Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kaapi in Chennai

This article first appeared at:

How has the birthplace of filter coffee adapted to this cafe culture? This week, I take a look at some of Madras’s cafes: the things that set them apart and the things that don’t.
Gone are the days when cafes were just about the caffeine. Today, you need to get the ambiance right, have a whole host of delectable baked goodies, serve good lunch and dinner options in addition to dishing up that perfect glass of coffee.

Café Zha

From the name to the décor, everything about this café is a tad different.  A welcome break from the European-theme cafes dominating the coffee scene, this one stays true to its Tamil roots. It’s located inside a traditional Tamil house with a typically adorned archway. Tables, couches and chairs are casually arranged around the foyer and living room. Inside are themed rooms where you can watch a movie, rent Playstation or just curl up with a book. My favourite room is the massive snake and ladder room.
The menu continues with the traditional theme and you can choose from bonda-bajji, adhirsam and vazhapoo vadai. I recommend the Madras magi – regular Maggi in asambar-esque sauce. The adhirsam with banana is something your sweet tooth will definitely appreciate. This place serves only snacks and portions are sufficient. This well-kept secret is tucked away behind the telephone exchange in Adyar.
Ups: Food with a difference, affordable
Downs: Can get crowded, certain items on the menu disappoint
Pricing: Rs. 100-120 per person

Eco Café

If you are looking for a quiet place to spend the day at, then Eco Café will do the trick. The white walls and the surrounding greenery all add to its charm. Above the Anokhi store on Chamiers Road, this place is perfect for spending an afternoon with a book (there is even a charming little bookstore downstairs) or even getting some work done. Service is slow but if all you are looking for is a relaxed, unhurried cuppa then this shouldn’t bother you too much.
The food at this place is pretty decent, especially their breakfast menu. Their mains, like some of the Mexican ones, pass muster too. Their baked goodies, especially the cakes are delectable. Shockingly, their drinks (both hot and cold) are sloppy and not deserving of the price on the menu. Also, portions tend to be on the smaller side and prices on the higher. While the breakfast is reasonably priced, I wouldn’t advise Eco Café for any other meal. Best to bring a book and nibble on a few snacks.
Ups: Ambiance, breakfast/baked goods
Downs: Price, quantity
Pricing: Rs. 200-220 per person


No round up of the city’s cafes is complete without mentioning this landmark. Made popular by Chetan Bhagat, Gautam Menon and its beautiful gardens, Amethyst is a much-loved hangout. The old Amethyst was situated in a gorgeous, colonial bungalow and was particularly charming at night. Sadly, it has moved locations to Royapettah (near that massive EA mall). While the establishment has maintained the outdoorsy, relaxed feel, it’s just not the same.
Then again maybe it’s unfair to compare it to the old one. By itself, the new Amethyst is a charming, outdoor café with lots of privacy. Their Mexican Chilli Toast is pretty popular and so are their some of their cakes. My favourite is the apple cinnamon cake. Nevertheless, the food is largely average and is not improved by the bad service. It takes ages to catch the waiter’s eye and even longer for him to deign to come to your table. If hunger pangs are consuming you, give this place a miss.
Despite this, people still visit Amethyst because it has an indefinable charm. It’s a great place to hang out with friends, catch up on your reading and even a fun date place. Hang around here long enough and you could spot a celebrity or two.
Ups: Ambiance, desserts
Downs: Terrible service, steep rates
Pricing: Rs. 200 per person

Mocha Mojo

This is one of the few places in the city to have hookahs. So the top floor is invariably occupied by high school crowd. The café downstairs is usually empty on weekdays. Plus, they have free WiFi and you can laze around for hours without being disturbed.
They have a more extensive food menu than any of the other cafes. All-day breakfast and their mouthwatering desserts are set. I highly recommend the Oreo Milkshake and the Ultimate Hot Chocolate. Unlike other cafes on the list, this one actually serves great coffee. They have coffee from all over the world but I particularly like the Ethiopian version. It has a rich taste, full body and is sure to give the much-needed caffeine kick to the rest of your day.
The ambiance is quirky with modern designs and is slightly reminiscent of the Austin Powers set. The seating is dominated by wide, comfortable couches and squishy cushions. Service is non-intrusive and relaxed.
Ups: Food, ambiance
Downs: High school crowd on the weekends
Pricing: Rs. 150-250 per person

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Crust, Chennai

Chennai seems to specialize in hiding its restaurants: so many of them are tiny, tucked away and hard to find. And one such hidden place is Crust. I stumbled across it when I first came to Chennai and was lost in the middle of nowhere (or so it seemed at the time). 

Crust is a cute little bakery on a by lane of Abhirampuram Main Road. Walk in and the store impresses. Delectable baked goods, real cheese and a variety of breads. In the baked goods/dessert section, Crust impresses. I endorse the chocolate fudge brownie. The brownie has a nice consistency and I loved the walnuts in between.

Chocolate Fudge Brownie

The Baked Almond Youghurt is very, very good. This was similar to a cheesecake but not as heavy and without the crust. Having never had baked yoghurt before, I don't have anything else to compare this to but objectively it was pretty darn good. Be warned, that this is extremely heavy and will leave you feeling super full.

Baked Almond Yoghurt

I am also a huge fan of their Apple Strudel. Crumbly, soft and filled with the yummy goodness of caramelized apples. Enough said.

However, their main courses can prove very disappointing. I had the Veg. Panini which was OK but not something I would order again. It tasted bland and was loaded with lettuce. There wasn't even some cheese to redeem it.

The Pizzette had no taste. It wasn't even bland, it just tasted like nothing. I knew I was eating it because I was going through the motions but I could have been eating paper for all the taste it had. Eeugh! I had the lasagne once and that was pretty decent.


The seating at the front is cute and can seat upto 10 people. But you can also ask them to seat you at the back. I think that has better ambiance, its usually empty so it affords a lot of privacy. All seating is outdoors.

Outdoor Seating
Notice the dish rag on one of the chairs?

The saddest thing about Crust is the underlying air of neglect. When I went there 3 months ago, they had a single person running the bakery, cooking the food and waiting the tables. You can imagine how that turned out. The food wasn't bad but it took forever to arrive and the poor guy was very frazzled. When I went there this Sunday, very few of the baked goods were actually there. Only half of the display section was full. 

Crust has great potential and some truly good desserts. I really wish someone would work on it and fulfill that potential. For now I am going to advise you to go there only for the desserts and pray that they are having a good day. 

Thanks to Renee, Nathu and Anisha for accompanying me on various jaunts to this place. And a big shout out to Mattu for the Google Maps suggestion (See the Location Link below).

Pricing: Rs. 150 - 200 per person
Location: 18 Bimanna garden road, R.A. Puram (Click here to get the Google Map Directions)
Landmark: Behind kirtilal Kalidas Jewellers
Phone: 24670298