Farmlore in Bengaluru sets out to prove that luxury dining can be local, ethical and even fun

Set on 37 acres of farmland, the restaurant seats just 18 guests, serving multi-course menus starring ethically sourced seafood and meat, as well as freshly harvested vegetables and foraged wild greens

December 16, 2022 03:55 pm | Updated December 23, 2022 05:27 pm IST

Farmlore is surrounded by fruit trees

Farmlore is surrounded by fruit trees | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Honestly, all Chef Johnson Ebenezer wanted to do was go home.  

In the process, he gathered together a young, fiercely talented team and created one of the coolest destination restaurants in the country.  

Set in between 37 acres of fruit trees on the fringes of Bengaluru, Farmlore has an unexpectedly diminutive footprint — it seats 18 people in an intimate space carved into the farm’s lush greenery with glass and tall beams.

Online Google reviews gush about the “mind-blowing” food, the “immersive experience” and the team’s “performance art.” One particularly astute critic also notes “one v cute chef.”  

Chef Avinnash Vishaal, Chef Johnson Ebenezer, and Chef Mythrayie Iyer

Chef Avinnash Vishaal, Chef Johnson Ebenezer, and Chef Mythrayie Iyer | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

But, let’s stick to what is actually on the menu. Built around what is grown or foraged on the property, dinner consists of intricately planned and plated courses, all harnessing traditional techniques, molecular gastronomy and the vivid heat of their cheekily named wood-fired oven, Kannagi. 

Of course, it takes a lot of work to make anything look easy, so not surprisingly all three chefs have impressive credentials. Johnson Ebenezer, who helms the restaurant, was executive chef of the Michelin-star Nadodi in Malaysia. Mythrayie Iyer worked at René Redzepi’s influential two-Michelin-star Noma in Denmark. Avinnash Vishaal was at Frantzen in Sweden, which has three Michelin stars.  

All three wanted a creative, challenging space to experiment with techniques and recipes. And all three, originally from Chennai, wanted to move closer home. So in 2019, backed by hotelier and COO of the Atria group, Kaushik Raju, they quit their respective jobs, and started working on a dream project that they were still defining.  

Kochi snapper with spirulina, blue algae and charcoal

Kochi snapper with spirulina, blue algae and charcoal | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I wanted to create a menu that represents South India, and all the flavours we are familiar with,” says Johnson, who travels to Chennai every week to spend his days off with his family. (His father, a former State-level hockey player and a retired sub-inspector now in his late 70s, still teaches children hockey). “Hotels get monotonous,” shrugs Mythrayie, adding, “I felt more comfortable working with Indian ingredients.”  

The clincher was the work-life balance this project promised. “We have a five day work week, which is rare in the hospitality industry,” adds Johnson. On Monday and Tuesday, the entire team shuts down. Mythrayie adds, “This is a very creative space. So you need that time off.” 

The team creates imaginative menus using a wood-fired oven

The team creates imaginative menus using a wood-fired oven | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Of course, it took a while to get to this point. When COVID hit, the team had just moved base to Bengaluru to start planning the restaurant together. “All three of us rented a car and drove home to Chennai. It took eight hours that day, with the lockdowns and diversions,” says Mythrayie. After many months of impatience, when the Zoom weddings began, the team regrouped and started cooking again, creating imaginative menus for small groups.  

“That was a breakthrough for us. We would put everything in an Innova, go to the venue and cook multiple course menus for 20 to 40 people,” says Mythrayie, adding how they cooked, served and washed the dishes themselves, often winding up well past 4am. “There were days I was so tired, I could barely walk to the car once we finished,” adds Johnson. Along the way, they got closer as a team, and the idea of Farmlore and its message of ‘sustainable gastronomy’ came together.  

The restaurant can seat 18 people

The restaurant can seat 18 people | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

By August 2021, the restaurant came up in Kaushik’s farm, already lush with mango, guava, jackfruit and coconut trees. In addition to Kannagi, there is a fire pit, and everything else runs on energy from solar panels on the roof. They added 19 Hallikar cows, native to the region, a brood of chickens, a hydroponic set up and a vertical farm. The team also started to forage for edible wild greens, aided by GoogleLens and an undying enthusiasm to taste everything.  

