Platform Principles

Though not by design thus far, I have actually been expanding on the 4P (planning to add one more) framework I wrote about in Agile @ Scale. The attempt is to help me navigate the concept of brand in a rapidly changing landscape. The Change Imperative tried to showcase some of the possibilities of these dynamic shifts, and Revisiting Brand Purpose dwelt upon purpose in the framework. This post is on platforms. Though media platforms have been around for a while and have been utilised by brands, and the internet, mobile and different OS can also be treated as platforms, I’m choosing to focus on the brand/ organisation as a platform.

Thus far, the organisation as a platform has been built to leverage scale for competitive advantage. But technology and open platforms are easily on their way to make scale matter much less. As this post  succinctly states, connections weigh more than efficiency now. So how can the organisation move towards connections?

My thought process on this was probably started in Social’s Second Chance. Social tools and platforms have brought the brand into full contact with the user and have caused paradigm shifts in not just marketing but across the organisation. This deck makes an insightful point that traditional marketing structures are dialectic in nature while social platforms are dialogic. That explains why brands are using social mostly as media and trying to frack it, despite there being better ways to approach it, even in the context of marketing. Experience > exposure is a lesson yet to be learnt.

Among other reasons, one of the big factors that are contributing to a resistance in truly embracing social in entirety is a fear – loss of control. This is a great read on designing for the loss of control and my biggest takeout from it is where it quotes from ‘The Power of Pull‘ - “shaping strategies” on the individual, institutional, and societal level.

I think there’s tremendous scope in rethinking the brand/organisation as a platform. In the bid for competitive advantage through scale and efficiency @ scale, it is possible that the organisation/brand has chosen to see value very myopically – as a transaction. What if the organisation transformed itself around connections – connecting employees to a sense of purpose, partners to the kind of work they’d want to associate with and its own narratives with that of the consumer’s? Of course there’d be transactions involved too, but how about engaging each in a way that understands and works with the unique value in every interaction within the context of a shared purpose?

(Arguable) I think efficiency lays more stress on methods, but engagement has the potential to focus on principles. Profitability at any cost vs value creation as a means to profitability. The choice might actually make the difference between survival and irrelevance.

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The Change Imperative

Ever since I first wrote about institutional realignment, I have been more conscious of it and its implications on our lives. To a certain extent, even paranoid, because of the pace of change. Ray Kurzweil is hard at work to make himself immortal, and believes we should get really close by the 2030s. He has been right before on many things of this nature. Moore’s law, digitisation and everything related are also getting us really close to the singularity. I am reasonably convinced that I will see both in my lifetime. If you live to be 200 and have robots smarter than you around, what does that do to education, money, marriage, work and pretty much everything that constitutes life? On the flip side, natural resources are running out, and I can see the complications already. It’s not a good sight, or experience!

I am finding it impossible to wrap my head around what all of  this would mean to our concept of life. In the meanwhile, I do know that everything is changing at breakneck speed, and in order to survive, we need to be cognizant of things that can impact our lives – as individuals, and as organisations.  I have deliberately avoided the word ‘disruption’ because it gives me a sense of suddenness and it is a furiously debated topic these days. Rather, to quote John Green (said in another context) I think we’re in the first state of “Slowly, and then all at once”.  This, is my take on ‘Change’.

(Thanks Nikhil for helping on a couple of alphabets and Amit for Unsplash, the source of many images used)

 

The people we are….with

After I shared the “We, the storytellers” post on Twitter, Surekha sparked off this interesting discussion on how we could persuade others to be less judgmental and more compassionate. I really didn’t have a fix-it-all answer and felt that it was more important that we simply practice this ourselves. That, however, did not stop me from thinking about it.

The next day, my reading list had this post, which touched upon things that get people to change their behaviour. I remembered this William James quote used in the post from something I had seen a while back at Brain Pickings.

