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mumbai Updated: Feb 09, 2013 01:20 IST
Hindustan Times

A saucy delight

One of our first thoughts during our visit to Sassy Spoon was that we would love to come back for at least a few more meals.

It’s not just the décor that’s the draw — with its smokey brown and white hues, pops of colour, a wall of vintage suitcases, hand-hewn plates, fun fuchsia accents — but also the playfulness and finesse of the menu.

While there doesn’t appear to be a seat at the restaurant that is boring, once the menus arrive, chances are diners will spend a lot of time looking through them, and will keep referring to them through the meal.

How, for example, do you pick between one sandwich of roasted red grapes with homemade beer ricotta, garlic and thyme, ragi baguette and cologne mint, and another of rare tuna with green tomato, pickled cucumber and onions in garlic ‘naan’ with lemon balm?

A first meal at Sassy will be rife with tough decisions. Both lunch and dinner menus are just four pages long, featuring soups, salads, sandwiches and mains. But these are menus full of adventure, with no clear provenance, where ingredients come together in ways that astonish and delight.

We wanted to immediately try at least three things on each page.

We settled for a salad of bacon, Malabar spinach, red onions, wood ear and button mushrooms, balsamic jelly and apple cider vinaigrette, followed by homemade ‘poi’ stuffed with not-too-spicy Goa sausage, peppers and onions with a side of roasted baby potatoes and chive sour cream.

The spinach leaves could have been cut into ribbons instead of being left whole, but both dishes confirmed that chef Irfan Pabaney (who has previously helmed the kitchens of Indigo, Hakkasan and Yauatcha) has perfected the craft of combining diverse flavours and textures.

Sassy’s brown rice paella with edamame, sage, pickled and grilled vegetables, and pleasantly bitter hadga flowers was a fine corruption of the Valencian rice dish, one that thankfully did not muck around with the texture of the rice. Vegetarians will love it.

Eat only as much at Sassy as will allow you to leave room for a dessert, or three.

Owner and chef Rachel Goenka, whose name is on the first page of the dessert menu, is a genius of the last course. Both our rich and mildly tangy chèvre cheesecake and our liquid-centred caramel peanut tart were skillfully executed and irresistible. The caramel ice-cream alongside the tart was delicious — although it had developed icy crystals, perhaps due to improper handling.

Pair dessert with coffee, one of their ‘hand-crafted’ martinis, or the aromatic, not-too-sweet Melon Cue, a mix of melon, cucumber and lime juices.

WHERE: Ground Floor, Express Towers, Nariman Point
WHEN: Noon to 3.30 pm, 7 pm to 12.30 am
COST: R2,000 for a meal for two without drinks. Full bar available
CALL: 2288-8222
OPENED ON: February 5

Sincerely yours
The best way to enjoy Aoi (pronounced ‘Aawee’ and Japanese for a shade of blue-green) is to read the first page of the Manga-style back-to-front menu before placing an order.

This ‘concept’ page, as the restaurant calls it, tells diners that Aoi’s interpretation of Japanese cuisine is fluid. It recalls how several traditional cuisines reflect influences from trade and migration, such as the chillies in Indian food. The food here, then, is intended to be inventive, ‘tweaking’ ingredients and techniques while still being Japanese in the broader sense.

Aoi may have a few faults, but not managing diners’ expectations is not one of them.

There are the staples of soup, sushi, gyoza, yakitori, ramen, bento, and then chef Vinod Garde’s signature mains.

Almost all dishes are heavily seasoned, sauced and spiced, but the strong flavours are still Japanese — dark miso, soy sauce, wasabi, shichimi togarashi, mustard.

In some dishes, this works, like the robust miso soup, the galouti-soft Angus tataki with pickled radish and hot mustard, and the agedashi tofu with Aoi special sauce.

In other dishes, not so much, like the giant and unwieldy lumps of rice in the grilled prawns nigiri, and the over-salted mixed mushroom donburi.

Overall, there is more joy to be found in the dishes beyond the very hit-or-miss sushi list. Among the mains, the skin-on roast chicken glazed with miso and honey is so ridiculously juicy that you forgive the slightly underdone Lyonnaise-style potatoes alongside.

In deference to the adjacent mosque, Aoi does not offer any of the glorious pork renditions found in Japanese cuisine. There will be a liquor licence soon, but it will be limited to wine and sake. Until then, try the light sour cherry sencha iced tea.

The walls have Manga-esque sketches, lit-up cranes dangle from the ceiling, large French windows overlook a charming bend of road, and shelves house little Japanese warrior figures. Tiny and irreverent, Aoi is worth going back to because it offers experimentation with a big dollop of sincerity.

— Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi

(HT pays for all meals and events, and reviews anonymously)

AOI ***

WHERE: Shop No 1, Gloria Building, Near Mount Mary Steps, St John Baptist Road, Bandra (West)
WHEN: Noon to midnight
COST: R2,000 for a meal for two without drinks
CALL: 6999-5000
OPENED ON: February 28

The Performance

As the river flows

Bharata Natyam dancer Malavika Sarukkai has always been drawn to the might, mystery and mythology of the river Ganga. Its vastness, meanderings and confluence have inspired two of her dance compositions in the past — Gangavataran and The Sun Has Set.

This Sunday, her performance in Mumbai will feature another dance composition inspired by the Ganga, titled Ganga Nitya Vaahini – The Eternal River.

