I love experiencing a place via its culinary offerings. Not only is it fun to go and check out different places to eat, it is a great way to connect with the locals and get to know that little more about a place, which has not been mentioned in a typical travel brochure.
Since Pondicherry is right next to the sea, the seafood served here is fresh and varied. Crabs, prawns, squids and different varieties of local fishes are available in most of the popular restaurants. Vegetarians, vegans and meat lovers need not feel left out, since there is enough and more for them too.
Even though Pondicherry as a whole is very popularly known as French Pondicherry, there is not too much of classic French cuisine available here; it is more European/ Continental in nature. So what is the French cuisine, which is available? The quintessential French baguettes with different fillings are available in quite a few café’s.
Here go my pick of the café’s and restaurants that we visited while we were in Pondicherry.
Rendezvous on Rue Sufferen
A popular restaurant; it was one of the most recommended places mentioned to us by various friends, when they heard we were visiting Pondicherry. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant has both indoor and outdoor dining options. Until and unless you particularly like air-conditioned interiors, I would recommend sitting outside, especially in the evenings, since most evenings in Pondicherry are breezy and cool.
Does it live up to the hype? Well yes, but do not expect anything too exotic. Of course, fresh-catch-of-the-day can include options like grilled tiger prawns and crabs. Rendezvous is a place you must pay a visit to, if you like continental and baked cuisine; it is their specialty. As far as beverages go, limited variety of local and Indian wine and beer is on offer. Tariffs I would say are pretty reasonable and do not make one empty the pockets.
Caution: The orders take at least 30 minutes plus to come (this is mentioned in the menu, and our order took 45 minutes to arrive!), so incase you are ravenous and are not in the mood to sip a drink till food arrives, then come on a day when you are ready to wait up. Aha! Do remember that the restaurant is closed on tuesdays.
Le Café on Goubert Avenue
This is right on the promenade and the perfect time to visit it is in the evenings. On our short visit we frequented the place at least thrice, so that really sums up pf how much we did like Le Café. Open 24 hours of the day, Le Café is a great place to be, if one is in the mood to just sit back, relax and listen to the waves crash against the rocky embankment. In case you are lucky enough to get a place in the shaded sit-out of the Café, you are sure to get gently sprayed sometimes by the wave mist.
The USP of the place is apart from being open 24 hours of the day, Le Café has a variety of meal options available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Food offerings include French baguettes, pizzas, salads, sandwiches, etc. No alcohol is served here; though the other beverages on offer include ginger tea, cappuccino, latte’s and even a very chocolicious hot chocolate. Service is quick and prompt. If you want to watch the sunrise and then have some hot breakfast served to you, head for Le Café on the promenade.
Caution: This place is very popular, so don’t be surprised if you have to wait for a wee bit to get a place. The best time to visit is either early morning, before too many people start coming in, or early evenings, at around 4 pm. Since the promenade officially becomes a walk-only zone post 6pm, you would need to be really lucky to get a place here post 6pm.
Coffee.Com on Mission Street
Looking for a quiet place with rich interiors and someplace which is not buzzing with people? Then Coffee.com is a place you will surely enjoy going to. We discovered this place, quite by chance, while walking around French Pondicherry. Located inside a heritage building, the café also doubles up as an Internet café with various pay-as-you-use computers available for diners.
Still in the process of being restored completely, Coffee.com also has also limited number of rooms offer on rent.
Coffee.com is quaint and very different from any other place that I had visited in Pondicherry. A walk past the large-aged-wood paneled glass door, and it feels as if one has been taken back in time. Rich wooden interiors, concerto music playing in the background and a welcoming hearty smile from the owner, all makes it a very different experience. There is no service staff hanging around to take orders, since it is the owner himself who doubles up as the cook and order taker. Self serve the food, which is prepared at a relatively leisurely pace. Try out their French baguettes and coffees! There is much more, but this is what I had and liked, hence the recommendation!