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That is a tough statement to argue against because at one level we have different identities, and at another level, we have personas that interoperate (borrowed) with these identities depending on whom we are dealing with. (Arguably, and generalising) we do this because we crave acceptance from others, it is how we are wired. So we consistently work on our “latitudes of acceptance“. That conforming is probably what has led to what Umair Haque calls Youtopia - a cheap, easy illusion of conquest over the self. In the post he writes about how we have chosen identities and personas that we think are desired most. We think we are in control, but we aren’t. (read)

IMO, the truth is that we judge ourselves on a regular basis, and I still believe that the path to being non-judgmental and compassionate (to others) starts from being that to oneself. But is there a way to scale this on to other people? A possibility occurred to me when I was reading Colin Thubron’s “To a Mountain in Tibet“. In a thought he unfortunately doesn’t spend more than a line on, he mentions how he misses someone because “For a long time I have lost the person I was with you” It may not be the only reason, but do we like to be around certain people because we like who we are when we are with them? Is that self somehow what we really are, beyond the Youtopia model we have created, and is this feeling mutual? If that is so, can we objectively or intuitively work out who these people are? If we can, maybe there is a way to spread this.

I came across the concept of Limbic Revision via Brain Pickings. To put it simply, it is a sort of emotional contagion. So, in addition to being conscious of our choices and actions, and being as objective as we can, if we are also conscious of the kind of people we spend more time with, maybe the persuasion to be less judgmental and more compassionate can spread easier. Not a complete answer, but maybe a potential start.

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The Fort Kochi Connection

We’d been eyeing The Fort Kochi connection for a while now, especially since the ads started appearing in the Malayalam daily, and the only reason we’d been delaying the inevitable trip was that we thought it would be a revamped version of its earlier avatar – Oyster Bay. But on the day we were planning to watch Bangalore Days in PVR, its location gave it an advantage and we succumbed finally.

The layout has been modified only slightly, if at all, but the menu seemed different. A few good Cochin photographs have been added too. The ‘connection’, thanks to Kochi being a major trading port, allows it to have a smattering of all kinds of cuisines – Chinese, Portugese, Dutch, and of course, British. But like all well brought up Malayalis, we first checked out what was available in beef. We also completely ignored everything but the Kerala cuisines – Malabar, Kochi and Syrian Christian. After much debate, the Achayan Pothularth (who makes these spellings man?!) was ordered. It sounds Sith, and is dark, but did an amazing job nevertheless – spicy, well cooked meat. They had a special Kallu Shop menu going, but unfortunately what we wanted from it was not available. We also tried the Karimeen Pollichathu, and while its masala was decent – spicy and a good texture, we have had better, and on healthier fish.

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For the main course, we ordered Appams, a Kerala Porotta and what can be seen as an aspersion – Grandma’s Country Captain Chicken Curry. The appams looked right, but were cold when they were brought to the table. That was sad, because I think they did get it right. The Kerala Porotta is difficult to tamper with and was its usual dependable self. The chicken curry had a thin gravy and really played the part of a cross breed, we didn’t like it much. Since we were still hungry, we asked for a Kappa Biriyani, which is quite a known space filler. The tapioca and beef were well cooked, and worked well with each other to make a good dish.

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The service is quite prompt, and the cost (the bill still has Oyster Bay on it) came to a little lesser than Rs.1200. By Mallu standards, that would raise eyebrows! They have a breakfast menu on weekends, this meal wasn’t stellar, but I might give that a shot as well.

The Fort Kochi Connection, 77/A, Cygnus Chambers, Jyothi Nivas College Road, Koramangala Phone: 61344922

@ Social Media Week 2014

The role of content in a brand’s narrative is an oft appearing topic on this blog, so I was glad for the opportunity to discuss the subject with various entities who have a stake in this new ecosystem. I’ll be moderating a panel titled “The New Content Ecosystem – Evolution & Design” on Sep 25th, 2-3 PM during Social Media Week.

A fantastic mix of folks makes up the panel – Asit Gupta, founder of Advocacy Asia, Abhishek Chatterjee, founder of Tookitaki, Arunabh Kumar, founder of  The Viral Fever, Akash Deep Batra, Regional Digital marketing & eCommerce Manager APAC at Nestle, and Kalyan Karmakar, food insights consultant, blogger and columnist – it’s bound to be an interesting chat.

