Thinespo – Eat and Go!

Thinespo has been on our radar for quite some time now. We’d been there once, to pick up our food and had almost decided to eat right there, outside, in the soft glow of pathway lights and under the awning of a clear night’s sky. But we had other plans. So we promised ourselves and the kids (Medha simply fell in love with the place!) that we’d go there again, maybe for breakfast?

“Thinespo”- a term in Telugu (a South Asian language) apparently means “Eat and Go”. But don’t just eat and go! Eat-Unwind-Savor-Pay-and then Go! Thinespo is a place to hang out with friends and family, let kids run about to their heart’s content, have a romantic dinner outdoors (like they show in the movies) and enjoy some great food too! Doesn’t that sound amazing?!

The Pizzas (Popeye Pizza and another one whose name I can’t recall) ¬†we’d ordered were surprisingly thin but truly delicious! We fought over some leftover slices too, can you believe it? We didn’t even suffer from the bloated feeling we normally experience after we eat at the usual Pizza places. We simply HAD to dine there.

Thinespo
Thinespo

It was quite sunny when we made our way into this restaurant (It is easy to miss this place if you drive too fast). We sat on the patio while the kids hung outside, on the lawn (and sun-bathed!). The fans and the comfy chairs made extra sure that the sun didn’t cook us slowly. No… Really, It was pretty comfortable even on a sunny afternoon. You can choose to sit indoors too, though that’s not something I went there for. (Come on… there are a ton of restaurants for that and only a few that have outdoor dining area and serve great food too!)

We ordered a couple of omelets and burgers for us adults and Garlic Bread for the kids. They must have only just fired up their kitchen, because the place had that hungover look about it after the day before’s birthday party. At noon, the staff was still cleaning up the tables, but when the food did arrive, we just dug in right away! The Thinespo Fluffy Egg whites I ordered just drove us wild with its appearance and texture! We’d never seen Eggs cooked that way and wondered how the chef whipped up something so fluffy!

Thinespo Special Fluffy Egg white
Thinespo Special Fluffy Egg white

It felt as if I was spooning up a dollop of ice cream or something and tasted melt-in-your-mouth good! The Garlic Bread slices topped with vegetables and cheese were crispy and the kids gobbled them up pretty quickly. My mother-in-law (who doesn’t eat eggs) was delighted to dig into the Vintage Veg Burger (Ooh! So much veggies in this, she squealed with delight!). Even I found the delicate patty in my Thrilling Tiki Burger to be refreshingly different from what I’ve always eaten. There was a home-cooked feeling about everything we tasted.

Garlic Bread @Thinespo
Garlic Bread @Thinespo

I thought Egg Florentine stole the show with its varied textures in one single plate and delicate flavors of Eggs, Spinach and Bread. This will be the first thing I order the next time around!

Egg Florentine @Thinespo
Egg Florentine @Thinespo

Prasad was pretty bummed about not being served hashbrowns on the side, but I didn’t mind one bit. I thought the Florentine deserved to be on the plate all by herself, like a queen! Doesn’t she look pretty in the picture above?! ūüôā

Anyway, we simply HAD to try the desserts. The Dessert stand was the first thing to greet us as we entered Thinespo and the cupcakes and pastries, casually displayed, looked too tempting to skip!

Desserts @Thinespo
Desserts @Thinespo

So we ordered a couple, one a chocolate ganache with fruity flavors and a red velvet cupcake for Medha, who simply wanted to try it because of its fancy name!

Red Velvet Cupcake
Red Velvet Cupcake

If Egg Florentine stole the show, it wasn’t a piece of cake (no pun intended) for her! The desserts put up a good fight for our appreciation too! Medha (who isn’t too fond of sugary treats, except candies!) just didn’t want to share a bite with any of us and the chocolate frosting on top of the slice of cake was unlike anything I’d tasted in India! We cleaned the plate in seconds! Mmmm… The whole experience just flooded me with fond memories of our breakfasts in the US.

Chocolate Heaven @Thinespo
Chocolate Heaven @Thinespo

We have finally found a good, no Great Breakfast (Lunch and Dinner too, but especially Breakfast!) place in our part of the World… Thank God!

With Love as Sweet and Decadent as an extra-chocolatey Chocolate Cake,

Manasa.

