Food Review: 36 Oak & Barley

January 30, 2012 8:11 am by

New Kemps Corner restaurant 36 Oak & Barley sits at a traffic-snarled junction down the street from Cumbulla Hill Hospital, in a charmless ground floor space with little natural light. Inherent disadvantages such as these pose their own set of problems, chief among them, the question of how to draw people inside. The answer, clearly, is great food. Chef Nachiket Shetye ably proved his culinary skills with East, the underrated Asian restaurant that 36 Oak & Barley has replaced. But in trying to reinvent the concept—all day dining, multi-cuisine fare—and decor—red walls, panthers (more on them later)—something went terribly awry.

The 2,400 square foot establishment derives its ambience entirely from the decor, which apes dingy midtown Manhattan bars, the kind you’d only frequent to drown your sorrows in drunken solitude. There’s a giant jaguar sculpture jutting out of a wall; it’s less a conversation starter (like the owners indicated) and more a prompt to notice that the feline theme extends itself to other parts of the space, including a red wall on the far end decorated with sculptures of mini panther heads caged in wire mesh.

The food presents a choice of American, Italian and Thai cuisines, each solidly represented by their “best of” hits, namely sliders, noodles, risotto and dumplings. The meal, however, proceeded to quickly unravel until the very end, when a deft execution of berry panna cotta saved our quickly plummeting mood.

First, the good stuff: in place of a bread basket, you are provided with a crisp, warm sprout salad and homemade cheesesticks, which do the job of whetting your appetite and saving most of it for the meal to come. The warm chunked salad of zucchini and tomatoes with creamy goat cheese was tossed in a light glaze of basil, garlic and balsamic, leaving the veggies close to their natural state of crunchiness.

And onto the bad: the vegetable steamed dumplings served in a coriander broth were a bland mass, despite the side of sweetish coriander relish. The lamb meatballs came atop a base of oversalted tomato sauce; the meatballs, tough and consequently chewy, were inedible. After we chose the rajma sliders, the staff informed us that the dish is “an option for Jains”. We hope it is soon banished from the menu for the sake of Jains everywhere. The bone-dry patty of rajma and peas was so parched of just about every morsel of flavour that even the non-Kosher addition of onion slices couldn’t save it from utter ineptness. The John Dory with braised onions smelt fishy, its case further weakened by the seemingly disparate addition of a sweet pineapple salsa that didn’t mesh well with either the fish or the onions.

For dessert, skip the rich chocolate cake (you’ll find better variants at a dozen other places), and try instead the vanilla and berry panna cotta, topped with a sprinkling of tapioca balls, and executed to perfection. Initially, 36 Oak & Barley may well find takers from the neighbourhood, who will be drawn there by convenience and a familiarity with Shetye’s reputation. The larger challenge will be getting people to return, for which they will definitely need to iron out the menu and do something about the depressing décor.

A meal for two, excluding alcohol, costs approximately Rs2,000. This review was conducted anonymously.