‘Dine' at Escape, Express Avenue balances good food with an ambience just right for the theatre-goer

To be honest, we did try to be blasé about Satyam's new age theatre cuisine. When the Blur café came along, we grudgingly conceded that the food was good — but it still didn't make the cut as a ‘proper' restaurant because of the incessant noise caused by hyperactive gamers.

After all, hearing machine guns all through your soup course is appropriate only if you're James Bond, and armed with something more substantial than a bread roll. Yet, the Blur Café pizzas are light and tasty and the salads are crunchy, deftly laced with a light hand. A nice change from the mayonnaise slick that usually defines ‘Continental' salads in most multi-cuisine restaurants. ID, slick and quick, is a favourite pre and post-movie stop. And Ecstasy, despite its atmospheric pricing, has managed to gain and retain a loyal fan following.

Satyam's advantage is its decision to hire and train chefs, instead of simply stocking up on food from random suppliers. It helps that the food agenda is set by French Chef Mickael Besse, known for his pernickety attention to quality and meticulous detail.

So when Escape, Satyam's theatre at Express Avenue, came along, it was only to be expected that the theatre menu would get more elaborate. Everywhere else in the world, theatre-goers might be happy with nachos and popcorn. But in India, where food is always the heart of any event, Harry Potter's got to come waving a wand weighed down with cream doughnuts if he wants any attention.

Escape's equipped with frills so lavish they sometimes border on ridiculous. Chairs with iPod docks so you can order your food, for instance. Except it's easier to stick your head out and holler for a waiter than log on. A spa to ease those pre-movie jitters. (“Oooh. Will Hermione and Ron finally hook up?”) Grilled Chateaubriand steak at the Dine café. Wait a second. Did the menu say steak?

Yes. And that's why Dine's a proper restaurant — even drawing people who don't want a movie with their Chateaubriand.

With slick interiors jazzed up with a space-age fish tank and a huge New York Times Square style movie screen, Dine first appears to be a home for over-hyped food. Its location, right beside the constantly chaotic food and ticketing lines doesn't help. Especially when the staff, torn between a need to be edgy and an overwhelming desire to attain club chic, play Saturday night music at deafening volumes in the lobby.

Yet, once you get used to the buzz it can be strangely calming. Like taking a breather on a traffic island. And this one's equipped with startlingly good food.

We try the vegetable lasagna, which arrives piping hot, packed with perfectly done mushroom, bright spinach and tomato, all sandwiched between creamy sauce, gooey mozzarella cheese and fresh pasta. The aforementioned steak is carefully cooked: tender, juicy and served with a mild, buttery Hollandaise sauce teamed with rosemary flavoured mashed potato. We also try the Mandarin chicken, tossed in a sweet garlic sauce and served with egg fried rice, which could do with some jazzing up.

Our next trip, unfortunately, is during the weekend. The café's besieged by young things with huge appetites making the most of Dine's weekend biriyani offer, which includes soft drink, soup and dessert for Rs. 200. Opt for this only if you can battle them as they acquisitively rake through the buffet biriyani each time it's refreshed, pulling out every single piece of chicken. We're too lazily languid for the whole ‘predators in Masai Mara' act, so we opt for burgers instead. They're strictly average, featuring patties topped by tasteless supermarket cheese.

Dessert features vanilla ice-cream, creamy and speckled with the telltale fragrant vanilla pod and a diminutive, but delicious, cheesecake. There's also a boozy rum baba laced with Chantilly cream.

We end with lattes, more distinctive for their pricing than flavour at Rs. 100 a pop! And to think we could buy coffee at the theatre for one-fifth the price not so long ago. Ah well. That's what happens when you get to eat cheesecake with your movie. As Harry Potter can tell you, perks come at a price.

Dine, situated at Escape (Express Avenue, Royapettah) is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. A meal for two should cost approximately Rs. 600. Call 28464809 for details.