When nostalgia is not enough
This one is as un-nostalgic a review as possible. I have never been to German Bakery in its days of drumming boys with dreadlocks, and artists sketching portraits of them on a long community table. Neither was I in Pune when bombs ripped through the café. As a much-later Pune resident, German Bakery to me is just another Koregaon Park cafe. One that’s garnered media attention fast, that’s all.
Yes, German Bakery is pretty in its blue and white interiors, green potted plants gently swaying in the monsoon breeze. It’s L-shaped outdoor seating with wrought-iron tables and benches add to the atmosphere. The indoor has a display counter with regular and slightly off-beat desserts. The menu offers the café’s classics — pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and a few drinks and desserts. So, we begin with a Tuna Nicoise Salad (Rs 180).
The cold salad with canned tuna, greens and olives drizzled with balsamic and olive oil tastes good. If only we had remembered to ask them to do away with the unwanted chunks of onions that add unnecessary pungency to an otherwise subtle, healthy dish.
Since we began healthy, we decided to go with the flow and ask for an Avocado Shake (R150). It came snow white, tasting of milk and vanilla essence. Oops, perhaps they forgot the avocado? Our server can’t even comprehend our issue, so we ask for the manager. He claims they add a few tablespoons of avocado pulp. Finally, he takes it back and returns with a glass where, if you squint and observe really closely, you will see a tinge of green.
We can’t really detect much avocado in it yet again, but we decide not to bother them. Instead, we choose to concentrate on the food that seemed much better. Our Jerk Chicken Pizza (Rs 280) is average; a slightly chunky pizza base with Indian spiced chunks of chicken. Not satisfied and not wanting to give up on a café that we’ve heard so much about, we decide to try something else.
The Lamb and Jalapeno Burger (Rs 200), is again, average. The herbed lamb patty is succulent and sans any filler but, a burger is more than a patty. The bread and the sauce do nothing for it. Well, time for desserts. It doesn’t make sense to try the regular varieties, so we opt for what looks like a gigantic Chocolate Lamington (Rs 110). It arrives at room temperature, drenched with shredded coconut over a dry chocolate sponge.
The dessert is so dry that we can’t get ourselves to eat more than a couple of bites. We ask for a Frozen Hot Chocolate (Rs 140) to down it. Another just about average drink that disappoints in its watered-down, grainy chocolate powder version.
German Bakery is full of kids coming for photo-ops and a few foreigners who seem busy on their laptops and not drinking anything beyond cappuccinos. Well, German Bakery, there is only so long you will be able to make nostalgia work in your favour. After that, food shall have to take centrestage.
At 292, near O Hotel, Koregaon Park
Two old-timers speak about the then and now:
I loved the old place: the vibe and the food. I miss all the healthy, whole meal stuff and the fresh juices. The new avatar only has white bread and regular cafe fare.
I miss the old laid-back rustic charm. The eggs, fruit assortments and coffee are truly missed. But, I love the variety currently offered — I particularly enjoy the desserts and pizzas. Also, the service is warm and friendly.
A tete-a-tete with Vija Shwale, German Bakery's new proprietor
Vijay Shewale, the new proprietor, has taken over German Bakery from the Kharoses on a 25-year lease. He speaks about the major differences between the old and new and his vision for the iconic cafe:
What made you take up German Bakery?
German Bakery was a historic name. But, post the blasts no one was willing to touch it. It lay empty for over two years. We have a hotel background and we decided to take up the challenge.
My vision of the German Bakery is very simple: remove fear from the minds of people. We have created the space according to the police commissioner's dictates. We were given permission for only one entry and walls all around. We have 16 CCTV cameras and have spent a lot on security.
The new look?
The previous German Bakery had 440 square foot area. Now, we have increased it to 2,500 square foot, including our bakery and kitchen. We have created a completely new look and ambiance where old symbols have no space. We didn't want to recreate anything that would recreate fear in the minds of the public. Thats why our symbol is the owl ”symbolic of forgetting the past and starting anew.
The new menu?
The old menu had nothing beyond chai-khari, egg omelet-pav and one German cake. We have changed everything to a new menu with lots of variety and high quality products.
People miss the vibe and charm?
Well, we have a completely new clientele as compared to what the old German Bakery had. Previously, people from the ashram used to come and sit around to smoke all day and have Chai for Rs 10. Now, Chai is at Rs 80. So obviously, the crowd is completely different. Now, we have a young crowd.