Re-visiting Bon Appetit, Leh, Ladakh

Last year, I ate at and enthusiastically reviewed a delightful restaurant called “Bon Appetit” in Leh, high up in the Indian Himalayas.

In Ladakh this year, once again acclimatising for a 6000m+ climb, I spent quite a lot of time alone in Leh, and inevitably found my way to “Bon Appetit” several days for lunch.  I know there are many new places to visit in Leh, but working on the if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it principle, I knew from last year that I could get a fabulous salad there, if nothing else.  Plus delicious al dente pasta.  Plus it’s quiet.  Plus the views are gorgeous.  Plus the loo is spotless.

And this year they have free wifi.

What’s not to love?

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Every day I had virtually the same thing, oh unadventurous soul that I am : either a tomato and rucola salad (same price as last year) or the mushroom and chive pasta (Rs 20 more than last year).

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One day I branched out and tried the spinach and ricotta gnocchi which was OK, but not rave-worthy.

Most days I ended up having delicious local seabuckthorn juice, and always served in a recycled beer bottle, for some reason.

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Frequent power cuts meant, sadly, that I didn’t get to have as many iced coffees as I would have liked.

The last time I went there for lunch, the day I staggered back into Leh after 17 days camping and climbing, the charming waiter told me that they had had no power for 2 days –  so no iced coffee and no classical music piped quietly in the background.  But fresh salad…

Some trekkers I met told me they found “Bon Appetit” too expensive.  It’s not cheap, but the food is delicious, the service lovely and quiet and unhassle-y, and you can while away many calm hours there.

Enthusiastically re-recommended.

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The Hundred Foot Journey

It’s not that any film with the  glorious Helen Mirren and the equally glorious Om Puri will automatically be brilliant…well, actually, now you come to mention it, yes, it will, and yes “The Hundred Foot Journey” is.

This is one of those genuinely feel-good movies, and to see it in Delhi (where I live) made it even more special.

The story line is simple.  Indian immigrants, fleeing mob violence in Mumbai, and the death of the family matriarch, end up in the South of France and decide to settle there and open an Indian restaurant.

They end up in the South of France more by accident than by design, since their old rattletrap of a car pretty much makes the decision for them, giving up the ghost just outside a perfectly bijou little hamlet in France.

They find a property and start to rebuild the restaurant they had in Mumbai, before it was burned to the ground.

The only problem is that their chosen venue is right across the road – about 100 feet away, in fact – from a one star Michelin restaurant, owned and run by Madame Mallory, played to perfection by Helen Mirren. I don’t know why I was surprised at the excellence of Ms Mirren’s French. Stupid of me, really.

Throw in yet more racism – tackled head on by Madame Mallory – and oodles of “snobbisme”, and a burgeoning romance or two, and the result is a gorgeous, happy, genuinely feel good film.
Seeing it in India, Om Puri’s muttered Hindi asides (many of them asking advice of his beloved late wife) needed no translation, and the audience clearly loved him and his approach to the patronising snobbery of Madame Mallory.

It was fun watching the crucial (& cross-cultural) masala omelette test. I guessing having lived away from Europe for so, so many years, and having come to expect/require a dash of masala on everything, the idea of experiencing a masala omelette for the very first time is cute –  we dilliwalas certainly enjoyed Madame’s reaction.

There is no great message, no particularly heavy insights to be gleaned from “The Hundred Foot Journey” – so just sit back and enjoy the film.
It is visually lovely, has a feel-good ending, so what more can one ask?

Ms Mirren and Mr. Puri are excellent.

And as for the gorgeous Manish Dayal…well…

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Ivy & Bean: fusion Oz food in Delhi’s Shahpurjat

I have mentioned in other reviews of Delhi’s Shahpurjat district that this little urban village is changing at the speed of light, as a recent hot humid afternoon’s wandering confirmed.