Jharana Jungle Lodge, Tadoba

If visiting Tadoba Tiger Reserve has been one of our best vacations so far, then booking our stay at Jharana Jungle Lodge for the duration will remain one of the best decisions the guys have taken till date! Jharana was the epitome of hospitality through and through.

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At the entrance

It is located close to the Park’s Navegaon gate and because it is at such proximity to the jungle, it is refreshingly quiet. The presence of a marsh nearby attracts birds of a wide variety into the premises. When you’re there (and if you’re there to truly experience nature and wildlife and not to dance to the tunes of a DJ or listen to loud music! Apparently MANY people look for ‘entertainment’ in a resort!) you’ll be relieved to hear the birds chirping and cooing and the occasional grunts and roars of a Leopard or a Tiger. You’ll wonder at the presence of a multitude of stars in the sky, which, strangely, aren’t visible in the city.

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Our cottage/room

The rooms are exquisite, tastefully furnished. It looks as if the owner hasn’t scrimped on a furniture here, a fixture there, just to save some money. No, don’t take me wrong… They aren’t flashy or extravagant; Each room is done in a way that the guest feels welcomed, with cozy beds and comfortable couches, tiled ceiling and spacious bathrooms. Let me warn you, there are no TVs! And that’s what makes it special, according to me! It forces the kids to come up with innovative games to keep themselves entertained and makes the adults spend more time with one another.

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We slept like babies here…

There were no other guests at the resort, much to our surprise and delight. We had the whole lobby, the dining area for ourselves. There were games like Carrom and Chess Boards beside the lobby. And Badminton and Cricket Bats too. The kids took turns playing and even the adults couldn’t resist joining them.

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Wait and watch how I play!

Food, prepared specially for us, was simple but delicious at all times. It was mostly Dal and Vegetable Curry, and sometimes a Paneer gravy, all served with fresh Tawa Rotis and Rice. We always ate to our heart’s (and of course to our tummy’s) content but it never felt like over-eating. Dessert was served every night and one afternoon we were treated to Chinese fare as well. We asked the staff to prepare fried goodies when we felt the urge to eat some. And they didn’t charge us extra for such treats. (Do make sure to carry plenty of snacks or special foods you may need as it is hard to find stores nearby.)

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The Dining Area
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Beautifully furnished

The staff went out of their way to create novel experiences for us. Once they set up Tea/ Coffee outside the resort, beside a lake, a fallen tree-trunk serving as our makeshift table. Then there was snacks by the light of a bonfire and a candle-light Dinner beside their new swimming pool. Ah! What more can one ask of a vacation!

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Delicious!
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Bonfire Time!
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Dinner by the pool. They had to shift their huge, sturdy table outside for us!

Conversations, stories shared by Rahul (the Manager) at the lobby after a Safari and Yogesh (the Naturalist) over a Beer beside the crackling fire, were the icing on the cake. They are such passionate people- talking about the wildlife (especially Tigers) like they’re discussing the traits and oddities of members of their own family and answering our questions, clearing our doubts about the inhabitants of the Forest, the rules that are in place to protect them- their enthusiasm just rubs on people who listen to them talk. I spotted Medha soaking up everything they said.

Once, when there wasn’t much else to do, we decided to hike to the Tribal temple atop a hill nearby. We were asked not to bring the kids along, as the terrain isn’t kid-friendly and there are chances of coming across a Bear or a Leopard, but who would we leave them with? We decided to go, accompanied by Yogesh and another boy from the resort. If it gets too difficult, we can always return, we told ourselves…

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Off we go hiking

We met the guard who watches over the entrance to the Buffer area before the Navegaon Gate to the Tiger Reserve, who asked us to be extra careful as he’d seen a Tiger nearby just a while ago.

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The Guard’s abode

We walked ahead carrying sticks and making noises. We were entering thick jungle and as we walked/climbed, dry leaves crushing beneath our feet, we watched out for snakes. The hike wasn’t strenuous; It was just uncomfortable, with the path being slippery and the sharp branches of vegetation poking or brushing against us. The kids were brave enough to walk, with help, of course, but I felt so proud of them! We stopped to pay respect to the Snake-God, whose awe-inspiring idol stood, keeping a watch over the terrain.

