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The French Ploynesian sleight of hand

What is the cuisine of Tahiti? We go hoping to sample some Tiki culture only to find it obscured by food consultancy in India!

We’ll have to agree that Jolly Rogers is a rather stupid name for a restaurant to have: I mean, if someone asks you, ‘where are you going to eat out this evening?’ how would “Jolly Rogers” sound? It apparently borrows from the name of the mythic pirate ship traversing the Pacific between the isles that make up the French Polynesia (for those who are unaware of its existence, Tahiti is a simpler introduction though there are other islands too between Australia and South America with a colonial French past…). And it is a rum brand. But as a restaurant name, it leads much to be desired.

Yet, I was excited about Jolly Rogers opening up in Gurgaon—one of the most un-beachy towns that you could pick upon in India but equipped with prodigious spending power of its DINK couples. Last year, when I had called food consultant Manu Mohindra, who does a huge amount of restaurant openings all over the country every quarter, he had told me that Tiki bars are going to be a trend to watch out for. Obviously. He must have been busy putting Jolly Rogers into place, which is a restaurant and Tiki bar rolled into one.
On a cold, foggy Monday evening, we drive into Jolly Rogers. The first feel is that of an interesting enough—though soulless sort of place. Huge Tiki masks and white cabanas complete the look and our group of three first decide to settle into one of the cabanas—which looks out of place inside a concrete and glass building, but what the heck? A couple of minutes and some requests to the staff to turn up the heating later, we decide that this is going to be really cold here and so we decide to move into the dining sections where tiny candle lights on each table promise warmer climes! Despite the lights, cheapie looking print-outs of a girl ostensibly having fun at the bar put me off the décor here completely. Did the people-with-more-money and-less sense who own the restaurant actually pay for this?

The food: That’s what I am here for. To check the restaurant out for a story on “unusual restaurants” that will go into a magazine I consult with. We select our cocktails —with lots of pineapple, coconut and rum in various combos which are decent; choose our soups—for me a vegetarian peanut option; for my cousin, chicken chowder, because, you see, he still suffers from his all-American hangover—which are good and get on to the business of selecting our bites.

The platter of vegetables and shrimp fritters has been recommended so I am inclined to order this as well as crab cakes. But at this point the chef makes an appearance, tells us that the cakes are not available (though crabs for main course apparently are) and offers to feed us what he will. We are game. Out come a couple of salads that will possibly go down as the worst I have had in recent memory. They remind me of shadi menus and of the eighties when going to a five star coffee shop in Delhi and ordering mayo-laden veggies was a big deal. Pray, why should a contemporary place in circa 2010 have the likes of waldrof salad on its menu. There is a grilled chicken option too—but whatever calories you may have hoped to save on the fowl will be fouled up by excessive dressing should you opt for this. There is also a chef’s special “with raw salmon” in it as the chef announces with pride, expecting us no doubt to pale at such culinary sophistication!

To his credit the chef sends us out a whole host of starters—including the fritters mentioned above, some stir-fried chicken with bell peppers (fafa) that reminds all of us of chilly chicken at our neighbourhood restaurant, delicious meat balls in Thai red curry paste, some potato and cheese rolls that we do (out of a packet) when guests come home and crispy potatoes with sea salt that are thinner than what you get at McDeez and certainly crisp. When the waiter comes bearing these, the chef who is standing at our table, takes one look, dips his hand into our platter (!), announces that there is no sea salt on these and sends back the platter. Minutes later, the same platter arrives, now garnished with sea salt. Will we bite? No………..
“So how did you like it?” asks the chef, puffed up with pride. It’s a habit that I find most irritating in some chefs. If you are eating at their restaurants, what are you supposed to say, if you don’t want to be poisoned in the next course or your food spat into? We try to be diplomatic and tell the chef how we thought there was too much dressing in the salads (that really cheeses him off) and then try to draw out the chef into explaining his handiwork here. So, I point to whatever catches my eye on the menu and I ask: “Er… wasabi-influenced XYZ, so there are Japanese influences… and er.. Kung Pao chicken legs… China too…”
What follows is some spiel of which the only two words I remember are “oceanic influences”. Basically, the chef explains that French Polynesian cuisine has not just French influences but also Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Spanish and, well, Mediterranean! The only evidence we see of each of these is in the overabundance of Thai curry pastes, five spice powder and so forth.

The restaurant allows you to skewer your own meats and grill these in a portable BBQ brought to your table and thus we do some satisfying satay-with-another-Polynesian name. I like the main course—sliced, glazed ham accompanied by a thin pineapple sauce and a khichdi of soy rice (with some bits of prawns) that is rather akin to a dish of nasi goring. But is it really “French Polynesian”?

Anoothi’s Ratings
Food: 1 ((out of 5)
Service: 1
Ambience: 2

Jolly Rogers
Address: 1002, 10th Floor, Time Tower, MG Road, Gurgaon
Phone No: 0124-4333555
Seating: Total – 210
Inside: 100 covers: 45 for dining and 55 for bar lounge
Terrace: 110, which includes gazebo, verandah and deck seating
Timings: Noon to 2:00 am
Liquor: Available
Credit Cards: All major credit cards accepted
Website: www.jollyrogersbar.in
Average meal for two: Rs. 1,350 plus taxes (exclusive of alcohol)

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