Category Archives: Bombay

Masque. One step at a time.

Skipping steps rarely gets you where you want to go. I was once in a short relationship with a friend from college. We shared an easy friendship for nearly two decades before jumping into a different affair. We didn’t date. We didn’t get to know each other as lovers. We didn’t give romance a chance. We skipped about a 100 steps and thought we would get from First Kiss to First Anniversary, scot-free. And so it ended the only way it was going to. Painfully.

Much as I want to feel better right now, there really is no quick way to get there from here. A couple of clever writers have even distilled this process into 5 stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. I have a slightly different list of my own:

  • I’m cool, it happens.
  • Not again! It must be me.
  • Can everyone just leave me alone?
  • What the fuck!
  • And then, slowly, the acceptance that the person who I have made the cause of my pain felt he had no choice but to choose what he did. There was no betrayal.

Dealing with pain comes with its own treasure map. You need the first clue to get to the next. It simply isn’t possible to skip steps and still get to the treasure. But not every step of the way needs to be an angst-ridden exercise. It especially helps if you find people and places along the way that make you question your story. Like I did tonight, when I treated myself to the 12-course Christmas menu at Masque.

There are no shortcuts at Masque. So whether it was launching a tasting menu-only restaurant in India; sourcing persimmons in Uttarakhand and Pecorino in Puttaparthi; or redefining what fine dining is in a city where the experience began and ended with Zodiac Grill’s white gloves, Masque hasn’t skipped any steps on its way to being recognised as one of the best restaurants in the country.

In order for me to accept what is, I needed to take a break from the constant storytelling my mind insists upon. And the meal tonight proved to me, yet again, that there’s nothing quite like some really diligent cooking to snap me out of myself.

For when the Goan sausage doughnut arrives, it is impossible to think about anything other than the genius of the dish that was inspired by the humble paniyaram. Or when you come face to face with micro mini red Kashmiri apples alongside an unctuous eggplant ice cream (romanced by tamarind), only a decidedly stubborn person can remain forlorn. Every course grounded me further, reminding me that all that matters is this moment and how I choose it.

I have never had a better partner than a delicious meal. And as long as not skipping any steps means I have help from meals at Masque, then let this take the time it must.

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Filed under Bar, Bombay, Eat, Fine Dining, India, Indian, Local, Restaurant, Tasting menu

Back to the Table. O Pedro

Vasco Sour at O Pedro in Mumbai, India – a brilliant cocktail of  Pisco, Triple Sec, Goan Toddy Vinegar Shrub, Housemade Spiced Grenadine, Egg White, Star-fruit Juice, Angostura Bitters

My experience of “food inspired by food” is a lot like the romances in my life. We get into it with all the excitement it deserves. It’s so much fun that we love what we see, we can talk for hours and the kissing is pretty good too. Then there is the small matter of the heart. When for no reason that you have ever admitted to, you lose your nerve. We want this to work so much that we even fake it for a while.

But in the end, no matter how brilliant the Vasco Sour is, the only words I have for O Pedro are the ones many men have said to me: “It’s not you. It’s me.

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P.S. Would I go back?

Quite honestly, if I had a choice I may not make the trek. But if I am in the area, the Vasco Sour would be a much-welcome addition to the plan. I was however, underwhelmed by the food. It didn’t have the joy that Goan food does. In any case, not enough for me! That said, from the mostly disappointing spread I ate a few days ago, I would happily re-order: Pork Chicharrones Ambotik, Sourdough Poee with Choriz Butter, Red Snapper “Poke” and the Fried Fish.

 

 

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Bombay, Cocktails, Fish, Goa, India, Indian, Restaurant, Seafood, Small Plates

Bombay, a canteen & a pop up

I had several reasons to leave Bombay when I did nine years ago. None of which however were to get away from the city. I come back often, desperate for a breath of Bombay, and over the years have witnessed a vehement disillusionment with the city amongst my friends. I don’t judge them, nor the city. How can I? I come for a few weeks, starry eyed and still completely in love with the Bombay that gave me the confidence to walk away. It just hasn’t been possible for me to hate the weather, traffic, corruption, noise. At this very moment a few bats are practicing for Indian Idol right outside my window… what can you do?!

