Under my byline

Eat your heart out

Posted in Architecture/Design, Living by Rrishi on 21 December 2008

BMW logo (r)BMW sells lifestyle along with its cars, with the help of the Olive chain of restaurants

It’s been a while now since major-city Indians really oohed and aahed over luxury cars. So what is a premium carmaker to do in the face of dimming star value and a looming recession? Well, the answer should be obvious: start a café.

That’s what BMW have done in Delhi. Their showroom on touristy Janpath in the heart of the city rubs shoulders with a south Indian restaurant, a paanwalla, McDonald’s and a chain coffee shop. Thus inspired, perhaps, they have rechristened the showroom a “studio”.

The centrepiece is still a very expensive car (and assorted BMW kitsch like scale models, branded pullovers, bags and mugs), but nestled at the back is a tiny restaurant, run by the well-known chain Olive. On the mezzanine above are two sleek workstations for BMW customers. This is the only BMW showroom on the planet, so far, to multitask like this.

The style is minimal, so there’s scarce indication outside of the variety within. A small sign and the alacrity of the doorman in opening the door to obviously middle-class people are the only clues. We trickled past the ice-white 650i in the main space, shining like an enormous, angry glazed dessert, its red taillights like cherries, and headed for the food at the back.

There are only two tables, five covers each, and a narrow bar (no alcohol yet) with a line of stools. If you sit at a table, above your head rises a tall, oddly featureless, closet-like space topped with a skylight. Unlike other Olive restaurants, this place is not warm and welcoming, governed as it is by BMW’s stark aesthetic.

The service, however, is warm. Our hostess Neelam was bright, friendly and knowledgeable but not intrusive. Unlike the waiter, she was able to to tell me exactly what was in my pasta. And neither batted an eyelid at a spectacularly ill-dressed woman who tottered in for a cold coffee and was the only other customer until a party of four corporate types who ordered plates of salad.

As for the food: except for the crème brûlée it was quite good, although the menu was limited and the portions small. Neelam told us that occasionally the whole space is rented for kitty parties and the like (starting at Rs 1,300 a head, plus taxes), and for that they will eject the car and spread tables across the entire showroom.

Score: 8/10 for novelty value. Nice, but will it help BMW with their core business?

(This is what we call the Mystery Guest column at BS.)

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