In this solo performance, Sarukkai’s choreography is informed by the haunting, powerful, wave-like movements of the river.

“I have been hearing myths about the Ganga from my student days, and the sheer magnificence of the river resonates with me,” says the Chennai-based dancer, one of the leading proponents of traditional Bharata Natyam in India today.

“The determination with which the river surrenders its identity by merging with the larger ocean is reminiscent of the ancient Indian Advaita philosophy. The river represents the spirit of life and of civilisation, and could also be symbolic of an individual’s life story,” she adds.

For Sarukkai, translating these ideas and perceptions into dance is a long process. “Classical dance is a distilling process that takes emotions and thoughts and stylises them,” she says.

“Dance is about conveying eternity through a single movement, so that it becomes meditative and you can communicate universally.”

— Aarefa Johari

WHAT: Ganga Nitya Vaahini – The Eternal River, a new Bharata Natyam composition by Malavika Sarukkai
WHERE: Tata Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts, NCPA Marg, Nariman Point
WHEN: Sunday (February 10), 6.30 pm
COST: Ticket prices start at Rs. 150 for non-members and are available at the venue and on
CALL: 2282-4567

The Concert

Aqua rhythms

The jal tarang (Hindi for ‘ripples in water’) is an ancient Indian musical instrument, now rarely played. It consists of a set of 15 to 24 porcelain bowls of different sizes, and two slim bamboo sticks.

The bowls, arranged in a semicircle in front of the performer, contain water and a melodic sound is produced by hitting their edges with the sticks. The smaller the bowl, the higher the pitch.

On Sunday, 27-year-old Siddhesh Bicholkar, who lives and teaches at Sharada Sangeet Vidyalaya in Bandra (East) and is one of the few jal tarang players in the country, will perform Raag Nat Bhairav on this instrument to the accompaniment of Swapnil Bhise on the tabla.

Bicholkar, originally from Goa, has trained under harmonists Tulsidas Borkar, Sharad Mathkar and Laxman Vengurlekar and is a familiar face at concerts in the city, where he plays the harmonium to provide a melodic framework for solo tabla recitals and provides accompaniment to Hindustani classical vocalists.

“Through this performance, I hope to draw some attention to the jal tarang. It has languished in oblivion for too long,” says Bicholkar, speaking of Sunday’s performance. “These days, people seem to think it is only fit to create background music in films.”

— Amarendra Dhaneshwar

WHAT: Jal Tarang recital by Siddhesh Bicholkar (right)
WHERE: Karnataka Sangha, Off TH Kataria Marg, Moghul Lane, Matunga (Western Railway)
WHEN: Sunday (February 10), 10 am
CALL: 2437-7022

The Exhibition

Captured in still life

In a queue that stretches over kilometres of arid land just inside the Tunisian border, exhausted refugees from Libya and Bangladesh wait for their daily food rations from the Army.

“By the time they get the food, four or five hours have passed and it is time to line up for the next meal,” says Tunisian artist Zied Ben Romdhane, whose photograph of the queue, taken in 2011, is among 18 pictures currently on display at the Clark House Initiative art gallery in Colaba, in an exhibition titled Waiting Zones.

In another top-angle photograph, a sea of refugees waits at a Tunisian airport for an aircraft to transport them to Egypt.

“The airplane never came, but the people kept waiting,” says Romdhane, 31. Eventually, they were taken by ship.

Everywhere, people are waiting for change, adds the artist. “Waiting for better governance, better opportunities, for peace.”

In Tunisia too, he adds, the revolts and protests of the Arab Spring have continued since December 2010, forcing then-prime minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, blamed for human rights violations, into exile in Saudi Arabia.

“Showing in Mumbai has helped me re-investigate my works, because people are so keen to know more about what is happening in Tunisia and ask me so many questions about my pictures,” he says.

— Riddhi Doshi

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The second edition of Enable India, a cultural concert showcasing the talents of differently-abled dancers, including a dance-on-hands performance by polio patient Kamlesh Patel, a wheelchair dance by Helpers of the Handicapped and rope mallakhamb by students of the Kamla Mehta school for the blind.

WHERE: Rang Sharda auditorium, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (West)
WHEN: Sunday, 3 pm to 6 pm
CALL: 2643-0544
Entry is free

An exhibition of porcelain art and daily art demos by Portuguese artist Manoel Filipe Pereira at Gallery Art & Soul. Recognised the world over for his precision and eye for detail, Pereira’s art can be seen in embassy and museum collections across the US, UK, France, Spain and Japan, among other countries. Pereira will conduct daily art demos between 5.30 pm and 7 pm.

Where: Gallery Art & Soul, 1, Madhuli, Shivsagar Estate, Worli
When: February 5 to 15, 10 am to 7.30 pm (Sunday closed)
Call: 2496-5798
Entry is free

Womantime, a solo exhibition by Nalini Malani, one of India’s best-known experimental artists. On display will be video installations and paintings that build layers of fragmentary images into dreamlike constellations charged with critiques of the violence, repression and contradiction that plague contemporary society.

Where: Art Musings Gallery, Admiralty Building, Colaba Cross Lane, Colaba
When: February 9 to March 15, 11 am to 7 pm (Sundays closed)
CALL: 2216-3339
Entry is free

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