These Woods, They Speak

These Woods, They Speak

Cocoparra, the forest restaurant on the outskirts of Pune, takes your imagination far, quite far.

An open bar in the landscaped greens of Cocoparra An open bar in the landscaped greens of Cocoparra
I am squeamish at the idea of dining under trees. Slapping my thigh to cease the crawl of a pesky little thing or observing the faint fall of a feather after an old sport decided to flutter somewhere above; Nah! I'd rather walk a tightrope or scale the Andes for an outdoor spectre. Dinner should be quiet, with clean upholstery, and in precincts of a creme wall, a candle-lit chandelier, and classic jazz. My detractors felt I euphemised cliche as classy and deviously recommended I threw in red roses and SRK show-tunes, to round of the staid Bollywood dinner date sequence.

Well, I sneered them all and chuckled along on my terms until a windy Pune evening and a place called Cocoparra meddled with the course of my imagination. When I was invited for a 'magical dining experience in the forest of the gods', I chose to play along. Several minutes later, after crossing a river, highways with screechy trucks and some expected-yet-anomalous cattle, there it stood.

What lay beyond that wrought iron gate stylistically twirled with leaves, seemed dark and dense. Shadowed by bushes and tea lights, a narrow walkway led me into a space, so serene and so sexy! If photographic memory serves me right, there was a wooden deck floor rife with tables and a cutesy bar next to it; a few steps down in the woodland and there was another well spaced out cluster of benches. Crossed a little bridge and I landed in a cosy amphitheatre of sorts. Here, random clusters of wicker chairs and bean bags aped the wildness so inherent in the backdrop. In the name of a PDR, the restaurant had a wooden machaan or a tree house (if you prefer to call it that), bang in the centre of all the action. The green meadows were electrified with pre-recorded insect sounds and a million fire lamps; at Cocoparra, I was both near and far from life.

Once I settled on my sweet spot (a predictably tedious task), some other kind of sensory retreats were in the offing. In tune with hospitality industry protocol, first landed the cocktails. The lime-n-kiwi margarita splashed with cointreau and vodka was sharp and the infusion of fruit liqueur, balsamic vinaigrette and Tabasco; which the carte du jour so profoundly christened Scarlet; was vaguely overriding. If I chose to indulge my street cred, I would've glugged the sweet-n-sour Kala Khatta instead.

Banana leaves lock in the fiery aromas of the Otak-Otak dumplings
Banana leaves lock in the fiery aromas of the Otak-Otak dumplings

Then rolled in the appetisers. The Crispy Tofu was hand delivered in a golden-crisp wanton parcel and the Otak Otak came individually wrapped in banana leaf. The House Special Onion Walnut Bruschetta left me all roasty-toasty, just what I needed before the entrees reached me.

Then, like a typical food critic, after an overkill of snack platters, I opted for tried and tested mains to see if the restaurant returns to the classics with ease. And, what better than a mushroom asparagus risotto and a classic tomato paste pasta to validate this. These were just about alright but the Kari Kapita with cashew laden veggies tossed in coconut milk that came along, emerged as my hot favourite.

The sweet ending was marked by a creme brulee and a banoffi pie, both accessorised with a caramelised biscotti and Irish cream. Alas, the meal drew to a close and it was time to hit the road back home. Cocoparra's raw charm like pure ivy, had grown on me, and it embraced my memory, only forever.