Sunday, March 29, 2015

SCHENGEN VISA FROM THE FRENCH CONSULATE WITHIN 48 HOURS...AMBITIOUS BUT TRUE

Visas within 48 hours as of 1/1/2015: The French Minister for foreign affairs announced, on 30th June 2014, that visas will be delivered within 48 hours as of 1st January 2015 for Indian tourists. This seemed rather ambitious but I decided to give it a try and trust me the visa requirements for Indians applying for a Schengen tourist visa if you are travelling to France are simple, and the process, facilitated by VFS in most of India, is efficient. I scored a multiple entry 3-year Schengen visa within 48 Hours, and here are my tips to get you entry into the land of Epicures. 


1) The Schengen Visa Forms and Fee
Download the forms and document checklist from www.vfs-france.co.in
Unlike most visa applications, the forms for a tourist visa to France (Schengen) are relatively short and few in number. The Schengen visa fee for Indians is INR 4,138 for a single entry or a multiple entry visa. There is an additional service charge of INR 966/- (Inclusive of 12.36% tax) for application lodged in India. You can download the form and fill it either on the computer or by hand. The visitor form need not be filled while you are connected to the Internet. The form can’t be signed electronically. Once you’ve completed the form, print and sign it. You can even go through this link to know more on form filling.
All applicants except first time traveller (traveling first time to a Schengen country) while applying for a French visa are required to fill Visa Insurance Undertaking form in addition to the visa application form.

2) Flight and Accommodation Bookings
As while applying for a Schengen visa through VFS France, you need to show your confirmed flight. However Embassy of France, Delhi has announced that hotel confirmation is no longer required for France short stay visa. 
Making these ahead of the visa is always a bit of risk – so you’re better off making fully refundable bookings. Most hotels on booking.com offer full refund upon cancellation. Once you receive your visa, you can cancel these and make your actual bookings. The idea is to show that you have enough money or credit limit to book your flight and stay.

3) Cover Letter and Support Documents
After assuring that all your documents are in order as per the document checklist on the VFS France website, http://www.vfs-france.co.in/requisitedcument.html ; you should write a brief cover letter summarizing your application ; why are you visiting France, how do you intend to cover your expenses, do you have an invitation letter, which countries have you obtained visas for in the past (having Europe, the UK or the US on the list tends to add to your credibility). Don’t forget to attach copies of your past visas UK, US & Schengen visas.

4) Opt for the Multiple Entry Visa Option
I have always found Schengen visas to be stingy when it comes to multiple entry and validity. But I got a multiple entry visa as I applied through the Consulate of France valid for 3 years! (We are going to France on a family vacation for two weeks), totally my money’s worth. Whether or not France appears to be part of your plans again, having a valid multiple entry tourist visa to the Schengen as an Indian, has its advantages – you get Visa on Arrival in a handful of other countries, and it adds to your credibility while applying for other visas. 

4) Applying For the Visa at VFS
VFS has 14 centres for France, across the country. If your city or town doesn’t have one, your options might be to go via a travel agent or courier your documents. You can check out all information and passport submission timings on http://www.vfs-france.co.in/contactus.html
If you have all your documents in order, the process is quite straightforward.

5. Passport Collection
The official processing time now is just 2 working days and I can vouch that my visa was approved within 2 working days! You can sign up for the free SMS / email alerts at the time of submitting your passport, or track your application online. And can either ask for the passport to be delivered by courier (They send it Via BlueDart and it costs INR 300) or you can personally collect it yourself . Remember to keep the receipt and a photo id ready.

