Caveat: A long, but pictoral post.
Having a public perception can at times be an awkward thing. The perception you carry most often has the ability to swing public opinion for you or could be against you. The small town of Pondicherry seemed only too aware of this fact especially since it carries an extremely good perception about the food it serves. I just returned from a short vacation there and to call it a poetry in food would be an understatement.
Since this vacation was only meant to be family time, I decided to stay away from social media and I am not the studious type who does his research on every lane and street. “Please tell us about the places to eat once your back”, exclaimed a few foodie friends. I decided to make notes at best since i was not looking for stories to write on the blog I didnt even bother researching on the best places to eat. This post then is simply not about the good food I ate. Each meal there was a special one. Neither is this a restaurant review. But this post is largely about two restaurants, who’ve outdone their peers in Mumbai and I suspect in most parts of India with the food they served, the ambience and the service they offered. So much so, that they made you want to come back to them for your next meal ; and being in the services business I know that this is a very good indicator that you are darn good at what you are doing. And so, in my first post of the year let me share those places.
Hotel Anandha Inn
One of the very few times I used the phone in Pondicherry was to check on a good breakfast place. Twitter didn’t respond and so I checked with Simran Sareen (@bombayfoodie) she strongly recommended I go there for the brilliant South Indian Breakfast. I was excited. When i reached the place, I was dumbfounded to see a kings spread of a buffet. Dominantly European options, but equally good south indian options like Idli, dosa (made right in front of you) and the work. Don’t be fooled by just a single plate. I dont remember the amount of times I actually refilled my plate. I have had breakfast around the world, and this one ranks surely on par with those.
After a fairly satiating breakfast, I was convinced that I had to do a full meal here. Very rare for someone with a fairly jaded palate. The menu spoke of a fairly decent mix of Asian, European and Indian. Dinner that day was to to be had there and we unanimously decided to go for Indian. We went in for a simple Mutton Pepper fry which to me was a shining example of how simplicity in cooking can elevate the dish to being not just a dish but a labour of love. Mutton cubes which had some fat and cooked in coconut oil, local spices, a hint of chilli and a large dash of pepper. I have had mutton pepper fry at the home of a Tamil friend, this one came close. To get a local favorite perfectly right means you have done the basics of researching and sourcing right. Full marks on that. We had this with an equally competent pulao.
Cafe Le Dupleix.
If ever someone gives me a choice to have a meal at any place in the world, I would pick Cafe Le Dupleix without battling an eyelid. It is this place that we went for our meals again and again. The place itself is magnetic, ethereal. Spotless white paint, Imposing beams, Massive wooden doors and you would be forgiven to feel you’ve entered the home of a 18th century earl. Spend time reading the history behind the menu and you will know that the place was once the residence of the then Governor General of Pondicherry General Dupleix. Further the write up goes on to elaborate the life and adventures the General. And the food, oh the food. Trust me, everything on the menu will catch your fancy and it lives up to the claim. I must mention the wait staff is competent enough to answer your questions on anything in the menu.
They say well begun is half done. We began our meal with an amuse bouche that was a muffin shaped focaccia that came with a robust olive oil, a brilliant red wine salt and fleur de sel. Just a bite into that focaccia and i knew that this was the rock solid foundation of a good meal. Look at the crumb. Doesn’t it speak to you?
Call me old school but I am not a fan of fusion food but I was pretty impressed with the creation of the dish the call ‘Three Flavoured Chicken’. “Whats so special”? I quizzed the attendant. The flavoring in the marinades was European but the cooking Indian. I took the plunge and decided to give it a try and I am glad i did. It was just the concept of the dish that was unique, but the choice of flavours in the platter was amazing. There was a nice and tangy tomato based marinade (the red one), the piquant mustard (yellow), and a vibrant fresh cilantro and basil one. I loved the attention to detail when I seen the plate come with a nice butter naan and a salad. The naan helped in picking up the meat and mopping up a smooth little chutney.
They say its difficult to keep things simple. When I visit a restaurant, I check to see if they have done the simpler dishes right. If that doesn’t pass muster, that restaurant isn’t worth stepping into again. One of the dishes that has received a decent response on the blog is a simple Spaghetti Aglio Olio. A dish I have made many times and one I am proud of. I must say I ordered the Aglio Olio at Le Dupleix on purpose to check how it was done and I was blown. SImple, yet every bite spoke to you. Just that little chilli, just that little butter and tons of olive oil. The best rendition apart from my own :). If i really have to be a little grumpy and pick a fault, I’d say the toasted baguette was slightly burned around the edges. Thats about it
And things only kept getting better. We had the chicken marinated with brandy and European spices served with a cauliflower cream and side of a simple green salad. One of the more exquisite dishes on the menu but done well. I found the cauliflower cream slightly over salted but the rest of the dish was spot on when it came to cooking the chicken and the salad being fresh.
I am always vary about ordering beef in India, more from a quality point of view. On the other hand I love my steaks and returning from Pondi without sampling a steak would mean a wasted trip. I thought I would take the risk and it paid rich dividends. It may not have been one of the best steaks I’ve had (in India) but certainly one of the more better ones. To be on the safe side, I asked for my steak to be well done (usually i like it medium rare). It came with a oozy, sensuous red wine jus, balsamic roasted vegetables and fries that would just embrace with a warm hug. Again, simple cooking that let the ingredients talk
All in all, the food per se wasnt very different from what you would get at a premium Mumbai restaurant. It was the experience that made it different and took it a notch higher. A tab of four figures didnt hurt because you knew every penny was worth it. It made you feel special.
So that then sums up the post of Pondi. Of course, there are plenty of options if your prefer Indian or chinese. But like when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. If you get the drift. 🙂