If you happen to be around, do drop in and participate in the discussion that follows. If you’d like me to ask questions on your behalf, use the comments section below, give me a shout out on Twitter.  #SMWMumbai

India In Slow Motion

 Mark Tully, Gillian Wright

A book written a decade back, and yet, it is still relevant because as the cliche goes ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’. India has changed in many ways, and yet remains the same in many other ways, and that’s exactly the theme of this book too. Mark Tully and Gillian Wright have tried to study the various forces that keep India ticking at its unique speed – forces that accelerate and forces that pull it back. Through 10 unique scenarios they have attempted to not just unravel the fundamentals, but even taken a shot at the nuances that define the ‘Indian experience’.

The book begins on a day that has left an indelible mark on modern India’s psyche and society – 6th December 1992 – the Babri Masjid demolition. The first chapter is about the rise of Hindutva, the role of the BJP, VHP, RSS etc and perspectives of the common people who reside in Ayodhya and the nuances in their approach to religion and gods. The second chapter shifts the premise to carpet making, child labour, and the machinations of organisations, including NGOs to achieve the moral high ground even at the cost of truth.

The next chapter brings in to focus another key episode in India’s recent political timeline – the Tehelka tapes against the BJP government, and perspectives right from the horse’ mouth – the man who actually carried out the sting operation. From there, the scene shifts to Goa. I enjoyed this as it gave me a lot of information about Goa’s history especially in the context of its religion – its origins and influence on society. Chapter 5 is about the revamping of Hyderabad as per Chandrababu Naidu’s plan, and while the author does cite him in the conclusion for his focus on governance, on hindsight, the politics didn’t really work out. This is a stark look at how the bureaucracy can really play spoilsport.

Sufism is always an interesting subject and this chapter takes a look at the Tablighis, Hazrat Nizamuddin and old Delhi and the wise insights of Maulana Wahiduddin. Another favourite this one was. The next chapter is about a chronic problem in recent times – farmer suicides. The authors do a good job of studying the problem from various angles and citing the good work done by a few people in Karnataka.

‘A Tale of Two Brothers’ would have to be my favourite – featuring VP Singh and his relatively less famous brother Sant Bux Singh. This one also has a personal connection with the authors as the latter was a friend. This is as much a story of politics as it is about human relationships, and covers a larger timeframe in terms of narrative. Gujarat – Saurashtra specifically – is the scene for the next chapter and deals with water scarcity and the efforts made by ingenious local minds and the mostly non-efforts by the government.
What story of India can be complete without Kashmir? This is another excellent job done in giving a full array of perspectives from various concerned parties (excluding the militants of course) and providing great insight on why Kashmir is in its current state.
In their conclusion, the authors have suggested solutions too, but it’s probably in India’s nature to solve its problems in its own unique way! A great read because of the relatively objective view that is not prescriptive or condemning but mostly empathetic.

India in Slow Motion

Harry’s

First published in Bangalore Mirror

When an iconic brand from Singapore lands up in your city, it’s only fair that you pay a visit at the earliest. I harried a few friends into doing exactly that on a lazy Sunday afternoon. From a single establishment at Boat Quay, Harry’s now has over thirty outlets across the globe, including one at our very own Indiranagar that started operations a month ago. This is right above Copper Chimney, (map) and yes, there’s valet parking. They haven’t really publicised it, so we weren’t surprised to find only a few other tables occupied. Harry’s, as a chain, bills itself as a sports bar but though the large flat televisions would corroborate that, it does seem more like something that just stepped out of an American sitcom – the one where friends catch up after a day’s work. Brick walls and comfortable seating, with a pool table in one corner, you get the picture. The props are probably standard at all the outlets, but they do make the entire ambience conversational – posters, coasters, napkins, all are an attempt at wit. My favourite was “High! How are you?” The music was a bit of a surprise and could be an educative experience for the kids who are the typical target audience at such outlets – ABBA, Boney M, The Whispers are not something they’d hear a lot. But I wouldn’t complain, especially because they played “That Thing You Do” when we were leaving! Now let’s stop pottering around and talk about the food and drinks!

