When my brother-in-law Arun, heard that I was going to Coonoor he not only told me to check out Café Diem but followed his suggestion up a few days later with an insistent reminder for the same. One of the topics that we can talk tirelessly of with each other is most certainly FOOD ! And he’s the sort of adventurous food enthusiast that anybody would love to have eat at their table and makes for a fun travel companion (even if that entails pulling my leg in the most bullish way !!!)
Anyway , always one to take his advice seriously,I looked up the cafe’ online and to my surprise found a fair number of reviews on Trip Advisor.I promptly called up the number that google dished up ,eager to make a reservation! The cheerful voice on the phone belonged to the owner Radhika Shastry who gave us specific directions (that wasn’t available on Google) to reach her place. I must mention here that Coonoor is second home to me and my family and I have gone up and down those roads since I was very little.The town has since grown but still managed to retain much of it’s charm for which I’m ever so grateful! While I love the energising time spent outdoors here going for long walks in solitude and with the family,the idea of visiting a cafe’ in such picturesque settings was to me, just as appealing !
The space that we entered on arrival charmed us right from the first footstep in.The café is located behind Radhika’s house.A large black board points you in the direction of the path along with giving your hungry taste buds a little nudge by mentioning the dishes that are on offer for the day.
As we followed the small winding pathway that took us behind her home,it was hard to miss the gaily painted wooden benches,the picket fencing, the pretty wind chimes,the small lily pond and the sit out which had a small sign marked private, again prettily placed to go with the surroundings. As if on cue the house help came out to politely hurry us along the path… she was right to not allow us to linger on and spoil the privacy of the home !
Café Diem felt like an extension of Radhika’s home in the way it exuded warmth to the visitor.The doorway to the café is peppered with many visuals.The wooden umbrella holder with it’s bright umbrellas is placed next to a quaint armoire,should any guest need shelter from an unexpected downpour. It’s this kind of thoughtfulness that my gaze encountered with every little thing that nestled in a space where it belonged ! I’m sure Radhika is used to people stopping in their tracks and having a long look-about !
The small space is filled with objects that are a fascinating array of bohemian whimsy. We were welcomed in by Radhika who was keen to know how we folk from Coimbatore heard of her little place,as she doesn’t advertise. She had reserved a lovely table for us by a large picture window and I was so glad that we had called ahead to make a reservation.It makes things so much easier for both the restaurateur as well as the diner don’t you think ?! Once seated we were handed the menus that were printed on wood and cut to look like cheese boards in different colours ranging from a sunny yellow ,a mint green to a Mediterranean ocean blue all tied up in a dainty organza ribbon.
Her place mats too make a statement against serving bottled water. Colourful glass bottles filled with water from her own well treated with reverse osmosis are placed on every table.I have to confess that I am one of those that are fearful of drinking water that hasn’t been treated and do rely a lot on the Aquafinas and Kinleys... I did however appreciate that Radhika had taken the effort to inform her customers about the water she was serving !
Aside from an array of seasonal fresh juices,the vegetarian only menu offered a selection of soups, salads,sandwiches,sweet and savoury tarts, pizza, pasta, ice creams and hot beverages.The food,though suggestive of a café the ambience was more that of a lovely restaurant with it’s athangudi tiled wooden furniture . At first we thought the seating was a bit too snug for comfort,until I thought about it and realised that I’m forgetting that it is in actuality a cafe’ and hence the need for seating that is not really spaced too far apart ! (light bulb moment !!!)
We settled on the pumpkin and coconut milk soup,the mushroom soup and the roasted tomato soup. It was with great reluctance that I unfolded the dusky blue rooster printed unusually shaped round napkins on my lap. I hoped not to spill a single crumb on the adorable linen ! In a few minutes,steaming generous bowlfuls were placed before us. The slight lack of salt allowed us to first appreciate the rich depth of flavor from the vegetables.
Reaching for the salt shaker led to a burst of conversation on discovering that they were shaped like little ceramic piglets. A quick glance at the next table and we spotted another pair in the form of plump blue birds. Since my table wouldn’t put down the pigglings 😉 long enough for me to take a picture, all I have for my readers is a shot of the well fed budgies ! Later Radhika said that it was precisely her intention to under season some of the dishes so that her diners should enjoy using the different ceramic shakers that she had lovingly sourced.
The spiced yellow pumpkin soup was so comforting with it’s thick velvety texture and hint of sweetness as was the full bodied ivory coloured warm mushroom soup. The one thing we missed was a bit of bread on the side. We also suggested that the tomato skin needed to be removed before pulsing the tomato soup as it didn’t feel good on the palate.
If you’re one of those foodies who love the butteriness of a flaky pastry filled to the brim with a deliciously flavoured filling then the savoury mushroom tart will delight you with it’s familiar bechamel sauce taste coupled with the unmistakable flavour of the button mushroom. The portion is just the right size for one person , any larger and one would have to just roll down the hill !!!
The ratatouille pizza was a first for all of us and it was just delicious. It came loaded with slices of roasted bell peppers,zucchini and brinjal on a bed of rich tomato sauce over a thin crust base topped with stringy melted cheese.It was so good that we ended up ordering another one. I’m definitely going to try the ratatouille panini the next time around !
The falafel platter with the hung curd and hummus was served piping hot and disappeared in a trice. The tangy lemon tart came highly recommended and it was every bit as divine as mentioned by previous patrons. Both the salted caramel and nolen gur ice creams served in martini glasses stayed true to their natural flavours and were enjoyed immensely. All her ingredients, I’m told ,are sourced from local grocers.
Though I stop here with the fanciful food descriptions, there is PLENTY more to choose from…we did not even scratch the tip of the surface. So, if you’re in that neighbourhood, please go and check it out…order what your heart desires,then , and only then, come back and add your valuable comments here…Please !
With an experience of having worked 25 years in the hospitality industry,Radhika’s passions are a reflection of her travel and exposure to different cuisines. After discovering (in her words) ”heaven on earth” she decided to put down roots in Coonoor and 5 years after her move ,thought up of the idea of a café in her back yard.
She enjoys interacting with different people and talks intensely about wanting to showcase a varied range of vegetarian fare with local produce. She believes in the “carpe diem”mindset and could think of no better name for her café.“Live the moment” are words mentioned on her signage.With a jade green bird bath keeping company to potted plants and cane chairs overlooking a vast valley,she is indeed blessed to be doing just that !
Everyone should have brothers-in-law like mine don’t you think ?! 😀
CAFE DIEM (on reservation only)
#2a Kotagiri road,
Meal for 4- Rs.2500/- approx
Timings: 11am to 6pm
Closed on Wednesday