Koramangala

Gilly’s

First published in Bangalore Mirror

I’d been hearing about Gilly’s for  while now, and when I figured out that the crowd on Saturday nights would lead us to a Hoppipola-like experience, we decided to land up on a Saturday afternoon.  Despite that, the place was reasonably packed and there was definitely a peppy vibe about the place. There are two sections – the indoor area is dim lit and has more of a retro pub feel to it, and the outdoor is brighter, seems more cheerful, and if it weren’t for the bar stools, you could mistake it for a fun café. The walls are adorned with pop culture posters, typical pub humour, and occasionally glass paintings. The music is exactly what the 20-somethings would order and the decibel levels increased as the afternoon progressed. The focus on short eats, both in terms of menu items as well as portion sizes, ensures that you’ll not need to worry about your beer not having sufficient company. More

Serafina

Serafina sounds like a fantastic super villain from the Marvel universe, but this is about a restaurant in Koramangala. (map) I think I could easily associate charming or pretty if I had one word to describe the place. The brick walls, decor, furniture, lighting and the fantastic music (classics, played at just the right sound for one to enjoy it and yet have a conversation without a megaphone) lend it a touch of classiness. They have seating on two floors inside, and an alfresco option that faces the 80 feet Road. On a pleasant Bangalore evening, we chose the latter.

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Happy Brew

First published in Bangalore Mirror . Happens to be my 50th for the publication.

There’s always something brewing in Koramangala and the latest addition is a Gastro Café named Happy Brew. This is the place that was once occupied by Soul Courtyard. (map) Yes, they have valet parking! From the name, we did expect a microbrewery, but soon learned that the happiness was limited to Kingfisher, which gets branding space all over the place. Thankfully, the pricing and the ambiance ensured that we could adhere to Bangalore’s famous ‘Grin and beer’ philosophy. The place resembles a courtyard more than anything else, with the bar at the centre and ‘good times’ caricature adorning the wall. A flight of stairs leads you to an area which won’t let you get too high, mostly thanks to the really low ceiling! The walls here are made of wooden panels with some lovely black and white photos of smiling people. While it seemed like an excellent area to lounge on a weekend afternoon, the heat became quite unbearable in a while! The playlist was a nostalgia attack – we heard everything from Modern Talking’s “Brother Louie” to Geri Halliwell’s “It’s Raining Men”, and “That Thing You Do” – songs which the younger members in our group didn’t even recognise. But between the songs, the brew and the food, we were all kept reasonably happy!

The drinks menu consists of beer, ‘beer tails’, mocktails, coffee and a few milkshakes. Conveying our order turned out to be tougher than a Mars mission, since it took three attempts before the person who took our order convinced us he had it right! The only ‘beer tail’ that worked was Diesel. (lager with cola) The Beer Mojito and Kiwi’s Paradise (beer with Kiwi) sounded promising but fell flat on taste. The Blue Lagoon, tagged a mocktail, featured Blue Curacao and scored on looks, but that was it. It also didn’t help that a couple of drinks we asked for (including a Brownie shake) weren’t available. When there’s cheap beer, perhaps one shouldn’t hope for a lot more!

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Tim Tai

Residents of Koramangala would remember Ping, which rose to stardom and fell from grace all in a few years! The same vicinity now hosts Tim Tai, which calls itself an Asian Deli. (right next to bon South) It exudes fun, from the moment you see its bright signage from the road. The interiors have a high ceiling, a tree almost smack in the middle of the floor (around which there is some seating available) and functional, yet chic decor. The general cheeriness is also evident from the ‘Gurus @ work’ sign above the kitchen. Having read that it gets crowded by 8, we arrived early and managed to get a seat in the alfresco area, which even has a little waterfall.

Though they don’t serve alcohol, there is a drinks menu with a fair amount of choice. (menu, incomplete) There is also a separate dim sum menu as well. Another thing that reminded me of Ping. When there’s Tom Kha, there are no discussions. We asked for two small portions, and I also decided to check out an Asian Mary.  (that’s a drink!) That, and the Banana Wrapped Grilled Chicken with Sambal’ made up our starers. The soup portion size worked just right for us and it was excellent in terms of taste as well. It was actual coconut milk (not the stuff made from powdered versions) and had a nice kaffir lime tang for some flavour in addition to the galangal and lemongrass. The drink was guava based with tabasco and a pepper rim that made it spicy, sweet and refreshing all at once. The Chicken starter should not be attempted if you don’t have a tolerance for spice. But if you do like spice, you’ll love this one! The menu also has satays, Asian salads and cold rolls.

