20 September, 2015

Sky 726 - A decadent treat !

“Gourmandise is an impassioned, rational and habitual preference for all objects that flatter the sense of taste.” - Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

There was a time when restaurants were frequented by diners purely on the basis of the food being served there.  There still are a few establishments that hold on to that basis but overall, if one were to give the Food and Beverage Industry a long, good look, the industry has come a long way from just resting on the laurels of good food.  Restaurants and food establishments have evolved, and how!  They’ve moved forward from titillating just the sense of taste onto newer, more demanding frontiers – those of finely balancing the art of stimulating and appealing to all five senses that humans are endowed with.

Little did we realize that it was going to be a delight on so many counts, when we walked into Sky 726 on Saturday last.  It was presumably a new restaurant, a Kitchen and Bar concept which automatically implied an open kitchen and bar.  The first hint of an all round experience manifested itself as the elevator doors opened onto the top floor of the building where the restaurant is housed.  The moment the lift doors opened, subdued hints of music floated through the air as we took in the visual panorama that Sky 726 had to offer. 

Once we were settled into our table for the evening, we took in the finer details that have gone into making Sky 726 what it is.  An oil painting added a bold splash of color to the place which is otherwise done up in subdued hues of base colors.  Later we learnt from the hosts, that the crystal chandelier embedded into the wall, had been put into place crystal by crystal. 

The bar, impressively well stocked, sits right in the middle of the establishment and is a treat for the visual sense.  The chief bartender made it quite obvious that he loves what he does; mixing and churning up cocktails while he moved to the rhythm of the music, exhibiting the passion and zest he has for his profession. 

Our four course dinner started with a fresh garden salad which was served with a refreshingly light balsamic vinaigrette.  Foodies that we are, we’ve patronized many an establishment in HK.  In many places, the one thing that has stood out consistently is the overkill on the salad, either in terms of too many components battling for attention on the palate or in terms of a salad dressing that’s so heavy that it completely takes over and overwhelms the taste buds.  Sky 726 dished up a lovely salad - fresh crisp organic greens consisting of a variety of lettuce for the crunch, some rocket for the zing with finely sliced cherry radish and cherry tomatoes adding a splash of bright color and sweetness.  The topping of toasted slivers of almonds, completed the bouquet of textures and tastes that the salad brought with it.

The salad which set the taste buds tingling with that refreshing vinaigrette  was followed by a hot minestrone. A light, herby tomato base, loaded with chunky vegetables, the soup was delightful.  The kitchen had made sure that the soup wasn’t loaded with sodium or overly spiced, thus letting the natural flavors of the vegetables seep through into every spoonful.

There was a good variety of entrĂ©es on the menu that night.  I opted for the Organic Chicken Breast rolled in vegetables, served on a bed of pumpkin puree, studded with pickled pearl onions which added a bit of crunch and sourness to the sweetness of the puree.  Never before have I had such moist, tender chicken ever.  Slow cooked, sous vide the chicken breast was stuffed with blanched spinach which added to its taste and texture.  The smooth pumpkin puree, on which the chicken breast rested, was the perfect accompaniment to the plate - smooth and creamy.

In the meanwhile, Vic opted for the Seafood Pesto Pasta which was equally lovely to look at, with the aroma of fresh pesto wafting tantalizingly from the plate.  The dish was liberally topped with pan seared prawns and the sear on the prawns looked absolutely perfect.  It did apparently taste awesome too because well, I wasn’t as much as offered a single prawn!!  Vic chose to wave those perfectly seared prawns in front of my eyes before treating himself to that gastronomic delight.

Both the entrĂ©es were outstanding.  Yet again, the chef scored big with letting the natural flavors of the dish speak, without being overwhelmed by salt or spices. 

After having our palate sufficiently aroused, we opted for a Panna Cotta for dessert.

Panna Cotta literally means “cooked cream” in Italian and is one of the mainstays of Italian cooking tradition.  We loved the twist the chef added to the panna cotta both, in terms of taste and presentation.  Traditionally, Panna Cotta is served unmolded, on a plate.  The chef here had chosen to serve the Panna Cotta in the goblet in which it had been set.  Whilst being set, the goblet had been tilted, to add a lovely angle to the Panna Cotta, which was then complemented by a mix of berries.  The extension to the taste came from the Baileys Irish Cream that had been poured over the berries.  The end result was a lusciously creamy dessert that brought the entire course as close to being divine as possible.  It simply hit the spot.

Like I said before, we’ve frequented many a restaurant all over HK and there have been times when the food has been great but the service has left much to be desired.  That’s another area where Sky 726 stands out.  The team at Sky 726 is such a wonderfully motivated, driven one.  

The entire crew working in tandem with the chef, the bartender and the manager reminded me of a scene from Robert Brownings, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”.  
“So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon, breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!  And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon, all ready staved, like a great sun shone glorious scarce an inch before me.”

09 September, 2015

On the cusp at Forty Five :-)


(Image courtesy : moviespix.com via Google)

Forty five.  

I just turned forty five today.

That number is considered by many as exactly halfway through life.  I’m not laying any bets on any numbers here but given that it is the norm to consider the number 45 as ‘halfway there’, I did stop and reflect about how I feel, having reached that milestone.

It feels no different, truth be told. 

Life, so far, has been a very interesting journey – a very agreeable, equitable one.  Life, like it is meant to be, has taken me on straight paths at times and around very convoluted circles at many others.  There have been times when the roads seemed paved, smooth enough to send things whizzing down the fast lane and there have been times when the road has been bumpy enough to leave me rattled and exhausted.

