Getting Social at Cyber Hub

Cyber Hub in Gurgaon finally has its own buzzing Social. God knows the place has needed it, ever since the microbreweries-led revival of Sector-29, the old F&B hub of Gurgaon, began siphoning the buzz out of Cyber Hub. What used to be the go-to destination for all food occasions, be it ‘aaj to meri treat hai‘ to dazzling Delhiites and out-of-towners with Gurgaon’s own international food street, is now a steady, popular restaurant complex that mostly banks on its massive corporate catchment for its daily bread. But more on the relative trajectories of Gurgaon’s two major food hubs some other time.

Social.. <prefix> Social (read like Bond.. James Bond!), is an underrated phenomenon in the contemporary Indian culinary scene. Most restaurants get rated mainly on their food, bakeries on their cakes and confections and so on. Social has taken food and drink out of the equation as the main attributes, instead one goes to Social for the buzz. Their quirky food and drink menu is a critical element of their proposition though, tying the differently themed locations with a common thread.

Cyber Hub Social opened earlier this month – and it is part of the new set of restaurants that are opening up in the Cyber City buildings that ring Cyber Hub. This latest avatar of Social pushes the boundaries of what a restaurant / cafe / bar can wish to look like. As you approach it, a kitschy painted exterior welcomes you, reminiscent of the facade of a Mumbai chawl building with a row of shops below. Below the painted shop signages is a row of balconies out front, with clothes hanging on the line, and chairs and low tables to sit at. These, as one discovers later, are the alfresco smoking tables that the rooms inside give out to. Interesting, huh? One of these shopfronts is also the entrance to Social. As you open the door you walk into a dimly lit, cramped building lobby, with a name-board of the residents on one side, a shelf and a dusty TV-cum-music player on the other.

I haven’t seen one of these before!

Take a step and half, and a narrow, dimly lit corridor stretches out on both sides, with room / kholi number boards, and a bulb outside each door. This is when you realise that they’ve taken the theme all the way in! It can be a bit claustrophobic in the corridor, as you walk past the kholis, which are small independent rooms set up as the workspaces that Social provides. The rooms, available in different sizes and layouts, work as small offices with a pretty private feel. On one side, the rooms have the exit to the balcony as well.

The experience is complete when you turn the corner to get to the main restaurant area – the well of the restaurant in from of the bar is brightly festooned and lit up in preparation for a community festival, and you’d think the kholi-wallahs might descend any moment and break into a jig.

Not a great pic, I admit!
Not a great pic, I admit!

It being a Friday afternoon, the aangan of this fancy chawl was packed anyway. A table for 2 was luckily available after a 10-minute wait. On to the food then – we quickly ordered a Kori Roti and a Dhansak. The rice crisps, or the Roti of the Kori Roti was not available, so rice was what that was served with.

The gassi of the Kori Roti was fabulous, thin gravy crackling with the flavour of the roasted ground spices – no wonder they offer unlimited gravy servings of this one. Too bad that the rice portion was fairly limited. The chicken was juicy and tender as well – although I couldn’t help feel that with rice, this dish would have rocked more with a couple of fillets of rawas fish instead of chicken! The serving of onion and achaar is well, quirky, but pointless.

Kori Rice!
Kori Rice!

The Dhansak came through when we were halfway through the Kori Rice – I suppose the kitchen is still getting into its groove. Similarly plated and presented, the brown rice seemed to have been cooked with caramelised onion (it definitely tasted that way, our server was too busy to confirm!). The rice looked great, tasted.. ummm.. too sweet – especially for the dhansak gravy, which is not spicy. The dhansak was beautifully done though, with the creamy pumpkin and potato powered gravy carrying a gentle aroma of spices and the mutton. And the mutton – aah, it was wonderfully tender and delicious. The overly sweet rice was an unfortunate partner on the plate though. The salad and the pickle? Unwarranted. I’d prefer a papad!

Mutton dhansak and sweet onion rice
Mutton dhansak and sweet onion rice

Once we were done, there was no delay in getting the bill – the chawl-wallahs were continuing to line up you see! You should definitely go (we plan to be back there soon) – keep in mind that Social works better when you are feeling more social, in other words, have a large group and are going at a more alcohol friendly time!


Start-up? Shut down please

Yes I realise the headline does not make for good reading. Alright, at least pivot please! Confused? Let me explain.

I popped into my neighbourhood Dunkin’ Donuts this week to pick up some donuts for the evening. I discovered a box of ‘DunkyDoos’, a six-pack of smaller sized donuts, at a much more repeat-worth price. I picked the flavours I wanted and asked the guy at the counter to box them up and walked over to pay. It might have been uneventful from here on if I’d not seen the guy placing the donuts on the lid of the box. I sparked chaos by pointing out that it might be better if the donuts were placed properly. 4 variously uniformed workers converged to set things right, amid some mumbled apologies. As I waited for the confusion to settle, I glanced up at the menu, and spotted ‘Bangalore Start-up Coffee’, in a list of new coffees.