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Snake God

Then we spotted a cave frequented by Tigers and its droppings closeby. We were probably being watched by the Big Cat himself, as we marched on, scared but excited.

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Den

So glad we decided to do the hike anyway, because the views at the top were stunning, especially of the setting Sun. We sat on stones and logs and relaxed as we munched on pieces of Watermelon packed by the staff. We did this for quite sometime.

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Shiva idol at the top
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Snack-time!

Soon, it was time to head back. To the Resort. And the next morning, towards home. We’d had the best best vacation so far! Oh! Did I mention that already?! Yeah, whatever! Still…

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Watching the sun set over Tadoba

PS: Just don’t buy the Coffee Table book on Tadoba called Tadoba – The Inheritance, at the Resort. Even though it is good, with beautiful photographs of the flora and fauna of the Park, it just isn’t worth paying Rs. 2000 (30 USD) for, especially since the copies were received free by the Resort from the Forest Service, as we found out later!

(Rooms cost us Rs. 7000 (100 USD) per couple per night. We ended up paying Rs. 26,000 (384 USD) for 3 nights, including food and other expenses)

Rajdhani Restaurant

One of our favorite family pastimes (actually, this one tops our list of favorite pastimes!) is to dine at different restaurants every Sunday. We mostly go for a North Indian Lunch Buffet, but occasionally we do try other cuisines like Rajasthani or Gujarathi. Nothing beats the taste and variety of Food offered at the Rajdhani Restaurant in Banjara Hills, which serves both Rajasthani and Gujarathi delicacies on a Thali (or a platter).

The friendly staff here makes you feel at home; Until the meal is over and the bill arrives, one almost forgets that he is eating at a restaurant and not at a relative’s home. They abide by their slogan of “Atthithi Devo Bhava” (The guest is equivalent to God) and treat their customers so.

Ambience

A smiling employee applies vermilion to your forehead at the door, another brings a traditional decanter filled with water and a bowl to help you wash hands right at the table, someone else comes to find out whether you wish to eat the Jain or Non-Jain version (The Jain cuisine is completely vegetarian and also excludes onions, potatoes, brinjals and garlic, according to Wikipedia). We picked the Non-Jain variety.

Welcoming guests with a tilak

Rajasthan, the word means “the Land of Kings” and its food with its generous use of Ghee (clarified butter) is fit to be served to the Royalty. Ghee is extensively used in the preparation of even the simplest of Dals, to the making of special desserts (apparently, they aren’t even called desserts in Rajasthan, as unlike the desserts which are served at the end of a meal, Rajasthani sweet dishes are served before, during and after the meal) like Malpua or Gulab Jamun. And that explains the reason why we walk around feeling full the rest of the day after having gorged on traditional Rajasthani food.

Where are my chapathis???

Rajdhani apparently has 72 different rotating menus with 22,464 delicacies from Gujarat and Rajasthan! Phew! But I go for their Dal baati churma, a dish that opened my eyes (and my palate) to the rich cuisine of Rajasthan, thanks to our friends, Vinay and Vandu. I first tasted this dish (or a combination of 3 dishes- Panchmel Dal, Boiled and baked balls of whole wheat flour called the Baati and a sweet powder of broken baati and jaggery called the Churma) at their housewarming ceremony, and I was hooked. Every chance I got, I asked them to prepare this delicacy.

Dal Baati Churma

Now,¬†whenever we eat at a Rajdhani (I’ve tried and loved the one in Dubai too), I joyfully look back on the days spent in the US with our best buddies.

Food Food and more Food!

Coming back to the Rajdhani in Banjara Hills, the folks here take hospitality up a notch (did I mention that already? Well…). Like an aunt or grandma that adores you and can’t stop asking you to eat “just a little more”, here, the waiters smilingly do the same. Or, they ask you whether you want a bit more Ghee on the already rich-looking Khichdi (a preparation of Rice and Lentils) and pour some, if you show signs of yielding. One even suggested I slather a bit of butter and Jaggery on my tiny Bajra (pearl millet) Roti, roll it up and eat. And when I complimented on its taste, he slathered more butter and jaggery on another Roti to enjoy some more. I was too happy (or too dazed?) ¬†to complain!

All of us took a nice long siesta at home afterwards, which did nothing to bring down the sluggish feeling we had. A walk around the neighborhood in the evening helped a bit.

