Eating vs dining

A dining out experience, for me, begins with the internet. I take my pick from the way the place looks in pictures. While out for meals, friends tuck into their entrees, and I let my eyes wander far and wide. What does the lighting do for the ambience? Are those wall hangings tacky or original? What are my thoughts on kitsch? White on white? Themed restaurants? My city, Mumbai, is a frenetic metropolis that’s constantly churning out restaurants in pursuit of gourmand’s eager wallets. I, in my self-appointed role as decor detective, have been closely evaluating the evolution of dining establishments in the city for a
while now. Eating out, means a different set of things for different people. For some, it’s an excuse not to cook, for some to binge, and then for some others, like me, it is an opportunity to experience a new country while sampling its food.  Of course, a restaurant’s look and interiors play a huge role in representing a culture. And it’s this factor that unfortunately, disappoints design enthusiasts like me, in the city. Case in point is a new Rajasthani place which opened in my neighbourhood. I imagined Bandhini-inspired upholstery, low seating and terracotta cups filled with butter milk before I had a chance to step inside its doors. Sadly, the mirror-clad eatery didn’t have an ounce of the state barring the stewards’ traditional garb. And when it comes to Oriental restaurants of which there are plenty to go around, they are all spilling over with stereotypical elements like a portrait of Confucius, some ethnic lettering and burnt-orange accents… This unpleasant uniformity doesn’t go down well with me. There are very few spots  in the city that have accurately woven the flavour of the cuisine into the restaurants’ decor. In all my eating out experience, one question has always been on my mind. What is the recipe to good ambience in a restaurant? The closest I have come to find the answer is when I walked into Le Pain Quotidien (LPQ) at Colaba. Stepping inside is like being transported to a quaint Parisian cafe. The roomy feel, distressed furniture, community table, display of breads and the generous use of wood, all took me to France in a blink of a second. Thankfully, the folks behind this popular spot’s design have stayed away from the obvious Parisian symbols. If the Eiffel Tower made a single appearance, I would have slotted LPQ in my no-go list. Thanks to the internet, I am now aware of what fits in and doesn’t. Thankfully, I don’t have to waste my precious money on trying and then regret visiting a restaurant. Just a little bit of research will let me know if the design aesthetics of a joint match up to the food served on my plate. And for that, I am grateful and glad.

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