Restaurant Review: Cafe at the NCPA
In July, when Amadeus, the fine dining Spanish-Levantine restaurant opened inside the National Centre for the Performing Arts, it elicited mixed reactions from our readers, some of whom were expecting something more casual along the lines of an all-day cafe. Turns out the management was paying close attention. On Monday, January 23, they launched Cafe at the NCPA, which brings cheerful tidings for the scores of NCPA regulars, including us, who have been rooting for such an eatery ever since Sidewok shut down in 2008.
As we mentioned in our preview, the cafe is located in a peaceful and breezy corridor of the NCPA right behind Amadeus. Tables for four are set up on a manicured lawn, in the spaces between a row of towering palms that are etched with hearts and names of amorous couples. Once seated, your view is that of the open kitchen, where a small army of cooks works in what looks like an almost rehearsed rhythm. On the opening day, the culinary choreography was led by Farrokh Khambata, the chef and owner of Joss and Amadeus, who also helms this kitchen at Cafe at the NCPA. Khambata’s menu offers sandwiches, burgers, salads, kebabs, dim sums and mini South-East Asian and Continental meals served with either noodles or rice. Their smoothies are excellent, made of real fruit, low fat milk and use little or no added sugar: we’d recommend both the Berry Bang (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and apple juice) and the energy-boosting Gym Junkie (banana, muesli, honey and low fat milk).
On paper, the gourmet sandwiches sound irresistible. Take for instance the pulled pork belly with char siu glaze, crispy sprouts and blueberry balsamico (Rs475). In addition to the promised ingredients, the sandwich was served with chorizo that was sadly its undoing. The soft, fatty pulled pork was rightly paired with an adequately sweet blueberry balsamic sauce. The chorizo, however, was tough and chewy as though it had been cooked and left uncovered a few hours ahead of our order. Next we tried their roast beef with crispy straw potatoes (salli), caramelised onions and blue cheese sandwich (Rs315). With a little bit of editing, this could have been perfect. We had no complaints with juicy slices of well-done beef but the combination of the sharp blue cheese, Dijon mustard, and clumps of wasabi paste was an unpleasant assault on the palate. In both cases, the bread was a thick, unwieldy baguette, which resulted in a messy plate and messier hands. The corn crusted cheese and jalapeno burger with creamy spicy sauce (Rs195) tasted like the kind of generic veggie burger sold at cinema canteens.
The Indian fare is a better bet. Our ambada jhinga (Rs350) was plump and charred to just the right degree in a tandoor. We were equally pleased with the Amritsari chole kulcha (Rs165). The crumbly, fresh-out-of-the-tandoor kulchas were good enough to eat plain and the piping chole gravy was both tangy and spicy. Dessert was a runny crepe Suzette (Rs200) with a filling of orange pulp and caramelised sugar that tasted a lot like pulpy Minute Maid orange juice. What spoiled it for us was the syrupy orange essence poured over the crepe.
Every debut performance has scope for improvement and the same holds for Cafe at the NCPA. You could argue that Khambata has been in the business of food long enough to be assessed firmly, but to be fair, the hiccups could be a result of him tackling a new concept. If you do intend to pay the Cafe a visit (and just for the location, you should), we would recommend not going in the brief 10 to 15 minute recesses between performances at the NCPA when service tends to be slowest.
A meal for two costs approximately Rs1,400. This review was conducted anonymously.