Nestled in the echeleons of international 5 star Hotel Sofitel, Pondichery Cafe caters to nearly every taste with both a buffet and a la carte menu encompassing every kind of popular world cuisine.
Based on the concept of uncut diamonds, this theme resonates in every design aspect – from the multifaceted pillars which dot the paisley-printed landscape, to the shape of the private dining room.
The unobservant may fail to pick up these subtle design details and simply think Pondichery Cafe is a standard, pretty restaurant.
Various eye-catching pieces are strewn throughout the establishment, from a South Indian dosa station transformed from a traditional hand-cart, to the wine tower which showcases over 300 international wines, easily accessible for guests to enter and peruse at their leisure.
Ever evolving, the Sofitel Mumbai has employed research and development chefs to come up with meal concepts which can be emulated in Pondichery Cafe.
The 1.5 month old menu has seen the arrival of 40 new dishes, keeping on star players such as Lamb Rogan Josh.
The ‘Delight’ a la carte menu focuses on balanced, light food – a concept derived from French spa traditions of Thalassa.
A favorite of Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor (aka the girl who stole my T-shirt concept) this set menu contains standardised recipes which are then customised to include local elements.
I decide to sample offerings from this range to determine if Pondichery Cafe ‘s take on balanced food is up to the mark.
At 98 calories, the spinach and lentil soup initially produces flavours which are simple, hearty and healthy, which go to on to border on bland once the novelty of the first couple of spoonfuls are done away with.
The butteriness of the lentils gives the chewy spinach a squeaky clean spin, while a few paltry shreds of carrot bring up the rear, failing to add impact.
The Parmesan apparently present in the dish goes undetected by my cheeseaholic tastebuds.
The crux of the dish relies on the old-fashioned ideology that all healthy food must be tasteless and thus require Spartan determination to persevere.
I fervently hope the other dishes will not be as punishing.
I brighten at the mention of roasted New Zealand lamb – who can go wrong with that?
A trimmed fillet of meat turns up sprawled across a base of mashed aubergine, drenched in butter and oil which congeals around the sides of the meat in an alarming fashion.
I take a bite and am repelled by the overpowering taste of butter which permeates the meat, destroying what little beauty it once may have held. I drag the meat away from the yellow pool, but like a pack of hungry wolves, the unrelenting butter stays on its tail. Finally I have to extract the hunk of meat from the mess, wipe it clean against a new plate and start my tasting again.
The lamb contains end notes of slight nuances of cumin with occasional bursts of spice from sporadically placed whole pepper. The meat, while good quality, is cooked almost to well done and lacks any sort of fat in a way which makes it harsh and sombre to consume once slightly cooled.
The severe presence of oil makes me question the verity of the 320kJ claim as stated on the menu. A lick of aubergine paste lacks any real concentration of flavour but does provide some lubrication to the meat.
The tiny jus-ed carrots studding the plate do little to contribute any kind of sweet relief to the entire dish.
The eggplant involtini is the prettiest thing in the room, its ostentatious colour catching my eye as it places itself in front of me.
I dig my spoon into a pool of shocking red tomato which is dramatically rich and instantly consoling, as though I’d had to go through a range of bad dishes to finally find The One.
Saucy tomato chunks permeate each cleverly wrapped parcel filled with low fat ricotta and lemon rind, while shaved eggplant brings up the rear to enhance the soft texture of the cheese.
A vegetarian dish managed to steal the show. I’m elated.
The panacotta is overflowing with a variety of berries which congregate in a wine-red mass of flavour.
I disembowel the soft cream with my spoon: juice from the berries slowly seeps through, cutting the sharp white of the panacotta and staining it blood red. Ohhhh yes.
The slight sourness of the berries neutralises the sweetness of the vanilla cream, which has been prepared to perfection.
I keep digging and shovelling, faster and faster until all too soon, the dish has been spent.
What an experience!
The service at Pondichery Cafe is a bit of a worry – since most customers choose to take part in the self-serve buffet, those who choose to order a la carte may be in for an excruciating wait in between courses as waiters run around busy in their own tasks, largely unaware of diners and unable to communicate between themselves in order to address diner’s needs. So many restaurants in Bombay get this wrong!
The food is 50/50 – either mindblowingly delectable or, in the case of the lamb, downright unpleasant.
The vastness of the menu may also be a factor for the lack of attention to finer detail.
Service-6, Food – 7.
Pondichery Cafe is located at the ground floor of the Sofitel Mumbai, Bandra Kurla Complex.