I’m not all tolerance and Om though. Take me to the new crop of Bombay restaurants and watch my zen disappear into menus still fascinated with Indianising international cuisines. I’m sorry but Mamagoto is more masala than maki, Starbucks is not coffee, and anything that is remotely authentic is wildly out of reach of most pockets. And don’t get me started on the likes of Monkey Bar.

Then I dined at The Bombay Canteen. And again at Le Kitchen’s pop up. I love Indian food best. So to come home to two gloriously Indian menus has been such a win.

Food at The Bombay Canteen tastes like its coming from the heart of an old relative’s kitchen. The menu is generously sprinkled with influences from across India – a melting pot of regional flavours, much like the city the restaurant calls home. It was a relief to see that the dashing executive chef Thomas Zacharias has left behind any bad habits he may have been forced to adopt at Olive. And this is what I ate:

Kejriwal toast – while nobody does it like The Willingdon Club, this clever take on a Bombay classic (and addition of a green chilli chutney) with melted cheese makes it a luscious starter.

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Crispy mandeli fry – I’ve never had this outside a home kitchen before and polished off the bowl in no time.

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Pulled pork vindaloo on theplas – courtesy of the restaurant. I’d love a taste of the feni in this fab dish! The theplas, though delicious on their own were too dense as a combination. I would love to taste the pork with a steamed poi instead.

Bhavnagri chillies stuffed with good old Amul cheese – disappointed that I didn’t get a single hot one.

Brown butter and green chilli dosa – now my second favourite dosa in the city (still looking for No. 1 if you must know).

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Shrimp and kairi biryani – subtle flavours and a generous portion. Totally loved the corny banana leaf thali.

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Gulab jamun – an Old Monk drenched, boozy doughnut shaped dessert spread with pistachio cream. Heaven for any sugar lover.

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I was very disappointed with the cocktails. The three I tried all tasted of fruit juice and/or artificial concentrate and flavours and it seems that my quest for a great cocktail in Bombay must continue.

A few days later I was invited to Ashish Glasswalla’s Le Kitchen pop up at The House of Tales. I first met Ashish two years ago when he catered a lunch at home. We still count his fantastic chaat, kulchas and jalebis amongst some of the best food we’ve ever had catered at home.

On the menu at the pop up – chilli cheese sev puri, tandoori prawns with crackling spinach, chicken keema lifafa, mutton biryani (one of the best I have ever had), jalebi with kulfi and meetha paan truffles. Ashish also gave us a taste of a masala chai chocolate mousse served with a sparkling Parle G. So clever and such fun!

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I cannot recommend them highly enough. And at Rs. 1,200 for six sensational courses you can’t lose. Their dinner pop up is on at The House of Tales until 13th September. Book online here.

What I love best about The Bombay Canteen & Le Kitchen (in addition to their friendly prices and excellent service) is that they don’t mess about with fusion as we have seen so far. While not every dish is completely traditional, the flavours the chefs have brought together work really well.

Indian fused with India – now this is a trend I could get behind!

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Bombay, Cheese, Cocktails, Dessert, Gymkhana, India, Indian, Open kitchen, Parsi, Pop-up, Restaurant, Small Plates, South Indian, Tasting menu

Poppaddum Sadya: A sumptuous lunch invitation

I don’t have any Mallu friends. It is the only reason I can think of for not knowing anything substantial about food from ‘God’s Own Country’. Further absolving myself of all responsibility, I also blame Bombay. With barely a handful of Keralite restaurants, the city is seriously lacking in culinary representation from the spice capital of India.

So when I heard about an economist from Kerala, living in Bombay, wanting to invite ten strangers to share a dining table for a taste of her traditional home cooking… I would have been a fool to say no.

