Going to Bangkok in November meant I had to miss the wedding of a dear friend of mine. Suffice to say I owed it to them to take him and his new bride out to dinner. Her choice of cuisine (Italian), my choice of restaurant. There are a number of Italian restaurants in Bandra, and I hope to get the opportunity to review all of them in the due course of time, but for this occasion I decided on an old favourite, Café Basilico at Pali Naka.
I remember traveling all the way to Colaba to enjoy some of the deserts and thus was overjoyed when they opened up a branch closer to where I live. Whilst it does serve a healthy choice of Italian dishes, the fare also contains Mediterranean and fusion cuisine. They change the menu quite often, but tend to stay within the boundaries of tastes and themes that have made it a very popular joint, especially amongst the glitterati of Bandra. The dishes however, are not unique. They follow the tried tested theme that can be found in many so called "Deli's" in the city, including Indigo and Yellow Tree. You are going to find a mix of Sandwiches, some pastas, a few grilled/poached meats, and a variety of fruity drinks. So why do I frequent the place? It's more for the consistency in the quality of the food than any wow factor. I have rarely eaten a meal at Café Basilico (in fact never) and left with a frown on my face.
Regretfully, due to the traffic in Bandra, I ended up reaching a fair 10 minutes late. By the time I reached our table, my hungry friends had ordered some garlic bread which arrived along with me.
This would receive an 9/10 from me. The crust was crisp. The center, soft and juicy. The hint of cheese and herbs complimented the healthy dose of peppers. The garlic flavour was a tad on the lower side, but that could just personal preference. Though it is listed as a side dish, it turned out to be an appetite building appetizer.
As a second appetizer, we ordered a helping of the Hummus with Pine nuts.
They have tried an interesting twist on the Pita bread by serving it toasted in an unorthodox shape. I don't think it had a significant impact on the flavour, but it definitely made scooping and eating the hummus much easier. The hummus itself had pine nuts layered on top, and I could taste a hint of them within. This however did not enhance the taste. Whilst the Hummus was creamy, it lacked the intensity of the Chick peas. The flavour was too mellow, and I feel you could attribute that to the Pine Nuts, and a slight lack of both olive oil and lemon. This received a 7/10 from me.
For main courses, we decided on a dish each. True to her desire to eat Italian, she ordered a Penne in a Paprika Cream sauce with vegetables.
To be bluntly honest, this was a disappointment. The vegetables were fresh and well cooked, but that was the dish's only redeeming quality. The Penne was a bit underdone and the sauce lacked flavour. When you read the words "Paprika sauce" you assume a spicy undertone to the creamy sauce. However I would not even call the sauce 'mild'. It completely lacked flavour. It was almost like a white cream sauce, with a hint of basil. Overall, I would give the dish a 5/10.
The latest menu of Café Basilico allows you to pick the sauces and the side with your meat dishes. This is innovative and allows for regulars to try their favourite dishes with a variety of flavours, however I was left cold by it. I would still prefer the chef to pick the best sauce (or give an option of 2) to go with the dish, rather than leaving me with an overwhelming choice of 10.
My friend asked me to recommend him something in chicken, and I recommended one of my old favourites. The pepper crusted chicken. For a sauce we were recommended the Pepper garlic sauce. For a side we went with Cheesy french fries.
This was purely delicious. The chicken was roasted perfectly. The sauce has the taste of fresh ground pepper in it which went deliciously with the pepper on the chicken. The vegetables again were fresh and marinated to perfection. The cheese on the fries had a hint of garlic to it which refreshed the mouth for another bite of the chicken. Rating: 10/10.
My own choice for a main dish was the Red wine poached Beef. I was recommended a Reduced red wine sauce with it, and I chose Garlic mashed potatos as my side.
On a side note, I need to point out the recommendations that were given along with the dishes. If you notice, the pepper chicken was recommended a pepper garlic sauce, and the wine poached beef was recommended with a reduced red wine sauce. This, in my opinion, is a necessary to allow for a cohesiveness of flavours between the meat and the sauce. The slightly sweeter red wine sauce would never have matched with the peppery chicken. Thus offering all 10 sauces with all 10 meats, whilst allowing you as many as 100 different flavours, is going to also lead to a lot of mismatched dishes.
Coming back to my meal, the beef was slightly chewy. However, I may have by error overstressed how well done I wanted the meat, and hence I will not deduct points on that basis. It did however need to be poached in a better red wine. The flavour of the wine was too subtle on my tongue. The sauce was sweet and thick. The garlic mashed potatos were creamy and divine. I would overall rate it at a 7/10.
Overall the main course was interesting. I was lucky that I was able to divert her attention from her insipid pasta by regaling her with college stories of my buddy and me. A lot of the stories did involve food, but it was more about how we drove a chinese restaurant bankrupt (they offered a USD $5.99 unlimited buffet).
When it came time to pick desserts, her choice was a piece of Chocolate ecstasy cake.
I would rate this a 7/10. It was a case of 'could haves'. It could have been a little softer, a little sweeter. It had too much chocolate without the richness of the taste. An addition of milk chocolate would have helped.
My friend, on my recommendation, chose the Blueberry cheese cake.
This is one of the better blueberry cheese cakes that I have tasted in Bombay. Its quite soft, creamy and a rich taste of both the blueberries and the cheese can be had. Some feel the crust is a bit salty, but it pleases my palate and goes well with the subdued sweetness of the cake. Rating: 8/10.
We now come to my personal favourite dessert. This was the cake for which I have often driven all the way to Colaba from the Bombay suburbs. The Gooey Chocolate Torte.
This is when I need to let out a big sigh of disappointment. When your hopes are set high, the slightest change in taste leads to a lot of disappointment. If I had to review it objectively, it is still a delicious torte. However the real taste of it comes out when they heat it to perfection and the insides start being gooey and oozing out the sides. As you can see above, it isn't. If you do visit Basilico and the torte is not heated enough, do send it back. I would have to rate the improperly heated torte at a 7/10.
As far as the restaurant goes, I like the ambiance. The tables are large, it feels spacious even the are inside is quite small. Sitting outside in the winter is a charming experience. The service can be a bit slow though. It can also be a bit hard to get hold of the server's attention. However the staff themselves are quite courteous and knowledgeable about the food they are serving. each dish is tastefully served. They pay a lot of attention to the aesthetics which is expected in a place of its caliber. It is not a budget restaurant. You can assume a meal for two, with an appetizer, two main courses, desserts, and two non alcoholic drinks coming to around 1700-1900.
Review of the Dishes:
Garlic bread: 9/10
Hummus with Pine Nuts: 7/10
Penne in paprika cream sauce: 5/10
Pepper Crusted chicken in garlic pepper sauce: 10/10
Beef poached in red wine, with a reduced red wine sauce: 7/10
Chocolate ecstacy cake: 7/10
Blueberry cheese cake: 8/10
Gooey Chocolate Torte with ice cream: 7/10
Aesthetics of Food : 9/10
Value for money: 6.5/10
Overall it was a good meal. It gave me an opportunity to finally meet my friend's wife. Her shocked expression at some of our college stories should have been added to my picture collection. We were celebrating a friendship which which spanned food where the cost was far more important than quality, where we celebrated life changing events by going to Hooters and having beer with chicken wings, where we fought over how to split the bill down to the penny, to now celebrating him moving onto the next step of his life at a classy restaurant in Bombay and fighting over who takes the check. To Deepak and Amrit. May you have a great life together.