31 March 2009

45 Amil Colony, Hyd

As a young person, I always loved visiting my grandmother's house in Hyderabad (of the Sindh variety). It was an almost magical place, complete with a dusty courtyard full of crevices pregnant with stories and mystery, populated with characters that are hard to forget. There was Pohro (old man in sindhi), a young laid back man for whom no electrical/DIY task was too difficult (he could connect up a whole street to one VCR player); Rajjan, a stern looking driver who was the most effective child scarererererere I had ever seen; Mausi, an elegant and fragrant lady, who had been responsible for the up bringing of what seemed like all the humans that ever lived.

My favourite person of all had to probably be the least likeable, Meesri, a moustachioed greasy man, who had been afflicted with looks and a demeanor that generated all kinds of suspicion. But the man, as far as I was concerned, had stardust in his hands. He could conjure up wonderfully tasty dishes that I would happily sell my mother for. One of his very best was the simple yet delicious egg roll- as far as I could tell at the time, he would simply mix up some tomatoes, chillis, salt, pepper with eggs, and fry this potion, then place it in a chappati, that itself was warm and fluffy. Knowing Meesri would be serving up these treats every morning meant that I would make sure to get up earlier than all my hungry cousins, go down to the kitchen, give Meesri a peck on the cheek, act cute (I know I was young but well aware of what being cute can get you) and hope that he would fill my roll up some more.


Perhaps I enjoy egg rolls more than most, but I am convinced that there are many others for whom an egg roll is heaven, especially an Indian egg roll. It seems to me that despite the rather sophisticated and discerning palate of the non indian customer in England, the joys of Indian breakfast dishes have yet to be experienced here. The simplicity of the indian egg roll, something which even our nutritionally deficient vegetarian friends must appreciate and share(I joke-some of my best friends are vegetarian), means that it will simply not do for the leaders of the Mooli revolution to ignore the claims of The Breakfast Mooli (take note of the effectiveness of capitalisation-I joke as some of my best friends only use small case to write). What do you all say?

If you have any doubts go to 45 Amil Colony and ask for Meesri.

25 March 2009

the music sounds better with you

so, what is our groove?

our food is almost there - tasty, spicy and oozing with flavours. peppery beef, mustard prawns, pickled paneer, smoky grilled aubergine...... dan and phil at mystery** are on the case to give us that perfect blend of stylish yet minimalist decor.

the skinny-decaf lassi (great line sam!), fresh lime soda, beer and wine and are flowing .....it feels a bit sexy already. but what is playing ??? ....tell us what you'd like to hear

** these boys did the re-branding for trojan records. and giraffe. and lots of even more exciting stuff....i've pasted a few choice pieces above.

22 March 2009

fuck the chicken tikka

tariq recently accused me of being inconsistent because i use small case and normal case interchangeably on this blog. he'll be pleased to see a return to small case (?) but more importantly a u-turn on one of our moolis which we believe makes us more consistent and feels right mooli wise.

ladies and gentleman, mathew and i have decided to fuck the chicken tikka - a mooli which for almost 2 years has been the star (a new star was born this march - the kerlan beef mooli). mathew saw it before i did. it was harder for me to let go because i've just assumed we're going to sell chicken tikka for the last two years. so i'm actually quite proud of this decision because it means i can be flexible, adapt, change, blah blah.

as our menu has developed the last two months with the keralan beef, prawns with mustard (and kafir lime leaves please!!!), pickled paneer bhurji, oven-roasted aubergine and chicken stew, we'd often say to each other:

- we definitely need a chicken (probably north indian) but do we really need the chicken tikka?

- it doesn't feel right - we're unique, we're going to create a buzz. and we serve chicken tikka too?

- when people see the description of the chicken mooli and see the words chicken tikka, will they not think of chicken tikka masala? (you want to give them something familiar but why does it have to be chicken tikka?)