I guess (and hope?!?!) there’s nothing wrong in indulging in some good food sometimes, right? After all how many lifetimes do we get! Yeah yeah… I see ya rolling eyes!

Enough said.

(By the way, the meal costed us about 350 Rupees per head)

KBR Park and WOFL

We live in a beautiful neighborhood, far from the noise of busy streets, completely surrounded by huge Neem (from the Mahogany family) and Teak trees. And that’s why we’d never felt the urge to take our walks anywhere else but here. For a change, we decided to go to Kasu Brahmananda Reddy National Park this Sunday, early (or as early as possible on a Sunday, with a couple of kiddos) in the morning. Kasu Brahmananda… Oh Forget it, KBR National Park is in one of the prime locations of Telangana, India, called the Jubilee Hills and is about 390 acres in size (according to Wikipedia). We paid Rs. 20 per adult and Rs. 10 per child to enter.

Inside the park

I’m glad we went there. It almost felt like we were walking in the midst of a Forest (almost, because of the walkways and a lot of walkers and joggers). It reminded us of one of our favorite spots in Tucson, US, called the AZDM (AriZona Desert Museum). Just like in the Desert Museum, the trees had markers with their names on them. And there were boards everywhere explaining how the flora and fauna are useful to us and how we should do all it takes to protect them.

Board inside the park

“Let us all promise to be eco-friendly ALL THE TIME!”

Medha walked the whole 2 km distance while Madhav covered half the loop; For the other half he had to be strapped to the stroller while he ate a bun (Food is not allowed inside, but we sneaked in a few snacks for the kids!). They both enjoyed spotting squirrels and peacocks and imitating the sound of peacocks. Peacocks. They were everywhere. They stunned us with their rich royal-blue bodies and feathery skirts trailing behind. I couldn’t capture their majesty on my camera, as the guard didn’t allow me to carry my bulky camera inside! (I wonder why. Seriously! Everyone carries a cellphone these days, don’t they?)). I had to make do with a cell phone, which I hate using for clicking pictures (due to its limited flexibility). We did have a good time there though and plan on visiting again.

We had worked up quite an appetite by then. Usually on weekends we go for lunch buffets. But this time we wanted to try something else, so we picked WOFL, listed on Zomato as a good place nearby. WOFL is a tiny eatery tucked in Banjara Hills, not too far from Jubilee Hills. It is easy to miss if one is not paying close attention while driving.

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We hadn’t eaten Eggs and Waffles in a long long time, so we were too excited (especially the kids and I. Prasad, not so much. He kept bickering about mosquitoes as we sat outside in an area whose decor brought to mind outdoor European Cafes. I was least disturbed by a mosquito and so were the kids). I kept clicking pictures even before the Food arrived. I’m sure the other guests found me crude and not sophisticated enough to be dining at a swanky place. But that didn’t stop me! ūüôā I can be pretty shameless when I need to get my work done!

Prasad ordered a Mushroom Omelette while I chose the Greek Omelette (expecting to gorge on my favorite Feta Cheese after a long time. Sadly, there was no Feta Cheese.). We ordered a plate of Scrambled Eggs for Medha and Hashbrowns for Madhav. Madhav isn’t big on eating Eggs; We thought we’d share bits from our plates with him. We also ordered a Cafe Latte, asking the waiter to bring it as soon as possible since I was starving.

The Food didn’t take much long to arrive, but the sides we ordered, like extra Bread slices took forever to. I thought everything was delicious and homely, but Prasad said HE could have done a better job with the Eggs (He’s capable enough!). The Belgian Chocolate and Blueberry Waffles stole the show! They were just the right texture and taste and everybody dug in and cleaned up the plates!

I thought the food was a bit pricey and the portion-size too small.

We’d go back there again for the ambiance and the Food; I want to try their Pan-cakes next time. The waiters looked well-dressed and stylish, but a big part of their attire was missing- their SMILE! They looked like they were forced to do the job. I hope the owners work to improve their customer-service; Then I’m sure the restaurant’ll earn a 5 rating, one better than its current 4 on Zomato.

Cheers.

Manasa.

