Desi Culture is the perfect upmarket dive: Food review by Antoine Lewis | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Desi Culture is the perfect upmarket dive: Food review by Antoine Lewis

Prices are low, the decor is cheery and the Punjabi-Mughlai-Chinese menu a comfy throwback to the ’90s. All in all, a fair place for a few drinks.

mumbai Updated: May 27, 2017 10:05 IST
Antoine Lewis
The decor at Desi Culture in Lower Parel is playful — brick and Mangalore tile on one wall, Chinese-style etching on another. A tiny wooden dumper truck holding tissues and cutlery on each table. Some of the cocktails are served in a quarter bottle.
The decor at Desi Culture in Lower Parel is playful — brick and Mangalore tile on one wall, Chinese-style etching on another. A tiny wooden dumper truck holding tissues and cutlery on each table. Some of the cocktails are served in a quarter bottle. (Aalok Soni / HT Photo)
Desi Culture
  • RATING: 3.5/5
  • WHERE: C Wing, Trade World, Kamala Mills, Lower Parel
  • WHEN: Noon to 4pm, 7pm to 1am
  • COST: Rs 1,500 for two, with one drink each
  • CALL: 2492-5557 / 58

Menus at new, standalone Indian restaurants have become quite predictable. Almost no one sticks to one cuisine; what they’ll offer instead is elements of molecular gastronomy, street food and regional dishes. Often enough, these different strands will be happily tied together in one fusion dish.

Desi Culture too is following the trend, but with one interesting difference. They’ve done away with regional cuisine altogether and focus on a restaurant format that was once popular, but is now looked down on with disdain. The menu is mostly a play on the multi-cuisine Punjabi-Mughlai-Chinese fare that dominated menus when some of us were growing up.

From the chaat section, we start with a jalapeno cheese ragda pattice and a deconstructed chicken sev puri tikka. Both are great fun. The straightforward chatpata street-style ragda is topped with crushed puris and airy, mousse-like florets of jalapeno cheese. The shredded chicken tikkas are piled up on square puris, topped with sev and spicy foam. Channa dal is scattered on the platter along with disc-shaped chilli-garlic, coriander and tamarind chutney gels. It works well, though it’s a little too big for one bite.

The jalapeno cheese ragda pattice is topped with crushed puris and airy, mousse-like florets of jalapeno cheese. Not bad! (Alok Soni / Hindustan Times )

We were amused to find chicken Szechwan lollypops among the Oriental starters and couldn’t resist ordering them. Encased in a thick, crisp batter with a generous coating of a proper Indian-Chinese Szechwan sauce, the pops were finger-lickin’ good. Definitely worth returning for.

This spirit of playfulness extends to the design of the restaurant and the signature cocktails as well. One wall is a stacked cross section of different shapes of brick and Mangalore tile. Touching it is a wall with Chinese-style black-and-white etching. Our jade green table was inlaid with Chinese characters and a tiny wooden dumper truck held tissues and cutlery. The desi tharraa, a sweet and refreshing mix of white rum, lime juice and coconut water, is served in a quarter bottle reminiscent of cheap dives.

The shredded chicken tikkas are piled up on square puris, topped with sev and spicy foam. It works well, though each puri is a bit too big for one bite. (Alok Soni/Hindustan Times )

For the main course, the server and manager recommended we try one of the three thalis. We went with the signature butter chicken and 9-hour dal makhani thalis. They’ve done a great job with both. The butter chicken is thick and greasy; sweet at first, but with a spicy kick at the back of the palate. The dal is smooth and creamy with an underlying richness.

Dessert is a bit dramatic, but somewhat underwhelming. At the table, a fresh rose is dipped into a beaker of liquid nitrogen. The plate of rose kulfi with frozen gulab jamun and namkeen chikki is whipped with the frozen rose, which shatters into a cloudburst of flecks. The combination of spiced chikki and overly sweet rose kulfi is unappetising.

Desi Culture works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and both the food and the drinks are absurdly cheap. It’s the perfect upmarket dive.

The butter chicken is good — thick and greasy; sweet at first, but with a spicy kick at the back of the palate. (Alok Soni / Hindustan Times )

(HT reviews anonymously and pays for all meals)