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The SECRET of a garden café



Feast on an enticing medley of wholesome, homemade food that varies from day to day. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar

IF YOU'RE whizzing by Ulsoor lake on a hot afternoon, there's a hideaway you might want to visit. Step into the relocated Ambara outlet, browse through the heritage Utsav handlooms and stylish OMO outfits indoors, check out the lucky bamboos on sale. And then — voila! — you could stumble upon the Secret Garden Café, tucked away behind the bustle.

Its bright red, ikkat-cushioned chairs and check-draped tables can seem like an oasis within our frenetic city. That's just what Nirada Harendra would wish for it, ever since its launch in January last year. For, this popular French teacher at the local Alliance Francaise and former Titan designer has surprises up her sleeve as she multitasks in her new avatar.

Listening to water trickling through a clay pot arrangement, then a delicate tinkling of wind chimes, you allow the ambience to sink in under the sun umbrellas. Surrounded by potted palms, you mull over a terracotta acrylic mural, alive with a parachute-borne bovine creature, butterflies and bees, and other city sights transformed by artists C.F. John and Aziz T.M.

Inevitably, you study the blackboard menu, to find an enticing medley of wholesome, homemade food that varies from day to day. Basically a choice of quiches, tarts or crepes, wholewheat sandwiches, salads, cakes, fresh juices, tea and coffee — and magazines to browse through.

A hungry shopper asks for the Greek salad of feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, and capsicum, dressed with an oregano-parsley-mint vinaigrette (Rs. 45). Not too fussy, it proves perfect for a post-lunch life. Teamed with fresh watermelon juice (Rs. 20), it beats the midday blues.

Another diner tries the broccoli tart, bright with the bite of sun-dried tomatoes (Rs. 50). Served with a fresh green salad, she exclaims over its crisp crust and unusual filling.

I try the red bean salad, redolent of sweet corn, red and yellow peppers (Rs. 40), unusually garnished with a crisp Gujarati snack that enhances its tangy, crunchy goodness. I reach the bottom of the bowl effortlessly.

A tuna sandwich (Rs. 75) follows. What could be new about that? The three hefty wholewheat slices on my plate spill over with chunky fish, fresh lettuce, sweet red peppers — and olives! Moistened with homemade mayonnaise, it is a treat with crisps for a contrasting tastebud texture.

The day's other sandwich fillings included Gouda cheese, cucumber and lettuce (Rs. 55), a herby egg mayonnaise (Rs. 40), chicken mayonnaise (Rs. 65), and smoked ham, tomatoes and lettuce (Rs. 65).

If you arrive on a crepe day, you might find unusual fillings such as roasted peppers with mozzarella cheese, or spinach and sweetcorn with a hint of chilli-garlic, or even mushrooms and asparagus in a Bechamel sauce.

The café's goodies include carrot cake with raisins and walnuts, a chocolate almond cake with fudge icing, a chocolate torte or even an apricot-almond cake, each served with vanilla ice-cream (Rs. 30).

What made Nirada branch into this exciting café? "While travelling in the U.S., I loved the family-run cafes that served homemade food. I wanted to create a friendly place, where you could chat to people at the next table," she explains. "Besides, I learnt from a French chef that it's fun to pack a surprise into every dish, such as mango chutney in a salad dressing."

The Secret Garden Café couldn't get much better for a quick lunch on the run. Because its homemade flavours have goodness packed into each bite.

(Secret Garden Café, Ambara, 119 Annaswamy Mudaliar Road, Ulsoor, Bangalore. Phone: 25572829. Open from 10.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m., except Sundays.)

A.D.

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