Friday, July 31, 2009

Beer Summit : London, Summer of 2009

When one is tired of London, one is tired of life (Samuel Johnson)

Obama had a beer summit in the gardens of the White House on 3oth, 2009 with Sgt James Crowley of the Massachusetts Police Department ( opted and served a Blue Moon beer), Henry Louise Gates Jr a Harward University Professor (opted and served a Sam Adams beer) and Mr President opted for the beer of the American working class a Bud Light.We had a similar beer summit in London circa 21-26 July 2009. The trio here was different (means, I shared these 9 beers in 5 days with these gents), Ranjit Kumar (my maternal Uncle, my childhood idol and aka, Samson in College and Johnny by his wife and friends now), lives in London since 52 years, truly a working class hero), Beera- My buddy from the Indian Army now a senior executive with the Lloyds bank.

My first beer in London a Carlsberg, I love the beer, a little disappointed (because, I have loads of it in New Delhi now), I was living with Johnny (my Uncle, called John) and his humorous and bundle of energy, his Irish wife Aggie with of course dearest wife Praveen and little Detective An. Promised myself to try a lot more beers.

The next day after a covering a lot of ground in London, the Salvador Dali Universe and Gallery, we reached an outdoor cafĂ© within the Royal Festival Hall on Belvedere Road, on the classy South Bank, called you know what Canteen ( it was dearest wife’s choice, we went back two days later for a coffee and cheese cakes). The vivacious waitress Polly grazed my arm and offered a Helles Lager, though brought to us by a shaggy Scotsman Michael .Mmm it was light and cold and I was thirsty, the recommendation and the recommendee, both were nice. We enjoyed the beer, infact I had the beer, while dear Praveen had a lemonade and Detective An had a classic Coke in classic glass bottle with Fish and chips and dish of mashed potatoes.

I opened the fridge one day (extending the generosity of our loving hosts) and pulled out a bottle of Peroni, (my Uncle usually stocks exotic sounding east European and Bulgarian beer), this time he had gone upmarket and stocked Italian beer. Though, I have had Peroni in Nat’s restaurant Flavours in Delhi. It felt refreshing and light, it’s a pity, I followed it with yet another Carlsberg or was it a scotch, a Chivas 18 year old (which is as different and superior from its Chivas regular as cheese is from chalk or something like that) or was it a Islay of Mist, a single malt blend too evolved for my humble and broken in palette.

We had an image of an ideal pub, within an animal sounding name (like Hog in the Pound, The Horse and the Groom) and lo behold we were at Hares and Hound a lovely 105 year old pub in Osterly park. We loved it, a traditional place in fact, now owned by the Fullers Brewery waited by the pretty Louise a Fillipino who has been in and out of this pub for seven years.

Amidst ,Bangers (Cumberland sausages) and mash with onion gravy and Fried cod (fish)and chips and lots of other food had memorable pints and half pints of Fullers Discovery (pale blonde Beer), Fullers ESB and the dark Guinness. Discovery was what it promised blonde and light and pale both to look at and drink, ESB was strong and had a bite to it and the Guinness got me into a dark mood (the lady in the photo shot and ad for Guinness is not Louise the Fillipino, lest you get ideas) we went to family bar and this is family viewing blog. Is that right or what ?

Beera(sounds similar to Beer, is Berender Pal Singh the senior executive), picked me up from home and said lets go to Windsor Castle, I thought to myself Castle at night, its like asking someone lets go to Red Fort or Purana Qila. Well I said lets go with the flow. It turned out to be an upmarket bar, pub , restaurant and nightclub district, the excellent host that he is,took me to three bars, The King and Castle where I had a shy beer amidst the heavy Vodka and Redbull drinking by the Eton College boys which is in the neighbourhood. With girls from every where, and the shortest skirts on this side of Soho. We are accosted by four young girls who ask for a light I offer them a lit cigarette, one of them ,an Indian says, join us we are going to Liquid and then Vanilla. I am too old and Beera is to sober to respond. Well I forgot the beer in all this excitement. I had a fruity garden Beer Leffe out of a bottle. Nice. Fortified by the encounter, Beera decided to stick to double of Jamieson the Irish whisky for the night, I meekly followed. In two characteristic bars, the Ha Ha Bar and Grill at the Windsor station and gues what the Horse and the Groom , but more of that later, her we are talking just beer.
The Last day, I have to have some more beers, we go to the neighbourhood store called Exotic and pick up Grolsch and John Smiths. I had seen and read about Grolsch in movies and books, It was nice and not a strong beer as I thought it would be. The last one was John Smiths it come with a plastic widget in the can which I was told by Uncle John, helps it move from a canned beer to a beer from the pump. Though it promises, to be a bitter it was not that bitter, It was quite nice. That’s the Story, Three Guys Nine beers in 5days. That my Beer Summit a lot more interesting than Obama’s
So Long or is It Tally Ho !

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Shangri La of my dreams : Kasauli, Eat, Wear and Stay.

Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. In the book, "Shangri-La" is a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia—a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. In the novel Lost Horizon, the people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance. The word also evokes the imagery of exoticism of the Orient.