I leave for France in a month with my family! Join me virtually on this trip via https://twitter.com/rupalidean, https://www.facebook.com/rupali.dean.9



Friday, March 27, 2015

TWO CHEFS AND A TABLE @OLIVE BAR & KITCHEN, DELHI

SLOW FOOD – AS OLD AS TIME
On a family vacation in Singapore we went in for a slow food cooking class at Tott...Lto R Akanksha Dean ( daughter pursuing culinary Arts at IHM Aurangabad, Chef Bakshish Dean ( husband) & Chef Jimmy Chok
Slow food as a concept is a relatively new trend, but it is worldwide and growing. That said, it is as old as time. Well, at least the time that the first human figured out how to gather food or grow it. I became exceedingly passionate about Slow Food after I read Carlo Petrini’s book ‘Slow Food’ introduced to me by my Chef hubby and found that it resonated with me on many levels. Since then Slowness in cooking has come to play a major role in my life so much so that on our vacations I try and sign up for a slow-food cookery lessons one such being at ToTT, Singapore with celebrity chef Jimmy chok which was rather interesting. For those who do not know Chef Jimmy is the former owner of a restaurant called Salt and I would say he sure is an extremely talented young Chef.
Rome’s most inventive Italian Chef Fabio Antonini of Pianeta Terra
So when I heard GreenHouse on the Ridge at Olive Qutub was hosting a warm chefs table with Italian chef Fabio Antonini and Chef Sujan Sarkar ‎with a menu motivated by the slow food movement, I simply had to go! 
Myself, Chef Manjit Gill & Chef Bakshish Dean
Chef Manjit Gill who is a great believer in Slow Food philosophy and preaches and practices the same in all the ITC Welcomgroup hotels operations kick-started the dinner with a beautiful chat on Slow Food and I just loved the way he spoke, my favourite line being, ‘Slow food is the opposite of fast, we do not hate fast food or negate it , the Slow Food movement aims to preserve cultural cuisine and in so doing to preserve the food plants and seeds, domestic animals and farming within an Eco region’. This, I think, is the secret outcome of the Slow Food lifestyle. When everything is locally grown using traditional techniques, you get a backdrop of small farms, hidden groves, and open pastures, an appeal of eating that actually enhances the world around you.
Pallavi Mithika & Chef Manjit Gill
When I sat down at the table, I discovered a feast beyond my imagining, a nine course adventure through the most delectable fresh and organic ingredients. This was no ordinary tasting: Bra is ground zero for the Slow Food movement and houses the University of Gastronomic Sciences, the official culinary school of this international initiative focused on local ingredients, traditional cooking techniques, and the pleasures of leisurely meals and Pallavi Mithika a student of Culinary Arts at IHM Aurangabad who later pursued a course from here, must add has done a good job in promoting this movement out here.

Tortelli, confit local duck leg, orange , parsmip
My fellow table mates and I took full advantage of the leisurely ‘Slow Food’ pace, relishing lively conversations and local wines (read Grover Zampa) as the stewards brought out each course like a new chapter in an epic book as we sampled local produce over the nine courses Everything was fresh, organic, and delicious. With highlights being Tortelli (confit local duck, orange & parsnip), Best of ‘The Green Bean’ farm (wheatgrass, fermented black garlic, nasturtium) and a dessert of Jaya rice, chocolate, coconut, burnt butter; it’s a meal I will remember for the rest of my life. The food was extremely fresh, local, and prepared with care. There was nothing overly ornate; the chefs allowed each ingredient to speak for itself. And given a chance to shine, they spoke volumes; it really struck home for me. 
Best of ‘The Green Bean’ farm ,wheat grass, fermented black garlic, nasturtium
As the chefs revealed their craft to us, I was struck again by the sustainable philosophy ‘ take care of what you have, respect it, nurture it, harvest it, use all of it, return to the earth what you are not able to use, and pass this on to those that follow you’.  Could there a simpler recipe than this? Trust me, at a time when organic and fresh are the words on every foodie’s lips, slow food cooking never seemed more modern the way Chef Fabio & Chef Sujan Sarkar dished out the food, in spite of most popular cooking techniques being centuries old.
'Dilli ka khaana Queen' Gunjan Goela in a conversation with super star chef Sujan Sarkar of Olive
WHERE?
GreenHouse On The Ridge
Olive at the Qutub, One Style Mile, Kalka Daas Marg, Mehrauli, New Delhi-110030.
For Reservations call: 011 29574444 / 9810235472
TRIVIA
GreenHouse on the Ridge at the Olive Qutub is a little secret tucked inside the style mile of the capital. Casually elegant, with a dollop of gracious hospitality, it is a charming space that offers an intimate experience and feel of a country home.
In AD’s words, ‘Delhi is slowly realizing and appreciating the intimacy of very small restaurants. Similar experiences are found across Europe and Australia where great chefs open restaurants with just a couple of tables. They can then focus painstakingly on ingredients and every dish that goes out’. The Greenhouse on the Ridge puts a spotlight on such experiences every season. A chefs’ playground, it brings forth bespoke experiences where guests can enjoy gleaning culinary secrets from them directly. From blind tastings with chef de cuisine Sujan S.(where without the sense of sight, your other senses are intensified, allowing a new perception of reality) onto chefs cooking hands-on in an open kitchen right in front of you presenting customized menus, GreenHouse on the Ridge endeavors to presents a tight collection of taste sensations.



