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Bangalore’s dining landscape caters to diverse tastebuds and price points from street food to eclectic dining spaces

This financial year, Massive Restaurants, stewarded by , plans to establish its presence in Bangalore with two new restaurants: Made in Punjab and Farzi Café. Both have a distinct flavour. Made in Punjab is a smart casual dining restaurant, while Farzi Café is a modern Indian bistro. The culinary essence of Amritsar, Patiala, Lahore, Peshawar and Baluchistan are the highlights of the former, while Farzi Café is Kalra’s take on global cuisines with epicurean novice offerings like pav bhaji sliders and galauti kebab burgers.

“Made in Punjab is already present in Delhi and Mumbai, while Farzi Café will make its maiden debut in Delhi in the coming months, after which we will open an outlet in Bangalore. The two restaurants in Bangalore will mark our company’s south India presence,” informs Zorawar Kalra, Founder and Managing Director, Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd. The company will be investing around Rs 6 crore in setting them up, and is considering an upmarket location to provide the right platform for the brands.

Kalra had already vetted the Bangalore market when he launched the multi-award winning signature brand Punjab Grill. It was his maiden venture, which he eventually sold to Lite Bite Foods Pvt Ltd. But the takeaway lessons were valuable. “Bangalore has a sophisticated palate and a diverse clientele. This makes the city commercially viable. It is a gateway to the south for most brands,” comments Kalra, who has been mentored by his illustrious father, Jiggs Kalra.

The city is an important market for high-end brands. “Bangalore has been a foodie destination for the better part of two decades. We have always had a large number of expats here and this has contributed a great deal to the success of restaurants serving international food. Also, we’ve had a strong club culture, so exposure to Western dining habits was widespread,” says Krishna Shantakumar, General Manager at Aswati Group that owns fine dining restaurants Ebony and On the Edge.

Several factors have led to Bangalore’s interesting culinary circuit. It is home to a large population of techies and foreigners – consumers who are aware of food trends and recognise the authenticity of a dish. “It’s no longer possible to fool or mislead diners with imitation food or pale copies of authentic cuisines. You will soon be branded a fake,” cautions Shantakumar. In fact, many restaurants have had to shut shop as they could not meet the expected standards. “We are a 20-year-old brand but only a couple of our contemporaries in the fine dine segment have survived,” he reveals.

From tradition to glitz

Bangalore is also known for its homegrown and home nurtured cuisines. “The culture of Andhra restaurants is a Bangalore phenomenon. One would be hard pressed to find an Andhra restaurant doing this kind of food in Andhra Pradesh. We have the Udupi restaurants and their brand of south Indian ‘tiffin’ and breakfast items, which are distinctive from the Iyengar-style restaurants, of which there are many,” says Shantakumar.

However, several old landmarks like Victoria Hotel, Blue Fox, Top Kapi, Three Aces, Princess and Brindavan Hotel have closed down. Though Casa Piccola exists in a franchise form, its flagship store on Residency Road has downed  shutters. Many erstwhile iconic restaurants have paved the way for glitzy malls or closed shop due to escalating rentals and management issues. With the city spreading vertically and horizontally, basement locations and parking issues have also forced many to close. Yet another reason was the dearth of chefs who could carry forward a traditional style of cooking.

According to , President, NRAI, and Founder/CEO, Tasanaya Hospitality Pvt Ltd: “Successful formats that offer value for money, along with a good dining experience have survived. They have the ability to innovate and have a competitive edge over others. While many old favourites have disappeared, new attractions keep on appearing on the horizon.”

Food courts have set a trend among family and office goers due to their quick service, variety, and affordability. The city’s young IT crowd has further popularised food courts, which are present in IT companies and other large office complexes, and in malls. The Forum Mall in Koramangala was one of the first to get a food court 10 years ago. The Orion Mall and Whitefield Forum Mall also offer a good mix of brands, and UB City has evolved as a stylish food and wine destination.

