To get to this Hauz Khas Village eatery, you first descend a cramped alley hung with fabric, reminiscent of the Katra Neel cloth market in the Old City. Once you pop out on the other end though, you’ll find less commerce, more conversation.
The Grey Garden, perched at the rear edge of the Village, has ties to a local hipster consortium of electronic artists and designers. Its interior decor compounds the impression that the owners are playing at restaurateuring: the rectangular room has only about six tables, and is defined by its loveliest feature, a ceiling of white fabric squares, lit up with a wash of neon light.
Found objects are sandwiched under the glass table-tops; dried roses hang in random bunches from the walls; and draped over a nail in one corner are the guts of a CPU. The overall effect is charming, if just a bit ramshackle (especially compared to the high polish of the sister shop next door). No doubt the atmosphere is elevated somewhat by the patrons – a mix of expats and well-heeled locals sipping fashionably shallow pours from large goblets.
We’re not sure why the Grey Garden bills itself as a slow-food venue. There’s no explanation on the menu of the commitment to local producers and regional ingredients that the slow food movement typically implies. (If ingredients like the rambutan and walnuts are indeed from around here, we’d love to hear more about it.) Thankfully, though, the slow food tag isn’t a reference to the unhurried but biddable service, nor the order preparation time.
The menu is to the point, with appetisers, a digestible selection of pizzas and a slightly more provocative list of main courses, which sound whimsical but not especially tempting. This might have been rectified with more poetic descriptions. Chicken with rambutan in red curry just cries out for a detailed account of itself, and the entry for a popular steamed fish in a banana leaf neglects to mention the type of fish. We started with an appetiser of zucchini fritters. These snackable zuke pakoras (R185, all prices tax-inclusive) would have been well complemented by the advertised accompaniment – “tzakzini [sic]”, a Greek yogurt dip – but were transmuted into iffy tempura as they came with salty, seasoned soy sauce instead. Still, the generous serving went well with chilled glasses of white from the short but site-appropriate list.
For the rest of the meal, we stuck to Grey Garden’s thin-crust pizzas, which are closer to flatbreads. The dough, rolled with herbs and tossed to an oblong shape, tasted fairly fresh and approached tantalising near-crispness when it first comes out on a wooden slab. Our slices got a little floppy eventually, but by then we were too buzzed to much care. Shreds of jalapenõ gave a good Indian Capsico kick to the olive pesto, tomato, basil and feta pizza ( R375). The pear, rocket, walnut and ricotta pizza ( R375), though trendy and short on rocket leaves, hit a sweet spot. Grey Garden’s desserts change daily. The banoffee pie ( R300) surpassed the oversweet Big Chill standard, and a lemon lavender cake (R300) was a slightly stale pound cake with tart lemon curd and inspired bits of dried lavender. A shot of bitter espresso (R70) was the kitchen’s crowning glory.
We’ll likely be back for more of it. As HKV inches ever-closer to an approximation of New York’s East Village, the Grey Garden fulfills a certain yearning for American-style democracy in dining (wear what you want, chat with the owners, linger for hours, be friends on Facebook, etc). Though local celebrities no longer man the kitchens, they do, along with friends, contribute to sporadic themed “supper club” dinners that we’re told are part performance art and part Social Happening (advance reservations required). Despite its shortcomings, the restaurant’s comfortable nonchalance won us over. A collection of wristwatches inside our table smiled brokenly up at us with their frozen faces and seemed to say, “You have time – take it slow.”