Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Spices Home Stay (Palakkad - Kerala)

There's something more special about Home stays when compared to hotels or resorts. Its something like resorts, but more personal and with more specialized food that's most probably has local flavours and don't cost so much as resorts!!! So yeah, its a very good option. One such fantastic home stay was here at Palakkad in Kerala called Spices.
Located close to a small village called Alanallur near Mannarkad, the homestay is located within a huge estate. The actual ancestral house of the owner, Mr.Sunil is also within the premises, close to the entrance of a rubber plantation of 60 acres with about 2500 trees. By close, I mean, close when compared to the actual size of the premises. Its needs quite a walk which is easier done by a drive!!! 

The ancestral home, by itself has a heritage of its own, and its almost 150 years old. Its a very traditional Kerala styled home with lots of wooden structures, wooden flooring, inbuilt wooden stair cases etc etc etc. 
Another building with 5 rooms and a common kitchen & dining hall comprises of the home stay section! To go with the name Spices, the names of the individual names are named after various spices - Pepper, Cardomom, Clove etc. Its in 2 floors and tastefully made. 2 rooms and the common kitchen & dining are in the ground floor. 1st floor has 3 more rooms. 
Each room has attached bathroom which is sun lit!!! A major portion of bathroom roof is made of glass and guess what, it was raining when I was there, and to see the droplets of water falling on u, yet not getting wet, is indeed an incredible feeling. 

The interiors of the rooms are very Vintage French inspired with all whites & off-whites - the cot, the cabinet, side table, all of it. The rooms have both air conditioning & fans, but with the super cool Kerala climate and in the middle of so much greenery, I didn't need either!
The first floor has a huge balcony which is a perfect for a party. To make things easier, Sunil has come up with an innovative idea! A pulley with a basket attached that can bring in stuff from the kitchen below to this balcony - easy service!!! 

A corner bar, a small study area with a super comfortable sofa, a traditional family swing set in the common area comprise the first floor. A huge french window are both in the ground & first floor. Plans are in to open up a barbecue just outside. 2nd floor is an open terrace with a perfect view.
The dining hall has a spacious 12 seater table. There's a television also in the common space. Just outside, on the portico, are wooden park benches which makes a comfortable reading area. I was sitting there in the night, all by myself (with Sunil's dog occasionally checking on me!), switching off the portico light, in complete darkness, looking out at the greenery (that was completely black)... By 7.30 it was pitch black and was filled with glowing fireflies, atleast 50 of them!!! That was absolute peace...
Traditional, authentic Kerala food is cooked by the inhouse cook, as you want it - sugarless, eggless, meatless, full meat - as you want! A walk around this property is indeed a long walk. 

Apart from the rubber, there are several plants incl, teak, pepper, jackfruit, vanilla, several flower yielding plants etc. There are a couple of water bodies within this area. 

And more than anything or anyone, you know what's the highlight of the stay - Sunil's father Mr.Prabhakara Panicker. You should have a chat with him. His old world charm, his stories from the past, about Burmese partition, his first motorcycle ride, his trekking experiences, his stint with gliding & flying, about his cousins in Army and Commando forces - you can never get bored when he talks!!!
Coming back soon with the places I saw around this homestay and that includes... shhhh...... Silent Valley too!!! Watch the space.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ottimo Cucina Italiana Restaurant - A Review (Chennai - Tamil Nadu)


“Rocky and Mayur have ventured out to explore food from all parts of India and curate videos on I'm contributing my part by relishing my favorite dishes at Ottimo Cucina Italiana and sharing my views with you all! You can also upload your video review on AskMe and stand a chance to meet Rocky and Mayur.” 
Edit dt. 26/07/2015 abv. Orig article below published dt.27/12/2012

