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Fine dining in a cool setting

Oregano is an ideal place to eat, drink and unwind

PHOTO: SAMPATH KUMAR G.P

ALL-IN-ONE: Oregano offers an eclectic experience

Why would three business incubation and management services professionals make a foray into the hospitality industry? They are taking a shy at Bangalore's tastebuds and lifestyle choices with the Crystal Lounge and the attached Oregano restaurant.

"We see our lounge, with its Arabian accents, as a window of opportunity," explains Ajit Chakravarti, one of the directors of Crystal Network Pvt. Ltd., the parent company. "Instead of going to a five-star hotel or a pub, people can come to our lounge to chill out, eat, drink and chat."

Seated on silk-upholstered, cushioned settees overlooking a lush raintree beyond a sheet glass window, we check out their claim, while retro music surrounds us. Despite a rather tacky plastic palm to evoke Arabia beneath draped, tasselled canopies of fine fabric and antique lampshades, relaxation comes easy at the lounge. As a bartender serves us imaginative pre-lunch mocktails with fancy names like Virgin Pina Colada and Honeymoon (orange/apple juice with honey/lemon), we tuck into appetisers chosen by executive chef Eslen Kennedy.

We trust Kennedy's judgment for two reasons. His 27 years in the field, including stints with the ITC, Taj and Leela groups. And the response of our palates. The stuffed mushrooms (Rs. 80) are delectable. Encased within crunchy cornflour, they reveal the zing of minced zucchini, broccoli and tomato at the core. Bruschetta topped with tomato, cheese and herbs (Rs. 80) follows, done to a golden delight. Then comes some Shanghai chicken (Rs. 100), diced meat stir-fried with spring onion and chilli that sets our tongues on fire. The main courses sizzle just right, too. The chargrilled lamb chops (Rs. 125) are delicately done, the juicy meat complemented by a brown sauce rich with vegetable stock, finished with red wine. In a trice, a Thai chicken curry with lemongrass rice follows. The appetising coconut milk-rich gravy, with its bouquet of lemongrass, galangal and coriander root, is perfectly teamed with chunks of chicken and diced bell pepper, while the fragrant rice is garnished with Thai basil.

To whet the appetite between courses, we are served shredded Shanghai-style chicken (Rs. 125), crisp bites of lightly spiced crunchy meat. To round off our main course, we try the butterfly pork chops (Rs. 125). The not too fatty meat is subtly marinated, well cooked to the bone, served with fresh carrots, beans and broccoli.

Kennedy insists we should sample their "outsourced" desserts (a key word from Chakravarti's IT past?), though we are too stuffed to be coherent at this point. Though the chocolate mousse (Rs. 70) is a trifle runny, the sticky toffee pudding is deliciously fudgy. The hot apple pie is perfect, its shortcrust pastry still crisp, its cinnamon-enhanced filling quite luscious.

A hint of herbs underlines every dish, whether pan-Asian or Continental. Does that account for the restaurant's name? "Oregano is a wild herb of the marjoram family. Heat releases its aroma. We seldom use it in the dry form," Kennedy explains, hinting at why their restaurant space is done in unusual greens with newspaper print laminates. Laughing, he adds: "And yes, we'd be willing to garnish noodles with cilantro, if a diner asks for it."

A parting thought lingers with us after our post-prandial coffee and liqueurs.

This is a space where customer care is paramount. Down to a carved ginger dragon with a forked tomato tongue that mysteriously appears at our table in mid-meal.

A tantalising conversation piece? Or a reflection of Kennedy's passion for dragon artefacts?

Oregano & The Crystal Lounge are at No. 54, MSK Plaza, 2nd floor, 100 Foot Road, Indiranagar. Phone: 55300645/ 25217291.

Ambience: Quasi-Arabian
Service: Needs fine-tuning
Wallet factor: Average

Specials: An eclectic menu, a well-stocked bar. Quick bites from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

ADITI DE

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