It’s the first… It’s not… It’s 100% vegan… It’s not…
Ever since I visited and blogged about “Chennai’s first and only 100% vegan eatery”, Café Kripa, there has been some debate about that qualification. The owner of Café Kripa herself said she was the second, and so did one of my Facebook friends. Now, I’ve been to the other restaurant they were referring to, right when it opened, had checked the menu, confirmed with the manager, and thus could say with 100% surety, Kripa was actually the first. But just to settle any niggling doubts, I decided to return to the other.
Veganer opened sometime around November last year, at the cusp of Shafee Mohammed Road and Khader Nawaz Khan Road, in the heart of Chennai, the latter locality being the city’s poshest, with high-end brands having upscale stores there. I went for lunch there just once, remarked that the place was really huge, though in the basement (or maybe that’s why), but also a bit dark (again, due to the basement), and remember wondering how they’d manage with such high rentals and such niche cuisine. I also remember remarking, and sharing with the manager, that the menu didn’t seem entirely vegan. He admitted to it and said that’s why they’ve named themselves such, as in “veganish”.
When I passed by there recently, I noticed the place had given way to a pure seafood restaurant. There, I knew it couldn’t last there. And then, got to know a few days later, that it’s opening up shop not very far from my house. (Is Veganer following me, as some sort of karma?)
To step aside just a bit, ad-and-creative-consultant me likes their name and logo. Will write about this separately, but for now, am playing around with it in this piece. RevelleR?
So, late last week, to settle the debate, I decided to make my way to Veganer again. The glow-board did proclaim: 100% vegetarian/vegan. As I made it up to the first floor, saw posters explaining the vegan lifestyle and its benefits. So, had Veganer actually turned 100% vegan?
I stepped in, and was pleasantly surprised at how bright this version was. It had a full-size glass window that looked outside to the busy road, light/white-coloured interiors, and a smaller size than the earlier avatar, thus reflecting light around. (In fact, the only thing dark here seemed the black outfit of the serving staff.) It was growing on me.
I was the only one that early on a week night. So, everyone focused their eager attention on me. (Felt like a king.) The manager, Karthi, came over, and he seemed the same manager as at the earlier location, which I confirmed within a minute.
Time to settle the debate.
Veganer. Is. And. Was. 100%. Vegan.
However, when they started, perhaps due to the fact that veganism is in its early days in India, they had made some “inadvertent errors” in writing and communication. They had written ‘paneer’ (cottage cheese) in the menu in some places, and when asked, had reaffirmed that it is dairy paneer and not plant (soy) paneer. Now, they seem to have tightened the loose ends. The menu doesn’t bear mention of, nor actually have, any animal ingredients. The paneer is definitely tofu. In fact, the only mention of a non-vegan ingredient is honeymoon sauce, but that’s just the fun name; it doesn’t contain honey.
In fact, Veganer has gone the whole-hog (maybe I should use non-animal ingredients in my text too; so, whole-log?) vegan. Even the plates are melamine, not the usual fine-bone-china ones you find in almost all restaurants. And I’m fairly sure the chairs were made of faux leather too. If so, well done. Think I figured out the real meaning behind the name. It’s more than vegan: it’s veganer.
While I took my interrogation with Karthi further, they served me a welcome drink. Made of musk melon and pineapple, it was conversation-stopping. I asked for another, and they gladly obliged. I decided not to appear greedy, so stopped before my tongue called for a third. Also, I wanted to save space for the other items.
As they have just started off here (you can consider this its relaunch), like most new restaurants, they have a limited menu, of some snacks and a few meal combos, though will go full-up in two weeks or so. Not in the heart for a meal, I asked him to make a recommendation. His suggestion, falafel and hummus, seemed a safe bet.
In the meantime, we continued chatting – about the scope, owners, plans, response – though he excused himself from time to time to supervise my order… and also to get me another complimentary item: nachos with some tomato/salsa sauce. Quite tongue-teasing. Didn’t get ingredient-hunting here as this wasn’t on my menu. Also, I was wondering if they were thinking I’m a food reviewer. (Now felt even more autocratic.)
My order arrived. The falafels were nice and crunchy, and the hummus – light and soft – served as the perfect antidotal dip. There was some other sauce and a couple of julienned vegetables, but I was already getting a bit full, with the three complimentary items.
It Gets BetteR…
Meal complete, and deciding to come there again soon, though with a more pliant stomach, I asked for the bill. And then, they unleashed their final complimentary item. Thayir saadham (curd rice), a South-India staple, made of peanut curd. Seriously, veganers (hey, I’d started adopting their coinage) and even some non-veganers would not be able to tell the difference. I then realised that all their complimentary items were more satisfying than the one I ordered. Or was it just because I had to pay for that one?
Impressed, I departed but not without pulling out my phone and showing my blog and the vegan reviews therein, adding that while I’d of course be coming back soon, I’d be reviewing them sooner. (That way, I guess I’m also secretly hoping for more free treats next time.)
Veganer is still getting not just its restaurant into place, but also its digital presence. So, while it has a website, it seems to be revamping it due to the several changes it’s had since its inception, and so has only a screen announcing the new location. Also, no Facebook or Twitter page. (Gasp.) But they are working on it, Karthi shared. Here, for what it’s worth, is their renovation-in-progress website: http://www.veganer.co.in/
Finally, they are located in Shanthi Colony, Anna Nagar (West), opposite Gangotree Sweets. You can note the address and contact details on the splash screen on their site or the image here.
As for the nomenclature, let’s just put it this way. Café Kripa is the “city’s first and only 100% vegan café”, and Veganer is the “first and only 100% vegan restaurant”. And now, I can really state both with 100% authority.