Pondicherry’s favourite restaurant returns with contemporary décor and a menu featuring both old favourites and new experiments
Ask anyone about the early days of eating out in Pondicherry, and they’ll tell you about Rendezvous Café. At a time when going out to dinner mostly meant visiting either established hotels or small, nondescript establishments dishing out regional Indian fare, Vincent Mathias and his wife Jessica took over a little white-town restaurant and turned it into a culinary adventure, a Lonely Planet pick, and a Pondicherry institution. “My father’s menu had upwards of 200 items with French, Konkan, and Mangalorean dishes; my mother was the backbone of the place, and we had many regulars,” Vincent Mathias’ daughter Valerie tells me, recalling with admiration what her parents had together built. After her father’s passing in 2010, the restaurant closed, then moved downstairs briefly, and closed again for a more extensive rebuilding. Some twenty years on, it was time for a reinvention.
Meet the crew
Rendezvous is scheduled to re-open again on October 9. This time, it is Valerie Mathias Johnson and her husband, Chef Leevin Johnson who are running the show. Valerie was formerly in sales and management with Hilton and Lavasa, and Leevin with Taj Hotels; both are now established hoteliers with a special passion for food. They’ve moved the restaurant space up to a fully renovated third floor terrace with views of the Church dome, the sea, and the old lighthouse tethering it in three directions. The old keeth thatched roof is gone, as are the checkered table cloths and white-painted cane chairs. In their place are polished white concrete tables, a swirly floor design, whimsical décor, a show bar, and a space for musicians to perform live.
The new menu is both more modest and more focused. It showcases Rendezvous’ old fondness for seafood, but presents French fare with Asian twists to keep things exciting. Some signature Goan and other dishes are preserved for those nostalgia-seeking guests who would want none other. “The point is not to convert people to any singular kind of food,” Chef Johnson insists, “but to give everyone food they are comfortable eating.” Each new table detail has been thought through to add interest and allow guests to interact with food as they wish, “adding balsamic or chilli flakes if they like!” Lunch will be lighter tapas-style mix-and-match eats. Dinner guests can linger over multiple courses, finishing with tarte tartins and shots paired with just the right tastes of chocolate. In all, the re-done Rendezvous promises a refreshed gastronomical experience with all the old commitments to good food presented anew. We can’t wait for a taste of how the story of Pondicherry food is to be re-written all over again.
Details: 0413 2227677
Deepa S Reddy
(The writer is a Pondicherry-based blogger and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)