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Kunal Vijayakar looks back on some of his favourite meals of 2018

It’s been a year of spot-on cooking from new restaurants offering Goan, Bengali, French, Mangalorean and Mumbai fare - plus, a flea bazaar like no other, says the foodie.

mumbai Updated: Dec 28, 2018 18:02 IST
Kunal Vijayakar
Kunal Vijayakar
Hindustan Times
One of my favourite finds of the year has been Bayroute at Cuffe Parade, with its gorgeous decor and its take on the food of Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. (HT File Photo)

As 2018 comes to an unusually equable end for me, I try to take stock of what I have achieved and gained this year. Honestly I’ve gained about 20 lbs. and how I have achieved all this is plain for anyone to see. I’ve been eating to my heart’s content, unable to resist carbs, meats, fried stuff, dessert or the occasional 75ml of malt. So, I thought, what could be better than sharing with you some of those places that have contributed to my kilos.

Every year for me starts off as a quest to find out what new place has opened up, or what new place that opened up has shut down. The Mumbai restaurant scene has a high fatality rate, and only those with genuinely good food survive. So here is a short list of some of the new places I ate at this year, that I think will survive. A few I’ve been to several times, and some just once. But they’ve all left a lasting impression on me. Mind you, this is not meant to be a “best of” list, it’s just a list of new places that I have loved, in no particular order.

Let me start off with a new Goan restaurant that had me screaming Balchao! I went to lunch one Sunday at House of Lloyd. I’m always leery about eating Goan food, and I peer at most dishes with distrust. I grew up with Goans, and I have eaten too much great Goan food to be forgiving of anything that doesn’t come up to scratch. But Lloyd and Nerissa Braganza’s cooking had me quite floored.

Bombay Vintage in Colaba had me smiling from the moment I walked in, with its arty yet earthy decor and distinctly melting-pot-Mumbai menu. Above, the East Indian Bottle Masala Prawn Pulao.

The dishes are named after (I’m guessing) the source of their recipes, so Robert’s Pork Sausage Pate, Nathan’s Tongue Roast and Tia Morgarita’s Mutton Jeeremeere hit the spot, and since Lloyds menu comes straight from the homes of Goa and includes Goan staples like Keelhaul (Raw Banana Flower), tender Cashews, Kismur (crispy dry shrimp salad) Amboti, Balchao and Sorpotel, I’d go there again and again, if only they were closer to where I lived.

Close to where I live is Mustard. Shilpa Sharma, Poonam Singh and Pritha Sen decided to open a restaurant that serves Bengali food and French food. Not French-Bengali or Bengali-French, just Bengali food and French food. Both accomplished and enduring cuisines sit comfortably side by side here, like an old couple who’ve known each other for years. Besides the additional allure of a spectacular bar, for me most of the Bengali food had me swinging from the Howrah Bridge (in my head).

The Chingri Malai Curry is one big prawn with head and shell, cooked in the most subtle coconut and turmeric emulsion. There was a nice dark Kosha Mangsho eaten with pure white lucchis. And a Croquembouche de Langouste Thermidor, which is choux pastry filled with thermidor sauce and poached lobster with a side of Oeufs Brouilles a la Moutarde, creamy scrambled eggs with onions and crispy potatoes finished with grain mustard (or as we know it, Kashondi).

It’s not often you get asli coastal bhojan in ambience that’s pretty as a picture. Anything you try at the Mangalorean restaurant Ferry Wharf in Bandra is guaranteed to please.

Also close to where I live is Flea Bazaar Café, in Lower Parel. This is Riyaaz Amlani’s genius idea of a large air-conditioned space where food stalls serve any and everything, and there’s a bar plonked in the middle. The foods stalls have of course been curated carefully. From Goila’s butter chicken to The Bohri Kitchen thaal, appams, quesadillas, pasta, burgers, sushi, Chinese and pav bhaji, it’s all there, with the added advantage of being able to order from The Social drinks menu.

From here let me jump to Cuffe Parade and the recently opened Bayroute. It’s a quaint patch of garden leading to a cheerful bright inside that used to once be Moshe’s. The Levantine menu created by chef Akhil Multani is his take on the food of Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. Start with Shorba Manti, a mild yet meaty dumpling soup flavoured with turmeric and saffron. Then stick hot pita into silken, buttery, crunchy and nutty Hummus Beirut. Their Lamb Shish Kabab is juicy mincemeat, perfectly spiced and grilled, nothing like our seekh kababs.

Kebab Istanbul are chunks of meat on skewers with the flavour of nothing but meat. They also make really good flatbread, like the oregano spiced Manakeesh Za’atar. End with Bakalava with Ice-Cream and nitrogen-frozen Rose. You need a couple visits there to really explore the menu.

Flea Bazaar Café in Lower Parel is Riyaaz Amlani’s genius idea of a large air-conditioned space where food stalls serve any and everything, and there’s a bar plonked in the middle.

This year I also discovered a new Mangalorean restaurant, Ferry Wharf. Prakash Rai’s seafood at this pretty and quiet eatery tucked away at Bandra Reclamation is spectacular. Red Snapper in Green Curry — creamy and delicately spiced with a slightly refined taste of otherwise macho Tuluva masalas. Clam and Prawn Sukka generously cooked with grated coconut goes roaring well with neer dosa. And the Prawn Ghee Biryani is red hot and smoky. His kheema patties, tarli pulimunchi, chicken ghee roast and mutton green curry with rice are my favourites.

Bombay Vintage at Regal Circle, Colaba, had me smiling from the moment I walked in. Co-promoter Abhishek Honaver, who runs this ode to Bombay (along with his partners Pankil Shah and Sumitraj Gambhir), had me quite anticipative even before its opening. I heard from him how they were trying to capture the diverse cultures and landscapes of Bombay on one menu. And they did — starting with Aunty Freny Irani’s Kheema Pav, allegedly from one the first cafes in Khetwadi, to Bhuleshwar Papdi Tuk Chaat.

Their dark, spicy version of Liver Masala goes epically well with toast. Add to that a bit of Goan Prawn Rachado, Parsi-style Bheja Cutlet Fry, Dhansak or Patra ni Macchi, Bohri Smoked Samosas, East Indian Mazarin-Chi Chicken Khudi Curry, Saraswat Style Mushroom and Tendli Tonak or Bharli Vangi and you have a truly Bombay menu.

These were just some of the new places that had me eating out of their hands this year, but as 2018 comes to an end, there was sad news too. That little Thai-Japanese restaurant, The Blue, the city’s best-kept secret, shut down, sending shock waves among those in the know. The good news is, the couple that ran it, Seefah Ketchaiyo and Karan Bane, will reopen it as Seefah. So here’s to ending this year on a flavourful note of lemongrass and galangal. Bon appetit, and see you next year.

First Published: Dec 28, 2018 18:02 IST