Tuesday 16 July, 2019

Cristiano's Bistro brings something different to the table in South

Michael Rooplal, owner of Cristiano's Bistro, and his son Cristiano

Michael Rooplal, owner of Cristiano's Bistro, and his son Cristiano

On paper, attorney-at-law Michael Rooplal seems like an unlikely candidate for the role of restaurateur.

And yet, when he starts speaking about food, especially about expanding the food options for south Trinidad, well then, it all starts to make sense. 

Rooplal got his feet wet in the restaurant business as one of the investors in 519 restaurant located at C3 shopping plaza.

Following that experience, it struck him that the area near the courts in downtown San Fernando lacked a comfortable, casual breakfast or lunch spot, where you could also have a business meeting or catch up with after-work drinks all in the same space.

“The decision was to take the chance, take the leap and open something that I think would connect with people. I wanted something different in that there’s nothing like this in terms of ambience in San Fernando...We wanted to do something that would connect to the community we reside in - lawyers, doctors, the courts, we’re close to the central business district as well. We wanted something that would connect to all of those places and I think we’ve found the right mix,” Rooplal said.

Seafood skewer at Cristiano's Bistro

He consulted with colleagues on his ideas and from those discussions, he sought to tick the boxes of all the yet-unfulfilled needs of the business community in San Fernando.

Thus was Cristiano’s Bistro born, in a brightly lit, welcoming space at the top of Lewis Street, San Fernando.

The menu offers standard bistro fare like salads, soups, pasta and paninis, but takes it up a notch with options like quinoa or rice bowls, artisan sandwiches and a wide breakfast assortment that is served all day and includes chicken and waffles, omelettes, pancakes and local favourites like tomato choka and saltfish fritters.

Chicken and waffles

Breakfast is a big focus for Cristiano’s Bistro, due in large part to the lack of a robust dine-in breakfast culture in South.

“We’re trying to create a new level of thinking in San Fernando in terms of breakfast. Because the concept of people coming to a restaurant to have coffee and breakfast is almost non-existent in San Fernando. People will go to Rituals, they’ll go to Starbucks and they’ll grab their coffee and go, but in terms of sitting down and having an omelette or having pancakes, it’s pretty much a foreign concept. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen more and more people coming out for breakfast.”

Rooplal shared that his vision originally was actually to do a coffee shop with pastries and desserts, but with the feedback gathered from colleagues and people in the area, he adapted his concept to the one it is now.

Local coffee roaster Roastel, he said, has been instrumental in helping him develop the coffee menu, which is relatively extensive compared to other eateries. You can enjoy a café latte or cappuccino if that’s what you’re into, or try the more elusive and exotic-sounding café lungo and cafécito.

Rooplal said it was important for him, having grown up on a cocoa and coffee farm, to support and prioritise local suppliers for the coffee he stocks at Cristiano’s. He did reveal, however, that he is exploring the possibility of bringing in and offering Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee in addition to Roastel.

With all this coffee talk, it should be mentioned that Cristiano’s opens for business at 7 am, so early birds and coffee lovers can get their fix before heading off to work.

For a brand new restaurant - they opened their doors in December 2018 - Cristiano’s Bistro is already incorporating many features that are usually reserved for restaurants that have been around for some time.

Noting the lack of parking in the area, Rooplal explained that they made a conscious decision to offer curbside pickup off the bat. This way, customers can call ahead with their orders and collect without ever having to leave their cars. To supplement this, Cristiano’s Bistro is also going to offer delivery to the environs, with some deliveries even done on foot to nearby businesses in an effort to eliminate the extra time spent in traffic.

While a bar license is a work in progress at the moment, the restaurant has launched a B.Y.O.B. concept on Fridays so patrons can still enjoy a libation among friends after work.

Lastly, Cristiano's will be introducing lunch specials for those customers who are short on time but still looking for bang for their buck during the lunchtime rush. Specials will cut down the time the restaurant needs to prepare the meals, while still offering unique tasty options to patrons. 

East Meets West is a lunch special that will be available in February at Cristiano's Bistro

Cristiano’s Bistro has only been open for a month and it is already setting the bar high with its extensive menu and numerous customer-conscious choices.

Rooplal is buoyed by the opportunity to fill the gap in the dining landscape of south Trinidad, and already has his sights set on a second location, this one in Debe.

He knows the challenge now is to change the way southerners view and relate to their food and dining experiences, but Cristiano’s Bistro seems more than up to the task.

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