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Portuguese, by the way

"YOU ARE going to something called 1498 for lunch?" said my friend incredulously. "Hey, that sounds like car number, not a restaurant."

It took some effort to convince him it was indeed the name of a restaurant. He next wanted to know why on earth a restaurant should sound like something you see at the back of a vehicle.

I gave him three clues. It is a Portuguese-theme restaurant. The full name is actually 1498 A.D. It is... "Hang on," he said, apparently catching on. "It is the year Vasco da Gama set foot in India!"

In a city teeming with restaurants, one way to establish a USP is to have a theme restaurant. And if that theme is captured in an intriguing name, it probably adds to the appeal. This coffee shop at Hotel Atria is one of the most popular ones in town, especially for lunch.

Gama galore

Vasco da Gama is all over the place: he stares at you solemnly through a large, bright glass painting that hangs at the entrance. He is on the menu card too, clutching a parchment: probably the map with directions. A large ship sailing on a rough sea, the one Vasco da Gama arrived in (at least, as visualised by the artist), forms the logo of the restaurant.

Large oil paintings with the sea theme fill the walls, while the ceiling has a typical Goan village hut look. It is not all strictly Portuguese, you note. In fact, the generalisation of the theme to the entire west coast spills over into the menu too. There is a large section devoted to these specialities: kori gassi (traditional Mangalorean chicken curry), Karwari-style shrimp curry kolabiche dhabdhabe, Kerala erachi curry, Goan mushroom and baby corn peri-peri, Kerala-style ulli theeyal...

This is Bangalore, and so, there is allowance for one of its favourite cuisines: Andhra. The menu card has a separate section for this list: Nellore chapa kura (the very hot coastal Andhra curry), gutti vankaya kura (the vegetarian baby aubergines with spicy stuffing), mamsam udaygiri, royya miriyala kura (jumbo prawns tossed in Andhra species and black pepper), allam kodi, Andhra biriyani... the usual suspects. Besides, north Indian, Mexican and continental varieties.

S.A. Mecci, Assistant Food and Beverages Manager, anticipates your question: "We do, of course, have some Portuguese specialities such as shrimp cocktail Portugaise. However, only a few. It would be hard to sustain a coffee shop in a busy business hotel, in the city's centre, with that kind of very narrow focus. Especially with a cuisine that is not as popular as, say, Chinese in the city."

You might consider that a theme-dilution, but evidently nobody minds. The formula, in fact, seems to work very well, given the crowded look the place wears at breakfast, lunch or dinner. The buffet lunch (Rs. 225 plus taxes) is the most popular with daily variations in the menu. The adas are among the most delectable you can have in Bangalore (only ask for them, crisp and hot off the pan) and the biryanis taste as good as they smell. The desserts too are good: having an in-house bakery seems to help.

Melange of cuisines

With the melange of cuisines, you can even order pizzas and burgers along with exotic sannas and naans. You have the usual sandwiches along with international fare such as chicken salad estragon (diced chicken with apples and tarragon mayonnaise) and Mexican-style grilled fish with cheesy crust. A meal for two here would cost about Rs. 500.

With health-consciousness all the rage now, the a la-carte menu also includes a slimmers' feast — cottage-cheese, combined with vegetables in an oil-free lemon and honey dressing. I wondered how many people on a strict diet would actually visit such restaurants, or at least stick to it when actually eating. My food critic friend assured me that such a tribe does exist and there have been tomes written on "how to eat healthy when eating out". Sounded like an oxymoron, to me, at first, but I have resolved to find out more. That, of course, would be another story.

1498 A.D. is at The Atria Hotel, No I, Palace Road. Phone: 22205205.

* * *

Ambience: Tries to be Portuguese

Specialty: A melange of cuisines, including Portuguese

Wallet Factor: About Rs. 500 for a meal for two

Service: Good

ARUNA CHANDARAJU

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