Two friends I’ve known for long over different periods of time, through a strange quirk of fate or call it karma, get together and start an artisanal café.
What are the chances of this happening to friends you know? I’d say one in a million maybe. I exaggerate and I’m math challenged but you get the point. Pretty high odds I’d say.
Here’s a small back-story on the ladies in question, Smita Satyanath and Nirada Harendra.
Many lazy holidays and Sunday afternoons were spent in the quaint bungalow of the Harendra family, downing beers, lazing about in the courtyard on cane chairs, shooting the breeze and getting increasingly inebriated with a bunch of friends.
The pre-lunch rituals included throwing the ball around and having a bat and a bowl, or playing some catch with an American football, or making holes in the front wall of their house, much to Amie’s irritation, as the beers took their toll on our aim and the dart board appeared to shrink.
Amie, the patriarch of the family and Nirada’s mother, is a natural born cook who comes from a lineage of great cooks, and has some enjoyable recipes tucked away in her vault of culinary treasures and I’ve eaten some of my delicious-est meals in their home.
Every great cook has a special, and Amie’s all time greatest is Pandi curry. Pork cooked the Coorgi way, fatty fleshed chunks of meat cooked slowly for hours in a bunch of spices that she would not reveal to us ‘happy’ lot for love or money.
Nirada, besides being a good cook herself, did manage to glean the recipe of this ‘special’ one day and it is rumoured that alcohol and a voluntary game of bridge were involved in the coaxing process.
Smita, who I first met in Madras (Chennai) many moons ago on a short stint there, showed me around town with her boyfriend Vikram who was a colleague at work. Madras was a sleepy city those days and nightlife and clubbing was limited to the five star hotels. They introduced me to the food, however, which at times was a tongue numbing experience.
After losing touch with her for a bit, she reappeared in Bangalore where I was at the end of a ten-year stint, newly married. Smita and Vikram’s first home was a hike up a slope that ended in a typical Bangalore style pastry coloured house with each room in a different colour.
And Sundays were the days when we’d get together and have a cook-in, either at their home or mine, and the beauty of these free flowing days was that they began with a generous pour before any cooking would commence.
Recipes were changed midway, often caused by a bit too much of the tipple, but lunches were delicious and Smita had the gift of putting together an outstanding meal regardless while I tended to get impatient. Patience is often a virtue that good cooks have, I learnt.
Those were good days in Bangalore. The city still had sprawling colonial mansions on wide, tree-lined avenues with green open spaces between ‘layouts’ and I used to wait for the Jacaranda blooms impatiently.
I left as the change was beginning. Bangalore, on its path to being a metropolis, has become choked with traffic and boasts of some of the ugliest architecture east of anywhere. The weather is still a saving grace, however.
And unknown to me, Nirada met Smita.
Secret Garden Café
It’s a bit of a find, and, it’s a breath of calm and fresh air in a bustling noisy traffic laden neighbourhood, which is why they decided to call it the Secret Garden Café.
In a cul-de-sac in a quiet(er) by lane in the centre of Bangalore, you walk up metal stairs to reach the terrace of a house that belongs to a friend of theirs.
It’s calm and quiet, and the terrace is filled with lots of plants – their secret garden – and the sound of birds mixed with a warm sun can be quite welcome on a cool Bangalore day.
Nirada and Smita bring their combined culinary skills to play here. It’s food that they like to eat that they serve. In Nirada’s words, “flavoursome, fresh, non stodgy/non greasy food across various cuisines”.
They take turns shopping but when it comes to manning the Café’s kitchen, both are on duty every day. They love turning out a selection of eclectic dishes that is part of their menu du jour.
While both rustle up main course dishes according to their expertise, Nirada likes giving salads a new turn and Smita loves demonstrating her affinity for a sweet tooth.
On a typical day, they have light sandwiches and pastas and the blackboard lists the specials. It often includes:
Choice of salads: Avocado, fig, tomato, pear, cacciota cheese, fennel and walnuts; an oriental with greens, shitake mushroom, orange and caramelized walnuts; ham, mozzarella cheese, fig, and almonds.
Vegetarian, main course: Home made fettuccine tossed in olive oil and garlic with assorted vegetables; Moroccan tagine with couscous; paella verduras; cannelloni; Sri Lankan stew with string hoppers and bitter gourd salad.
Non-vegetarian, main course: Sea food paella; baked crab meat; fish filet with dill and wine sauce; chicken filet with fiery Tuscan sauce or a basil pesto sauce; stuffed quesadillas served with sour cream; steak with mustard mushroom sauce; Amie’s special Coorg pandi curry with sannas.
Desserts: Apple crumble with ice cream; crème brûlée; Sister Hedwig’s Swiss chocolate cake; passion fruit cheese cake with blueberry compote.
The food is excellent and their passion for cooking comes through immediately as you dig in. Totally good on you Nirada and Smita, you have done what I’ve always longed to.
This happy place should definitely be an entry in your Bangalore culinary diary.
Secret Garden Café – 7/1 Edward Road, Off Queen’s Road, Bangalore 560052. Tel: +91 (080) 4113 1365. Open Monday to Saturday, Noon – 4 pm.