Ever since the sad and sudden decline of the Indiana Burger (if you’ve been in Bangalore for more than 10 years, you know what I’m referring to), I’ve been trying to find a suitable equivalent. The Ice and Spice burger comes close, but really, who wants to squish themselves into a 2’x2′ space, or wait half an hour to grab one of three tables? And then share the ketchup and mayo squeeze bottles between tables, because there aren’t enough to go around?
For those of you who share my idea of the perfect burger, I am happy to inform you that I have discovered a kickass post-Indiana burger that surpasses its predecessor in size, flavor, and succulence (and, I must warn you, price). Best of all, it’s available right here in my backyard – Koramangala – and comes to you from the kitchen of Gautam Krishnankutty, the man who gave us Tai Tai and the hugely popular Asia in a Box. Appropriately, he’s called his latest venture Café Thulp! (such a Bangalore word – I’m lovin’ it!)
If being different is a measure of fortune, then Café Thulp is on course to be a success. Everything from décor to menu screams “fun”; if pressed, I’d say the theme was “comic book”, but that’s just a loose, underlying concept that seems to have been interpreted in whatever way seemed the most entertaining at a certain point in time.
The color theme is red and white, with huge anime-style images dominating one wall. Why anime? Search me. Each place mat is different, and features graffiti art with groan-worthy one-liners such as “Insomnia is nothing to lose sleep over”. The colorful menu is a chuckle a minute. Someone certainly had a blast naming the chef’s creations!
Large pine-finish tables ensure that you have enough elbow space to dine comfortably. Unless you’d like to sit at one of the the narrow road-facing granite counters – not recommended, really, because the roar of traffic can sometimes be deafening, especially in the evenings. I’d advise grabbing a table towards the rear instead.
There’s a bookshelf (donate one, take one). Eclectic, unintrusive music… sometimes, the radio. An odd assortment of board games (I should know, I donated a couple). A few toys for the kids to mess around with. No frills, but clean and pleasant.
The Meat of The Matter
In my opinion,Café Thulp currently serves the Best Burger in Bangalore (I’m sure some will disagree, but I’d be happy to back up my opinion based on value for money, ingredients, and conformity to the world’s finest Burger Bibles).
First of all, allow me to deconstruct the perfect burger:
- A great bun: soft, warm, sesame-scattered, and lightly toasted. Not so thick or hard that it overwhelms the meat; not so soft that it gets soggy in seconds. And in terms of “fit”, it needs to be like a good bra: an appropriate size for what it’s encasing, neither too baggy nor allowing any over-spill of the contents.
- A well-made burger patty: mince with a 3:1 meat:fat ratio (not lean meat), seasoned with salt and pepper alone. No onions, herbs, garlic, chilli. Zip, nada, nothing. And definitely, definitely no breadcrumbs or egg in the mix – I don’t care what anyone tells you about “binding”.
- Fixin’s: Rule #1: Ketchup and mayo mostly on the side, not inside… I’ll add those myself, thanks. Please, no raw onion – grilled. Red, juicy tomatoes, evenly sliced. Crisp lettuce, whole leaf or shredded, key word “crisp”. Any cheese needs to be gooey, warm and meltalicious – not a fridge-cold slice carelessly tossed atop the meat. And finally, raw cucumber slices are not – ever – substitutes for gherkins or lovingly pickled baby cukes.
Someone with a sense of humor has christened Café Thulp’s burger “Moo”. All versions of Moo are served with a dollop of crunchy coleslaw and a generous portion of French fries. The fries are just the way they should be, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside – no flaccid excuses here.
The Moo (Rs. 150) scores 10 on 10 for the bread; 9 on 10 for the patty; and 8 on 10 for the fixings.
- The bun scores full marks for always being fresh (across several meals), and for fitting the patty as if sized by a Savile Row tailor.
- The patty comes close to perfection; it’s 200gm of succulent meat, no filler (Moo’s Your Daddy, at Rs. 250, packs a 350gm pure-meat wallop, plus optional bacon). It loses one point for the fact that two people at the same table received different degrees of done-ness at the same meal. We hadn’t asked for that – or indeed, been given a choice (yeah, I’m picky. Real picky).
- The fixings are where things get complicated.
- I’m knocking off one point for the fact that one occasion the cheese in the Moo with Cheese (Rs. 170) was neither apparent in flavor nor appearance (the burger tasted great, and loses that one point for inconsistency rather than paucity of cheese).
- It loses another two points for the fact that I had the same problem with the grilled onions – I got different quantities each time I ordered.
- Yes, I can do the math, I know that should give it a score of 7 on 10. I’m giving one point back for the generous portion of smoky bacon that adds lashings of salty, meaty flavor to the Moo with Cheese and Bacon (Rs. 190).
What could be done differently? I need to see the cheese spilling over the side of the bun – every time I order a cheeseburger. I’d like the option to order more grilled onion on the side. Other than that it’s perfect. Bruce Lee Mani, my large, ever-hungry rock-star buddy, would like more options for fixings – mushrooms, jalapeños, sunny-side up eggs. I disagree, because I’m a burger purist. I even dislike Sloppy Joes, because they’re too, um, sloppy.
Shake, Rattle, and Roll
What else does Café Thulp have on offer? Plenty.
Let’s start with the beverages.
I haven’t had such satisfying milkshakes in a while. They’re called “Sheikh Yerbootys” (thank you Zappa), and come in Chocolate, Espresso, Vanilla, Malt and Chocolate, or “Snickers Blizzard” flavors (Rs. 100 each).
These shakes don’t come in fancy glasses sporting colorful little umbrellas, all dressed up like they are vacationing in Florida. Perhaps that’s because they are so down-home good. Adding cherries and mountains of cream foam would be like slathering too much makeup on Liv Tyler’s gorgeous countenance – blasphemous. Everyone I have dragged to Café Thulp so far has lavished unreserved praise on the Snickers Blizzard, served with a Snickers bar on the side as well as in the shake. Shockingly sinful.