On a flight from Pune to Delhi in 1987, I met the head of Smith, Kline and Beecham in India (an Englishman). We got talking and he mentioned these golden words, “Kasauli is the Shangri La of my dreams”. And these words kind of stayed with me. I had known of Kasauli before, my mother lived there briefly , my grandfather Diwan Kasturi Lal Chopra, was posted there with the Punjab Police, in the post partition united Punjab ( including Punjab, Harayana and Himachal Pradesh). My mother had some Nutanesque photos taken in her pre marriage days on the slopes of Kasauli all with dark goggles, salwar kameez and an elaborate dupatta (very filmy indeed).

It was a resort for the British, bought by them from the Gurkhas at Rs 5000/- (a price for a steak dinner now). To launch an offensive against Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Anglo Sikh Wars. Later used as a station for rest and recreation. Kind of getting your sanity back (it helped as the place also had a sanitarium amongst other things).

I was pretty influenced by the conversation with a westerner from Smith, Kline Beecham (which made Horlicks in India amongst others) and I often dreamt of a place like a mystical Shangri La and of course some part of family history. I finally got to go there, for the first time in the summer of 1992 and have been there 10 times since, living largely at Hotel Alasia, and Kasauli Club and with some visits to Hotel RosCommon, PWD rest house and once at the Indian Army Holiday Home. I like the mystery of the place, the church the grave yard, the old buildings, the Serum Institute, the availability of Solan No1 (The only single malt whisky in India, Golden Eagle Beer, all from Kasauli brewery). The ham and salami sandwiches from Daily Needs, the apple wine from Gupta store, the breakfast of the bun - channa- samosa at the sweet shop in the cobbled stone bazaar with 10 and a half other shops.

I would like to mention the legacy of a few generations old, outfits or stores that are a part of the history and render a lot of character to this heritage hill resort. These bring in the Food, Clothes and Stay Experience in Kasauli.

Eat (Roti)

Daily Needs, Established in 1920
Identifying the need for supplies, canned food, meat (piggery products, liquor, Lachman Dass set up a store near the Maurice Hotel, next to the Anglican Church). Followed by his son Lekh Raj who expanded to groceries, wine and supplies, with currently Jai Kishan Thakur at the helm (whom I have been dealing with for two decades) and now his able son Akhilesh, who swiftly fixes the ham and salami sandwiches to be had by me and Detective An (our dear daughter) at the wooden bench on the portico of the elevated store, drinking apple cider (watching the world go by) while they pack our picnic basket. The store is part of Kasauli history , folklore and of course a part of the weekly fix of the students of Lawrence School of the adjoining Sanawar Hill. The store has been opposite the R Maidens hotel for a while and I like the experience of hanging out there. Jaikishan Thakur , mentions a legacy of pork and piggery products stores, three in Chandigarh, three in Delhi (Deluxe Piggery at Bhagat Singh Market aka Gole market, Steak House, Khub Chand and Sons). I am a regular at all these outlets. Imagine a life (in this case many lives and generations) dedicated and devoted to Piggery Products. God Bless the Swine, I mean the Pig.We Enjoy the Chicken Sandwich, the Chicken Ham Sandwich, the pork Ham Sandwich and of course the Chicken or Pork Burger all priced at Rs 35 each. The Tempest Apple Cider is rather good. Though you may have to buy the plastic glasses to drink it out off. Heavenly.

Bun Sam- Narinder Sahu (aka Tannu) @ Narinder Sweets.
Narinder Sahu and his ancestors came from Varanasi (almost six decades ago) to set up a sweet shop in pristine Kasauli, on the cobbled street bazaar. The Bun Samosa with Channa, is an irresistible snack at Rs 10 each. They also do Bun Gulab Jamun (tastes like a Jam Sandwich). Innovative , absolutely. We enjoy it as a breakfast, or anytime snack. However, like all the shops in the hills they do not crank up before 9. am.

Wear (Kapda)

Jakki Mull and Sons, Established in 1862
The clothiers and drapers to the British and the royalty for over 147 years is no mean feat. I wanted to get a tailored (customized, or even better bespoke/ hand crafted suit), this summer from Jakki Mull and Sons at Kasauli. Unfortunately they do not do suits any more. I end up buying a polo necked (collared) T Shirt as Kasauli Club our selected place of residence does not allow round necked T- shirts and I am running out of freshly laundered ones. Pankaj Jain the current owner has honestly lost track of the generations they have been in this business. I like the feeling of buying something from a heritage store and chat up with the establishment owners. They do sell great fabrics, but no tailoring. Maybe he should combine it with a hotel package (get a customized suit while you holiday here).The Sikh gate keeper at Kasauli club (Gurdaas Singh) smiles to see me in a new polo T shirt and I politely ask for a reimbursement of Rs499/-. He laughs and says if I had that kind of money I would be enjoying in the bazaar.

