B.Shankaranarayan - Moderator Pune Gourmet Club
My acquaintance with Siddharth Mahadik began when he launched his eatery, Le Plaisir, a short walk from my home. A bistro in our neck of the woods, this side of the river, excited my taste buds. His macaroons and desserts were awesome and the Panini I had at his tiny hole- in- the- wall Bhandarkar Road eatery convinced me that the tide was turning. That an ex-seafarer graduate from Sydney’s Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute, Sydney, was cooking, and not lording it over many minions, fired my imagination.
Once he moved to a more spacious location on Prabhat Road, expanded his menu, staff and covers and more importantly maintained his high quality standards, we got talking about a sit down customised lunch for members of the Pune Gourmet Club.
Siddharth, it turned out, is cut from a different cloth compared to other restaurateurs. His mission, he said, was to cook and serve great food, making pots of money was down the list. Since PGC is a group of wine and food enthusiasts in singular pursuit of a gastronomic experience, a meeting of minds was inevitable.
A few Whatsapp messages and the menu was finalised.
T A P A S
Candied Walnut - Green Sorrel - Homemade ricotta - Balsamic
Avocado & Wasabi Puree - Pickled Cucumber.
Quail Breast Or Lamb chops
Pomme Puree - Port Jus
Warm Honey – Sour dough
Smoked Snapper Pate
Crostini- Radish- Micro greens – Preserved Lime
Zucchini – Herbs - Cream - Pangriata
M A I N
Pineapple – Herbs and Sprout Salad – Tamarind Glaze
Charred Cottage Cheese
Red Pepper & Garlic Cream
D E S S E R T
Jelly of Rosé Wine
Fresh Fruits – Mint
Given the availability of kitchen and service staff and seating space, we decided on a maximum of 50 covers. Lunch would begin at Noon and end by 3pm. The bistro would be closed for the public till 5. This was a big sacrifice on his part since most restaurateurs are loath to do this. It showed Siddharth’s total devotion to his craft. The entire menu and the sit down concept was a first for him and his team. We shared the enthusiasm and opened up the bookings.
Sheela, my wife, and I went to the excise office and got the one day license to serve wine, not without a hiccup or two. Then my dear friend Dr. Rajesh Rasal, India’s foremost independent wine maker and owner of De Vineyard, recommended the wines. He chose Myra Chenin Blanc, York Rose and York Cabernet Sauvignon, all 2015 bottling. Between PGC members and Siddharth’s guests, we had a packed house. I rented 60 wine glasses, washed them by hand and chilled the wines.
On the appointed day I landed up at Le Plaisir at 11am for the set up. Siddharth held a briefing session for his team on the cooking tasks, service flow and even the washing up. I observed his demeanour, body language and choice of words and came away impressed. It was a big day for all of them. The challenges of serving 50 persons are not an enviable task for a small team.
The doors were thrown open and guests started walking in just after noon. Soon the Myra Chenin Blanc was quenching parched throats. Deepak’s jazz selection was drowned by the combined decibel level of 50 people talking, catching up and having a good time. The feel was a typical modern day steel and glass bistro.
The service started at 1pm with the first Tapas item. The beetroot with fresh home made ricotta was outstanding though I did hear a comment that it was too beetrooty. An eaves dropper turned around and asked ”what do you expect a beetroot to taste like, avocado?”. The presentation was Mastercheflike. I went into the kitchen and thought I had been transported into a Masterchef Australia episode with Gary and George urging the teams, one minute to go, finish up, the clock’s ticking, customers are waiting.
Then came the smoked salmon with avocado wasabi puree on a disc of picked cucumber on a lightly toasted crostini. Easy on the eye, it paired very well with the dry Myra Chenin. Most people though missed the pungent kick of the wasabi. So did I.
Since the quality of quail and lamb chops delivered by the vendor did not meet Siddharth’s quality standards he switched to poached prawns on a pomme (potato) puree and port jus which dazzled the eye and the palate. This had the wow factor. The presentation and the taste was a completely new experience. No one had ever tasted prawns in this combo and it got full marks from every one of the fifty diners.
