Best of Mumbai 2016: Food and Nightlife
A general consciousness has pervaded the way we eat. We’re taking an active interest in what we’re consuming, where it’s coming from and what practices are involved in growing the produce. Restaurants are using homegrown artisanal ingredients and sourcing directly from farms and gradually shirking everything refined and packaged. It’s quite common to find a number of gluten-free options across city restaurants now and some are even taking the extra effort to prepare basic ingredients such as sodas and colas from scratch. This was perhaps 2016’s most conspicuous food trend, one that has led to the proliferation for instance of salad focused bars such as Ministry of Salads, Sequel, Poetry by Love and Cheesecake, Saboro, Vibe Liquiteria and Kitchen Garden. It’s been a good year for home delivery outfits that specialised in specific dishes such as barbecued meats, butter chicken, meat-filled pao sandwiches and meals in a bowl or focused on regional cuisine such as Bengali and Goan, Kutchi, Mexican and Sindhi fare. Our best bet for regional food is still the city’s home dining scene that has been consistently growing over the last three years. New home cooks emerged this year giving us a taste of Nizami fare, Bhagnari specials and North-East inspired pork-centric meals.
On the nightlife front; the craft beer craze continued with the arrival of Pune’s Independence Brewing Co., Doolally’s third taproom and Woodside Inn‘s new Lower Parel outpost where there are a whopping 25 artisanal brews on tap. Affordably-priced chains such as Social, The Bar Stock Exchange and The Beer Cafe expanded far north and south on the strength of their value for money, and gastropubs where they placed as much emphasis on the food as the drink like One Street Over and Koko provided a refreshing change from generic bar grub. A less welcome trend was how new establishments, barring a couple of exceptions, employed molecular gastronomy more as an attention-grabbing gimmick than a genuine tool.
Despite all the variety on offer, we were left vaguely underwhelmed by the city’s restaurant and bar scenes this year. While compiling our Best of 2016 list of honourees we struggled to find that one definitive experience or compelling winner for many categories. Most establishments got some things perfect but only a handful got everything right. Consequently, there are ties in a few categories while some have been left out altogether (there is no Bar or Restaurant of the Year for instance). Ultimately we made our selection based on the places that impressed us the most and had us going back to them through the course of the last 12 months.
Best Fine-Dining Restaurant
Fine-dining restaurants are a rarity in Mumbai. There exists instead a slew of stand-alone casual restaurants that have a relaxed vibe and don’t require formal dressing but serve high-end cuisine at premium prices. Among these is Masque. Their location in an under-the-radar mill compound is as non-mainstream as their approach to food. The Mahalaxmi establishment has dared to be different with hyper-seasonal degustation menus singularly focused on highlighting local produce. Owners Aditi and Aditya Dugar, a gourmet caterer and businessman respectively, have exerted a considerable amount of resources and effort to scour ingredients from farms across the country (rye and buckwheat from Himachal Pradesh, sea buckthorn from Ladakh, passion fruit from Pune) which chef Prateek Sadhu crafts into exquisite dishes that make Masque stand out. The dishes in their three, six and ten course menus may not be equally compelling, but for the most part it’s worth a dent in the wallet (prices rage from Rs1,500 for a two-course meal to Rs4,500 for the ten-course meal excluding taxes). The earthy and modern interior design by architect Ashiesh Shah compliments the very contemporary preparation and presentation of the food and its connection with the soil.
Masque, Laxmi Mills Compound, near Blue Tokai, Mahalaxmi. Tel: 98190 69222.
Best Casual-Dining Restaurant (tie)
Farmer & Sons
Restaurateur Nico Goghavala has stuck it out in the industry despite one failed enterprise. All-day Fort restaurant Farmer & Sons is his second venture in the city after Nico Bombay, which had a brief run from 2013 to 2015. Nico Bombay suffered from average, pricey and poorly portioned fare, but all of that has been addressed and corrected at Farmer & Sons. The latter’s menu is consciously casual and offers comfort via sprightly salad bowls and carb-heavy courses such as pizzas and sandwiches. The juicy meat and Gruyere-packed duck sandwich is a fantastic showcase for their house-made sourdough and the buff-laden brisket biscuit pizza for their overworked wood-fired oven that also dispenses crunchy and tasty finger-sized pita pockets. They also have a pretty strong selection of bar bites such as the cheesy mushroom poutine and garlic and parmesan flavoured sourdough cubes. The desserts alas are underwhelming.
