With its authentic fare, Pi Bar & Kitchen breaks the clutter at Lokhandwala, believes Anupama Chandra
It’s the darn summers that make me want to wind down with a cold soup or salad, or a light dal-rice for supper. But a new Italian joint is in town and when duty calls, the tummy follows. Pi Bar & Kitchen has followed sibling Pi Pizzeria to try and bring tasty bites from Europe to India. This we had to try, so we landed up at the quiet gates of the establishment. They opened to face a wine cellar wall next to the front desk where the staff quickly found us a table.
A fresh start
A sparse, woody interior threw welcome warmth our way and we shifted our attention to the menu. With “Bar” in its name, it was astounding to be handed a mocktails-only menu; turns out the liquor license is on its way. We asked our cheerful helper to steer us to a fresh citrusy drink and he recommended Crushed Punch, which sounded too sweet in theory. Nevertheless, we went with it while ordering another, Magical Ming.
Swinging between a soup and salad, the scales tipped in flavour of the Roasted Beetroot Salad. Our attentive attendant realised we were spoilt for choice and helped us make up our minds to try the Baked Mushroom with Pesto and Mozzarella and Crunchy Paprika Prawns in appetisers.
The drinks arrived dressed in summery tones and perked us up immediately. The Magical Ming is aptly named as the guava and lime juices marry happily, have pineapple pieces as babies with a stern tobacco dash that cleans the palate; a universal winner. The peach crush and grenadine, surprisingly, did not overpower the fresh lime juice and orange chunks in the Crushed Punch, making it well balanced and light.
Go the Italian way
You could feel the freshness of the salad with a glance at the crisp leaves, an achievement given that the jalapenos, kalamata, green olives, and capers are all imported. While the roasted beetroot is the star, with the roasting elevating its earthy flavour, the light dressing and above mentioned ingredients play their parts ably, making it an awesome choice for a summer evening. In the next dish, the mushroom is well made and stuffed to its gills with the delicious pesto sauce so that the strong mozzarella couldn’t override its fresh flavour.
And what do I say of the Crunchy Paprika Prawns! We were steered in its direction by our attendant and we couldn’t thank him enough for ensuring we didn’t miss this star starter. While batter fried prawns can save most evenings, one stewed in this house basil, thyme and paprika marinade can probably get you off a death sentence. With a starter like this, I would happily end a meal. It was accompanied by a lovely tartar sauce that we did justice to, but the prawns can work just as well alone. Only issue — I have a long-standing food allergy triggered by certain unclean meats and seafood. And by break of dawn, I had had a reaction to, I suspect, the prawns. The restaurant may want to check the sourcing and cleaning of the same.
All hail gourmet pizzas
There were whispers in the wind that the pizzas at Pi are a class apart, and we decided to test the veracity of this claim. We checked with the attendant if they could bake us a half-and-half, one side veg while the other non-veg and were struck by the prompt nod of head. Customisation is a promise not kept in many establishments, but we had obviously caught a lucky break here.
We opted for a half a Stagioni with pepperoni, ham, mushrooms and olives and were persuaded to overlook the Nettuno for mushrooms, green peppers, onions and chillies-laden Pinnochio. The reason was simple — when opting for a half-and-half pizza, balance is required in choice of toppings on both sides so that they bake together. We also requested a tasting portion of the Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, the most basic of Italian recipes.
Our attendant and manager had quietly placed orders for a shimmery Pacific Blue and sparkling Ginger Quest to be sent over while we waited. The latter is a novel concoction that has pomegranate and lime juices, peach and lime cordial syrups, and fresh ginger slivers and pomegranate seeds. Another all-round winner! The litchi crush did overpower the blue curacao, fresh lime and lemonade in the Pacific Blue, but it pairs beautifully with both sides of the pizza.
If you think you love pizzas, you have to try the ones at Pi. The Stagioni, though occupying only half the space, was laden rich with flavoursome pepperoni and ham, accompanied by mushrooms and olives. And the Pinnochio had a super spicy, tangy sauce dancing through the layer of toppings. My partner, an out-and-out meat lover stood converted for the evening, voting the Pinnochio over Stagioni in terms of flavour. He rued that he had to loosen his belt, because he had had so much to eat already. But more was on the way.
Simple dishes are the toughest to execute and many Spaghetti Aglio e Olios are murdered by excess. This was not the case this evening, with the spaghetti lightly coated in olive oil infused with fresh garlic and chilly, topped with parsley. True, that the spaghetti needed a minute or two more to be al dente and should have been served warmer, but the flavours were such that I couldn’t stop to crib.
Generous mains and mixed ends
As soon as the Darne of Salmon reached our table I realised how much of my French I had forgotten. Though our attendant had promised a fit-for-one portion, a darne is a thick French cut of fish and we laboured through the generous slice, helped along by a delicious lemon butter and out-of-this-world carrot mash. Though the fish was fresh, we would have liked it warmer. We were presented desserts from a new, seasonal menu and the one dampener to the whole evening was the Tres Leche or the Three Milks Bread. It lacked the punch, each of the dishes had boasted till now, and threatened to overthrow the evening. But the best had been saved for the last in the form of an airy Mango Cheesecake, just as cheesecakes should be. After a heavy carb-laden meal, it helped us wind down with the right amount of light.
Chef Sanjay Dhali is enthusiastic and seemed a stickler for traditional fare with authentic ingredients and takes pride in whatever leaves his kitchen. His approach is a hands-on one. The ambience is one of a lush, well-lit fine-dine restaurant waiting for its liquor license, which they assured us should arrive in a couple of months. The staff was one of the best trained that we have encountered yet. Keep up the good work, check the quality of ingredients, and Pi Bar & Kitchen may just stand tall in this crowded milieu that is Lokhandwala.