Given India’s unflagging enthusiasm for mediocre American chains, it’s little surprise I’m in no rush to try California Pizza Kitchen, even though it’s been in Mumbai for over four years.
Recently however, CPK (as it’s more trendily known) has faced a recent onslaught of competition from the entry of other leading international pizza chains into the Indian market, which has led to fierce brand promotion and heightening of service standards.
I hop on in to see if their milkshake will bring my boy to the yard.
It’s lunchtime, crowded and buzzing with noise – the soccer is on and people are cheering, talking and laughing. The decor is staid, but the vibe is great. I do worry about how we’re going to get a booth as I requested, that too for only two people.
No problemo. We wait a grand total of 5 minutes and are ushered to our places, where an uncharacteristically enthusiastic waiter chirps the specials at us with a big grin. Nice!
I wasn’t kidding about the milkshake.
He orders an ice-cream float: a coke with a big dollop of – you guessed it – ice-cream. Nursing a chronic childhood phobia of melted ice-cream, I have to be coaxed into trying it.
The usual taste of Coke floods my mouth but this time it’s sweeter and colder.
One would have thought ice-cream and cola wouldn’t mesh well, but the latter serves to amp up the flavour, rather than challenge it.
My own cranberry soda for once doesn’t command a hit of vodka – and I think I like it!
The spicy chicken strips are essentially panko-coated buffalo strips with a balance of sourness and acidity which borders on mathematical precision, offset by a cheesy ranch dipping sauce.
With each bite comes a sizzling vinegar hit which makes up for the reasonably small size of the dish, but leaves me, tongue out, panting for more.
The vegetarian Albequerque pizza is covered in generous dollops of lime-flavoured creamy sauce which is unique in its tanginess but dominates the entire dish.
The thin crust collapses easily under the weight of my teeth with small, concentrated amounts of capsicum and olives.
Although the menu states that the pizza contains cheddar and Fontina cheese, a sparseness of all ingredients denotes an absence of personable flavour.
Maybe it’s my low expectations, but The Works pizza came as a complete shock.
Well lubricated with generous toppings of Italian sausage and imported pepperoni, the dish holds juxtaposing textures of crunch and cheese, with just the right amount of natural pepperiness so as to leave the humble chilli flake sitting on the bench for this game.
Cheaper than the competition at (585 versus 800 rupees) I am left genuinely sad when it came to the last bite.
The service is pretty good here – all waiters are fluent in English and have been trained to international service standards.
At California Pizza Kitchen, there is never a point where we don’t know the exact location of our next dish – “Your pizza is in the oven, sir! Your pizza is resting, ma’am! It will be out in five minutes.” (Once it finishes its hair and makeup?).
With stringent standards of service and food which is genuinely top notch; California Pizza Kitchen, you seem to have taken my fancy.
Service 10, Food 9.