Sneha Nair’s recipes and kitchen tricks are the result of long-distance phone calls with her mother and peering over her aunt’s shoulder as she cooked. Sneha may be a self-taught cook, but my introduction to this glorious cuisine could not have been more perfect. My first ever Keralite meal was – a sadya, the traditional, all-vegetarian feast served at festivals and celebrations.

That Sunday afternoon, ten strangers picked their own banana leaf to eat on, arranged themselves on the floor, and waited for feast to begin. Sneha served us each dish herself, suggesting the ‘correct’ way to eat each item but also encouraging us not to get too distracted by custom.

IMG_2220First came eight chutneys and sides including the raw mango chutney manga peraku, a sweet and sour puliyinchi, lime pickle vadukapuli achar, banana chips, raw jackfruit chips and the moreish banana and jaggery sarkara upperi. The crowd pleaser was most definitely the pachadi, pineapple, coconut and yoghurt transformed into a tangy creation.

Then arrived the vegetables, a riot of colours dancing on my bright green leaf – avial, kaalan, kootcurry, carrot and bean thoran, cabbage thoran; and olan, where two of my favourite ingredients – pumpkin and coconut milk – come together in a delicately textured mild curry.

IMG_2224Next we were served a daal with ghee, aubergine and okra sambhar and pineapple rasam. And last, the delicious payasam ada pradhaman a classic combination of rice flakes, jaggery, milk and roasted cashews.

I was lost in a trance of unfamiliar delicacies, each dish designed to coax the flavours out of the others. There was a time when a sadya used to consist of 64 dishes and I think I speak for everyone when I say we were relieved that Sneha only chose 20! The trick while eating a sadya is to eat the rice sparingly and my only disappointment was that Sneha chose basmati rice instead of rosematta (red) rice that I was later told was more traditional.

When the meal is completed, one is meant to fold the banana leaf. The direction in which we fold the leaf is a signal of our enjoyment of the meal – folding it away is a compliment to the chef.

Even though her mother grew up in a house with three kitchens and spent her summers making banana chips and jackfruit jam, Sneha never cooked in these kitchens. She may have dabbled in some cooking as a teenager, but it wasn’t until she moved to Scotland for a few years in 2010 that her tryst with Keralite food really began.

You never know when your calling hits you, and Sneha can’t pinpoint the exact moment when she thought cooking for others was a good idea. Whatever the reason behind Sneha’s Poppadum supper clubs, Bombay is certainly a better place for it.

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This article was first written for burrp!

Photographs courtesy the lovely Vaydehi Khandelwal.

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Filed under Bombay, Foodie Events, Home-style, India, Indian, Kerala, Pop-up, South Indian, Vegetarian

The White Owl. An addendum

I have so far never posted an addendum to a blog post. I have honestly never needed to. A recent revisit to The White Owl however was so underwhelming (for my guests) and embarrassing (for me) that I feel the need to share my second experience of their special menu.

We ordered six dishes, sent back three and barely touched what was left on our table. Given that it took them 45 minutes to bring out the appetisers we didn’t have the time (nor the energy) to request the kitchen to read up Nikhil’s recipes and fix the dishes. These were the low points of our meal:

Raw & Ripe Mango Salad – the version we got yesterday was bland, the dressing completely diluted with barely a hint of the soya and chilli. The salad was swamped with so much tasteless papaya that we had to hunt for the raw mango. I sent my half-eaten dish back. A few minutes later the chef was kind enough to send another – this had less papaya and a spruced up dressing. Much, much better – but still a far cry from what I tried at the tasting.

Shrimp & Water Chestnut Salad – the leaves were soggy and warm; the shrimp were neither cold nor hot and my guests did not enjoy the temperature nor texture of this dish in their mouth. This dressing too was diluted with no distinctive flavour of anything.

Sweet Bell Pepper Roulade – I had rated this as a real stand out dish in my first blog post. What arrived instead was a gloopy mess (see the before and after photos below). The pesto was bitter with none of the creaminess of the nuts I tasted the first time. The peppers were soggy, as was the barley. The barley filling which was such a hit at the tasting didn’t have any of the original bite.

