Lunch Underground

28, 4th ‘B’ Cross,
5th Block,
Koramangala, Bangalore,

12th March, 2017

Whosoever says truffle, utters a grand word, which awakens the erotic and gastronomic ideas” – Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
When you feel like eating boiled eggs, if you have some truffles, put them in a basket with the eggs and the next day you will have the best boiled eggs you have ever tasted in your gastronomic life.” – M. Des Ombiaux

The Truffle. One of Mother Nature’s most prized possessions is, ironically, a product of one of Mother Nature’s least desired species (the fungus!). For years, the culinary world has witnessed a periodic procession of ingredients, each of which has had the dubious distinction of being labelled ‘The Next Big Craze’. Remember sun-dried tomatoes? Circa 1980/90 – these wilted, wrinkled, 90 year old cousins of juicy, plum tomatoes were all the craze, often incorporated into every dish on the menu – from the native (pizza, paninis, pasta) to the exotic (crab cakes, foie gras). Cue the 21st century! Cometh the millennium, cometh the pesto! You remember, don’t you? Chutney’s brother from an European mother! A product of the famed Basil plant – the most beloved amongst the ‘herb brethren’ – this watered down olive paste found its way in droves (and bottles) into our houses (and refrigerators!), and onto our plates for breakfast (bread), lunch (penne pasta), and dinner (spaghetti). While the pesto, surprisingly, retained its novelty for a prolonged period of time, it was not until the turn of the decade when it was unceremoniously replaced by the truffle. So, what is it about the truffle – an ingredient that resembles less of a fungus and more of an igneous rock or an overcooked burger patty – that justifies not only its price tag but also its status as a ‘Diamond of the Kitchen’? Food for thought!

Our beloved Planet Earth is currently inhabited by an estimated 7 billion people and counting. Which means, keeping aside stout believers of the silent treatment, that at any moment in time there are at least 6 billion people talking to one another (or to oneself!). Thus, there is a high probability that at any given point of time during one of these 6 billion conversations that the topic of a recent visit to a restaurant and their subsequent dining experience would be brought up and discussed at great detail – a phenomenon, known in the culinary world, as Word of Mouth. A simple concept ‘Word of Mouth’ is. One need just talk (or like me, blog!) to a close friend or family member about a certain restaurant and that inadvertently starts a series of (fortunate and unfortunate) events – similar to Chinese Whispers. Sometimes, the simplest of concepts make the biggest differences. For instance, if I were to blog about a bad dining experience, my (written) words would convince my readers and followers to abstain from dining at that particular restaurant. While the loss of a few diners would hardly alarm the restaurant, the domino effect arising from day-to-day conversations, as stated above, would surely be a cause for concern for the restaurant. After all, customers maketh or breaketh a restaurant. 

It was through this particularly effective marketing approach that I first heard of this fungus-titled restaurant. I was in attendance for my niece’s first birthday – an occasion we tend to glorify in our culture – and as it happens during all of my family gatherings, I was hanging about with my cousins. With the celebrations carrying on uninterrupted in the background, we, in hushed, tones, discussed our plans for the weekend. My cousins, who had planned to visit the cinemas, followed by lunch at ‘Truffles’, enquired about my availability and whether I would be interested in joining them. While the latter certainly piqued my interest, I had to unfortunately back out as I had to catch a flight the very next day. My visit to the restaurant was inevitably, regrettably delayed indefinitely. My only solace (I thought at the time) was that my cousins, upon hearing my cancellation, would decide to dine at another restaurant.

