Olive Beach, a franchise of the restaurant group that has haute establishments in Bombay and Delhi, is famous amongst a certain set of Bangaloreans for its chic ambience and gourmet food inspired by Mediterranean cuisine. Its weekend brunch is widely praised for sporting a delectable smorgasbord, but I feel no urgent inclination to partake of yet another extravagant buffet. Patrons here include the highest concentration of foreigners to be found in any of the city's independent restaurants, and a liberal smattering of the hip, the fashionable and the celebrities. I and my companion humbly deign to enlist ourselves in the last-mentioned category, and so we decided to reward our elite credentials with a suitably superior meal here. My last visit to this joint, two and a half years ago, featured a spectacular Gambas piccante -which I generously considered to be a synecdoche of the seductions that Olive Beach could proudly offer.I had no expectations from the service this time , having received a perfectly mediocre version of it earlier.
In the time since that outing, Chef Manu Chandra has not only maintained his reputation with the city's patrons, but also garnered trans-pacific acclaim by impressing premier Australian restaurant critic Matt Preston. For Preston's visit, Chef Chandra conjured up a modern Indian tasting menu which included niceties like goat's brain,smoked lamb's tongue and a puree loaded with rich flavours of haleem, besides transforming the time-tested triumvirate of MasalaDosa-bhaaji-sambhar into drumstick soup, potato foam and dosa cigarillo. The restaurant's regular menu, alas,is not deemed not important enough to feature such tasting menus.
Ambience - 7/10 The outdoor floor of this spacious walled-off restaurant is covered with off-white pebbles, and small serial oases of flatstone form the walkways.The space was originally a bungalow-'n'-courtyard that has now been restructured. Indoor rooms have white-washed walls and arches evoking a rather spartan Mediterranean feel. The Bar area is a narrow strip, sandwiched between the indoor seating area and the compound wall.The beach theme percolates across quite well, with the colour blue lending its hue to big doors that guard the compound, the restaurant logo which is a circular seashell, and also to the waterglasses on the table. Cane chairs with cushions enhance the casual holiday feel. The seating area at the back - a "semi-al fresco" affair - is arguably closest to the pulse of the restaurant - the moderately high roof over here lets in enough sunlight while the nightly ambience is sexier, with discreet pools of soft light and the feel of a cosy party night.
We chose to get 2 orders of the Restaurant Week Bangalore menu that gives 1 appetizer, 1 main course and 1 dessert per person. We also elected to order one starter and one main from the regular-price a la carte.
While the muted lighting creates an element of mysterious romance if you don't want to fully see your love interest's face in 100 watt illumination, this mood-lighting gives a death-blow to capturing pictures of what you ate. I knew beforehand that photographing the dishes is going to be a nightmare with this dim illumination, and I regret to report that I spent extra but unfruitful time clicking pictures (admittedly I'm not inclined to pack serious cameras with high ISO options and whatnot) that had to be eventually discarded because of sepulchral obscuration.
Our original a la carte choices were reported to be unavailable - not because of their insufficient supply but because they haven't updated their online menu since the last 2 years. So out went the the much-touted appetizer of Duck Supreme en croute. I had memorized all the components of Seven Little Pigs - Deep-Seared medallions of Canadian pork tenderloin, braised loin, slow-roasted pulled shoulder, mortadella stuffed with infinitely cooked pork trotter, crisp fried chichoron smoked apple and cinnamon sauce , gratineed parma-wrapped scallions, and pommes puree. So imagine my cataclysmic disppointment when told that this marvellous multi-personality beast had become extinct in the restaurant!
Our meal 6/10 Sometimes the description of a dish on the menu so fascinates you that you feel you have constructed and eaten a virtual version of it much before entering the restaurant - this again happened to me with an appetizer named Terrine Of Vine Ripened Tomatoes And Goats Cheese, Bloody Mary Gelee, Pesto Crumble and Mozarella Ice cream. I imagined multipartite grandeur of countryside Italy fused with elegant modernism, and shades of "I Am Love". The terrine when it arrived, far from being a generous slice of rich mosaic, was a small rectangle of tomato flavour, paired with a dollop of restrained mozarella ice-cream and whispers of pesto .Yes it did synthesize small echoes of Mediterranean notes, but I expected an opera spun into a master remix by a top DJ.
Baby Mushroom Tarte Tatin was the stuff of fledgling culinary stunts - the said ingredient along with its ragout layered atop puff pastry with a creamy goat's cheese mixture - neither its taste nor its texture had excellence. The starter that we ordered fom the a la carte was Portuguese Chicken Espetada - the allspice berry rub on it makes little cause to remain in your memory after you have exited the restaurant, and though the chicken was tender, a supposedly elite restaurant like this needs to take that texture higher up on the pleasure scale. But its pairing with aioli made profound sense. And streetside theater was brought to our table when our server brought a tall bent metal stand from which was suspended a long vertical skewer containing the above-mentioned roasted morsels of chicken - a fork was used to slide down the chunks of meat onto our plates - I've never seen this nice show-off before.