IMG_7621               photo 1 (2)

 

 

 

 

Plum-glazed Chicken – the menu describes this to be accompanied with a “sauce”, however what arrived was a watery curry with the same uncooked and tart flavours that one gets from ready sauce pastes. We couldn’t taste any of the sweetness of the plums and the chicken was so rubbery we couldn’t chew it at all. The accompanying rice was meant to have a lemongrass flavour. If it was there it was so hidden that none of our palates could find it. This dish was sent back.

Baby Clam, Sugar Snap Peas & Grilled Chorizo in Saffron Broth – again, this dish was not a patch on the version served at the tasting. I remember the broth being light, fragrant and bursting with umami. What we got was an over-salted curry with no trace of saffron. The clams were not cleaned properly – we could barely chew it for the pieces of shell that kept coming in our mouth.

photo 2 Brioche Mac & Cheese – I cannot begin to express my disappointment with this dish. The menu describes it with “grana padano, gruyere, aged-cheddar, pickled cucumber & fresh jalapenos”. I was expecting a moreish, gooey mound of pasta in its cheesy sauce, piled onto a brioche. What arrived was an ugly mess of over cooked pasta with a bland cheese sauce dumped on top of it. The cheese had already started to congeal by the time the dish arrived at my table. This dish needs a lot more love – and some salt. The brioche was a disappointment as well – dry and stodgy. This dish was also sent back.

I am not a restaurant chef, and some may argue that I don’t have the experience to make comments on flavours. The chef argued that she cooked the exact same recipes that I had loved barely a week ago. I don’t want to argue – but the fact is that what the chef sent out yesterday was a far cry from the tasting that was organised for us.

We explained all this to the chef who was kind enough to waive the food bill. We didn’t have the heart to try our luck with dessert.

I can only conclude that the kitchen has not stayed true to Nikhil’s recipes, and that’s a damn shame because Nikhil’s flavours are hard to beat.

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My first impressions of this menu are here.

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Filed under Bistro, Bombay, Dessert, India, Mango, Mediterranean, Small Plates, Vegetarian

The White Owl. A friendly lunch

After seventeen years of jobs, I took back a year of my life – to sit still, to go places; to stop working, and to start working at living; to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. A year to put me first.

I travelled, made peace with change, accepted that I will never make peace with Bombay’s traffic, and a series of such-a-small-worlds later, found myself adopted by a most fun loving group of friends – a chef, a PR machine, a wine maker and photographer, a rockstar comedienne, a brand genius, a fair trade enabler… The fact that each one of us plans life around food also sort of guarantees that this is more than just a passing flirtation.

Nikhil Merchant is a food writer, flavour master, and all round sweetheart. It was love at first food-chat for Nikhil and me, and over the past few months he has become my go to guy for all flavour dilemmas. Nikhil’s cooking is instinctive, his food combinations imaginative and cocktails sublime. Under his foodie brand Nonchalant Gourmand, Nikhil recently collaborated with a Bombay bistro – The White Owl – to create a menu of his favourite flavours of the season. I was invited to his first chefs table where we previewed his culinary collaboration with the bistro’s chef Kshama Prabhu.

WallAs a recent vegetarian I have to admit that eating non-Indian food in Bombay’s restaurants has been uninspiring and often unpalatable. Unimaginative chefs either flood the menu with iterations of potatoes, or force paneer and tofu to play substitute to their original choice of non-vegetarian protein. Nikhil and Kshama’s menu is encouragingly different, with over 50% of the menu letting a vegetarian food take centre stage.

I started with Purple Yam Batons, fried crisp and wrapped around a stick of sugarcane.

See what I mean? When is the last time you saw either yam or sugarcane as the star of a restaurant dish? The appetiser is let down by an overly eggy herb aioli, and I would have preferred a fresh, non-creamy dip to balance the buttery, sweet yams. Next on my plate is a French classic – Oeufs en Meurette. The eggs are perfectly poached, and served with moreish slices of garlic toast. I did not like the red wine they chose but was in the minority on this one.

