Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chennai's Raising the Bar, discovers Tulleeho's Hemant Mundkur

Coming from a city like Bangalore, the last thing you’d want to counter with is heat and humidity! And that’s exactly what Chennai had to offer.
Taking the Shatabdi express was just bliss. A taxi at the train station took me to my hotel, the Oriental Inn, at the heart of the city, where the most famous bar in the whole of Chennai is located – Zara!
I had to stop by for a drink and check out what the buzz was all about. From a distance I can hear a live performance by a band called New Renditions. I was immediately greeted at the entrance and asked if I wanted to sit at the bar. The music was quite loud and I was worried that because of this my drink order would not be the way I like it – old monk, lots of ice, water, splash of coke and the juice of two lime wedges squeezed but spent wedges thrown out. To my surprise, the bartender nailed the order – this has never happened before (and yes, Old Monk, don’t judge me). I was happy, ordered a second and called it a night.
I was in Chennai to conduct back to back training sessions of Remy Cointreau, and this kicked off with The Park Hotel on Wednesday, 17th July. Pasha, the infamous nightclub, was the venue, small yet perfect for some reason! I could see some real skill at this bar as I watched one of the bartenders demonstrate a Cointreau Mint & Tea Fizz. Unlike other bars, Pasha uses Cointreau in all their cocktail recipes that are listed in their menu, and mentions it, too! At the end of my session, Saurjit, Asst. F&B, invited me to come over on Friday evening to experience the real night life of Chennai, I was leaving Friday night, ‘nuf said. But to make up for it, I went on a mini road trip to Mahabalipuram with a friend that same evening – Fish, prawns and Beer at Moonrakers!

 Diabolic Cointreaupolitans @ The Park, Chennai
The lobby was quite massive and was an atrium at the Hyatt Regency, my next session. Chennai’s 5 star hotels are legally allowed to stay open for 24 hrs, and hence the bartenders of 365 AS had hardly caught a wink of sleep as they were open the same day till 5 am, and my session at 1030. As a welcome drink, and as an energy boost, served out shooters of the Cointreau fizz – they were set!

 @ Taj Coromandel - I Love!!! Cointreau
The second session that afternoon was at ITC Grand Chola – huge would be an understatement. Post my session, I decided to head to the hotel’s bar – Cheroot Malt and Cigar Lounge, glad I did! At the entrance, a large sign signifying that the bar had the license to stay open 24 hrs (yes, a little jealous, you’d know why if you’re from Bangalore). My jaw dropped after looking at their collection of whiskies and liqueurs (none of which were Cointreau!). The bartender, who had attended my session, took me on a tour. A cigar lounge with a wide collection of Cuban cigars and the most comfortable lounge seating, flooring and walls made of teak, the perfect environment to accompany your malt, which was on display shelves region wise. The Malt lounge had a large tasting table in the center, with special tasting glasses! Each of the other tables was placed with soda canisters, and guests had the option to choose different flavors of soda to accompany their drinks.
Vinodh, from Remy Cointreau Chennai, had mentioned to me earlier that the concept behind this bar, and the beverage menu, was designed by Hanna Keirl, bartender and beverage specialist from Australia, and is also responsible for designing beverage menus PAN India – great job on this one, Hannah!
That evening I decided to check out a few other bars in Chennai, and ended up hopping! This started off with Bay 146 at the Savera hotel, and boy was I surprised at the quality of bartending at this place. All the bartenders here, smartly dressed, were churning out drinks to perfection! It all made sense when my bartender told me that he was one of the finalists of the recent Bacardi Legacy Competition. I asked him to make me a drink with Jagermeister, which I ended up video recording, ‘cuz I knew this would be worth it. Made with fresh pomegranate, a house made spice syrup and Jagermeister, The drink’s garnish was inspired by one of the videos of City Space Bar. If you’re ever in Chennai and want a good quality cocktail, be sure to head here. 
 With a Cointreau Fizz @ The Gateway, Chennai
I headed to Illusions soon after and something struck me over there as I looked at the display of brands at the bar, all bars in Chennai display their bar counters with the most premium brands, which made me draw two conclusions – one was that Chennai’s consumers were very brand conscious (and loaded) and two, it is a rule in Chennai that all bars must be located within a hotel’s premises, hence better quality drinks, higher standards (and expensive).
Chennai – quality bartenders, quality drinks, larger than life experience!
Hemant Mundkur, Tulleeho Beverage Trainer

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Monday, August 12, 2013

2nd anniversary of the Friends and Single Malt Club. Foiled kidnaps, Balvenie and more...

  Tulleeho's Vikram Achanta hears about a kidnap, which has gone wrong as he attends the 2nd anniversary of the Friends and Single Malt Club. 

When you receive an invite to the 2nd Anniversary of the Friends and Single Malt dinner, which better still, is at the Trident, Gurgaon and is sponsored by The Balvenie, you don't think twice. Better still, a car is provided, which is much needed after a long Gin soaked afternoon on which copious numbers of Jamuntinis were made and savored, necessitating an urgent replenishment in my gin stocks.

I know not a soul when I walk in, except for Pramod Krishna the founder of the Club, who's in a corner with a few people. I wait for an opportune moment and wish him a belated Happy Birthday (it was the previous day). It strikes me now, that the anniversary date of the club may be synced with Pramod's birthday. 

 Abhishek Parameswaran and Anand Virmani of William Grant and Sons, flanking Pramod Krishna

I console myself with a Whisky Sour made with William Grant's, which I soon abandon for a glass of the Balvenie 12yo Doublewood, which the waiter fills nearly to the brim with water, completely destroying the taste of the liquid and necessitating the addition of more whisky, something I was trying to avoid. I lament for the Indian hospitality industry, that they pay so little attention to the training of their staff.

We're soon seated for dinner and I sit at the first table where there appears to be a vacant seat, and interesting company I have. The highlight of the evening, was the presence at the table of an Orthopaedic surgeon who had been kidnapped the previous Friday. Son of a prominent UP criminal lawyer, he said he had spent his days as a child hobnobbing with the dacoits, and dealing with these kidnappers was child's play for him.

The good kidnap in India is a supply chain to study. He had been kidnapped by the first link in the chain, which was now negotiating with the next link to agree at a sales price. In the interim, they made him sign some cheques. "They didn't realise", he triumphantly said, "that I have two signatures, one for the bank and the other for my patients." "I used the latter one, which they verified by seeing the files they had also kidnapped" and settled back to the phones. There was a lot of toing and froing going on, no doubt with an influx of people who wanted to see the new kidnapee. Including the neighbouring women and children (now I exaggerate).

In the interim, he spotted his car keys nearby, and took the briefest of opportunities to slip out, reach his car, dismantle his gear lock and speed off to freedom, leaving behind a bunch of kidnappers with bum cheques. I wonder if they might sue him now for cheque bouncing? Stranger things have happened in India.

We settle back to enjoy the Balvenie, which is served up as a tasting before the dinner begins. We taste the first bottle of the Balvenie 12yo Triple Cask to be opened in India, which is a travel retail exclusive as well as a Balvenie17yo Peated Cask. All wonderful whiskies, and which go down smooth as a bell. Would you rather have S&M (Single Malt) elbow or Whisky Wrist we joke as the evening draws to an end. Long may the friends of Single Malt Club live.


Vikram Achanta

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