212 All Day Café Bar is a chic café style restaurant that just opened up in Phoenix MarketCity. Part of the Phoenix Mills family, it is bound to become the new hot spot for foodies in Pune, especially with shopping season upon us.
The café has a fun aspect which is evident in the décor and ambience. There is outdoor seating too, with a shamiana type section for slightly more privacy for a large group. Although their bar license hasn’t arrived yet, the mocktails section deserves mention too. I made inroads into it right away with the Morning After, a non-alcoholic take on the classic Bloody Mary. Salted on the rim, it was tangy and slightly bitter as expected.
Chef Paul Kinny spearheads several top restaurants in Mumbai and Pune is blessed to have a chef of this caliber at the helm of the menu at 212 All Day Café Bar. An extensive menu was handed over to us, and I mentally loosened my belt at the prospect of tasting so many dishes. Thankfully, I only eat vegetarian.
As a vegetarian, my secret anxiety at such events is whether there will be something substantial to eat. The café won me over right away with its plentiful choice of vegetarian food. Chef Paul’s attention to detail was evident and vegetarians will be glad to know that he gives as much, if not more attention to designing the veggie menu at hisrestaurants.
Considering the large number of items tasted, I am just going to go through them in a list form.
The café offers tapas style ‘Small Plates’ which are great when you want to sample several things.
Beer Battered Onion Rings
The rings were crispy and crunchy and not greasy at all which is nice. They were served with a barbecue sauce and the smoky sweet sauce was a nice variation on plain old ketchup. I ate just one of these so can’t comment on more than their texture, especially since there is so much more ahead.
Truffle and Roasted Garlic Hummus
The hummus was served with a truffle oil drizzle, pita chips and zaatar dust. Pita chips are hard to find and these did not look like what I expected but they had a nice snap and were perfect to scoop up the creamy hummus. Lately, I have noticed that hummus tends to have a lot of tahini so you taste a lot of the sesame seeds. The hummus at 212 All Day Café Bar was closer to what I make at home, and had more of the robust chickpea flavor. I also liked that there were plenty of olives to munch on.
Nachos were corn chips served with salsa, guacamole and sour cream. The nacho chips were perfect, made with yellow corn meal. I was not too taken with the salsa or the guacamole. I think this may have been the only dish that I actually was not keen on. If you have read my salsa recipe, or my quesadilla recipe, you will know what I mean. There is definitely a gap between what I call Mexican food and what is served as Mexican in Pune restaurants.
The crumbling crostini is a super fun concept. Just forget what comes to mind when you think crostini. There is no bread here, French, Italian or otherwise. The base is a square of puff pastry, or khari biscuit that crumbles into pieces as you bite into it – hence the name. Kids will love this, but wait, a special kids’ menu is also coming up soon at 212 All Day Café Bar.
The crostini topping was a simple paneer and tomato in a basil pesto or dip. Tangy and fresh, it easily cut through any richness from the puff pastry base.
My aversion for anything that starts with ‘cig’ is well known. But I think I might just have to make an exception here. These Western Cigarillos are the spring roll’s younger sibling. I think almost every restaurant has a variation of these on the menu and they are sure to satisfy the fried food loving crowd. So Chili’s has their Southwestern Rolls, Hard Rock Café has their Santa Fe Spring Rolls, and 212 All Day Café Bar has the Western Cigarillos.
I ignored these for a long time thinking they were chicken, but bit into one when I realized they were not. The phyllo had lost some of the crunch by that time and they were cold, but still delicious. Light on the filling, you will get equal amounts of the crispy cover and the filling in one bite.
Pan Seared Cottage Cheese
Although vegetarians say they are tired of finding too much paneer on menus, they still want their daily protein. Right? Coated with a smoky, sweet and spicy barbecue style sauce, this paneer will kick your taste buds alive. The chili and garlic is going to make spice lovers happy. Served on a bed of lettuce, the sauce to paneer ratio is perfect and I am glad it is not deep fried. I think this is more of a fusion item than others and the flavors are more familiar to the Indian palate.
Spicy House Special Pizza
The flatbread pizzas are thin crust perfection. Stringy cheese, a crisp crust and plenty of toppings, this is the menu item that should please the pickiest eater. It is also a lower calorie and lower carb option compared to the doughy pan crusts, so if you want to indulge but still have some damage control, this would be a good choice.
The salad section was fantastic and although I would have loved a vegetarian Caesar, the other two salads I tasted more than made up for it.