Mythrayie meanwhile built herself a fermentation chamber, which she filled with jars of carefully labelled experiments, from kombucha, miso and soy sauces to unique nethili fish garum, fermented millets and drumstick powders. Experimentation and menu development is key here, explains Johnson. “We document everything we do. The flavours should hit you.” It helps that they grow their own organic produce. “We find ways to elevate the most simple things, like okra or ridge gourd,” he adds, stating that the flavours of freshly harvested seasonal vegetable are so clean and bright, they really do not need much intervention.  

Farmlore avocados and kempu chutney

Farmlore avocados and kempu chutney | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The dinner menu, which changes every month, begins with freshly shucked oysters, brought in from Kochi every day, served with a sorbet of water melon and apricot pearls. It is followed by a crunchy meringue studded with fire ants, specifically plucked from a citrus tree in the backyard, “because the ants on the mango tree don’t taste the same,” notes Johnson. The courses, each presented like trays of precious jewellery, are perky with wild weeds and flowers, which add bright, precise bursts of flavour: tart huli soppu (the familiar three-leaf clover), bittersweet bhrami and refreshing mint flowers, to name a few.

Lions mane, king oysters, pink oysters and rose emulsion

Lions mane, king oysters, pink oysters and rose emulsion | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The food is sophisticated, but fun. It teases out old memories, while simultaneously daring diners to experiment with new flavours. Fluffy fried dough topped with dehydrated yoghurt and chilli cream, for instance, spins off familiar curd vadais. “We don’t call ourselves modern Indian,” says Johnson, attempting to explain their philosophy. “We take flavours we have grown up with and build dishes around them.” 

Each dish has multiple components, some of which take many hours to put together. The squid for instance is intensified with nethili garum, a fermented fish sauce that adds an addictive hit of umami. The lamb is coated with Sanikatta salt then wrapped in a banana leaf and buried in the fire pit to cook for 24 hours. And blue crab, sourced from Kanyakumari, is simply fluffed with a touch of ginger then served with a morish spin on the sodhi, creamy with coconut milk, turmeric and fennel. 

The 10-course dinner menu takes about three hours, so this is a special occasion restaurant — but refreshingly, it is devoid of the snooty hauteur that inevitably accompanies fine dining. Johnson, Mythrayie and Avinnash, who serve and explain each course, share an easy camaraderie which translates into a relaxed dining experience. With just 18 guests, and a team that seems to genuinely enjoy their jobs, there is an unexpected intimacy about this dining experience, especially if you choose to sit at the chef’s table.  

Chef Johnson

Chef Johnson | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Over dessert, a muddled wine sorbet and disarmingly cute whisky gummy bears, the chefs finally sit down and relax as the restaurant empties. Pointing outside, Johnson says they plan to open a private dining space for themed menus, and then a wine cellar with a visitors’ centre.  

Though service has stopped, the kitchen is still buzzing as their small team of cooks and interns start prepping the next day’s food, winding down the kitchen and cooking up a late night snack. “Today we had soba noodles with braised pork belly and raw papaya salad for dinner,” smiles Johnson. “Our meals are so good!” chimes in Mythrayie, nodding at Johnson and adding, “Chef tells us, ‘first you eat, then we will serve our guests’.” 

Carrot, orange, and lentils

Carrot, orange, and lentils | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Every Sunday, Johnson cooks his team a wood fire biryani. “It’s my father’s tradition,” he says. “Even now, he makes it on Sunday, and puts away a tiffin box in the fridge for me. When I go to Chennai, I have it for breakfast on Monday morning.” 

Looking back on the chaos of the pandemic, and how circumstance coupled with multiple leaps of faith shaped Farmlore into the joyful project it is today, he adds, “I’m so happy that we have been able to create a space like this. It is an environment that fosters creativity. At 42, I’m the oldest person on the team, and we all agree on one thing: we want to have fun with this.” 

Farmlore is at Survey No. 67, Mohan Raju Layout, Uttarahalli Hobli, Bengaluru. Open for lunch and dinner (₹3,000 and ₹5,000 onwards). Bookings have to be made online and in advance on the website 

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