Let me disclose right away that I’m not a coffee connoisseur, I don’t drink it often, and I can’t tell my Arabica from French Press (now that was all wrong wasn’t it?) I do love the generic aroma of coffee, and gravitate toward other coffee flavoured foods, such as ice-cream, all the time. And among coffee, I know 3 broad flavours – the instant coffee (aka Nescoffee), the cappuccino at the chain coffee shop, and South Indian filter coffee. The last named is my favourite kind of coffee to drink, and Delhi isn’t the easiest place to find a decent cup of filter coffee. True, there are a few places that serve a mean cup, Karnataka Food Centre in RK Puram for example, but in general good filter coffee in Delhi is found a minimum of 10 km apart.

The name sparked hope in my mind and I asked the cashier, who confirmed, to my delight, that Bangalore Start-up Coffee was indeed South Indian filter coffee. I immediately asked for one, to add to my DunkyDoos order (now settled snugly in the box the right way up). I walked out with my cup of Start-up coffee, tingling with anticipation and happy thoughts. As I waited for it to cool, I took a small sniff, and the lovely aroma of filter coffee wafted out.


That was it. It was all downhill from there on. From the first sip onwards, it was a fruitless search for filter coffee as I’ve known it. The funny thing was, it didn’t taste like any other coffee, or any coffee at all. All I got was a hot brown liquid, with a hint of sweetness and the occasional fragrance of the cardboard cup to go along with it. There is a fourth type of coffee flavour I’m familiar with, not mentioned above. It is the ‘wedding coffee’ – spat and coughed out by rusty ‘espresso’ machines at wedding banquets, especially up North. It is hot, sweet, milky, and has cocoa powder sprinkled on for flavour. Even if you haven’t come across this specimen, you can tell that it barely qualifies as coffee. After a few sips of the Start-up coffee, I began to think kindly of ‘wedding coffee’ (not going so far as to actually want it though).

Suffice to say, I poured the half of the coffee down the drain, to follow the money I’d spent on it. And instead of filter coffee on my palate, I had questions swirling in my head – such as, why does it continue to be so hard to get decent filter coffee in Delhi; who tasted this coffee at Dunkin Donuts before they approved it; was the cashier wrong in confirming that Bangalore start-up coffee was filter coffee, when it is designed to be sludge, to remind you that you are now in a start-up and don’t have money to buy a wedding coffee even; is this actually the coffee drunk at start-ups in Bangalore, and is that the reason the start-up space is in much trouble recently, and suchlike.

Dunkin Donuts has done some wonderful stuff since they’ve been here. Not least is to take a name that encourages people to dunk donuts in coffee, and establish a premium chain burger (and sandwiches etc) brand with it. That’s quite something – and I do enjoy the burgers at Dunkin. But this Bangalore start-up coffee? Not their proudest moment.

Back to Mamagoto – in a new location

Mamagoto – the ‘fun Asian eating’ place, opened recently in Vasant Kunj, at the DLF Promenade mall. It occupies the site recently vacated by Tasty Tangles – so there seems to be some Oriental karma about the location.

Catching up with friends took me to the Promenade mall over the weekend and we came upon Mamagoto at lunch time, with a crowd milling around the entrance. A waiting period of about 45 minutes later (during which time we downed a couple of beers and sushi plates at Izakaya, down the corridor), we were ushered in. I’d written about Mamagoto a couple of posts back (or at my current blog-rate, a couple of months ago). The somewhat mixed results of the food, but the overall good feeling from the previous visit made me want to try them again – and ensure that the order comprised new dishes.

The vibe here is decidedly muted – the vibrant colours and buzz of the Khan Market location aren’t quite there yet. Possibly, having to set up on the remains of an earlier restaurant may have limited them in terms of layout and permanent fixtures. The food however, was better. The Thai green curry was richly aromatic, and a lovely colour and texture consisting of the coconut milk and generous portions of lemongrass (If you want a more diluted taste, just add more rice!). The lamb massaman curry was creamy and sumptuous too, although it could have done with more spice and bite, and a little less cocounut milk. The lamb, a little inconsistent, had some chewy little pieces. I did not try the pan-fried noodle bowl that one of us ordered – I’m told it had nothing to complain about apart from being a little bland (that’s easily remedied right?).

While there’s work to be done on amping up the fun score here, it is still worth dropping by if one is around. Let’s hope the location works out better for Mamagoto than it did for the previous occupants.

A warm and hearty pocket-of-Pita

Pita Pocket 5

Here’s a quick note to recommend the ‘Pita Pocket‘ sandwich (seen above) at Cafe Turtle as a must-try. I will roll the caveat here – for those who are unaware, Cafe Turtle serves vegetarian food. There, that’s the big ‘gastro-mental’ hurdle to overcome. I usually find myself proximate to a Cafe Turtle only when I’m at the excellent Full Circle bookshop (which as a bookshop, is as omnivorous as they come). The last time around, I was not only near Cafe Turtle in the aforesaid manner, I was also near starvation.