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The drinks menu gets both sides of a menu card (illustrated like a clipboard) just like its food counterpart and that’s an indication of the focus. They have several house specials from which we tried the Singapore Sling and Harry’s Old Fashioned. The cherry brandy pretty much overpowered the gin in the Sling, but it was a reasonably refreshing drink. The second drink (created at the original outlet) had Scotch in abundance though they went a bit overboard on the orange peels! But what we really liked were the ‘election specials’! (‘drink for change’) The mango and vodka based Kejrinator was fantastic, and the NaMo Thunder (orange vodka, lime and mint) matched it. We passed the RaGa snoozer though. I absolutely loved the creative play on the ingredients/descriptions in these- mango, orange, and RaGa being a mocktail ‘approved by mom’! An extra point only for that!

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The complimentary bowl of peanuts indicated that they had a good insight into our salaries! The ‘Wasabi Paneer’ sounded interesting, but turned out to be Paneer with a wasabi dip. Except for that expectation blip, the dish was quite good – fresh cottage cheese that was made just the right side of crispy.  The Crispy Calamari, on the other hand, was a disappointment as it was fried a little too much. We then tried the BBQ Pickled Chicken and discovered a potential rival to the Tunday Kabab for the melt-in-your-mouth quotient! Thanks to this, and its zesty flavours, this was our favourite dish. The Fried Lollypops and Pattaya Fish Fingers are house specials, and you could give them a shot as well.

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In the main course, the Caesar Salad was more mundane than magnificent, and this was despite the bacon! The Harry’s Jazz Burger was good on paper, with mutton patty and bacon among its ingredients, but the patty could have done with better cooking. Ironically, the next dish was Harry’s Double Cooked Noodles and we asked for the Mixed Meat Butter Curry version. While fish sauce in everything is probably common in the generic geography that Harry’s originates from, I hadn’t anticipated prawns in the dish. Over several experiences, I have discovered that they’re allergic to me and seek to escape. This time was no different; I will spare you the graphic details. A mention in the menu would have been nice! The Kasoori Paneer Khurchan, with well cooked cottage cheese, a flavourful gravy and served with a curious version of naan was a surprise winner in this round.

From the four dessert options available, we chose the Baked Vanilla Cheesecake and the Chocolate Mousse. The former, with the little lemon curd touch was easily the better dish. In addition to the taste itself, we didn’t like the plating of the latter much, because seeing a lot of empty space where chocolate could have been is not a pleasant feeling!

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A meal for two would cost around Rs.1500 (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) – a couple of cocktails, a non veg starter, a main course dish and a dessert. The service staff is friendly and helpful. The ambiance and the pricing give it the potential to be a good hangout. However, in the crowded restaurant scene of Bangalore, consistently great food is a must for any Tom, Dick or Harry to survive!

Harry’s, (Above Copper Chimney) Plot No: 2006, 100 feet Road, Indiranagar, HAL 2nd Stage, Ph: 080 41113500

The Art of Live In

I borrowed the title from a post I wrote nine years ago on live in relationships. We have come quite a way since then, but I am also seeing an evolution in this narrative. I call it the same narrative because fundamentally it challenges the institution of marriage as we know it. The way I see it, marriage was an evolutionary necessity – as a relatively structured process of procreation, and thereby organising society. The words below are from a work of fiction based on the life of the Buddha, it would seem that neither is it far from truth nor have things changed much.

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So why is this institution primed for ‘disruption’ now?

Technology is one factor. The family unit made sense when younger members of the species had to be protected. As AI advances, maybe a family unit will not be necessary for safety or security. Technology also might play a hand in the physiological aspects, more on that in a bit. As I mentioned in an earlier post (Emotion As A Service) marriage is as much a transactional relationship as an emotional one. To paraphrase Scott Adams,  (fromthe internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships….a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships

The second factor – advances in medicine and increasing lifespans. Imagine living up to 150. The ‘life partner’ that you chose when you were a carefree 20 year old may not be the one you’d want to have fireside conversations with in your middle age – 95. Interests, outlook, worldview, personality etc change with time. Maybe you’d be living in different cities at different stages. 

Another factor I’d consider is depleting resources – these may be natural, (on a larger scale) and economic (on an individual scale) (any thing else you can think of?) These might force the species to rethink the institution, even though it seems hardwired into the brain by now. 

