Restaurant Review: NRI, Bandra-Kurla Complex

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When news of an upcoming BKC restaurant called Not Really Indian (NRI) began circulating in January, the city’s foodies knew little of Atul Kochhar, its chef and proprietor who has lived and worked in England for 22 years. Newspaper reports promptly played up the fact that Kochhar earned his culinary stripes in London in the form of two Michelin stars, the first for Tamarind, the restaurant at which he worked prior to opening Benares, which won him his second.

Unlike the fine-dining fare Kochhar dishes out at Benares, which occupies a spot in tony Mayfair, the food at NRI is inspired by the Indian diaspora and is priced at casual dining rates. For his maiden Indian venture, he has drawn from places in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Mauritius, where Indians worked as indentured labour or migrated for trade and employment in colonial times. There’s not much in the dining room that suggests or even builds on this culinary concept. It is in fact fairly casual and indistinctive with its office cafeteria-style arrangement of consecutive rows of tables and chairs. There are no pillars, booths or walled sections obstructing your view of fellow diners, a mixed crowd of families and office staff from BKC. Vintage lamp posts are scattered across the 3,000 square foot room to evoke colonial nostalgia, but they don’t elevate the decor in any way.

Kochhar’s menu gives you an idea of the wide spread of former colonies with significant Indian immigrant populations. Here you can nosh on Caribbean goat curry, Mauritian chicken nuggets, Sri Lankan potli veg curry, South African bunny chow, Malay korma and Mombasa jeera chicken. The dishes reflect the local tastes of the countries. Kochhar has commendably attempted to spotlight an under-explored category of Indian food, however, his menu calls for some amount of guesswork because the provenance of only some of the dishes is mentioned in the menu. For instance, what makes their Caribbean goat curry (Rs575), which is among our top picks here, Caribbean? We’re still not sure. That said, it’s a stellar mutton curry, with tender meat and rich in the flavours of onion, pepper and ginger. It’s accompanied by a soft and flaky Trini paratha, which is texturally a cross between a roomali roti and a Malabar parotta.

The baingan bulgur salad (Rs275), on the other hand, had a clear Mediterranean profile. Two fleshy cross-sections of deliciously smoky, spice-rubbed aubergines stood out against the bland, cold grains of cracked wheat over-sweetened with raisins and green apples. The fried popiah rolls (Rs225), stuffed with sprouts, were similar to pedestrian Chinese spring rolls. The dish should be edited out of the menu, which will be changed frequently because NRI is committed to using seasonal produce. There’s barely any seafood on offer, which is a shame because their grilled Seychelles calamari (Rs300), cut up into four-inch moist cubes and varnished with a citrus and ginger juice, was outstanding. That Kochhar’s tenure as a chef in Britain has made him an authority on pies was proved by the savoury chicken tikka pie (Rs375), a signature Benares preparation made of spiced chicken tikka kheema encased in a golden, all-butter crust.

The Sri Lankan potli veg curry (Rs400) had a mesh of idiyappams placed over a bowl of aromatic slow-cooked carrots, cauliflower and peas flavoured with mustard seeds and curry leaves. The mixed veg preparation, which was neither curry-like nor served in potlis, lacked the characteristic sharpness of Sri Lankan food. NRI has accommodated North Indian staples in a section called ‘India Waale’. It’s easy to get carried away eating their butter chicken (Rs450) in which well-cooked pieces of tandoor-charred boneless chicken pieces are dunked in an unforgivingly luscious gravy that should be consumed in a measured amount for the well-being of your arteries.

At NRI, there’s no printed menu for dessert. Instead, every day the restaurant appoints a member of the staff as the “mithaiwalla”. Their duty is to walk a tray of desserts to each table, the way old-school Chinese dim sum joints wheeled fresh dumplings to customers. They’re not actually peddling mithai but fusion desserts such as the masala chai brownie (Rs200) and classics like apple pie (Rs200). Both these were on point. Don’t be put off by the fudge-like brownie’s mossy green and yellow surface, which is chai and Bailey’s-flavoured cream. The apple pie, meanwhile, was biscuity, optimally sweet and flecked with celery, which though mild in flavour added a pleasant savoury touch to the homestyle dessert.

Get: Grilled calamari (Rs300); Caribbean goat curry (Rs575); butter chicken (Rs450); masala chai brownie (Rs200); chicken tikka pie (Rs375);  apple and celery pie (Rs200).

Skip: Sri Lankan potli veg (Rs400); popiah rolls (Rs225); baingan bulgur salad (Rs275).

It is our policy to wait at least a week after an establishment has opened before we review it.

Prices exclude taxes. This review was conducted anonymously.

NRI, Maker Maxity, North Avenue 2, in the same complex as California Pizza Kitchen and Le Pain Quotidian, Bandra-Kurla Complex, Bandra (East). Tel: 022 3000 5040. Open daily, from 11am to 11pm. Get directions here.

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