Monday, 13 February 2012

Banqueting at Bangna Bacco's and pondering the Baritone of the Bandersnatch

The respect and admiration for the cuisine of Italy is apparent across the world. The wide range of styles, ingredients and flavours provides gentle bridges for people coming from more isolated gastronomic environments. Italian restaurants are a dime a dozen, the challenge is finding a genuinely good one. But, as with any restaurant, I find it a tall order to judge a restaurant as a whole purely based on your meager selections on a single dining experience. People are quick to pass judgement, good or bad, even if based on a single experience at a single point in time. We are back in Bangkok now and Bacco's are nice mid-level Italian restaurants, with the branch near Thonglor having a more boisterous family style atmosphere and the one in the Bangna area emulating a more adult and intimate setting with stylish dim lighting and cozy covered tables. 

There are a few dishes on my”frequent retrieval” shelf of sensory food porn for recreational use. This truffle soup is one of the well thumbed entries. It's a creamy soup that is simultaneously bold and delicate. The smokey tones of truffle are evenly dispersed in the rich creamy and offset by sharper twinges of sweet and salty. This is a definite must for any fans of the funghi. Deep and broad, the multifaceted flavour and all-encompassing aroma swallows your entire being and reverberates through your very soul, burning sultry scars of orgasmic sensory delight like warm bath on a cold winter's day. Or the delicious voice of Benedict Cumberbatch - lol :) xx. And suddenly I've completely lost my train of thought... 

Nothing quite as indulgent as carb on carb action. Whoever decided on smushing soft floofy spuds into their pasta dough was a bloody genius. Gnocchi, for those innocent souls that have yet to encounter it, are little pasta dumplings that usually (not all the time, as I have been told) include fresh potatoes in their mix. It is one of my favourite pasta options, so it was easy for me to decide on this gnocchi and pesto dish for the evening (these little dumplings may appear small but they are dense and very filling so I prefer having them accompanied with a lighter fresher sauce). These gnocchi were made in house. The appearance was nice enough, generously portioned and vibrant and appetising. Sadly, I felt they were a bit too squishy. The flavour, although pleasant, felt diluted and lost as each bite seemed to melt into nothing. Bacco usually satisfies my cravings for Italian without  breaking a sweat but on this particular occasion I was left wanting more. Alas, having been raised by a mother obsessed with not wasting food, I could not abandon my plate for another order. That's just mean. It wasn't bad, just not up to par with some of the other creations I've sampled from their kitchens. And the mome raths outgrabe...

Friday, 10 February 2012

Over-ordering English Indian Takeaway Treats

Ah the delightfully spiced concoctions of Southern Asia. One of the reasons I return the UK is to seek out their national cuisine, Indian food. As with any national food, there is a wide range of regional styles and delicacies. The one in question here is the mystical realm of the British Indian takeaway. As you should know very well by now, I value comfort. Perhaps it's my often suppressed sociopathic tendencies that lead me to feel such successive stresses in daily life and consequently seek the soft warmth of a humble and satisfying meal. Perhaps I just encounter one too many stupid people per day and the frustration just makes me want to bite things. Whatever it is, every one needs some sort of relief – or indeed stimulation – to alter the otherwise linear course of their existence. 
What better way to escape than to curl up under a fluffy duvet and await the nice delivery man's arrival at the door with a smorgasbord of piping hot ready-to-eat delicacies from the exotic reaches of the not-so-far East. Indian takeaway – the salvation of those with un-stocked pantries and zero motivation to step back outside into the world for a meal in a more social setting. 

So one lazy night whilst I was residing on my not-so-little brother's floor, we decided to indulge and over order from one of his new favourite internet-order-enabled Indian takeaways, Pukka Tiffin in Chertsey. Our initial order plan would probably have fed the entire street with leftovers for the next day. We are easily excited by the promise of mouthwatering magic food that appears at your door. After some vaguely sensible order slashing, we decided on the Chicken 65, Tandoori Chicken, Aubergine Masala, Gurkha's Revenge, Keralayan Fish Curry, Fish Masala, Mushroom Rice, Lemon Rice, Garlic Naan and Lychee Lassis (is that the plural for lassi?) – which I think were changed to Mango Lassis due to unavailability. Just the thought is making me salivate again. Damn my addiction to food porn. The total added up to about fifty quid. For three people, seventeen sterling each for a massive supper with plenty leftover for another meal the next day plus the added comfort of having to do naught but sit on out lazy arses playing video games? Yes please. 

