Um, no. That’s not my address. It’s the name of a restaurant situated on (no prizes for guessing) 12th Main in (no prizes here either) Koramangala. And a very good one it is too.
Although the food at 12th Main is excellent, I want to focus for once on service – an area that many mid-range fine dining restaurants seem to neglect (two notable exceptions, off the top of my head: Caperberry and Via Milano). 12th Main has gotten service down to a T. Partly because I enjoyed the food immensely, but mostly because I simply couldn’t believe they’d gotten it so, so right, I visited 12th Main on several separate occasions. My conclusion: these guys know a little secret – service is an attitude, not a script.
Service With Style
Here are the little things that set 12th Main apart as far as service is concerned:
- First visit. I wanted to see the à la carte menu after it had been removed from our table. The head steward, who was passing by, glanced my way. I caught his eye; he nodded at me. In no way did I indicate that I needed anything – I didn’t have the time. Five seconds later, the menu was before me. He knew, intuitively, what I wanted.
- Waitstaff is reasonably knowledgeable about the food, and unafraid to say the words “I don’t know”, should that be the case. I asked what “aioli” was. The guy got it right in one. I asked what “harissa” was, he said he wasn’t sure, but went off and asked the chef.
- On one occasion, we ordered a mezze platter. It contained six mini– micromini pitas. At the end of our meal, I suggested that six were inadequate, and suggested that they provide more. On a subsequent visit, we ordered the same platter – voilà, a dozen micromini pitas at no extra cost. For anyone who orders, from the day I made my suggestion. These guys listen to their customers.
- Another instance of that: if you sit out on the deck, the smoky glass that affords you privacy also makes it hard for you to summon waitstaff from inside the restaurant. The Spouse and I suggested a dedicated waiter for the deck area. The next time we visited, there was one.
- Second visit. The Spouse ordered a dry martini. It was dry, it was a martini, it just wasn’t the way he liked it. The bartender came over, and The Spouse expounded to him on how he makes martinis at home (“one part vermouth, two parts gin, stirred with crushed ice and poured into a chilled martini glass with an olive in it”). Another martini arrived. It was perfect, it was on the house, and the bartender came over and thanked The Spouse for teaching him another way to do it. They are open to new ideas.
- Across the board, every single server who came to our table at each visit seemed genuinely interested to know what we liked, what we didn’t, and why we liked it (or not). They weren’t perfunctorily following a script. If there was something we didn’t like, however small, and if it was fixable, they fixed it. No questions, no justifications, no “checking with the manager”. If it wasn’t fixable on the spot, they went out of their way to make up for it (on one occasion, I was surprised with a dessert we’d ordered on a previous visit, “compliments of the chef”).
Caveat: There is one rather stockily built head steward who, to my mind, is a cultural misfit here. I know he is a transplant from somewhere else; I have earlier seen him in another restaurant. This man exudes an air of snootiness that is out of place in this otherwise warm and friendly environment. No, he didn’t piss me off – he didn’t serve me at all. I saw him interact with other guests. He was reluctant to move, spoke brusquely, and seemed condescending.
Before I move on to the food, a quick few words about ambience: it’s classy, chic, and casual. Indoor seating is ample; the space is airy and well-lit. Sun-worshipers have the option of dining on the large outdoor deck in semi-private dining booths.
Is it cheap? No. It’s a fine dining restaurant in every sense of the word. Do you feel full at the end of your meal? Yes, but not stuffed to the gills. Do you feel you get your money’s worth? I did, definitely, on every ocassion I visited – in terms of food and overall experience.
Food: Daily Lunch Buffet
The first time we walked into 12th Main, they were serving a Chettinad-themed buffet (Rs. 600 per head, including tax). The Spouse and Mr. Small decided on the buffet without a second’s hesitation. I admired the huge spread and the chic presentation – chicken wings, palyas, kosambari and curd rice in little bowls on ice – but wanted to see what 12th Main dished out à la carte. Vacuum Cleaner hedged his bets and said he would decide “later” (being Vacuum Cleaner, he eventually ordered à la carte and noshed off his brother’s buffet plate).
If the buffet was good to look at, it was even better to eat. I sampled spoonfuls of the chicken Chettinad, the mutton pepper fry, tomato chutney, dry chicken wings, kosambari, potato palya, and fish pickle. The Spouse, by the way, couldn’t get enough of the chicken – and he usually disdains poultry as “boring”.
The ingredients were of good quality, and the spices had obviously been fresh-ground and blended with tact and intelligence. Pungency was dispensed fearlessly, but not ruthlessly. Having done some research on Chettiar foods after a disastrously over-spiced meal from Anjappar, I have learnt that subtlety is a hallmark of Chettinad cuisine, not the indiscriminate, Iraq-style, carpet-bombing approach to the use of chilli and pepper that it has (unfortunately) become synonymous with today.
We were told that 12th Main serves up a different buffet offering each day; sometimes regional Indian, sometimes Lebanese, sometimes Thai. It isn’t planned ahead; the only way to find out what’s on offer for the day is to call the same morning.
