Why this blog is called "Gallimaufry".

gal-uh-MAW-free\, noun.

Originally meaning "a hash of various kinds of meats," "gallimaufry" comes from French galimafrée; in Old French, from the word galer, "to rejoice, to make merry"; in old English: gala + mafrer: "to eat much," and from Medieval Dutch maffelen: "to open one's mouth wide."

It's also a dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a heterogeneous mixture; a hodge-podge; a ragout; a confused jumble; a ridiculous medley; a promiscuous (!) assemblage of persons.

Those of you who know me, will, I’m sure, understand how well some of these phrases (barring the "promiscuous" bit!) fit me.

More importantly, this blog is an ode to my love for Shimla. I hope to show you this little town through my eyes. If you don't see too many people in it, forgive me, because I'm a little chary of turning this into a human zoo.

Stop by for a spell, look at my pictures, ask me questions about Shimla, if you wish. I shall try and answer them as best as I can. Let's be friends for a while....

29 September 2009

The Secret Life of a Restaurant Critic

Finding a good restaurant to dine in in Shimla has become part fantasy, part obsession with me. Thus, when SdS proposed that she treat me to an early birthday meal in "a nice place", we both simultaneously guffawed and then sobered up at the thought of finding us that mythical nice place. A little while ago, P (who owns a very fine home in Baldiyan) and S M (who hates fish with a passion) had both recommended Spars Lodge.

So off we go, SdS and I. It is a nasty climb up. Spars Lodge is located on the slope which leads up to the Himachal State Museum in Chaura Maidan. Those of you who aren't strong walkers are advised to take a car up. This restaurant/guest house is placed not far from the gate, but might be too much for older or infirm persons to manage the slope. Be warned that a big Army person lives opposite Spars Lodge. I say this lest you find yourself startled by a bunch of gun-toting, baby-faced soldiers.

As you can see from the pictures above, Spars Lodge is a relaxed, casual place with furniture that's all wood and wrought iron. The decor is pleasingly minimal. The flowers in one of the vases look droopy, but on the whole, in consonance with the place. The restaurant is divided into two rooms. The section you see below is pleasantly cool and well-lit without dazzling your eye.

The one shown in the picture below has a pretty wonderful view of Chotta Shimla, Kasumpti and New Shimla. The only problem with this section is that one part of its roof is covered with some sort of acrylic ceiling which creates a sort of hot-house effect. I'm sure this would be most pleasing in winter, but the day SdS and I visit, it feels a little warm.

A great delight: not to have the latest Hindi film musical releases inflicted on one! You spot a little two-in-one stereo in a corner, but it remains mercifully silent through the course of the meal.
It is a little disconcerting to walk into an eatery and not be mobbed by the maitre'd or over-friendly waiters. Mind you, I'm not complaining. I'm one of those people who are always clear in their mind about what they'd like to eat or drink and am therefore prone to look askance at the staff of eating places which try to nudge me into ordering this, that, or the other. I also hate waiters who will rush you into ordering, practically ripping the menu from your unsuspecting fingers. Then, in Shimla, it is also likely that the waiter will greet you with a friendly wave and then disappear into the misty depths of the kitchen, only to emerge when you've collapsed with hunger.

None of this happens in Spars Lodge. A young lad saunters in from some level below, unseen to the diner's eye. He is courteous, but not smarmy. I have called the cafe ahead, informing them that SdS and I wish to feast on their much-touted trout. I remind him of this. He brightens in recollection. Oh yes, of course, so you are the one who called. Yes, yes, your trout will be ready in 15 minutes. He turns to leave. Err, could we have a drink of some sort, asks SdS, the soul of politeness, even under trying circumstances. He spins back. A drink? His forehead creases in concentration... okayyy, what will you have? A sweet fresh lime soda each, please, we suggest timidly. Fiiiiine, he says and goes back to wherever he came from. The soda appeals to my sweet tooth and goes well with the meal.

A little later, our meal arrives. Trout in lemon-butter sauce, with vegetables and mashed potatoes on the side. SdS and self, our coastal roots notwithstanding, are not fish-eaters to the manner born. Hence, when the "boy" lays our plates before us, each of us gives a little scream: we have caught the beady eye of the trout in our respective plates. To give credit where it's due, it is not the eatery's fault that we're squeamish. It's just that the idea of having food which glares at you somewhat nastily has us giggling and shuddering by turns!
We call the waiter and ask him if something could be done forthwith. Such as? he asks. Well, err... take it away and lop off the head and the tail, maybe? we say. Why don't you simply eat the stuff in the middle and leave the rest? he demands. Well, no, we couldn't do that, we whine. So with an ever-suffering expression perfected by women playing mothers in Hindi cinema, he bears off our plates away and returns with what you see below. The chef has hacked the trout's head off in a manner not unlike the manner used by the French on their Royalty during their Revolution!

This is what our meal now looks like:

We dig in. The trout has been steamed to perfection. It is tender and fresh. Evidently, it's been frozen (and then defrosted) just to the right temperature, allowing it to retain all its succulence. The skin still glistens and the texture is firm to touch. The sauce, a combination of lemon and butter, is subtle in its flavour and not overly salted or spiced extravagantly. It forms a lovely complement to the fish.
One could argue about the portion of the vegetables, but not about the way they have been cooked. The colour, flavour and texture are just right, but I would love to walk into the kitchen and show the chef how to make dice the carrots, julienne the beans and make florets of the broccoli. In their current form, substance wins over style! I won't say much about the potato mash because while making it is no rocket science, the chef at Spars Lodge does a good job of salting it to a nicety.

The remains of the day can be seen below, and are evidence that SdS and I have enjoyed our meal.

For dessert, I opt for banana fritters and ice cream, while SdS asks for apple pie and ice cream. No bananas, (and therefore, no fritters) and no ice cream, informs the waiter, a bit apologetically. So we both settle for the apple pie. This earns a score of 9 on a scale of 10 from SdS, that old apple pie aficionado, who has been raised on the epiphany-inducing produce of Bombay's Yazdani Bakery. The apple pie is soft, melt in the mouth and with the gentlest hint of cinnamon. If anything, the ice cream might just have focused the diner's attention away from its wholesome goodness.

Will I return? Most definitely. For I've spied some Anglo-Indian items on the menu that I'm dying to try. Particularly, chicken rissoles. A couple of mutton curries on the menu look promising as well. Also, the next time I hope to chat with the chef if mine host permits. The pricing does not burnt a hole into one's middle class pocket, which makes Spars Lodge a definite "must go back".

1 comment:

varsha said...

The Trout and vegetables look too delecious and healthy at the same time-a rare combination for restaurant food.I must try it the next time I am in Simla.And the nice climb up for the meal is the best appetizer!

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