For a long time, the regular users of the Nehru Place Metro station, in south Delhi, walked through the entrance without casting a second glance at the sight around the station building – nothing to admire in the usual debris of development so typical of Indian cities. One fine day, that debris was gone and in its place appeared a sparkling new place called Epicuria, the food mall.
This complex has proved to be a game-changer for the social life of people who work in this vast business district and for the residents of the posh south Delhi colonies nearby. And with the launch of Salon de Thé, from the upscale bakery chain L’Opéra within the Epicuria premises, the formerly bland Nehru Place area has got its first taste of the European outdoor cafe culture.
L’Opéra is by now a familiar name to Delhi residents with a sweet tooth. Within a few years of its launch, nine outlets have opened around the city. But the Salon de Thé experience is available only at Nehru Place, as of now. In a cosy space set just below the Metro station hubbub, reached by a short flight of stairs, the salon is a conservatory, a glass-encased, air-cooled space that shields patrons from the humid Delhi summer but invites sunlight in colder weather.
The main boulangerie-patisserie counter here has all the usual items available at other L’Opéra outlets. The Salon de Thé menu is special, exclusive to the Nehru Place cafe. The brief yet sumptuous menu has items with names so musical that simply placing the order makes one feel very French. Apart from the desserts and a small selection of drinks that includes Granini juices, the Salon de Thé menu has the brouillade (brew-yad), vol au vent, feuilleté (fo-ee-teh), quiche, feta cheese salad, croque monsieur and croque madame, and Café Gourmand, which is an assortment of bite-sized signature pastries and savouries from L’Opéra, served with a hot or cold drink.
L’Opéra is promoting Salon de Thé as a perfect setting for a leisurely high tea. The glass-wrapped terrace, though tiny, is elegant enough to feel classy and comfortable enough to feel informal. The light meals make it a lovely place to visit at any time of the day.
On our evening at Salon de Thé, we found the quiche lorraine (bacon and cheese) and the veg quiche quite exceptional. The croque madame, a substantial sandwich of ham/chicken, cheese and a fried egg, was close to perfect, except for the fact that my French friend slightly raised an eyebrow at the cheese, which he felt was “industrial”. Slow eaters (like me) might want to request the staff to separate the scrambled eggs and the toasted bread in the brouillade – even if purists scoff at such a request – as the eggs make the bread go soggy otherwise. When quickly eaten, as brasserie food is meant to be, the bread stays crunchy. All the items are served with a fresh green salad and a tangy olive purée.
The unique selling proposition of Salon de Thé – as most L’Opéra loyalists would know – is that the people behind this French bakery chain are, in fact, French. Founder Laurent Samandari and his parents are actively involved in all daily operations, and they introduce French items on the menu that have appealed to them on any recent trip to France. Some things have a permanent place on the pastry counter: the famed French macaroons and the L’Opéra cake, one of the two things from which the patisserie takes its name, the other being the renowned Opera House in Paris.
We tried the cake, naturally. The multi-layered chocolate and coffee rectangle was marvellous, the tastes in the different layers complementing each other very well. Not too hard and not too gooey, the cake consistency was just so.
A visit to Salon de Thé is memorable – the meal is attractive enough, but it is the setting that is truly unique, a little world of leisure and pleasure away from the mad rush of commerce only about a dozen steps away.
Cost for two: Rs 1,200
Address: Epicuria, Nehru Place metro station
Contact: www.loperaindia.com, Tel: +91-120-4066888