Till now, ‘eating out’ meant going to a restaurant, scanning the menu and ordering something that you like from there. Autobahn is here to change all that. Located on the third floor at Phoenix MarketCity Pune, Autobahn, gets its name from the federal controlled-access highway system in Germany.
At the entrance of the walk-in restaurant, the hostess will ask for your name and number, and by the time you reach your table, you will have a personalised welcome message on the tablet menu. But that’s not the only purpose of registering at the entrance; your order history during every visit is saved and you can access it whenever you visit the restaurant again.
Sit near the conveyor belt, not near the aisle — that’s where all the fun is. Medium-sized bowls are labelled with the dish they contain and are put on the conveyor belt. You have to look out for the dish you want, you can also look at the ‘On The Move’ menu on your tablet and tell one of the attendants to get you a dish from there if you can’t spot it on the belt. The portions are enough for one person, or may be a duo if they are small eaters, or want to try a variety of things.
The belt mostly contains starters, salads and desserts. The bowls are colour-coded according to the price. Every time a dish reaches the kitchen on the belt, the staff checks whether it is the optimum temperature, and if it falls below, they do not reheat it, but replace it with a fresh batch. The management believes in the concept of zero wastage and tries to promote it among their customers. They offer to pack up all you leftover food so that you can take it home and eat later, or perhaps give it to a less fortunate homeless person. The restaurant also donates food to the Robin Hood Army, and the food which cannot be consumed is given to an NGO that makes compost out of it.
Coming back to our experience, we tasted starters like Mysore Chicken Fry, which was deep fried in a spicy batter till it was satisfyingly crunchy, Egg Devil a Kolkata-special snack, mouthwatering Fish Strips served with mustard dip, and Vegetable Chops filled with the goodness of beetroot and other vegetables. It won’t be a bad idea to visit this place just to gorge on the starters — there is a large variety and all of them are must-tries.
But if you’re not craving for anything on the belt, you can order from the a la carte menu which features a range of specialities from states like Gujarat, Goa, Kerala, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Quick tip: While ordering on the tablet, you can type out specifications to customise it.
We ordered a portion of Goan Vegetables Xacuti, exotic vegetables (sans cauliflower because we took advantage of the restaurant’s offer to customise dishes) with Goan spices and fresh fragrant coconut, Osaman, a Gujarati-style lentil preparation with a distinct taste of homemade ghee to soothe your soul, Murg Butter Masala, which had big chunks of meat and the gravy wasn’t as sweet as it usually is at other restaurants, and Chanar Kofta which were delicate paneer balls in a creamy gravy. And to go with it we ordered the goes-with-everything Butter Naan, and a serving of Lucchi — which is like poori, but only more soft, light and heavenly. We also tried the Chicken Biryani. While all the other dishes are made as authentic as possible, the biryani is an experiment, and a rather successful one. Chef Sanjay Kak has taken elements we love from the Kolkata Biryani and the Hyderabadi Biryani and made something that will leave you licking your plate. He informs us that he doesn’t allow the use of artificial coloring in his kitchen, and the colour of the biryani comes from the fried onions — yum.
In about 15 minutes or so, the food arrived on a cart on a highway made above the conveyor belt. Once the cart reached our table, a recorded message about collecting the food played on repeat, till we picked up the dishes and pressed a highlighted button to send the cart back to the kitchen. I suddenly felt that I had left my life behind and travelled to the future for a lunch with a friend. Growing up seeing the evolution of the mobile phone to a smartphone, this experience had me popping out of my seat and clapping with unexplainable and unreasonable joy every time the cart approached our table.
Ending the experience on a sweet note, we had a few bites of the Gulab Jamun Cheesecake, which had halves of gulab jamun buried under a rich, kesar-flavoured layer of Mascarpone cheese and baked to perfection. But what really caught our fancy was an innovative dish by the chef called Idukku Pepper Brownie with Ginger and Honey Sauce. Don’t be deceived as it looks like a simple brownie with some syrup, but only when you taste it, do you feel a slight aftertaste of ginger and pepper, which is an acquired taste.