There are boutiques a-plenty and new restaurants and cafés, and seeing it through the eyes of my house guest, a European first timer to Shahpurjat, it really has become a super buzzy little place.

5 of us went for lunch at “Ivy and Bean”, a cute place serving Australian fusion food.

Absolutely loved the look and feel of the place.

We ate inside, in the air-conditioned dining room, but the gorgeous outdoor area (shown below) is clearly crying out to be frequented, once the weather cools down a little :

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The honesty library, below.

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Everyone enjoyed their food, other than Nisha, who said her pizza was “ordinary and nothing special”.  3 of us had fish, and all loved it  –  interesting mashed potatoes –  and Anjulie’s stuffed peppers were apparently delicious.

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The Basa (above) and peppers (below):

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The portion of fish wasn’t huge, but after the large, fresh salads, it was actually exactly the correct amount of food.

Service was a tad on the slow side, but to be fair we did order in dribs and drabs, as our group straggled in at different times.

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The current menu can be seen on the zomato website.

I didn’t tell them I blogged, nor that I write reviews, and we paid our own bill.

Will I go back?  Most definitely.

I can foresee a lazy late morning coffee and some browsing from the honesty library, come the winter.

 

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The Tibetan Kitchen in Leh, Ladakh

I first visited this iconic Leh restaurant in 2009.
Fast forward to 2103 when I ate there again. ***
Decor hardly unchanged. Same easy going friendly service. Same intriguing Tibetan food.

On both occasions we ate outdoors, and both times the place was packed, and buzzing.  Both times, we ate there at night.

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The restaurant is tucked down a little lane, and is quite simply a good place to sit out, enjoy momos and thukpa, and soak in that brilliant Leh vibe.

 

I did not tell the staff that I blog or review, and we paid our own bill.

Thoroughly recommended.

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***And yes, I will most definitely head there to eat, when I am back in Leh in a few weeks.

Revisiting The Potbelly in Delhi

Almost a year to the day from my first visit –  a totally unplanned coincidence, by the way –  I revisited The Potbelly in Shahpurjat with Sonam and Ahilya, a young friend visiting from Singapore.

And what a pleasure it was to have lunch there again.

No dip in standards, equally great food, still a lovely location – as in thank goodness nothing has come up to spoil avery special airy view over the treetops – so yes, well worth a revisit.

We spent hours there, and lingered long after we had finished our delicious food, but there was no hint that we should hurry along.    A lovely, relaxed place.

Just as we did last year, we started with a pakora basket –  too, too good :

 

Sonam had chicken “ishtew”, and pronounced it excellent.

Ahilya had a pudina iced tea which she also declared delicious :

 

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I had Posta dana machhli (fish with poppy seeds) and it was very good, and the helping was nicely generous :

Just like the previous visit, I didn’t tell them I blog or write reviews and we paid our own bill.

 

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 Personally recommended.

 

Where to find excellent coffee in downtown Johannesburg

On a recent holiday in Johannesburg, where we used to live, we went wandering through Braamfontein, a part of town that was hardly on our radar screen when we lived in Joburg, because it was downtown and perceived to be unsafe.

Fast forward several years (oh dear me, how I miss living in wonderful Joburg) and a brilliantly highveld winter morning, and we were headed to Braamfontein to meet up with friends and to explore the newly revitalised part of town.

Father Coffee is a small, elegant coffee bar and, as luck would have it, it was celebrating its first birthday that morning, hence the cake.  This cool little haven is partly owned by the son of our friends-  here he is busy at work :

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I loved the feel and pared down space :

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Outside is equally cool :

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My cappuccino was delicious and very reasonably priced.  I’m told the espresso was perfect.  Ditto the birthday cake.

They sell their Africa sourced coffee beans.

What’s not to love?

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Personally recommended.

I didn’t tell the staff I blog and write reviews until we had finished and after I asked permission to take photos, which was graciously granted.

Lovely place.

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Where to eat in Delhi’s Shahpurjat? Les Parisiennes, perhaps?