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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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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

Mekong

We’d seen Mekong during our trips to Kanua, and one Saturday evening, when we were in the mood for Oriental fare, we decided to drop in. Mekong is exactly opposite the Kaikondrahalli Lake (map) and on the top floor of a building that also houses various other food joints and even a gym. There is a fairly large shared parking lot, so you shouldn’t have any difficulty on that front.

Just as you get out of the lift, there’s a Thai tuk tuk to welcome you, complete with flashing lights! We got there by 7.30 without a reservation and just managed to get a table facing the lake. This section was already beginning to get crowded, though there is an indoor seating option as well. The decor is functional but there are some lovely lanterns and knickknacks to add some character to the place. This continues in the menu – shaped like a travel suitcase with the usual sticker graphics to boot. All the table mats have a different Did-You-Know food byte. All of this gives the place quite some charm.

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The drinks menu had quite a few interesting cocktails and we chose the Tom Yam Siam and the Thai Bomb. The first was obviously inspired by the soup but had vodka and rum with lemongrass, lychee juice and ground chilli. This was quite a spicy drink with all the flavours well represented. Loved it. The second drink was milder and simpler – white rum with green chilli. When there’s Tom Kha on the menu, (a little incomplete version) we have to have it! The soup was a little thinner than we liked it but had fresh coconut milk, but lots of chicken and mushrooms. We then tried the Stir Fried Chilli Pork. Though it featured a lot of red chillies, they turned out to be quite harmless. The pork was really well cooked and with peanuts for texture, the dish was scrumptious!

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For mains, we debated a bit because the menu had Khow Suey, but finally chose Lamb Rendang, Phuket Fish and Thai Fried Rice. The lamb could have been cooked better, but the gravy was quite tasty. The fish gravy was a little salty but otherwise fine. The fried rice was billed as spicy but was only mildly so. There were quite a few dessert options, but we were reasonably stuffed and asked for just a Rubies with coconut milk. We were hopeful of tasting something like the awesome Cendol we’d had in Bali. But not only was this delayed quite a bit, the drink itself was extremely meh – with gigantic ‘rubies’ and powder based coconut milk! :( Turned out to be quite a disappointing end to the meal.

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The bill was a little over Rs.2600. Not really pricey, because we’d tried out quite a few things. Despite the just passable mains and bad dessert, we loved the place for the ambiance – the lake view and superb music – and superb service. We’ll most definitely drop by again.

Mekong, 51, Kaikondrahalli Village, Sarjapur Road Ph: 8884122000/22200

The Local

Originally appeared in Bangalore Mirror.

If, in Koramangala, Jimi doesn’t give you enough of a high, perhaps you should try a stairway to heaven, led by messaging on a steep flight of stairs. Subtext apart, there’s a new watering hole in this part of town, or rather, a ‘terrace drinkery’, that goes by the name of ‘The Local’. (map) The logo sets the tone quite clearly – it is inspired by a bottle cap. If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, perhaps the messaging on the stairs will. It’s too long to recount in entirety, but the message is that this is a place that celebrates the ordinary, and all the kinds that make up a great hangout. The talk is easily backed up by the relaxed ambiance. Quirky is going mainstream, but The Local’s décor is certainly a candidate for tastefulness. An assortment of seating options – indoors and al fresco, featuring a motley group of chairs, stone benches, and surprisingly, greenery in the heart of Koramangala! Add to this, beer served in ceramic mugs, the little blackboard menus, offers like Tap Tuesdays and Tequila Thursdays, it’s easy to imagine an evening spent lazing around. And then there’s the music! We started the evening with classics – As Time Goes by, Uptown Girl and so on, quickly moved on to New York City Speed and such, and ended the night with everything kids listen to these days!

When the drinks menu occupies as much space as the food on the menu, it does seem like a good start. It gets better when you figure that they actually do have the stuff. There’s no end to the number of pubs which have Hoegaarden and Asahi on the menu, and on the menu only! However, their in-house specials are nothing out of the ordinary. We asked for a Strawberry Margarita and it arrived in the form of a Strawberry Martini! Someone at the bar was definitely having a few *hic* cups. They did offer to replace it though, after we pointed it out. The starters took a long while to arrive. The Veg platter which had Paneer Tikka, mushrooms, cauliflower and Basil Haryali Kababs. The last was an easy winner, since the tikka was only average, the mushrooms rather insipid and the cauliflower suffered from a mustard overdose.