Mains - I realized belatedly that all three mains arriving at the table at the same time for me and my companion would make the eating of it difficult, apart from compromizing freshness of the dishes by the time we got around to sectioning appropriate portions. So when I managed to hail down the server, and asked him to bring the third main separately, just before the dessert, he sped to the kitchen and returned to apologize and say that it was too late to fulfill our wishes as the duck was already in preparation. He should have asked us at the start whether we wanted the third main at the same time - these are individually plated dishes, not the Indian-style share-it-all variety. After all, details like this, or the lack of it, separate run-of-the-mill service from an extraordinary orchestration.
Fish - It is not a smart idea to crust Seabass with Parmesan, unless you want hot pockets of steam to create severe discomfort in your patron's mouth. Piscine flavour was smothered , thus precluding any meaningful interplay between Seabass and Romesco sauce. Pairing it with the mushroom duxelles no doubt made it tastier, while potato chunks could indubitably have done with silkier cooking.
Duo of Duck - Of this duo, one got truly murdered. Confit leg was adequately tender with a bonus of a properly crunchy crust, the medley of vegetables that came with it carried mildly savoury and sweet notes that did not manage to tickle us, and a discordant note was struck by brinjal slices pickled to undesirable piquancy. The casualty du jour was the grilled breast - chunks of it were decidedly chewy, so much that I suspected they were actually a genre of emphatically al dente chunky duck sausage. When staff asked feedback on this dish, the results were informed to the chef (marquee chef Manu Chandra, we were told, was busy somewhere outside the restaurant) who came out to personally speak to us. Chef Varun reiterated that only the leg piece was confit-cooked (we knew that) and that the other chunks of meat were breast pieces which were grilled (we regretted the overkill in this). He also mentioned that they had problems updating their website because they had lost the domain ownership! (you know that you have truly arrived in the modern age when the chef starts clarifying website details.) After all this pointless confab and defense by the staff, the essential truth remained -a system that does not know how to accord proper respect to a breast, is doomed to fall.
Moroccan Chicken stew was the only savoury dish of the entire evening which I did not have an issue with. The thigh of chicken was tender,minted saffron pilaf was flavourfully soft, and the Ras el Hanout marinade with chickpeas okra onion and tomato, tasted similar to Indian master mixes.Though it bore no trail-blazing innovation, we ate and enjoyed its harmonious flavours without complaint. I grinned and remarked "biryani with good masala", while my companion smiled and chimed "ghee rice with chole"!
Service 6/10 Vigilance is a constant casualty here, as in almost all of Bangalore's fine-dining restaurants, and unless this is rectified - by increasing staff, their training, the bill or all of these -these places will never become world-class. Our young steward was inexperienced, lacked charm and not sufficiently trained, and to add to his woes the place kept him busy throughout the night. After each of the savoury courses he'd ask us how the food was, and when I gave unenchanted responses, he'd stare at me - my companion also later remarked on this strange and impertinent behaviour. After dessert, when he requisitioned feedback, and I said "It was good", his face changed into a slow smile as if I had finally fallen in line with what he wanted me to say all along. But he did communicate with the kitchen, and though the chef's visit to our table had no use or consequence, it showed their commitment to getting out of the kitchen and personally addressing a dissatisfied table.
The manager Mr.Mukesh came around to speak to us, and expressed hope that we would like the desserts. We said that we shared his hopes in this regard.
Warm Apple Tart topped with cream cheese mousse, accessorized with praline ice cream and sprinkled with crumble, had satisfying texture but it lacked vibrant zip in taste. This was set right by Brioche Almond Pudding that had the deliciously sharp sweetness of a blueberry compote cutting expertly through layers of frangipane, vanilla gelato and brioche.
Tariffs - Not outrageous. 25% tax (VAT + service charge + service tax) is added later to the menu cost. Our Restaurant Week Bangalore menu that gives 1 appetizer, 1 main course and 1 dessert per person added up to Rs.945 including tax.The regular price a la carte had the chicken starter at Rs.500 and the Duck main at Rs.700.
So my Restaurant Week Bangalore, though subsidized by Citibank's promotional pricing, came to a frustrating end. It had taken off with Dakshin's excellent service, plateaued with a "standard" experience with Szechwan Court, crashed due to atrocious service at Caperbery, and limped to a close at Olive Beach. After being at Waitlist position No.1 at ITC Dum Phukt Jolly Nabobs for 1 week, my booking there remained unconfirmed till the very end. The city, with or without its banks, teaches you stoicism if nothing else.
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