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Food for the stomach and the soul too

IN THE way of ambience, decor or what-have-you, any number of posh restaurants in town boast a USP (unique selling proposition, marketing jargon for something special to offer that no one else has). But what makes A Pinch of Jazz in the Central Court Hotel (Manipal Centre, Dickenson Road) unique is that its USP is, as its name gives away, jazz music - and not just a pinch of it!

Jazz, both recorded and live, has been on the menu (free, unless you count the cover charge which is set off against your actual bill for food and drink) ever since the restaurant started off a few years ago. Not only is jazz played by the in-house band four to six evenings a week, from 8.30 to 10.30 or later, but when the band isn't playing there's recorded jazz from a good selection of CDs.

And jazz features in the decor, too. There are large and small photos of the jazz pantheon, from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis, all over the walls and pillars. Open the menu and you find a couple of pages of stamp-size photos with thumbnail sketches of, once again, the giants of jazz.

The in-house band has been changing over the years, from Gerard Machado to S. Raman. The current incumbents, a tightly knit swinging quartet, are led by Dominic Saldanha on tenor saxophone. They offer a mix, in equal parts, of pop hits played in jazz style and authentic jazz classics, with the diners getting the opportunity to tilt the balance either way with requests.

Manager Sam Joseph and his team, the kitchen section of which is led by the chef Sidney, are courteous, unobtrusive and soft-spoken. Sam and Sidney were on hand to offer their recommendations when we went in, then left assistants to take over as they went off duty soon after we came in - in time to hear the band starting up.

We plumped for orange juice to wet our whistles before getting down to mushroom tokaz as a starter. These are button mushroom cups with a spiked cheese filling, crumb-fried and served with jalapeno tartar sauce.

The Pinch of Jazz menu offers a wide variety of cuisine, from Western to Chinese and Indian dishes, but the house speciality is Cajun cooking (from the French-speaking community that migrated from Eastern Canada to Lousiana). Two Cajun dishes recommended for the main course were jambalaya and Cajun grilled chicken.

Both have been eaten by some friends of mine on previous, quite satisfying, visits to the restaurant. Jambalaya is immortalised in a rollicking pop song of the '50s, which starts "Jambalaya, cod-fish fry...'' and goes on to declare "Son of a gun, we'll have great fun on the bayou." It's a mixture of cooked rice with seafood or chicken with seasoning. The restaurant offers a vegetarian version for this and many other dishes.

On this occasion we chose other recommendations from the menu. Peter Pan's fish (there's no veg version!) is fish fillets stuffed with fish farci, pan fried and served with dill cream sauce. Creole potato shells (only a veg version), consists of potato skins stuffed with a pot-pourri of vegetables and cheese, gratinated and served with hot sauce. The general verdict was that both were good, although the fish was on the spicy side, with chillis. Both were quite filling too, at least for the not very big eaters on this occasion.

There's always room for a dessert even if one's been struggling through the main course. On this occasion, mango cheese cake and gin and pistachio mousse were the choice, with happy results.

Go for it for either the food or the jazz or both. Chances are you'll come away satisfied on one or both counts.

You can call them on 5584242/5580550.


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