September 22, 2012

Sunday Brunch at ITC Grand Central, Mumbai

I find communities interesting not merely for characteristics, cultural, linguistic, racial and other traits that define them and set them apart from other communities, but equally fascinating for the reasons that bring them together. And reasons are many in a country as diverse as India, and more so Mumbai, the very microcosm of India if ever there was one.

Even so when they gather they mostly do so around shared traditions, and customs, each unique to their heritage, religious and geographic, and rarely cutting across communities. 

The only exception that cuts across communities, reaches across neighbourhoods and brings people together in an act of faith that has little or no equal is FOOD.

And the Sunday Brunch at the ITC Grand Central, Mumbai, is well on the way to gaining its own faithful, who will make their way to the Hornby’s Pavilion each Sunday as religiously as they would Sunday Mass or so it seems from the corner we occupied one Sunday not too long ago at the invitation of the ITC Grand Central at their expense.

The sheer diversity milling around the hall probably matched the diversity of the spread on offer, ranging from Continental, Italian, Thai, Lebanese, Chinese, and Indian.

As if on cue, the Hornby’s Pavilion began to see footfalls no sooner the clock hand struck noon. The staff  was a blur, moving as if to an unseen conductor; their practised ease indicative of a ritual strengthened over the years. The Sunday Brunch of the ITC Grand Central has been in existence since the time the hotel came up in Parel, formerly the heartland of Mumbai’s Mills.

The regulars, and the not so regular, joined together in a community of common purpose, food. Some smiled at others, acknowledging presence, finding common ground in the spread on offer; others nodded to one another, from familiarity engendered over the years, in time adding to the reasons that bring them dutifully to the hotel. It was a heartening sight, and testimony to what food in expert hands can achieve – a sense of community that answers to a brand.

It is this I thought that probably makes ITC Grand Central’s Sunday Brunch, like I’m sure is the case elsewhere, an event to relish.

It was indeed a lavish spread of live starters namely kebabs and kathis on roll which are accompanied with variety of salads. We equally enjoyed the live counter preparation of Pastas and delicious Risottos. It’s rare to find Risottos being prepared on the spot. It was stirred to perfection giving it a delicious creamy texture. There was shrimp cocktail smoked salmon which everyone is fond off. Buffet had Capers, Grated Egg Yellows and Whites, Diced Tomato and Red Onion, Smoked Fish Spread, Lemon Segments, Dill Scented Cream Cheese and Whipped Butter.

Salads were farm fresh and crispy with variety of dressings. There was an extensive antipaste mazze which was inclusive of a salad bar along with different condiments like olives among others. A little Lebanese spread was included which had  hummus which is not there otherwise on everyday lunches and dinners, it’s a speciality to the  brunch, you should keep an eye for if you make it to the Sunday brunch. There were cold carts smoked salmon and they had an elaborative roast section too with their all time favourite dum-ki-macchi on platter. The Su-chef Dipti told me the guests are very fond of dum-ki-macchi and they specifically ask for it.

The main course had variety of curries with elaborate spread of biryanis namely Subz Dum Biryani and famous Hyderabadi kacche gosht ki biryani accompanied with variety of Indian Breads, Chaats and Raita. Children were having their share of fun too by rolling up sweets on the chocolate fountain. It kept the kids busy while their parents were relishing the eating experience. In addition there were juices, raw fruits, soups and breads to choose from with variety of cheese and dips available to enhance the taste. We stuffed ourselves with freshly baked croissants and to mention there was large variety of multigrain breads and muffins too.

For those with sweet tooth there were tons of hot and cold mouth watering Indian and continental desserts. There was Mango Jelly, Walnut Brownie, Chocolate Mousse, Passion Fruit and the Chef special Kiwi Cheesecake. The cheesecake was delicious, divine, smooth and creamy, a smoothing sweetness went down the throat making it memorable. A very attractive selection of  Indian sweets were available starting with very soft Gulab Jamun stuffed with freshly prepared khoya, and Kaju Katli, Moong-dal Halwa prepared in clarified butter. 

For kids and ice-cream lovers there were variety of ice-creams accompanied by a live counter for waffle cone and crepes. For the health conscious Frozen Yogurt variety was definitely something to suit their palate and they could easily indulge in.

For the south Indian vegetarian food lovers Chef Rajan DOSA DELIGHT counter is set up sometimes with dosas whipped up on the spot. Dipti mentioned that Chef Rajan has been with ITC for very long and is 70 plus now. He has his list of loyal patrons who still ask for him and miss eating his dosas and thoroughly enjoy whenever they are available on the spread.

While  ITC’s Sunday Brunch connects with its patrons in the spread it puts out every Sunday, it is deepening the connect beyond its own offerings by inviting its regular foodies into contributing their own recipes, traditional or otherwise, in an act of community that seeks to join the legacy of its own brunch with the legacy of contributors' kitchens. Dipti said recipes would be shortlisted on basis of their innovativeness, uniqueness and for their quality. The guest whose recipe will be selected and available on the spread will be personally invited and felicitated.

The Sunday brunch priced at Rs. 1,950/- plus taxes per person comes as a wholesome package with delicious variety of food and unlimited amount of alcohol which translates to a perfect gourmet savoir-faire. Its by far well prepared, lavish food spread with a soothing ambience and an eager-to-help staff who keep a check on your wine glass, ensuring it’s never empty, makes for a pampered experience.

Where quality of cuisine and atmosphere to experience it is a constant, the place is no longer a one-off destination on the way to elsewhere; instead, it transforms into a home of sorts, an event on the calendar, a place to take others to, an option to help another share an experience one has come to look forward to; in essence engendering a Sunday community. Ensure value for money and all bases are covered.

Watching visitors bond together, even if in nuclear units bounded by their tables, smiles facilitated the crossings between their tables and the buffet, and it was easy to see that in several instances the nod of the head and acknowledgements could only have resulted from seeing faces that're familiar from having met at ITC's Sunday Brunch in Hornby's Pavilion. That I believe is as important a triumph as the one served up, and one more reason to travel to Parel on a Sunday.

Where food can succeed in turning a destination into a gathering of a community, it'll have made a much greater contribution to people walking into the pavilion than merely with providing a quality food experience. The Hornby's Pavilion, I thought showed the potential for this, making small strides, as Dipti indicated when she spoke of the 'regulars'. It has some way to go yet, but appears to be heading in that direction, making an effort to deepen its connect as with the 'citizen recipe' programme it aims to roll out for its clientele, an attempt to celebrate the individual in the community of foodies.

Note: The invite extended was on the house.