For too long, vegetarian food as well as vegetarians have been met with smirks and been ridiculed as an unexciting, unimaginative and uninspired cuisine. Meat eaters, including me I admit, have viewed it as a lesser cuisine just good enough as a daily home meal or at the most, some cheap and cheerful street food. Abhishek and Amrita Shetty, a young and karizmatic couple heading Kalinga Veg Gourmet Kitchen, were determined to change this perception. Meat eaters themselves, there was just a wish to serve great food without any compromise in quality or taste, keeping in mind the local Kothrudkars.
Their vision, which they dreamt up almost 10 years ago, did not stop there. This complex, 7 stories high, backed up by their knowledge and experience from the famed Kalinga Seafood speciality restaurant, will be a one stop destination for every kind of foodie. Lined up in the future is a unique Vegetarian Restaurant and Bar, a first most definitely. Beyond that is a multicuisine non-vegetarian buffet restaurant complete with live barbeque as well as sushi, then a pub and the crowning jewel, a massive brewery (Babylon Craft Brewery) on the top floor with a huge terrace section as well. It’s ambitious, it crazy but it’s brilliant because nothing like this really exists in or around Kothrud (may be even beyond).
Coming back to the subject at hand, Kalinga Veg Gourmet Kitchen is an absolutely classy and beautiful place. Spacious, clean and full of mirrors with really interesting murals. There is a huge computerized multi level parking with valet too, so parking will never be an issue. The menu here is not your typical “VEG” restaurant menu. It is a mix of many different cuisines, with each dish well thought out and with many interesting fusions as well. There are dishes that will appeal to the typical desi crowd as well as the well traveled vegetarian who loves different cuisines served as close to authentic. The menu is designed by celebrity chef, Amit Puri and all the mocktails and drinks by master mixologist Shatbi Basu.
Eating here is an experience. The quality of ingredients, the attention to detail and most importantly – flavour, loads and loads of flavour, in each dish and drink. No colours or artificial flavours are used in any of the dishes and you can see the difference. Veg food can take a lot of work and intricate knowledge to make the ingredients shine and the same time make the overall dish interesting and most importantly, tasty. They have done it very successfully here.
Blueberry Cheesecake Shake
Awesome stuff. Creamy, sweet, slightly tart with a hint of a cheesiness. Just utterly refreshing and one of the best milkshakes I’ve had in a long time.
Pineapple, Yuzu & Jalapeno Sour on the Rocks was sweet, tangy and delicious with a hint of Spice. Guava Mary was really interesting, beautiful red guava juice with chilly salt bringing back memories of childhood. Licking off the red chilly powder and salt before biting into the sweet tangy fruit!
My pick of the day, though, was the Date & Jaggery Colada! Creamy, sweet and utterly refreshing with a hint of coconut with a dash of extremely familiar Indian flavours of dates and jaggery. Mind blowing combination and just genius. I loved it!
Tomato Bisque – Simple but delicious flavours of tomato with basil topped with a bit of cream and pepper. Felt like a warm hug. The cheese toastie (loaded with awesome cheddar) served with it is just a ‘light bulb’ idea. So satisfying.
Mulligatawny – Curried sweet potato soup from Sri Lanka with coconut, some rice and strips of papad. Had a lentil soup style flavour with mild spice. It was pretty good, but a little too starchy for me. (Very personal thing, my wife absolutely loved it.)
Pumpkin Aranchini were beautiful little crispy cheesy balls served with salsa. The Pan Seared Ravioli really hit the spot. Thin and al dente pasta filled with asparagus, walnuts and cheese. Really wonderful and delicate flavours especially with the bellpepper hummus and tabouleh.
Crispy Lotus Stems were as the name suggests sticky, crispy, sweet, tangy and slightly spicy. Really great to munch on with a mocktail or in between dishes. The best part was that they had retained a bit of bite while being nice and crisp. A lot of places just make them either hard or just soggy.
Zaatar Palak Pakode were very interesting and different. Crunchy batter fried spinach garnished with oodles of the classic Middle Eastern spice -Zaatar. Wonderfully herby and tasted great with the creamy sauce, this is not a dish most people will go for, but worth a try.
Paneer Tikka Sarson was a soft and delicious paneer kebab. So different and super tasty as compared to any paneer tikka I’ve ever had. The hit of mustard just comes through so beautifully complimenting the creamy and soft cottage cheese. Star dish.