I've already written overall about ITC Grand Chola and recently I was again there for a dinner and how was it... Well, ITC Grand Chola has quite a lot of restaurants inside it like Madras Pavilion, Peshawari, Nutmeg, Cafe Mercara Express, Ottimo Cucina Italiana etc, and I opted to dine at the brand new Ottimo Cucina Italina! 
Ottimo Cucina Italiana is one of the very newly opened restaurants withing ITC Grand Chola! As the name says it all its an Italian restaurant. Its located in the first floor from the Sangam Lobby (Remember the huge staircase in the last pic of the earlier post). As soon as I entered ofcourse the aroma of the wines and nutmegs! It was soothing and makes your relaxed the moment you're in.
The layout of the restaurant is interesting. The kitchen is located at the centre, open to all visitors!!!! The central part of the kitchen has the Molteni unit from Europe, which the sous chef calls the 'Rolls Royce of Kitchen'. Its a single cabinet that comprises of a few induction hubs, few burners, a wide chimney, oven, grill, deep fry sections, chopping areas, a couple of storing vessels, practically almost all that the chef needs!!!! 
On the side were the 2 major sections, so important for the Italian food, a huge firewood Pizza oven and just beside it was the Grilling section!!! 

As I went around the kitchen I was pretty impressed. There was a section that displayed a few varieties of cheeses (come on, what's Italian without Cheese!!!); multi level bowls containing things required for antipasti (honestly, I didn't know about antipasti, till it was cooked by Chef Jamie Oliver in Master Chef Australia!); a waterfalls of hand made pasta; bowls of finely chopped veggies and cheese ready to be used in any pasta or pizza!!! Yummmm....
Over to the seating arrangement, I wouldn't say its awesome, I wouldn't say its bad. Its ok!!! I'd say its a wee bit cramped for the quality of the hotel!!! A smaller section on one side called Chef's corner has a round table capable of seating 8-10 people, which is pre-paid. Its perfect if you're owning a business and would like to treat or talk business over a dinner and don't want the bill to come at the end of the dinner and spoil any mood!!!!!
Now comes the main part - the food & service!!! As soon as I sat down, I was served with few varieties of breads and tomato & mint sauces. Breads included soup sticks, hard bun and my favourite soft cheese bread topped with mushrooms, onions, rosemary etc. Varieties of wine are yet to come from Italy!
Then I looked into the menu. Sad part is that the veggie section in the menu is pretty less. The options in veg starters were just 3 and I ordered Veg Caeser and Veg AntiPasti. I loved both....  Some eggplants rolled with cheese; some grilled bell peppers, eggplants, broccoli, cherry tomatoes; lettuce leaves and mint leaves perfectly seasoned with sauces;  fried bread; few more varieties of cube sliced cheese - loved it totally!!!
Then came the main course, sadder! There were only 2 veg pizzas of which one was margherita pizza and I was not interested in that. I badly wanted to try out some authentic pizza with lots of veggies on it (I've tried in Tuscana restaurant in Chennai and I loved it!) from here as well but I couldn't. 
Of pasta, veg options were 4, not bad. I tried the Rigottoni 'alla Norma' and it was good. Rigottoni is a ribbed tubular pasta. Here is is cooked al dente, with tomato sauce, fresh basil, topped with fried eggplant and pecorino cheese!!! 
Of the other main courses, veg options were just 3! I opted for Veg Lasagna and Zucchini Parmigiana! The Lasagna............ was so so so so so so awesome! I could eat it everyday. It was so yummmm.....!!!!!! It was a typical, traditional, homemade lasagna, layered with grilled seasonal veggies and tomato sauce. The moment it was put in mouth, it literally melted and glided into the throat! I mean, I can't describe how good it was.....
The Zucchini Parmigiana was yummmmmm as well! I loved it too!!!! It was grilled Zucchini slices layered with Parmesan, fresh basil and tomato sauce. It was really really yum as well!!!
After the main course, it was time for dessert. The veg, eggless options were just 2 - Espresso with icecream and Mousse with finely chopped strawberries. Espresso with icecream turned out like cold coffee as I was eating it and the Mousse, I didn't like much, though I loved the strawberries. I really really wish more options on eggless cakes were introduced here...
I couldn't meet the Master Chef Massimo Gullotta. So, I told the Sous Chef about this and he had recently realized the shortage of eggless desserts in his menu!!! Well, that calls to an intro about him - he is Zubin Writer! He is the Sous Chef of The Ottimo in ITC Grand Chola and he's just 27 - I was like, what???!!!!! And all the more, this guy trekked at Munnar, Thenmala, etc!!! And under these 2 guys, few days back, the restaurant won the Times Award for the 'Best Italian Restaurant'!!! I'm impressed!!! 
Anyways, looking forward for some more delicacies in the Italiano Veggie Way!!!! Make sure you make your reservation before you venture here coz its open only for dinner and only 40 guests are entertained per day.
Service - Awesome (a big thanks to Paul and Joseph)
Food - For a veggie, not awesome, but definitely good (a big thanks to Zubin)!