Bangalore’s micro markets, which are a mix of posh office spaces, residences, and commercial/retail properties, are also F&B hubs. Restaurant search engine Zomato’s website (as of April 2014) indicates that Central Bangalore (comprising of Church Street, MG Road, Lavelle Road, Infantry Road, Residency Road and Brigade Road) has 595 F&B outlets, Whitefield has 329, Koramangala has 395, and Indiranagar 214.

Gastronomers’ delight

Continental fare at , creamy ice creams at Corner House, and a fair mix of Far Eastern restaurants including Chinese, Japanese and Pan Asian flavours at The Black Pearl, Fat Buddha, Shitakke and Beyond China – the choices are endless. Mainland China (MLC) in Indiranagar has a loyal following. “Seven years ago when we set up this restaurant, the location wasn’t considered a ‘happening place’, yet I saw its potential, and my research indicated that Indiranagar would evolve as an upmarket address,” shares Anjan Chatterjee, Founder and Managing Director, Specialty Restaurants Ltd, which runs 6 MLC outlets at Church Street and other locations. MLC at Indiranagar is spread across two floors and does around 250-300 covers a day. It has won over diners with its signature creations like crackling spinach, and Cantonese and Hunan delicacies.The top floor houses a contemporary bar called Hoppipola.

“The city is the second fastest growing major metropolis in India. Bangaloreans want to experience dining at outlets that spell class and elegance. At Yauatcha, people can experience Michelin-star phenomenon,” declares , Vice President, Operations at , which runs Yauatcha, an all-day dining dim sum and tea house. “We chose Bengaluru, after completing a successful year in Mumbai because it has a fast-growing experiential dining market. The city’s social and cultural space is easy and casual, and the people are well travelled with an ability to differentiate between a good meal and an average one,” he adds. More Yauatcha outlets are slated to open across prominent cities in India.

Simple treats and great formats

South Bangalore is traditionally a south Indian domain, and its people are happy with a simple vegetarian meal of crunchy snacks and sweets. P. Sadananda Maiya, promoter of , (MBFPL), was quick to cash in on this psyche with his brand of vegetarian restaurants. His flagship restaurant Maiya’s in suburb Jayanagar is a full scale operation, complete with lunch, dinner and a mithai-namkeen takeaway section. The restaurant serves north and south Indian food. Maiya’s has catered to diverse consumers through its kiosk formats at the Kempegowda International Airport and at IT companies. The brand has made further inroads into the city through its Express format, which has a snacks counter and a self-service wing.

“For FY14, a sum of Rs 10 crore will be invested towards expansion of Maiya’s restaurants through 20 franchise models in Bangalore and Delhi,” reveals Sadananda Maiya. This year’s agenda also includes a maiden presence in a highway food court (in Kolar, Karnataka), which is modeled on the lines of international food courts.

, an acronym for International Society for Krishna Consciousness, is an early proponent of healthy vegetarian food, freshly prepared sans onions, garlic or eggs (sattvic food), served at Its fine dine restaurant The Higher Taste. “This is the country’s only temple to create a premium restaurant. The Higher Taste conveys the message that the sattvic principle of food consumption can be tweaked interestingly,” says Kaivalya Pathi Dasa, Divisional Head, Touchstone Foundation, which operates the restaurant.

The Higher Taste offers a buffet and a-la-carte menu comprising of south and north Indian dishes along with some Continental specialties. Dishes include multani paneer tikka cooked in the Nawabi style, tacos and nachos with an Indian flavour, crusty tarts, southern delights such as arisi paruppu saatham (a pulao of dal and rice), paan ice cream (a signature dessert), elaneer payasam (kheer made with coconut milk and tender coconut), pastas, pizzas and lasagnas.

Though the restaurant is located within the temple premises, it has gained acceptance among the corporate crowd and visitors to the city. Further, to cater to growing demand, Sattvic Bento Meal Boxes offer customised breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner items, and often go beyond traditional tiffin carriers to include burgers and French fries as well. Apparently, the restaurant’s USP is its ability to create a global menu without deviating from the sattvic style of cooking. The five-year-old restaurant has registered an annual turnover of Rs 2 crore. “In FY14, we plan to revamp our restaurant with new flooring, and more seating capacity (25 covers more from the existing 110), for which, a sum of Rs 20 to Rs 25 lakh has been budgeted,” informs Dasa.