- its just not possible to make it like on the streets of delhi and lucknow - you need proper charcoal grilling for that - kabir convinced me of this almost a year ago and i've been struggling ever since to try and get it right operationally. (bottom line: are we going to love it the way we make it in london? probably not. but that's the test for anything we sell isn't it?)

- how fast can we serve customers if we need to grill in-store? (not as fast as we want! we're fast, really fast)

- we'll need skilled labour in-store (ouch - at least £7.25 an hour)

- we'll need lots more equipment (tandoors and long metal sticks. more money and skill :O)

- that net margin isn't looking good if we need to employ one person just to grill all the time. triple ouch. (i ran the model without the griller and our net margin jumped to 10.5% for the first store)

- the tikka is the only item which needs to be finished in-store, if we change it, suddenly we can take locations with an A1 licence - no cooking in-store - locations which PRET and EAT can take. (which means growth becomes so much easier. and push comes to shove if we find a great location in soho but its too small to cook, eg the Maoz location, we can take it and have a kitchen in north london)

but to those chicken lovers out there (including our anonymous friend who suggests it is a vegetable), we're going to have a chicken mooli which we promise you will love. it won't be grilled but it will be marinated for 22 hours 12 minutes with ginger, garlic and our own garam masala, then cooked with our secret blend of classic dry roasted north indian spices. served with fresh corinader-mint chutney. i made our first attempt today and its looking very promising. thanks to all the people who gave lots of constructive feedback.

we're getting there, yeah we're getting there.

20 March 2009

the colour of chutney

We made three chutneys and one raita for our last tasting (which reminds me, if anyone is in London and wants to come for a tasting please let us know!)

- classic pudina chutney with mint and coriander
- tomato chutney with mustard seeds, garlic and vinegar
- coconut, coriander and tamarind chutney
- fresh tomato, mint raita with dry roasted cumin seeds

I'm still searching for the perfect chutney for the beef. Freshly cut tomatoes are working really well but I suspect a fresh chutney would give it that oomph. The coconut, coriander, and tamarind chutney was nice but didn't work with the beef - maybe too much coconut. I'm going to try a simple coriander, tamarind chutney with ginger and fresh green chillies. Mathew is convinced that coriander won't work but I got a hunch. And you've got to play your hunch.

19 March 2009

Screw you guys, I'm going home!

Eric Cartman at a McDonald's interview.

Well, despite my best preparation (sharp haircut, memorizing the menu, practicing smiling) and what I thought was a good interview (I said I would be happy to start work at 5am), I got this email today.

from recruitmentteam@mcdcareers.co.uk
to sam749@gmail.com (Yes, this is you.) Learn more
date Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 9:59 AM
subject Job ID 15262: Message from McDonald's

Dear Sameer,

Thanks for applying for the position of Crew Member - 035.

We’ve got a rigorous selection process at McDonald’s and on this occasion, after careful consideration, we’re sorry to inform you that we will not be inviting you to attend the next stage of the recruitment process.

It’s part of our policy that we don’t give out specific reasons why an individual has not been successful, but we thank you for your interest and wish you every success in the future.

Kind regards,

McDonald’s Recruitment Team

Maybe I overshot some of the answers (when asked what I'd look for in a McDonald's candidate, I was like 1, 2, 3 etc.) and when he said 'any questions', I asked what the trajectory was like - how fast could I become a manager (trajectory??) Anyway he clearly didn't understand why I wanted to be a crew member. Tonight, I dropped by my local McDonald's and met my contact. He said it was so stupid that they called me to Marble Arch and that I should apply online again to London Bridge so that's what I'll do. Meanwhile, I'll apply to a few PRETs too (now that we have moved away from grilling as our focus, PRET is probably better - the Mexican places are ideal but hard to get into I'm sure).

In a way, it's probably for the best that it didn't work out as things are really moving now. We're in the midst of raising $, we're testing like crazy, started working on design again and are looking for suppliers. More news soon!

