Friday, February 26, 2016

New Restaurant: Toast & Tonic - A bold experiment delivers beautiful results

Writing about restaurants may seem like the way to live the good life. In reality, especially in Bangalore, it’s a task made dreary by new restaurants that flog tired ideas, try and fail at aping concepts or are annoyingly pretentious.
So, there’s a heightened sense of anticipation when there’s the promise of a restaurant with a difference. Still, I made a concerted effort to go with no bias or preconceived notions to Toast & Tonic, assiduously avoiding early reviews or even a glance at the menu.
One look and I was smitten. This is, without any argument, Bangalore’s most gorgeous looking restaurant. Others may be more opulent, extravagant or highly designed, but for sheer, dazzling style, Toast & Tonic will take some beating. What was once buzzing Monkey Bar, is now a high-ceilinged, barn-like space. Wood finishes, an earthy colour palette and the cutest farm animal shapes suspended on strands of fairy lights all come together, bathed in soft lights, to create a warm, mellow mood. I loved the bar the best and found myself frequently turning to gaze at it, as if it were some fetching cocktail hour scene in a beautifully shot film.
It’s the perfect showcase then for the new direction that Chef Manu Chandra’s prodigious talent is taking. The menu is said to be inspired by the eating out culture of New York’s East Village – a melting pot of ethnic influences, edgy, yet comforting. The cooking is not bound by cuisine or culinary style. The flavours are from across the globe, but every dish celebrates Indian produce, ingredients and condiments in a way that has never been attempted here before.
Roasted Beet Salad doesn’t sound particularly innovative, but here with the perfectly cooked beets, marinated feta and flawless honey mustard vinaigrette, every mouthful was a flavour pop. And there was the small plate of Warm Asparagus, Avarekai (possibly the last of the season) and Green Beans with peanuts and lemongrass, paying elegant tribute to a seasonal favourite. I’m a jackfruit fan and to taste tender shreds atop tostada with smoked goat cheese was delightful.
We’ve been hearing that Poke bowls are the trendy new food to try and Manu Chandra brings it to Bangalore. There was locally sourced tuna, served on sticky Gobindobhog rice with mustard greens, seaweed, fried onions and chia seeds, tasting of the sea and hinting at the comfort of a Bengali meal. I loved, too, the Spiced Prawn Cutlets with a just-right charred pineapple salsa. Eat the flatbreads here, with toppings such as charred broccoli, tomato gojju and feta and you may never order pizza again. For main course, I had Udon Calabrese, with cold-pressed mustard oil – unusual, flavourful, deeply satisfying.
Every dessert on the menu seduces. I settled for Expressions of Jaggery – pot du crème, banana jaggery cake, noren gur – and am freed from Tiramisu tyranny forever.
Toast & Tonic, then, is a path-breaking effort. I hope, too, that it’s the beginning of a new movement that celebrates the purity and goodness of real food and honest cooking.
PS: The bar does brilliant things with gin & tonic, and more about that in my next post.