Nearly every time I go to Shahpurjat, which is usually to see my friend the designer Sonam Dubal, we end up at the charming cafe-boutique “Les Parisiennes”.

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A delightful space, elegantly and quirkily furnished, selling a mix of vintage and retro must-haves (think dresses, jewellery, accessories), and serving typical light French bistro style fare (think quiche, salad, gateaux – that kind of fare).

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I ask you what’s not to love?

I have been there with friends who went in for just for lunch and came out with a butter dish. Or stopped by for an afternoon cool drink and emerged with a glass cake stand they never knew they absolutely had to have.

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There is always retro style music playing, all vaguely Edith Piaf-y. The bathrooms are delightfully spotless.  The menu is written, bistro-style, on a blackboard.

I repeat, what’s not to love.

On a recent visit 2 days ago, on a broilingly hot Delhi summer afternoon, it was blissfully cool inside, and as I say every time I go there, “I could live here in Les Parisiennes”  – for it is a village house that had been beautifully transformed, but still feels like a welcoming home.

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I was very politely asked not to take photos on my last visit, so I didn’t, but on former visits I wasn’t stopped, so here is a quick look at a charming place that should be on everyone’s Shahpurjat To Do List.

 

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5-B, Dada Jungi House,

Shahpur Jat,

Delhi 110049

+91 88 26 51 89 43

+91 11 26 49 67 54

 

??? Personally recommended

I rate Les Parisiennes 10/10 for atmosphere.  8/10 for quality/portions/affordability of their food.  Have never shopped there, but friends have and love their crockery and glasses especially.

Open daily 10am-7pm

Din Tai Fung. A Hong Kong institution

We are a complicated family.

Food-wise, that is.

Husband is a carnivore who is allergic to seafood.

Daughter is vegetarian.

I am a piscatarian.

Thank God for our omnivorous son.

So finding a restaurant that suits us all is not always the proverbial piece of cake.

With this in mind, my review of Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay may well seem to be of the “on the one hand…while on the other hand…” variety.

Everyone we spoke to recommended Din Tai Fung with great enthusiasm, and as a dining experience it was fabulous.  Hardly surprising, given that the Causeway Bay branch of this famous chain gained a Michelin star a few years ago.

The original Din Tai Fung started in Taiwan, specialising in xiaolongbao (small steamed buns) and now runs to many restaurants all over the world.

Situated in a nondescript office block in busy Causeway Bay, you cannot make a reservation for this cafeteria-looking place, so you wait outside with crowds of diners. Watching what goes on in the glass-walled kitchen helps pass the time :

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The menu (with photos of the food) is brought to you, as well as an order pad, and you write down the number and quantities of the dishes you want.

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The staff who co-ordinate this waiting and ordering outside the restaurant all speak good English and explain the process and the menu to you.  Our waitress was charming, and came back to tell us that many of the greens that we 2 veggies had ordered were cooked in a meat based stock, so should she order them without sauce for us.  Yes, of course, we said, which was fine for our principles, but – the truth be told – made for pretty dull eating.

We didn’t have to wait too long, and once inside, the staff couldn’t have been nicer, and though the service is brisk and efficient, with the food coming out promptly, I never felt that we were being hurried along.

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So, the food.

The meat-eaters loved their choice, though they both said with hindsight that they would not order the drunken chicken next time :

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Drunken chicken, above, and the trademark xiaolongbao, below.  The pork ones were voted the best.

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We had vegetarian dumplings which were OK, but nothing to write home about, to be honest :

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I found them a tad too large to eat comfortably, which meant the mushroom filling fell out…or perhaps I am just a messy eater and/or inept with chopsticks.

Now for the greens…nice, especially the preserved vegetables (below) which were delicious, but overall nothing but greens was a bit samey and unexciting as our meal.  These greens are plainly meant to accompany, not serve as the main event, which is fair enough.

