Chennai's Fika is really 'pheeka'

There is a popular saying, "don't judge a book by its cover." Probably I should have remembered that when I decided that rather than cooking my precious Katla fish which I had brought with me back from Calcutta, I decided to visit Fika restaurant in Chennai's cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Adyar.

I had come across the restaurant by accident back in October. Next to Hot Breads in Gandhi Nagar of Adyar, the appearance of the place, lit by warm lights and surrounded by trees that have inhabited the place more than I lived on the planet, I wanted to visit the place the moment I saw it. You can say it was something like "love at first sight". However, appearances can be deceiving.

Before I go ahead with my experience of the place, let me tell you something about myself. I wouldn't call myself a foodie and yet I am one of those people who love my food. When I travel, I scout for restaurants or diners or cafes to visit and then historical or monumental places. If that makes me a foodie, then probably I am. Also, on a side note, I am a Bengali. If that matters.

So, about Fika. After coming across the place by accident in October, I didn't have an opportunity to visit the place. Work, travel, following a disciplined schedule, barred me from visiting the place. Besides, I had dined outside too often the previous year.

Then by another accident, I came across someone who happens to work there. You know the feeling when you want to visit a place but you just need a push, meeting this person was the PUSH. So, I came back home, called up my friend, and told him that we HAVE to visit Fika.

I am not going to write about the decor because I really didn't get an opportunity to explore the place. But, if you are someone who likes to dine in a spacious place, then probably you can visit. Also, the reason I am mentioning the decor up ahead is due to the factor that place garnered much attention because of its decor and appearances. Even Architectural Digest did a feature on them.

On arrival, we headed towards the entry where you are greeted by pastries. However, the host was missing. Having a host is important, especially in such a big place (apparently it is spread over 10,000 square-feet). There was a worker going about his work adjacent to where we were looking out for the host, but he didn't come ahead and asked us if we needed anything while we stared helplessly around for the host. Rather than waiting for the host, I decided to go ahead and proceed towards the restaurant which is in the middle of the house.

We waited over there and looked around to be noticed by at least someone and be directed to a table, but nobody came. At this point, my friend decided to leave because it was quite an unwelcoming experience. Why?

Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a huge room, where people are dining and chit-chatting, and you are looking kind-of-lost and wondering what to do. You want to be helped but nobody comes to your aide.

That was us.

At this point, I had to approach one of the waiters and ask for a table and the host. The host suddenly appeared and the first thing he did was apologize.

We were seated near the pizza station and a waiter handed us the menu and this is what we ordered:

1. Spiced Pumpkin Soup
2. Mozzarella Buratta
3. Spaghetti Beef Bolognese
4. Carbonara Classica

Let me first tell you about the food and then I will speak about the other experiences.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup: The soup looked just the way it should look like but it tasted different in different parts of the bowl. Because of the presence of feta cheese in the middle of the bowl, it tasted tangy. The presence of pepper (in some parts of the soup) made it sharp and hot. And, the soup was sweet. It wasn't heartwarming.

My friend's bowl was chipped on the sides

Mozzarella Buratta: For me, I like my mozzarella to be left uncut as I would like to cut it before I devour it. Especially because of the juice that comes out when you cut it. Leaving that aside, the cheese tasted old and hard. The dish tasted bland (really fika). But, the bread on the plate was good. It was soft and well baked (I don't know whether they baked it or not). And the dish could use some more olive oil.

Spaghetti Beef Bolognese & Carbonara Classica: In my opinion, if you want to know whether the kitchen is good or not, ask for pasta. The simplest thing and yet the thing that most kitchens mess up. My usual choice of pasta is usually arrabiata and I am very particular about my pasta. So much so I have stopped eating pasta outside the home.

Can you see the beef chunks?

First, with the Beef Bolognese. The beef wasn't minced. It tasted like beef curry and spaghetti was placed on top of the curry and presented to you. The amount of pepper was high. The sauce was overflowing. Every time I took a bite of the plate, I had to clean my mouth with the tissue. By the end of my main course, I had finished the pasta and still the beef curry (I prefer to call it that was left).

I had joked to my friend that one could eat the beef curry with roti or rice if you remove the pasta. Guess what? With the leftover beef curry (which I asked them to parcel), I ate it with rice the next day and it tasted MUCH BETTER.

Rather than calling it continental, they could have just called it a fusion of continental and Indian cuisine.

Now, the carbonara classica. While the beef bolognese sauce was overflowing, the carbonara was dry. It felt like you were just eating pasta and as a result, it tasted different in different parts of the bowl.

While we ordered the main course, we had specifically asked for the pasta dishes to be less salty or no salt at all. Both the dishes were super salty.

We did mention that both the dishes were salty and the wait staff gave an explanation about the carbonara sauce is like that. I guess what he wanted to mean is the salt comes out of the bacon. However, when I took a bite of a bacon piece, it tasted of mashed egg york and wasn't salty at all.

To cleanse off the salt and sauce of our palate, I decided to order Tiramisu, while my friend ordered a single shot Espresso.

I am not really a dessert lover. I hardly eat sweets (yes, despite being a Bengali). I usually like less-sweet sweets as in the ones which are depended on flavour and not sugar.

I am sure most of you know what a Tiramisu looks and tastes like (not the ones that you buy at cafe coffee day). I really don't know what I ate. It felt like I ate chocolate chips first and then a thin wafer and lots of cheese and some coffee liquor which left me an after taste of alcohol.

But, the funniest part was the coffee. I hoard coffee beans. I am not joking. In the last two years, I have collected coffee beans from all across the world — Brazil, Costa Rica, Australia, East Timor and even from a small shop in Brooklyn and a place called Paris, Texas. My favourite is coffee beans from Market Lane coffee in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. But, that is another story.

Just for curiousity I asked where are the coffee beans from and I got a reply that, "They are imported, some 4000 rupees for 1 kg, I don't know where are the from, but I will ask."

While I finished my confused Tiramisu, my friend waited for his single-shot espresso. I finished, asked for the bill and he hadn't got his coffee still. The coffee came much later the bill was given to us. And it tasted so bad that I can still cry remembering about it. Espresso, if you ask an Italian Barrista, is usually a blend of natural and dark roast coffee beans in a ratio of either 70:30 or 80:20. But, this one tastes like 100% dark roast. It wasn't bitter, it made me almost puke.


The restaurant had a soft launch in August and already I saw bulbs which weren't working.

I am staring at this

The decor was nice around the area where we were dining but you can't place a table next to the pizza station counter like they had.

There isn't a variety of dishes available and the ones that are there, are poorly made. They are neither continental or Indian. Probably they should call themselves a fusion restaurant.

The staff is not well trained. Grooming is so important in this industry. Today companies realise that they need employees that make their company look good. So, the brand and how they really represent themselves is more important today than making your manager look good. This essentially means each and every worker matters — how they behave, how they talk, reciprocate and how well they are groomed.

The staff over there are not attentive. Service is super slow. It is quite understandable when you have such a big place to run. However, it has been only four months, and the place needs good leadership and workers to meet its standard.

You can impress people to come to your place by the decor and appearance but you are going push away customers if your food isn't good and they don't meet the rate that you have attached with it.

In short, it stands up to its name if you consider the name to be a Hindi word and not Swedish. It was really 'pheeka'.

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