06 July, 2015

Review: 'Above Ground Levell' Lounge at Bengaluru's Kempegowda International Airport.

A sumptuous transit experience.
Refresh and re-charge.

I only learnt about the 'Above Ground Levell' (AGL) Lounge at Kempegowda International Airport Ltd. in Bengaluru when I was invited to review their food last week.

Well, who wouldn’t like an alternative to the packaged, pre-cooked, micro-waved, un-inviting fare that usually faces most air-travellers these days? I surely would! Barely a month ago, been there, done that: getting the kids to eat re-heated button-idlis at one of the food stalls (the relatively-healthier option, compared to the sandwiches and crisps!)

With a minimum three-hour time frame to catch even a domestic flight from the city at peak time, it's almost a necessity to factor-in getting a decent bite enroute. Or settle for the overpriced, insipid fare that is sold on-board most aircraft or airport stalls, with choices getting progressively narrower and increasingly unappetizing.

So it was a very happy discovery, indeed. One that's been around for nearly a year now.
The green arrow shows the way to the AGL Lounge.

The lounge is at the mezzanine level (Domestic Departure),  accessed by the escalator, or the staircase, or the elevator all the three being next to each other at the far end, past all the other shops and stalls; (that's how I always missed it!) post the security-check.

The pictures and review here are of the AGL Lounge at the DomesticTerminal.
There is also an AGL Lounge at the International Terminal (at Level 1, Near Gate 18, International Departure, Terminal 1).

There are three separate and distinct dining areas that blend seamlessly into one very large, spacious, inviting, well-lit, airy and comfortable lounge.

During daytime, there is plenty of natural light from the skylights on the roof.

As one enters, past the reception, which is at the same level, there is the Coffee Shop which is functional round the clock.

24x7 Cafe area.

Going past the Cafe, there is the bar.
Bar area.

And at the far end,  is the large buffet section, with the kitchen visible through the glass panel on the side, where the food preparation can be viewed.
Buffet section (larger dining tables and seating behind the screen at left.)

There are multiple seating points (around 250 seats in the 13,000 square feet area) spread across the sections: couches, dining tables, cafe chairs, bar stools, plush sofas, comfortable armchairs, seating pods, most of them with re-charging stations for laptops, mobiles, iPads & gaming consoles.  

There are Wi-Fi, Television and Flight Information Display systems, plenty of reading material and generous space for everyone to relax in peace and comfort.

The lounge is accessible to all classes of passengers, those with specified cards or passes, as well as walk-in guests who can avail of the Pay and Use facility.

Access packages are varied, for example, one might opt for just a beverage with snacks, or a full buffet meal (Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner).

While passengers enjoy the facilities, Chef Shadab (bottom right picture) tries to make some of us guess the ingredients in his delicious Roasted Pumpkin Soup.

Getting to the main part - the food! The proof of the pudding is in the eating.  So, here are the things that I tried (heh, not the crockery and cutlery) and liked -
Starting from top row (L-R) Aam Panna, Aloo Achari, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Dahi Bhalla, (Mugs), Peanut Butter Cookies, Cocolate Eclairs, Apples, Savoury Curry Leaf Cookies, Masala Dosa+ Sambar, Chutneys, Matar Paneer, Pears,
Croissants, Curd Rice, Dal Tadka, Matar Pulao, Orange Chiffon Cake, Mango Cake, Lettuce, Spicy Lavash , Hot Masala Chai, Penne with Creamy Sauce, fresh Papaya, (Dessert Spoons).

A special mention for the Aam Panna which is pretty authentic and not overly sweet (you can get my recipe for it here), the Dahi Bhalla (most of the chaats are popular, apparently), the Masala Dosa (from the live counter, just before they closed) which was very good (perfectly crisp, low oil, good accompaniments), the savoury curry leaf cookies, and especially for me (and all those with young or fussy kids to think of) the Curd Rice (simple, home-made style) Penne (pasta with vegetables, with a simple béchamel sauce; not pure cream!), besides which I personally enjoyed the Dal tadka and Achari Aloo with Chapatis, served hot and fresh from the kitchen at the buffet, roasted pumpkin soup, and dal payasam (last two not pictured)..

Since it is designed to suit all palettes, there is a choice of Continental, and Asian/Indian dishes.

Spices are mild and food is not overly rich.

The next best thing to home-cooked. Why, even their plates reminded me of home, since we use the same white ones, a range called Cirque by Tata Ceramics. But I digress.

Frequent travellers might appreciate the fact that the menu is varied throughout the day.

There was a special Iftar Buffet on that day because of Ramadan.

Though there is no à-la-carte menu, special requirements like Jain food, or fasting food/water would also be accomodated on request.

Chef  Shadab, driven by passion for his work.
I asked Chef Shadab about how it is to oversee the running of two uber-busy kitchens (for both the domestic and international lounges) functioning almost round-the clock and the unique challenges it must present.

The answer (completely different from what I expected) was the surprising revelation that, for them, among the biggest challenges is that they manage to efficiently run both the kitchens without the use of fire or knives on the premises!

Yes, that's right. Because of security requirements at the airport (incidentally, those of us invited, had to obtain special access passes and go through two screenings to enter) they cannot have open fire, so all cooking is induction-heat or oven-based (including the live-counter dosa that I had enjoyed!) and the food preparation, chopping, the mise en place, is all managed "off shore" so-to-speak, that is, at a point before the security screening.

A peep through the glass window panel at the buffet centre reveals the chefs at work in the kitchen
 Then there are live counters.

Overall, though modern in design, it is reminiescent of our traditional heritage in several aspects of the decor (just as with the food).

For one, a panel runs all along the walls with bas relief sculpture depicting scenes from the Ramayana, that is inspired by the stone carvings in the architecture at Hampi during the Vijayanagara Empire.

Then the plush carpeting has a design that is inspired by rangoli patterns.

All around there is plenty of foliage and natural light through the glass panels on the roof as a tribute to the Garden City.

Quirky "tree-pods" dot the space, with metal posts that branch out like a real tree, and resemble oversized lamps.

So flying out of Bangalore can be something to look forward to, after all.


  1. Looks like the kind of place where you half hope your flight will be delayed so you can stay longer!



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