A coffee shop. A hot cup of coffee on the table. A warm piece of cake alongside. The rain slamming the French windows of the coffee shop outside. You comfortable and assured inside with the knowledge that you’re inside and at the sight of the coffee and cake that await. Are there any more experiences more comforting than this in modern, urban life? Only if you add ‘weekend’ to the mix above.
But turn vegan, and you have to go cold-turkey on all the above. Almost all cafes in Chennai/India are non-vegan (not surprising given how much both the city and the country love their milk and “worship” their cows – and only a vegan can tell you all the things wrong with that, both nutritionally and ethically), and very few are vegan-friendly (there is CCD with its Vegan Shake, Starbucks which doesn’t make a bad soymilk-based coffee, and yes, there’s always black coffee). But what about that quintessential modern, urban, and English accompaniment to coffee – the piece of cake? What if you crave for it, even if just a bit, no matter how much vegan control you exhibit? The Brew Room, Savera Hotel’s indoor-cum-outdoor coffee shop on Radhakrishna Road is your answer. (I gather they also have a branch – a stand-alone – at, but of course, Besant Nagar.)
I had read about The Brew Room offering vegan coffees when I went through its launch PR article in the paper, but when I visited there a few months ago, was as disappointed as the staff seemed clueless: I had to explain what ‘vegan’ is, and when one needs to do that, you know they ain’t got the green stuff. But they were obliging – and warm and cordial – and the Nepali chef on duty then went to great lengths to make my sandwich vegan and the server assured me the iced coffee I was having was vegan. I’ve forgotten both item names now (although the sandwich was nice), but think it’s because I was disappointed at their “false PR” and decided not to go there again.
But a great deluge and a best friend visiting from my best city in the world (Bombay/Mumbai) can have you changing your mind. My friend and I just got out of a popular South Indian city eatery, where we were waiting for the heavy rains to subside and so filling up while there, but it almost started dripping again (like it has been all the past week), so we decided to head to Brew Room, which is close by.
He still had appetite, but only just, so he went for a soup, and I knowing that I wouldn’t find much there, and not having the appetite for a sandwich, went for an Americano. My coffee came while he had gone to the restroom, and so did the chef on duty. The chef informed me they didn’t have the tomato soup my friend ordered, so would we be okay with a broccoli soup? It seemed fine, except that I wouldn’t be able to share it if I wanted, as it had cream. I suggested waiting for my friend to affirm, but he seemed to be taking time drying up. I finished my coffee in that wait (my way of warming up), and friend still not having returned, decided to get up and walk around.
The fairy lights on the trees outside and through the rain and fogged glass were pretty, the Kollywood AD types at the behind table were still in conversation, I was already familiar with the décor and ambience, so went to one thing there that seemed mutable: the cake/pastry selection.
Like most vegan folk I’m sure, I’m not wistful about food things I’ve given up. (I don’t know why non-vegan folk make such a big deal of this, admiring our control; it’s simple: we trained ourselves to give it up, and found compassionate, equally healthy alternatives.) Plus, I find cake too drying on my palate (only less drying than biscuits); blame maida, I guess. So, my mouth wasn’t watering (odd that dichotomy, no?) at the fare on display. But. But. But. But if there’s a vegan option, I wouldn’t mind. There were not one, but three vegan cakes, all of different sizes and appetite as well as fattening value. Making me feel like Ms Goldilocks. (What’s a guy version of Goldilocks? Boldilocks? How typical, how sexist, how chauvinistic. I know.)
I wasn’t sure I had the stomach for even one – after two dosas and one coffee – but also wasn’t sure I could resist at least one. So, asked for the smallest: the pumpkin muffin. But not before exclaiming and exulting and then looking askance at the chef and the server. The girl server was the same as last time, so my questions were aimed with more fervour and enquiry at her: Did you start vegan cakes only now? Did you have them earlier? Do you not promote them? Do you not know what vegan is? Their responses: No, sir, we had them earlier too. Yes, sir, we know what vegan is. So, I had to ask another: So, how come I didn’t notice them earlier? Now, no one can ever respond to that.
Glad to know they indeed have vegan options (so, that wasn’t a “fake PR piece” after all) and excited at this prospect – it’s at the latter end of my weekend city-walk route, en route to my almost-standard weekend activity of an evening movie at a multiplex – I returned to my table and awaited the muffin. My friend had returned by then (and affirmed to broccoli), and I gave him the vegood news. Vegetarian but not vegan and not a lover of sweets (just like me), he understandably didn’t have similar exciting emotions to display. Plus, his soup had come. So, while he scooped up his thick non-vegan soup, I forked my just-arrived, just-warm muffin. I don’t remember the exact subtleties of taste – but I was quite full by then. Or was I? For I then ordered the next-sized banana cake slice. And then the lavish chocolate pastry. What I can remember and say is that while non-vegan folk would not know the difference for the first two (I believe the substitute for dairy milk was vegetable oil), that in the third is fairly detectible: I could sense cashew milk in the chocolate cream and shavings on top. I asked for the baking chef to confirm this, and thank him, but the regular chef on duty told me he had left for the day but he would convey my appreciation to him. (See what I mean by cordial?)
I asked for one more muffin, as a parcel, not for myself, but for my parents (who keep thinking that by having turned vegan, poor me doesn’t get to eat any of the nicer things in life). Well, I plan to do nice again very soon, only this time also with coffee. And nothing says ‘nice things in life’ than those two warm, brown things together.
Here’s the Brew Room site: The Brew Room
And here’s their FB page: The Brew Room on FB