No true party is complete unless there is cake involved. This is just how Hot & Cold Cafe in Lynchburg celebrated its recent 10-year anniversary, by sharing cake with all customers. Owner Uday Mukherjee and his native New Jerseyan wife, Timby, created and opened the Indian and Mediterranean fusion restaurant in 2007.
Uday is originally from Kolkata, India. He lived and worked in many regions of India and was able to pick up tips in his cooking through his experiences. He learned to cook some from his mother, and he has adapted many of her recipes to make them his own. Most dishes are derived from Northern India and is reflected in preparation and spices he uses.
The chef landed employment in New York. The decision to move to Virginia was made when two job offers came up – one in Virginia, and the other in Florida. He struggled with the decision but a friend suggested Virginia because it was closer to New York in the event he decided to return.
Timby was working in downtown when she got wind of a local restaurant owner trying to sell her business. She and Uday had been having conversations about the absence of Indian cuisine in Lynchburg and it was too good of a deal to pass up. The previous owner shared her recipes for the Mediterranean cuisine she had specialized in and the “fusion” of Indian and Mediterranean was born.
The restaurant is located at 205 Ninth Street, which is right off Main Street in the heart of downtown. Lunch is the most popular time because they offer a buffet, and Uday is firm when saying, “even though my buffet is small the quality and taste is huge!”
As fans of both Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, Kirk and I inquired about their most popular dish. “Really it depends on what the individual is in the mood for,” says Timby. “A popular vegetarian and Mediterranean dish is The Egyttian, which is a wrap containing falafel, hummus and tabouli. The most popular Indian dish is usually the Chicken Tikka Masala.”
We did not arrive during the lunch buffet, but were able to try multiple items from the main menu. As a starter, we chose the Small Plate, which allows you to select three “Starters.” Our choices were Falafel, Tabouli and Hummus and also added for us to try was the Baba Ghanouj. Upon my objection against the baba ghanouj due to the sometimes bitterness of eggplant, Timby explains that Uday’s preparation involves roasting the eggplant, which helps alleviate that objectionable taste. The wheat in the tabouli is soaked in lemon juice that adds an extra pop of freshness along with the tomato and parsley. The hummus and falafel were tasty and texturally on point, but the Tabouli was definitely the star. Also added as a condiment was onion chutney. The chutney is very spicy, not sweet, as you would expect. Pleased with the flavors, I selected it as the spice element alongside my entree.
Upon ordering you will be asked what your preferred spice level is. Both of our dishes contained a gravy or sauce and were served in an individual bowl along with a larger bowl of basmati rice to be shared. An additional clean plate allows you to serve yourself as much or as little rice and food as you like.
Timby says her favorite dish is the Lamb Mango, and I chose this as my entrée. People always pressure me to try lamb, saying that I have just never had it prepared the right way and that is why I do not like it. The lamb arrives and I savor the aroma of the small cubes of meat, push it around with my fork a bit and finally take a bite. To my surprise, the meat is not gamey due to the halal preparation. It does have an unfamiliar taste to me but not unpleasant and it is very tender. The mango, cut into small bits, does not overpower the gravy. The addition of onion chutney I requested on the side turns this dish into a nice combination of sweet and spicy.
The Chef Specialty from the Palak Specialties menu was Kirk’s entree choice. He requested a medium spice level. Palak is basically a gravy made of pureed spinach and very popular in North Indian cuisine. The dish contains a tender mix of chicken and lamb along with carrots and broccoli. The vegetables introduce an unexpected sweetness that balance the flavors and also make the dish more substantial.
Although full from my meal, I could not pass up an opportunity to try the Kulfi, Hot and Cold’s vegan ice-cream. The sweet treat is made with almond milk and coconut cream and is reminiscent of frozen ice. This is the only vegan dessert currently on the menu yet Uday tells me he always is exploring new ways to create a tasty vegan dish. He also is working on a recipe for Mango Kulfi, but unfortunately, it will not be vegan because of the use of dairy. Kirk selects the Indian Cold Coffee as a digestif. The drink is not sweet but you are asked if you want it made sweet and at what degree. The coffee is a bit bitter up front then a little sweet when it hits your back taste buds.
Uday and Timby are very personable people that you can easily share a laugh. They do read food reviews with the understanding that you are not able to please everyone. Currently there are no plans for expansion. However, an occupied office next door could meet their expansion needs should the opportunity arise. In the meantime, stop in for lunch and enjoy the buffet or dinner is always an option as well. You can even call 434-846-4976, as long as it is during the business hours, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.