Johnson’s and Johnson’s | The Favourite family of Manali

A much-celebrated place to have trout fish in Manali, Johnson’s was introduced to me by my sister. For several hours, she kept showing me their photos on the Internet. Tired from walking around in the lanes of Old Manali, I was too sleepy to look at anything. So, we decided to visit Johnson’s the next day.

All set and ready, we had our morning meal at People, before we headed to Johnsons for lunch. After a long, beautiful leisurely walk across Nehru Park, we stood in front of a signage that read Johnson’s Lodge. At the gate, we were greeted by a shy but gorgeous looking Tango (a very furry cocker spaniel). Tango led the way and we found ourselves in the middle of a lush green lawn. The colourful, spacious and hip café had three sections – Café, Bar and Al fresco seating.

However, with such lovely weather and a charming set up like this, how could we miss sitting outside?

Our 3 hours long rendezvous with Johnson’s started with some beers and Lemon Martini and some free chakna. Perhaps it’s the only place in Manali, which serves free chakna! The Martini was way too good, with generous amount of gin tequila and a subtle flavour of lemon.

Lemon Martini - Johnson's Lodge
Lemon Martini – Johnson’s Lodge

We were so smitten by the beautiful surroundings, that we ended up filling our bellies with chakna itself. However, we did finally place our order: Rosemary Chicken and Egyptian Sengari Trout Fish.

The dishes took some time to arrive, but thanks to the lovely weather, the wait wasn’t as unpleasant.

Rosemary Chicken - Johnson's Lodge
Rosemary Chicken – Johnson’s Lodge

The Rosemary Chicken was simply divine.It was served with grilled baby potatoes, mushrooms and onions. Aptly flavoured with lemon, pepper, salt, garlic and rosemary, the chicken was tender and juicy. Garnished with extra virgin olive oil, the dish was well cooked and delicious. Notably, the rosemary used in the chicken was fresh, as earlier I had spotted the chef picking his herbs from the garden itself. Quite obviously, the flavours were remarkable.

Egyptian Sengari Trout Fish
Egyptian Sengari Trout Fish

I had ordered the Egyptian Sengari preparation of fish, as it sounded interesting and something I didn’t find on any other menu. The preparation requires the fish to be baked in a very hot oven. Seasoned with herbs, olive oil, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, this dish is known to be famous in Cairo region. At Johnson’s, they include basil-mint flavours in the marinade, before baking the fish. It was served with baked veggies and in-house bread. And again, we shamelessly licked it off the plate in no time.

We were so happy with the mains that we decided to order a Homemade Chocolate, with ice cream for dessert. The cake was freshly baked, served with an ice-cream. Though, the cake was soft, the chocolate was more sweet than dark. Nevertheless, it was a perfect tick on an overall experience.

The bill came upto Rs. 2383.

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Even though, we didn’t want to leave the colours and of course, lovely Tango behind, we decided to head back. However, just a few steps away, we spotted Johnson’s Café.

The original and the first Johnson’s café, famous for serving more than 10 preparations of Trout. I noticed the trout in their logo, which I had seen in the pictures my sister kept showing to me the previous night. Intrigued, we entered the place. Soon enough, we realized that the pictures on the web, are all mixed up. That’s when it dawned on us that there are actually two Johnson’s.

Well, fortunately enough, this one too seemed as charming.

The café’s beautiful garden, perky, free spirited seating, spacious airy vibe, made us forget about the whole confusion. The pastel colours, bohemian decorative, beautiful flowers in the lawn, clean furniture looked pleasant and easy on the eyes.

We came to know that, the café was earlier run by The Johnson Brother – Sister duo. A few years ago, Mehul Johnson (the brother) had decided to open the other Johnson’s Lodge.

Built by Col. C.R Johnson way back in the 1980’s, Johnson’s Café was where he lived with his family. Later he converted it into a Hotel and Café. Now, Piya Johnson, looks after the place, popularly known as Jimmy’s Johnson Café.

Even though we were full to the brim, we decide to share a dish and ordered Trout Curry (Himachal’s local preparation). I was so glad that this was going to be a local Indian preparation, as else it had started tasting similar everywhere.

While the fish was being prepared in the kitchen, I spoke to a young boy who was playing the music. As we started speaking, I told him about how we never knew there were two Johnson’s eateries. His quickly replied, “That one belongs to my Mamu (uncle)”. That’s how I met Dhruv, a very friendly and hospitable guy, who insisted upon meeting his Mom, but unfortunately it was her naptime and I didn’t want to disturb.

Manali Trout with Red rice and Spinach - Johnson's Cafe
Manali Trout with Red rice and Spinach – Johnson’s Cafe

At that moment, the bright colourful plate, with tangy trout curry, red rice, steamed spinach and fresh salad, arrived on my table. The tomato based fish curry, thankfully, didn’t overpower the flavour of the fish. This was comfort food in all ways possible, something that I was longing for. Light, flavoursome and exquisite, this is a must have!

The bill came up to Rs. 530, inclusive of all taxes.

As I left the place, I silently thanked God for the confusion. I couldn’t have missed out on either of them!

Even though my experience at Johnson’s Lodge was great, I loved the vibe of Johnson’s Café. Johnson’s Café might have an edge owing to its legacy, but when it comes to food and location, both are definitely the lords of good times in Old Manali.

For more, Read : Best places to eat in Old Manali 

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