Walking into Stone Water Grill (SWG) for the first time after almost 2 years, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. Countless nights of teenage shenanigans, birthdays, after-parties and more flood my mind. Their message for the night was ‘We Are Back’ – and back with a BANG indeed. As I joined an invitee table, we are introduced to Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and Managing Director of Impresario Hand Made Restaurants, the big daddy behind SWG, Salt Water Grill and so many more. With only minor renovations to the interiors, the ambience is rather soothing, with dark sofas and soft orange lighting.
To start with, we were immediately served Cumin-crusted Breadsticks with a Miso Butter – delightfully crisp, crunchy breadsticks with this light, airy miso-whipped Butter was a great start. You can never go wrong with Butter!
Chef Shailendra Kekade and Chef Gresham Fernandes (who was here to assist, all the way from Bombay) join us at the table as we are each served an amuse-bouche – yes, ladies and gentleman, an AMUSE-BOUCHE, the fancy term we all first heard on ‘Friends‘ – which not even the fanciest of ‘Five Star Restaurants’ serve here in Pune.
It was a Panko-crusted Scamorza ball on a lovely Broccoli Purée served with a shot of Smoked Aubergine Soup. If this were a scene in a movie, Kriti and I both agreed it would be when Renée Zellweger interrupts Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire with, “You had me at hello“.
Chef Shailendra explains that this new Menu we’re about to delve into may be loosely defined as “fusion” but he emphasized that it was more about marrying different ingredients rather than different cuisines.
Riyaaz orders us two shooters – Eye of the Tiger and Burst 52 – presented in a completely unconventional way using molecular gastronomy. The Eye of the Tiger was a Sambuca-Tequila mix with a ‘ravioli’ of Raspberry which was somehow suspended in the middle of the drink and gave a pleasant pop of Raspberry purée when it hit my palate.
I was terrified to try the Burst 52, a re-invention of the classic ‘B-52’ shot because it had 4 spheres of Kahlua and Bailey’s immersed in Cointreau – I had to try this twice because I shot it too fast the first time and by the second one, I was sold. For a follow-up drink, I decided to stick with Tequila, so a Tequila Sunrise (Tequila, Peach liqueur, Orange juice) seemed appropriate.
SWG also bakes their own bread, I discovered as we were served a platter of the most heavenly Foccacia and Olive Brioche with two types of Olive Oil – one infused with herbs like Thyme and Basil, which was my particular favourite. The good, clean flavours from the Olive Oil paired with the soft Foccacia and the slightly crisp but still delicious Brioche could have been a meal in itself, for me.
We sampled four soups, all with the most fantastic aromatics – a Light Tomato Tea with Ginseng and Ginger, Chilled Pomegranate Gazpatcho, a Chicken and Mushroom Broth and a Mushroom Cappuccino.
The Tomato Tea is more like a consommé, perfect if you want something with a delicate flavour, the Gazpatcho is great if you’re in the mood for a chilled soup, the Chicken broth reminded me of my childhood, but the undoubted and unanimously decided winner was the Mushroom Cappuccino with a frothy Milk foam. We even has seconds! I actually dreamed about it when I went home that night!
The Mushroom Galauti on a Saffron Brioche with Raspberry purée was true to its name – melted in my mouth! Loved the flavour combination.
Grilled Wasabi Cottage Cheese with Papaya Salsa had a lovely subtlety to it and even though I’m not a Cottage Cheese fan, I rather enjoyed it.
There aren’t a lot of places in Pune which use Duck on their Menu, let alone in a salad, so I wasn’t to eager to try the Soy Roast Duck and Water Chestnut Salad with Medicinal Herbs which was served, but it blew my mind. Light little strips of Soy Roast Duck combined with Herbs, Pomegranate, toasted Sesame, puffed Lentils, Litchis and fried Garlic was just a treat and definitely something I would order again.
What really took me by surprise was the Duet of Mozzarella and Smoked Norwegian Salmon with Basil pesto and Passion Fruit vinegar. First of all, I love my seafood but I tend to avoid fish like Salmon because I find it too oily and “fishy” for my taste, but the tiny bit of Salmon which I managed to salvage from the plate (it disappeared faster than you could say Cu Cu Cachoo) didn’t taste anything like I imagined – it was smokey and flaky and just pine.
SWG does their own version of the Caesar salad, with lovely Garlicky Prawns and a light Mayonnaise, probably one of the better versions of this salad that I’ve ever tasted.
Of course there was also the good old Melon and Feta plate with a reduced Balsamic Caramel – flavours that can never go wrong, if you ask me.
The Beetroot and Fennel Salad with mixed leaves, Mustard dressing and Orange “chuunda” was a nice option if you’re a fan of Beetroot and Fennel, but I preferred the Charred Peach Salad with Baby Spinach, Hazelnut Nougat and Coriander gremolata because it’s not often that you see something like a Peach salad on a Menu now, either.
