The roads were wet with a fresh shower of rain that seemed to have just ended. The houses looked quintessentially Tamilian, the reds and the yellows of the doors standing vibrant against the faded porticos. And yet we stood on Bussy Street in Pondicherry looking for the tiny slice of France whose origins went back to the beginning of the last decade.
Entrepreneur Alan Phan’s concept-store restaurant ‘Baker Street’ is the paragon of everything French in the otherwise Tamil town. A snazzy, amped-up remnant of Pondicherry’s colonial past, Baker Street arouses, fuels and almost provokes all the seven deadly sins. It was with this impression that we stepped onto French soil one rainy November afternoon. Soaking wet from the incessant showers that had surprised us since morning and waylaid all our plans, we craved to find comfort in Monsieur Alan Phan’s tour de force.
The first thing that hits you are the colours – black, gold, ochre, red and magenta – accentuated by the soft lighting. A silhouette of a certain iconic detective greeted us on the left wall right at the doorstep, even as the brick-like floor transported us back to the London of the 1800s. Garden chairs and tables were set against the left wall, giving the restaurant a distinctive feel of an old-world bakery by the roadside.
If one side of the place was quintessentially British, the other side was divinely French, leaving us with a hankering of magnanimous proportions. Scrumptious looking desserts of all kinds and colours provided soothing relief to the eyes, placed strategically in the beginning to lure the hunger pangs. Down the line was an array of French breads in all sizes and shapes, supplemented with salads, burgers, quiches, pizzas and everything that caused our ravenous stomachs to grumble in annoyance at not actually being fed.
If that wasn’t enough, at the helm of this French assault stood a very cheerful female staff who looked more than eager to feed anyone who walked in through the door. Dressed to the hilt in Kanjeevaram silk sarees and spouting Tamil and French with equal fluency, they were more than ready to answer our questions about food and even whip out some extra-special treats just for us to taste.
Soon enough, we flagged off the food train, starting with some melt-in-your-mouth butter croissants and sesame buns. The spinach croissant, pita bread sandwich and the pizza slice were delectable and assuaged the hunger a bit. We took a break from what I can only call gluttonous eating and sipped on steaming hot authentic filter coffee while looking at the rain lashing the streets. As we debated on what to eat next, we were served an array of dishes meant just for tasting at the behest of the staff. We barely managed to mumble thanks as we tucked in silky and crunchy lemon macaroons, some very tasty and crispy tuile, half a baguette and chocolate éclair, a sinfully delectable French specialty dish.
While we waited for our stomachs to digest the huge amounts of food we’d pushed down it, our attention turned towards our fellow patrons. Alan Phan’s iconic fixture is not only popular with tourists but also with local French nationals who yearn for the food of their homeland. Our enthusiasm and appreciation for the cordon bleu caught the attention of some French nationals at the next table. ‘Baker Street is home away from home’ one guy quipped, tucking in his regular morning breakfast of croissants and coffee.
After we’d given our stomachs an opportunity to digest the food, we conveniently blamed our gorging spree on not having eaten anything since morning and shamelessly embarked on round two. After wolfing down a spinach quiche and a vegetable sandwich, we turned our sights towards the dessert section, which we’d not given due credit. While the almond meringue was exceptional, it was the soft, gooey chocolate escargot that was the clear winner and the dish of the day. The puff pastry stuffed with chocolate was just what was needed to polish off the finger-licking meal. It was only after this that we couldn’t put another morsel in our mouths and resignedly stopped the food train. While our tongues cried out in protest, our overfilled stomachs were our voice of reason, mollifying us to abandon our greed – we’d finally achieved Baker Street nirvana.
As we exited the French joint, I felt like I’d stepped out of a picture-perfect MasterChef episode, where everything was just about flawless. Located right in the heart of Tamil town, Baker Street exudes old-world charm, transporting you to a quaint street side café somewhere in France. For a Francophile, Baker Street is unmissable. For the average hungry foodie, Baker Street is simply unforgettable.