Then came the baked Cambrie, a Camembert/Brie style white rind soft cheese, made by Kodai Dairy. The wheel was sliced in wedges, stuffed with fresh thyme, baked in the oven till oozy and drizzled with warm honey. The entire melting wheel was placed on the table and 10 guests helped themselves to one wedge each. A dish that cannot be found in any restaurant in Pune or I dare say even Mumbai.
The vegetarians were served Aronccini , a sphere larger than a cricket ball stuffed with Parmesan and cooked rice, first fried and then baked golden brown. Super in presentation and taste, though one had to be as skilful as George Colombaris to be able slice it neatly!!
The smoked snapper pate on a crostini arrived next. The snapper ‘s slightly sweet flavour was countered by the citrusy thin shreds of preserved lime. It paired beautifully with the utterly refreshing York Rosé.
The last item of the tapas section was the stuffed zucchini. It came in a boat shape, hot and soft in the flesh with a crunch to the skin. The kind of tapa you bite into holding it in your fingers and not slicing it on a plate with a knife and fork - most satisfying.
The tables were groaning with food and the guests were heard saying, is there more to come?? Main course on the way, I responded.
In anticipation of the main course, York’s Cabernet Sauvignon was opened and poured into the decanter. The servers were also given an aerator to pour the wine through from the bottle. The lightly refrigerated red was served at the perfect temperature 16-18⁰C. Checked and confirmed by a wine thermometer!!
Then came the pièce de résistance. The pork belly with a tamarind glaze. The outside was crisp and crackling, the inside fat and meat cooked just right. Cooking pork belly is not the easiest of tasks since the three layers need different cooking times and temperatures. I watched Siddharth doing this with great skill and attention. As with each dish, the presentation was superb.
One of the most striking aspects of the restaurant is the large (nearly as big as the seating area) well laid out kitchen equipped with every kind of modern appliance one could imagine. The cleanliness and hygiene of the work area is exceptional. The kitchen wall tiles are shining, the floor is absolutely clean, the staff uniforms are laundered, everyone’s wearing a cap and the cooking stoves, ranges, prep surfaces are, to use the popular Hindi expression, chak-a-chak.
When the plate arrived at the table, the taste buds were well lubricated by the red. As minutes ticked by, as the steak knife and fork tines were manoeuvred skilfully to transfer the morsels of pork belly into the waiting mouth, time stood still. Okay, that’s hyperbole J. And then Deepak Patwardhan on my left and Ashok Pradhan sitting opposite him exclaimed – absolutely fantastic!! And the Deepak said words to the effect, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven !!! Now, that’s a superlative compliment, if ever. I echoed his views and I think so did 45 of us. Excepting the vegetarians who were in their own world oohing and aahing about the charred paneer in red pepper and garlic cream!! And everyone remarked on the huge size of the portion. To Siddharth, it was atithi devo bhava.
Some of our worthy guests, due to a larger than anticipated consumption of the plentiful Chenin, Rosé and Cabernet Sauvignon, just could not do full justice to their belly with the pork belly. These plates were snatched away by other worthies before the servers could say, “shall we clear it ma’am?” Such was the demand for this main course. And Siddharth being Siddharth served us Belgian pork. Wow.
Then the dessert arrived. Not crème caramel, chocolate mousse or pannacotta. We were served Jelly of Rosé Wine with strawberry slices inside and ribboned mint by the side. Another excellent dish - very appropriate for such a gastronomic experience.
It truly was Le grand plaisir d’être chez Le Plaisir. In hamara English - The great pleasure of being at Pleasure.
Like all good things, the lunch came to an end around 3:30pm and we bid adieu to Siddharth and his team.
All of us thank Owner and chef - Siddharth Mahadik
Incharge of service
And all the others who helped us have an absolutely smashing time.
May Le Plaisir continue its remarkable journey to set benchmarks for this city and beyond.
Please, please do not ever sacrifice your love of cooking on the altar of Mammon.
Click here to view the photo album of the event.