I went to Pepper, a much-touted bistro in a quiet lane behind nothing much in swanky Chanakyapuri, determined to like it. I had heard that it was a quaint little eatery with a small, carefully thought out menu.
The hotel where Pepper is located, feels like a western movie set. You expect tumbleweeds to come down its barren garden on a quiet Sunday. It is in an unexpected place and will suffer the lack of passing footfall although the very chatty manager did tell us that they have quite the influx of diplomats. On Sunday we were the only ones there.
The restaurant is at the entrance of the hotel. And you have a choice of downstairs or upstairs seating. To get upstairs, you need to hoist yourself up a steep, narrow curved staircase. You can only do this holding the wall. They have thoughtfully lit up each thread but it is still hazardous. If you’ve been drinking, you navigate this at your peril. And, I would imagine that it has been responsible for many mishaps in its earlier avatar as the Pegs and Pints pub.
The view from two picture windows is potentially charming. Right now it looks out onto a caked, dusty garden but they have a vision of greening it or turning into a pebbled courtyard for al fresco dining. It will be very pretty. When it is greened.
The menu is printed on a large wooden board, featuring a smattering of dishes — everything from Lebanese mezze dishes to pasta to kebabs to simply-styled grilled meats or seafood.
The wine selection is good and well priced but many reds were not available. The selection of other drinks, including beer, better than most. For starters, we wanted the Frito Misto de Mare (Rs550), the idea of battered calamari and prawns sounding just the thing to pair with an Italian beer, Birra Moretti. Alas, they had no calamari but we went ahead with just the prawns. The prawns were nicely cooked, plump and tasty but the batter was more a smatter of crumbs than nice coating of crisp carb.
A Lahem Shish Kebab (Rs395) was a tasty serving of little pitas with ground lamb patties. A lovely snack for the nicely crisp beer. The sesame dip this came with, was okay but the pickles were a little strange tasting, too much of some unidentifiable pickling spice. Our third starter, the Spanish cheese croquettes (so named because of the salsa served with it) was tasty enough but again very bar snackish.
Ordering our mains proved a trial as the wait staff fluffed about trying to work out whether tenderloin was available for the burger. After some to-ing and fro-ing down those precarious steps, we were informed that it was. So it was ordered. It did not come. What did was a serving of Tenderloin steak (Rs550), a very generous serving of fillet on polenta (which had been requested) , grilled vegetables, a baked potato and red wine jus. It was alright. Having filled up on the starters, it seemed a good idea to make sandwiches out of the fillet using the generous bread basket that had been provided and this provided a nice dinner later.
The New Zealand lamb (Rs1050) was fatty and had got a little cold but was pronounced tasty, probably because of the mound of comforting mash. Dessert is where the whole meal fell apart. We had heard that Pepper’s hot desserts were a highlight. We were asked to order it at the start of the meal to give the kitchen 45 minutes to prepare.
The hazelnut soufflé with chocolate ice cream (Rs395) sounded great so that was ordered. What arrived at our table was a greying porridge with some bits of hazelnut chocolate. This was no light as air, spongy dish. This was a soufflé that seemed as if it had already been eaten and thrown up up on the plate. It was speedily taken away and replaced with a chocolate mousse — a dish of such stodgy heavy stickiness that it was left untouched.
This is not a note on which to end a meal. It makes you resentful that you’re coughing up Rs8830 (including a Rs 3200 bottle of wine) for what is essentially a bistro meal.