Home-grown brands

Sepia tinted memories take us to times when all that the laid-back Bangalorean (or rather, Mysorean) wanted was a cup of hot coffee and a south Indian staple.  Eating out was occasional, a treat, and usually a family outing to a vegetarian restaurant. Many of those restaurants have stood the test of time and continue to evoke the bygone era. They are crowded, noisy and informal, and enjoy the status of an ‘adda’. Authentic south Indian food is dished up by traditional Udupi chefs. Customers settle for a ‘by-two’ coffee (order a cup of coffee and share it with your co-diner), and are not averse to sharing the table with strangers. It’s a ‘swalpa adjust maadi (adjust a little) attitude, similar to the north’s ‘chalta hai’ attitude.

Some examples are New Krishna Bhavan (NKB) in Malleswaram, where filter kaapi with a plate of crisp vadas provide the perfect fodder for an afternoon conversation. Vidyarthi Bhavan remains a singular choice for masala dosas. India Coffee House may have lost its Old World charm once it shifted to another location, but people continue to vouch for its cutlets and coffee.

Since the last 90 years, (MTR) has been a must-visit place on almost every tourist’s itinerary. This restaurant has put Bangalore on the culinary map of India and the world. It doesn’t boast of any frills, but scores over many others for its authentic south Indian vegetarian Brahmin food. “We are a known Karnataka brand having contributed to the state’s history and food. It was one of the first restaurants that set the trend of eating out in Bangalore,” says Hemamalini Maiya, Managing Partner at MTR.

MTR’s legendary status is visible in its old style furniture and aromas wafting along its long corridors. Breakfast is a ritual here, especially for people out on their morning walk at Lalbagh close by, who flock in for the fluffy soft rava idlis or crisp masala dosas laden with ghee, followed by a stimulating cup of filter coffee. The atmosphere is informal and predictable, and the food served follows a standard cooking format. For the customers, being able to see the preparations underway in the kitchen is reassuring in terms of cleanliness, hygiene, and efficiency.

Founded by Yajnanarayana Maiya, MTR has grown from a standalone restaurant to a chain of stores. “We have 7 outlets at present; of these, 6 are standalone, and one is a mall format. They are all casual dining experiences,” says Hemamalini Maiya and adds, “We are looking at two or three more outlets in the city in the next two years, and a pan-India presence and overseas expansion in the near future.”

The best way to feel the pulse of a city is by experiencing its street food. In Bangalore’s food street in VV Puram, flavours and textures are evocative of the street life here. Local vendors speak in English, Hindi and other southern languages. Food lovers can check out stalls selling ‘finger food’, along with north and south Indian delicacies served on plantain leaves, traditional Karnataka sweets like obbattu (flour pancake filled with lentil and jaggery), gulkand ice cream (icecream topped with fruit and a drizzle of gulkand), rasagulla chaat, etc. The street comes to life after sunset and pulsates with energy till 11pm. Most items are an affordable Rs 35 to Rs 50.

Pubs and breweries

A cup of coffee and a mug of beer may have nothing in common, yet the two have contributed towards Bangalore’s yuppie culture. Beer consumption goes back to the days when Bangalore was the largest (by area) British military cantonment in south India. Koshy’s, one of the first restaurants to serve beer, is still a popular hangout.

When a series of pubs serving beer in funky mugs and seafood platters, and playing rock music began to spring up on Church Street, the city earned the sobriquet of Pub City. Though the pubs came to be associated with the young, resto-bars and lounge bars began to cater to an older, mature crowd looking for a place to entertain friends and business contacts. Earlier in the year, the Karnataka government allowed bars and restaurants to remain open till 1am on Fridays and Saturdays.