For Table Reservations: +91 44 4906 5000

P.S: A voucher was gifted by the hotel for review purpose, as a part of the Indiblogger bloggers meethowever the opinions are my own and this post does not to advertise the product/service.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Nellayappar Temple - Part 2 (Tirunelveli - Tamil Nadu)

Here's the continuity of Nellaiyappar temple! This time, all about entrance. As I looked above, ignoring the impeccably crowded market area, there are those Chera wood works!!! Gorgeous panels depicting humans, solo or 2 in 2 rows with a row of decorative detailing atop them!!! Here are some of those!!!

Together with them, were a few erotic expressions!!

Just past these mind blowing sculptures, was a pillar! 
A huuuuuuge, taaaaallllll granite pillar almost 20 ft tall. That's not unusual!!! So, why am I talking about it. Its made of 1 solid, single piece of rock!!! More pics of the place coming up!!!

Refer to my earlier post.

Dedicated to Prof. Swaminathan & Co.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Nellayappar Temple - Part 1 (Tirunelveli - Tamil Nadu)

Being in Nellai, its a must to visit Nellaiappar Temple and I did. 
Just opposite is the Iruttu Kadai! Iruttu Kadai literally means 'Dark Shop', basically a small old shop with wooden structure, an old, small wooden board and a single bulb!!! Iruttu kadai is the most famous shop that makes the ghee oozing, lip smacking, halwa!!! The shop opens at about 5 pm, but the queue here starts forming for 4 pm!!! The whole lot of halwa gets over in less than 2 hrs!!!!!! No, I did not even bother to get into that queue of people that was longer than Hanuman's tail.....
The Lord Shiva here is called Venuvanathar or Nellayappar. Venu means Bamboo and since this place was a Bamboo forest, He got the name so. And its the same reason why Bamboo is the Sthala Vruksham here! Another major legend here, tells how the place got the name Tirunelveli & the Lord here Nellaiyappar. Once a poor man name Veda Sharma, who took alms everyday, cooked it and offered to Lord Shiva. Once rain took the better of him and he didn't know how to keep him paddy dry. When he prayed, Lord made sure just a circle where the paddy was laid, stayed dry without rain. Since Lord fenced (veli) the paddy (nel), the place got the name Tirunelveli & the Lord here, Nellayappar!  

Same dancing Garuda...

The temple is believed to be built by Arikesari Parankusa Maravarma Pandiyan aka Nindraseer Nedumaran in 7th C CE. The earliest inscription here is of Veera Pandiyan in 10th C. Also inscriptions of Rajendra Chola 1 & Kulothunga Chola 1. Also there's an inscription of Maravarma Sundara Pandyan that refer to the Lord as Wodayar and his consort as Nachiyar. Its said to have been built by various people of various dynasties, upto Nayaks with Sivanthiappa Nayak in 1654 CE.
As soon as you enter temple, right atop, the ceiling is an exquisite wood work. Its so exquisite that it needs a separate post about it. Will do that soon! However here's a pic of the Woodwork at the Thamira Sabhai (Copper hall) or the 5 dancing abodes of Lord Shiva (the other halls being Gold, Silver, Emerald & Art). Remember the Golden Hall of Chidambaram??

Nellaiyappar and Kanthimathi shrines are 2 separate shrines that are connected with a long corridor. Some mandapams said by themselves that they were built by Vijayanagara / Nayaks. Another post on the lifesize, detailed pillars coming up!
On the Ardha Mandapa of the Kanthimathi shrine is a circular, lotus shaped relief on the floor with some inscription on its petals. Its the depiction of the Ragas of carnatic music!!

In the inner circumabulation passage, on the walls, scattered-ly placed, reliefs of some compositions! And here, the bronzes were by the Pandyas, which have a subtle different in their posture comparing to the Chola bronzes!
And luckily, the Kanthimadhi bronze was on the Golden Chariot and driven in the outer circumambulation passage the day I was there!!!

1 km from Tirunelveli Railway Station.
8 kms from Tirunelveli Bus Stand

Dedicated to Prof. Swaminathan & Co.
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