It was March 2017, and a six month wait as soon about to come to a long-awaited end. My cousins and I had decided to have lunch at the famed ‘Truffles’ in Koramangala and this time there was no prior engagement preventing me from dining there. As I do for most restaurants – my little pre-visit routine – I did a rapid read of the user reviews of the restaurant online (Reviews are the new Word-of-Mouth!). It was of no surprise that majority of the reviews were positive and the ratings were on the higher end of the spectrum. Surely, even in such a cruel world, not everyone is a liar! The restaurant, located roughly a kilometre away from the house, would have been a cool 10-15 minute walk. There was nothing cool, however, about that afternoon, which was (once again) not surprising given that we were entering the dreaded summer months in Bangalore. We hailed an auto – a task that seemed fairly easier than it usually is – and we were on our way to the restaurant. Fast forward ten minutes, and we were standing at the foot of the restaurant’s stairs looking in. The only problem was that so were ten other people. As we walked up the stairs, I peered inside the restaurant, and I knew that there was going to be a waiting period. I just hoped it wasn’t going to be too long. My stomach had already begun to rumble. We were told, by the receptionist, that there was a waiting period of ten minutes, which wasn’t too bad though utterly perplexing (and even moreso frustrating ) as the upper deck of the restaurant was completely empty. Surely, they wouldn’t keep us waiting too long when there were seats on offer. I was wrong.

Fifteen minutes later, we were ushered to the upper deck of the restaurant, and were seated at a bench. As I made my way into the restaurant, squeezing my way past the tables, I noticed a particularly interesting trend – majority of the diners at the restaurants were college-goers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – the country is scarce of genuine budget restaurants –  but it certainly was something I did not expect. We sat down and were handed the menu cards. The menu, in and of itself, was simple. The sketches of food, drawn by a five year old kid, placed beside each of the headings were in line with the restaurant’s personality. The items on the menu were similar to that of an All-American Cafe – wraps, burgers, shakes – and the options for each were aplenty. You remember what I had said earlier? About how I had hoped that, in my absence, my cousins would have dined at a different restaurant. Well, I should have hoped for something else, something more realistic. So, given that this was their second visit to the restaurant, deciding what to order was of no difficulty. The same, however, could not be said for me. It took me four rounds of the menu to finally decide what I was going to have. It was about time too!

 ( From left to right ): All American Cheese Burger; Sloppy Joe; and Blueberry Cheesecake
(From left to right): All American Cheese Burger; Sloppy Joe; and Blueberry Cheesecake

Prior to visiting the restaurant, I had a pretty good idea of the quality of food that I was about to be served. I was also warned that the service in the restaurant was pitifully slow. While I was yet to test the former hypothesis, it was becoming abundantly clear to me that the latter was surely on-point. Given that the restaurant finds itself fully booked more often than not, it would have made sense for the owners to invest in a few extra servers/waiters, so as to not make their customers wait. Anyway, getting back  to our lunch, it took us a while to flag down a waiter so that we could place our order. When we did, and when he came, we placed our order – two Brownie Points (not those!), two All American Cheese Burgers, one Green Apple Mojito, and one Sloppy Joe.

If placing our order was a painful, frustrating journey, you can imagine how long we had to wait before our lunch arrived. Sitting on the upper deck looking at the tables below, it was hard not to think of jumping down and stealing the plates of other diners. Fortunately, our drinks arrived not a moment too late. The mojito, a light green liquid reminiscent of Listerine mouthwash (only in looks!), was the perfect summer drink. Cold, sour, and refreshing! The brownie shakes, on the other hand, seemed thick enough to fill one’s stomach. Having not had a sip – due to my dislike of coffee or coffee-based products – I think it best to leave the description as is.

As we pursed our lips and sucked on the straws, the waiter arrived with the two All American Cheese Burgers. Ah! The Cheeseburger. If there is anything in the world that the Americans should be extremely proud of it is the Cheeseburger. Large, juicy, moist, well-seasoned, grilled beef patties topped with a melted slice of cheddar cheese placed on a bed of a freshly cut slice of tomato, a folded piece of lettuce leaf, a grilled onion ring, and a dollop of mayo sandwiched between two perfectly toasted sesame buns. The perfect representation of them United States of America. Now granted that serving a true Cheeseburger (beef patty and all) in a country like India is more likely to evoke the wrath of an angry mob than set alight the tastebuds of any diner, the novelty has been subject to modifications of many varieties. One such modification/variation is the Cheese Burger – notice the space between the two words. The Cheese Burger – the vegetarian variation – was not unlike the original cheeseburger. With the exception of the grilled meat substituted for a crispy vegetable patty (a sacrilege for some, a reprieve for others), the burger comprised of a leaf of lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a few pickles. The most notable absence was the melted cheese oozing from either size of the burger. I reserve my views on the taste of the dish, except from the fact that the patty was crispy and the burger was delicious. No wonder the burger is considered a ‘Truffles’ speciality!

