My friend Gwen invited me together with Peggy Loh to the newly opened Grand GEM at Grand BlueWave Hotel. It was a great evening of scrumptious Indian cuisine and very fine company. Gwen who is a fan of Indian cuisine shares with us her experience of the evening in this guest post. Thank you Gwen! for a wonderful evening and this delicious guest post.
It was a cold and wet Monday evening. I was so looking forward to dinner. Not because I was that hungry. Not because I was so “tam chiak” either. It was because I was going to have dinner with two local celebrities. One is Ms Peggy Loh, whose stories I have followed since NST’s Travel Times and now Johor Streets. She has also entered the blogosphere and so I can reread her Johor stories at leisure. I have long admired her warm writing style and her topics are close to my home and heart. The other is Tony Johor Kaki, an award-winning blogger with an appetite bigger than mine and a thirst for adventure and discovery beyond my sofa surfing. And Tony is Singaporean – so must give due respect to him for crossing the Causeway to eat (no more makan place in the little red dot for him to discover meh?).
Dinner was at a pretty new name in Johor Bahru. The Grand GEM at the lobby of the Grand BlueWave Hotel Johor Bahru was officially open 2 months ago today (I’m writing this on 11th July – you do the math). The restaurant manager, Mr. Thiaga, described it as an Indian fine dining restaurant. The GEM Group has 4 Indian restaurants in Kuala Lumpur and this one in Johor Bahru, is their flagship outlet.
Tony and I started with hot masala chai. It’s tea leaves and spices simmered in cow’s milk (we were told that it was indeed fresh cow’s milk).
They also served papadums with bright green mint chutney to whet our appetites.
Peggy and company came soon after and had cold mango lassi and hot spiced milk (like masala chai but without the tea).
For appetizers, we were introduced to the sizzling tandoori platter. It was seekh kebab (minced lamb), fish tikka, murgh badami (chicken) and a tandoori chicken thigh served on a naan that was smoking from the heat of the hotplate. The naan served to protect the meats from getting further cooked and burnt while keeping the meats warm. Everything was well marinated but we agreed that the murgh badami was the tastiest of all. The tender chicken breast was marinated in an almond paste, spices and yogurt and roasted in the tandoor. Delishhhh!
Oh, before I describe the main course, let me tell you how these food gurus operate!
Every time the waiters came to the table with a new dish, both Peggy and Tony would whip their cameras out and hog the food. They whisked the food away to a well-lit table and set on photographing it from multiple angles … “spoons pointing in the same direction …. Don’t get in the way of my light …” Obsessive’lah these people. By the time I got to eat, all the food was cold.
They also photographed the chefs (cajoling them out of the kitchen) and grilled them with questions. We found out that the chefs were from Delhi, Orissa and Tamilnadu, each in charge of different types of food preparations. The nervous chefs were unused to the spotlight and I could see how shy they were to have cameras pointed at them.
Our main course consisted of biryani rice, naans (butter and plain) and mint paratha with chicken tikka masala, mutton rogan josh, fish moilee, bhindi pitley and sizzling prawns. It represented food from different Indian states.
The fiery mutton rogan josh is a famous Kashmiri dish.
Chicken tikka masala is a popular dish in Delhi (and north India).
Fish moilee and the sizzling prawns are from Kerala, and bhindi pitley is a Tamil dish.
There are Bengali, Chettinad and Punjabi dishes on the menu as well – but that will have to wait for another day.
I enjoyed the chicken tikka masala most. The tandoori roasted chicken was tender and the gravy was mildly spicy and creamy.
The sizzling prawns came with an omelette on the hotplate, reminding me of Chinese hotplate tofu. The fish moilee and sizzling prawns were cooked in a coconut gravy, which gave away their Kerala origins. These dishes would have been better with steamed white rice because the flavours were so rich that they battled with the fragrant biryani rice for our palate’s attention.
I found the bhindi pitley to be an unusual dish. Bhindi is ladyfingers or okra (similar to the Malay pronunciation “bendi”). Thinly sliced ladyfinger is lightly battered, deep fried and tossed in curry leaves and chopped groundnuts. I have never eaten this in any Indian restaurant.
After all that food, Peggy decided that we should have rasam. Rasam is a peppery, sharp and tart soup. It is made with tamarind and spices and aids digestion. Yup, sure sounds good. For comparison, she ordered the original rasam and then, their Nandu Rasam which has crab. Crabby rasam wins hands down. The meaty savoury sweetness (umami) of the crab mellows the sharpness and tartness of the soup - still peppery, but now more rounded and robust.
Finally we have dessert - sweet, sweet Indian sweets to put out the fire of all that spicy food in our bellies. We had a frozen creamy dessert called “kulfi” (I was told not to think of it as ice cream, but it’s hard not to when I love ice cream so much – so, this falls short on my list).
We had “kesari” which is a sweet semolina pudding flavoured with ghee and cardamom.
We also indulged in the super-sweet “gulab jamun” which are deep fried milk balls immersed in a rose and cardamom scented syrup. Gulab means rose in Hindi, hence the name. The sweetness clung heavily to our palates.
I was disappointed that they did not have their signature dessert which is the Gajjar Halwa (carrot halwa). I was told later, that the chef was not satisfied with the quality and taste of his carrot halwa that day and decided not to serve it at all. So I must come back again. I would have anyway. There’s so much more to try.
A big thank you, to Tony and Peggy with her food tasters, for the lovely dinner company. May we have more breakfasts, brunches, lunches, dinners, suppers and in-betweens to come! Cheers!
Restaurant name: The Grand GEM (at Grand BlueWave Hotel)
Address: Jalan Bukit Meldrum, Johor Bahru
Hours: 11:00am to 11:00pm
No pork, no lard
Date visited: 8 Jul 2013