When I lived in Pune in 2019, I spotted a little shop near my home in Baner claiming to serve plates of idli with a mutton or chicken gravy. Soon enough, I ordered in from We Idliwale and wiped my dinner plate clean. The space had no dine-in then, but a year after the pandemic it graced Viman Nagar with a small dine-in.
Pune was loving whatever We Idliwale had to offer; mainly because the restaurant was breaking the notion of South Indian food in Pune, urging everyone to ditch the staples for an idli with mutton saru, a pepper prawn dosa, a mutton kotthu parota, and more. The brand has kept growing ever since. So much so that it’s one of my favourite growth stories because I can’t remember the number of times I thought, ‘why isn’t Pune’s food scene cool?’ over five years ago.
When I first met co-founder and chef Abhishek Joshi, he would not stop gushing about the idea to open a bar that served cocktails along with We Idliwale’s style of food. By the end of December 2023, he along with his co-founder Chirag Jadhav, and partner Neha Anand have made it happen. “Abhishek and I embarked on this journey four years ago, transitioning from friends to business partners. Today, witnessing the realisation of our dream with the launch of Barroom is incredibly thrilling and meaningful for us”, says Jadhav.
We Idliwale Barroom sits on Balewadi High Street. After Viman Nagar and NIBM, the boys are back on their home-turf with a two-storeyed space that draws from the pub culture of Bangalore, where South Indian food is seamlessly paired with beer; the toddy shop culture in Kerala, where dishes like pepper fry and buff chilly are enjoyed with toddy and other beverages.
This harmony of South Indian flavours inspired by the streets and households paired with signature cocktails, is what Barroom offers. You will also see this married into the decor as well. While the brand’s signature terrazzo remains, the central bar stands out with channapatna bead adornments and a dynamic stainless-steel countertop. Other artistic touches and elements include athangudi-tiled floors, silk screens, matchbox-inspired frames, and eye-catching murals. It’s a space that’s casual enough for a leisurely lunch and elegant enough for an evening of tipples.
Speaking of tipples, the menu has classic and signature cocktails, each infused with an authentic South Indian touch. You will see that a lot of them use regional ingredients from the south whether its coconut or fresh haldi. While you are at We Idliwale Barroom, you should sample the Raw Mango Picante which feature Jose Cuervo Silver, curd chilli-raw mango brine, and an amchur rim. Putting a spin on a classic cocktail, their Coconut Negroni is crafted with Greater Than Gin, coconut, where the gin is fat-washed with coconut oil and grilled pineapple Campari. The Haldi Highball comes recommended by chef Joshi too. It’s made with Greater Than Gin, Homemade turmeric liq, sonic and limes air. “It’s our take on the gin and tonic, and for me just the use of fresh haldi is very bold. Plus, it’s a pretty looking drink,” he says and sneaks in the fact that he was a bartender before he became a chef.
The non-gimmicky cocktails that are all high on flavour are paired with – as Joshi had once dreamed – We Idliwale’s food. Except, as it’s Barroom, only a few dishes from the restaurant’s menu have been retained. Most offerings here are small plates or ‘touchings’, called so because that’s what toddy shops usually call them.
You can nibble on unique offerings such as podi bacon, cut sausages featuring mutton pepper fry where the sausages come from Pune’s The Daily Cut. From the ‘touchings’ or the appetizer menu, you can try the injipuli wings, crispy fried wings tossed in injipuli sauce. Or savour the Natukodi pepper fry, free-range chicken with pepper fry masala.
Their salad selection is apt for an afternoon and features a curry leaf Ceasar salad, complete with curry leaf-lemongrass marinade, grilled pineapple, and coconut oil vinaigrette. If you like smoky grills with your drinks, there’s an exclusive addition to the Barroom menu. The Syrian Catholic chicken roast is a braised and charred whole leg with a coconut milk marinade.
Naturally, you would want to get dosse here, and the pesarattu is a great order and comes with Nellore black sesame podi. For mains, there’s buff mappas, a slow-cooked short rib and potato dish, or savour the karwar prawns that has tiger prawns infused with karwari garam masala and coconut milk. If a biryani is your standard order, try the doodh ki biryani with mirchi pickle, salan, and appalam or the coastal Kerala seafood biryani with Malabari spices, raw mango, and appalam.
“We started We Idliwale with a team of 3 from a small 150 sqft hole-in-a-wall setup with four items on the menu focused mainly on idlis, all inspired by my childhood. For me, food is all about context and memory. That’s always been the inspiration behind the food I have curated at We Idliwale. I’ve attempted to use the same principle for our new venture” says Joshi.
As Pune’s appetite to try newer things grows, We Idliwale Barroom stands out by offering food and cocktails that go beyond the ordinary. Whether it’s the expansive space or the rush of a new venture, this team is putting forward food that’s well-thought and creative.