Stunning views, great ambience and awesome food... sums up the experience at La Belle Vie at Mc Iver Villa, Coonoor.
“We must eat at that French place in Coonoor,” I said. Nobody responded because nobody really knew the name of ‘that French place'. But, to Coonoor we sped. Anybody there would know of the French place, we figured. “It's near a hospital,” my sister, Sheetal, ventured slowly. She had been there almost a year ago. Luckily Mohan, our driver, ‘kind of, sort of' knew the place. He chased his vague memory up narrow, winding roads. We had little choice. Our group of three got to the hospital after several wrong turns and detours. But the restaurant had moved out of its single room premises some months ago. “Somewhere near Stanes School,” they said as, Bela repeats every few minutes.
We find Stanes School easily. No sign of the restaurant. We drive on, determined and hungry. Suddenly misty clouds lift to reveal a gleaming red-roofed heritage building just below the road. It stands alone on a flat precipice. Stately and graceful, it is surrounded by beautifully wild, lush natural grass and has a stunning view. The board reads “La Belle Vie at Mc Iver Villa: A Bhoomi Shanthi Project”. “This is it,” we sigh in unison. Mohan beams, delighted.
Pierre-Yves, a French lawyer who now runs the restaurant, greets us like long lost friends. La Belle Vie starts in the veranda and undulates into two large rooms complete with high ceilings, wooden flooring, gleaming antique furniture and huge windows overlooking a stunning valley. Its walls smile brightly in bold greens and blues with brave touches of red, orange and white. Wandering around, we walk into the kitchen and bump into the lively Fadila, Pierre's wife. “Everything organic,” she gestures happily, hoping we'd understand her French-tinged English. We let her order for us, explaining we are vegetarian. “We vegetarian too. But we serve food to all, so...” the shrug said it all. But the chicken served is organic, just as the meat is. “The animals are fed by us. They all happy, happy,” she says.
Fadila tells us a little (or a lot) about how they landed in India. “The moment my feet touched Indian soil, I was home. Coming to the Nilgiris was one-way ticket. We want spiritual life, free from pollution,” she says. We understand.
Pierre says, “Fadoo left a career as a makeup artiste to open this restaurant.” Her swansong was a fashion show in Paris that showcased labels like Karl Langerfeld, Gucci and Chanel.
Our whole wheat bread arrives with an awesome dip made of tomato, garlic, full red chillies, olive oil and salt to taste. “You make, I give you recipe,” Fadu is generous. She is confident, though, that the taste differs from kitchen to kitchen. The potato soup comes next. Hot and tasty, it slides down our throats easily as we smack our lips.
Midway, a wholesome looking fresh salad appears. Shredded beetroot and carrot on a bed of fresh green spinach accompanied by a dressing that has olive oil as its main ingredient.
Quite full by now, we indulgently begin to serve ourselves some quiche. Suddenly, Pierre appears and whisks it away from under our puzzled noses. “Eet chicken,” he mumbles, shaking his head. Our mushroom quiche arrives shortly. We've ordered two by three and it's just right. Perfect texture, perfect quantity.
While we demolish every morsel, Fadila fills us in on the Bhoomi Shanthi Project. “I get 75 per cent of my vegetables from there... it is one acre land... cannot supply all our needs... Mahesh give me 25 per cent... He has organic farm... 11 acres... supplies organic vegetables to anyone who wants them... even in Chennai.” A pointed suggestion.
The building we're eating in was formerly a maternity home. “The vibes here of fresh life... very good,” Fadila says. The property has six luxurious rooms for those who want peace with a view and awesome organic food.
As we are deciding on dessert – a choice of almond cake, chocolate cake or apple pie – Junaid Sait, Pierre's partner, arrives. He looks pleased to see three obviously well-fed guests, but leaves in a hurry. He is busy attending to other similar and exclusive properties in Udhagamandalam, Mudumalai and Waynad.
We decide on all three desserts divided among the three of us. “I flew all over the world making up faces. Too stress,” Fadila says. During her travels she came to India and saw a little boy stop at a temple, close his eyes, bow his head and pray. For just a moment. That brief connection with the supreme left an impact on her. “In France, nobody bother.” In India, we simply take it for granted.
Several plans are being made for the La Belle Vie. Among them are a library and an art gallery showing artists from the Nilgiris. A new, organic, wholesome and spiritual revolution has begun...
How to get there
Take the road to Wellington. Go past Stanes School and Bedford. La Belle Vie is near the Tantea office and St. Anthony's School. For dinner make a reservation at 6.00 p.m. La Belle Vie At Mc Iver Villa is closed on Mondays. For reservations contact: 0423 2233222 or 09940814744