An early Monday morning sleepy drive from Mumbai to Pune is nothing to complain about. Especially, when you know you’re going to be day drinking and hogging on yummy bar foods. Now that’s a work lunch that I can get behind. I already knew what to expect from newly opened Pune joint We Idliwale Barroom—gorge on pillow soft idlis with a side of beer. However, the brains behind the whole venture had other plans for me.
An ode to Kerala-style fiestas, the menu is a shout-out to the lively toddy shop culture. Picture this: pepper fry and buff chilly getting cosy with hot toddy and more. Which is why We Idliwale Barroom took a cue from South Indian street and home flavours and paired it with drinks, almost like a match made in appetizer heaven. “For me, food has always been about context and memory. And my food revolves around nostalgia a lot. Whether it is my nostalgia of having idli dunked in a chicken curry or someone else having a buff chilli parotta in a toddy shop in Kerala, or someone having Nagarjuna’s Andhra chilly chicken,” confesses chef and co-founder Abhishek Joshi.
Starting off with cocktails, I begin to sip on a refreshingly tart Raw Mango Picante featuring Jose Cuervo Silver, curd chilli-raw mango brine, and an amchur rim. As the conversation flowed from the Hannah Montana movie to the Couture week that just wrapped up, an eye-catching serving of podi bacon and chicken ghee roast sausages came out. It was like my favourite kind of ‘chakna’ had gotten a makeover. It’s how stoners who are homesick imagine bar food to be! Household condiments and recipes paired with chewy, juicy delights. I was quick to try the rest of the cocktails as well and another favourite tuned out to be the Coconut Negroni crafted with Greater Than Gin; where the gin is fat-washed with coconut oil and grilled pineapple Campari. For a touch of wellness, I tried the Haldi Highball with Greater Than Gin, homemade turmeric liq, sonic and limes air.
There’s an air of casual fun at the place and hanging out at We Idliwale Barroom is like hanging out with chef Abhishek himself. It’s a very simple concept as well; it’s a place where you can have a good time and eat lip-smacking, flavourful foods without getting overwhelmed by gimmicks. Chef Abhishek recommends, “You can eat with your hands, eat with your feet on your chair, come in chappals and eat on stainless steel plate! Trust me, I'm all in for pushing the boundaries, but for me, this is more comforting. This is my kind of bar. If I had to choose between a place like this and something very upscale, I would always choose to dine here. So, it does come from a very personal level.”
I managed to take my mitts off of the bacon to try other stand outs on the menu. You’ve got to try the Syrian Catholic Chicken Roast, braised and charred whole leg with a coconut milk marinade. Also the Dosse - Pesarattu that showcases moong dosse with nellore black sesame podi. They also have some timeless classics on the menu, including idli chicken with Kundapur-style curry and radish slaw and chicken ghee roast inspired by Shetty Lunch Home. What makes these dishes so charming? It's chef Abhishek’s food philosophy. He reveals, “As a cook, I've tried to maintain the same discipline and techniques that I have learned in the kitchens. That's where the classic flavours come form. My goal is to do justice to them and trigger a happy memory when you taste them.”
The mains will have you feeling satiated in no time. Try the buff mappas, a slow-cooked short rib and potato dish, or savour the Karwar prawns, tiger prawns infused with karwari garam masala and coconut milk. Biryani lovers can enjoy the doodh ki biryani with mirchi pickle, salan, and appalam or the coastal Kerala seafood biryani with Malabari spices, raw mango, and appalam. The salad selection also impresses with the curry leaf ceasar chicken, featuring a curry leaf-lemongrass marinade, grilled pineapple, and coconut oil vinaigrette.
All the authentic elements of the menu are not by accident but by chef Abhishek's conscious design. “While we have spent a lot of time catching up with the West, I think it's time to look inwards. Rather than focusing on what's been going on over there and bringing it here. Whether it's technique, presentation or your own journey. I see Japanese restaurants popping up from people who've lived in Japan for decades and are now bringing their personal journey, not just someone opening a random Japanese place. That's my point. It doesn't have to be regional Indian always. It’s about what you want to do. Personally, I think then that's where the best output is going to come from. Something that you enjoy doing and enjoy living it.”
Ending the meal and the conversation on a sweet note, I found myself falling hard for the filter coffee eclair, crafted with and infused with Pulni hills filter coffee and chocolate sauce; I paired it with frothy and cold filter coffee, and it was divine. Chef Abhishek concludes by saying, “I think today the audience is far more traveled and far more informed. So, you do something insincere or push boundaries just for the sake of clout, they're not going to accept it. And at the end of the day, I also believe that we’re making food. It's not rocket science. It's either delicious or it's not. If it's delicious, people will keep coming back to you and will want to eat. You've got to put delicious food on the plate, that's more important than anything else.”
Address: We idliwale Barroom: Unit 102, One West, Balewadi; Pune
Timings: 12 pm to 1.30 am