Cafés that now dot the cityscape are making international cuisine a way of life

Lazy breakfasts that involve romancing flaky croissants, flirty cappuccinos and soft, luscious pancakes, while staring out of glass-tinted windows sound delightful. Team it up with a stroll in the park and you’re set. 

Saunter into any of the numerous cafes and bistros in and around Nungambakkam, Alwarpet, R.A. Puram, Mylapore and even OMR, you will be greeted with menus that offer everything from crispy bacon, grilled potatoes, herb salads, baked beans, falafel wraps to caprese salads, pavlovas and waffles.

One such place is L’Amandier. Situated on the picturesque Chamiers Road, L’Amandier is done up in cheery pastels with exposed orange brick walls and high windows that let gentle sunlight trickle in. They also offer outdoor seating, and on a sunny day it does feel like sitting in one of those quirky sidewalk cafés. Nidhi Thadani, who runs the charming bistro, was keen on starting a place that served European food. “Chennai needs more places that offer a wide variety in breakfast. L’Amandier is all about my idea of European cuisine; it’s not 100 per cent authentic but it’s simple food that puts together whatever is available on a given day,” she says. For a place that’s five months old, L’Amandier has received tremendous response, and it’s not alone. Suddenly Chennai is dotted with chic eateries which are making Continental cuisine a way of life in a city that has always been particular about its food choices.

“People are willing to try something new; today’s customer demands something different, Nidhi adds.The feedback we get is honest.” They also plan on introducing ‘waffles on a stick’ and a crêperie.

In a span of five months, three bistros have opened up, which makes us wonder if bistro is the new black. Vijay Venkatesh, Ravi Kumar Reddy and Rahool Talwar started The Bistro Story in Gopalapuram because of one reason — a passion for food. Chef Vijay, who has worked in the U.K. under Chef Raymond Blanc, while travelling across Paris and the South of France, came across a number of family-run places that welcomed people to catch up over a cup of coffee, baguettes, and croissants.  He wanted a similar concept in Chennai that sourced ingredients both locally and internationally. 

“The Bistro Story sees a lot of expats, college and school students and families. We decided not to have the concept of reservations as that makes it formal; people should walk in whenever they want,” Vijay says. He also adds that they have paid as much attention to the décor as they have to the food. The place is decorated with Warli art on one side, a small bookshelf on another and a Chennai-based pop art on the third.

In what is increasingly becoming a popular criterion to judge a restaurant, That Madras Place has an innate quality to be Instagrammed. Its pristine white walls are embellished with doodles that relate to Chennai (think P. James, Kannagi statue, share autos…). Having graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, Mathangi Kumar was quite determined to start a comfortable place where people just walk in, and not necessary one they visit for a cup of coffee or a meal. 

“During the power cuts in Chennai, there was a gentleman who’d walk in with his laptop and sit here all day. We were happy to have him,” she remarks.  “We also had a person who was writing a book,” Mathangi adds. What works with a bistro like That Madras Place is that it offers simple food. And the ambience definitely helps.

What is perhaps common to these bistros is their casual atmosphere — something the owners stress upon. But equally important is the authenticity and the variety of the food — something these restaurants have taken care of.

Take for instance Spoonbill’s currywurst and crêpes that are popular. Charlie Singh, the owner, chose street food that he sampled across the world and brought the idea back to India, to offer choices other than the regular Chinese and Italian dishes.

Places such as Amethyst, Chamiers Café, Dewberry’s, Avenue 195, Tuscana, Crust and others too seem to have cracked the formula of casual dining.

Chennai has always had its share of charming, laid-back restaurants that transports one to a place where time stops still and where memories of the good ol’ days come flooding back. And their numbers are only increasing.