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So ?

As I said at the outset, it was a case of “on the one hand, but…” in as much as the whole experience was great, and the meat eaters loved their food.  But as a vegetarian, I would have to say, sorry, no.

 

DIN TAI BILL

Yak cheese heaven in Leh

We had been told that Gesmo’s is THE place in Leh for yak cheese, so 9 of us duly headed there for dinner one night.
Gesmo’s is one of those brilliant, typical hill-country places, serving casual food and selling bread and amazing looking pastries, and filled with an eclectic mix of clients – read young vaguely-hippy foreigners galore, and a few Indians (our party) – and with great fast, efficient service.
Within seconds of our arrival, on a busy July evening, 2 French guests had been seamlessly moved from one table to another, the back door had been closed to make more space, and 2 large tables pushed together to accommodate our group.

Our young Ladakhi waiter was one of the most polished I have met anywhere, with flawless English and a nice line in gentle put-me-downs.

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The yak cheese pizzas were delicious, large, very filling, but (if I am being 100% honest) I wouldn’t have known it was yak cheese – as in there was no distinctive taste other than nice, tangy cheese.

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The thukpa was declared delicious –  and again, look at the generous serving :

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And this (Israeli?) dish – below – that hubby dearest and another friend ate was apparently good but oh-so-filling, they said.  You really cannot complain about portion sizes at Gesmo:

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Nice casual, relaxed place.

And they also sell yak cheese, as well as serving it in all its avatars, so all in all –  Gesmo is pretty much yak cheese heaven.

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We paid our own bill (Rs2000 for 9…not bad)

I didn’t tell them I blogged or reviewed restaurants.

 

A good shopping & eating combo in Leh, India

I mentioned in a review posted earlier today of a restaurant called “Bon Appétit” in Ladakh’s capital Leh, that this little city’s eating and shopping profile has changed hugely over the 4 years since my previous visit.

Another great discovery on my trip earlier this month was the Open Hand Espresso Bar & Bistro.  In fact, this was a double discovery because once I had ooh-ed and aah-ed myself silly in Open Hand, I then discovered that there are outlets in Delhi, where I live, and that as a concept, Open Hand has been around since 1999.

Travel really does broaden the mind, in more ways than one…

So, we went for lunch at Open Hand, 6 of us, and the food met with everyone’s satisfaction.

So, food first (and curiously, I can’t find our bill, so forgive me in advance for this).  Rather foolishly, I didn’t choose a salad -mainly because I felt like soup, which was delish, so no complaints there –  but these salads looked perfect.  I helped myself to the feta from hubby’s salad, and it was as creamy as you could wish.

So, big thumbs up for fresh, crisp salads and creamy feta cheese at 3500 meters – Leh, you really are astonishing.

 

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Gita had this veg fried rice dish (below) which she said was OK, but not rave-worthy:

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My veg soup (below) was, as I said, delicious, filling, and just what the doctor ordered – though if I am allowed a quibble, I would’ve expected better bread than sliced white.

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I was in need of a caffeine fix, and this espresso milk shake did the trick

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Now, not only is Open Hand a café, complete with loungers in the sun, and ‘firangs” a-plenty checking their email and sipping coffee, it is also a fair trade kind of shop, which I enjoyed pottering around :

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You can shop from all over India…

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…or closer to home, from the Himalayas…

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and you can support any number of good causes

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This was a clean, relaxing place to spend a few hours.

Good food.

Wifi (though s-l-o-w, but hey, it was free) and a nice vibe.

We paid our own bill, and I did not tell the staff that I write reviews and run 3 blogs.

Next time, I will head there for breakfast and coffee, though 2 of our party tried that one day, just as a coach party of the ubiquitous Leh summer visitor foreigners rocked up.  Apparently the Open Hand staff were very sweet and told our friends that it would probably be better if they tried elsewhere, since there was bound to be a long wait otherwise –  a refreshingly honest approach.