To visit or not to visit…

The beast’s whine was gnawing away at me. It was a sad, desperate clawing sound it made, as infuriating as the banshee-like wail of nails on chalk.

It was the What-If monster, and it was the proverbial bull in the China shop of my mind.

What if Pali Village Cafe is overhyped?

What if it’s all show and no go?

What if you find you’ve gotten off at Disappointment Central?

To this, I had only one comeback. But what if it isn’t?

The silence I got in reply told me that the nail had been hit on the head. And so it was on a sultry Saturday that we had a date with fate at Pali Village Cafe.

A rack against one of the as yet unfinished walls
                                                                A rack against one of the as yet unfinished walls

I have heard paeans about the beauty of the place and how it’s as pretty as Paris (the city, not Ms. Hilton) in the springtime, but the fabricated vintage or distressed industrial grunge look didn’t impress me much simply because it’s a look that is being done to death all over Mumbai?

Somewhere, someday, a restaurateur and a smart-ass interior designer came together. Not having bucketloads of money to pay for the upcoming restaurant (after all, that trip to Bora Bora, not the one in Juhu, was not going to pay for itself), the dynamic duo hit upon a dastardly plan. Why not leave the walls undone, the bricks exposed, the paint uneven and of myriad hues with the lights a dull yellow with filaments out of the era of Edison. And one more thing, let’s give it a catchy name, like industrial chic or vintage grunge or a cultivated rundown look?

Incredibly, as an idea, it has caught on.

The interiors. Note the door that needs a lick or two of paint
                                                      The interiors. Note the door that needs a lick or two of paint

If I had done the same to my house, everyone would have called me a cheap bastard without 2 coins to rub together. Yet, somehow, it passes muster all over the city as a look that is very much in demand. Like Poker, it is something I fail to understand and will continue to do so, no matter how many times you try to drive the point home.

The wrought iron railings on the staircase, the bare cement that stares you in the face with exposed brick walls and wooden furniture are all a carefully cultivated look, but it is not one I find as incredible as everyone touts it to be. But then, maybe I’m just a curmudgeon getting on in years (as the streaks of silver in my hair suggest) who’s old-fashioned, in that I like walls to be painted and an interior job to be finished as opposed to being left in varied states of progress.

The bread basket that kept us company
                                                                          The bread basket that kept us company

I swear I can even point out where they ran out of money or the will to do up the place. The exposed brick wall directly to the left of the entrance would be my pick. The look of the place then, is something that cannot grow on me. It’s a bit like Pokemon; it’s all the rage, but for the love of all things holy, I cannot fathom what the fuss is about since it just doesn’t work for me.

Thankfully, the food does. Or at least some of it does.

The sublime Red Snapper that we snapped up faster than you finished reading this
The sublime Red Snapper that we snapped up faster than you finished reading this

A generous slice of motley Mediterranean flavours, the menu features some thoughtful, interesting combinations and gamely tries to make strange culinary bedfellows a happening item. Sometimes though, east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.

Take for example the sweet potato fries. After a wonderful one night stand with the Sakharkand Chaat at Mirchi and Mime and a brief tryst Crispy Lotus Root at Eat Thai, a tiny flame of hope burnt within my food-loving heart. I believed, genuinely, that the sweet potato fries would make for a lovely start to the meal.

Fate is a cruel mistress. It extinguished my hope quicker than you could say “c’est la vie”.

Shorn of the crunch I love in my fries, this was a set of thickly cut fries that had crunch, but only in passing. Paired with ketchup (that condiment I so dislike since it reduces anything to a singular flavor with enough exposure), it packed all the carbs, but not enough joy. Nevertheless, I manfully munched my way through it since mumma would have frowned down upon food being wasted. Rather than letting it go to waste, I let it go to my waist. Hah!

The heavenly Prawns in Lemon Coriander Broth
                                                                 The heavenly Prawns in Lemon Coriander Broth

Things took an immediate upturn with the Prawn in Lemon Coriander Broth. A deeply hearty melange of lemongrass, ginger, coriander and just the lightest hint of chilli, this is one of the exceedingly rare times when you’ll find me saying I miss that broth more than I miss the prawns. The former was light, nourishing food for the soul while the meaty and not inconsiderable amount of prawns was reduced to being a sidekick. It was a bit like hanging out with the pretty girl’s friend because you feel the friend is your best chance of getting hooked up with the hottie, but you end up falling for the friend instead because she’s subtly nuanced, intoxicating and tasting refreshingly of ginger and lemongrass. I’m sure I’ve seen a romantic comedy or two along those lines.

The pan seared John Dory that was just too damn dry
                                                             The pan seared John Dory that was just too damn dry

The pendulum continued its upward momentum with the Red Snapper paired with a Strawberry Risotto and Mushroom Veloutte. I saw it on the menu and was immediately repulsed and attracted to it. It was much a similar reaction to the one I’d have for an episode of Emotional Atyachaar. Nonetheless, I’m thrilled we stuck with the plan and followed through with our order for this, because it was ridiculously nice. There wasn’t much hint of sweetness by way of Strawberries in the risotto, and the fish was cooked perfectly, tender without being flaky or crumbly and it vanished within minutes, polished off along with the divine veloutte that accompanied it. I’d happily die if I’m reborn as this fish, because my piscean pal brought much happiness to three people.

However, all that goes up must come crashing down, and like a tombstone piledriver delivered by the Undertaker, we were brought crashing down to earth with a resounding thud by the Pan Seared John Dory. With two great fillets of protein riding astride a bed of desiccated radish, things were drier than a solitary gobi left to fend for itself in the Gobi Desert. The red sauce sent in to shake things up didn’t help much and while the fish was fresh, flavourful and packed with visual appeal, I couldn’t help but think that it would have a whole different texture and flavor had it been accompanied with a little more of the red sauce that complemented it so nicely.

The sangria that was just not up to snuff
                                                                        The sangria that was just not up to snuff

My visit to Pali Village Cafe was a little bit of a mixed bag, but I saw enough promise to convince me to make a second visit to this popular celebrity cubby hole. If nothing else, I now know my plan of action; order for a solitary dish, and if it’s not to my liking, I’m going to be snapping on the heels of that gorgeous red snapper. After all, red is the colour of amore. And while I didn’t entirely feel the love, I certainly felt a twinge of something that will see me return to explore more of this crumbly cool cafe for the celebs.

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