WHERE: Gala 1, Janata Industrial Estate, opposite High Street Phoenix, Senapati Bapat Road, Lower Parel
WHEN: Noon to 3pm, 6pm to 11.30pm
COST: Rs 1,500 for two people. Alcohol not served;
Ithaka is an island in western Greece with a population of just over 3,000 people. This number seems minuscule when you negotiate your way to Ithaka in Mumbai. Outside, in the dusty, blistering heat, Lower Parel’s main drag is about dodging hordes and cars.
Situated in a squat block of what were once dim industrial sheds but are now a clutch of vegetarian restaurants, Ithaka says it offers — despite its name — meatless Lebanese meals. It’s run by the same folks who own Riso Vegetarian Italian Kitchen. Ithaka shares the same entrance, stacked above Riso. Both have a faux-bungalow vibe, but Ithaka benefits from having a high-pitched roof.
On the day we visited, the upstairs was closed, so Ithaka customers were seated in Riso and handed both menus. We settled into a comfy booth, away from the cacophony of teenage girls, ladies who lunch, and the odd quiet couple.
Ithaka offers much more than Lebanese food. Indeed, there is hummus, and several iterations of it too, but we wouldn’t call much of the menu Levantine or Mediterranean — not even loosely. Ithaka is to Lower Parel what New Yorker is to Chowpatty: a bunch of popular international foods reinterpreted with great abandon, for Indian vegetarian palates and the Jain diet. Within these managed expectations, some of them are tasty, some not.
Here’s an example. “What is Falafel With a Twist?” we asked our server. “It’s like dry Manchurian falafel,” he said. That’s exactly what it was — and it worked if we didn’t think about falafel as we already know it. Mediterranean nachos, or overprocessed bland cheese and squiggles of hummus on lavash that went limp in a minute — not so successful. Waterchestnut slivers and julienned raw mango in a perky dressing? Thai enough to remind us of som tam, and delicious if you like tangy salads. A small mountain of hummus with harissa and sun-dried tomatoes? You might want seconds.
There is a page each for pizza and fondue, and one for Riso-Ithaka’s signature ‘stone grill bar’ preparations, where diners can select veggies, rice/noodles, a variety of sauces and fresh herbs. We tried rice tossed with spicy garlicky Riso sauce, topped with basil. It was unctuous and slightly smoky with a pleasant bite.
Whatever you do, don’t get the drink of kiwi crush, lime, chopped mint, gingerale, and cola. The combination is only slightly less strange than its name — Cosmo Fleshy. It’s a bit of Ithaka best left unexplored.
(HT pays for all meals, and reviews anonymously)