When Chef Madhu Menon (of Shiok fame) promised to dish out a six-course meal to a bunch of food-lovers, there was (understandably) a virtual stampede to register online. There were only 28 slots available, and each person was limited to booking two slots. At 9.45am on the day registration was thrown open, I spent a good half-hour staring at the registration page and hitting refresh. At 10am sharp, my fingers blazed across the keyboard and my registration was confirmed. I was lucky – registration closed a record-breaking two minutes and 10 seconds later, with all 28 slots being booked.
The Spouse and I arrived early (as requested) to find Chief Organizer Mayur Polepalli MIA while Madhu was in the kitchen, growling at ingredients, staff, and camera-toting interlopers such as myself. We seated ourselves next to the only other couple present at the time, and discovered ourselves in the company of an unrecognizable Rajesh Mehar (earlier known as Muttony) and his partner Shabari Rao. Fueled by delicious chilli orange mojitos, we caught up on several years’ worth of life events as the other guests arrived. Saina Jayapal, Sneha Rao, Gita Ramanan, Shezan Bhojani, and Sowjanya Shetty joined us to form what is henceforth known as The Fun Table (the other two tables may well have been having fun in their own quiet way, but ours was by far the most raucous, most unabashedly riotous group).
Chef Manjit Singh of Herbs and Spice surprised us by inviting us to help him douse several kilos of dried fruit with several liters of rum in preparation for next year’s Christmas cake. The rum not only flowed into the giant vat of dried fruit – it also flowed into The Spouse and some of our fellow diners, as you can see:
…And On To The Main Draw
The amuse bouche, a little cocktail stick bearing cantaloupe, sundried tomato, and mint enjoyed a mixed reception. I liked the contrasting textures of the tomato and the melon; several people disagreed precisely because of that contrast. Either way, the single leaf of mint did what it was supposed to – refreshed the palate in anticipation of the feast to come.
The soup course was a delicately-flavored Roast Garlic and Crab Soup (for non-vegetarians) and a Roasted Carrot Soup flavored with candied ginger (for the vegetarians). A couple of people felt that the crab soup could have used a smidgen more salt – but that was easily corrected. I was disappointed not see the promised parmesan crisp gracing my soup bowl; it would have added the required saltiness and deepened the flavor of the soup. As for the carrot soup – I did not get to sample even a drop (greedy, selfish folks, those vegetarians were!)
We enthusiastically greeted our Pork-filled Dumplings served with Bacon Cream Sauce and Sundried Tomato Pesto. For all the meat-eaters, this was love at first bite. The dumpling skins were silky and thin, the pork stuffing was wonderfully smoky, and the little dabs of bacon cream sauce and mildly spiced tomato pesto lifted every morsel without overwhelming the meat.
Again – I have no idea what the Thyme, Paprika, and Citrus-Rubbed Potato tasted like; while Gita Ramanan, the lone vegetarian at The Fun Table, magnanimously allowed me to photograph her plate, she did not go so far as to offer me a single slice. Sniff.
Next came the Sriracha-glazed Smoked Mackerel with Bocconcini and Arugula. After the crafty presentation skills confused some of us into thinking that we had been served white pomfret, we realized that the mackerel had been butterflied for our dining convenience. The smoked mackerel was way too salty at first, but mellowed delightfully when consumed with the bocconcini and arugula. Despite the fact that the oily mackerel married so well with the cheese and the arugula, any hint of sriracha glaze was completely masked by the excessive saltiness of the fish. I think a more vigorous post-brine washing would have been in order. Oh, and a couple of plates had to be replaced because the mackerel was somewhat charred.
Needless to say (sigh) I did not taste the Mixed Lettuce, Roasted Cauliflower, and Bean Sprouts in Sichuan Sesame Peanut Sauce as it was (you guessed it) a vegetarian option.
Our seafood entree was supposed to be a “deconstructed” laksa. There was nothing “deconstructed” about the dish we received; it was laksa, plain and simple, and contained a pineapple slice instead of being accompanied by the fried tofu and Som Tam that we had been led to expect. Although I will concede that it was a perfectly adequate laksa, richly fragrant with dried shrimp, I have always admitted to being a laksa snob. I have a strong preference for Sarawak laksa over laksa lemak, so while I enjoyed the dish as a soup, I felt (and so did The Spouse) that the laksa I make at home has more body and complexity. Maybe that’s what the deconstruction was about? I dunno. The vegetarians ate Charmoula-flavored Grilled Eggplant and Tofu Puffs. I didn’t.
For us unselfish, willing-to-share, non-vegetarians, the red meat course - Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Thai “Drunken” Sauce and Gratin Dauphinois – was the highlight of the meal. The beef was medium rare, juicy pink at the center; the sauce was just enough to complement without detracting from the meat’s own flavor; and the potatoes were the perfect accompaniment.
Yet again (this is becoming predictable), I was unable to sample the Walnut and Mixed Mushroom Papardelle Pangrattato. In fact, the plate had to be physically peeled from under Gita’s nose for me to even photograph it.
And finally, dessert: Musk Melon, Chilli, and Lime Sorbet served with Irish Coffee Mousse. All I want to say is: man, I could drink that melted sorbet all summer long!
So was this shindig worth the Rs.850 per head we shelled out for it? Absolutely. Good food becomes a great meal when accompanied by camaraderie, interesting conversation, and an effortless “connection” with one’s dining partners. And by that standard, despite frequently sloppy service and the occasional glitch with the food, this lunch was a rip-roaring success – especially at The Fun Table, where ten people who met as strangers bid farewell with a promise to eat again.