I’d heard several people mention the World Cuisine Network in Indiranagar, but hadn’t been motivated enough to check it out until musician Avril Quadros suggested I do so.
World Cuisine Network, part of a Dubai-based chain, serves multiple specialty cuisines in separate restaurants housed under one roof. The Bangalore establishment comprises Lebanese, Italian, and Indian restaurants, plus a coffee shop. I chose to check out the Lebanese restaurant, Mezze.
Overpriced and underwhelming
The Spouse, in the misplaced hope of having Avril croon at the table while we ate, agreed to accompany me, as did Giant Vacuum Cleaner. Mr. Small opted out of our first foray, but accompanied me on a subsequent visit, along with a dear friend, Shujaat Abrar, who has lived and worked in Saudi Arabia; and my vivacious niece Natasha Kini, who has lived most of her life in the UAE.
Over a couple of visits, I had the opportunity to sample several of Mezze’s offerings and suss out the service. Here’s a one-word review: patchy. The service and the food.
Be warned: Mezze is not a cheap dine-out option. Two meals cost me a total of close to Rs. 8000 I paid close to Rs.8000 for six adults plus a child over two meals, including non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages (of that, the latter accounts for a total of Rs. 1800 across both meals). At the end of it all, none of us – Vacuum Cleaner, The Spouse, Mr. Small, Shujaat, Natasha, nor I – felt fulfilled. We had neither the satisfaction of a full stomach, nor that of a meal well-prepared, nor that of a great service experience to make up for the lack of the first two.
The best thing about Mezze is its ambiance. World Cuisine Network has created a chic, relaxed space for this restaurant. There’s an open terrace deck as well as a smallish, covered area with low-slung lounge-style seating and a couple of regular tables for those with creaky knees (like me). Swathes of shimmering gold fabric are draped overhead, and glass bead curtains insulate you from the surrounding view of unattractive terraces. A well-stocked, attractively lit bar at the far end completes the look.
At World Cuisine Network, it appears that it’s a practice for staff to enquire on your arrival whether you want the Lebanese, Italian, or Indian restaurant… even if you announce your name and the fact that you have a reservation at Mezze. Happened each time I visited. A minor irritation, but what’s with that, dude?
Service was friendly, and I was impressed by the fact that wait staff uses digital devices to take orders. Vacuum Cleaner ordered Chapman’s (Rs. 150), a mocktail he disappointedly described as “pink lemonade”, while I ordered a bloody good Bloody Mary (Rs.375) and The Spouse indulged in an Old Monk tipple. On a subsequent visit, my guests and I also sampled:
- Red Island Iced Tea (Rs. 375)
- Mango Battida (Rs.475)
- Litchee Smash (Rs. 150)
- Jasmine Belle (Rs.150)
To begin our meal, we opted to try a Mezze Platter, a Pastry Combo, and Labneh with Garlic and Mint.
The Mezze Platter (Rs. 395) consists of minuscule quantities of baba ghanoush, mutabbel, hummus, tabbouleh, and fattoush served with three small khaboos. For those unacquainted with this cuisine, the first two are aubergine dips; the second a chickpea dip; the third a parsley and broken wheat salad; and the last a rustic salad of toasted pita, cucumber, tomato, and salad greens. Khaboos is a pita-like bread. Unfortunately, the khaboos served at Mezze that day were crisp and overdone, like paapad, instead of soft, the way they were supposed to be.
Although I believe that food is subjective, and that you should eat what tastes good to you regardless of what the so-called cognoscenti say, I also believe that you have to know what a traditional recipe is before you mess with it. So although I like my hummus smooth and loaded with garlic and olive oil, I know that it is supposed to be fairly thick, and should only taste of chickpea and salt, with olive oil drizzled over it or poured into a well made in the center, and a sprinkle of za’atar (ground sumac) on top. Mezze’s hummus was well-made, but there was precious little of it to go round – it had been cleverly pressed into the form of the bowl. Also, although the other dips did have some olive oil, there wasn’t a drop of it to be seen in the hummus. Not. One. Drop.
On a subsequent visit, it did have olive oil in it, and was artfully presented in the shape of a flower (as was the labneh).Very pretty. I come here for food, though, not art, so a bowlful of eye-candy doesn’t impress if it means a smaller portion.
Since I refuse to inflict aubergine upon myself, I did not try either the baba ghanoush or the mutabbel. Although he declared both dips enjoyable, The Spouse – an aubergine aficionado – did not go into raptures over either of them, as he is wont to do.
The bite-sized salads were also disappointing, with the fattoush being mostly fried pita, a lot of green pepper, some tomato, and no greens. I’m including two pictures below, one provided by Mezze’s PR rep, that shows what the fattoush should (and obviously can, when Mezze wants it to) look like, and one that I took, which shows what we were served.
The tabbouleh looked fabulous. Alas, it had been drowned in lemon juice, to the point where that was the only discernible flavor. Nothing else came through, not even the parsley. Note to chef at Mezze: while tabbouleh is meant to be a little tangy, the crisp flavor of parsley should dominate. Lebanese housewives soak their burghul (broken wheat) in fresh lemon juice to soften it; they do not squeeze it all over the finished salad.