The ‘Pita Pocket’ appears near the bottom of the list of Mains at the cafe, and offers a pita bread filled with falafel, lettuce and tomato, with tzatziki dressing. The sandwich was indeed filled with the promised goodness – the bread warm, soft and crumbly crisp, with the lettuce and tomato inside still crunchy. The falafel (2 of them), made with cottage cheese and bulgur wheat (from the menu, not that I could tell while eating it) were warm, dense and melt-y. I would have loved some more of the delicious tzatziki – drizzled liberally as it was on the outside, there was none inside. While it helped preserve the integrity of the stuff inside the ‘pocket’, a bit of tzatziki on the side would only have helped. Maybe I should have asked? So once again, here’s the hero of the piece.

Pita Pocket
Pita Pocket – Cafe Turtle

Hungry as I was, as you can see, I was unable to take a shot of the full sandwich. And I had to quickly take this picture before my other hand reached out for a second bite.

Mamagoto – go for the food, stay for the vibe

Chiang Mai train station noodles1

A few weeks back, when the summer in Delhi had still not bared its fangs, we were in Khan Market one weekend evening for a long planned visit to the excellent Full Circle bookshop, followed by dinner in the neighbourhood. And so it was that after the books were bought, we (self, the wife and the two girls) wandered desultorily in Khan Market’s middle arc – the one that most of the restaurants and cafes open their doors to. A few minutes of wandering among sated happy diners and others purposefully striding to their dinner reminded us to decide quickly, it being Saturday evening and nearly rush hour for the dinner crowd. Quickly scanning the lane for a place we had not been to before, Mamagoto (promising ‘fun Asian eating’) caught the eye.

We walked up the narrow flight of stairs wondering how the place was going to deliver the ‘fun’ along with Asian eating. As we reached the first floor (they have another above), the hubbub of a busy, happy cafe hit us. Bright and colourful, looking packed to the gills with chattering customers and waiters snaking to and fro, it looked promising – the only question was, would we find a table? Luckily there was one, and a nice location too – a table for 3 in one corner with a view (ok, of the lane outside and the car park). The place had a casual, cafe-like air, more buzz-y than relaxed, and with no overt Chinese or Oriental restaurant trappings. A waiter sauntered by soon enough, greeted and introduced himself, and handed us the menu.

The menu was interesting, riffing on flavours and techniques across the Orient. To begin with, we ordered a spicy fried calamari to go with a Mojito and a glass of white wine. It turned out to be a great choice of appetiser. The calamari was crisp on the outside, and chewy yet tender as you bit through and spicy enough without overwhelming the rest of the flavours.

Spicy fried calamari
Spicy fried calamari

As we munched through what soon started looking like a meagre serving (!) it was time to order the mains. It being our first visit to Mamagoto, we wanted to sample as wide a variety across the menu as was possible for two adults and a kid (our younger daughter is a little more a year old and so doesn’t count, yet. She spent most of the evening on the windowsill – they have only one high chair for kids and it was taken – or wandering about, looking at large noisy human beings at other tables). We decided to go for an Indonesian grilled chicken with coriander and peanut dip for our elder one, and a teriyaki meal in a bowl with chicken and Chiang Mai train station noodles for us. The name of the last dish was too much to resist, and it promised a khao-suey style preparation – so I guess we couldn’t go wrong.

The grilled chicken was excellent, with the smokey notes of ‘tikka-ed’ chicken mixing well with the slightly sweet and pungent sauce it was cooked with. The dip was nice too, and I used it later to add flavour to my teriyaki meal as well.

Indonesian grilled chicken
Indonesian grilled chicken

The teriyaki and Chiang Mai train station noodles took a while longer to arrive. While we waited, we sipped our drinks and longingly looked at the now empty fried calamari bowl, and wondered if it made sense to order another portion. And while the wine was great, the Mojito was served with ice cubes, instead of crushed ice – not sure that was an innovation that added much. Our friendly waiter was difficult to trace, and when he finally arrived to tell us that the rest of the food was almost ready, he introduced himself again. Blame it on a busy night I guess.

Teriyaki Chicken in a Bowl
Teriyaki Chicken in a Bowl

The teriyaki meal in a bowl was nice enough, with a hearty taste albeit a little low on flavour. The serving was generous and so towards the second half of the bowl I found myself reaching for the peanut and coriander dip to add some spice.

Chiang Mai train station noodles

The Chiang Mai train station noodles were a little disappointing – not bad mind you, but did not quite hit the notes we were expecting it to. Overall, it seemed sweeter and more tangy than it should have been, and low on the rich flavour of coconut milk (Maybe the coconuts are expensive at Chiang Mai station?). The sauce in which the noodles were cooked was quite thick, a little too many fried onions, and heavy on turmeric. Maybe the sub-conscious comparison with khao-suey affected this unfairly, but the balance of the dish seemed a little off.

The buzz at the place was great throughout, with large happy groups of friends and families at most tables – the crowd starting to thin out only around the time we were leaving. Asian eating it was, with hearty portions and certainly a sense of fun. I would certainly go back for the calamari, the Indonesian grilled chicken, and to try some of the other interesting offerings on the menu.

Rating: 3.6/5