I can already see several paths diverging from this point. Robots as companions for the aged is a fast developing area, it could be used for young ones in future. In a physiological context,  though we might not be there yet, s3x with robots is a distinct possibility by 2025. There’s bound to be a learning curve, but hey! 

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(via)

In a relationship context, The Atlantic had a long article on polyamory, including perspectives on how society sees them, and the challenges involved. I was actually more surprised when Bangalore Times carried an article on the subject on its front page recently. The point here is that it is getting mainstream attention, arguably the first step in societal acceptance of units that are radically different from the traditional family. Even children with DNA from three parents might soon overcome legal hurdles and become an accepted practice.  

With all these paths, and many more, the institution of marriage might become one of the many options available. Some communities might hold on to it – as a tradition. But as time progresses, both individuals and society will undergo not just transformations on the outside, but in mindset as well.  After all, isn’t evolution just a logical response to a creature’s living environment? If it is, once the evolutionary necessity has passed, even this tradition might just fade away.  

(The views expressed above are just the author’s attempts at intellectuality, and do not represent his actuality. He hopes he doesn’t have to sleep outside!) 

until next time, along came poly! 

Urban Shots : Bright Lights

Paritosh Uttam

29 stories by 21 authors, held together by the premise of urban India. Each story is only about 4-5 pages long, so the chances of boredom are fairly slim. But most of the stories do revisit well trodden paths, and do not really offer a refreshing take. The twists are fairly predictable except in a couple of cases. It really could’ve done with better editing – not just in terms of basic grammar and punctuation but also with the ordering and flow of stories.

My favourites were ‘The Bengal Tigress’ by Malathi Jaikumar, (for the tender nuances) Saurbh Katiyal’s ‘The Wall’ (mostly because of a setting I could relate to) Paisley Printed Memories by Sneh Thakur (for the superbly poignant portrayal of a terrible human affliction) and ‘Heaven and Hell’ by Shachi Kaul for its empathy and Rashmi Sahi’s ‘The Raincoat’ for a well written, meaningful tale.

Some stories attempted humour, others were more sober, some were poignant, and many were interesting, and all were indeed interesting to some degree. But what I hoped for and did not find were slices of life that would narrate the human condition that connects all of us. Dissing Chetan Bhagat’s brand of ‘Rs.95 + hint of love in the title’ does not count! :)

Urban Lights

We, the storytellers

The day after Robin Williams died, I had posted this on Facebook

This was a man whom (I thought) no one could have any ill feeling towards. He made so many people forget their worries, for at least a while, through his roles. When you saw him, you couldn’t but smile. How could such a man have any troubles? But somewhere inside him, a story was being told, one that would end his life. In a tangential way, I had related it to “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind” from the ‘One off a kind rating‘ post in which I had written of self perception, and compassion vs kindness.

Once upon a time, I used to be very judgmental of people who chose suicide, but I realised over time that people are different. Some have the strength to deal with things, others don’t. But I still wonder about one facet of this decision. Barring the ones who end their life simply because they feel they have nothing/no one left worth living for, do people take this decision because they can’t live with something they have done/not done, or they are afraid of how people would judge them for this? In both cases, the common factor is the perception people have about themselves, and how it would change.

That makes me think – how much of this self perception is built based on cues from others? I think this is very relevant in the era of social platforms, because these cues could come from a variety of people. Arguably, Facebook is already affecting our thinking and behaviour, in a warped version of the Hawthorne Effect. (a phenomenon whereby workers improve or modify an aspect of their behavior in response to the fact of change in their environment, rather than in response to the nature of the change itself. ) That’s probably why we largely see only happy stories on Facebook – because people know they’re being watched, and judged. How soon before this becomes the guiding principle in lives, their only cue for creating self perception? It can be argued that this was happening even before social platforms, but I think there is a difference in scale. If entire generations are spending more time on social platforms, their behaviour offline would probably soon start reflecting that. To stretch it, their sense of identity would be built online before being taken offline.