Stay (aur Makaan)

Kasauli Club 1880,
Though I would love to go on with my treatise on the various living options some set up more than 145 years . Let us keep the focus on The Kasauli Club. Set up in 1880 as a reading room, developed into club house and dancing hall catering to the nearby cantonments, Subathu, Dagashai, Solan and of course Kasauli. It was known for its post tennis tea and Saturday dances and ball amongst others.

Burnt down in 2001 and rose like thePhoenix in 2005 is very pretty and an example of very authentic restoration, blending tradition and modernity. Met some interesting people this summer, Rahul Ram the bass guitarist and singer Of Indian Ocean (over a whisky we discussed the early 80s and their band with Gautam Ghosh, called White Fang). The guy who calls himself Sehgal, I meet him every time I go and stay at the Club, talks of his stints abroad, Golf and very little else. Ashima and Eknaam Singh , she teaches English at Sanawar, we shared cigarettes and interest in food. Got tips from her on the subtle flavors of Teetua of Himachli cuisine. We ate loads of snacks, as the food apart from Continental is just passable at the club. So Gin and Lime by day and Peter Scot and perhaps Solan No 1 by night and Chicken fingers, Chicken Nuggets, Peanut Masala, Cheese Toast and Chicken Seekh and Ckicken sausages all below the Rs 50 mark. The continental food of Chicken Chops, which come, twos, in a portion with Boiled vegetables and bread and butter is meal for Rs 75/- Well qualifies for my Salesman guide to a Holiday, all under Rs 100/- Came back two kgs heavier some due to my enjoying the drinking reading and conversing on the patio (overlooking the valley with Chandiagarh in the yonder) by day and night and the special snack diet prescribed by our dear daughter Detective An.

No Country For Old Men : Though the hills are no Country for Old Men. You see some ancient Establishments and even more ancient residents. The hills and mountains are designed for younger persons, always inhabited by older peole, as the young are busy making a living and counting their money in the plans, I believe the attraction to the hills is something as close to a fatal one, imagine living a tough life and for what. Me, I have, almost a fatal attraction, enigmatic, mysterious attachment to Kasauli, sometimes I think it is a previous birth reconnect as I roam the streets almost trying to remember something, I have inducted and re inducted all members of my family to Kasauli. Someday I will rest in peace there.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Breaking the 300$ mark : Sevilla at The Claridges

As the economy slowly surges back, it’s the season to splurge. Actually with dear wife Praveen, every season is a season to splurge, birthdays, father’s day, hot summer day, cool rainy day.
On one such day, dear wife hosted three friends and me for a fantastic experience at Sevilla At The Claridges, this is one of the most or the most expensive meals I have been to, paid by us (dear Praveen in this case).

I seldom do a review of restaurants, but this is unusual as breaking the 300 $ mark is like breaking the bank , it’s like getting five new tires for the Jeep, or enough Jeans for a life time. However, dear wife is different. She would go to any levels of generosity if she likes someone. I was invited, so I reckon she continues to like me.
It’s the old alfresco (out door, or to use an old fashioned term open air) dining place called Corbett. Dining it is, as Sevilla is open only for dinner. Corbett was a place where I was introduced to Stuffed Tangri Kababs (so 80s, well this was in the 80’s with a friend of mine from the 80s). I was so impressed that I took my folks the senior citizens for the Jungle experience. Later in 2004 we had a strategic meeting with cable operators of Incable (Hindujas group)to upstage Hathway (of the Raheja group) in Delhi as they had an outstanding of a few crores. This was atop a make belief machaan.

Hang on ! this is not about the demised Corbett , this about Spanish, Mediterranean , mountain terrain Sevilla and the 300 $ experience, which is a big deal for an under 2$ meal seeker and enthusiast, that’s me. One of the guests that evening remarked emphatically , when you mean under Rs 100, you mean one dish. I replied , calmly, no I mean the entire meal, he looked the other way at Praveen and sipped his Italian wine, a Fresco Pom Bianco @ USD 64 (Rs 3200 a bottle). All I understood was Bianco means white.

I wanted a sangria and settled for the Italian wine which was truly exotic, dry, light and splendid. It was raining and we chose to sit in a glass cabana, air conditioned while the lean thin waiters (all looked too thin and too tall), used umbrellas to reach us the food. The food fired oven which serves fresh naan like bread was extinguished, was later fired when the rain stopped and then we tasted the warm bread fresh from the oven, a tad late. In true Spanish tradition we ordered, Tapas, cold and warm , vegetarian and non vegetarian. Amidst interesting conversation on trends, politics and the future, I ate Tenderloin ( I eat steak whenever I can , though it was a petite portion), dear wife Praveen had Tiger prawns, while the others had the Trout and New Zealand lamb chops. The evening was delectable. Praveen seeing hunger written all over my face elegantly passed on a portion of her Tiger prawns to me.

The Chocolate Souffle oozing with chocolate was wonderful in all a great experience. The guest asked me are you going to write about this evening. I mentioned, its way out my league. I would leave it to Vir Sanghvi. On second thoughts, I thought what the hell, salesmen also get a windfall in terms of a bonus. My bonus is I am married to Praveen.