Recently, I revisited Grasshopper to meet Sonali Sattar for the launch of her new winter collection. As I sat, sipping on a refreshing ginger lime, I reflected on how happy my biannual pilgrimage to Grasshopper makes me. There’s an air of serene relaxation here, of unhurried bliss. And if you have the time to stay for one of Himanshu Dimri’s seven-course special lunches or dinners, you might rediscover the luxury of a lazy four-hour repast, as I have often done with good friends and bottles of wine. Time doesn’t matter here.
I thought it was time to revisit the Grasshopper story, 13 years after Sonali and Himanshu started it. Little has changed. This is one oasis in Bangalore where you can go to unwind in peace and quiet, oblivious of the fact that the now-bustling Bannerghatta road is just five minutes away.
Old Bangaloreans would know of The Farmhouse, a weekend restaurant run by Sonali’s father, the inimitible Syed Sattar. The Farmhouse started decades ago in what was literally wilderness. “Elephants would enter the property,” recalls Sonali, “We had no landline for ages, there were no mobiles, people used to literally drop in to eat. Some nights there were two diners, others there were 45.”
The cuisine was Italian, ingredients hard to come by – olive oil and olives came in, courtesy travelling friends. And the multi-course menu cost a princely `120. Today, it’s `2,500 for seven perfectly made and impeccably finished courses, made from hand-picked ingredients. “Himanshu and I had graduated from NIFT and moved to Bangalore to start Hidden Harmony, our design label, and sometimes, we’d help my father out. I became the salad queen, cutting veggies on our dining table,” says Sonali. The passing of Syed Sattar meant The Farmhouse lost its soul, and Ashrafa, his wife, didn’t want to continue. Sonali and Himanshu, who had started their Hidden Harmony label by then, decided to reinvent The Farmhouse, combining the restaurant with the designer store, out in the quiet bylanes of Kalena Agrahara.
“It was the best decision we ever made,” she says. Himanshu discovered his interest in cooking and took over as chef. “The restaurant’s ethos is an extension of that of our clothes,” says Sonali. “Very simple at heart but meticulous in preparation and detail.”
So true. Years ago, I recall seeing Himanshu, the antithesis of the media-loving modern chef, at organic vegetable stores, carefully picking his lettuce and herbs. He still does that. “I love shopping myself. When you see a product it sparks off ideas.” Today, he has suppliers, some whom even come all the way to deliver one fish. “But I make the entire meal myself, with just one helper. I don’t get bored. There’s a satisfaction in doing something until it’s perfect.” And people still travel miles for Himanshu’s classic veal chops with blue cheese sauce.
While Himanshu concentrates on the restaurant, Sonali focuses on the clothes, which are still all about good fabric, cut and a timeless feel.” The cut and drape are important; each garment takes as long to hem as to put together,” says Sonali, adding that she had recently met a young girl wearing the outfit Sonali had made years back for her mother.
So will Grasshopper remain one of those beloved Bangalore institutions, which you can visit for its peaceful environs and dollops of nostalgia?
“We understand what we are, and don’t feel the urge to expand. But changes? Who knows. Never say never,” replies Himanshu.
Showcasing their rich culinary and cultural heritage, the Northeast festival aims to promote dialogue, integration and cultural exchange. Organised by not-for-profit, Northeast Solidarity, the festival will raise money for their helpline in the city. “Northeast Solidarity has been functioning since 2012, and has helped more than 430 people in times of crisis,” says honourary president Rini Ralte. “Now we need to raise funds to continue our work, and we thought that sharing our culture was the best way to do that.”
Authentic, home-cooked food is one of the main attractions of the event, with stalls specialising in cuisine from particular states. Head to the Arunachal Pradesh stand for dingkio with bamboo shoots, try Assamese style mustard-seed fish curry, or even patot diya maas – steamed fish served in a banana leaf. From Mizoram, don’t miss the smoked beef curry and mizo bai soup. Also on the menu is Manipuri black dal (sangol hawai dal) and nga atoiba thongba, a fish curry specialty. Ralte elaborates that, “Food is one of the most integrating factors of our community life. Because of this, we’re calling it a ‘peace meal’.”
Song and dance
“The festival aims to share our rich cultures and heritage, as reflected in food, dress, music, songs, dances, designs, patterns, and texture,” shares Ralte. Starting from 6 pm, you can catch the Mizoram bamboo dance, also called cheraw dancing, usually performed in a group of four, which involves stepping in and out of bamboo staves laid on the ground. There will also be Manipuri and Nepali dances, a ramp walk showcasing traditional fashion from the region as well as vocal performances from Bangalore-based artistes Yanglo (Nagaland) and Joan & Sussie (Mizoram). Photography will highlight the region’s history, landscape and people. Entry free. 4 pm onwards. The cultural programme begins at 6 pm. At United Theological College, Millers Road. Details: 9449819757
— Maegan Dobson Sippy