Once again, we were brought a Duck dish – a Chilli Smoked Duck Breast with Hoisin Pakchoi and a Ginger Kokum jus and I have to say, this was dish of the day for me. It completely won me over, because not only was the Duck cooked so well that it was just perfectly pink, soft and tender but the flavours just tied together beautifully and it was like a party in my mouth!
Mushroom Risotto is another classic Italian dish that is so often botched and butchered by Restaurants, but I have to say, this one was rather pleasant. Light flavours, nothing heavy or cloying to taste.
Smoked Couscous with Cauliflower and Root Veggies in a Tagine with crisp Chickpeas had a lovely peppery aftertaste which was balanced by caramelised Figs and though I absolutely LOVE Couscous, this was not something I would order for myself.
Instead of the traditional Basil Pesto, we were given a sampling of a Zucchini Pesto served with a thin Spaghetti and some roasted Tomatoes, Bell Peppers and Yellow Zucchini. Mild lemony flavours, good if you want something light to eat.
Like I mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of Cottage Cheese, but I have to admit that the Creamy Cottage Cheese Steak with roasted Veg ‘Bhartaa’ and smoked Tomato emulsion was rather luscious and I enjoyed the combination very much.
Chef Shailendra himself brought out the German Cheese Sausage and Garlic Krakauer Pizza with Rocket leaves, proudly offering us all a whiff of the most fabulous toppings to ever grace a Pizza. Forget Pepperoni, guys – this stuff is what dreams are made of. I think almost every single one of us at the table was moaning with contentment after one slice of this.
Gnocchi is also something I usually avoid when I see on a Menu, just because it’s such a hard Pasta to get right, but the Roasted Potato Gnocchi with Whey Emulsion, Beetroot tmatcha, Green Peas and Summer Veggies was rather lovely, kind of like biting into a deliciously soft pillow. Kudos to the Chef, because this was made in-house too.
I love Tortellini, so my eyes lit up when I saw the Grilled Vegetable and Roasted Pepper Tortellini with Crème fraiche and toasted Garlic crumbs, but somehow I didn’t take to this Pasta.
Beef Carpaccio is another Italian Classic which you wouldn’t find easily on an Indian Restaurant Menu, so we were thrilled to bits when Chef brought out the “Three Way” Tenderloin Carpaccio which featured Beef done three ways- pickled, smoked and tartare – with Almond flakes and Parmesan. This one’s a winner, folks!
At this time, I was so saturated with good food and alcohol (Manasi plied me with one last drink – a Kiwi and Cinnamon Daiquiri which was delicious) that I was about 90% into my foodcoma when they brought out the desserts – I thought I wasn’t going to make it – but I powered through! We were served four sweet dishes – Malai Coconut Pannacotta with Pink Peppercorn and Kaffir Lime Gastrique, Caramelized Bacon Ice Cream with air dried mélange of Fruits, a Flourless Chocolate Cake with a Beetroot Ice Cream and The Opera Amaretto Macaron.
The Pannacotta was airy and wonderful, with a sublime Coconut undertone and just the right amount of syrup to give it that extra kick of sweetness.
Now, anything Bacon and I’m like HELL YES, and this Ice Cream was definitely unusual and enchanting but I did feel like it was missing that something extra. Bacon works great even in desserts, so if you’re a Porkaholic then try this one.
The gluten-free Chocolate Cake with a Beetroot Ice Cream was really a really interesting combination but the flavours complemented each other well. The cake was lovely and gooey and the Beetroot Ice Cream had a mild hint of sweetness that didn’t overpower the rest of the dessert.
Last but not least, the Opera Amaretto Macaroon had a sinful Meringue filling which was slightly crispy but still chewy at the same time, as well as a layer of moist chocolatey goodness – absolutely sinful.
I will be dreaming about this tasting for months to come! A big thank you to the Stone Water Grill Staff for being so gracious, especially Riyaaz and Chef Shailendra, who politely agreed to let me pass out under the table and wash dishes in exchange for a lifetime supply of food! SWG seem poised to deliver a whole new experience of fine dining to Pune, using some serious skill and technique which even hardcore foodies like us don’t come across very often. I genuinely hope they won’t fall back into the ‘Nightclub’ category and rather focus on the food this time around.
A big thank you to Manasi for inviting and taking such great care of us! Stone Water Grill hasn’t officially re-launched but they will, soon. They may be a bit on the pricey side, but if you’re a true Gourmande then it’s well worth the pinch.
You can find everyone on Twitter: Stone Water Grill @StoneWaterGrill, Shri @MrShri, Tes @testerfly, Husein @HuseinU, Kriti @foodmantra, Amarnath @DesiChumbak, Aditi @AditiCooks, Manasi @talkaaholic, Riyaaz @RiyaazAmlani and me @blehlovesfood!