Caution: You would need to open your footwear outside the door before you enter the premises! Yes, this request is boldly displayed on the door. Personally I found it a little strange to open footwear outside a café, but well, we played along, since we were on a holiday! So, if you are comfortable to being bare footed while eating and sipping your coffee, go ahead visit Coffee.com
Surguru on Mission Street
Looking for good wholesome pure vegetarian fare? Then look no further than Surguru. Their traditional South Indian thali has an assortment of vegetables, lentils and even a sweet dish in the end. Finish your meal, with a hot filter coffee, made to perfection.
Apart from Indian vegetarian, even the ubiquitous Indian-Chinese is available here. But judging from the orders, which I saw around the restaurant, the South Indian thali seemed to be popular choice both with the locals and foreign nationals alike.
While there is another Surguru on Nehru Street, called Surguru Spot, which is within the hustle and bustle of the city, this particular branch is situated in one of the leafy by-lanes of French Pondicherry. Certainly more appealing surroundings!
Caution: The place is very popular; there is a constant flow of people, especially at peak meal times. So prepare to wait up a bit to grab a place. No meat/ fish/ egg preparations are available here.
The Hidesign Café on Nehru Street
The Hidesign building stands out like a tall statuesque stylized lady among it’s crowded surroundings. The café’ is on the topmost floor of the flagship store of the Hidesign building. If you are looking for leather bags, accessories and garments of International quality, this is the place you should pay a visit to. Hidesign now retails in many major stores of the world, and it felt good to be inside its flagship store right there in Pondicherry.
Tastefully done up, the café serves a selection of wine, spirits, beers and other hot and cold beverages, along with an eclectic menu. Food offerings include varieties of soups, tapas, salads, sandwiches and desserts. A great place for both veggie and non-veggie food seekers. Come here, relax, read a book, sip a coffee, or may be tuck in some food and read up one of the various national magazines and touristy reading material placed for the guests.
Caution: None really, except that you may want to come back many more times! And since the flagship store is right below, you may end up spending much more than you thought you would!
Trivia: a few blocks away is the factory outlet of Hidesign! Check it out, if you want to get more for less!
Restaurant/ café inside Hotel De L’ Orient
Part of the Neemrana Group, Hotel De L’ Orient has a beautiful old world charm to it. The in-house restaurant is open even to non-residents guests. It is advisable to check availability before you decide to drop by, since the seating is limited, and the first priority of seating is obviously for the resident guests.
A wide selection of food and beverages is on offer. Even the plate of fried fritters that we ordered with our drinks, was done up in an unusual way. Cocktails, mocktails, and a selection of International beverages, including some fine malts, make this a great place to check out. Service is efficient and courteous.
Caution: None! But incase you are not an in-house guest; you may not get the most favored spot! But, that’s a minor hitch, in the larger scheme of things!
Light House Promenade Hotel on The Promenade
Owned by the Hidesign group, Light House at the Promenade hotel offers a fine dine experience right in the heart of the famed promenade of French Pondicherry. The restaurant is open to non in-house guests too.
Perched on the top floor of the hotel, the Light House offers some breathtaking views of the promenade at night. Go there if you want to be serenaded by the tunes of the saxophone, watch the sea of people walk below and feel the caress of the cool sea breeze as you sip your wine. Don’t miss the all-leathered up lift interiors as you go up to the restaurant (It is owned by the Hidesign group, remember?)
The restaurant is named Light House and rightly so, due to the towering presence of the old lighthouse of Pondicherry town, right next door. Compared to the buildings nearby, the lighthouse seems small, but adds to the sense of nostalgia to the dining experience.
Caution: The sun is very sharp in Pondicherry, so the rooftop is not recommended in the mornings and afternoons. The best time to visit is of course the evenings.
Now, that’s quite a bit of eating out we did in a span of a week! There are some more places, which continue to remain on my wish list, which I will hopefully be able to savor ‘when and if’ I happen to visit Pondicherry again.
Pondicherry is also its famed niche shopping..till my next post! Adieu!
Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey ~ Pat Conroy