Chicken 65 was the osusume number one super sparkling recommendation from my dekke otouto (big little brother). He had me at lime. I'm a sucker for citrus. We were obviously craving copious portions of protein with the double orders of chicken and fish. Even through our vigorous screening process of filtering out unnecessary orders we settled on both a Chicken 65 and the more common takeaway staple of tandoori chicken. It would give us the chance to conduct a comprehensive comparative analysis of the two varieties of grilled poultry. Yes. Not just being greedy bastards, I swear. The plethora of spices that adorned both portions naturally had similarities, but they still remained unique in their own respects. 

That's the glory of good Indian cuisine which I adore. That ability to harness the subtleties of hundreds of flavours and meld them into one sensationally titillating cohesive culinary experience that does not overwhelm all of your senses and make you blind for a day. In regards to the Chicken 65, I would describe this as an Indian variation of honey-lemon chicken. The citrus flavours are quite apparent, but not in an alarming manner. I find some dishes that advertise the promise of tart lemony tantalisation for your tongue fail to deliver. or indeed rape your tonsils and leave you gagging for a glass of water. The balance of spices and citrus in this chicken was beautifully infused into the succulent flesh and provided plenty of excitement for my ever eager taste buds. The smokey depth from seasonings and the tandoor preparation was apparent in both, with the basic tandoori chicken emanating a stronger barbecued savoury fragrance and the 65 providing a brighter sharp splash of refreshment. 

I adore aubergines. I get ecstatic about eggplants when I see them on the menu. From baba ganoush to grilled miso, the soft and juicy flesh of a nice fat eggplant in any style is hard to resist. The sponge-like qualities of the pale vegetable is perfect for absorbing and mellowing out flavours. The delicate custard texture adds a creaminess on your palette but the fibers create just enough structure to retain its structural integrity even when submersed in a rich curry sauce. Sensational saucy dish but I would recommend caution for those with a fear of the squishy. 

You can have so much fun when ordering from an Indian takeaway menu, especially because  there is so much variety in the components of your meal. My carbohydrate choice for the evening was the mushroom rice. I have a fungal fetish. Also, who doesn't feel a flash of excitement when the fluffy foliage of rainbow pilau rice sits sparkling on a platter in front of your face? Steamy and soft, the long grains hold their succinct shapes but unify in a magnificent flurry of delicate flavour in every mouthful you take. The generous sliced button mushrooms add that extra umami punch and lends a hand in calming and aspirating the stronger flavours of the rich curries for a fuller prolonged experience. 

It's always a pleasure to order fish from a restaurant or takeaway. I find the convenience of the already filleted and mostly boneless slabs of seafood so deliciously convenient. The Keralayan fish curry consists of fried cod chunks covered in a copious coating of piquant curry. With plenty of spices to last you till next Tuesday, the potentially tumultuous menagerie are tamed by the coconut milk base and reawakened by the tart tang of tamarind. The delicate white cod pieces are shielded by their deep fried casing which allows the flaky white flesh within to stay as such despite the fervent surroundings. It is a pleasant dish, quenching my craving for both a juicy stimulating sauce and a nice hefty bite of lean protein.

This last order was made out of curiosity more than an actual craving for any of its features in particular. Gurkha's Revenge. Is that a challenge? Consider it accepted, sir. This particular curry is advertised as a dangerously spicy entity that should only be approached by professional fire eaters in hazmat suits. With such potential volcanic heat, we decided on lamb as the sacrificial meat of choice as it is far stronger in texture and flavour than its companions. Perhaps it would appease the curry gods and they would not burn us from the inside out. We were excited. The excitement continued when we lifted the lid and gazed upon the whole dried chili nestled menacingly atop the fiery red sea of sauce. Our forks penetrated the glossy crimson surface and eased into what we could only assume was a morsel of mutton. We retracted our prongs with the samples firmly attached and braced ourselves. After a final glance towards each other with looks telling of the mutual respect, fear and courage we shared in the face of the imminent torture we were about to inflict upon ourselves, we lifted our forks and bit down. 

Nothing. Nothing? Perhaps it was a delayed heat. We proceeded with caution. There were definitely some strong tastes coming through, but I think we were too distracted by the overwhelming anticipation of Scovillian suicide to concentrate on the subtle qualities of the sauce. It was not hot. This wasn't just coming from two palettes that were raised in the fiery kitchens of Thailand. No. It was not hot. In terms of pure heat, it was on par with Keralayan curry providing only a faint susurration on the Scoville scale. A bit of a tingle but definitely not the roller coaster ride we were expecting. A sharp sourness was strongest presence in the dish. After forgetting about indulging in our masochistic tendencies, the lamb and the sauce was reasonably enjoyable, although it may have been a touch too tart. It was quite nice as leftover lunch the next day. Gurkha's Revenge was indeed a dish best served cold.