The kitchen did a slightly better job with the Pastry Combo (Rs. 425) , consisting of kibbeh, borek lahme, cheese fatayer, and spinach fatayer. The distinctively torpedo-shaped kibbeh were slightly undercooked at the center, but they were crisp on the outside and stuffed with three tiny pine nuts apiece. Nice. The cheese (or jibneh) fatayer was outstanding – flaky pastry encasing super-gooey cheese – and completely overshadowed its spinach-stuffed counterpart. A word about “Borek Lahme”. “Lahme” is the Arabic word for “meat”; “borek”, to my knowledge, is a Turkish word, and refers to a pastry similar to the Levantine fatayer. While the “borek lahme” was tasty, I remain confused about nomenclature.
The garlic and mint-flavored labneh (a yogurt-cheese dip, Rs. 130) was creamy and tangy, as it should be – if only the khaboos served alongside had matched up!
The spouse decided to puff on an Apple Sheesha (Rs. 350) while we waited for our Lamb Koobideh Kebab (Rs. 325) and our Kastaletta (Rs. 285) to arrive.
The Kastaletta (grilled lamb chops) was pretty good, nicely smoked with a subtle aroma that I just couldn’t put my finger on. For some strange reason known only to the management of the World Cuisine Network, it was served with khaboos, a bowl of dip, and French fries. Yes, Lebanon was ruled by the French for a (very short) while, but I seriously doubt that they ate – or eat – French fries with their meals.
In retrospect, it was a good thing that a) the Kastaletta comprised three lamb chops, one for each of us; and b) The Spouse was delighted with his sheesha. Because not only did the Lamb Koobideh never show up, the waiter insisted that we had already consumed it. Until, of course he checked with the kitchen and found it had never been served. So much for those snazzy digital devices, then. Hmmph!
On a subsequent visit, Natasha was keen that I try Arayes (Rs. 250), flatbread stuffed with kafta, grilled minced meat. Sadly, Mezze’s version fell so far short of her expectations that she deemed it “not arayes at all”. The stuffing was not only sparse (a sprinkling, as opposed to a tightly packed, compressed, flat disc of meat); it was also dominated by an excessive use of raw green pepper, onion, and tomato, which are not traditionally used to prepare kafta.
In fact, we saw very little difference between this and the Kebab Saj (Rs.225), or Lebanese-style “sandwich”. If you look at the picture, you’ll see that there are parts of the saj that have no meat in it at all, just green pepper and tomato (look at the piece that’s right at the front and towards the right of the frame). Sure, the bread casings on each of these dishes were different, but hey, it’s bread, yo’…
There were, however, some things to smile about. This time around, the khaboos, for example, were just as they should be – soft and pliant. As before, the Labneh Khaleet (labneh blend, Rs. 130) was delectable – although there wasn’t as much of it as there was on the previous visit. The Falafel (Rs. 180) were perfect: crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. The garlic dip served with them (and with the arayes) was to die for.
We also enjoyed the Masti Lamb Kebab (yogurt-marinated lamb, Rs. 280), although those French fries once again made their disconcerting appearance alongside, and “Mast” is the Persian – not Arabic or Lebanese – word for yogurt.
From Baklava to Rasmalai… And Everything In Between
The dessert menu at Mezze is a mishmash of everything from passionfruit and white-chocolate mousse to rasmalai (I kid you not).
After we had spent a considerable amount of time deciding what we each wanted, we discovered that not one of the items we had chosen was available. “Why don’t you order baklava or omali?” the waiter suggested helpfully. Neither of these were on the menu, nor had we been told that they were. The waiter was unable to explain what omali was, and had to run back to the kitchen to check which desserts were actually available. I had to wonder – don’t the digital devices connect to kitchen inventory?
In the end, we ordered Baklava (Rs. 250), a Caramelized Banana Dark Chocolate Mousse (Rs.225), and a Strawberry and Kiwi Pudding (Rs. 200).
Mr. Small enjoyed his mousse – but pointed out (I’m soooo proud of the kid!) that there was nothing “dark” about the chocolate. The Strawberry Kiwi Pudding was disgusting – synthetic, and with enough gelatin in it that the spoon was standing up all by itself. Ewwwww. Of all desserts on the table, the Baklava alone stood proud.
Is It Worth It?
As you may have surmised, dining at Mezze is hit or miss – some good, some not-so-good. On balance, was it worth the price? Absolutely not – at least, not for me.
Here are three reasons you should go to Mezze:
- For the ambiance
- To enjoy the cocktails or the sheesha (The Spouse commented that it was “the best thing on the table” at our first meal there)
- You’re in the mood for the food-lover’s version of high-stakes Russian roulette.
Definitely do not go for the food – at best, it’s average. Mezze at World Cuisine Network is undoubtedly way overpriced for what it is: the service is as far from impeccable as Beirut is from Barbados, and you can get good falafel, kebab, and hummus elsewhere, for much less moolah. You won’t get the décor or the digital devices to go with, though…
World Cuisine Network
No.32, 80ft Rd,
12th Main Junction,