Two trips to Bombay in one week. Hectic, but worth it. Both involved superior gastronomic experiences. And both had to do with individuals who have done a great deal for Indian food.
It was Zorawar who hosted a party at Masala Library for his father and nearly every foodie and restaurateur of consequence in Bombay turned up to honour him. Masala Library did the food, lots of champagne was consumed and Jiggs was in such sparkling form that you forgot he was still wheelchair-bound.
My other Bombay trip involved a chef I’ve never met, but whose food I’ve always admired. Floyd Cardoz sprang to fame in New York in the late Nineties as the chef at Tabla, a modern Indian restaurant owned by Danny Meyer who was then and is still the city’s top restaurateur.
Indians reacted badly to Tabla because it did not serve standard Indian food. Nor did it use many of the tricks pioneered by London’s Indian chefs: cook a lamb shank, put a rogan josh gravy below it, dress up the plate and make it all look French, for instance. But I loved it. I thought it took classic Indian flavours and recast them in a new setting. The Bread Bar downstairs, which was more casual, did food that was more conventionally Indian.
In New York terms, Tabla was way ahead of its time and when it eventually closed, Floyd did a variety of other things including winning Top Chef Masters with a dish that included upma. When I heard he was culinary director of the company that was opening The Bombay Canteen in Parel, I was excited but also, it must be said, a little sceptical.
By now, anything that references Bombay merely does a variation on paani puri or vada pao using newer cooking techniques and then claims to be an exemplar of modern Indian cuisine.
I was relieved to find that The Bombay Canteen aims to reflect the cosmopolitan ethos of the city rather than merely reinvent street food with spherification and liquid nitrogen. The menu is pan-Indian and genuinely creative.
The tacos use a vindaloo-inspired filling but their greatest feature is the Gujarati methi theplas that form the base. Bunny Chow is a staple of Durban’s Indian community, but in Floyd’s hands it becomes a glorious celebration of Indian, African and Portuguese influences with a delicious Goa sausage filling.
There are many north Indian and south Indian dishes too and the cooking and the ingredients are all first rate. I was particularly taken with eggs, perfectly fried with golden yolks that turn up as toppings in such dishes as the Kheema Bheja Ghotala.
I also liked the ambience. Sameer Seth, CEO of the company that owns The Bombay Canteen, says that they thought of an old Bombay bungalow when they designed the restaurant, with a seating area for proper meals and two verandahs where you can snack and drink all day.
What it comes off as is an informal, happy space where you will be greeted with the same warmth whether you order 15 dishes, as I did while checking out the menu, and pay nearly Rs 6,000 (service included) or just have the Eggs Kejriwal (the restaurant’s signature dish, I think) and a Thums Up for Rs 350 or so.
The restaurant is already hot and hip so my guess is that Floyd and Sameer should be planning on opening in Delhi next. They would destroy all the competition in Khan Market with this level of food and service, if they opened there.
From HT Brunch, March 8
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch