J1, The Flying Duck and Pal@table

by Ashish

Every single day of every single week, I remain besieged by one central question. It is a question to which I give a great deal of thought, and it is a question that gets increasingly difficult to answer with every passing year. Said question is this:

Where shall I eat today?

Not for your author, gentle reader, a life in which one eats so that one may live. The antimetabole applies in my case, and so I live so that I may eat. For if a good meal is not the point of the whole thing, than it is scarcely worth doing.

But a good meal is a tricky thing, and devilishly difficult to guarantee. It involves thinking very carefully about many things at one go: one must consider the weather, the cuisine one is tempted by at the moment, the restaurants in the vicinity, the time available at hand – there are very many things that go into the choosing of an appropriate restaurant. A disappointing meal is one of three opportunities in a day wasted, and the good lord has allocated but a limited number of days for me on this planet. These are not, in short, decisions to be made lightly.

Since my job involves traipsing all over town, I get to try out a lot of new restaurants, and I want to share with you two newish restaurants that I think are worth trying out. The food is excellent at both places, although the places are different, as are their (in my opinion, at any rate) raison d’etres.

The first restaurant that I end up going to quite often these days is J1 (or Jevan). This is located just opposite to MM Joshi Hospital, off Apte Road, and is where Papa Johns used to be earlier.It offers fine dine Maharashtrian cuisine, and does a very, very good job of it. Whoever the owners of the restaurant are, they have certainly put a lot of thought into every aspect of the restaurant, right from the old school switchboards on the wall to the fairly authentic accompaniments they provide to the meal.

Virtually all of the dishes I have tried over here have been worth the money, but the kheema and the Kolhapuri mutton deserve special mention. The breads are also remarkably good, including the vade and the tandlachi bhakri. A meal here will set you back by about 500 rupees per person, but it is value for money, considering what you get in return for your hard earned cash.

What really interests me about the place, though, is the fact that this is, to my knowledge, Pune’s first truly fine dine Maharashtrian restaurant. Put another way, this is the kind of food that your grandmother or aunt or mother would have made for you on a Sunday, or on a special occasion – it’s that good, but served up in a very sophisticated way. And to me, this says two things – one, that people are willing to pay top tier prices for local cuisines (increased demand) and two, the ability and willingness to pay top tier prices is an outcome of more members of a household being out at work through the week (reduced supply). Put another way, you’ll likely see more restaurants like J1 pop up in the future, but the price the average Punekar will pay for this is a reduced probability of getting this kind of food cooked at home.

The second restaurant that I have really enjoyed eating out at is The Flying Duck. Located on the Baner Pashan Link Road, it is a really small place, and very easy to miss. Run by an Assamese couple, it is a restaurant that seems to chug along on passion more than anything else. They don’t even have a PoS machine for example, and it is painfully apparent that they are understaffed. But don’t let that deter you, for the food is truly exceptional. Everything I’ve eaten over here so far has been very good, but the pork dishes (and the ribs in particular) are worth all the time and trouble.

This restaurant fits right into the mould described by a book that I truly enjoyed reading, called “An Economist Gets Lunch” by Tyler Cowen. He describes places that are likely to spring up in the outer suburbs of a city that attracts a lot of people from outside – these places, he says, are likely to offer authentic but exotic food, reasonable prices and above all, truly interesting food. The Flying Duck, I’m happy to report, ticks all of these boxes and more. I hope they settle down and more than break even, because Pune needs many more places like this one.

Which brings me to the third of the troika of things I wanted to talk about in this post – an app that I think is an excellent idea. This app is the brainchild of a blogger I have been following for a long time: Shantanu Ghosh, author of Traveller’s Tales. The app itself is called Pal@table. The idea is fairly simple – use the app to host a table at a restaurant, and invite like minded people to join you at a predetermined date and time. It allows you to try out new restaurants, cuisines and dishes in the company of people who will, hopefully, share some of your interests – a way to socialize over a meal, essentially. I haven’t gotten around to trying out the app just yet, both in terms of hosting a table or joining one – but I do hope to do so soon enough.

But to my mind, each of these three are an example of Pune’s eating out scene changing, and for the better. Whether it is authentic Maharashtrian cuisine being made popular and haute cuisine, North Eastern cuisine being introduced to Puneri palates, or an opportunity for like minded people to socialize over a meal – all are very welcome additions indeed.