A neighbourhood restaurant run by a young local team The Bistro Story is a charming tale

I’ll be honest. I’m biased. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s how unexpectedly charming The Bistro Story turns out to be. Anticipating a struggle for parking I take an auto to Sadasivam Street, obediently following Google Maps. We stop at an unprepossessing apartment, when the app announces, in her signature self-satisfied voice, that we have reached our destination. Both the auto driver and I look at my phone suspiciously. This has to be wrong. It looks more like the setting for an underground fight club than a chic bistro.

The watchman, sunning himself and listening to the radio on surprisingly yellow headphones, pays me no attention till I poke him in the ribs. “The Bistro Story?” “Eh?” he counters? “Bistro — restaurant,” I add, feeling faintly silly. “Aaah”, he nods, and points at a closed door. ‘The Bistro Story’ interiors are warm and welcoming, despite a baffling hodgepodge of decorating styles. Warli art flourishes on one wall. Kitsch on the other. A retro red telephone peeks boldly from a corner of their steely modern open kitchen. The whole scene is cloaked in the scent of herbs, warm bread and French fries.

The team bounces up to say hello: all familiar faces. Ravi Kumar Reddy was at The Park, Hyatt Regency and Radisson Blu as director of food and beverage, before coming here. Chef Vijay Venkatesh was with The Park, handling Aqua and then 601, before working in the U.K. for Chef Raymond Blanc’s popular Brasserie Blanc. Along with partner Rahool Talwar, the trio put together this restaurant in 90 days. “We got the idea for the restaurant in September 2013, signed the rental contract in October and opened to the public last month,” says Vijay, explaining that he’s currently on a sabbatical from Raymond Blanc to start this.

I drop by twice. The first time we order an eastern sharing platter with cubes of feta, fluffy falafel and crisp corn fatayer, all served with little dipping bowls of hummus, smoky baba ganoush and tzaziki. It comes with deliciously spongy pita bread. We also try Moroccan lamb stew served with a saffron couscous, which is less impressive mainly because the lamb is dismayingly tough.

The best part of the meal turns out to be a club sandwich, softly toasted bread slathered with addictively fragrant pesto, then layered with bacon, chicken, and caramelised onions.

The next time I visit, I try a smoked chicken sandwich with caramelised balsamic onions and peppers. We also order a seafood platter, which turns out to be rather overwhelming because almost everything on it is fried. The fish fingers are fresh and juicy, but the bony whitebait is less successful.

Chef Raymond Blanc’s philosophy is that “simple food is far harder to cook than complex food”. Chef Vijay’s strength seems to be that he pulls off seemingly simple food with élan, putting to use his training with Raymond Blanc and The Park, then adding an individual twist. As someone who has struggled through inedible sandwiches, stony muffins and soggy eggs — trust me, it takes talent to get the basics right.

While the food style is purportedly world cuisine, with a focus on Californian new world presentation, this restaurant makes an effort to use local ingredients — all their cheese, for example is from Auroville. It’s a smart (not to mention eco-friendly) decision. But there are inherent challenges, since quality and suppliers are not always dependable. Also, the kitchen is still learning, so there are hiccups between visualisation and the actual dish. Our pretty Panzanella salad, for example, is choked with onions, though it is saved by an interesting bocconcini. The restaurant’s big advantage is the fact that Chef Vijay and his team are eager for feedback, and willing to customise food.

So let’s see. What do we have so far: A neighbourhood restaurant run by a young local team. Set up on a shoe string budget in an impressive short time. With an eclectic menu that aims to be ambitious, without being pretentious. The Bistro Story is endearing, the space is fun, despite a couple of teething issues, which includes a startlingly loud exhaust system.

What’s important is that it is part of a recent, healthy and encouraging trend of small, practical, reasonably priced neighbourhood restaurants. And that’s a charming feature in any city. After all, it’s always comforting to have a friendly place next door, where the waiters call you by name and the chef knows how you like your eggs. And that is why I want The Bistro Story to succeed.

The Bistro Story is at 24, Sadasivam Street, Gopalapuram. Call 4353 2934 for details. A meal for two is approximately Rs. 500.