If you’re tired of the same old burgers-and-fries routine, it’s time to get in on a juicy secret. Many of Mumbai’s menus have striking ‘off-the-menu’ innovations that restaurants serve to those brave — and knowledgeable — enough to ask. While some chefs keep items off the menu due to ingredients not being available all the time, others enjoy the freedom that comes with creating something ‘to order’ for customers.
Sample Nigerian egusi, pork cooked in brine, Scottish sheep-stomach pie or authentic Tibetan curry in otherwise unassuming settings with this guide to going off the menu.
* Nigerian egusi soup with semovita
At the kitchen of the Green Onion, a small Chinese eatery in Marine Lines, there’s a hidden surprise: authentic Nigerian cuisine. “The egusi soup, which is a sort of squash soup, comes with ground watermelon seeds,” says restaurant manager Ruby Dogra. “This is served with whole-wheat semovita flour balls, considered a healthier option to pounded yams.”
The restaurant started serving Nigerian food to cater to Nigerian expats who often stay at the adjoining Hotel Sapna. “I asked the visitors to teach me the recipes,” she says.
Where: The Green Onion, 1st Marine Street, near Metro Cinema, Dhobi Talao, Marine Lines
Cost: Rs 275
Also ask about: The ‘other’ menu, filled with Nigerian delicacies such as jollof rice — a kind of rice cooked in peanut oil, with pepper and cumin (Rs 450); you can also try okra soup with cassava, pureed fried prawns and spiced okra chunks (Rs 250)
At Ellipsis in Colaba, customers in the know can ask for a rare treat — a traditional Scottish savoury pudding made of sheep stomach, stuffed with its heart, liver and lungs called haggis. The dish is baked and served with mashed potatoes and gravy.
“I first made it in Mumbai about a year ago, when a Scottish expat came in craving some home-style comfort food,” says chef Kelvin Cheung. “Typically, such an order needs to be placed two days in advance because we have to source the meat from a special supplier.”
“If a guest calls me ahead of time with an ingredient they want, we are happy to oblige,” he says.
Where: Ellipsis, Amarchand Mansion, 16 Madame Cama Road, Colaba
Cost: Available on request
Also ask about: Ramen burgers that use fried noodles in place of buns
* Har Gow crystal dumplings
The trick at the Royal China’s Fort outlet is to ask what’s new, says co-owner Neville Vazifdar.
“We have introduced the har gow, or crystal-skinned shrimp dumplings, which are packed in very translucent wrapping which gives them their name,” he says. “Besides this, we serve three types of chicken dumplings, as well as pork and seafood ones.”
“Certain items, before they are introduced on the menu full-time, are only available on request, or to some regular customers,” he says. “This is so we can get feedback on the food before committing to it fully.”
Where: Royal China, Victoria Terminus, Behind Sterling Cinema Building, Hazarimal Somani Marg, Fort
Cost: Rs 350 to Rs 400
Also ask about: Other trial-stage dishes; previous experiments have included butter-garlic scampi
* Travancore fish curry
Thanks to its diverse staff, Pondicherry Café at the Sofitel Mumbai hotel says it can cater to off-the-menu requests ranging across Indian and European cuisines. “We have chefs trained in Italian food to Keralite and Maharashtrian cuisines,” says chef Indrajeet Saha.
Here, you can get Travancore fish curry, not available on the regular menu, with a unique blend of white tamarind and kokum. “We made it for the first time for a homesick Malayali businessman,” says Saha.
Where: Pondicherry Café, C 57, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East
Cost: Rs 750
Also ask about: The deconstructed open-faced ravioli with layers of trimmed lasagna noodles and chicken in tomato sauce (Rs 550)
* Pork cooked in brine
If you’re bored with the usual barbecue sauce-slathered pork cuts, try the brined pork at Ling’s Pavilion in Colaba.
“The dish is very popular among regular customers,” says Nini Ling, the restaurant’s manager. “Brining breaks down some of the muscle tissue and lets the meat draw in moisture. This makes the meat very flavourful and tender.” The pork is served without any accompaniments.
“The actual menu is designed to help people who don’t know what they want,” says Ling. “It only gives a broad outline of the food we make at the kitchen.”
Where: Ling’s Pavilion, 18, MB Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba
Cost: Rs 400
Also ask about: Oxtail stew, which has the tail of the animal, usually a buffalo, braised with red wine and served with vegetables (Rs 600)
* Gyami Jhasha Tibetan curry
If patrons at the only exclusively Tibetan restaurant in the city, New Sernyaa, are hoping for something even more off-the-radar, they can ask for a bowlful of steaming gyami jhasha.
“It is a very authentic Tibetan dish but it holds a familiar taste palette for Indians,” says co-owner Sonam Dorjee Lama. “It’s a chicken gravy dish made with soy sauce, pepper and tomatoes. We are planning on introducing this to the menu at a later stage.”
Lama says that part of exploring a new cuisine with customers, is constant experimentation. “We change the menu every few months,” says Lama. “We introduce new dishes on an event basis, for example around Christmas and New Year.”
Where: New Sernyaa, 185, Oshiwara Link Road, KL Walawalkar Marg, Adarsh Nagar, Highland Park, Andheri (West)
Cost: Rs 400
Also ask about: Kopan masala, a Tibetan version of garam masala that uses nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, available on request as a condiment
(HT photos: Sanjay Solanki, Bhushan Koyande)