I shall end this post with a crazy statistic which makes me feel better. Yesterday I read in the London Paper that Smith's of Smithfield advertised a minimum wage position behind the bar (filling up the ice and washing glasses or something) and they got ... 200 applications! Now that's a recession.

14 March 2009

Job ID 15262: Message from McDonald's – Great News!

from recruitmentteam@mcdcareers.co.uk
to sam749@gmail.com (Yes, this is you.)
date Fri, Mar 13, 2009 at 4:04 PM
subject Job ID 15262: Message from McDonald's – Great News!

Dear Sameer

Well done – you have made it through to the next stage!

We’d like you to come for an On Job Evaluation (OJE) and an interview.
This will give you a chance to see what it’s really like at McDonald’s by working in a restaurant.

The OJE will take approximately 15 minutes and you will be given full instruction on what you will have to do.

After that, you will have an interview with one of our Business Managers, which will also take about 15 minutes. We’re sure you’ll find the OJE really interesting and a great opportunity to see what it feels like to work at McDonald’s.

We’ve booked you in to attend your OJE/Interview on:

Date:Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Start Time: 4.00 PM
Finish Time: 5.00 PM

At the following restaurant:

Marble Arch, 35
2/3 Marble Arch


Click on the 2 links below to access the documents you need to review before attending:

• OJE/Interview Instructions -http://careers.peopleclick.com/content/live/client_mcdonalds/default/docs/oje.pdf

• Asylum & Immigration form - http://careers.peopleclick.com/content/live/client_mcdonalds/default/docs/ai.pdf

All Companies have certain legal obligations to meet. One of these is that people who are looking for employment must provide confirmation of their eligibility to work in the UK, before any offer of employment can be made. Producing certain documents can easily do this. The attached Asylum and Immigration form will detail which documents are acceptable. Remember, you’ll need to bring these along to the interview. Without this evidence we cannot process your application further.

We’re really looking forward to meeting you!

Kind regards,

McDonald’s Recruitment Team

12 March 2009

going vegetarian

we've been working hard to come up with two great vegetarian moolis. this constituency is big. and very important for us

....it's 3:45pm at calcutta club, a small bengali restaurant in the deepest innards of mumbai. arati* and I sit at the only table still occupied by customers, while the bengali cooks are tucking into their fish curry and a mound of rice. we have permission to open up and sample our treasures gathered from various eateries of this sprawling city….having travelled from worli (on-a-roll - lucknowi) to colaba (martins - goan**) to ballard pier (britannia - parsee***) and now to oshiwara.

i have a taste of the goan pork. nice, but i've had better at home. a spoonful of the parsee dhansak. tasty. very tasty and merits a second bite. hmmm... this will be great as a dhal soup. the berry pulao is exotic. berries sourced all the way from iran. but no, I keep this aside for another time. no space for rice now. the kakori kabab from on-a-roll is awful - texture like a sausage but no flavour****. sam assures me that this is a poor replica. and he knows as he has had the original from the kitchens of the nawab of lucknow.

and then I taste the baingan (aubergine) bhajja. i just cant stop eating. the flavour is smoky, having just been taken off the grill. the insides are juicy and succulent, almost meaty. it is gorgeous with a mustard/chilli sauce. better still with the tomato, date and tamarind chutney.

"ararti, please can I finish this? I'd rather have this than finish the pork!!!" what an inspiring dish. if all vegetarian food can taste like this, i could be vegetarian.

sam's grandmother first suggested this many months ago. the aubergine mooli. smoky grilled aubergine with a tomato and tamarind chutney.

ps: i do acknowledge that my hyperlinking skills are pretty bad. but i'm working on it.

* our food consultant of tarla dalal fame (http://www.tarladalal.com/) and former chef at the taj hotels (http://www.tajhotels.com/)

** http://mumbai.burrp.com/establishment/review/10m_3ic

*** http://theory.tifr.res.in/bombay/leisure/BoRe/britannia.html

**** http://www.shantanughosh.com/2007/04/of-nawabs-and-kababs.html

05 March 2009

Being Heston Blumenthal

Not John Malkovich, Heston Blumenthal.

