Here’s why it was the unanimous choice for the Best New Restaurant category at the Epicurean Guild Award.
When we see reviews touting The Druid Garden as the King of North (Bengaluru) and find that it is rated exceptionally high on Zomato, we’re intrigued and yet, wary. Our recent travels have taken us to London and New York, champions of the culinary world, and we find ourselves consistently underwhelmed by the restaurants in the city. But I’ll be honest, with its impeccably dressed staff, view of the open sky through a retractable roof and a floor paved with fired bricks, The Druid Garden had us at ‘hello’.
I am, however, distracted by a huge screen playing the cricket match and I am worried it’s a permanent fixture. “This is only for the IPL. We don’t intend to have it around,” Amit Gowda, founder of the restaurant, reassures me in a later conversation. “Why not?” I probe. “It’s too gimmicky,” he shoots back with surprising self-assurance for a new restaurateur.
But then, Gowda’s family owns the famous Urvashi Theatre in south Bengaluru, where it still stands, a few meters away from the iconic and the original Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, better known as MTR these days. “It’s a small hall with zero frills serving exceptional and authentic south Indian fare,” says Gowda who grew up passing through the endless queues outside MTR, “People will come to you if you serve good food.”
On first impression, what also sets the restaurant apart is its expansive space, which I am told can hold over 300 visitors. Space, is one of the reasons Gowda tells me, The Druid Garden is situated in an unassuming suburb of north Bengaluru; far from the trendy hotspots of Indiranagar and Koramangala.
While Gowda wants to make food the focal point, The Druid Garden is not devoid of ‘frills’. Far from it, the restaurant is full of details, both small and large, that will attract Bengaluru’s swish set. For instance, there is a lovely bar with a view of large, metallic beer tanks that form the in-house brewery, a wood-fired grill & oven, as well as an array of indoor plants, including hibiscus and lemongrass spread across the 32,000 sq ft area.
As I sip on my Smoking Pistol mocktail - pineapple and orange with smoked rosemary, done at the table with a handheld food smoker - Chef Hemant Kumar tells me that the grill is “one-of-a-kind from Grillworks Inc USA, and we’re really proud to work with it.” A quick glance through some of the online reviews tells us that the wood-fired pizzas are frequently appreciated.
The Druid Garden is a quintessential multicuisine restaurant. Purists may scoff but we were pleased to see a mix of Italian, Middle-Eastern, Mexican, Asian and Indian on the menu. But will the food pass the taste test? For starters or small plates, we ordered the Mezze Platter and on the server’s recommendation, also got the Chipotle Vegetable Tacos. The chickpea hummus in the platter was alright but the muhammarra - a walnut & red pepper-based spicy Levantine dip - was simply divine. There were enough pita bread triangles for four people, but between the two of us, we got through all of them pretty quickly. The tacos that came with mushroom, corn, cheese and a herb mix (gremolata) were also a hit with us.
Earlier in the evening, a lovely hostess seated us at a small, brighter section that overlooks the grill and the more dimly-lit bar. As a couple with an infant we were happy to vicariously enjoy the bar scene. We watched young ‘uns sipping fancy cocktails on high stools and yet, didn’t feel out of place in the unofficial family enclave that had other attention-seeking noisy infants (and yes, the menu also features a kid’s section). As Gowda later walks me through the restaurant, I notice that there are more sections to choose from - there is a closed room that can also be booked for private parties; a staircase leads to yet another space overlooking the bar and one flight up, the terrace, I am told, will soon offer seating amidst palm and lemon trees.
As our main course arrives, the music gets louder and more people start streaming in. I have opted for the tagliatelle pasta with assorted mushrooms; button, shiitake & porcini. The tagliatelle is surprisingly and delightfully freshly made. This is later confirmed by the General Manager, Niharika Raval, who says, “We make our own pastas in-house from scratch. We make over 40 types of pastas currently and can make a lot more. Regularly we have spaghetti, tagliatelle, penne, fettuccine, maccheroni, conchiglie, rigatoni, bucatini, fusilli and various raviolis to choose from. We keep changing the offering every week but also have popular ones on offer always.”
Just when we’re confident, we can’t be impressed anymore, our server swoops in with dessert. We get the Orchard Fresh, which is three scoops of freshly made (seriously!) artisanal ice-cream. The flavours change frequently; we were served salt and butter caramel, fig and olive oil, strawberry mascarpone. The fig & olive oil was simply outstanding, while I thought the other flavours were slightly too sweet.
Our other choice was the Unbeliever’s Dessert which has black sesame cake with lemon curd, miso butterscotch, lemon foam, caramel tuille and another fantastically done ice-cream in coconut and kaffir lime flavour. Honestly, they could have skipped all the jazz and just given us the ice-cream. It was that good.
While we’re impressed with the general high standards, there was one little detail that stole our hearts - the crockery. Hand on heart, I haven’t been served in such lovely plates and bowls anywhere in Bengaluru or even in other cities in the country. While touring the kitchen, I casually picked up a plate for closer inspection and flipped it over to see ‘Steelite - Made in England’. The ceramic crockery is in pastel shades and is rustic in a trendy way.
“We ordered them a year in advance, before the restaurant opened,” Gowda tells me. Now, here’s a restaurateur who is truly paying attention. The bar is set real high, will other Bengaluru restaurants give up their afternoon niddes (siesta) and at least try?
Images courtesy: The Druid Garden
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