When you think of a gastropub, seldom do you think of a restaurant that serves exquisite Asian cuisine. China House at the Grand Hyatt in Santacruz (E), and Shiro in Worli ruled the Asian gastrobar scene in the city for a long time. Their reign, however, was soon challenged by restaurants-cum-bars such as Mamagoto and The Fatty Bao in Bandra (W).
“Few Asian restaurants in the city were conducive to a relaxed atmosphere that provided a pleasant drinking experience, or a place one could go to with friends.
Fine-dining restaurants dominated the scene. With The Fatty Bao, we tried to achieve a positioning that was somewhere in between — a bar vibe coupled with some serious food,” says Manu Chandra, chef-partner of The Fatty Bao, one of the first restaurants in Mumbai to position itself as an “Asian gastrobar”.
In the last four months, four new Asian gastropubs have cropped up — Koko and Mr. Baozi in Lower Parel, Upstairs in Tardeo, and MRP – Modern Asian Bistro in Dadar (E).
“That’s what happens with a good trend,” says Chandra. “It catches on.”
A much-needed change
Asian gastropubs are gaining popularity across the world as well. “You may not find an Indian restaurant in some parts of the world, but you will definitely discover an Asian one,” says Zuzer Lucknowala, partner, Upstairs. Mitesh Rangras, culinary director of Lemon Leaf in Andheri (W), Bandra (W) and Colaba, seconds the thought, saying, “South-east Asian food has great variety, whereas modern Indian food and continental cuisine, especially pizzas, have been done to death.”
Indians are also accustomed to the taste of Asian cuisine, says Mihir Desai, the co-owner of Mr. Baozi, which serves baos, sushi, dim sums and a wide range of Asian-inspired cocktails. “Indians love spicy food. The flavour of south-east Asian fare is bold and powerful. It is meant for a palate that prefers a kick, much like ours,” says Desai.
Asian fare paired with music and interesting cocktails could be “a perfect recipe for a good night out”, Desai believes.
Some chefs like Abhayraj Singh Kohli, founder and owner, MRP, are of the opinion that bars and restaurants have reached a stagnation point. “Every bar serves onion rings, French fries and chicken wings. The change was required,” he says.
Establishments in the city are also changing how they operate to offer an experience that may appeal to a younger crowd. For instance, Lemon Leaf’s Andheri (W) outlet, which used to have a DJ spinning music once a week, now has one playing music nearly every night due to popular demand.
The awareness of different cuisines is also growing in India, chefs say. “Vietnamese, Burmese and Indonesian dishes are served at several restaurants in the city. Also, as travelling to south-east Asia is affordable, people know more about authentic Asian food beyond the standard chicken lollipop, spring rolls and chilly chicken. A five-year-old at the restaurant once asked me if we served California Sushi Roll with Tuna Tartare,” says Rangras.
Great Finger Food
More customers are opting for small plates than ever before. “While drinking, people prefer to have four or five appetisers as compared to heavy mains,” says Rangras. Dishes such as sushis, baos and dim sums are easy to eat and make for great finger food, too. “Most of these dishes are bite-sized. People can drink and feast on baos or sushi without getting messy,” says Kohli. Desai adds that such dishes also “pair well” with cocktails and beer.
Is it good for you?
Asian food may also be a healthier option, say some chefs. But, opinions differ. While Rangras says the food is lighter on the stomach compared to Indian and continental fare, Desai says it depends on how it is cooked.
Asian cooking also eliminates the use of “masalas”. “Natural ingredients such as lemongrass and bird’s eye chilli add a lot of flavor to the dish,” says Lucknowala.
“As long as you don’t reach for the fried stuff, Asian food has a lot of healthy options for vegetarians as well,” adds Desai.