At Joe Lobo’s Swiss Hutte, enjoy comfort food and then tour the garden under the shade of Ceibas and Baobabs
s we sip on fresh juice inside Swiss Hutte, Joe Lobo says that the 10-day-old restaurant and cafe is his way of bringing back a bit of the nostalgia of Old Madras. We look a bit puzzled, because though his concise menu has names like Madras Chicken Country Captain (a popular Anglo Indian gravy from the days of the Presidency), we’re seated inside the look alike of a Swiss chalet. “The chalet inspiration was because of my time as a chef in Switzerland,” Lobo clarifies, adding that his Swiss roof has been modified to keep the heat out. And going by the fact that we’re content with just the breeze of a fan as we enjoy the view of his garden (oblivious to the 33° mid-day heat outside), we have to agree.
Time stands still
As we take in the broad brick walls, oxidised pillars and the heavily wooded interiors of this gigantic cabin, we soon learn from our host that this used to be the cowshed of the house his grandfather bought 80 years ago. He points to different areas, explaining what they once were years ago — we’re seated in the milking room, the kitchen was formerly the hay room and one can still see the grills that remain of the birthing room, that is now a bathroom with every modern amenity.
In the distance of the garden, you can see a small outhouse and the majestic Graemes Garden House (this is the correct spelling, he insists), still standing tall, though weathered by time. It is from a nearly 100-year-old tree from this garden, that Lobo has created the cabin’s bar counter and loft, where he will be serving only tea, with a great view.
Walk with Joe
Strolling through the approximately 10,000-sqft garden, where Lobo has been planting trees (not flowers) since he was a child, he tells us tales of James Anderson, the botanist and surgeon for the East India Company, who collected trees from all the English colonies and planted them in Chennai. Clearly inspired by Anderson (and his own grandmother, Hermoine Lobo, who was a horticulturist), Lobo grows nearly 150 trees, from the Lignum vitae that has the densest wood (once used to make railway tracks in Cuba), to the Baobab that are known to grow to a diametre of almost 18 metres. “Anderson planted nearly 400 Baobabs around the Cooum. They flourished till the 60s but now only one relic remains at the Bharat Petroleum bunk off Greams Road,” Lobo pulls out a page from history. Among his other prized, green possessions are the second largest tree after the Giant Redwood — the Ceiba from the Peruvian Amazon that grows to a height of 120 metres — and the tree with the lightest wood, the Balsa, that is used in aero modelling. Now we could go on about Prickly Pear, Durian, West Indian Cherries and many other fruits that also share space in Lobo’s garden, but we’ll let you discover them yourself, if you too can convince him to give you a tour that is.
Open from noon to 10 pm. Details: 42074844