Carafe Cafe, Peninsula Grand Hotel, Mumbai

A Lack of Imagination

[singlepic id=1725 w=80 h=92 float=left]A regular to Saki Naka, an area that fills the hearts of even the most seasoned commuter in Mumbai with dread, I was surprised to learn The Peninsula Grand Hotel had been around for over five years. This business hotel and its restaurants have been unable to garner the kind of attention given to other popular hotels in the vicinity including Holiday Inn, Mirage and Hotel Leela. That’s understandable, especially when a hotel official confirmed the Peninsula Grand is only now beginning to market itself aggressively.

So, when we decided to visit Carafe Cafe to sample the lunch buffet, we weren’t quite sure of what to expect. A fairly spacious 24-hour coffee shop, Carafe Cafe attracts airline employees in between stopovers, transit passengers, professionals looking for a quick bite and the odd family in the vicinity.

Once at Carafe Cafe, we chatted with Executive Chef Crystal Mendonca who informed us of the restaurant running a Mocktails and Cocktails festival. We were served Strawberry Delight, a strawberry syrup based frothy drink, and Aphrodi, a herbal drink that’s a blend of pineapple juice, ginger and mint. While the former is something kids would like because of its sweetness, we found the latter more refreshing, courtesy the spicy aftertaste.

The chef was keen we sample some food from the A la carte menu. The chicken starters platter (INR 400) had an interesting, moderately spiced Chicken Sheekh Kabab that was thankfully not the usual bright red preparation. Juicy with just a hint of white pepper, it had a juicy, fluffy feel of mutton really well marinated. This one looked like a well done chicken sausage though; may or may not appeal to your sensibilities. The Chicken Reshmi Kabab was not very creamy for which we were grateful. Apart from the ubiquitous Chicken Tikka, strangely, the non-veg platter did not have any other meat dishes, which was surprising.

In the veg platter (INR 400), the Sheekh Kabab appeared to be a potato croquette shaped into a kabab and with nothing distinctive about it. The Paneer Chilly works if you like an overpowering presence of chillies. Sadly it was too much on the spicier end of the index for us. Luckily, we had the syrupy strawberry drink to wash it down with, so our tastebuds could live to see another day.

Curious about the buffet, we decided to skip the rest of the a la carte menu and check the buffet out. The salad counter appears to be where the innovation of the kitchen comes to the fore. Salad offerings are innovatively served in individual portion servings.

The Tabouleh had a nice spicy twist to it courtesy the crushed fresh parsley. The Carrot Salad came with a cottage cheese heart placed in its center, while the Potato Salad was plated as a cylindrical lump. The good thing about this is the minimal wastage by folks who load their plates with salad in their bout of health consciousness only to dump the lettuce and tomatoes later. There is also a live chaat counter, which serves Dahi Puris, Sev Puri and Paani Puri;  seemed to attract a large number of the guests at the restaurant.

The Jamaican Pepper Pot soup had nothing Jamaican about it, loaded instead with cornstarch and blanched spinach; hardly appetizing. Traditionally this dish is made with meat, the lack of which could have contributed to the blandness of the soup. The small puff pastry with spicy corn was a nice bite sized savory, as was the vegetable puff, well stuffed with veggies tossed in a tangy sauce. The Potato Cutlets were par for the course. The Tandoori Vegetables in Achari Masala though were very well spiced and was just what we wanted!

The noodles were flat and tasteless, but the Cannelloni Florentine was well made, albeit a bit too creamy. In the Indian fare, the Veg Kadai was the usual mish-mash served in any of the many ‘Pure Veg’ restaurants scattered all over Mumbai. The Papad wali Dal with Jeera Rice were simple and without frills, something many diners will love. The bread basket offered a variety of rotis and naans. Try the Spicy Cheese Roti, if you have an adventurous bent of mind; like the ketchup jingle once went, it’s different!

In the non-veg section, the Fish Tandoori was the best of the lot – soft and moist, it made for a flavorful mouthful even when cold. The other meat whatchamacallits were okay.

We decided to try out the Madhur Milan, which is strictly for those who like their mithai, and like it sweet – and when we say sweet, we mean cholesterol-inviting, heart-attack-inducing sweet. It has gulab jamuns with sweet boondi lathered liberally with rabdi, then baked. The baking process could be skipped I guess, because it only ended up charring, rather than caramelizing the dessert. A single portion is guaranteed to bring on a sweetness-induced stupor; eat it if you can handle it!

Seeing that this restaurant gets it’s fair share of professionals from nearby offices, it would be interesting if the menu were more innovative and had dishes that had something to set its offerings apart from the many food joints in the locality. If nothing else, it will act as the much-needed word-of-mouth marketing that Carafe Cafe needs.