Restaurant Review: The Clearing House, Ballard Estate
In Ballard Estate, the dining scene hasn’t progressed much beyond Irani cafes and seafood restaurants. There are, however, two recent exceptions. Kaboom, a lunch and snack joint with a food truck aesthetic and a menu that rotates daily, opened in 2014. It was joined by The Clearing House in October this year. The latter sticks out with its semi fine-dining setting and focus on modern plates that draw inspiration and ingredients from across the world.
Rishad Nathani, the former director of deGustibus Hospitality, which gave Colaba its first taste of stand-alone fine-dining at Indigo, has launched The Clearing House. It doesn’t occupy a charming bungalow like Indigo, but Nathani, who has a keen eye for real estate, has found a similarly sprawling venue for his new venture. The restaurant and bar occupies 4,000 square feet of a former ice factory, which have been tastefully repurposed by architects Sameep Padora and Vami Koticha of sP+A. The firm also designed Indigo Deli in Lower Parel and Craft in Kurla. The dining area, called The Foyer, is defined by floor-to-ceiling arched windows the light from which illuminates the room’s most attractive features, a scalloped wood ceiling and contrasting chequered floor. The Foyer is connected to The Chamber, a seductive lounge upholstered in red and beige, in which the bar is accentuated by a statement chandelier.
While it hasn’t been positioned as a fine-dining restaurant, The Clearing House’s upscale decor demands that you dress well. At lunch a fortnight ago, The Foyer was colonised by groups of impeccably attired ladies laying waste to trendy salad bowls heaped with kale, quinoa, pumpkin, fennel and beet. Here you’re encouraged to make a meal out of small plates that are accorded two pages of the menu; mains are relegated to one. The petite plates cost as much as entrees at most restaurants, though the portions are not as as modest as the term ‘small plates’ suggest.
The buttermilk biscuits baked with asparagus, truffle leeks and cheese (Rs490) were on high on crunch, texture and taste and made a quick exit from our table. We savoured the paprika spiced lamb tacos (Rs580) with similar fervour. The shells were firm and crisp and loaded with moderately spiced tender meat, mushed beans and creamy cabbage slaw. There’s an equally tasty veggie version with an Asian bent. The veg taco (Rs485) was stuffed with mushrooms, luscious tofu, Asian greens and spiked with a tangy and spicy Korean kimchi sauce.
The good and the mediocre were equally balanced. The basil polenta fries (Rs325) were over-fried oily and flavourless batons. The duck meat in the hoisin chilli duck sliders (Rs650) was juicy and well cooked but zealously sauced and hence too sweet. Brioche as the base was a good idea but the final garnish of cheese over the duck rendered the snack excessively rich. The single large plate that we ordered, udon noodles with coconut basil broth (Rs680), inspired little confidence in the rest of this section. The coconut milk broth was flat and tasteless.
Leap instead from small plates to dessert. The honey flan (Rs450) is the most triumphant dish on the menu. Presented with delicious embellishments such as fresh figs, honeycomb, crunchy toasted oats and balsamic reduction, the flan was of panna cotta-like consistency, light and floral in taste. The sugar-free dessert surprisingly trumped the chocolate-loaded olive oil cake with rum caramel, orange segments and Earl Grey ice cream (Rs450). The somewhat savoury, fudge-like cake and its parts didn’t quite come together like the flan. The Clearing House is a good-looking establishment with enough dishes worth revisiting, but it ultimately feels like an echo of Colaba’s Ellipsis and The Table, restaurants which have popularised similar food that’s driven by posh ingredients and consciously shirks categorisation by cuisine.
Get: Spiced lamb tacos (Rs580); asparagus and truffle leeks on buttermilk biscuits (Rs490); Korean mushrooms and tofu tacos (Rs485); honey flan (Rs450).
Skip: Basil polenta fries (Rs325); chocolate olive oil cake (Rs450); udon noodles with coconut basil broth (Rs680).
It is our policy to wait at least a week after an establishment has opened before we review it.
Prices exclude taxes.
The Clearing House, Calicut Street, Ballard Estate. Tel: 022 6223 2266. The Foyer is open daily, from noon to 3pm and from 7pm to 1am and The Chamber is open daily, from 7pm to 1am. Get directions here.