As we soldiered through the menu I realised that my moans about the starters would be my only grouse that afternoon.

The salad of Raw and Ripe Mangoes is my absolute favourite mango dish of the season. Fresh Alphonso and slivers of green mangoes were dressed in a zesty combination of soy, red chillies and peanuts. The salad alone is reason enough to revisit the awkwardly located White Owl.

IMG_7619The main course veggie choices were Blue Cheese Quiche and Bell Pepper Roulade. My choice (of the quiche) was a no brainer; blue is my favourite cheese, and besides who wants to eat a roulade? How wrong was I!

IMG_7620The quiche was perfect – a herby, blue cheese topping lovingly baked on a flaky pastry. But the revelation of the meal was the roulade, served with a generous dollop of an inventive arugula pesto. The sweet bell peppers, unrolled a filling of cheesy barley, and crunchy greens. Never again will I judge a book by its old fashioned cover.

IMG_7621The non-vegetarians on our table were most impressed with the Shrimp & Water Chestnut Salad and Baby Clam, Sugar Snap Peas & Grilled Chorizo in Saffron Broth.

Not for one moment did I wish I were eating meat, nor did I feel that the chefs had made grudging allowances for veggies on their menu. I want to come back for the Green Apple Galette, Brioche Mac and Cheese, and Pumpkin Gnochhi Casserole.

I don’t have a sweet tooth but the table was was mighty impressed with the offering. The Fig, Chocolate & Kaffir Lime Mille-Feuille is a perfect display of Nikhil’s love for playing with flavours and Kshama’s pastry skills. The Kaffir Lime cream is rich and lends a heady scent to the dessert; but I wonder if it would have worked better with a different fruit? One that was lighter than the dense combination of fig and cream. I preferred the Alphonso Crepes – totally scrummy.

photo 1Nikhil’s menu launches at The White Owl from June 2nd for two months.

I hope this is the beginning of many such adventures in India where we will see menus that let the ingredients shine; restaurants that don’t give in to gimmicks; and chefs that find the courage to cook with their heart. Here’s hoping I meet more chefs like Nikhil and Kshama, chefs that put food first.

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Disclosure: The meal was a preview and I was a guest of the restaurant. Neither their generosity nor my friendship with Nikhil has compromised my opinion on their food in any way.

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Filed under Bistro, Bombay, Dessert, India, Mango, Mediterranean, Small Plates, Vegetarian

Mayur. Dialling back

Sometimes, I have to give up on my version of things. I have to accept that I can’t feel enough feeling for the story to go on. That in this life, at this exact moment, the universe needs to arrange things differently. Sometimes I have to accept defeat.

And on days like this, when I feel sorry that the world is no longer revolving around my desires, I need to dial back to a simpler time; and if that becomes difficult, then at least to a simpler place that reminds me how uncomplicated life can be if I allow it.

Mayur, in Bombay’s suburbs, is a simple place. I was introduced to this rare, if not only, Udupi restaurant in the city that also has a permit room, by my London family Laxmi and Naman. It’s where a photograph of Lord Venkateswara shares shelf space with bottles of Red Label; where a former policeman plays his collection of Bismillah Khan cassettes over lunch; and where diamond store owners come to unwind (read: drink many drinks) at the end of the day before vegetarian dinners with their wives.

IMG_5733Mayur s also where a waiter was impressed that I only wanted ice with my whisky (Rs. 350 for a single shot of Black Dog), and served me the second best chilli cheese toast (Rs. 120) in town. This one was made with Amul cheese and lashings of garlic, and has magical powers to slow life down to just the one emotion you experience as you bite into a simple piece of toast.

IMG_4824Mayur is also where I am reminded that “If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” That chap Winnie the Pooh knew how to dial back.

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Mayur Restaurant & Permit Room, Gautam Apartments, Juhu Road, Santacruz (W), Mumbai – 400054, +91 (22) 2649-0654.

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Bombay, Whisky