A sorbet-laced soup, fiery chillies ensconced in mousse and a panther that leaps out at you from the ceiling, 36 Oak & Barley is an enigma. The fare is pleasant and the prices fair but would you stop by this place for a bowl of soup at lunch hour?

Clearly, the title has been coined to draw pub-crawlers. The 'no-kids-post-7pm' rule further endorses our idea that proprietors aspired to position this as a cool, neighbourhood watering hole.

That it's an all-day-diner in reality, with no extraordinary varieties of malt and a hotchpotch of cuisines comes as a bit of a shock.

With a bright red wall adorned with framed panther-heads, a heavy metal chain curtain outside the washrooms and even a smokers' alley, are the proprietors actually expecting to draw Tardeo office-goers or neighbourhood families?
Then, is the oversized panther that dives out from the ceiling at the bar intended to be evocative of Bagheera in The Jungle Book?

The attendants are prompt and friendly, if anything, dangerously so, but restaurant etiquette could do with a booster. It was shocking that we weren't asked how we would prefer our steak cooked and when it arrived, extremely rare and oozing red juice, we were simply informed that the chef doesn't make it any other way.

Watch out for the rare steak the chef doesn't make it any other way!

But that wasn't our first surprise of the evening. The attendant all but pushed for the O&B Soup (Rs 200), the only alternative to a tomato and basil soup on the menu.

When we ordered it, it ended up being our second shocker - tomato soup with a side serving of orange sorbet, which the attendant was about to topple into our soup until another attendant stopped him short, saying, "Wait! We don't do that anymore." This amusing rehearsal notwithstanding, our soup, it must be said, was very good.

Also pleasant was the warm Zucchini and Tomato salad with Grecian Goat Cheese (Rs 250), and our Lamb Stew with Couscous (Rs 500) was lip-smacking too, except that there was nothing remotely Mediterranean about its gravy - we would have expected something tangier, perhaps a Moroccan Tagine to go with the couscous.

Vegetarian Lasagna was a tasty preparation

This desi mutton curry did little to complement the Middle-Eastern semolina dish. Served in a pool of delicious marinara sauce, what the Vegetarian Lasagna lacked in presentation, the sauce made up for in taste.

The dessert menu was extensive. Incidentally, even a Granola-Chocolate smoothie we had ordered was unavailable. After a 20-minute wait for our chocolate fondant, we were informed that the dish had fallen apart.
It meant another 20 minutes until we got our due, but a quick-thinking attendant decided to alter the presentation of the dish and set the pudding at the centre of a pool of chocolate so as to spare us the wait.

Also, when we ordered the Vodka-Chilli Mousse (Rs 300), we expected the dish to be laced with the subtle flavour of a mild jalapeno. Little did we know that under the calm mint-green surface of the mousse lay the fury of Krakatoa.
A dessert was required to get over the dessert and so an O&B Johnny Cake (Rs 450) was ordered - it worked well, but oozing of booze, it could well have been served in
a glass.

At 76, August Kranti Marg, off Kemps Corner. Call 23811010
36 Oak & Barley didn't know we were there.
The Guide reviews anonymously and pays for meals.