Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why can’t some of our best bars serve better food?

I went to Toit after several months the other day and loved it as always. It’s got beer that cannot be faulted, the buzziest vibe and efficient service, even when the place is packed to the rafters. But, oh the food! I wouldn't say it's abysmally bad, just very boring and uninspired, which is such a pity for a place that seems to have got everything else right.
I’m aware this gripe will evoke howls of protest from devoted Toit fans or, at the least, have them wondering what on earth I’m complaining about.  I note from restaurant review sites that they seem to love the pizza most. But I wasn’t in the mood for pizza and simply wanted some hit-the-spot nibbles to go with my Basmati Blonde. I pored over the menu and found nothing that jumped out saying 'Pick me'. My companion, a Toit regular who's tried pretty much everything on the menu -- and is rather forgiving when it comes to food -- turned down anything that seemed like a possibility.
Eventually, we settled for baked nachos with an extra of bacon. It was a mountain of masala papad, drizzled with some runny cheese, chopped onions, tomatoes and bacon that was far from crisp. Let's just say, it didn't get me raving.
It's not just this particular brewpub. Most places I go to leave me asking, why can’t bars here do better food? Sure, there are the few like the Socials and Monkey Bar which have given pub grub an exciting new twist and interpretation. But for the most part, we seem so stuck in a rut of nachos and potato wedges that come out of a freezer bag, it's a definite dampener on an outing to these places. I wonder why they cannot, for instance, dip into the endless array of Indian snacks and street foods and come up with finger foods that can really lift up the drinking experience. When in doubt, deep-fry, is not the best approach to building a finger food menu.
I can think of things that can be done with murukkus, sev and chakli, chaat, vadas of every sort, kebabs and mini rotis and naans. A chef I was chatting with, told me of a snack menu he’d devised which had small triangles of khakra with an array of chatpata toppings. Now that’s an inspired idea, to be sure.
I don’t think I can face another plate of nachos anytime soon, unless they are the real deal. And I’m waiting for a time when pubs and bars here get truly inventive with their food, coming up with dishes that use fresh ingredients and capture local flavours. All it takes is some imagination and a determination not to look in the direction of nachos, French fries and jalapeno poppers.


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