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Eating Out: Fire and ice

March 14, 2010

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There was a time, long, long ago, when the etiquettes of eating were stressed upon and a cooked meal was considered a work of art. One can see a revival of this tradition in the restaurant revolution taking place before our eyes; food is once again claiming the status of art and nowhere is this more apparent than at Koel.

An outlet offering Noorjehan Bilgrami's signature block-printed fabric with an art gallery showcasing work by contemporary artists and a section devoted to a café area, Koel is proving to be a favourite haunt for art (and fashion) aficionados.

The brainchild of Rasikh Ismail, Koel café is an experience in itself the food is tastefully decorated; presentation seemingly given as much importance as taste. The venue always exudes the aroma of burning fragrant oil and the ashtray is actually a small earthenware pot filled with water, a rock and a plant. If the act of flicking ash off a cigarette on top of a plant is to provide an analogy of how a smoker is destroying him/herself and the environment, the arrangement is well played out.

To separate those who don't, there is an indoor, non-smoking area where seating is arranged in the form of one long, continuous table that makes great use of the available space. It does however, mean that you will, in effect, be sharing your table with total strangers; not the best ambiance for an intimate meal.

One of the features immediately established upon a visit is the fact that, if nothing else, the Koel Café can boast a small but a very good ensemble of drinks, appetisers and desserts. Their Shikanjbeen, with a very strong hint of lemon (as it should be), has a fresher, more balanced taste in comparison to other cafés which offer the same drink.

Their signature drink, Fire and Ice, which arrives with a large red chilli precariously perched on the edge of the glass, delivers a sweet pineapple flavour with only a hint of chilli in it; this has fast become a favourite with those who prefer a fresh and somewhat tangy sweet drink.

On the warmer side is Koel's house blend of illaichi and darchini (cardamom and cinnamon) tea. Extremely soothing, it is ideal as the after-meal drink and the aroma of the cardamom hits you the moment it arrives. Their coffees, on the other hand, are somewhat mild and indistinct from what is served at most cafés.

A recommendation from their appetiser menu would be the sesame chicken bites and the samosas. Well cooked with no hint of oil, their chicken bites are served with a side order of fries and presented in a grid of sorts on top of the plate; the samosas too are crisp and fresh. Unfortunately the cheese balls turned out tough, with little flavour of the cheese itself.

Their main entrees are generally good and there is a generous selection to choose from. The fish served in both the Parmesan-crusted fish and in the Sautéed fish with tamarind chutney (not originally available on the menu but recommended by a staff member) tasted fresh and well-cooked. In both cases, however, it wasn't the meat itself that had any real flavour, rather it was the dip or the gravy served with the fish that provided the taste. The sautéed vegetables and lightly baked potatoes are, however, a delight.

Their Crème Brulee, although milder in comparison to the chocolate pudding, is also a noteworthy item off the dessert menu. Once the tough exterior of melted caramel has been broken into, it is extremely pleasing to discover that the egg-flavoured pudding below has been whipped painstakingly well, giving it an authentic fluffy texture and taste.

An absolutely exquisite item on the dessert menu — an item so delicious that it can only be consumed in small, sinful quantities so as to savour every mouthful — would be Koel's signature Baked Chocolate Pudding. It is only when you push your spoon into the slightly moist, cool, exterior of the pudding that you discover a small pool of delicious hot chocolate, hidden in its depths. The chocolate itself is extremely well made and carries a very light hint of a nutty flavour. This is the kind of dessert, in which, if one runs out of brownie, it would be most appropriate to forget all eating etiquettes and just dip one's fingers in the hot chocolate.

The outdoor seating arrangement may be a risk in this city considering the hot, humid summer season up ahead — but so far it seems to be working out for the café. Their wi-fi facility is an added bonus and the place is definitely worth visiting if your priority is to enjoy luscious drinks and small delectable bites that not only taste good but are pleasing to look at as well.