Coonoor’s Cafe Diem rings in festive menu with a curated mix of the exotic and local

Coonoor’s Cafe Diem introduces a seven-course sit down festive menu which is a curated, delicious mix of the exotic and local

December 30, 2023 02:12 pm | Updated January 03, 2024 05:25 pm IST

A section of diners at the cafe

A section of diners at the cafe | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

A winding pathway, a garden bursting with yellow and pink blooms, quirky artefacts, and a quaint cafe that opens into stunning views of the valley and tea gardens. I am at Cafe Diem, an all-vegetarian cafe in Coonoor to taste their new seven-course sit-down festive menu. “I turned my backyard into a cafe. I wanted to make it an experience where all your senses come alive right from the time you enter the garden taking in the sights and smells,” says Radhika Shastry, who quit her corporate career and moved to the hills. “I am basically a hill person from Dehradun, I chose Coonoor. As a travel freak and foodie, I have enjoyed vegetarian food across the globe, at as many as 65 countries such as South America, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Antarctic, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia during my travels. I saw an opportunity to bring European, Mediterranean and Italian fare that is completely vegetarian for the cafe,” she says, tracing her eight-year journey with the cafe.

Radhika Shastry, founder of Cafe Diem

Radhika Shastry, founder of Cafe Diem | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

I start with the charred corn chowder garnished with roasted potato cubes — the hearty, comforting soup with delightful potato cubes to bite into makes me instantly happy. Then I set my eyes on a colourful mezze platter that appears on the table with refreshing dips. I place the falafel on a herbed pita bread, roll it and enjoy it with vegan labneh (made with tender coconut kernels). There is also mixed bean hummus (made with locally-sources fresh beans), olive tapenade, muhammara, Greek yoghurt with zatar spice, and pasilla chilli with feta to dip into.


Among starters, while the confit tomato dolma stuffed with saffron arborio rice make for delightful bites with sourness of hibiscus couli along with blanched greens kicking in, there is filo bag with cheese ratatouille served with harissa sauce that brings out fresh flavours. The beetroot wafers with herbed fromage and confit garlic stand out, so do the chimichurri infused mushrooms with tanginess thrown in from split olives. I round off the starters platter with baked bites served with Camembert cheese and wild honey that leaves me asking for more.

The mezze platter and beetroot wafers

The mezze platter and beetroot wafers | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

Chef Sunil Gavaskar, who joins us, is particularly fond of the beetroot wafers. “With beetroot puree, we add tapioca flour to make it thick, then cook on low flame and scrape it. We grow our micro greens while the exotic, fresh vegetables come from local markets,” he explains. Sunil and his team make sun-dried tomatoes, pastas, culture for the bread, sourdough base for the pizzas and spicy sauces in-house. “ We use fresh blooms from the garden as garnish,” he explains adding that poached pear and goat cheese salad with passion fruit dressing is another speciality as the pear is poached in grape juice with goat cheese, chia seeds, and winter vegetables, nuts thrown in making it a complete meal in itself.

Among pastas, I enjoy pasta rotolo with asparagus served in a red pepper coulis, and a refreshing asparagus mint risotto with parmesan. But it is the goat cheese pizza garnished with the goodness of wild figs, fresh arugula, a drizzle of honey and chilli oil that wins me over.

Starters platter

Starters platter | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

Looking back at the journey, Radhika says what started as a 15-cover cafe that served soups, salads, sandwiches, tea and freshly brewed filter coffee, is now a bustling 60-cover all day-dining space. Though the menu is dynamic with a lot of local, seasonally available produce, some of the crowd favourites like the pumpkin soup, savoury tarts, pizzas, and pomegranate cheese cakes are constants. “Though not a trained chef, I make it a point to attend culinary classes during my travels, be it at Cambodia or Mexico. I keep sending photos to my chef and then the trials begin. Recently, I learnt about a date palm drink made with jaggery while in Colombia. In January, I had gone to Egypt. In the heart of Cairo, there is a restaurant that serves just one dish, a one-pot dish with rice, pastas and lentils and garnishes. When I come back, I tried to make it. I curate the menu after repeated trials.”

Tarts and more in desserts

Tarts and more in desserts | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

While the desserts platter looks inviting with fig and walnut cake, and orange almond cake with raspberry, I decide to keep the cheese cake and filter coffee for another day and step out wearing a big smile.

Cafe Diem is located at Big Bandi Sholai, 2A, Inside Camelot Heights, Kotagiri Road, Coonoor. The festive menu is priced at 1600 per person and on till January 2 from 11am to 6pm on weekdays and till 9pm on Saturday and Sunday. Reservation is mandatory. Call 9663849639 or 04232233443

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