Bar Review: Verbena Brewpub and Skygarden, Lower Parel

Verbena.Verbena, the new rooftop bar in Kamala Mills started by the folks who run gaming centre Smaaash in the same compound, tries and partially succeeds in being everything to everybody without being the two things it claims to be, a brewpub and a ‘skygarden’. Nearly four months after it opened in the last week of January, the bar is yet to receive a licence to brew on site. And while it is technically open to the sky, the roof and sides of its terrace location are covered with netting blanketed with climbers and creepers, thereby depriving patrons of both view and breeze.

However there’s no missing the garden. Every section of the 10,000 square feet establishment is covered in green. There’s the aforementioned al fresco area as well at the air-conditioned section, which is divided into a dining room and a dance floor. The two are separated by a wooden rack lined with rows of potted plants. On a Saturday night, we could find room only at the bar counter as every table was occupied with a variety of patrons, from large groups to couples on a date to guys out for a dink and some sheesha to families eating dinner with kids.

The children seemed out of place in the dining section, where the DJ was playing electronic pop hits at a volume suited to a nightclub. The brightly lit dance floor, in contrast to the rest of Verbena, was empty through our visit, the majority of which we spent in the dimly illuminated outdoor area where the music is streamed at a level that allows easy conversation.

It was here that we learned from our bar tender that though the idea was to initially grow ingredients for their signature cocktails in-house, they did not anticipate the effort it would take to maintain the vertical garden and are currently purchasing items such as basil and parsley. They do however make their own orange marmalade and tamarind jam which are employed in some of the mixed drinks. They also prepare their own vodka infusions for use in their variations of the Long Island Ice Tea.

In contrast to the food menu, which jumps across cuisines, Verbena offers just four house cocktails, which are listed under ‘Botanical Mixology’. We tried two. The Root Benefits (Rs470), made up of Bombay Sapphire, beetroot juice, vanilla sugar, Thai lime and basil, was among the most unusual gin cocktails we’ve had. The vanilla and basil somewhat dominated the beetroot, which contributed more in terms of colour than taste.

The Botanicals Breakfast (Rs470), a mash-up of cinnamon dusted orange marmalade, Black Dog, sea salt and York merlot, seemed like a take on the sangria. The creative concoction was balanced well enough to be neither too sweet nor too potent. Also on offer are a selection of boozy sorbets, for which you’re to combine a flavour, typically a mix of a fruit, herb and spice, with vodka, gin, rum, whisky or tequila. Encouraged by our experience with the cocktails we picked the most offbeat sorbet option – the Dark Fantasy (Rs250), a mix of balsamic vinegar, vanilla sugar and peppermint, which we matched with white rum.

What arrived was a stemless goblet attached to circular wooden platter, which was surrounded by a fog of dry ice. Inside the glass was an umami-rich sorbet sitting in a pool of a too-sour combination of vinegar and rum with not a hint of peppermint. We could have only half the drink because soon enough the gola-like globe of frozen ice melted. It was the beverage equivalent of the winged horse sculpture that hangs near the entrance: weird and designed primarily to provide customers with something to photograph or film.

The food was more unsatisfactory. The menu is divided into dishes that are classified as Be Good (salads, quinoa bowls and healthy mains) and Be Bad (appetisers, ‘substantial’, ‘sizzling’, kebabs, nachos and bar bites). From the former, we tried the trio hummus (Rs390) comprising three kinds of the chickpea dip, plain, beetroot and a herby Verbena variation, accompanied with pita bread. They scored in texture but not taste; the hummus was impressively creamy but bland.

The lamb galouti kebab (Rs590), misleadingly clubbed under ‘substantial’, was more of a snack. The four discs of meat, served on mini parathas, were not soft and pliant like the Lucknowi speciality, but had the consistency and flavour of well-seasoned mutton kheema cutlets. As with the sorbet, you get to assemble your snack from the ‘fried and delicious’ segment of the appetisers, by choosing one each of a list of fries, sauces and spices. We opted for cassava fries (Rs475) over the standard potato chips and onion rings, along with honey mustard sauce and Cajun spice. The dish was a miss all through; the fries were over-cooked, there was not a trace of spice and the sauce was too sweet, as it was all honey, no mustard.

The biggest disappointment of the night was dessert, the green tea tiramisu (Rs455). The matcha was missing from the custard-y tiramisu, which was dense, and the sides of dry biscuits and watery lemon grass-flavoured ice cream only compounded our woes. Verbena, we figured, might aim to be everything to everybody but to us, it works only for its handful of cocktails. The rest of it is too confused to be coherent. It’s possibly the only bar where your bill folder includes a flyer for a gym. It advertises new health club Smaaash Shivfit, another enterprise by the owners.

Prices exclude taxes. They do not levy a service charge.

This review was conducted anonymously. It is our policy to wait a week after an establishment has opened before we review it.

Verbena, Fourth Floor, Trade View Building, Gate No.4, Kamala Mills Compound, Lower Parel. Tel: 022 3997 1886. Open daily, from 4pm to 12.30am. Get directions here.

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