Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pune Dining 2017

It’s been a long time since I wrote about the Pune dining scene. When I began this blog, there was no Zomato, Google couldn’t identify most restaurants in Pune, and there really was no good way to even locate new restaurants.  Much traffic ended up at this blog from search engines as people searched for reviews and/or phone numbers. Zomato’s founder-CEO called me up one day to review their newly-introduced printed food guides for the city; he had to introduce himself since the company was pretty much unknown those days. Well, a decade has since passed.  Zomato and Google Maps both do a decent job in identifying all food places worth visiting and even many that are not. There are thousands of reviews online (though fake reviews abound too!).

Watching restaurants in Pune has lately been like watching a season of Survivor. As restaurants have mushroomed in the city, it is dog-eat-dog times. Fads such as quirky mis-matched furniture, mason jars, and highfalutin names on menus have spread like wild-fires, as have self-professed foodies and food experts. Restaurant open with a bang and many vanish without a trace before the year is out. That favourite restaurant you braved the traffic for earlier now has a branch next door and a few streets down too. What is missing though are table cloth, fine cutlery and specialised cuisine - menus in this city seem to have more breadth than depth these days.

Yet, in the midst of all this, there are winners new and old. Here they are in no particular order are my favourites in 2017.  I value consistency, so only those I can depend upon always are listed here:

Malaka Spice:  Loved by foodies, the Koregaon Park restaurant continues be our go-to destination for Pan Asian cuisine.  Always consistent with its cooking and service, it is rare that you will have a bad day here.  They have recently spread their wings by opening branches in other locations within Pune and in a few other cities.

Taareef:  There have been several North Indian/Mughlai restaurants I have raved about during the course of this blog: they have all closed down or spiralled downwards in quality. However, Taareef at Aundh continues to be big in taste even if small in space, just the way it always was since it begun.  They make some of the most succulent kababs, delightful curries and biryani in town.

Surve’s: Kolhapuri mutton thalis’ are suddenly big in Pune. Several restaurants have opened all over town catering to this rustic dining experience for meat-loving foodies.  The one I think get it consistently right is Surve’s. I think their original FC Road location is the best, but their Viman Nagar outlet is larger and comes a close second.

Hotel Reddy: Andhra biryanis are among the most popular dining options in several South Indian cities, and finally we are beginning to get our own outlets here too.  Among the many Reddy’s signboards you will find in this city, the one that is a cut above the rest is the one in Kharadi (opposite Zensar offices).  No one does a spicy Andhra biryani better than Hotel Reddy, and certainly no one does it at the price they do!

Gajalee:  A name very familiar in Mumbai has been making a name here too. Ever since they opened,  they have indulged us with an amazing Coastal Maharashtran cuisine with the freshest seafood in town.  There are many who swear by Fish Curry Rice on the other side of town, but for me, there is only Gajalee when I get a fish craving.

Cafe 108: Exceptional western-style breakfasts were difficult to come by in Pune just a few years ago. There are several good choices just in the Koregaon Park/Kalyani Nagar area now. However, when I want to be indulged, there is just one choice: Cafe 108.  Excellent egg-based breakfast plates, amazing bowls of granola-yogurt and good coffee makes this place an easy winner.  The Australian lady who runs this place clearly has a keen eye for high-quality ingredients.

London Muffin & Le Flamington: I am big on hot beverages and not always pleased with the quality of cappuccino served in most restaurants and cafes here.  For me, a cuppa coffee or tea outside usually means a trip to London Muffin in Kalyani Nagar.  The Korean owners do an exceptional job with their breads and pastries too.  Recently opened Le Flamington (also in Kalyani Nagar) has quickly risen to the top in my list of cafes for its exceptional cookies and pasties too.

Irani Cafe:  I had acquired a taste for a quick breakfast at the more popular Irani Cafes during the last two years. It also happens to be one of the top dozen things you need to acquire a taste for before being accepted as an authentic Punekar! During the earlier days, I swore by Good Luck Cafe.  Then there was Vohuman Cafe, another that the old-timers swear by. When Irani Cafe opened in Viman Nagar, I was a quick convert. Now they have another branch at the fancy World Trade Centre building which I love even better.  Sunday morning breakfasts are a lot of fun with a simple fare of bun-muska-omlette along with a glass of Irani-made tea.  Lunches here can be fun too since the WTC branch has a special Irani lunch menu with such delights as Berry Pulao and Kubideh Kababs.

Boteco Snacks & Grill:  A cafe-version of the fine-dining Brazilian restaurant, this one is situated in Viman Nagar.  Run by Brazilian expats, the cafe has a pleasing modern and upscale ambiance.  The food menu is simple but brilliant and we have always loved anything we ordered. Burgers, meat dishes or chicken pie, they come out looking good and tasting even better.

Pondi Cafe:  Among the newest of restaurants on my list, this place aims to bring the taste and sensibilities of Pondicherry to Kalyani Nagar.  Earthy tones, lovely furniture and a wonderfully curated menu combine to delight the senses.  I like the fact that they open early at 7 AM for breakfast.  Please note this restaurant only serves vegetarian fare.

Tvum: While they have an amazing menu curated from lesser-known Indian dishes,  I frequently cite this place for its atmosphere alone. Lovingly created interiors, decor and furniture take you back in time and pamper your senses. Great choice for a special dinner date and there are plenty of nooks and corners to choose in thier large, multiple dining spaces. The food is consistently good too, coming as it does from the Malaka Spice family.

Le Plaisir: Highly regarded by foodies, this French bistro has won awards and accolades, and deservingly so.  I love their cleverly crafted sandwiches, salads and chicken dishes. They also make the best Panna Cotta in town!

Ibaco:  Among the many new ice-cream and frozen dessert places that have opened lately, Ibaco gets my vote.  Innovative flavours, choice, frozen cakes they have it all!  Given the quality of ice-cream they serve, they are also better value than most.

Incognito: We were early fans of this restaurant when the Phoenix Market City mall opened.  The restaurant was one of the few that instantly became a hit and has continued to do well with foodies in town.  The reason is easy to see: a smartly designed menu, food that is pleasing both to the eye and the palate, and a consistently good experience.  They now have a larger branch in Balewadi High Street, but I prefer the intimate space of the one within Phoenix.

Street Food & Snacks:  My favourites are wada pav at Garden Wada Pav, Samosas at Rajput Dairy, Mastani at Sujata Mastani, Faloodas at Falahar, Kulfis at Punjab & Sindh, and Jalebis at Kadhai.

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