At Chemistry 101 (C101), keep your preferred photo sharing app at the ready. You may want to Snapchat Mela, where white rum, basil, and orange juice is poured over a snowy mountain which melts into nothingness. It’s candy floss converted into a delicious, boozy treat. Or Instagram kaleji pao, a bowl of creamy chunks of liver in kheema so deftly spiced, you’ll have spoonfuls of it without the pao.
The bread is a four by five laadi of twenty mini buns, and the offal and mince arrives looking like a mossy forest floor with fallen flowers, slender mushrooms and baby carrots, more garnish than flavour. For added texture, dig into the meat with pieces of shredded “kung-fu” Malabar paratha, similar to Buss Up Shut at NRI.
Like that BKC restaurant, C101 feeds two trends – an expat Indian chef turning homewards after a successful stint abroad, to offer us his take on modern Indian fusion food. Stephen Gomes, who has been in Cardiff for 15 years, has used both chemistry and unintuitive flavour pairings to surprise diners at C101. So, rasgullas land up in a spicy cashew paste-based gravy, and sandesh is turned into jelly. The korma is delicious, but the chenna balls need a bit of a squeeze before they go in. With the sandesh, we rue the loss of the cheese paste texture.
A salade caprese mutates into a mozzarella balloon that’s more drama than deliciousness, and the tomato is rendered into fizzy, slightly sweet rasam served in a Jetchill glass (a tube with a compartment at the bottom to hold dry ice), puffing up white clouds of cold carbon dioxide vapour. The rasam sorbet over bocconcini does little for the cheese, but is good enough by itself.
One heavily sold drink involves a committed look around: at the zenith are swirling nebulae, to the right a supernova explodes, and a comet arcs under the horizon until it disappears under their feet. Punters must wear a virtual reality headset while slurping on Guardian of the Galaxy, a cloying cocktail with slushy layers of blue curaçao, grenadine, vodka, triple sec, and lime juice churned so it looks like a NASA image. “The drink is as bad as the concept is good,” said our dining companion.
You could say the same about the décor. A few pieces of lab equipment lie around filled with brightly coloured liquids and the rest of the room looks like a QSR eatery, utterly at odds with the idea of a meal that engages all our senses.
When the food tastes good, it tastes great, like the arbi rogan josh – uncomplicated by fizz and fog, it’s only a splendid way to get a vegetarian friend to understand the smoky, buttery, head-filling flavour of the Kashmiri staple. Taro even makes an adequate meat substitute.
At C101, when a dish, or a drink, is built with insight into flavour, dry ice and drama become but an unnecessary gimmick.
What: Chemistry 101
Where: Times Tower, Ground Floor, Kamala Mills, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel
When: 7pm to 1am
Cost: About Rs 4,500 for a meal for two, with a drink each.
Call: 2496 7272
The author tweets @roshnibajaj