Farmer and Sons, 105 Apollo Street, Bombay Samachar Marg, Fort. Tel: 022 2262 4466.
The Boston Butt
Kala Ghoda BBQ joint The Boston Butt defied BBQ standards by focusing on fancy small plates such as bacon jam brioche; garlic and chilli flavoured smoked squid; well-sauced chicken tacos; and hors d’oeuvre-sized barbecued potatoes gussied up with cheddar, mascarpone, caramelised onions and jalapenos. Spread over two levels, the restaurant is split into a tasteful wood and leather furnished dining room and a raucous bar overhead that serves first-rate Prohibition tipples and signature cocktails such as the vodka, cherry, brandy and dates infused Curry Scented B*tch and a tart and sophisticated gin, melon liqueur and sage concoction called Hello From The Other Side.
The Boston Butt, Rampart Row Building, First Floor, 30 K. Dubash Marg, Kala Ghoda. Tel: 98924 47669.
Best Cafe (tie)
The three French nationals running popular creperie chain Suzette launched Kitchen Garden in Bandra this year, a savvy move given the city’s current proclivity for hip salad bars. The all-day cafe occupies a prime location in the suburb where its flocked by gym nuts and models who subsist on raw foods and gluten-free nosh. Vibrant vegetables and fruits are illustrated on their menu and walls and heaped into expensive albeit tasty bowls enriched with gourmet cheese and proteins. Their selection of sourdough sandwiches brimming with fresh avocado and pillowy mozzarella and breakfast buns packed with ham, eggs and cheese are among the must-haves. Folks in a hurry should grab their house-blended cold-pressed juices and naturally sweetened fruit-loaded desserts from the takeaway counter that empties out quickly despite the hefty tag attached to its contents.
Kitchen Garden, Gasper Enclave, St. John Street, Pali Naka, near Suzette, opposite Gold’s Gym, Bandra (West). Tel: 022 2645 9775.
212 All Good
The shift towards conscious cooking is best demonstrated by 212 All Good, an all-day restaurant by Bellona Hospitality, the culinary arm of the Phoenix Mills group. The ‘All Good’ in the name bears a promise of serving only “that which is good for your gut”. To this end, they’ve populated the menu with currently hip and globally extolled ingredients such as black rice, buckwheat, amaranth, goji berries and yam. The dishes are proof that tastiness and nutrition are not mutually exclusive. The whipped ricotta and honey gluten-free toast, goji berry chicken curry and sous vide miso snapper with bamboo rice are worth revisits. A highlight is their selection of delicious house-made colas, enriched with herbs, spices and caramel jaggery, and flavoured gin and tonics.
212 All Good, Ground Floor, Grand Galleria, below Croma, High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel. Tel: 86550 12212.
The Clearing House
Like Bandra’s Taj Mahal Tea House, last year’s winner of this category, The Clearing House enjoys the luxury of space. Sprawled over 4,000 square feet, the European restaurant in Ballard Estate is divided into a dining area called The Foyer and a bar they’ve named The Chamber. For both, architects Sameep Padora and Vami Koticha have channeled the grandeur of New York’s Meatpacking District restaurants. The two rooms are separated by a door and look distinctly different. The highlight of the vast Foyer are its full-length arched windows that fill it with light from breakfast until sundown. Under a scalloped wood ceiling is a room dressed in a grey and beige palette tastefully contrasted with black and white chequered flooring and cheerful blue furniture. The Chamber, which is off limits until 7pm, has a decidedly nocturnal appeal. The bar has red panelling on its walls and wreath-shaped chandeliers that add a touch of softness to the otherwise industrial-looking room, which retains the black iron ceiling, walls and pillars of the ice factory that used to be located here.