Meanwhile, Vacuum Cleaner is slowly but surely developing an addiction to something called a Sludge Fest (Rs. 80), a yoghurt smoothie. His favorite is the Apple and Cinnamon flavor; he claims it’s “like drinking apple pie”. I have been able to wrest a couple of sips from him, and I have to agree.
They also serve hot chocolate, chai, espresso, capuccino, and even Bournvita – something for everyone.
On the food front, you can choose from starters, sandwiches, entrées, and salads, and at dinnertime, from themed blackboard specials that range from Kerala fish-curry-rice to Tom Kha soup depending on Gautam’s mood and what ingredients are fresh and inspiring that day.
Starters range from hummus with pita (Rs. 85) to chicken satay (Rs. 110) to momos (Rs.110) to french fries (Rs. 75). One starter worthy of mention is Prawnic Healing (Rs. 150), billed as a “spicy prawn cocktail”. Instead of being dunked in the sauce, the prawns are lightly kissed with cornflour and fried till plump and juicy, then hung over the side of the bowl. Dip with caution – the cocktail sauce has kick worthy of a martial arts expert.
I tried a chef’s salad in a mustard dressing topped with grilled chicken (Rs. 110). Decent portion, served with four slices of garlic bread. Good, but it ain’t going to inspire me to write poetry.
I haven’t gotten round to trying the entrées yet; all I can tell you is that they are priced between Rs. 125 and Rs. 225, and are served between 11am and 3pm and 7pm and 11pm, and include fried fish, fried chicken, steak, and a couple of pasta dishes.
The sandwiches are served submarine-style, you can agonize over whole wheat or white bread, and there are seven non-veg and six vegetarian options to choose from.
I have tried the Rocky Balboa, a “Philly sliced steak with grilled onions, grilled green peppers, and cheese sauce”; Great Balls of Fire, a meatball sub featuring roasted garlic; The Cows Came Home, house cured beef with pickles, tomatoes, onions, and mustard; Pigs on the Wing, Chinese-style BBQ pork with grilled pineapple; and PETA Ka Beta, a toasted tomato, mozzarella, and basil pesto sub.
I’m going to start with Pigs on the Wing. Taken individually, its constituent ingredients were great. Unfortunately, the whole simply does not add up to the sum of its parts. The pulled pork had the right proportion of fat to meat, was moist and tender, and cooked in a tangy, spicy sauce. The slightly caramelized pineapple provided an additional layer of flavor, and the side of spicy, garlicky, herbed potato complemented the sub perfectly. My problem was with the bread. Not the bread per se – that was fresh – but with the fact that these particular Chinese flavors simply do not marry well with bread, and much less so, somehow, with the tomato slices that were also in the mix. Plus, I have had the pleasure of tasting the pulled pork unadorned, and it is superb. In this version, the sauce swamps its exceptional flavor.
I liked the Rocky Balboa, but if you’re expecting a full-blooded Philly cheesesteak, you may be disappointed. The beef is excellent, thinly sliced and oozing pan juices; the grilled onions are smoky and nicely caramelized; and the green peppers are used judiciously so as not to overwhelm the palate. The cheese sauce is delicious too – but it isn’t Provolone, which is what should be used if you like it highbrow, nor is it Cheez Whiz, that gooey stuff you’d want if you were a stickler for The Rules. Also, a true Philly would be messier, more moist, and contain more onions. I also came across another instance of inconsistency: on one occasion, the cheese sauce was wonderfully cheese-laden; on another, the cheese flavor was barely apparent.
If you’re looking for simplicity and crisp, fresh flavors, either order The Cows Came Home or PETA Ka Beta. In the former, I’d have half the quantity of pickles – or pickles on the side – because their tartness drowns out the clean, slightly sweet and nutty flavor of the beef. No complaints with the latter – I loved it, despite its lack of meat. Tip: it’s a great way to introduce “grown-up” flavors to kids.
Mr. Small’s favorite sub was the Great Balls of Fire. Unapologetically over-the-top flavors, redolent with garlic, rich with tomato and cheese – and devilishly spicy. Caution: Not suitable for all children – Mr. Small can stare down a bird’s eye chilli, if not with élan, at least with murderous intent.
… are from Painted Platters, and include standard Painted Platters fare like Kir Royale, Apple Crumble, and Chocolate Mouse Cake, plus some fun stuff like Picasso, a colorful, multi-layered, blancmange-style dessert. Prices average Rs. 50.
… And Now The Bad News
I’ll give it to you in one word: service. It’s slow, and it’s often hard to get anyone’s attention. I guess that’s okay if you aren’t in a hurry, but staff members who do not know their own menu and who try to convince you that “Milkshake: Vanilla/Chocolate/Espresso” means all three flavors in one glass and then refuse to go and check should either be trained or sacked. In a hurry.
Ditto for a waiter who overhears someone saying to a fellow diner, “I think I’ll order an apple crumble for dessert,” and then unceremoniously puts one on the table, despite the fact that he knows that particular diner’s lunch order has just been placed – and then argues with you, insisting that the dessert had indeed been ordered.
On two separate occasions, plates with food in them and glasses with a few glugs still left were cleared away when the diner was in the restroom, leading to surprised and outraged “Hey, where’d my Snickers go?”-type outbursts from grown men.
I will admit that these issues were resolved smoothly and efficiently, but they shouldn’t have happened at all. I’m assuming that these are teething troubles, and as long as they are dealt with pleasantly, I’m willing to overlook them because the food is worth it.
Soooooo worth it.
998, 1st Main
Bangalore 560 034