Watermelon and Goat Cheese Stack
Salad lovers will find this so refreshing! A tower of watermelon fingers placed on some rocket, drizzled with a balsamic glaze with soft goat cheese crumbled on top. Toasted almonds provided the requisite crunch and an orange segment some tart flavor. This is one salad that you should go for just to try the tastes and the flavor combinations.
Spiced Arugula and Feta Salad
Bitter arugula is well complemented with candied walnuts which are sweet and crunchy, and the tart thin slices of a green apple and sweet and sour orange segments all come together to form a party in your mouth. I just loved this salad, and it is hard to explain the tastes. Sometimes you just run out of adjectives, so the next time you go here, just order the salad for me.
Another mocktail I tried was the watermelon fizz which was very refreshing. The fresh watermelon base had just enough sparkle and the muddled mint added more freshness.
Soup shots were tried and although I had just a sip or two of these, the taste still lingers.
When you hear cappuccino, you know there is some kind of foam involved. Mushroom lovers have to go for this. Three types of mushrooms come together to give an intense mushroom flavor. The sliver of toasted bread served with it was perfect too.
Mexican Tomato and bean Soup
Robust and bursting with tomato flavors, this had some beany bits so you could sip and chew it. I liked the variation in the texture here. Sometimes, when you drink soup, you miss chewing on something, and that is taken care of here. I can just go with a big bowl of this soup as a meal. But it worked great as a teaser too.
Garden Deluxe Sliders
I love sliders. I can’t think of them without thinking of Harold and Kumar, going on a nostalgic trip in my mind, and then coming back to reality with a jerk, realizing Kal Penn now works in the White House. What a journey from Whitecastle to Whitehouse!! You never know, right? I go through this chain of thought every single time I think ‘slider’. How trite am I, right?
So anyhoo, I love sliders, the veggie ones i.e, and I recently made some awesome beetroot sliders that I haven’t blogged about yet. These Garden Deluxe Sliders took me to slider heaven. You can make short work of these in two or three bites. Crunchy patty, tasty dressing, fresh toppings, you have them all here. The side salad is actually a salad with dressing (and not the one leaf of lettuce, one piece of tomato and onion sans seasoning that I was served in a very popular café recently), the fries are fresh and you are set to satisfy all your burger cravings.
I would rather eat 3-4 of these than one single burger.
The mains or entrees are called Large Plates and these offered some good items too.
Cottage Cheese Steak
I was very eager to find out what the pepper coulis entailed. The steak was actually a patty and not just a chunk or slab of marinated paneer that I expected. The steak was light and fluffy and I wonder how that was achieved. The grilled vegetables were perfectly crisp and smoky. This is a nice option for a vegetarian main course and relatively light too.
Penne with Sundried Tomato Crème
Pasta lovers have a nice hearty dish here with bold flavors. The sundried tomatoes give strong tomato flavors but the sauce is creamy enough. Parmesan and broccoli florets combine well. This dish had less of a wow factor for me because it is almost a regular on the weekly menu at home. But if you are new to pasta, and want to try it yet not succumb to the milder Continental flavors, this dish will get you home.
Risotto Al Funghi
I dread ordering risotto. My one experience ordering it was enough to turn me off it. So I had zero expectations. But Chef Paul’s creation took me to the other end of the spectrum. The earthy mushroom flavors dominated this dish which was just creamy enough with the right bite. So neither saucy nor overcooked, with just the right amount of cream, parmesan, and hint of white wine, this risotto was my most favorite dish of the evening.
After gorging on so much, how can one have room for dessert? By having a humonguous sweet tooth, that’s how.
The Tiramisu Cake, carrot cake and the Triple Mud Cake all provided the sweet touch to top off a great tasting experience.
No Carb Spaghetti
We are not quite done yet, because the chef presented the most unique item on their menu – the No Carb spaghetti! Zoodles have been very popular across food blogs for years. And they are more prominent among raw food enthusiasts. Colorful ribbons of zucchini, squash and carrots are tossed in some olive oil and garlic and adorned with some almonds and olives. This is one pasta you can indulge in without worrying about your waist line, or how much flour you are ingesting. So raw, gluten free, vegan, low carb – this pasta will check the boxes for most health food enthusiasts.
Chef Paul Kinny provided helpful insights into the food. I was glad to know that two more restaurants are coming up at Phoenix Market City, and they will both have Chef Paul at their helm.