Caperberry : Restaurant Review (II)
Demoted from previous 3.5/5 to 2.75 stars out of 5 now (notable cuisine capsized by wrecked service)
Visited in September 2013
Bangalore is a strange town. It was a city two decades ago, but now it has collapsed into a becoming a terribly untidy massive town. Commerce bustles, working-class eateries that provide excellent food split at the seams with burgeoning customers, and slick glossy cafes too fill with all kinds of crowds. And then you have a nouvelle cuisine restaurant like Caperberry....a cutting-edge establishment that remixes international food and introduced molecular gastronomy to the city. Chef & owner Abhijit Saha has received a slew of national-level awards. My 12 course experience there early last year holds lasting memories -a glass cloche being lifted smoothly off the plate and the mist underneath steadily clearing to showcase a duck that blew me out of the water, then a lamb dish that put to shame all the mutton in my life.....and while the overall experience was not outstanding, it certainly held out exceptional promise. Since then I've had the privilege of dining in various uber-class restaurants but the check-list is still huge... Constraints of geography hamper my desire to review many restaurants of vaulting ambition but this audacious operation in my hometown still had treasures unexplored, so one afternoon when the monsoon was winding up, I happily informed my young cousins that we were going to one of the best restaurants in the country.
It was a weekend afternoon, but soon it seemed like a night that would never have a morning...
Ambience 6/10 This time I skipped past the gestalts and tones of the interior that have become familiar to me,and focussed on whether it could rank as a world-class ambience. Dullness of ambient light in the room, which often occurs, is the biggest weak-point, making it seem like a dreary suburban space.The floor-to-ceiling transparent windows with drawn-up white shades on one side, are limited in their ability to naturally illuminate. In decor, a sense of pure luxury is missing. The ceiling suspends a large chrome grid of green and glass, floor is uncarpeted black marble and the seat cushions are a kitschy mix of green, purple, white and brown. At the entrance of the main dining area, a large russet partition has liquor lined up on its counter, while the tapas bar beckons on its other side.
There were 3 of us, and each of us decided to have the Restaurant Week Bangalore Citibank menu which gives 1 appetizer, 1 main and 1 dessert at Rs.945 all inclusive per person, and we also ordered two more dishes from the regular-price a la carte.
Our meal - 7/10
Potato Bravas Moderne - While this classic Spanish tapas-style dish has chunky fried potatoes doused in spiced tomato sauce, Saha pulls his exchange-trick by making the predominant liquid state belong to a light cream of potato that fills a margarita glass, and which ensconces bits of crunchy taters. Small pools of colour alternately comprised by red peppered tomato and green mint form a circle on the surface, with crisp potato slivers at the center.It is a conceptual novelty that also sports architectural style, but it needed bolder brasher flavours - I don't need to tell Saha that Spain ,even with all its modernism ,can't handle this much hushed preciosity.
Rack of Lamb from the a la carte, was tender and easily sliced off the bone, with the pistachio crust ranking as a smart addition. Cranberry relish has no business being on the plate, but the aioli was not unjustified.
A paprika-cumin rub on chunks of chicken -another starter- was sufficiently zesty, but the meat itself felt prey to uneven texture - by turns tenderly succulent and mediocre.
Golden Corn velvet was a veritable Akshaya Patra, the quantity of the soup( an elegant yellow concoction stylishly poured at the table, around a petite pretty vegetable timbale) suffered no major reduction after several spoonfuls. Its taste occupied a pleasant middle-ground between great and insipid - Saffron infusion gave subtle body to the creamy smoothly-sieved corn essence ,while the timbale in the center reinforced the featured flavour and added a pleasant crunch of fresh corn.
Main courses : Spaghetti Con Calamari was a volume-filler which would win no prizes- it was subtly flavoured with olive, garlic & chilli. While the ample calamari was no great shakes, this dish alone could have quantitatively formed my entire lunch. Picada-grilled Chicken Supreme was the other main that offered no revelation - yes the chicken was soft and had sufficient portions with 5 cuts of breast meat , but the tomato concoction which sauced the bell peppers did not have the distinction due of a top-tier dish.
Filo stack - The most interesting of all the mains - this was a double decker pastry of seasoned vegetables, topped with slivers of asparagus, made slick with basil pesto and mozarella. Our fun in the eating of it would have been more organized and less laborious had the pastry stack sectioned off more easily with a crack from the knife. But zesty currents would unexpectedly surface from the disintegrated shambles on our plates, and aubergines gave further savoury heft to these tasty ruins.
Service - 3/10 (fail-grade) which improved to 5/10 after Abhijit Saha was informed of our dissatisfaction.Prior to this, for two-thirds of our meal, I was pained to see my companions and me suffering the effects of blithely incompetent service. The celebrated chef-'n'-owner ,dressed in white battle fatigues and his face visibly a little dulled from the afternoon's hard work (at least 8 tables were occupied,the hall was buzzing and sometimes crackling with din), after chatting with the table behind us, was hurrying back to the kitchen when a sixth sense made him slow down ,hover, and half-turn back as if intuiting that I wanted to speak to him. I told him that that food was okay, but that service was an issue- he assured rectification and went his way . I would have surely had a photo taken with this man who has, after all, attempted what no one else in Bangalore has done, but by the time he epiphanized that afternoon, I felt no joy or inclination in applauding him. Also, from the welcoming person at the restaurant entrance to the servers, a smarter,more elegant dress sense is sorely called for, considering how Caperberry prides itself as a market-leading restaurant. Sometimes there would 3 members of service staff walking around in front of us, and none of their attention registered my beckoning gaze. Vigilance was merrily missing that afternoon. Plates littered with bones and smeared sauce lay around, but the staff perhaps were transfixed by the bizarre aesthetics of these remains and let them grotesquely adorn our table decor.