My first batch of Cupcakes

I’m a big fan of Cupcakes. Have always been one. Back in Dubai, I frequented shops like Mister Baker, Cheesecake Factory and Starbucks to try their cupcakes. My best friend Israt had once bought some yummy cupcakes for me from a shop called Sugaholic. I loved it!

When I moved to Switzerland, I had a hard time finding a nice cupcake shop, until my friend, Aniko, suggested a place called `The Little Shabby`. It’s¬†a tiny ¬†cafe that specializes in cupcakes and coffee. They used to have 2 branches in Switzerland, one in Winterthur and the other in Schaffhausen. Unfortunately, the branch in Winterthur, got closed recently.

Little Shabby is owned by 2 sisters who bake their own cupcakes. You’ll find different flavors every day. If one day they bake Mango, Chocolate and Lemon flavors, the next day it is Blueberry, Red-velvet and Vanilla. They are super-delicious and super-pricey (5 US Dollars / cupcake), but they’re well worth it.

Along with the cupcakes, they also sell baking tools like paper cups, baking pans, cupcake decorating items, piping bags etc. Once every week my husband, Mike, and I treat ourselves to a cupcake and a hot cup of coffee or cappuccino after a long walk around the city. He likes to try different flavors while I usually stick to my favorites, red-velvet or chocolate. As a special surprise, Mike ordered their 4-tier cupcakes arranged with a beautiful fruit-cake with lemon for our wedding in Switzerland.  I was in seventh heaven!

I decided I had to bake my own cupcakes. I wanted to be that mom and aunt who bakes the best cupcakes! With this urge and a full-fledged support from my husband, I planned my first bake.

I found this recipe for  a simple vanilla cupcake with vanilla icing. I modified the measurements to suit my requirement.

I shopped for some baking equipment like a piping bag set containing nozzles of different sizes, cupcake papers (these papers can be used directly in the oven), sprinkles for decorating, vanilla essence, coloring agents (blue, red and yellow) and plastic spatulas from a supermarket called Migros.

Cupcake ingredients

To bake about 10 cupcakes, I used the following:

200 gm All purpose Flour

100 gm icing sugar (You can add more if you want it sweeter)

2 eggs

¬ľ tsp salt

1/8 tsp baking soda

1-1/4 tsp baking powder

100 gm butter

2 drops of vanilla essence

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 175¬įC. In a bowl, sift the flour; to this add salt, baking soda and baking powder and keep aside.

step 1

Step 2: In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar using an electric mixer. Try to keep the speed as low as possible.

Step 2

Step 3: Once it starts to become smooth, add the eggs, one at a time and the vanilla essence. Whisk it thoroughly until the batter gets smoother.

Step 4: Pour the mixture into paper cups. Fill only halfway to avoid spilling over the sides

Step 5: Bake for 18-21 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, I used the following:

200 gm butter (Softened i.e, kept at room temperature and not frozen)

200 gm icing sugar

2 drops of vanilla essence

2 drops of coloring agent

Decorating sprinkles

Step 1: With a mixer, beat the butter and sugar till it gets fluffy. Add vanilla extract and color. If the frosting is too thin, add extra sugar and if it is too thick mix in a bit of milk.

Frosting

Step 2: Once the frosting is done, pour it into the piping bags* and decorate the cupcakes. Top them with your favorite sprinkles.

After decoration copy

*I used simple round nozzle to get this design.

The cupcakes were delicious. The cake had the right texture and taste and the frosting was yummy; only it wasn’t as fluffy as I wanted it to be.

Vanilla Cupcake with vanilla frosting

My friend suggested I add fresh cream in the frosting to make it more fluffy and creamy, instead of using only butter (that is half portion cream and half portion butter). I am going to try that for my next batch. I’ll let you guys know if it works. (Please do tell me if you have any suggestion…)

I have to got to nail this…

(‘Cause I will be baking cupcakes for the guests at my sister-in-law’s birthday party next month. Don’t tell her this… :))

A Night @ Eat Street

I love Eat Street. It has a bunch of eateries to suit every palate, from “Sultan’s Biryani and Kebabs”, that specializes in Mughlai cuisine, ¬†to “Wok of the town” that serves Indo-Chinese food. And there is a Subway and a Pizza Hut too, which means, there’s something to eat for everyone.

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But what attracts me to this place isn’t just the food, but the whole dining experience. It is an open-air food court and a Fair, beside the Hussain Sagar Lake.