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

TAMRA@SHANGRI-LA’S EROS HOTEL, NEW DELHI

VISUAL JOURNEY FOR THE TASTE BUDS
Eat out of the pan, off the grill and out of the wok
 
The Tamra experience is rooted in a fine selection of world cuisine, warm service, music; good quality wine, signature cocktails in a contemporary and stylish setting …. 

AMBIENCE: Located on Level one of the Hotel, Tamra exudes class from the moment you walk in until the time you leave. The stunning panoramic view from a large glass frontage minimally accentuated with live food theatres (read five with a backdrop of hanging shelves) along with a pastoral yet stylish long wooden bar next to the entrance with 32 hand blown glass jar chandeliers contributes to an atmosphere of elegance. An exclusive 10 seater private dining area adds to its elegant ambience screened off by decorative floor to ceiling jute rope partitions replete with a backdrop of a decorative floating timber wall and copper pipe pendant lights. The tastefully designed cocktail bar is trendy and the bar menu enticing and indulgent offering tailored and exciting cocktails in groovy glassware. Identical with leisurely sojourns, this is where early morning meetings turn into afternoon lunches and evening coffee gives way to sundown sessions, effortlessly. After dusk, the restaurant sees a remarkable, effortless make over - chic, tranquil and urbane yet vivacious and buzzing. 
Copper hanging pots are displayed over the two infinity tables where mirrored walls provide an exaggerated view.

WHAT’S ON OFFER: The Menu celebrates flavours and styles from around the world interpreted in an original and innovative way but never forgetting that good produce is at the heart of the best food and touches on Asian, Regional Indian, Japanese including Teppanyaki, homemade gelatos and a Dessert Bar, Cold Cuts, Cheese, Breads and a Salad Bar. I would suggest you to set your palate free to engage in an exploration of the senses. The show kitchens take the place of the hot chafing dishes found on the usual buffet line,in order to give maximum freshness and guest interaction. An equally intriguing a la carte menu is also available and the one to return for: everything from the ‘Sushi’, ‘Dumplings’, ‘Barley, smoked chicken & sundried tomato salad’ to the ‘Fish Ambi Tikka’ and ‘Grilled Chicken, mustard onion layonnaise’ has its place. Cooking styles range from grilled and poached to braised and slow roasted, to extract the goodness and flavours of the ingredients. To end on a sweet note my vote goes all out for the stunning ‘Tamra Chocolate’ a perfect ending to my meal. I guess I surely will go back to do full justice to the parts of the menu I couldn’t try, next time round.

CHECK IT OUT
Tamra @ Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel, 19, Ashoka Road, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001
For Reservations: 011 41191919
Timings: All Day Dining 

EXPERT SPEAK
CHEF MARTIN BRACKER, EXECUTIVE CHEF
 ‘The vision for Tamra is to showcase world cuisine with high standards of quality, freshness & a nouvelle approach towards the interpretation of world cuisine. Even the restaurant’s grand buffet is beautifully presented with splendid variety’.