If I were asked to rank the most frustrating things in life, waiting for food would come in second, just behind waiting for luggage at an airport. Given that there was no carousel or any luggage revolving around aimlessly in the restaurant, I was extremely frustrated that my burger had not arrived yet. After all, I was the hungriest amongst the three of us, surely I was to be served first! If the burger was as delicious as everyone claimed it to be, the wait would not have been for nothing. Finally, the burger arrived! In presentation, the burger looked tantalisingly inviting, from the chunks of chicken and sausage simmered in sauce to the fried egg on the side. But just looking good wasn’t going to be good enough. It had to taste better than it looked for me to forget the long wait. Unfortunately, the wait is all that I remember. The burger looked better than it tasted, no matter how much I wanted the exact opposite to happen. There was nothing sloppy about it. The chicken was cold and tasteless, however, the spice from the sauce was sufficient for my eyes to start watering. It is heart-breaking for me to say that the best thing on the plate was the fried egg, which I’m thankful that the chef was able to cook properly. Apart from the fact that the burger lacked any flavour (apart from spice) whatsoever, my plate was devoid of any chips (or in this case crisps), much unlike the plates of Cheese Burgers. This, despite it being perfectly stated on the menu that all burgers would be served with chips. Upon noticing this noticeable absence, I hailed the waiter – a task similar to hailing an auto – and made him aware of this mistake. As I explained the mistake to him I noticed his expression, or lack thereof. It was similar to the crisps on my plate: non-existent. I pulled up the menu card as an illustrative tool to help me bring up my point. There was a moment of recognition and a slight head nod, and I thought my point had gotten through to him. It turns out, I was deeply mistaken. Even after I finished my burger – which was mostly due to hunger than the quality of the dish – I awaited my crisps with much anticipation. It was around the twentieth minute when I finally gave up – I was never going to get my crisps. 

It was time to decide whether we wanted to wait for dessert or not. Well, when in Rome (or in this case Bangalore)! The options on the menu were far less interesting – cakes, cheesecakes, and sundaes – a staple of any cafe. We decided to try out the blueberry cheesecake, of which I am a huge fan. The wait for our dessert was not as long as it was for my main course but it was still long enough for me to contemplate whether or not to cancel our dessert. Surely, they weren’t baking an entire cheesecake for us. The cheesecake finally arrived and it looked well worth the wait. The only problem was that there were only two spoons on the plate, and three of us at the table. A long wait and a calculation error. It was in line with the rest of the afternoon and a “brilliant” way to cap of our memorable lunch. Eager to leave, the three of us dug our spoons into the cheesecake and polished it off in no time. It was time for the cheque to arrive, and that surprisingly took the least amount of time to arrive. We paid the bill and as eager as I was to dine at ‘Truffles’, I was even moreso to leave the restaurant.

There are two types of people who eat truffles: those who think truffles are good because they are dear, and those who know they are dear because they are good.” – J.L. Vaudoyer. The above quote may reference the ingredient, truffles, but I think the same holds true for the restaurant. After the meal that I had endured that afternoon, I think I would place myself in the third category – those who think truffles aren’t dear because they aren’t good. To some it may seem a harsh retort, but given that I entered the restaurant a young 23 year old and left it feeling older (and wiser!), I think the criticism is only fair. While we headed back home, I was asked (by my cousin) what I thought about the restaurant, to which I gave my honest opinion. He suggested that I should have tried the Cheese Burger as it was their speciality. I told him that if I were to only order the restaurant’s specials, I would not have a clear idea of how good the restaurant actually is. ‘Truffles’ may be famous for its burgers but this is one burger joint I don’t think I will be visiting any time soon.

P.S. While I understand that India was colonised by the British for a period of 200 years, and that we grew up learning the Queen’s English, it would be more appropriate for an All-American cafe to call it ‘potato chips’ or ‘chips’ rather than the more British ‘crisps’.

Truffles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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