Friday, February 3, 2012

Of Non-Halal Pizza and Liquor-filled Dessert/Papa John's and 5enses!

It's been a while since I did a review. Most restaurants tend to let me down by serving substandard food (arty-farty alert) and take all of my money. True story. And I really don't like trashing people who work with food and health care.

The fact that all of the photos and reviews of the places I've been to are from a few months back is another matter. What if they've gone downhill or decided to clean up their act (the latter is highly unlikely) since then?

So, I'm doing a quick review of a couple of places The W and I went to, less than 48 hours back.

The W is one of your typical born-and-brought-up-in-Saudi kids. He can wax eloquent on the cheesiness of Burger King's double-patty burgers and the crispiness of Al-Baik's chicken nuggets. But what he really, really misses are the pizzas.

I don't mean the fancy wood-fired thin crust pizzas you get at The Park or Tuscana. I'm referring to the American-origin chain-restaurants' DeepDish/Pan Pizza concoctions. The ones where you have to search for the toppings with Sherlock Holmes' hand-lens. Not in Saudi, though (according to W, everything is big in Saudi).

Speaking of chain restaurants, Pizza Hut in India is NOT HALAL. I didn't know of this for the longest time. Post-discovery, we had to submit to the rules of Pizza once a month at home and the very occasional Tuscana run.

So when we spotted Papa John's Pizzeria on Nungambakkam High Road (erstwhile Marks & Spencer building), we made a beeline for it. Nobody would expect a non-Halal outlet on an a densely-Kilakarai populated offshoot of Khader Nawaz Khan/Shafee Mohammed/Wallace Garden Road to be lucrative, right?

We weren't sure if it was open, having seen no full-blown advertisements in the papers or the Internet. I pore over the supplements for over an hour each day, savant-style. I'd be one of those people who answers Duggu correctly in The Hindu adverts, except that I'd know about the UPA and Baichung Bhutia as well, because we get three newspapers and I read them like they're going to help me save lives... there's such joy in procrastinating course-material work in favour of knowing what is happening in every body's life.

Back to Papa John's. It looked functional and festive, so we assumed it was open for business. We were told, however, that today was the By-invite-only opening (spotted a couple of Page 3 celebs!) and that they would start in a couple of days. The surprising part was that they invited us to join them anyway, and give our honest opinion.

We gave them our honest opinion then, and I'm giving it now.

We decided to order the Meal for Two, motivated by the photo of the drool-inducing Chicken Sausage Pizza.

Sadly, Papa John's is NOT Halal. The staff told us just in the nick of time. The meat is machine-cut, so there's no assurance. They do not serve Pork, so it was easy to assume that the place is Halal, but, the moral of the story is that it isn't.

Sigh. Is there any point in continuing the review/meal, we wondered. I mean, I'm strong enough. I was practically Vegetarian throughout school, as all but two of my friends were (are) Vegetarian. And by that I mean they haven't ever tried a carrot or mushroom in their lifetimes. I could totally eat corn and cheese in ten different isomeric forms. I can, and I have.

The W? Whose Pathani blood forbids the eating of cattle-feed? Well. Surgical residency has eliminated any last vestige of picky-ness.

We ordered basic things:

The Meal for Two consisted of a medium-sized pizza, potato wedges/chicken wings and two sodas.

We asked for Pepsi. Guess what it tasted like? Pepsi!! When was the last time you've had "fountain" Pepsi that wasn't 75% water and 15% ice? +1.

The wedges were fluffy inside and crisp outside, with a dusting of salt and herbs. I tentatively asked if they were baked. What do you know? Turns out that they are baked! +100. This little snippet of information ensured that I did not share any of it with the W.

You get a jalapeno and a mustard-butter to dip them into. And the ketchup, obviously.

And then came the piece de resistance. The Barbecue Corn Pizza.

Corn, I take back every sarcastic thing I said about you. Can we be friends again?

When baked under a blanket of melty, gooey mozzarella and smothered with a killer Barbecue sauce, you taste pretty fine.

The pizza base was fantastic. I don't know if it's because it was the first base ever baked for a customer in that outlet. It was spongy, doughy, yummy and most importantly, fresh.

The entire meal reminded me of dining out in the '90s. Pizza Hut was the coolest thing to have happened to Madras. Standing in the queue for hours; pitchers of coke, baskets of cheesy garlic bread and pizza doused with oregano and chilli flakes crowding the tiny tables; everybody fighting for the last slice of pizza left over. Some of the best memories I have of family.

I'll repeat: this isn't olive and feta-topped pizza with a herb-infused dough. It's a fresh, delicious version of Chain-Restaurant Pizza with fantastic sauce and generous cheese. All under four-hundred bucks.

Not that they'd take any money from us. The meal was on the house, since we were the first customers (and I mentioned I was a food blogger).

You should take a bunch of teenage boys who've won the Under-16 Basketball tournament there. They'd win more. You should take your little sister and her posse. So they'd have memories like you do. You should take your Madras-bred, non-high maintenance date: a little bit of the late nineties/early noughties environment will ensure you have loads to talk about.

As for us, since we technically didn't spend any money, we decided to splurge on dessert and headed over to 5enses.

The place had a live band playing. The lighting was dim, the setting cozy and possibly, romantic. As for the food:

Really glad we ate quite a bit beforehand, because while the portions of food are very elegant and pretty, they are tiny. Maybe if a whole of bunch of people went, for the sole purpose of having a nice night out and wear their best duds, YES. Not for a hungry person who just returned three back-to-back surgeries or The Girl with Four Stomachs and/or an ?Insulinoma.

Dessert there was a bit of a bust. Most of the dessert had liquor/liqueur in it. The tiramisu had Kahlua. The Cheesecake had Amaretto, and so on. Exasperating after the whole no-meat thing.

Could not leave without any dessert, though. So out of the limited options, W had the Dark Chocolate (Callebaut) Gelato with Callats.

It was GOOD. Costs Rs. 190 for a scoop. With a butterscotch tuille and all.

 Only excusable because it had real Callebaut in it.

I had the Dark Chocolate-Hot Chocolate with butterscotch bits.

It was really, really bad, especially since each millilitre costs 2 bucks (the tiny cup will set you back by Rs. 190). The chocolate hadn't dissolved completely, it was not at ALL dark, the milk wasn't creamy or frothy... it was, quite simply, bad. In retrospect, I should've marched over to the kitchen and taught them how to brew an actual mug of Hot Chocolate (Mocha, I miss you).

However, the place was lovely, the company was lovely (and by that I mean me, of course. Kidding!) and there was free food and chocolate and All's-Well-Ends-Fantastique.


  1. It is pretty crazy how such a big Pizza chain does not serve halal food. And considering the area they are located in it is pretty dumb. They ought to have done their research.

    When we went to Papa John's on Saturday they said the oven wasn't working due to some power shortage and they couldn't serve the pizzas! So depressing it was!

  2. Wow. Excuses on Day Two?! This does not bode well for them at all.

    And honestly, I think everybody assumes without question, that it is Halal, since it seems ludicrous to think otherwise! To cut out 20 percent of the population, possibly 50 percent of their meat-eating clientele? Dumb is right.


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