Even though I have never been to the Fat Duck, I admire Heston Blumenthal's search for perfection and his ability to question things. I vividly remember watching the "Chilli Con Carne" episode of the series In Search of Perfection - he made a chili blend of 7 different chillies from across the world and used MRI scans to look at how the brain responds to chillies and found that they activate the limbic structures, which are the part of the brain that process emotions (chillies activate both pain and pleasure responses at the same time). How I would have enjoyed that.

The astonishing thing about Heston Blumenthal is that he is self-taught. That gives us hope.

Yesterday was my first attempt at Olathi Erachi (Mathew had made one on Sunday). Mathew made a really tasty prawn and crab meat dish in mustard sauce which was divine with spinach and fresh coriander (definitely more mustard next time though!) The beef was very tasty (Vrinda really liked the beef even though she is not much of a meat-eater) but we're not there yet. We've got to play with the numerous recipes we have, understand and then break the process down. Initial thoughts are that the beef mooli will come with freshly chopped tomatoes and possibly a lightly marinated mooli (kimchi style - but think very mild). Fran preferred the version which Tom (our resident Mallu food consultant) made in Geneva and I think she is right to do so. The beef mooli was washed down with a fantastic guava, coconut and lime drink (inspired by cha cha moon).

Some pictures from last night.

* Just had a beef mooli again with tomatoes and mooli for early lunch and it is much better the next day! Yummy. Hungry Mathew? *

Process is incredibly important in any food business, but I suspect even more so when it comes to fast food. When I shadowed the head chef at a dim sum chain in London I realised why Alan Yau's one course idea at wagamama was operationally such genius (no more "I need the prawn toast!"). Even though Indian food can be complicated (for example, the Olathi Erachi), we can and will break the process down so well that maybe, just maybe, even Heston Blumenthal would approve.

A couple of pictures from the kitchens of a dim sum chain in London.

02 March 2009

is it worth the waiting for? .....i think i'll eat the menu

we have a menu now. a lean one in keeping with our mantra of keeping it simple

there will be five moolis. yes our wraps are not mere wraps, they are moolis.

the beef mooli is inspired by keralan beef. or olathi erachi as we syrian christians of the malabar coast call it* the mooli is spicy and meaty. a unique peppery and chilli flavour, perfectly offset by crunchy coconut pieces (yes, this dish may contain traces of nuts, if a coconut is a nut. is it?). the beef is slow cooked for several hours to infuse the beef with the spices and to make the beef tender and succulent. in kerala we would keep roasting this till the sauce almost disappears and the beef becomes lovely and crisp on the outside**. but leaving just a little of this sauce to coat the beef is probably ideal for the mooli. we are yet to decide on the perfect accompaniment - tangy pickled radish (mooli!) is the strongest contender at the moment.

yesterday we made our first attempt - it can be improved, but it was good.

i think i need to break for food now.

*yes, i am one. in fact every other Mathew from India is one. we all have just a single t and we all love our olathi erachi (with a peg of whisky). but we differ on whether we are descendants or converts of st. thomas & co who came to kerala just AD. yes, the same st. thomas, the doubter himself. and in the tradition of my forefather i doubted the viability of mooli's for several months. and so i tested and prodded and prodded for many months and now i believe. wholeheartedly.

** this is the "olathi" in the name. i dont know the equivalent english word. it is somewhere in between roasted, sauteed and fried, but not quite.

ps: i know of a syrian christian inspired song that is similarly ethereal. it is called "kandisa" by a rajasthani folk-rock band called indian ocean. most of the lyrics are in ancient aramaic (only spoken by a few kurds now) and used to be sung in the orthodox churches of kerala. it played in church as my beautiful wife walked down the aisle. and when we buried my father.

download it, play it loud but on good speakers. close your eyes.