When you connect this to the fact that the internet is also home to the kind of taunting and trolling that can radically alter one’s perception of the self, and one’s feeling of self worth, I see a problem. In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death, the collective trolling power of the internet forced his daughter off several social platforms, at least for a while. Paul Carr wrote about a generation – born before the 90s – that should count itself lucky to remember a time before such acts became the norm. I think the power each one of us has to influence the stories others tell themselves is massively magnified now, if only we could use that to be less judgmental and more compassionate. Maybe that will also affect the stories we tell ourselves.

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The Boozy Griffin

First published in Bangalore Mirror

One would have to wonder at the intelligence in adding alcohol to a mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, but hey, it does make for a fun, quirky name – The Boozy Griffin, and it sits right below a joint named after a pirate ship! (map) Yes, there is valet parking. Welcome to Koramangala, where we have seen it all! Once inside, the plush black sofas, high bar stools, the relatively dim lighting, and the red telephone booth all manage to convey a British pub theme. The smoking section, with its faux fireplace and posters starring Charlie Chaplin, Mr.Bean, Sienna Miller and so on, probably do this theme even more justice considering that the larger non-smoking section features First Blood and Scarface! It’s tough to get the right balance of relaxing and vibrant in terms of ambiance, but this place manages it. There are multiple TV screens placed so that most tables get a clear view, but for some reason they were showing WWE for a while before remembering their British theme and switching to EPL. By the end of the night, there were shouting matches at practically every table, thanks to the really loud music, which had switched from classics earlier in the evening to current hits and remixes of old favourites, all the while increasing in volume as well! So much for the sound, now let’s talk about the bite.

For a pub, the beer menu is pretty disappointing with just about three options! They do try to make up with a cocktail selection and an otherwise exhaustive bar menu, though we found a couple of missing items there as well. The menu gets a neat British touch with an entire set of James Bond themed cocktails. I tried the ‘From Russia with Love’ from this and though it was potent and delivered on the ingredients – especially the vodka and the chilli – it was loved about as much as Russia is these days! The mocktail we tried – Pear Mojito – was closer to being virgin than pear. The gin based Foxtail, a light drink guaranteed to keep you at ‘that level’ was the best we had. The other gin based cocktail – Tom Collins – also disappointed. It was the Caipiroska (4 for the price of 3) that saved the day.

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From the food menu, the interestingly named Son In law Eggs arrived first, and the Thai combination of fried boiled egg and tamarind soya sauce was just fantastic. The Cottage Cheese & Tellicherry Pepper Fry was spicily awesome if you’re fine with curry leaves. The Beer Batter Fried Calamari was a dip in the high standards thus far, an actual dip would have helped! The Chilli Beef Fry wasn’t available, and that proved to be a blessing in disguise because its replacement – sautéed Stir Fried Chilli Pork in soy chilly sauce turned out to be one of the best dishes we had.

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The main course has burgers, a few steaks, some pasta and some old school pub grub to be had! Unfortunately none of the beef dishes were available! The Chicken Espetada in Peri Peri arrived first. Served with butter pilaf, and on skewers, with onions, this had superbly spicy and perfectly cooked chicken. But the Angel Hair pasta with its Walnut & Thyme infused cream sauce was the clear winner. A wonderfully nuanced, flavourful dish! The Crispy Chicken Butty (nothing posterior about it, as the coaster explains, it’s just lingo for a buttered sandwich) wasn’t a bummer either, and the mildly spicy dish was well liked. The Deviled Kidneys on Toast (stir fried lamb kidneys) was not bad, and is quite obviously for those who enjoy these body parts.

There are only four dessert options, and three were unavailable! Let’s just say that the Sticky Toffee pudding is not worth saving stomach space for!

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A meal for two would cost around Rs.1450 (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) – a couple of cocktails, a non veg starter, a main course dish and a dessert. The service is friendly, but occasionally tardy.  With a well-crafted ambiance, (barring the sound assault – carry cotton!)  some interesting food, and reasonable pricing, the Boozy Griffin has a lot going for it to hold its own even in the competitive grub landscape of Koramangala. But on the flip side, the unavailability of a lot of menu items could make the griffin seem woozy.

The Boozy Griffin, #105, 1A Cross Road, Near JNC Road, 5th Block Koramangala, Ph: 08064050000

P.S. It’s open till 1 AM on Fridays and Staurdays