Manohar Elavarthi has been an activist for more than 25 years. He has fought for the rights of sexual minorities, workers in the unorganised sector and women. But he is an activist with a difference. He wants his activism to continue, no matter what hurdle comes his way.
The biggest such hurdle is money. And things are especially tough financially since the Central government has started tightening funding norms of NGOs. But Mr Elavarthi here is a man with a plan. He has just combined two of passions, and the result is Freedom Cafe, on MSREC Road, the Mathikere side of M S Ramaiah Institute of Technology in Bengaluru.
Elavarthi plans to run this snug little place true to it’s name, as a place where freedom is valued, and fights for freedom are initiated. He also plans to use the earnings from this eatery to fuel the fights he takes on on behalf of people who need him the most.
Freedom Cafe happens to be the first restaurant Yum Central is reviewing, and to be honest, it’s an honour! The only regret is that this review is a result of the experiences of Arkadev alone, as Pooja, who was under the weather, chose to skip it. So here goes!
I arrived at the place a little in advance, and to be honest, was hit by the very organic vibe it gave out. Mr Elavarthi would arrive soon, and I was to first do a story on him for out newspaper before reviewing the restaurant.
I must say, what almost instantly caught my attention was a bit of polish to the whole place. The power sockets next to most seats added only to Freedom Cafe’s inviting nature. I would learn later that Mr Elavarthi offers free Wi-Fi, too! Now although many eateries and hangout joints do that not many let you charge your device, though…
By now, I had ordered a plate of French fries. Shelling out Rs 40 a plate, I was told to opt for the Sour Cream and Onion variety by the manager there, Deepak by name. He and the food didn’t disappoint. But we will come to that in a few minutes, which was how long the food took to arrive. Meanwhile, I busied myself studying the adornments on the wall.
Mr Elavarthi had arrived by now, and we got talking. The food had arrived in the meantime, but something else Mr Elavarthi had said and showed had more of my attention for the moment. He said he wanted the eatery to be be a place where people converge to discuss, debate and work for society. To that end, he had ensured that if his patrons need more space, the bigger tables – one side bolted to the wall – can be folded to the wall to create more space. Like so:
Then, as I interviewed him for the newspaper article (to be found here), I dug into the French fries, and was pleasantly surprised! These were crispy even when they had turned a little cold, and every inch of every fry was evenly covered with the sour cream and onion flavour! So no burst of flavour in one bite and nothing in the next. And they were accompanied by four different dips, including California honey mustard, mint mayonnaise and Peri Peri!
Next came the biryani, Luknow-i (or is it Lukhnavi) style. Beautifully spiced, slightly on the sweeter side and with a side of raita, this one was filling, and had flavour in every bite.
Meanwhile, Mr Elavarthi was talking about the thought process that went into the look and feel of Freedom Cafe. The entire seating and dining arrangement is made of refurbished wood, and the food is served in easily biodegradable and eco-friendly utensils.
Also, he supports the Right to Water, and so does not sell bottled water. All the water served at Freedom Cafe comes from a special machine that treats it, and is absolutely healthy!
As talk turns to Mr Elavarthi’s love for food, and how it started, out come the savouries – veggie and paneer sticks with the four dips.
By Mr Elvarthi’s own confession, the veggie bits are the best. One bite, and I knew why. But it took a few more bites to absolutely cement that opinion. That crunchy crust is absolutely chock-full of flavour, from spices to bits of vegetables, with some cheese right at the centre! In my opinion, it was really good finger food, fit to wow vegetarian guests at cocktail parties.
The paneer was great, too! And with a full, solid slice of it in the stick, it was really good value for money! Especially considering the fact that paneer is costlier than chicken these days…
And while we finish these up, the chicken strip arrives.
It was crispy, tasty, beautifully seasoned and spiced. And it could give many a multi-national food chain some serious competition.
By this time, I was beginning to feel full, so we prepared to part ways. Mr Elavarthi decided that it should be on a sweet note, and out came a Mizo rice cake with a little ice cream!
It had the consistency of a sweet dish made of jaggery/molasses, and so I was expecting a really stiff sugar hit. Instead, I was once again pleasantly surprised by the quietly sweet taste of this dish from North-East India, made with sticky rice. And that was the culmination of that culinary tour.
For Yum Central, this was a good place to eat, and even better, hang out at. We give it 4 stars out of 5! But only because we expect it to grow much bigger. And pray that it happens, too!
Ground Floor, Sree Complex,
No. 4/3, MSREC Road, Mathikere,
(Near Ramaiah College Gate 11/ NIAS Main Gate, New BEL Road)
Bengaluru – 560054.
Here’s a quick look at their menu:
Got something to tell us? Like pointing out a mistake or giving us some interesting bit of trivia? Right this way!
Coming soon: A little recipe for a friend studying abroad, and the hundreds and thousands of others like her. [The recipe did come, but not as soon as we would have wanted it.]
PS: Anybody got any tips on how to take good photos with a point-and-click camera?