Me: “What is that white cream?”
Waiter: “One moment ma’am, I will send the manager.”
Me: “What is that white cream?”
Manager: “It’s part of the dish ma’am.”
Me: “Uh… OK, but what is that white cream?”
Manager: “It’s the aubergine paste.”
Me: “I think that is the brown smear under the white cream.”
Manager: “It’s a clam paste ma’am.”
Me: “That would be another item on the menu.”
Are you exhausted yet? Multiply this with 100 and you may come close to my exasperation during lunch at South Bombay’s newest restaurant. Just back from London, a restaurant serving non-Indian food would not have been my first choice; but I was going to meet a real Bombay food blogger, Prachi Joshi of Deliciously Directionless, and didn’t let the small matter of cuisine get in the way.
I had to read other reviews to understand Nico Bombay’s style of food – Modern European apparently – because neither the staff, nor a studious review of the menu, with an odd mix of roast chicken, Kadaifi wrapped prawns, and pizza, revealed anything. Nico Bombay will focus on fresh ingredients (!), locally sourced (!!). Even though there is nothing local about Italian burrata or Hungarian salami I hope they are serious about the other ingredients being fresh.
We were welcomed with complimentary glasses of Zampa Sparkling Wine (if you haven’t tasted this yet I would recommend you stay far, far, away), but the restaurant had no filtered water for its guests. We were asked to buy a bottle – costing Rs. 150 – if we were thirsty. Not the kind of start I was hoping for.
We ordered three mezze and one Neapolitan flatbread (not to be confused with pizza, even though it arrived looking like one). And this is what we subjected ourselves to:
Smoked sardines, aubergine compote on sourdough toast (Rs. 375) of white cream fame. The white cream turned out to be a sardine paste, and so this dish which had such promise turned out to be a sardine overload on a piece of toast that was definitely not sourdough.
Veal tenderloin, tuna tonato (Rs. 400). I think they meant tonnato. Just as I’m sure the chef meant to add salt to the veal, and anchovies, capers and lemon to the tonnato. This classic Piedmontese dish arrived on a piece of slate, looking great and tasting of nothing.
Pulled goat meat, red onion, micro greens (Rs. 275) – such a wonderful choice of meat, maybe inspired by a current global trend for pulled pork buns. It was not the most tender of cuts, but this was the best thing we ate today. And they weren’t kidding about the greens being “micro”.
Ciro: Bocconcini, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Hungarian Pic (k) Salami (Rs. 600) – where do I start with this pizza, uh… sorry, Neapolitan flatbread? I can rarely resist a dish that promises oven roasted tomatoes. A simple oven can coax even the most stubborn tomato into a luscious sauce so I am not sure why the chefs at Nico Bombay chose to create a tart, sloppy mess. We’re not sure if the bread was tough or the knives blunt, but had to throw in the towel a few mouthfuls later.
We left without dessert and treated ourselves to the fantastic coffee and cakes at Kala Ghoda Cafe around the corner instead.
I am quite willing to look past average food at a new restaurant, but when that is coupled with shoddy service, I find no reason to be kind. The waiters didn’t know their burrata from their elbow. We did not finish a single one of the dishes ordered but not one of the three waiters, one bartender, one manager, or two owners present in the restaurant at the time cared to check if there was a problem. Considering we were one of only four tables occupied, it could not have been because they were busy.
I should probably say something about the décor, but a designer we bumped into on our way out said it best, “It’s wonderful that the city’s Art Deco elements are brought into the restaurant; but the space is clearly designed as a bar for the evening.”
Uncomfortable as we were in the director’s chairs, the meal wasn’t a total fail. I met a new Bombay person! Prachi and I, probably brought closer by the trauma of the meal, bonded over a shared disbelief over “food critics” who cannot cook, hilarious stories of Internet dating, and a mutual love for Italian holidays and Shah Rukh Khan.