In my opinion, a good restaurant experience comprises three elements: great food, knowledgeable service, and an ambiance that’s in tune with the price list as well as preset diner expectations. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d score Cilantro at 7.5 for food (provided you order á lá carte), 4 for service, and 5 for ambience.
Cilantro is located in Koramangala, in Halcyon, a hotel disguised as a serviced apartment – either for tax reasons, or hey, let’s give ’em the benefit of doubt, because these days, the latter is a more fashionable label.
This means that you can’t drive into or park on the premises unless you’re a resident – you have to park outside, on the street. It also means that before you’re allowed to enter the premises, you have to go through the tiresome process of entering your name, address, “whom to meet”, time in, time out, phone number, date of birth, color of underwear, (yes, of course I’m exaggerating, but not by much) into a register for a security guard who can’t read – and doesn’t care – what you have written.
Once you’re in though, Halcyon is a little oasis. Bamboo plants whisper at you and a burbling stream trips its way down a staircase to show you the way to Cilantro. It’s an intimate little café set in the high-ceilinged atrium of the hotel (oops, serviced apartment!).
Soothing green fabrics and cane furniture set the tone for what should be a pleasant meal. We were greeted – and seated – smoothly, and told that there was a buffet lunch with live sandwich, salad, and pasta counters.
A quick look showed me that the buffet was your average dal fry-chicken masala-pulao-roti-paneer type affair, with the notable addition of a nalli ka saalan. At the sandwich and salad counter, the breads looked fresh, but I decided not to give them a chance when, lifting the lid on not one, not two, but three of the meat containers, I found the cold cuts covered in tiny little fruit flies. You know, the kind that congregate in annoying little clusters on overripe fruit – and, apparently, meat that’s been left out just a little too long. My guess – a power cut at the hotel (forgive me, business condominium) that led to the meat being improperly stored.
That left us with the á lá carte menu, and of course, the beverage menu. And what a sight that is. Now yes, I do admit to being snobbish about spelling mistakes in menu cards – on account of being a writer and all. But honestly, when you’re in a restaurant with cloth napkins and piped music that serves pasta, risottos, and steak on pretty, custom-printed plates, you do not expect to see all of the following in one place:
Bloddy mary, pina cloda, caned juices… I could go on, but is there any point?
Just plain tacky.
The “bloddy”, when it did arrive, was pretty good, as was the fresh watermelon juice. We ordered deep-fried calamari rings as starters. This was a fabulous beginning. They were great, done in breadcrumbs, and fried for exactly the right amount of time. You get a substantial portion, served with two really good dips.
Unfortunately, I’m still not sure what these dips were, because the waiter said one was “tata zzzt” and didn’t know what the other one was. When he asked a chef who was standing nearby, we were informed that the other dip was “zalapi.” My assumptions: tartare sauce and jalapeno dip. The guy seemed unable to get the thick, creamy sauce off the spoon, so we took pity on him and served ourselves. Staff training, anyone?
A quick word about the aforementioned chef. He seemed to be in charge of the buffet lunch. By this time, the restaurant was beginning to fill with the “business lunch” crowd, and he officiously paced up and down the buffet line. Unremarkable, really, except for a few things:
- he was chewing a big wad of khaini, or tobacco
- he kept hitching up his pants
- he kept scratching his groin
- he stuck his bare hands into the rice to fluff it up.
Glad we weren’t eating the buffet lunch, we dug into our meal with a little less gusto than normal, wondering what appalling personal habits were on display in the privacy of the kitchen. My Prawn Risotto was pretty good, even if it probably wasn’t made from top quality arborio rice. It was hearty, and nicely herbed. Could’ve been creamier – but I’m just being picky.
My dining companion’s BBQ grilled pork chops were tasty too, although a very helpful captain admitted that the chops had first been boiled (seriously?) and then finished on the grill rather than having been slow-grilled in their glaze.
Our dessert, a strawberry mousse cake, can be summed up in one word: disgusting. Remember Joy icecream? Cilantro’s mousse cake was a mini-time machine, taking you right back to the days you spent picking blotting paper off your tongue. Exactly the same synthetic flavor, and hey, the color was perfect too! Redeeming feature: a sickeningly sweet strawberry in it – probably inspired by Mala’s Jams, circa 1983. Couldn’t eat more than a couple of spoonfuls – and I’ll eat almost anything if it’s sweet.
Should you go? Well the food’s pretty decent. If you’re not very particular about the overall experience, you’re in Koramangala, and you want a quiet meal, do go. I wouldn’t travel across town to eat here. Don’t come if you’re trying to make an impression on someone, and certainly not for a special occasion.
Oh and the errant chef? The guy’s initials are AKG. Someone, please give him a tube of Itch Guard, or buy him better underwear. And a belt might help too.
9, Drafadilla Layout,
4th Block, Koramangala,