What I did realize though, as I stopped to introspect, was the fact that life is indeed a great teacher.  What it does, through the experiences it puts us through, is increase awareness.  Through increased awareness, comes change - a change in attitudes, perspective.  As attitudes and perspectives change, it seems to automatically bring with it, a sense of freedom - a freedom that comes from acceptance, peace and tolerance.  It does bring about the realization that life is pretty much what we make it.  We’ve been dealt a hand, how we use those cards is totally up to us. What life also does, in its own inimitable way, is deliver lessons in humility.  As maturity sets in with a change in attitudes and perspective, as we get more tolerant and accepting, humility slips in somewhere along the way, quietly, very true to its name.  

Humility, which is such an important component in life. Youth often confuses humility with timidity. Once upon a time, I did too. But like I said earlier, life does teach you a thing or two. And this was one very important lesson that life imparted me too. Once upon a time, the brashness of my youth would have said “humility is nothing but debasing yourself”. Over the years, life has taught me that humility is nothing other than maintaining our own pride about who we are, what we are and what we’ve achieved in life – maintaining that sense of pride without arrogance, without conceit, without a feeling of superiority.

A decade back, what people thought about me or would think about me did mean a lot to me. I now realize that it is no longer the case. Somewhere along the way, I’ve realized that I’m no longer concerned about what people think of me or say or talk about me. As long as my conscience is clear at the end of the day, I’m at peace with myself and the world around me.

To be honest, I’m more at peace with myself now than I’ve ever been before in my life.  It was just the other day I was saying to Macadamia and Pecan that I’ve stopped being analytical and critical about many things, in many different situations.  In that sense, the process of learning is still very much on.  I don’t get my knickers in a knot over situations that I know are totally beyond my control.  I find myself much calmer, much more focused.  There is no longer that need to cram as much as one can, into one day because life is whizzing past. 
Of late, I have sensed this need to consciously ‘slow down’ – to learn to slow down, if I may use that term.  Life has whizzed past, kids have grown up and I am indeed now sensing the need for more of a ‘me’ time.  Just quiet time, during which to put my feet up and do something I’ve always wanted to indulge in.  This has, of late, nudged me towards spending more time nurturing the creativity that’s been hidden somewhere in there.  I never really acknowledged it earlier.  Now, I do.  I never used to give in to that need to just curl up with a sketch book, a pen or a pencil and just give vent to creative urges.  Now, I do.  More importantly, I’m glad I do. 

The forties, I must say, have been full of pendulum moments in terms of the kids.  It has alternated from feelings of absolute bliss and pride at their accomplishments and at the kind of people they are growing up to be on the one hand and on the other hand, there are moments when I feel they are growing up too fast.  “Let go” was something I’d told myself many years back that I’d need to learn and I have, to an extent.  As university education and the possibility of that taking Macadamia to some other corner of the globe looms, I do feel those moments of despair and realize that I’m not as ready as I thought I was.  I’m not ready for that bit yet. 

As I stand on the said cusp of time today, I can only say that the human mind is pretty much like a treasure chest.  A box full of memories from the years gone by, little snippets of conversation, pictures etched onto one’s mind, aromas and fragrances even – they are treasure untold.  I do now realize how much I hang on to them within the deep recesses of my heart and mind. 

Today morning, as I left home to get to work, I met parents of good friends downstairs and they rushed over to wish and bless me.  My mom called from Bombay, to wish me.  I find these filling me with a sense of joy and well being.  These are times when realization hits home as to how much of a space in our lives, our parents, our elders continue to fill.  They are irreplaceable and I do realize that we can never have enough of them.

As I looked at my picture that Vic posted on Facebook today morning, I did notice the wrinkles, the laugh lines around my eyes.  I do notice those little crinkles around my mouth and my eyes. Each and every time I notice one of those wrinkles, I remember to thank that Universal Force. For, those wrinkles remind me of the times when life has made me laugh. They remind me of times when I’ve had the sheer luxury of laughter, for, life has indeed taught me that there are many in this world who do not have that luxury . Those little wrinkles – yes, they are my laugh lines and yes, I carry them around with pride.

All of forty five today, I don’t stake claim to have understood life in all its totality.  I guess one never will but I’m kind of beginning to accept how this whole wheel turns.  I don’t fret and fume or stress myself out over the little things, probably because I’m at an age where I’m distinctly aware that things like good health, joints and limbs that listen to your instructions and do as you ask them to, having physical senses in working condition – are all things that cannot really be taken for granted anymore. In that sense and lots more, the bigger picture takes precedence over the small little things that used to bug me, earlier on.  Fretting over little things don't seem to appear anywhere on my priority lists anymore and in turn, it has made life a lot easier.

These are indeed the quieter years of life and I welcome the quiet and peace with open arms.  I am blessed with a beautiful, wonderful family who mean the world to me and then some.   I am in a profession that I care deeply about and enjoy thoroughly, a profession that takes a lot out of me yet is so fulfilling and gratifying.   I have a whole bunch of friends in HK and all over the globe who care about me, there have been a lot of old friends I’ve reconnected with over the past years. There have been numerous instances in my life when I’ve felt the hand of the Universal Force in my life. What more can I ask for ?

So, every evening, at the end of the day, when I find myself at home just being ‘me’, doing what I feel like doing, surrounded by people I love and who love me, having spent the day in a profession that I love and care about, two kids who alternate between driving me mad and making me proud, I realize that I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

If that’s a sum total of the first forty five years of my life, as I stand on the cusp today, I’d just say “Bring on the next forty five”.  Let’s do this !