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The good news had been that the Chilli Beef had arrived first, the bad news was that it forgot to cook itself! That was unfortunate because the flavours were really good. The Portuguese Patra in name and appearance was similar to the Parsi Patra ni Machchi, but this one had a chicken version too. Wrapped in banana leaves, this was easily our favourite starter and was well complemented by the peanut based dip.

The main course options consisted of burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, pasta and a few steaks. We began with the Meat Lovers Pizza, which was a chicken, pork and cheese extravaganza. They did play their parts well, but the pizza itself was burnt. The BELT was our favourite mains dish, the acronym (and the dish) being made up of bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato. Despite the ingredients, the sandwich was light, with subtle flavours. The Penne Alfredo (we had the veg version) was only average though the cream sauce promised much. The Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers sounded quite interesting – bell peppers stuffed with cheesy rice, served with baked apple and red wine sauce. It looked quite the belle too, red and green bell peppers looking pretty in the company of the apple. But looks proved deceptive, the dish wasn’t great, the barely cooked rice being the chief culprit! We were in the mood for desserts, but they didn’t exist!

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For about Rs.1800, you could share a couple of drinks, two non veg starters, and a main course dish. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The Local makes no pretence to being a fine dining destination, and bills itself as a ‘my kind of place, come as you are’ hangout. The décor, music and the general buzz manages to do that quite well, but it has a long way to go in terms of the quality of food served. If the general idea is only to lounge around in Koramangala with beer and sides, and in a relaxed atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed. But if the expectation is more than casual ‘drinkery’, then the terrace might fall short.

The Local, 467, 80ft Road, 6th block, Koramangala, Ph: 2550 5119

bon South

Five years have passed since we visited the first version of bon South, in Koramangala. bon South had soon shifted to Malleswaram, and the original location now houses Prost, I think. The new version of bon South is where Ping (#youremember) used to be – the one way from Intermediate Ring Road towards Jyothi Nivas. (map) They have valet parking.

We went there for lunch on a Sunday, and think we were lucky to get a table without reservation. The place was packed! They seemed to have learnt from the earlier experience – there was no cold welcome towel and there is a clear shift from extravagance to value for money. They only have a buffet (menu) – different rates for weekdays/weekends and veg/non veg. Special rates for kids. Smart. They seem to have more space than Ping used to, and while the flooring and walls seem to have been left unchanged (from the previous owner – some multi cuisine placeholder) they have added some decor elements that lend a touch of authenticity to the theme. The old fashioned light shades deserve a mention here.

The live counter items are served on the table along with the choice of welcome drink. (beer/bottled drinks/kokum juice/buttermilk/mocktail of the day) D chose the mocktail which turned out to be a fruit punch, and I had a buttermilk. The fruit punch was strawberry heavy and just okay. The buttermilk was cold but a bit diluted and wasn’t the spicy kind I prefer. The menu differed a bit from what we’d seen on Zomato. The pick of the starters for me would be the podi idly – small, soft, spicy! This would be closely followed by the spicy grilled chicken and the thair (curd) vada. The mutton patties, the steamed fish (raw mango  flavoured and served in a banana leaf) and the uthapizza (I’m calling it that because it was an uthappam served in a pizza-like slice) were also very good. The corn, and the glazed pineapple were decent. The not-so-good items were the paneer, prawns (both were bland) and the veg patties.

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The main course is the traditional buffet style – you have to go to the food. :) The photogenic pickle and podi spread grabs your attention before anything else. In the main course, we skipped the soup options (mutton stock, rasam) and began with the fish, mutton and chicken (all gravies) The appam/porotta/dosa/podi dosa will be brought to the table after you tell them what you’d prefer. A good idea would be to order this just before you pick up the dishes. The fish turned out to be quite bland and D didn’t like the crab masala she’d picked up. The chicken and mutton were both curry leaves based, but differed in taste. I thought the mutton was really good and D favoured the chicken. The appams were very good, as were the podi dosas. (I’d gladly pay for that podi if they’re selling it!) The Kerala Porotta and the dosa were decent enough. In the next round, we tried the chicken biryani, which wasn’t that great. There are enough veg options, it’s just that we skipped them – except for the stew, which was really good.

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We barely had space for desserts but bravely soldiered on. The elaneer payasam is magic and a must try. I had 2 mini glasses. D loved the jalebis as well. The phirni, pastry, pradhaman, jamun and rasagullas were standard fare. We were too stuffed for the gola! :( The meal ended with a filter coffee.

