There is something tragic about a misguided 19-year-old who sets up an American show-themed café in the heart of Kolkata’s restaurant-shopping district, next to an iconic single-screen theatre, serving insipid vegetarian junk food out of the freezer. The F.R.I.E.N.D.S Café, the first in the country, is that Quixotic attempt at creating a hip meeting point for foodies and fans of the American sitcom, with the notion that an orange couch, hookahs and a post-it wall is all you need to run a successful food joint funded by indulgent family members. It makes no concessions for the fact that other than Phoebe (why not rename it Phoebe’s Cafe?), everyone else on the iconic show was a hard core non-vegetarian, and many of them foodies.
The fries were oily, the stuffing in the sandwich stale
So, there we were, on a hot summer afternoon, in the lane adjacent to Priya Cinema, Deshapriya Park, waiting to get in. By the way, this neighbourhood is home to some of the finest restaurants serving sea food, traditional Bengali street food, steak, biryani and more.
The pineapple cheesecake had inedibility written all over it
So, it turned out to be a comical prelude indeed. At the gate, a frail old man sat with a note book, fancying himself to be a cross between a concierge and a bouncer. He insisted there was no place inside, but when we managed to get in (it was way too hot and sunny to queue up outside) we were told we could either wait at the bar stools inside, or be served in the hookah area. This was not before the gent outside had tried and failed to physically stop us from getting in... had he been any younger, we would have screamed harassment.
So, it was full with teens and 20-somethings having pizzas and mac and cheese and more interested in taking selfies against the familiar F.R.I.E.N.D.S props — the couch, the purple door, Phoebe’s guitar, post-it walls and so on. Service was being handled by family members and a couple of confused waiters. It took them nearly 20 minutes to serve our honey lemon tea (Rs 70) and virgin mojito (Rs 150). It took another 20 for our sandwich and fries to arrive.
Food at F.R.I.E.N.D.S. café is not a priority. The owners may have exhausted their imagination and resources for the décor — which they have done quite well — to think of better ways to get the cosmoplitan crowd coming in. The F.R.I.E.N.D.S Fries (Rs 180 and straight out of a packet) were oily and their choice of cooking medium definitely needs a re-think. The Moist Maker Sandwich (Rs 200) was made with regulation white bread and stale stuffing (the lettuce was wilted). For a long time afterward, we struggled with the oily aftertaste, in our mouth. The nail in the coffin — the cheesecake (Rs 170).
We have never had a pineapple cheesecake — but it was the house special that day. When it arrived, it looked like a green blob. It tasted worse — it was no cheesecake but just a lot of artificially flavoured whipped cream sitting on a base of a plastic-y substance. It had inedibility written all over it.
The kids will keep coming here as long as there is a novelty in the F.R.I.E.N.D.S setting. But the restaurant’s only USP seems to be a selfie with an orange couch.
One would imagine the generation that grew up on F.R.I.E.N.D.S is in their 30s now. During our stay, we saw a number of older people walk out in a huff — the limited menu and pushing around into a smoky, dimly-lit hookah bar with teenagers munching unhealthy fries — is not many people’s idea of eating out. Yes, and the loud screens playing the show’s popular episodes don’t have any takers. Hardly anyone was interested in watching the show.
For all those envying your Kolkata counterparts for walking away with the honours of hosting the first F.R.I.N.D.S café, breathe easy. The neighbourhood sandwich guy on a pop-up kiosk makes better stuff.
Address: 175/A, Motilal Nehru Road, Desapriya aPark, Kolkata
Call: +91 9836645551