House cafes and restaurants are springing up all over the city, offering good food and a great ambience in well-done-up homes set inside quiet by-lanes, says Anusha Parthasarathy
Long-backed settees, plush lawns with couple tables, candle-lit rooms, cobble-stone pathways, murmering waterfalls and that extra bit of comfort which makes it feels like home... Sounds like a perfect way to escape?
House cafes and restaurants are springing up all over the city, taking in the best of both worlds; exquisite cuisine inside quiet by lanes, away from the squawking traffic and pollution.
Nikhil Moturi remembers spending good times at his grandparents' home in Adyar, now better known as Crimson Chakra. The first-time entrepreneur says it was a history he wished to preserve, “Any quaint old bungalow has its own charm and I wanted to preserve my grandfather's home, with its rich history; it's one of the last few independent houses here. Instead of tearing it down for a commercial complex or an apartment, filmmaker Suresh Menon, who has been my tenant for over 15 years, came up with the idea of starting a restaurant,” he says.
The refurbished house now comes with thematic rooms, offering something for every mood.
“We have a VIP room for corporate lunches, a pool table and a candle-light room for couples to have some privacy. Most interiors are done out of personal choice. People come here for the ambience, food and to get away from their busy lives. We consciously chose not to make this place commercial. It is a place where you return time and again to relax,” he smiles.
Off R.K. Salai, among the city's busiest roads, is newcomer Dewberry's, run by Kavitha Ajay. Primarily into the export business, Kavita and her partners ventured into the food industry and found the perfect spot in their own front yard.
“We had the project ready and needed a place to start. Since Inspire foods and our own office is here in the ground floor of my house, we decided the front yard was a perfect starting point for Dewberry's. Either way, we were looking only at independent houses. They're laidback and go well with our al fresco theme. There aren't many outdoor restaurants here and it's a big challenge to run one. But I guess the ambience invites a whole lot of customers who just want to sit out and have a good time,” she says.
The entrepreneur feels that many prefer to start food joints in their own homes to help reduce the overheads. “Many a time, people prefer starting such restaurants and food joints in their own houses because a start-up needs time to settle in. It takes months for people to notice you and by then, in a commercial area, your overheads tend to eat you up. We don't advertise. All our customers are mainly through word-of-mouth,” Kavitha explains.
An escape in itself, the East Coast Road too is no exception to these house cafes. Kipling Café in Akkarai seems like the perfect escape from the city, with thatched huts and a beach view to complete the picture.
Gomathy Subramanian, who runs it, says the ambience brings back familiar faces. “I was looking for an independent house and re-did this property. I wanted a lot of garden space so that it's relaxing and away from all the noise. I put up the thatched huts for those who need a fan. I get a lot of expats, and now, the Indian crowd has started coming in too. It's a good place to unwind.”
Kipling seems to have its share of romance too, with its serene location being a perfect spot for couples. “We don't advertise at all. But because of the ambience and location, I've had many couples coming here. There have been quite a few proposals too,” she says.
Set inside Anderson Road, Ambrosia is a boutique with a cosy café attached. Owner Arifa Siraj feels both the boutique and café complement each other when set in a quiet residential bungalow. “Starting a boutique with a café was intentional. Many people here come to buy something specific and this kind of homey space allows us to give them personal attention. The café is another place to rest and just be there. Customers who come to buy something decide to get a bite at the café or settle in for a comfortable conversation,” she explains.
Is that the only reason? “Well, there's ample parking space, something you don't find in a commercial area. Basically, I think, to many, it feels like home,” Arifa says.