Sunday, March 22, 2015

FIO COOKHOUSE@ NEHRU PLACE

The ambience couldn’t be better - Al fresco dining, interesting lighting ,housed in a magical Al fresco setting with the look and feel of a European cobblestone street surrounding a pretty garden at the entrance this delightful restaurant nurtures the pleasurable lifestyle of inland Epicuria Mall at Nehru place. 

The setting is charming and lets your soul breathe with its various seating options that include an elegant indoor dining, a romantic outdoor portico seating and a bar area. The exclusive wine list of handpicked international and indigenous wines and innovative cocktails complements the cuisine and provides an elegant atmosphere for a relaxed evening or lunch.


Seasonal products are given a new look, sublimated by blending exotic flavours and surprising combination of foods rarely prepared together To whet appetites, Chickpeas and home cured cheese salad, or the Cookhouse Mezze platter with a Sangria or Caprioska sets the right mood. The Pizzas do not disappoint and the Basil pesto cream, bell pepper and sun dried tomato pizza is truly outstanding.
All in all, simplicity and balance are the buzzwords at Fio, enriched by honest to goodness flavours and fresh picked produce. With its comfortable, upbeat vibe, creative interiors, chic friendly atmosphere and good food it is sure to attract the cities foodies in droves.

Fio - Cookhouse & Bar is at Epicuria Mall , R – 1 Nehru Place Metro Building, New Delhi.

published in statesman

IT @ THE GRAND, VASANT KUNJ


As the doors of this Italian Adventure open, one is overwhelmed with the majestic feel of Renaissance Italy and exotic fragrance of the food. This signature restaurant at The Grand in Vasant Kunj consists a rich bar (as in the wine is excellent!) and of course the dining space, all designed contemporarily with a special touch of tradition to complete the beautiful elements ….  Truly impeccable ambience! 

In order to deliver the quality that he is so particular about, Chef Rawat personally ensures that he buys only the best and the freshest ingredients. I could see that the bruschetta and desserts are made in-house under his steely supervision. Out here don’t expect your food to fly out to your table. 

Each dish is prepared from scratch only after you place your order. With certain recipes tracing back from Renaissance Italy, the cuisine here finds its roots in tradition.  I would highly recommend the home-made ravioli stuffed with goat cheese and tomato. Must try Signature dishes include ‘ Sea food and baby tomato broth’, ‘Grilled lamb chop with rosemary, fusion vegetables, served with basil and garlic mashed potato’, ‘Beetroot crust pizza topped with spinach, asparagus and shallot, mushroom’,  ‘Grilled mushroom with garlic’ on the side. Save a little room for the heavenly ‘Chef’s special rich whipped egg Marsala, the traditional Zabaglione way’ to end on a sweet note. Buon Appetito!
FAST FACTS
IT @The Grand New Delhi ,Nelson Mandela Road 
Vasant Kunj Phase II,New Delhi-110070 
Timings: Open for Lunch & Dinner
Published in Statesman

