Welcome to Wonderland

At least Alice had her rabbit hole. Colourful escapes are essential. Even if you don’t have the privilege of being aided by a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

Unfortunately, the only way you are going to be socialising with pro-tobacco caterpillars in the real world will be with some help from a magic mushroom very different from the Wonderland variety. (Though the fact that Alice went on to talk of a March hare with a buttered pocket watch, a pepper-addicted duchess and a dormouse who dreams of treacle does make you wonder.)

Nevertheless, some of us need to check out of the humdrum clutter of life without necessarily having to a climb a tree or dig a hole. After all, it’s most unglamorous to do a Tarzan in high heels. And imagine the swish set watching you trying to burrow between the potatoes like a particularly committed beagle.

Which leaves cafes. As strait-laced as they may sound, after the prospect of buttering bread with a flamingo-wielding Queen, a quirky café is one of the most chic ways to get a quick dose of tranquillity in the middle of a crazy week.

Fortunately, Chennai’s been lucky lately. With every restaurateur attempting to be ‘different’ we have acquired a reasonably diverse range of cafes over the years.

Good Earth’s new café, ‘Latitude 13 by The Park’, is a charming addition to this medley. And it even manages to look a little magical.

Blandly prosaic from outside, the café’s set in a canvas tent. Very Harry Potter, really. Because, just like the tiny Quidditch tents, which open into lush three-room apartments, Latitude 13’s flap reveals an unexpected space, complete with glossy stone floors, a laden pastry counter and a surprisingly high fabric roof.

With its soft fabric walls and bright tea light mini-lamps, it would be reminiscent of a fortune teller’s tent at the circus if the kitsch wasn’t so carefully restrained. Imagine a marquee for the ladies who lunch. More dainty scones and artful sparrows than hearty Hungarian goulash and the thunder of elephant hooves.

I’d call it a sophisticated garden gazebo, if the term wasn’t so reminiscent of nauseatingly stilted garden parties, bristling with soggy cucumber sandwiches. Because Latitude 13 is delightful, really. Just don’t put your elbows in the soup. Which, by the way, is rich, creamy and delicious.

The food, as you’ve probably deduced by the subtly constructed name, is by The Park. While a unique menu has been created for ‘Latitude 13 by The Park’, the food does have the 601 signature. It’s stylish, determinedly hip and consciously continental.

So the antipasti is an alluring palette of vegetable crudités and crisp breads, served with a wickedly creamy yoghurt feta dip and gently spiced aubergine dip. The foccaccia sandwiches were neatly packed with tuna subtly laced with spice.

Though Indian elements do make an appearance, they’re reticent. So the flavours of the achari tuna and the tandoori chicken salad don’t gallop through the food like they would in a dhaba, but trot about prettily instead, minding their Ps, Qs and the cutlery.

Portions aren’t huge, and like any posh nosh worth its fleur de sel, sandwiches arrive with just enough French fries to spell ‘Latitude.’ Considering the café’s aiming for chic dining, there are still some hiccups. The butter, for instance, arrives as hard as Voldemort’s heart. And the waiters, who are a charming lot, tend to get lost in Wonderland occasionally, so your food may arrive in bits and pieces on a rough day. That said, the desserts are gorgeous, and the coffee, which comes from Coorg, is strong, dark and powerful.

Right now, Latitude 13 is a deliciously tranquil sanctuary. But it’s undoubtedly going to be a hit with the size zero brigade and their Schwarzkopf slicked boyfriends. So, get there fast and daydream over quiet lattes, before the hipsters move in and conquer.

(Latitude 13 by The Park is at Rutland Gate, Nungambakkam and is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. A meal for two will cost approximately Rs. 600. Call 28330989 for details.)

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