Laidback and comforting underlines every meal at Gurugram’s Cafe StayWoke—an experience that is further elevated with their all-new menu. And we got an exclusive tasting! Text and Photographs by Bayar Jain
Post many meals at home and countless experiments in the kitchen over the past few months, I finally step out for dinner. My table for the night is at a quaint cafe nestled on the first floor of Gurugram’s South Point Mall, Cafe StayWoke. A quick climb up the stairs, and I find myself standing in front a blackboard perched outside a glass door bordered by a pale blue frame. “We are fresh with an all new menu,” it reads. Intriguing, I think to myself.
Upon entering, chalkboard walls, quirky framed posters, a swing-style seating, and stellar graffiti greet me. A quick scan of the place is all it take for me to foresee the laidback vibe that lies ahead. A courteous Chef Hitein Puri and his team guiding me to my table further accentuates the pleasant vibe radiating through the space. Their smiling faces—evident even beneath their customised face masks—makes me feel at ease instantly.
To begin, Chef Puri brings a wooden tray with two dried leaf-like shots snuggled in a pit of uncooked rice grains. “This is our welcome drink—chamomile and finger lime tea—served in a dried passionfruit leaf shell” While the plating has me floored instantly, the drink’s warm journey down my throat refreshes. A sip of this tangy concoction is all I need to understand that my culinary journey ahead is going to nothing less than extraordinary.
But flipping through the yellow menu—which describes the cafe as ‘gourmet casual’—leaves me spoilt for choice. A lot of my favourites, I notice, have found a space in the multi-page menu. Masala omelette, french toasts, focaccia sandwiches, whole wheat flatbreads, to name a few. Probably sensing my confusion, Chef Puri chimes in, offering to take me through the menu. Winter delicacies celebrating seasonal produce is the theme, he explains. “For drinks, the mushroom kadha is our speciality.” But the hot chocolate lingering in the menu catches my eye. So, I order both.
A hot cup of cocoa with a flaming marshmallow can seldom go wrong, but the cafe’s not-too-sweet concoction of Belgian chocolate is just what one needs to slip into the winter spirit. My heart, however, resides in the mushroom kadha, a drink—I must admit—I am skeptical about at first. The earthy undertones of the hot broth-like dish is like a warm hug in a cup, transporting me to a space of nostalgia best described as happy bliss.
For food, my indecisive avatar kicks in as I find myself rummaging through the menu unable to make a choice. Chef Puri suggests opting for a taster menu, a concept often reserved for alcohol in bars. The tasting menu, chef explains, takes diners across the restaurant’s specialities, without having to waste any leftover food.
I soon learn that at Cafe StayWoke, conscious dining is not restricted just to the food. While most plastics have been eliminated (barring the one’s left behind by the previous owners), all ingredients are also sourced locally from Kosara Farms, and TWF Flours. In the near future, the cafe also hopes to invite home bakers to sell their cakes and pastries here; and local artists for live performances.
The first taste of this farm-to-table freshness comes with the crunchy and flavourful patte ki chaat. The bite of the spinach and kale leaves paired with the sweet undertones of the chutney-laden curd sing on the palate, while the mustard punch elevates it. Next up is a litti and truffle chokha, a twist on a Bihari classic. Served with raw tomato chutney, the flattened sattu-filled chokha intrigues. However, the fragrant eggplant chokha steals the show, thanks to the intense bouts of mustard and spices. Another notable mention are the grilled mushroom skewers, served with muhammara and sticky soy sauce for an Asian twist.
For main course, the cafe’s global cuisine becomes more apparent, courtesy char-grilled brassica, katsespazle, and green Thai curry served with fresh farm vegetables. Visually, the three bowls of food are draped in colours aplenty. And taste? Even better! While the peculiarity of the katsespazle—a German pasta with cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan—nudges me to keep going for seconds; the vibrancy and bite of the vegetables of the coconut-ty Thai curry with fragrant rice echoes homely familiarity. The char-grilled brassica, for me, steals top-spot. The pukhtan gravy with fresh broccoli and cauliflower florets paired with whole wheat paratha is a symphony of spices difficult to master. Despite a full stomach, I find myself sweeping the bowl clean without wanting to leave any spoons unlicked.
A meal without dessert is incomplete. And one without chocolate? A sin. This sweet craving is instantly satiated by the tiny bite-sized Nutella toasts. What sounds like a simple dish at first is elevated by the pleasant cameo by extra virgin olive oil drizzled over—a tip I’m taking home with me!
If a night’s meal is this good, I can’t wait to see what Chef Hitein Puri and his team at Cafe StayWoke have lined up ahead. But for now, I lick the last remnants of the cocoa goodness off my fingers and smile gleefully like a well-fed child.