Restaurant Review: Azok
During the last decade, Mumbai experienced a culinary transformation; new cuisines such as Japanese and Lebanese were introduced and, in general, restaurants became comparable to those across the world with respect to innovation (and certainly price). However, these establishments have focused primarily on experimenting with non-Indian cuisines and Indian food has largely been left unaltered in both recipe and presentation. Restaurants such as the newly opened Punjab Grill at the Palladium and Kebab Korner at the InterContinental, Marine Drive, incorporate a few unconventional ingredients such as Norwegian salmon, mandarin oranges and even Philadelphia cream cheese into their dishes but, on the whole, stick to tradition.
Azok, the rooftop restaurant at Oakwood, a plush serviced apartment complex in Juhu, is therefore significant because it serves pre-plated Indian food. It also happens to push the boundaries of the cuisine in terms of presentation and ingredients, with dishes featuring wasabi, asparagus, and blue cheese presented as lasagna or canapés. It should come as no surprise that Azok marks the Mumbai debut of city-bred, London-based chef Vineet Bhatia whose flagship restaurant Rasoi has received a Michelin star.
Bhatia says that he aims for his dishes to have a variety of textures, flavours and colours. His version of the Tamil paniyaram, a steamed idli-like dish, is topped with smoked cashew, goat’s cheese and spiced balsamic. When we tried it, the most prevalent flavour was that of the balsamic, a delightful addition that made the dish all the more delectable. Our second starter, the assorted chaats were served canapé style in a round wafer-thin crust that could have been just a bit crisper. The soft and creamy spiced lamb was the pick of the chaats; the others included those featuring sautéed prawn and malai chicken.
Bhatia’s flair for experimentation shone the strongest in the mains. We tried the ginger-infused lamb chops, which were served with masala upma that resembled mashed potato, and truffle oil laced black dal, that resembled pepper sauce. The lamb was incredibly succulent and thankfully had only a hint of ginger, the upma was subtle and even tasted like mashed potato, and the black dal, which boldly incorporated coconut (more traditionally associated with coastal cuisine), was superb. But it was the red chicken tikka, served on a bed of penne in makhani sauce with a hint of achar that put the food at other Mumbai fusion restaurants to shame. Our meal wasn’t flawless though. For dessert, we had the chilled rose petal and chestnut kheer with peanut ice cream. The kheer was far too sweet and the peanut ice cream had no discernable impact.
Our only grouse with the otherwise excellent Azok is that it would take two people at most three meals to try everything on the menu. When you have such interesting food to offer, you ought to give your city more of it.
Azok, Oakwood Premier, Janardhan Ramji Mhatre Marg, Near PVR, Juhu; 6623-8888; open from 7.30pm to 12.30am, daily. Meal for two Rs. 4,300 without alcohol.
Devendra Das likes a bong, all Bongs and while not preoccupied by either, chronicles his gluttonous experiences.