Bangalore became the first Indian city to recreate the spirit and bonhomie of Munich’s Oktoberfest when United Breweries began its version titled The Great Indian Octoberfest (TGIOF) in 2005. Since then, the mood has been atmospheric as the annual event has grown in magnitude with its beer and food stalls, flea market and craft center.

Beer guzzlers can now enjoy freshly handcrafted beer at the several microbreweries that have cropped up. Windmills Craftworks, for one, is a blend of microbrewery, jazz theater, restaurant and library. It was started by Ajay Nagarajan, who began by dabbling with microbrewing kits when in the US. When the hobby became a passion, armed with a certified micro brewing degree, he returned to his home turf and scouted around for a business opportunity. He met Kamal Sagar, who runs Total Environment Building Systems Pvt Ltd, and their common interests led to Windmills Craftworks at Whitefield.

“Consumers can tour the microbrewery and interact with the brewmaster who handcrafts beer, and educates them about beer as opposed to industrial lager. We treat consumers to ale, similar to the one served in USA,” says Nagarajan. Windmills uses original names like Golden Ale, Stout and India Pale Ale (IPA), and allows first time consumers to get a sample chart before choosing their ale, along with burgers and sandwiches. “Most lagers taste similar, while ales have a fruity flavour,” he informs. Every Saturday, a live band regales the young crowd (the largest segment to contribute to the growth of microbreweries).

Cafes – chill out zones

Bangalore’s young crowd is also responsible for coffee shops mushrooming all over the city, beginning with home-grown specialty brands like Café Coffee Day, the international Barista, Gloria Jeans, and Café Beanstalk among others. Tata Starbucks Limited, which launched its first outlet here in 2013, plans to launch two more. Breadworks, The Donut Baker, and Au Bon Pain are popular hangouts. Au Bon Pain has over 280 bakery cafés in 20 states with Bangalore alone accounting for 29 of them.

, CEO, Au Bon Pain Café India Limited, informs, “We are a Boston-based café bakery chain and specialise in fresh, delicious and nutritious food. Our menu offers sandwiches, baked items, salads, and kitchen fresh soups.” Food is either baked or cooked, but never fried. Guests can sample beverages and soups and customise sandwiches and salads. “We are a fast casual dining concept where food generates 75 percent of the revenue and beverages account for the remaining 25 percent,” adds Gupta.

Bangalore belly gets bigger and better

With options ranging from the south Indian Chettinad, Kerala, Mangalorean, Coorg and Udupi dishes, to Punjabi, Awadh, Baluchi, Bengali, Rajasthani and Gujarati, to multi-cuisines, Italian, and pan Asian fare, to a variety of street food, the city never disappoints. The first Kentucky Fried Chicken in India and the first Taco Bell happened in Bangalore.

North Indian food (Rajasthani, Gujarati, NW Frontier and Punjabi food) is represented by Samarkand, Zaika, Punjab Grill, Rajdhani, Maharaja Bhog, and Mast Kalandar, among others. Copper Chimney, known for its kebabs cooked in coal-fired ovens or tandoors, and fragrant biryanis, established three locations in the city. “Bangalore is home to young working couples, because of which, the spending power on eating out is strong. Our lunch buffets are very popular with the IT sector,” says Shikha Nath, Brand Director at Copper Chimney.

Against this backdrop, Riyaaz pitched his maiden venture called Social in Church Street, the city’s pub hub. He describes Social as “a collaborative workspace, with comfort food and interesting drinks, and a youth brand” for which the parent company. Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt Ltd has invested Rs 2 crore. , CEO and MD of the company informs that Social is set to open in Delhi and Mumbai. When opened the casual dine Smoke House Deli in two locations in Bangalore in 2103 they had  invested Rs 2.5 crore. According to him, they expect to break even in the third quarter of 2014.

Bangalore’s gastronomic delights are set to increase as more and more brands are eyeing the southern markets. Visitors to the city can literally go on a food safari, so diverse, unique, and interesting are its culinary offerings. Probably, it’s the reason why architect Naresh V Narasimhan has represented a list of eating joints in the CBD (Central Business District) in a map format.