Innoxa 8- An Affair to Remember

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Some memories are etched in your consciousness forever. December 1997, a nervous, unsure college student was looking for a new hairstyle. With a cut out from a magazine, that flashed some “hair bangs” as the latest rage, she went to Innoxa 8 for styling. The lovely lady in Innoxa 8 was more than welcoming, putting at ease all her apprehensions and fears, suggesting what would work best but still deferring to the girl’s bang obsession. Today, 17 years later, the two often have a quick cup of coffee at the same salon along with some chitchat. That college student was me and the lady, Ms Neilu Grewal owner of Innoxa 8. Therein began my lifelong affair and association with Innoxa8. And no, thankfully,I did not get those “bangs”!

Today there are plenty of hair stylists and makeup artists, one better and newer than the other.But the ‘90s , when Innoxa 8 started, was the time when the MACs and Kerastase had not yet made their foray into the Indian market ( but for the by lanes of Karol Bagh and GK); when hair stylists and MUAs were rare and hard to come by, except in metros like Delhi. Chandigarh, as far as I can remember, really had no one outstanding. There were the usual Habib’s and Shahnaz Hussains but that’s about it. It was in such a scenario that Ms Neilu Grewal started a high end, yet very accessible salon, Innoxa 8. At a time when bridal makeup was nothing more than a flashy face and dots on the forehead, she used the largely unavailable and unknown MAC for her bridal makeovers, establishing Innoxa 8 as the one stop destination for all beauty related needs.

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The first thing that strikes you on entering the salon is the welcoming feel that the place has to it. I don’t know about anyone else but the harsh lights, artificial ambience of the so called high end salons makes me uncomfortable. That many can also adopt a condescending attitude towards a first time visitor is a further put off. But you find none of that here. Even if Ms Neilu Grewal herself is not there, not only is the lady at the reception counter friendly and affable, so is the entire staff. And yes, the staff consists entirely of women! Yay for women power. In an industry marked with high attrition rate, it speaks highly of the work ethics of the place that very few of the staff, if any at all, have left to join work at another salon. There are staff members that I have been seeing since my first visit.

The USP of the place? Apart from the warm, congenial atmosphere and personalised attention, it is the extremely competitive prices that the place offers without compromising on the service provided. Be it basic services like waxing, manicure-pedicure or specialised services like hair styling, hair colouring, straightening and makeup, the prices and service quality remains unmatched. All hair styling and makeup are done personally only by Ms Neilu Grewal and now also by Rabia Grewal. This, I feel is the primary reason for the quality being maintained- what effectively matters is not the brand name per se but the hair stylist and the MUA. And here it is the two ladies themselves only who are the stylists and MUAs.

The achievements and accolades Ms Neilu Grewal has to her credit are many, having been featured in many national magazines and newspapers. Rabia Grewal , who trained under Paul Mitchell in Melbourne, has already made her mark having worked with fashion shows like Zara, Vero Moda. Indian Wedding site wedmegood.com has listed her as an approved MUA on their site http://wedmegood.com/vendors/profile/900# .

With ladies such as this at the helm of affairs, can the place ever go wrong? Think not. One may say that my views are biased since I know them personally. However, I got to know them personally after I began visting Innoxa 8 and not the other way around. My relationship began as a customer at Innoxa 8 and went on to become a personal one. That is what the place and lovely ladies do to you- make you a beautiful bride and a friend for life.

For more information on Innoxa 8 you can visit their website – http://www.innoxa8.com/ or their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Innoxa8/585871698116510.

Rabia also organises makeup classes occasionally. You can keep track on her Fb page- https://www.facebook.com/rabiaspage and Instagram.

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Bikanervala at Chandigarh

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Chandigarh, to my mind, has very limited and staid options when it comes to eating out. Of course, that will depend on the place you are coming from- if you are visiting from the hills or the “pinds” (villages) of Punjab and Haryana, Chandigarh is the desi Manhattan. However, if it is Delhi and similar metros that you are coming from, Chandigarh will never seem to wake up, let alone offer any variety of eating out options. Restaurants that have been here since a donkey’s years continue in their old vein and well, with the same old taste. New ones like Jiggs Kalra’s Punjab Grill shut shop in no time. No offence, but the food of restaurants like Ghazal- Mehfil tastes the same as it did in the ‘80s. Similar is the case with Sindhi and Gopal sweets. That they are able to retain their chefs in this age of high attrition and jumping loyalties is to their credit but as a consumer, I find my choices severely limited.

I am not much of a foodie but occasionally that I do eat out, I like to have some choice and well, good food. When I moved to Chandigarh a few years ago from Gurgaon, one of the things that not only me, but we as a family missed about Delhi-Gurgaon was the unlimited options of either going out to eat or ordering in – For Italian it was (and still is) The Big Chill and Diva; for Indian, Punjab Grill, Punjabi By Nature, Veda, to name a few; and for chatpata stuff it was Bikanervala– I somehow never like Haldiram’s much.

