Crust, the new coffee shop offers desserts, sandwiches, cheeses and everything else that you would look for in a café down the road

I’m eyeing the toast-butter-jam sandwiches outside Alsa Mall. But we decide to be la-di-dah and sit in a coffee shop instead. Coffee Day, smack in front of us, is the obvious choice. It has the air of a jilted boyfriend. Brooding, scruffy and indifferent. We persevere anyway — after all this coffee is what fuelled us through most of college. The man at the counter is startled by my choice of macchiato. “But, it’s black,” he squeaks. “Yes,” I smile. “That means no milk.” Yes. “Well, just a little milk foam on top.” Yes. “Meaning it’s bitter.” Yes. He’s clearly exhausted by my obstinacy. I’m surprisingly touched by his concern. You have to admit it’s sweet.

My sense of well-being is short lived. The coffee’s alright. Unfortunately, captivated by the images of deep, dark and stylish European chocolate, we also order a Belgian chocolate shot. Let me just say, I don’t know what Belgium did to Coffee Day to deserve that. But it must have been pretty bad.

Just as I’m resolving to stay at home with my electric kettle, tea bags and a stash of Subway’s double chocolate chip cookies, a colleague suggests I try out Crust in Abhiramapuram. We walk in on a Sunday morning, and are instantly charmed. This diminutive little coffee shop has the unaffected style of a European café. Belgian? Well more Berlin. With mismatched lamps, stacks of hefty coffee mugs and a laid-back air.

Inside, one door leads to the kitchen, and the other to a teeny delicatessen. The deli has a glass counter filled with trays of desserts and a plate of chunky cupcakes. Beside its high bar stools and counter, there’s a soft board advertising their other offerings.

This includes an array of cheeses, including ricotta, boccoccini and Blue Danish. They also sell 600 gm tubs of everything from Syrian beef fry to Goan prawn balchao. The massive fridge opposite flaunts a hefty baked almond yoghurt, dark chocolate éclairs and lasagne, besides jugs of carefully labelled iced tea and orange juice.

It’s quiet inside, with just two occupied tables, so this feels like a secret hideaway. We sit by the window, cleverly covered with semi-transparent curtains that let in some light, while obscuring the rather ugly view. The menu’s not vast, but it offers adequate variety. Hummus with pita bread. Phad Thai and prawn piri piri, besides the usual contemporary coffee shop offerings — stroganoff, pasta, lasagne.

I’m torn between a steak sandwich and Bratwurst, served with rosti. Or perhaps a vegetable ratatouille straight off the grill. While we make our decisions, we nibble thoughtfully on the starters. Satisfying crostinis, chewy white bread with crisp edges, with a dollop of tomato paste and cheese. Each piece is topped by a salty black olive. Sipping on tall glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, with a refreshing bitter edge, we decide on vegetable lasagne. With its silky pasta oozing with cheese and generously dappled with herbs, this is lasagne that can hold its head high anywhere in the world. As we’re wading through the steaming layers, chunky with zucchini, tomato, aubergine, and mushrooms, the next dish arrives. Pork vindaloo.

This isn’t the fiery, earthy, powerful vindaloo of Goa. It’s a much tamer version. A sort of vindaloo-who-went-to-a-Swiss-finishing-school. Given the number of expatriate clients filtering in, I’m guessing it’s been tweaked to appeal to a westernised palate. The pork, served with fluffy coriander-sprinkled basmati rice, is cut into dainty cubes, designed for a fork. It comes with a lettuce salad, which doesn’t really go with anything on the plate. We end with coffee and mud pie. The coffee is over-milky and lukewarm. There’s just one waiter who’s friendly, but seems overwhelmed. The mud pie’s massive, a cool mousse with a crumbly brownie base.

What makes Crust special are the small touches. Generous portions. Little bowls of fresh chunky salsa instead of the ubiquitous tomato sauce. And a kitchen that seems happy to make adjustments for clients. This is exactly the kind of café you’d want down your road.

Attached to Asharaa, Crust is at 18, Bheemanna Garden Road, Abhiramapuram. Call 2467 0298 for details.