45, Park Lane – The grandeur and exceptional service of the legendary Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane is unrivalled in London. But seconds away from the old guard, stands the Dorchester Collection’s grand and imperious 45, Park Lane, an art deco hotel, designed as a private residence, on London’s Money Mile in Mayfair, with suites facing the verdure Hyde Park. The 46-room hotel beguiles guests into its luxurious and contemporary confines designed by New York based designer, Thierry Despont, with exemplary service and dazzling glamour. The Park Lane Suite has my heart! Minutes from Bond Street shopping, and a hop across Hyde Park, it is undeniably the most fashionable temporary address in London, with every little wish of yours being fulfilled by the Park Lane team. If you so desire a dress from Harrods, a hotel runner will speed off and get it back for you in time for your dinner date whilst you soak in the satin dreaminess of the Dorchester Spa.

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45, Park Lane London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

“The most extraordinary demand we have ever had to date was to fit a washing machine in one of our suites!” says hotel manager Christophe Hilty. For a brisk ride in Hyde Park, you can borrow one of the hotel’s Brompton bicycles or bike around the streets of Mayfair. It’s on site restaurant, CUT, which is Austrian born-US based celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s first foray on European terrain, is world class. It’s the only place in London that serves Japanese Wagyu and it is worth every pound for that little medallion of a steak on your plate! CUT is also home to the Psalms, a collection of 16 Damian Hirst paintings in the hotel. Rooms start at £595 (Rs 59,500) and the extravagant Penthouse Suite on the ninth floor is yours for £8,995 (Rs 8,99,500) a night!

Ham Yard Hotel – The Ham Yard, a Firmdale property and their eighth in London, owes its name to an early 18th Century public house called The Ham. This boutique hotel, set on a three-quarter acre site, is a riot of colors designed by owner, Kit Kemp, in her fun and distinctively modern British style, that gives off a cultivated “urban village” vibe with its lush garden, bang in the midst of bustling Piccadilly Circus and Soho. With a 190-seater movie theatre on the property and its very own Dive Bar, you don’t need to battle frosty London on movie night; it’s just an elevator ride away. An original 1950s four-lane bowling alley, shipped in from Texas, replete with backlit bowling balls and vintage bowling shoes, a 13-store shopping enclave, a rooftop garden and a Soholistic Spa make the Ham Yard a unique hotel choice. The hotel has the best-stocked mini-bar and amenities kit, including Kinky Knickers, in case you packed really light and didn’t carry any! The Ham Yard breakfast-to-go service is an absolute delight in a brown bag when you’re catching an 8am flight from Heathrow! Prices for a Superior Room start at £372 (Rs 37,200) per night and the Terrace Suite is yours for £4,080 (Rs 4,08,000) a night.

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Ham Yard London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Great Northern Hotel – This boutique hotel right in the heart of King’s Cross St Pancras, first opened in 1854, as the world’s first great railway hotel, designed by Victorian master builder, Lewis Cubitt. The splendidly refurbished 91 rooms here, named Couchette, Wainscot and Cubitt, which is the largest room, echo the vintage glamour of the building’s iconic past. Awash with abundant natural light through ceiling to floor windows and cut-glass finishes, the Great Northern boasts of a luxury every traveler desires – location and quietude! It is central to the largest transport intersection in London and is a mere 25 metres from the Eurostar Terminus and a second away from King’s Cross that makes for seamless travel to and from all Londonairports. It is steps away from the beautiful British Library. It has one exceptional feature within its glamourous boutique designs – a very comfortable Hypnos bed that also makes for great romantic interludes! Sleep is the quintessential luxury that sometimes gets lost in translation in some of world’s most famous hotels, and it is absolutely uncompromised at the Great Northern. Plum & Spilt Milk, the hotels’ on site restaurant, under the culinary direction of Chef Mark Sargeant, is spectacular! The exquisite food, atmosphere and service here are enough to extend your stay at the GNH, if not the bed alone! Rooms start upwards of £160 (Rs 16,000) here.

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Great Northern London

Ampersand Hotel – The design of the luxuriously appointed Ampersand Hotel on 10, Harrington Road, right by the South Kensington underground, is inspired by the Museum District it’s located around, through the five themes of botany, music, geometry, ornithology and astronomy. The Ampersand opened in the summer of 2012 as a modern incarnation of the Norfolk Hotel that was built in 1889. The Victorian values of discovery and wonder, alongside a modern sense of whimsy define all 111 rooms of the refitted Ampersand rooms and suites; from the V&A’s costume collection, to the Science Museum’s planets and phials, from the Natural History Museum’s ornithological drawings to the drama and ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall. And no, that doesn’t make it a dull and boring hotel. The atmosphere is exuberant and fun, with splashes of colour and sparkle to add to the relaxed vibe of the property. Knightsbridge and Chelsea shopping awaits you, yes, Harrods too, once you’ve had your fill of the museums and the astounding array of world cuisine being served up in the cafes and restaurants on every expensive retail space of South Kensington! Room prices vacillate anywhere between £170 (Rs 17,000) to approximately £550 (Rs 55,000) a night.

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The Ampersand London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Michael Bonsor, Hotel Manager, of the Rosewood London, sums up the avant-garde London luxury order rather succinctly, “No requests are too outlandish or difficult to accomplish. True luxury is not just about remarkable quality; it is about making someone feel special in an extraordinary environment.” Indeed!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the www.rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2014