At Farzi Cafe, a meal is as much stagecraft as it is sustenance. When you walk in, there is suspense – how long is the wait for table going to be? Soon after, there are performers – servers strut and swagger around the table, closing introductions with “and I’m gonna be serving you today” before handing diners a cocktail list with enigmatic names like Three Musketeers and Bang Bang, sans exposition. There is dialogue (and sometimes jazz hands) as you figure out which drink is for you. There is a sound and light show: projection mapping is done on that most intricate of surfaces, walls inspired by Rajasthani jaliwork; the soundtrack could be Calvin Harris, or Justin Bieber, but there is also space for musicians.
Farzi, in this case, means illusion. Indeed intrigue follows, with every plate. A dish called Bombay Bhel Version 2.0 is served like sevpuri, the topping of sev made crisper with liquid nitrogen. It’s piquant, mouth-watering, and even if you revisit it after an hour, it’s crunchy. There is smoke in the cocktails, and smoky mirrors as tabletops. There is a point of attack, when the heat of chillies in the delicious Three Musketeers rises above sweetness of bourbon, chocolate, orange and the bitters. There is tragedy in an underdone doughy chorizo paddu-yaki, romance in a perfectly cooked, smoky, subtle bhatti ka murg, and comedy when the brown onion yogurt dip is in fact flavoured mayonnaise.
Everything is a prop. Drinks arrive in lightbulbs or a hollow Tower of Eiffel; anything can be a plate – small tandoors, bicycles with baskets, trucks, ceramic fashioned into trees or bivalve shells or mottled crescent moons. Plump, hockey puck-sized tandoori Margarita kulcha, for example, shows up in a dumpling steamer basket, topped with Bloody Mary ketchup. It’s stuffed enough to qualify, its insides so meltingly cheesy it would make Celine Dion weep. That hot smear of spiked ketchup offers plenty of tantalising contrast, we’d be happy to bottle it for future boring meals.
Characters abound. Guys in short sleeved t-shirts flex as they reach for house shots or alcoholic buntas on high tables. Men with their striped shirts stretching at their bellies peacock at the bar, both actors and audience. Girls are dressed like they might be at the races or at the beach, while in booths, families focus on the food, oblivious to the clubby mis en scene.
The dishes that work, sometimes even beautifully, are undramatic. are undramatic. A Rajasthani kadhi with pulao, onion rings and batter-fried green chillies is just that, in a wide-lipped, large, shallow bowl, no smoke, no foams, no other forms of nitrogen. It is the loveliest, silkiest, most masterfully spiced kadhi we’ve had in a while, the crunchy allium providing a textural counterpoint.
A rasmalai tres leches arrives chamcham-style, sandwiched and topped with shredded, tenderly cooked carrots in sweet cream, evoking gajar ka halwa, garnished with dried rose petals clinging to a sugary veil. It’s a good rasmalai, and a combination that needs no theatrics, no illusion.
(HT pays for all meals, and reviews anonymously)
What: Farzi Cafe
Where: Unit 1 & 2D (near Radio Mirchi and next to Times Tower), Kamala Mills Compound, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel
When: Noon to 1am
Cost: Rs 3,000 for a meal for two, with a drink each
Call: 84339-42801 / 2
The author tweets @RoshniBajaj