All of the India guidebooks rave about the excellent French food in Pondy. From my experience so far, I’m not quite convinced, as most of the places we’ve checked out seem to offer generic “continental” food that often appears more Italian than French and not particularly exciting. Last night we took a short walk to check out menus at three of the restaurants that both the Rough Guide and the Lonely Planet recommended: Madame Shante’s, Rendezvous, and Le Club. We found all of them rather uninspiring, but along the way we passed the Hotel de l’Orient, and were compelled by the gorgeous setting and live music to stay for dinner.
The hotel is a beautiful converted heritage house in the French Quarter. Like many of Pondicherry’s heritage houses, it features a lovely open-air central courtyard, which is where they’ve set up the restaurant. There were a couple of musicians playing guitars and singing American and British piano-bar-favorites with French accents (an effect made even stranger by the fact that they were Tamil).
I would classify the food at l’Orient as “French-Creole” rather than strictly French; many of the dishes on the menu were obviously French takes on Indian dishes, like curries and local South Asian vegetables.
We were very hungry when we arrived. We ordered a citrus salad with dates and figs in a rosewater dressing, a shrimp “cassoulette,” (apparently not a misspelling of “cassoulet”) and a lady finger curry (“lady finger” is the local term for okra). The food took a long time to arrive, and the bread that was placed on our table looked like a baguette, but tasted stale and chewy (typical for India, but a travesty in a town known for its French food and pastries). The salad was refreshing and quite a nice combination. The shrimp cassoulette was rich and creamy, in a green sauce that we wanted to lick off the plate. It was served with roasted potatoes, which soaked up the extra sauce nicely. The lady finger curry was enjoyable for the first few bites, but there was some strong flavor in the sauce that I tired of quickly.
The food was good but not amazing. The service was gracious and polite but slow. The ambience was fantastic. Overall, it was a very nice romantic setting for dinner in Pondy, and likely better – and more unique – than most of the “French” restaurants that the guidebooks recommend. And because this is India, we were in and out for about $10 US.
Hotel de l’Orient, Pondicherry
17, Rue Romain Rolland, Pondicherry 605001
Phones: 0413-2343067, 2343068, 2346589