The Clearing House, Calicut Street, Ballard Estate. Tel: 022 6223 2266.
Best Dessert Parlour
Dessert lovers had it good this year. The sweet of tooth were treated to Oh Dough, a gourmet cookie shop; Bono, an artisanal ice cream store and catering service; and Mama Z’s, a delivery service specialising in indulgent homemade pies. The winner of this category however is Bandra’s Daniel Patissier, which restoked our appetite for macarons with uncommon flavours such as olive, elderflower, keylime pie and Bounty. Their star confections though are the cloud-like Kyoto cheesecake, an airy, cotton-soft loaf, and the easy-to-pop milk chocolate covered French almond rochers.
Daniel Patissier, Shop No.3, ALJ Residency, near Jai Hind restaurant, opposite Janta Bar, Pali Naka, Ambedkar Road, Bandra (West). Tel: 98205 43326.
Best Bar Food (tie)
One Street Over
Kelvin Cheung, the Canadian Chinese chef who had an immensely popular tenure as chief of the kitchen at Ellipsis in Colaba, briefly quit Mumbai in 2015. He returned sooner than expected to head up Aalia Hospitality’s kitchens this year. Cheung had his work cut out for him to salvage the company’s somewhat dubious culinary reputation earned with such short-lived bars and restaurants as Bandra’s Org-G, Rehab and Gangsta’s. With gastropub One Street Over, his first Aalia collaboration, Cheung brought his well-loved brand of modern American comfort to the suburbs. Along with Korean chef de cuisine Boo Kwang Kim, he created a fun small plates-driven menu that treats vegetarians and meat eaters as equals. Loyalists return for the burrata salad; umami-heavy French beans; kung pao broccoli; pork belly bun; fish tacos; and bacon kimchi fried rice.
One Street Over, Ground Floor, Navrang Building, near National College and Hotel Linkway, off Linking Road, Khar. Tel: 022 2600 2224.
Reservations are hard-won at Koko, which feels like an updated version of Henry Tham’s, the erstwhile lounge in Colaba. Run by Tham’s ably-mentored sons Ryan and Keenan, Koko applies the same formula of pairing tasty Chinese grub with delicious tipples. The winning dishes on their menu, which features several memorable ones, are the crispy crackling covered pork belly with plum sauce and the revelatory edamame black rice flavoured with burnt garlic. They’re best washed down with tart cocktails such as the ginger and jasmine scented Twisted Mule and the equally smooth Jamun Club, an off-the-menu beverage of gin, egg white and lime.
Koko, near AnnCensored and The Bombay Canteen, Kamala Mills Compound, Lower Parel. Tel: 022 6105 3999.
Best New Bar For Cocktails
The rather plain décor won’t transport you to Peru but the food and drinks surely will at Lima, UK-based Indian chef Atul Kochhar’s after-hours BKC bar. At a time when other places displayed an unhealthy obsession with molecular gastronomy-inspired cocktails, Kochhar along with mixologist Shatbi Basu kept it simple and on-point with fruity and flavoursome (but never excessively sweet) Pisco sours and cremosas, cocktails barely anybody does in this city, and even fewer get right.
Lima, Maker Maxity, North Avenue 2, in the same complex as Le Pain Quotidian, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra (East). Tel: 022 3000 5040.
Best Bar Decor
On paper, a bar illuminated by candlelight sounds audacious and bizarre. But in a city filled with cookie-cutter establishments that have yet to evolve beyond exposed brick and air-conditioning ducts, MasalaBar doesn’t just look different but also surprisingly slick. With geometric Art Deco wall patterns and mirrored columns that play against the minimal light, this dark ‘cocktails laboratory’, which overlooks Bandra’s Carter Road promenade, is simultaneously Medieval, modern and like most of The Busride Design Studio’s work, quintessentially Mumbai. There isn’t any other place like it.
MasalaBar, First Floor, Gagangiri Apartments, above Cafe Coffee Day, Carter Road, Bandra (West). Tel: 022 6770 1793.