The five best cafes of Pondicherry

Here I am, trying to weave my way through pedestrians of  Pondicherry who are coming onto me like waves of an ocean while I am looking for a cafe. A little deft twist here, a little deft spin there but the waves keep coming. This town on a weekend can be a town full of people but on a long weekend, it can be even more people and just less town. And peaceful Pondicherry, they say.

But where is my coffee shop or to be precise, a cafe as I am in the Frenchiest part of India and I better act like one. Which gets me to a very basic question. What do we look for in a cafe when travelling. Mon Amie, isn’t it simple? The hunt is for good coffee, wi-fi, a peaceful ambience with enough space to stretch those legs and if the universe comes together to provide good food too, then I am a willing accomplice in the criminal activity of letting time slowly tick by unnoticed.

So the hunt is on in earnest that would have made Joan of Arc sign me up for her troops.

I run into the first cafe almost by mistake. Cafe des Arts is not really my idea of a cafe I want to be in. Because there is graffiti of monkeys shouting at each other on the walls outside and a sale of Rajasthani miniature paintings in the art shed inside. Then I see a dog enter the cafe and I think to myself, if this mutt is finding this place so curious, let me too just step in and sniff around. So I walk in after the dog which has disappeared by now and I stand in front of a showpiece rickshaw in a small garden. There is an open verandah to my left and a coffee bar to my right and the rickshaw straight ahead.

Cafe Des Arts, Pondicherry

I sit down in of the old wooden lounge chairs and am immediately attended to by a smiling lady of French origin, I suspect. Coffee in France usually means the expresso variety. The regular coffee which we have with milk is usually had at breakfast. Otherwise it is mostly black.

Cafe Des Arts, Pondicherry

Proud to have armed myself with this knowledge, I order.
“One coffee, please”.
“Black coffee or milk coffee?” comes the question.
I decide to be grammatically correct, “Coffee with milk, please.”
“Oh, why didn’t you say latte.”

I grimace in extreme pain. Brushing up with etiquette still lands me in faux pas world. This lady is quite at her eloquent best later too. Her reply to a customer’s offhand remark that there are flies buzzing around is met with a, “You can’t stop nature, can you?”

Cafe Des Arts, Pondicherry

Cafe Des Arts
Coffee – Good (No cappuccino)
French breakfast in Pondicherry – Yes
Prices – Medium to High
Wi-Fi – Available and Free
Ambience – Colonial home turned into a boutique cafe, no air-conditioning
Closes – 7 pm

If a canine led me into the previous cafe, laziness leads me into Artika Cafe. It is right next to where I am staying on Labourdonnais Street and have been seeing it everyday. Thus familiarity led to contempt until one lazy morning, I saunter in for lack of a better thing to do.

Artika Cafe Gallery, Pondicherry

It was one of the best things I do in Pondy. The narrow shrub lined path from the gate of Artika Cafe leads me into a beautiful small courtyard with graffiti and paintings of various hues and themes all around and canopied by the salubrious shade of trees bedeckled with pistachio coloured bougainvillea flowers.

Artika Cafe Gallery, Pondicherry

It also has a small art gallery and a clothes boutique. This certainly is the best cafe to laze around in Pondy and I look forward to see some paintings in the art gallery in the future.

Artika Cafe Gallery, Pondicherry
Artika Cafe Gallery

Artika Cafe Gallery
Cappuccino – Maybe the best in Pondy and the chocolate cake is excellent
French breakfast in Pondicherry – Yes
Prices – Medium
Wi-Fi – Available and Free
Ambience – Colonial home turned into a boutique open air cafe, no air-conditioning.
Closes – 6 pm or so.

Left to myself I would never visit Hidesign Cafe. It is located in the shopping district of the city above its proprietary store on the third floor. But then reluctant me is inveigled into coming to this place.