À La Carte: United Nations Menu
When I first saw the à la carte menu, I was inclined to flee, and fast. Why? Because it read like a United Nations culinary roster, featuring, amongst other things:
- Fillet Mignon
- Mutton Istew with Idiappams
- Mezze Sampler Platter
- Pizza Quattro Formaggio
- Vegetables in Thai Red Curry
- Risotto Gamberetti
I have been known to excoriate restaurants that try to be too much to too many in the interest of “popular demand”. I am happy to say that in this case, I have been able to keep my bottle of acid tightly capped.
Here’s a quick run-through of some of the things we have tried at 12th Main, across multiple visits.
I’ll begin with the letdowns.
My sole disappointment was the Kefir Lime Scented Crab Cakes with Red Curry Mayo (Rs. 350). These were stodgy and pasty, with too much bread “filler” and too little crab meat in them. There was no discernible aroma of kaffir lime leaves. The “red curry mayo” turned out to be an orange-colored mayonnaise with no flavor other than that of… mayo. My benchmark for crab cakes lies in Baltimore, Maryland – home of the crab cake – so I’ll admit to being very finicky; despite that, these were way below par.
The Spouse wasn’t very happy with 12th Main’s self-assemble Chicken Shawarma (Rs. 395). Although it was tasty, he suspected that the chicken had been oven-grilled rather than spit-roasted; it was also cut into largish strips, instead of the thin shavings that are expected for a shawarma roll. The result, he felt, was an acceptable taste with a displeasing texture. Work needed!
On the plus side…
The Spouse and I both love the Mezze Sampler Platter, containing the aforementioned micromini pitas with falafel, accompanied by teensy portions of aioli, hummus, muttabel, harrissa, tahini, and brine-pickled veggies. It makes for a delightful pre-meal nibble, no matter what you plan on ordering for your main course.
If you want a Quattro Formaggio Pizza (Rs. 425), and are not too particular that one of the quatro be green or blue, this is a viable option. A good crust, topped with provolone, fontina, cheddar, and mozzarella. Not the very best, but close. Definitely close.
Vacuum Cleaner pronounced his Mutton Istew (Rs. 325) delectable. I had to concur; it was smoky with curry leaves and rich with coconut milk, and the meat was tender without being overcooked. The idiappams served alongside were moist but not soggy, each strand maintaining a friendly, respectable distance from its neighbor.
The Fillet Mignon (Rs. 395) was very good, done to the exact degree of medium rare that The Spouse had requested. My only grouse (if you can even call it that) was that the “wasabi mashed potato” served as an accompaniment didn’t carry the slightest hint of wasabi, let alone that unmistakable zing that slices straight through your sinuses into your brain.
I tried an outstanding Chargrilled Norwegian Salmon on a bed of Broccoli Risotto (Rs. 695). Grilled salmon and risotto are both difficult to get right; in this case, both were divine. The salmon was succulent instead of being cooked dry of the fats that give it its distinctive rich flavor, and the risotto was creamy and retained some “bite”. A thin slice of grilled orange set atop the salmon imparted an interesting smoky-sweet citrus flavor to the fish. Brilliant.
When I enquired how many prawns were served with the Pesto and Wine Marinated Grilled Jumbo Prawns (Rs. 695), I was very disappointed to hear the answer: “Two, on a bed of mashed potato”. I said I was hungry, so they served me an extra prawn – and boy, when they say jumbo, they mean jumbo! These were monstrous, cooked to a nice buttery consistency, and topped with just the right amount of a creamy, garlicky sauce. Worth every rupee. I felt that the mashed potato was the wrong texture to go-with, though, and have suggested that they offer rice as an option. Let’s see if they do.
Of the desserts, the Trio of Crème Bruleé (Rs. 175) stands out for its presentation and subtle flavors. Three bruleés (in order of my preference: vanilla, cinnamon, and orange), each with a thin, crisp crust, vie for your attention. This dessert can easily be shared by two – or even three. The texture is marginally off, but that’s just me being picky.
The Apple and Rhubarb Crumble with Ice Cream (Rs. 145) isn’t really a crumble at all. It’s a tartlet. So if you’re expecting that inimitable texture of melded crumb topping and baked apple, you’re going to be disappointed. That said, the tart crust is baked to perfection – no sogginess; the apples and rhubarb offset each other nicely; and there are no annoying cashew nuts in it. It’s a good dessert choice overall.
The Mystery Chef…
As I said earlier, I was surprised that a restaurant could master Lebanese, Italian, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisines (as a Certain Friend undiplomatically announced, “Much to our surprise, you were right”). I eventually enquired after the identity of the chef (or chefs). “We don’t have an executive chef, Ma’am,” I was told. When I peevishly snapped that this was impossible, the waiter conceded that they had a “Director of Food and Beverages”, Mr. Gaurav Shiva.
Oh. That made sense – the one-time sous chef from Mynt at The Taj West End.
Gaurav Shiva – welcome back from your hiatus. Give yourself and your talented team a standing ovation. You’re doing a great job with the food and the service.
P.S.: 12th Main is on the ground floor of Mercure Homestead Residences, an upscale, suite-style apartment-hotel with every amenity you can think of. I would definitely recommend this as an option to my long-stay guests. They have a poolside restaurant too, called By The Blue, whose Sunday brunches I’m dying to check out. So much food, so little time…
Mercure Homestead Residences,
12th Main, 3rd Block,
Phone: 4512 1212