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A STILL LIFE under the boughs

— Photo: Murali Kumar K.

The food and the ambience make a great combination at Café Fresco's.

CAFÉ FRESCO'S is about tricky decisions in life. Where shall we sit? On wooden park benches with trestle tables under a sprawling tree or on azure chairs under the midday blue sky or the stars? What shall we eat? Generous portions on pristine crockery with napery to match, brilliantly-garnished servings of Thai, Mediterranean, Greek, Hungarian, French, Mexican (and soon Indian) dishes? Or should we opt for Rahila's desserts to start with? Divine confections with true blue movie names such as Clockwork Orange or New York, New York. At this 11-to-11, 55-seater coffee shop at the classy Hatworks Boulevard, these choices count.

Open kitchen

Let's put the choices on pause as we take in the ambience — and a deep breath. Off Cunningham Road, where traffic sounds do not impact the diner, blue-chip crazy paving winds past a gentle ramp. It leads to an impeccable open kitchen where you can watch chefs toss up your meal in minutes. Just beyond lies Rahila's, an irresistible patisserie, almost the better half of the November 2004-born, whispered-about restaurant.

Rahila Rauf, who trained at the New York School of Catering, whips up dessert delectations that it seems a sin to miss. Her Clockwork Orange (she's a movie buff) is classic Italian panna cotta, set with agar agar. It looks too stunning to eat with a biscuit spoon — pastel swirls of kiwi and strawberry sauce atop a creamy mound that hints at notes of caramelized orange. In the very top league, along with a perfect lemon soufflé. The Brownie Torte is a true taste of sin, its walnut-brownie base topped with chocolate mousse, then a rich chocolate ganache! A dream of a dessert if you can resist over a dozen other brownies.

What does Rahila promise for the future? Sugar and gelatine-free and egg-less confections in sync with our global village where customers ask for even kosher gelatine. Among her daily array of 30-plus desserts are B52 (layers of kahlua, grand marnier and whisky mousse), Fresco's 20-layer cake (chocolate and almond cake served with fruit sauces), or the amazing Baked Alaska (ice-cream cake cloaked by flambéed meringue).

To say more about Rahila's would be unjust to Café Fresco's, the brainchild of her husband, Ashfaq Rauf, formerly with the Marriott Hotels. We travel the globe on a platter. As appetisers, we try crunchy Chicken Goujons (Rs. 120), seasoned morsels that turn tangy with the yoghurt dip. They light up the table talk until the Tempura Prawns (Rs. 170) arrive. Each tiger prawn is perfect, still juicy within its rice-flour coat, offset by a squeeze of lemon and a sesame-sprinkled sauce.

A Chicken Hawaiian Salad (Rs. 110) appears next in a scooped-out pineapple half. Despite the rich mayonnaise, the tender chicken and pineapple juliennes are enhanced by crisp celery, white raisins and a surprise — roasted peanuts. A change of scene soon to a Mediterranean vegetarian platter (Rs. 130). We pop our crunchy, vada-like falafel into soft pita bread pockets, seasoning the roll with smooth hummus and sesame-rich tahini. The taste is certifiably authentic, enhanced by exquisite baba ganough served on brinjal halves.

Thai chicken

We graduate to another main course, Thai chicken with basil sauce (Rs. 135). The fine grain rice is eye-candy, garnished with minced bell peppers. The chicken chunks are tender, fragrantly afloat in coconut milk infused with green curry paste. If that isn't enough to make us long for an immediate hammock, a waiter brings in the piece-de-resistance — Bekti with crab and shrimp sauce (Rs. 175). The just-right grilled fillet, served with broccoli and baby corn, has swirls of delicate crab sauce over it, releasing tiny shrimp on the tongue. A taste of paradise to the fish aficionado.

The good food choices at Hatwork's Boulevard will test your self-discipline. That's for sure. Because they make you want to live life in small bites, if only to prolong the experience.

Café Fresco's and Rahila's are at The Hatworks Boulevard, 32, Cunningham Road. Call 51327555/ 51327551.

Ambience: Alfresco defines each day as a lazy Sunday.

Service: Impeccably courteous, attentive to detail.

Wallet factor: Reasonable, with most dishes priced between Rs. 50 and Rs. 175.

Specials: Well-done dishes from Thailand, Mexico, Hungary, France, Greece, Thailand, the US. Besides a mind-blowing patisserie selection.


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