20140422_142714 Seeing Bikanervala opening in Sector 26 Chandigarh was quite a welcome surprise. Honestly, however, we were a bit apprehensive whether the quality would be the same. We decided to try it out and our standard order pretty much plays around with the same items- Chola-Bhatura, Dahi Bhalla, Paani Poori, Raj Kachori, Dhokla, Matar Samosa, Matar-Kulcha. After arguing a little bit for more curd in the Dahi-bhalla and Raj Kachori( same story at  every outlet), as we started eating, my son heaved a sigh of relief- his chola-bhatura tasted just the way it does in the Gurgaon outlet! And henceforth there was pin drop silence as we all enjoyed our favourite stuff.

Since the place is new, it was not crowded. It is neat and clean, nicely done up and the seating is much more 20140422_145146comfortable than the high stools of Gurgaon Sec 29 outlet. The menu is not as vast but all the essentials are in place. We could not try out the mithai spread but plan to go back for that soon. Actually, I’m looking forward to picking up sweets and mathis from here during the festival season- I just hope that they are still around and in business till then. Chandigarh is not very warm to outside brands – Smoke House Deli, Punjab Grill and more recently Haagen Dazs ( at Elante) being case points. However, until such time comes, let me enjoy my dahi bhalla in peace!

Backpackers Cafe

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Having won Times Food Award for the Best Cafe in Chandigarh thrice in a row, Backpackers Cafe needs no introduction, to either the locals or the outsiders. However, winning some award, to my mind, is not always a good enough reason to like a place- visit yes; love no. Lucky for me then that I fell in love with this Cafe before it had won these awards or at least before I knew that it had.

I’m not much of an eating out person  and even when I do eat out, I’m more of a cafe person- carry your book along, laptop perhaps if you have more time, sip a cup of coffee and watch the world go by. If there is some good old style music playing, say Abba or Pink Floyd, there is nothing more to ask for. When we moved to Chandigarh ( Panchkula actually) few years ago, such a coffee shop was the first thing that I went looking for. During my earlier sojourn, it was Bakes and Beans in Sector 10 Chandigarh that I loved- how many cups of masala tea have vanished over T.S Eliot’s “The Wasteland”, I can’t say. Returning to the city after a gap of 4 years, it was Backpackers that became my haunt.

For me it was a chance discovery. Seeking to break the monotony of life or just looking to kill some time, I happened to cross Backpackers Cafe in Sector 9 market- stepped inside to grab a quick cup of coffee and that was it. I knew that this would be my “go to” place in Chandigarh. The food was, and still is, great – a GTO omelette after the gym or a pasta-pesto salad for an early lunch or a cheese steak as a regular lunch- options are many. My son and I regularly go there for a Friday afternoon lunch date. He loves his “Hearty Veg Baguette” and chocolate shake while I rotate between the all day breakfast menu, the spiced cheese burger or the stuffed chicken breast to the beat of Mama-Mia in the background. I am not a big fan of their pastas, my point of comparison always being Delhi’s The Big Chill. A meal for two typically costs around Rs 1200-Rs 1500/-.

The place is generally full especially at meal times, which makes it impossible to just sit there with a book and while away some time. Off peak hours, one can sit there with one of the many Lonely Planet books that are kept on the shelf. The coffee honestly is not anything to write home about- I have had better coffee at any of the numerous Baristas or Cafe Coffee Days and neither is the Masala Soda a patch on Pizza Hut’s Masala Lemonade. However, the shakes are nice as is the ice tea. Moreover, it’s the relaxed, laid back ambience and good food more than the coffee per se that make it a worthwhile visit. The parking in Sector 9 is always a nightmare but now they have a much bigger outlet at Elante Mall that takes care of both the parking and limited space of Sector 9 and I just love the outdoor courtyard seating. Ahh…while on the topic of seating- the sofa chairs at the Elante Mall Backpackers are comfortable but the wooden chairs with a cushion to sit on are not- the cushions just keep slipping off! How about tying them to the chair?

I came to know much later that the same group also owns the few other good cafes in the city, Cafe Nomad (Sector 7), The Willow Cafe (Sector 10) and the restaurant, Orchid Lounge, in Sector 34. Backpackers, however, remains my favourite. Incidentally, this brings to mind what I had written about Chandigarh Cliques in an earlier post ( read here). While the few outside eateries, like Jiggs Kalra’s Punjab Grill or Smoke House Deli, inevitably pack up, these locally owned places are good options -by yourself or with family. A cafe I’ve been meaning to visit but somehow never got around to is Girl in the Cafe. I love the name, the place I am yet to see.