I really wanted to hate this place. I wanted to turn up, eat there and then call peoples bluff on it. Give people fancy, mastercheffy, pretentious food and they all go gaga over it, just to avoid being called pedestrian. After eating out in *insert any five star restaurant* the squiggle of reduced Modena balsamic vinegar on that white plate or the lego-like placement of grilled meat over asparagus spears over celeriac mash, was frankly getting boring. And here I was, heading to a place that exalted in doing just that. Why? Because I am a seeker of truth. (Yes, the profoundness of it all boggles my mind as well!)
It’s a backbreaking ride from my side of town. Bannerghatta was and will always be the ‘The Zoo’ to me. No matter that the animals now, are the ones behind the wheel of a car in peak hour traffic! A small board (unlit) announces ever so subtly that you need to take a right to your destination. Follow the mud path and you end up at a farm-y bungalow type place. Park under the trees and follow the gravel lined path to the minimalist concrete structure. I could see how the setting could be termed romantic, especially at night with the flickering candles. We settled down (I, with a nervous twitch) and waited for the night to unfold. The concept (pretentious alarm going off) is that you make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance and give the chef a broad guideline of what meat/ veggies you like to eat. He then curates a seven course menu for you, with fresh seasonally available ingredients. (Both of us opted for a meal that eschewed beef, but everything else was game). Tonight I was going to be my bitchy best – no concessions, no niceties I told myself. If he was going to charge me the price of a five star buffet for this blind-date-type seven course meal – I wanted to literally be swept off my feet!
Arv ordered a beer, and I ordered a fresh lime soda. (Well, I needed all my faculties in place to be critical). The table setting was simple. A little glass had freshly cut yellow flowers and there was just a flickering candle to provide it company. Two tiny bottles filled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar gleamed in the soft light. I can’t remember if there was music in the background but I have to admit that the entire set up made me languorous. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted in as the waiter laid out a simple bread basket in front of us. The drive had made me quite cranky so I quickly tucked into some carbs to restore the balance! Twas good bread and good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar. But that’s just a small win.
The first course arrived. Two small strips of anchovies wrapped around herbs marinated in a sweet citrus dressing and decorated with pine nuts. I literally sniggered. I am not a fan of anchovies. I find the silver skin and firm texture of raw anchovies too reptilian to classify as a food source. With great apprehension I popped one of the rolls into my mouth. The citrus dressing was just wonderful, the lemon slices almost like candy. But even this could not mask the taste of the raw anchovies. I thought the idea and execution of this course was bang on, if they’d only replace the anchovies for me!
A simple crostini – the thought irritated me. A whole second course dedicated to a slice of toasted bread?? Definitely some kind of a joke! But all it took was just one bite to shut me up. The crostini was topped with a single thick juicy slice of roasted aubergine. Beautiful caramelized onions lay on top of it. Above that was a generous dollop of walnut parsley pesto. I don’t think I have ever tried something that looked so simple but tasted so sublime.
The next course was a single grilled prawn in a ginger sesame dressing topped with sliced nori or seaweed. Infinitely simple but elegant flavors. I however think it’s quite dubious to be calling single nibbles ‘courses’, but the rest of the meal was still to unfold.
The salad course took my breath away when it arrived. It was plated so organically, that it almost looked like a mini garden on a plate. Beetroot, goat’s cheese and arugula with mixed greens tossed with walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Dressed in a balsamic reduction and topped with Dill leaves, it was effectively my favorite course. I literally will drive through the darn traffic every day, if they can serve me this salad just this way!
I seem to attract kids and dogs by the drove wherever I go. The latter I love, the former I tolerate. So it was no surprise that the friendly resident dog made its way to our table. He didn’t beg for food but he was a sucker for attention. After literally placing his face in my lap for ten minutes he hobbled off to the other end of the garden. He kept coming back in intervals to get petted and I kept getting up in intervals to sanitize my hand thereafter. The same thing happened with the kids in the adjacent table. They thought it was perfectly alright to come quiz me about why the dog was hanging out with me. The waiter had kindly ensured that the kids got a serving of mac and cheese to keep them happy as their parents dined. But they chose to come at regular intervals to ask me random questions nevertheless. Sigh…if someone figures out why I’m so popular with the wee-folk, please let me know! And maybe before you plan a romantic night here, you would want to call in advance and book a table at the farthest corner of the garden.
The seafood course was a generous fillet of Sea bass, pan poached with capers and thyme. This place was slowly getting under my skin. How could I find anything unflattering about perfectly cooked fish? Surprisingly after all the cribbing about nibble size portions, I was starting to feel full already. I still had two more courses to go and I’m not fond of giving up!
The second Main course was Braised Lamb Shanks in a rosemary red wine and shallot sauce. Nothing fancy, no great shakes invention here, but you should have seen the faultlessly pink meat just fall off the bone! Beautiful. *I might have held back a tear* The buttery baby potatoes and shavings of zucchini added to the overall appeal of the main course. However, in all honesty, I only managed to finish one lamb shank. I gave the other one away to Arv and he polished it off without complaining. Karma was kicking me in the gut for cribbing about small portions earlier in the evening!
I had already dismissed all my preconceived mean notions about this place and was ready to eat humble pie. So I received the dessert course in the most benign mood. Here Arv chose to go with the Espresso Panacotta with coffee caramel and almonds. I got the Chocolate Truffle with Mustard Ice Cream. You can go horribly wrong with savory bases for ice creams or you can zip into fame. This again managed to come out tops! Both the desserts were a supremely satisfying end to a sublime meal.
The mustard ice cream paved the way for an epiphany about Grasshopper. Here was a place that was anything but pretentious. It was in its essence, a tribute to creating magic with the ordinary. A celebration of seasonality and fresh produce and an ode to simple but flawless cooking. Take a bow Himanshu Dimri – for not knowing that you were in an imaginary evaluation of your talents, but still passing with flying colors. I will now go eat my earlier presumptions. (Maybe with a bowl of that divine beetroot salad you made).
45 Kalena Agrahara,
(1 Km after Meenakshi Temple)
Ph: +91 80 26593999/ 65665130
Timings: Open for dinner from Tuesday to Friday, and for both lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday. It is closed on Monday.
Cost: Rs.2200/-++ for a seven course meal for one.