Three days after The Pantry opened, it seems that Kala Ghoda, perhaps even Mumbai, has been itching for a place like this. We visited on the second day for a late lunch, only to be turned away. Throngs of customers had descended earlier that morning and the food had been polished off within hours. On the next day, it was the middle of the week, and it was lunch time, but at The Pantry, one look at the crowds and you could be fooled into thinking it was a Sunday.
A large metal sign above the open takeaway counter says, among other things, “Time is your friend when you're at The Pantry.” This is true. It was noisy, loud with chatter and busy, with slow service. However, we were only too happy to lazily linger around. There’s something calming about this room with its cool cement flooring, mushroom-brown panels, cushioned window-sill seats and white walls. Large windows with awnings and low curtains let in plenty of soft natural light, and cool, retro round metal switches dot the walls at waist level. These switches look like a charming design element, but they’re all meant to be used; the café offers free wi-fi.
The two-page menu features mostly European-style fare, but it’s hardly meagre. There are breakfast pastries, specials (served all day), pies, quiches, salads, sandwiches, mains, juice blends, and hot and cold drinks. The Pantry prides itself on being a place that respects the provenance of good quality local ingredients. A board by the counter has little notes naming the farms from which they get honey, eggs, cheese, and so on. Indeed, the “homemade lemonade” tasted like it had never seen the inside of a bottle.
I got a short glass of the drink. At first, it was disappointing, considering the price is R95 for such a tiny bit. But it contained an implosion of lemonade — very intense, perfectly sour and sweet. Any more would have been too much. The Fresh Meltdown sandwich — sharp, salty gorgonzola paired with sliced sweet and juicy red apple stuffed in between toasted, crusty multigrain bread — could be a light meal in itself, but we’d have been happier if the toast didn't leave our palates feeling scraped. Little bowls of homemade wholegrain mustard — which was not too sharp, slightly creamy and did indeed look homemade — and rich tomato relish broke the monotony of eating the sandwich. Our main, perfectly flaky and moist fillet of seared rawas sitting on thick, chunky carrot and tomato stew, was full of fresh flavour.
Freshness seems to matter, and tweaks are still being made in the kitchen. A friend eating the Sammy — pulled pork in brioche — found the bread better than it was on the day before, when it was doughy and dense. The cinnamon brûlée oat porridge with bananas would have been perfect minus a couple of tablespoons of sugar. The flourless 70% cocoa chocolate cake was flawless. Few would want to share it with their dining companions.
The Pantry is a worthy addition to its lovely and lively Kala Ghoda neighbourhood. Its food and its space will see many loyalists in the coming months.
(HT pays for all meals and events, and reviews anonymously)