The Last Main - Roger Langbour Duck - For one and a half years, I envisioned this dish to be a masterpiece of Caperberry; noted world cuisine adventurer Stanley Pinto has also lavished praise on this dish, and finally the words emblazoned in the mind came to tangible life in front me when we ordered this from the a la carte. There were 5 components to the darkly coloured multi-partite dish - let me discuss them in ascending order of merit. Medallions of duck breast, which I expected to be the crowning ingredient , was alas not as marvellously soft and flavourful as the magnificent Sous-vide Smoked Duck that I enjoyed early last year in the same restaurant. The slices too were a shade too thin to confer a plump luxurious mouthfeel. They were bathed in a dulcet scarlet sauce of red wine, that would have benefitted from an extra layer of savouriness and one deducted level of sweetness. Pommes lyonnaise were a delectable preparation of brunoised and seasoned potato, which heightened the taste when consumed with sauce and breast slice in one beautiful spoonful. Confit leg was a true child of duck-fat parentage -deeply slick with the meat falling apart under the knife.And my sweet tooth was nicely titillated by the red-wine poached pears -mild tones of acidity feebly challenged rich honeyed notes, while the fruit's soft flesh canoodled with a pleasantly granular crispness.
Our service woes still rankled. New cutlery was not deposited before the main courses, food-smeared fork and knives were left to bask on the linen, there were multiple occasions on which the clueless servers dropped cutlery with a clatter onto the uncarpeted floor, and extra empty plates were not brought inspite of our intimation at the outset that we intended to share all the dishes. Not once from start to finish were we asked about our state of satisfaction. When I hailed down the manager and told him about the crash of our high expectations, and about the specific valencies in service, he awoke from his stupor towards our table ,wordlessly sped to the service stand and tried to set things right ,after which affairs ameliorated. Verbal communication and apologies still continued to be absent, so perish the thought of such niceties as charm and winsome behaviour by staff. The Duck, which was the last main course, was the only dish which the server individually plated for the three of us .Otherwise I had to do the rather arduous task, as the host for my group, of dividing up and individually depositing the portions of all 3 main courses and 2 starters including the messy surgical demands of trisecting the unwieldy Filo pastry (I congratulate myself for wisely desisting from the stunt of dividing the corn soup into already cluttered plates) - this left me wearisome and worried about the food getting cold in the process. Great restaurants will try to instinctively help the patrons in such matters,or at least ask if help is needed. Ultimately I felt that Caperberry should actually have paid me the 7% service charge ( service Charge is separate from service Tax)
Dessert - Culinary gods then decided to smile upon us -the sweets, gratifyingly, lifted the mood. Initially I thought desserts would be the weakest course here, the opposite proved to be true. Churros were a super hit - warm batons of fried choux pastry, their colour approximating gold, tingling with cinnamon and tiny diamonds of sugar -these are destined to be dunked in perfectly delicious dark chocolate sauce and eaten in a mouthful of deep joy. The prettiest of the lot was a superbly synthesized panacotta, creamy with vanilla, paired cleverly with a slightly tart kiwifruit coulis ,and crowned with shavings of almond extract that gave textural lift. Two different sorbets, both wisely topped with a sprig of basil, also gave us pleasure - the pineapple was correctly restrained, and the poached-pear variety delighted and refreshed.
Chef Saha runs Caperberry at a loss, because Bangalore's patrons are not yet ready for this evolved European cuisine. He'd be regretting that he didn't set up shop in Bombay or Delhi, where avant-garde restaurants stand a better chance of surviving. And I hope the man realizes that a backward front-of-house will only worsen business for his restaurant. I am unsure whether diminished funds make it difficult for him to retain top-quality service.Perhaps the over-stretched menu choices are also a gambit to tempt customers who otherwise would be nervous with a concise nouvelle cuisine menu.
Tariffs - Reasonable if the service matches up. While a 3 course meal from the regular menu, including 14% VAT , 7% service charge and 5% service tax, can work out to an average of Rs.1600 per person, we availed of both regular a la carte menu selections and the set-menu prepared by Citibank Restaurant Week Bangalore, a twice yearly event in which the 3 course menu in Caperberry this time had a charge of Rs.945 per person including tax. From the regular-price menu, the lamb rack appetizer cost Rs.475 and RL Duck Rs.850.
Despite the bright finish, I left Caperberry reeling from the effects of poor service. The caliber of food was not foremost in my mind. It made me again recognize the importance of the human element - it is what makes a doctor not get sued despite an adverse event, it is what gets a leader a repeat vote inspite of the million thorns plaguing his success, and it is what circles and lifts merely good food, and almost gives it the shimmer of an extraordinary experience.
PS: I was invited to a grand multi-course tasting of Caperberry's menu that would have included such special dishes as 48 hour cooked Brazilian pork belly and Interpretation of Meen Moilee but that outing was cancelled by the other party at the last moment - it made sure that I wouldn't have sufficient time to make a second visit to Caperberry (which I had planned even before that invitation). Moreover, I was not prepared for a solo-visit last-minute elaborate meal in this restaurant, so I ended up flying out of the city and country, as per schedule, two days after that cancellation. I got news that Saha has been given a restaurant in Singapore - I wish him all the very best but I feel bad that a more haute-cuisine-savvy Indian city like Delhi or Mumbai couldn't entice this special chef to operate his marquee restaurants inside his native country- now Saha will end up spending more time outside Bangalore: a city which never gave him enough respect and business in the first place. This turn of events is a black mark on Bangalore's restaurant sensibility.
Breads with dips
Spaghtetti Con Calamari
Vanilla Panacotta, Passionfruit Coulis, Almond extract
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