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Haroon and his platter of stories

The Only Place, once a refuge for the homesick, will open a hangout for those young-at-heart on Valentine's Day

Celebration is constantly in the air at The Only Place. — Photos: K. Murali Kumar

THE ONLY PLACE is perfectly tuned to Bangalore's palate pulse. That's true when it first opened off Brigade Road in 1965; it's equally true of its November 2003-relaunched avatar on Museum Road. Its continuity of style and taste is borne out by green park benches, green checked tablecloths, and a menu testified to by college freshers, now turned grandmothers. Its very soul remains the genial Haroon Sulaiman Sait.

Where's the recall? In the memories of a fashion pundit, who once shared its Rs. 1.50 steak sandwiches one-by-two to fit his college budget.

In the letters of US Peace Corps volunteers, who loved the steaks, lasagne, and apple pie in this offshoot of Sait's Regency Guest House.

In the cycle-borne forays from the West End to OP (as it's fondly called) by actor Victor Banerjee during A Passage to India, shoot; he swore by its delectable menu. No wonder foodies wept when labour trouble led to the closure of OP in 2001.

Celebration is constantly in the air at the re-launched eatery. The nostalgic regulars include former Jyoti Nivas or Mount Carmel collegians, musicians, artists, and theatre people, spanning three generations.

In the restaurant business, where the best survive about 15 years, The Only Place has its unique tale to share.

Always known as a refuge for the homesick, the lovelorn, or down-at-heel talent, OP is all set to woo today's Bangalore. On Valentine's Day, it launches a hangout for the young-at-heart, complete with two-seater tables, with a low budget menu of lassi, coffee, fizzy drinks, juices, and sandwiches.

That's saying it with roses. Did teenagers from the Sixties sigh? For them, there's a Rs. 350 meal for couples on Feburary 14.

It includes a welcome fruit punch, a combo platter of perhaps barbequed chicken-fish-steak (or a vegetarian variant), topped off with strawberry-cream filled heart-shaped cookies.

Its melange of memory and menu remains flavour-rich. Twinkle-eyed Haroon, equally at home in the spotless kitchen as in the herb garden, recalls his introduction of the first home-style hamburger, Thanksgiving turkey, pizzas, and pastas in India.

"We Kutchi Memmons are true gourmet gluttons," jokes Haroon, rustling up the etymological roots of pav or pasta between recipes garnered from Greece, Turkey, France, and the U.S..

Outside its old-world bungalow, 100-cover OP offers dining space under a red-tiled sit-out on a platform, lit by a copper-lamp mobile, or under large sunshades, or by delicate paper lanterns indoors.

Its luscious steaks, pies, and pastas remain worthy of second helpings — and its prices are still wallet-friendly.

What's special? The smoke-flavoured TLC lamb chops (Rs. 175), barbequed with tender loving care, reveal layers of succulence. The chicken steak (Rs. 150) is redolent of tangy barbeque sauce, its delectable inner juices sealed in.

The grilled fish (Rs. 155) offers delicately-browned seer steaks served with rich tartare sauce. And the London fish and chips special (Rs. 190) conjures up the British street food — tender fillets melting out of a golden batter envelope.

Are the trademark OP steaks (Rs. 115 to Rs. 295) still perfect? A first bite silences doubters. The barbeque steak, served in five fan-like cuts, is far superior to any we've tried in the recent past. Accompanied by salad, garlic bread, mashed potatoes, and boiled vegetables, who could ask for more?

Yet, the menu ranges from a double filet mignon to cotelette Milanese, steak au poivre to a Philly steak.

All around us, diners tuck into grilled chicken and cheese sandwiches, fish burgers, Mae West chicken, moussaka, veal parmigiana, or souvlaki (Greek lamb kebabs). The vegetarian menu stretches from vegetable steak to fettuccine Mediterranean, canneloni with spinach and mushroom to babycorn bake. Each delicious to the last morsel.

Can Bangalore ensure that The Only Place celebrates its golden jubilee?

(The Only Place is at 13, Museum Road. Ph: 30618989)


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