SoBo needs Cheval. It needs a few other things besides — wit and a reality check — but Cheval is a good start. It’s the in-between restaurant; the one in-between Leopold, Gokul, where you can stroll in wearing linen pants and a sweat shirt, and the likes of The Table and Umame, where you go decked up in tight dresses and boots and eat with fine cutlery accompanied by fine (read: expensive) wine and scotch.
Perhaps, it’s the Colaba effect. It’s an odd place and without insulting the interesting liberals who live there, we’re talking about the super-social, chauffeur driven, nannie dependent people who are loaded with money and carefully attuned taste, and yet never manage to support or encourage an interesting mix of restaurants.
Cheval is a massive-yet-casual bar and restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Lurking deep within its blurred sense of a fine dining restaurant with tables lined in the dining section, there is a clear indication of a modest, unintimidating pub that embraces all its patrons — the ones in jeans and in suits. The signs are everywhere, from the warmly lit smoking section running from one end of the restaurant to the other, the wait staff wearing T-shirts, the happy DJ and cheeky descriptions for innovative cocktails.
The menu was tightly edited but a few dishes seemed out-of-place, almost as if they had an identity crisis. Amidst the heavily Mediterranean pizzas, pastas, antipasti, parmesan, rocket, feta, croutons, balsamic, salmon et al you can find Poached Sea Bass in an Asian Broth, Pork Belly with Star Anise and Ginger Carrot Puree and even a burger with onion chutney. For starters we decided to skip the Mackerel Teriyaki and test the basics with Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli (R350), Beef Carpaccio (R400) and chargrilled squid with chilli jam(R 300) from the bar menu.
The Pasta was thin and cooked perfectly, the lemon and nutmeg butter was delicious and the chef was generous with the toasted pine nuts. If only he could have been equally generous with the cheese and seasoning in the filling.
The Carpaccio slices were generous; the perfectly cooked beet root added a welcome additional texture and crunch to the dish. The utter disappointment was our choice from the bar menu. The portion was generous but the squid pieces were thick, cooked unevenly, lacked any sort of flavour and were charred leaving a bitter taste in our mouths.
The garlic prawn, tomato and mozzarella pizza (R425) was thin, light, and crispy. The prawns were juicy and fresh and the sauce went well with the garlic; perfect with a pint of beer. By the time we got down to ordering the mains we were ready to experiment and ordered for Pork Belly Star Anise with Ginger Carrot Puree and Bok Choy (R450). The pork belly was tender, flaky, and juicy but the hero was the tiny little bowl of the meaty pan jus served alongside the tender bok choy. The carrot puree was thick and smooth but with such tender meat and delicious brown jus we dearly missed the creamy mash.
For dessert, we ordered for Brioche Bread and Butter Pudding with white chocolate (Rs 275). On its own, the hot pudding was dense but it fared well with the berry compote. We couldn’t taste the white chocolate but we didn’t miss it at all.
Although, there were some disappointing moments in our meal, no one can deny that Cheval is a happy place to eat, drink and make merry. And south of the JJ flyover, that’s not something you can say too often.