Hidesign Cafe, Pondicherry

It is a cafe that you would find in any other metro in India except that it is more plush and aesthetically pleasing and since Hidesign owns this cafe, leather is prevalent everywhere. The view of the neon sign lit Nehru Street is colourful at night. Unlike other cafes in town, this one has a bar available and thus on a hot day there are interesting diversions available.

Hidesign Cafe, Pondicherry

Hidesign Cafe
Cappuccino – Good
Prices – Medium to High
Wi-Fi – Available and Free
Ambience – Modern with air-conditioning.

On the busy Bussy street, (yes, you read that right), amongst enough of medical shops there is one signboard with a gentleman who looks like Sherlock Holmes holding a platter. Bakers Street offers medicine of a different kind which is cheese. Supposedly owned by a French gentleman or gentlemen and I do not check the veracity of this, this is a busy place because of its authentic cheese oriented food. On a lazy Sunday, I sit down in a nice corner and ask for the wi-fi password. The lady behind the counter takes my device and very clandestinely punches in the password. I am taken aback by this secretive operation and feel guilty that I asked for the password so openly instead of doing it furtively. Bakers Street offers salads, sandwiches and also the chance of sitting down to relax when not trying to guard its wi-fi password. Just try the avoid the lunch time crowds who keep sighing with hopefully genuine delight.

Baker’s Street, Pondicherry

Bakers Street
Coffee – Average (No cappuccino)
French breakfast in Pondicherry – Yes and the best
Prices – High
Wi-Fi – Available and Free
Ambience – Cake shop like with very good air-conditioning.

I am not sure why I walk into Bon Bakes. Owned by a hotel which I discover later (it opens onto another side) and located on the busy Gingee Salai right next to Hot Breads and the canals, it has a very commercial looking glass facade. But I know why I go to Bon Bakes again and again. They have the best Irish coffee cake in town.

Cafe Irish Cream – Bon Bakes, Pondicherry

Bon Bakes is primarily a bakers shop which also gives a very good view of what is happening on the street. Most establishments in Pondy insulate you in those high walled French houses so that nothing of the outside can be seen. But on a lazy afternoon when there are no crowds, visit Bon Bakes, have their excellent coffee, eat their Irish coffee cake and look at the traffic go by.  It actually gives you a view of the regular Pondicherry.

Oh! So Many Cakes, Bon Bakes, Pondicherry
Bon Bakes, Pondicherry
A cappuccino

Bon Bakes                                             
Cappuccino – The best
Prices – Medium
Wi-Fi – No
Ambience – A commercial bakers shop with a cafe style ambience and includes air-conditioning.

There are other standalone coffee shops or cafes in Pondicherry. Cafe Ole, Indian Kaffe Express, La Casita, Le Cafe, New Banana Cafe, Cafe de Flores and Mission Cafe are a few.

Cafe Ole, Pondicherry

Cafe Ole is too small and serves really watery coffee and its sister establishment Zuka’s cakes though excellent are served in very small portions. Le Cafe is always busy but is an excellent place during very early mornings and really late nights. Indian Kaffe Express is a really nice place to laze around but there is a flaw. It serves Indian street food and cuisine. The whole idea of coming to Pondicherry is to experience “Pondy” but if you are taken back to Bangalore or Delhi then what is the point. I also found their staff a bit uninterested and always staring at the television as if some epochal event was happening.

I need to watch television, Indian Kaffe Express

Mission Cafe is a cute hole in the wall and may come in handy now and then. La Casita has potential to be a very good Tamil Quarter based cafe if refurbished as it has a beautiful view of the adjacent temple. Cafe des Flores is in the building of the Alliance Francaise and has a nice airy verandah and garden. I would recommend it on a nice cool day.

La Casita, Pondicherry

All cafes in Pondy open early and serve breakfast. Cafes mentioned in the top five serve good food unless having a bad day. French owned cafes are closed on Tuesdays. Let me know your best five.

The New Banana Cafe, Pondicherry

 

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One Comment Add yours

  1. cakenflower says:

    Very interesting blog….

    Like

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