It was roughly at this time we were bombarded with a barrage of various plates of food. But let me tell you each dish was so amazing, so unique and so delicious, we couldn’t stop eating till our tummies burst.
Their pizza is just amazing with a soft and slightly crisp base topped with tangy delicious tomato sauce and a combination 3 authentic cheeses. The Kalinga Margarita is a classic margarita topped with heaps off arugula, creatively cheating your body into thinking you’re eating salad. Really great combination though if, like me, you like arugula. The Ortolano Pizza is a delight with loads of vegetables, cheese and tomato sauce. Both pizzas were really amazing and flavourful. Neither excess nor too little quantities of toppings, cheese or sauce, just perfect.
This dish I think was the star of the day for me. Absolutely silky and perfect gnocchi with crushed tomatoes, parmesan cheese in a fantastic creamy pesto sauce. There was nothing to fault with this dish and just tasted heavenly. The biggest compliment I can give is that, my wife hates pesto, but still she couldn’t get enough of it. It was just superb.
Teriyaki Exotica was mixed vegetables in a fragrant and delicious sauce – sweet and slightly tangy. It went extremely well with the flavourful Burnt Garlic Rice. The Green Thai Curry too was super tasty. Fragrant with loads of basil and lemongrass. Just perfect with some steamed rice.
The Indian selection too was extremely nice. The flavours in each dish were so amazing and you could savour every ingredient unlike so many places where Indian curries are just an overcooked spicy mish-mash. The garlicy Methi Palak Saag blew me away and will impress even someone who doesn’t like greens. Aloo Mirchiwale was just a simple potato dry gravy, taken to the next level.
But the winner was their special Koyla Dal Makhani. I can pretty much put my money on saying this is one of the best Dal Makhani in Pune. Silky, creamy slow cooked goodness of dal, with oodles of butter layered beautifully with the smoky tones from sizzling charcoal. Most places claiming smoky flavours have just a hint of it, but here it just comes through wonderfully in each bite. (Note – I tried it again a few days later, it was less smokey than the first time)
The accompanying Amritsari Aloo Kulche and lovely Parda Naan were amazing but what takes the cake is the Mutligrain Roti. Real multigrain dough roasted perfectly in the tandoor topped copiously with various crunchy seeds, nuts and herbs. If you want a healthy roti, this is it, if you want a seriously delicious roti to scoop up your curries, this is definitely it too.
Ice Cream Falooda
For long, many have gone great lengths to find great falooda in Pune and failed, apparently. Kalinga Veg Gourmet Kitchen aims to fix that with this falooda. Delicious and creamy, absolutely teaming with ice cream, sabja seeds, soft plump sevai with rose and at the bottom – blueberry coulis. What? Yeah, so classic but so different. All this then topped generously with a myriad of nuts and edible flowers. It looks a million bucks and tastes like that too. I would personally love a heavier hand of the coulis and rose syrup/water, because, the fragrance and taste of rose, for me, is essentially falooda. (Don’t kill me if I’m wrong)
Filter Coffee Crepes
Looks like an art piece rather than a dessert actually, and tastes really good too. Soft crepes filled with filter coffee mousse, chocolate and crumble topped with honey and chocolate sauce. I surely would have loved a punch of filter coffee though, that would make this dessert even better. (According to me, at least – he says, as he pours his 10th cup of black coffee at the ‘Caffeine Addicts Anonymous’)
Well, unless you’ve completely skipped the whole unnecessarily long jumble of words above, you know I’m mighty impressed with Kalinga Veg. The place is not cheap, but then it’s not your typical veg restaurant. It is totally worth it in terms of the quality you get. Such detail and care to pick out great ingredients, prepare them so honestly and skillfully as well as the whole ambiance and experience in general is exceptional. It’s definitely a 5/5 for me. No doubt.
I would really, from the bottom of my heart, like to thank Abhishek, Amrita and the team for inviting me. It’s very rare you get to spend the whole duration of the tasting with the owners and get to hear the story and the work behind the place as well as the food right from the horse’s mouth. The passion, commitment and hard work just oozes through. We ended the meal with some filter coffee served so quaintly in a glass, served with delicious in-house baked cookies. All the breads too are baked in-house (as if you needed yet another impressive stat). I’m really looking forward to the rest of their restaurants to open, especially the brewery and terrace area.