Saturday, March 21, 2015

SHIGMO PARADE IN GOA

Shigmo in Goa in essence is a carnival of the masses; it is celebrated under diverse names and in altered ways in several parts of India ....
WHAT IS SHIGMO?
For those who do not know, Shigmo was conventionally celebrated as spring’s biggest festival which flattered the repatriation of the warriors who had left their homes and families at the end of Dusshera to contest the invaders. Throughout the month of the parade, both locals and visitors alike go party all across town in celebration of Goan culture and tradition. A Holiday in Goa would mean loads of fun, experience of a unique culture and heritage at a very affordable price. Between the neighbourhood festivities, river boat tours and performances, visiting all the hot spots like ‘ Big foot’, ‘ Church’, the ‘ beaches’ and of course the highlight of the holiday, the Shigmo parade, there is no shortage of ways to celebrate!
SHIGMO PARADE
People in Goa dress up in colourful outfits, holding multi coloured flags and playing large musical instruments like the Dhol Tasha and flutes in marches across fourteen cities, began on the 7th of March at Ponda followed by other towns; I witnessed the one at Panjim the capital on the 14th. The city witnessed the Shigmotsav float parade organised by the Panaji Shigmotsav Samiti heralded and trailed by a numeral cultural and entertainment programmes including celebration of Holi, the festival of colours. This left me completely proud of the rich culture and heritage that our country has. Sample this street filled with colours, music, dance and float parade. I was mesmerized by how the life of a Goan was depicted so extravagantly via folk enactments by local men and women who danced diligently in huge marches along with the parade.
HIGHLIGHTS

Traditional folk dances and representation of mythological scenes is the foremost highpoint of this parade. The enthralling larger than life celebration brought fantasy and folk to form a synthesis in the floats that paraded through the streets. Traditional folk dances like ‘Ghode Modni’ and ‘Fugdi’ were performed on the streets in massive troupes along the procession, showcasing the tradition of Goa. The glistening floats with widespread lighting and sound effects moved along with the parade fascinating the attention of a huge crowd that lit the streets of Goa. The streets were sprinkled with the choicest of local Goan delicacies. 

Published in Statesman

Friday, March 6, 2015

IMPROMPTU@GURGAON

The ‘out of hustle bustle’ location gives the space an edge over the others so as to embark on a crusade to taste simple pleasures of life. 

THE AMBIENCE
Once inside, the classy ambience makes quite an impression. The d├ęcor with its decadent interior  and tall glass windows offering panoramic views along with the romanticism of the contemporary by gone era mixed with modern abstraction made me feel every bit of the globe trotter even though for one night.
For those who like the outdoors, it sets a perfect ambience with Al fresco dining, interesting lighting ,housed in a magical Al fresco setting with the look and feel of a European cobblestone street surrounding a pretty garden at the entrance this delightful space nurtures the pleasurable lifestyle of inland Gurgaon. As for us we melted into the comfortable sofa and soaked in the atmosphere and then settle down to a languid meal with soft music playing in the background. 
THE CUISINE

The food is almost bewilderingly exotic, gathered from gastronomic styles of Asian, European, Indian, South American and the Mediterranean coastline. Chef’s strength is his decisive pairing of unexpected ingredients, which works best with simple dishes. ‘Penne in Kung pao sauce’, ‘Spaghetti with butter chicken or hara masala’, ‘stir fried vegetables in garlic sauce’, ‘Penne with Keema’ are just a few examples. Apart from an amazing A la carte selection, Impromptu offers a unique culinary concept wherein you can be your own master chef and let your creativity loose. Obviously I  opted for the ‘Design your own Buffet’, where we got to sample a variety of starters and soup on the table ( read it changes every day), and in the salad and main course section one can choose from a gamut of ingredients , sauces etc and do your own mix and match. All in all Impromptu is a celebration of world cuisine and drinks amidst a magical, wonderland setting this place is whimsical, quirky and irreverent.
AT A GLANCE
Address: Vatika Towers, Golf Course Road, Sector 54, Gurgaon - 122002, Haryana
Cuisine: Asian, European, Mediterranean, Indian and South American.
For Reservations: 01244119191; 8860055999; 9810770709
Timings: 12 PM till 12 AM
Meal for Two: INR 1400 (On offer is A la carte as well is DIY Buffet)
Lunch buffet - 499 ++; Lunch buffet with unlimited appetizers - 599 ++; Dinner buffet with unlimited appetizers - 699++

INTERESTING FACT
A new initiative from the promoters of Clay Business Group, they along with a great team of chefs conceptualized Impromptu to be a destination for people to come relax and enjoy the company of friends while sharing a great meal.