It is not everyday you come across a place that instantly connects with you, Soul Pantry does. Simple, minimalist yet charming the newest deli style café at Andaz, Aerocity puts you at ease the minute you enter. Elegant, and understated, the place is a welcome change from loud, over the top restaurants that have flooded the city’s dining scene in the recent times. “At Soul Pantry we celebrate of the abundance of nature,” Varun Punhani, manager of restaurant operations, says as he shows us the place. “By inspiring sustainable and mindful living, we, metaphorically speaking, feed our guests’ souls. The set up meanwhile emphasizes on easy vibe.”
Soul Pantry is the kind of place where you could play Jenga with friends on a weekend, or retreat in a corner with a book on a weekday, or, better still, work on your own book in the peace that it offers. That said the highlight at Soul Pantry is food—light, flavourful, wholesome, the food is as unpretentious and evolved as the space. And so, whatever you may chose to do here, the focus would be on food.
The small menu, created deliberately to ensure usage of fresh seasonal produce, offers meal bowls, smoothies, juices, specialty teas and coffees, and their signature dish: the flatbread. Everything is made fresh with ingredients that are sourced responsibly and locally. In that sense it carries forward the ethos of the hotel. “There is no maida used in our kitchen,” chef Kapil Chauhan, the sous chef at the café, tells us even as he works on a flatbread in the open, interactive kitchen. “We make our breads with alternate grains like ragi, amaranth, buckwheat, barley, and finger millets.” The idea, says Kapil, is to look at age-old grains in a new light. The nutritional value comes as an added advantage.
Wellness bowls, fruit juices, and alternate grains—the menu hardly sounds exciting until you start eating. We begin with the artisanal rice bowl. Made with three kinds of puffed rice—black, brown, red—and roasted amaranth, the meal bowl looks new to the eye but is familiar to the palate. Inspired by Bombay’s bhel-puri and Calcutta’s jhaal-muri, the preparation is a perfect balance of textures and flavours. The softness of potato compliments the crunch of rice, the tartness of tomatoes is neutralized by the sharpness of onions, and the peanuts add depth. The Italian bowl meanwhile is a mélange of fresh cherry tomatoes, Himalayan mozzarella, homemade pesto and crunchy walnuts.
While there are 5 types of bases to choose from for the signature flat breads, the number of toppings is much larger. Pork belly, prawns, chorizos, lamb, cheese, chicken, even berries, apples, and chocolate. We start with Avocado and Hummus flatbread. Made with barley flower, garnished with fresh mint and crisp chickpeas, the bread is soft and neutral and allows the smoothness of avocado and freshness of mint to shine through. More versions of the bread follow, some with cheese, some with chorizo, some topped after baking, some baked with the toppings, and some served with only cheese. Each bread tastes distinct and every topping woks well, but what comes at the end is the clear winner. The coconut prawn flatbread, served with a topping of sautéed Mangalore prawns, coconut sauce, and fried curry leaves, is a work of art and makes us wonder why no one thought of this before.
The meals are best accompanied by the signature brews at Soul Pantry. With its own Coffee Programme, that brings specially roasted, single estate coffee (sourced directly from farmers), Soul Pantry presents interesting variants of the cold brew. We try the anti-aging (server’s choice, not ours!) and coffee lemonade. While the former is made with jaggery and lemon, the latter has soda, black salt and tamarind—another example of unusual ingredients working in perfect harmony. That is another thing about Soul pantry: seemingly unrelated things combine to create an interesting and comforting vibe. Food being just one of them.
Rs. 2000 for two; Andaz Delhi, Asset No.1, Northern Access Road, Aerocity, daily 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM.
A version of this story first appeared in The Hindu.