Food Review: Freeman & Baker

August 30, 2011 11:41 am by

“Sandwich”, as the word is used in India, describes a holdover from Victorian tea times, nibbled daintily with extended pinky. An abstemious wedge of white bread and a smattering of cucumbers, chutney or perhaps some mixed bhaji, it plays the poor cousin (albeit one returned from foreign) to the dabeli and the vada pao. In other words, it’s junk. Not even: junk is satisfying.

To describe Freeman & Baker as a sandwich place, then, is to do it a great disservice, and not only because it offers a constantly changing assortment of prepared foods like quiches (Rs99 to Rs129) and lasagna (Rs199). It practises the art of the sandwich as a meal, a nod to the hearty Yorkshire diet from which, in part, proprietor Vishal Mehra draws his inspiration.

Look around for a menu and you won’t see one. The service is “DIY” and the menu is nothing but the deli case. You select from a range of meats and cheeses—not yet as impressive as, say, Santé’s, but growing daily—and pick a freshly baked sandwich bread (either white or multigrain). They charge for the ingredients (prices as marked) and that’s that. It’s incredible value, especially considering what you’d pay across the street at the J. W. Marriott’s Bombay Baking Company.

We ordered black pepper ham (40 grams at Rs1,400 per kilo = Rs55) with a tomato and olive–specked gouda (40 grams at Rs1,350 per kilo = Rs55) stacked on a multigrain mini-baguette (Rs50) and gently grilled. Grand total: Rs160. It was crusty, tangy, and above all, filling. A favourite among vegetarians, the three-cheese melt (Gouda, Cheddar and Casablanca, a goat’s-milk cheese) also weighs in at roughly Rs160.

Refusing to write the menu isn’t the only script Freeman & Baker has flipped. It offers dine-in customers complimentary coffee and juices. Mehra—who says he’s a foodie, not a drinkie—offers by way of explanation fond memories of his college days in Philadelphia where “greasy spoon” diners let him sit all morning over “a cup” of coffee. From breakfast (blueberry muffin, Rs90) to dessert (a creamy blueberry cheesecake, Rs120), with wi-fi thrown in, there’s nothing stopping you from hanging out all day. Mehra’s doing everything he can to encourage it. He likes “people who have time to spend,” he says. “If they want to eat, great!”

Like the Yorkshire market shops where everybody in town—“the pensioners, the salarymen”—comes in to “have a pint, watch TV”, Freeman & Baker is quickly becoming a place where everybody knows your name. In just over two weeks of operation it has managed to attract a few regulars, who include Juhu school kids and expats. It’s already feeling a touch cramped, with only four covers.

You’ll have to come in every week to figure out what’s new and what has been discontinued. The “herbed rice with paneer paprika” (looks like pulao and makhanwala, Rs199) might be more at home at the Shiv Sagar three doors down, while the beautiful herbed chicken thigh (Rs199) will certainly see another appearance. Mehra has fielded several requests for Mexican food (once the monsoon is over and leafy vegetables like lettuce are safe to serve) and also offers to carry dry goods his regulars want: Hershey’s Cookies & Cream chocolate bars, for instance, alongside gourmet chocolates, spices, and baguette-length breads baked in-house. (Rs90).

Freeman & Baker will also continue to expand its selection of specialty meats. The freezer case now has filet of basa, a light fish from Indonesia (when we asked how it’s better than freshly caught fish, Mehra laughed and said, “It didn’t catch the oil spill.”). They also sell tenderloin and other cuts of beef, and Butterball turkey (sure to be a hot item come November) that might be targeted more at expats. Emu is yet to arrive. Check in next week and you might be surprised.