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It cost us Rs.1200 including service charge and taxes. I think that’s excellent value for money, especially given the location. The service deserves a special mention – enthusiastic, pleasant and prompt! I’d definitely drop in again.

bon South, 130, 1st Cross, 5th Block, (behind Sukh Sagar) Koramangala Ph: 2552 6362 / 6363

The Mirage

First appeared in Bangalore Mirror

I came upon The Mirage quite by chance on the web, and for a few moments, when I was hunting for its precise location in Koramangala, I did wonder about the name of the restaurant and whether it was literally that! Situated on the fourth floor of a building, it’s pretty easy to miss unless you’re specifically looking for it. At an eye level, look for the new Corner House. (map – though it has shifted to the other side of the same road) Parking on the street. When we visited, the place was relatively unknown because it’d been less than a month since it opened, and they hadn’t done much in terms of publicity. That probably explains why we were the only group there. Thankfully, the cliché of the service staff attacking as a swarm did not happen. In fact they actually seemed a little intimidated, especially when we ordered wine – they had difficulty finding it, and seemed confused on how to serve it! For now they are serving only wines, (though they plan to make it a full fledged alcohol menu soon) so it might be a good idea to train the staff on it. But once the initial fear of strangers passed, they turned out to be quite helpful and attentive! The décor is functional aiming towards lounge and there’s lots of ‘greenery’ – in the form of lighting, graphics and cushion covers. Marilyn Monroe seems to be quite an influence, appearing in various avatars, the most interesting of which is her quote “I don’t want to make money. I just want to be wonderful.

The menu is a mix of many cuisines – Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and even a smattering of Vietnamese. From the more than a dozen options available, we began with a Sesame Potato Bites in Chili Sauce. On hindsight, we needn’t have ordered this since everything else came with potatoes anyway! There was something funny about the oil in this dish, and it wasn’t the kind that would make you look forward to the rest of the meal. The Fried Calamari served with Garlic Aioli and chips was up next. The squid was well cooked, the dip complemented it well and if you can ignore the general greasiness, it’s not a bad dish. The Highnoons Special Fried Chicken was the last to arrive, and was served with the mandatory chips and a ‘Mayo-Tard’ sauce. The chicken itself was decent, except for a couple of undercooked bits, but the sauce, which was already a cause of much mirth thanks to our juvenile vowel movement jokes, actually had a funny taste, most likely thanks to a mustard overdose.

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In addition to the standard menu, there’s also a ‘daily specials’ display. Since the idea was to pig out, we decided to try the BBQ Pork from this set. It came with.. Ok, this is getting boring, so imagine potatoes as bodyguards and that no dish arrives on the table without them accompanying it in some form! But the pork dish actually turned out to be the first of the fantastic dishes – a superb mix of spice, tang and splendidly cooked meat. To even out things a bit, we then tried the Veg Dumplings in Hot & Sour Gravy which was served with Butter Rice. This was not in the league of the earlier dish, but the hot and sour flavours were complemented well by the mildly flavoured rice. The Cajun Spiced Grilled Fish with Dill Butter Sauce was up next. The fish was cooked well enough, but it was probably our least favourite, mostly thanks to a strange pungency. The Chicken Roulade turned out to be the dish of the day, with an awesome spinach filling, a mildly spicy herb sauce and butter rice to complete the package. From the half a dozen pizza options, we chose the Pepperoni & Bacon. They weren’t stingy with the meat and the caramelised shallots added a nice touch to the thin crust pizza.

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There were plenty of interesting options but we were pointed to the Brownie Caramel Fudge and the New York Style Blueberry Cheesecake, and thus we had a new benchmark of how meals should end! The brownie was just the right texture and consistency – neither too dry nor moist- and had some wonderful dark chocolate! Good chocolate dishes are always a tough act to follow, and the fact that the baked cheesecake almost beat it is testament to its quality. I wondered whether we should have started with desserts!

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For about Rs.1350, you could share a couple of non veg starters, two  non veg main course dishes and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The Mirage actually lives up to its name in the sense that the restaurant’s appearance doesn’t do full justice to the quality of some of the dishes. Considering the Koramangala location, it manages to deliver value for money as well. A little more attention to the overall packaging, including some good music (instead of piping Radio Indigo) and it could be wonderful and make money!

The Mirage, #61, 4th Floor, Above Corner House, 7th Block, Koramangala, Ph: 080 65333533/633