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I always enjoy relaxing there with my family, a slice of Tandoori Paneer Pizza in hand, gazing at the opposite shoreline, all lit-up and dazzling, throwing colorful reflections on the lake. The cool breeze and the excited chatter around makes one forget that we are just a hop, skip and a jump from the bustling main road.

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When we were last there, I took the opportunity of our visit to practice some Night Photography. At first I kept clicking pictures without paying much heed to the shutter speed, that is, the time it takes for the shutter to open and close to capture a picture. If it closes too fast, not enough light enters the camera, which means, pictures shot in the dark appear darker. By allowing the camera’s shutter to close slowly, more light can be allowed to enter.

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Prasad suggested I needed to allow my camera to focus before pressing down the shutter release button, so that I reduced the shutter speed.

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I tried that, and the pictures slightly improved in their quality, even though they still appeared grainy.

I dream of the day when I am taking pictures like a pro and using this post to show where I’m coming from!

P1100359I have read in photography websites and books, that a good photographer never uses the flash and makes do with whatever light is available, because using a flash adds an unnatural light to a picture. I get it, but sometimes I just don’t care about what the purists have to say!¬†If breaking a rule means I get a good picture, then break a rule I will!

I did get some good pictures when I (Finally!) turned on the flash.

P1100376 P1100381By the way, I believe it is very VERY important to capture the everyday fleeting moments before they are lost, than to fret over the quality of the pictures or the minutiae of Photography!

Spice Garden

 

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We had thoroughly enjoyed the food and the ambience at the Spice Garden Restaurant on our  first visit and were going back for more.

Back in the US,¬† especially in Tucson, where we lived, there were pretty good Indian restaurants,¬† but they weren’t strictly vegetarian. That meant the restaurants paid more attention to the dishes containing meat, or so we used to feel. It always felt like we didn’t have enough variety and that when we paid for a buffet, we were covering the expenses for preparing non vegetarian food, which we didn’t even touch. In India it is so different. We have so many purely vegetarian restaurants to choose from, that serve banquets fit for a King, that we are spoilt for choice here!

Being a foodie family, that’s what we are found to be doing most weekends, trying new restaurants.

As I was saying, we went back to the Spice Garden once again, ’cause we LOVED it the first time around. This time too we weren’t disappointed.

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We were served a welcome drink called Spice Green, which was, like the name suggests, Spicy and Green. We adults loved it but not the kids. When I asked the waiter what went into its making, he said something along the lines of “Sprite and Cough syrup”!

“I’m sorry, Cough syrup?”, I asked.

Again, he repeated something, very fast, that sounded like “Cough Syrup”. I don’t think it was Cough syrup, why would anyone put Cough syrup in a juice? At a fancy restaurant? Maybe I should have asked someone else for clarification. That didn’t occur to me then!

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The soup was served. I chose Sweet Corn over Tomato soup. There were a good number of Salads to try.

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The starters were the real stars of the “show”! They were served at the table itself, hot and crispy. There were Cheese Balls, which surprisingly the kids didn’t like, but we did. And Paneer Tikka and Aloo 65, each appetizer tastier than the other.

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I was busy trying to figure out the best way to capture their beauty with my camera, than focusing on finishing my plate, that I was soon served an ultimatum by my husband – Eat first or be abandoned!

Even though the mouth-watering starters filled up most of the space in my tummy, I decided to give the main course a try, as everyone else was raving about the dishes.

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The Kids loved the Pasta and Coriander Noodles. I loved the buttery Paneer Masala with Roti; Vegetable Do Pyaza was a pleasant surprise, since it didn’t look appealing, but tasted nice.

Even if I feel full, I can’t resist digging into a dessert. Kova Puri looked and tasted delicious, while Heera Jamun looked so cute like tiny marbles that I had to pop a couple into my mouth, even as my tummy began protesting because it couldn’t be stuffed anymore!

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P1100245I didn’t TOUCH the Saffron Phirni, no, really, although it looked tempting and came in a clay bowl. I just thought it looked cute paired with a scoop of Butterscotch Ice cream.

I fed them to my dear husband! ūüôā (Psst…. The family dustbin!)

Price for the buffet – Rs. 299 (plus taxes)