Restaurant Review: Café Zoe
Every once in a while, you need a restaurant that makes you feel like you’re anywhere but, well, here. That for that hour or two, there exists the tantalising and entirely implausible possibility that you’ll walk out the doors and somehow be in Paris or Rome or New York. Some establishments here accomplish that via the food (The Table) or the decor (Pali Village Cafe), and it’s often those that manage to do one or the other, or in a happy meeting, both, that tend to become regular haunts. Add to that list now Café Zoe, the cafe and brasserie that’s popped up around the corner from Blue Frog and Busaba in the Mathuradas Mills Compound. Café Zoe achieves its escapist fantasy through disarmingly simple decor and furnishings, the offer of an all-day dining spot, and an affordable menu that spans from breakfast to post-work munchies with a non-judgemental charm (breakfast is offered until 5pm).
The owners Tarini Mohindar, Jeremie Horowitz and Viraf Patel have wisely chosen to leave the space’s industrial rawness intact—there are exposed brick walls, a scattering of sturdy wooden tables, a rack displaying books and mismatched crockery, a large open bar, a pastry and deli counter, and patterned sofas that, along with the customers, add most of the colour to the decor. With high ceilings and large industrial-sized lights, it perpetuates the illusion of eating in daylight, when in fact you’re not. In short, it’s the sort of happy place that throws in free wi-fi for those who want to make an afternoon of it.
The menu, created by Patel (he formerly worked at The Table), is one of the better designed ones we’ve seen in the city, with neat little illustrations and a clean typeface that separates items into soups, legumes, poultry, meat, breakfast, salads, sandwiches and seafood (we’ll even forgive the typos; tiramisu is spelt tiramisou). Like most cafe fare, it’s a disparate mish-mash that draws from various countries, particularly those that relish a generous hand of butter and cream. The crab and celery salad, served in a capped glass container which allows you to toss in the lemon dressing and shake it yourself, was perhaps the only thing we had that erred on the low-calorie side of the fence. With onions and iridescent fish roe, it was a light palate cleanser, the kind that amply preps you for the fatty assault to follow. Of the pastas, the roast pork belly carbonara, with a sprinkling of chives and cuts of fatty, speckled pork belly skin, and the spaghetti bolognese, with carrots, peas, rosemary and chillies, were stand-out dishes. The cheddar cheese gnocchi, coated in a thick, nutty sauce, and the steamed rawas and its buttery bed (we had ours with mash potatoes though you can choose from a variety of sides), came a close second.
The peas and carrots were used as garnish for the tenderloin steak as well, which was passable and a tad chewy and brought up unwelcome associations of British Airways in-flight meals circa the 1980s. The pumpkin risotto, in a cadmium yellow sauce, was too soupy and stodgy (probably from being overcooked) for our liking; the taste of the promised vegetable was almost imperceptible. Of the dessert, the panna cotta, a quivering mass of vanilla-dotted pudding served in a glass ramekin, was outstanding; though the strawberry coulis topping, which tasted like it had come from a tin, was overwhelmingly sour. The tiramisu had far too much cream whipped into the mascarpone (ideally there should be none) and too few ladyfingers. Where Café Zoe needs the most work is surprisingly then its pastry section—the croissant was doughy, while the cupcakes were dry in parts, and undercooked in others. Strangely, they offered all basic coffees but a macchiato.
That said, for opening week, the service was Royal China-quick, and the fumbles few. Judging by the crowds, word has clearly already gotten around. If you work or live in the neighbourhood, congratulations, you may have just found your new favourite lunch and/or post-office watering and eating hole.
A meal for two costs approximately Rs1,800.Tags: Cafe Zoe, Jeremie Horowitz, Lower Parel, restaurant reviews, Restaurants, Tarini Mohindar
LocationMathuradas Mills Compound
126 N. M. Joshi Marg
HoursMonday to Sunday, 7.30am to 1.30am