Tote On The Turf To Reopen As An Indian Restaurant
Rahul and Malini Akerkar are out to set the record straight about the much-speculated fate of Tote on the Turf, their restaurant, bar and banquet hall at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse. Since it shut in May, rumours have been rife that the property, which opened in September 2009, had closed for good. This is only partially true. While the banquet hall has been open throughout, and the bar is undergoing a renovation, Tote on the Turf, as we know it, won’t reopen. In its place, the Akerkars will launch their company deGustibus Hospitality’s first Indian restaurant, Neel at Tote on the Turf.
Neel at Tote on the Turf (the closest translation of Indigo in Hindi is Neel) will serve Hyderabadi, Awadhi, Lucknowi and Kashmiri specialties, or what chef and proprietor Rahul Akerkar sums up as “Nawabi Muslim cuisine”. DeGustibus Hospitality CEO Anurag Katriar emphasised that Neel won’t be a “run of the mill” Mughlai restaurant that offers staples like butter chicken, kadhai paneer and vegetable jalfrezi. It will serve “a selection of dishes from forgotten cuisines”, said Malini Akerkar. “We’re reviving old favourites as well as traditional cooking techniques.”
Their attempt to do things differently is not surprising. Ever since the Akerkars, the founders of deGustibus which also owns Indigo, Indigo Deli and Indigo Cafe, gave up majority stake in the company in 2008, there has been much speculation over the future of their restaurants. Tote struggled the most to garner a loyal clientele with its sub-par food that consistently fell short of the standards set by Indigo. This prompted Rahul Akerkar to overhaul the menu completely in October last year, and to go so far as to say, in a letter on the restaurant’s Facebook page, that Tote suffered from a “culinary disconnect and identity crisis”. However, it appears that “correcting” the menu could not salvage the situation either. “It was eating into our Indigo clientele,” said Rahul Akerkar. “We wanted to diffuse the situation and thought it best to go with Indian food as we have an excellent chef on board.”
Neel’s kitchen will be helmed by Mukhtar Qureshi, who hails from Lucknow and has worked as the Indian chef for deGustibus Hospitality’s catering service Moveable Feast, since 2008. Prior to deGustibus, Qureshi worked at Dum Pukht, the Indian restaurant at the ITC Maratha Sheraton hotel in Andheri East (voted, incidentally, as one of the 20 best restaurants in Asia) and at the Taj Lands End hotel in Bandra. Qureshi’s menu, which he will prepare with a team of chefs from Hyderabad, Lucknow and Mumbai, will have a vast selection of kebabs (30 non-vegetarian and 20 vegetarian), and several slow-cooked preparations such as taar korma (a Rampuri speciality of dum cooked lamb tempered with spices), haleem and nalli nihari. Much of the menu features grilled preparations; the kebabs for instance include sofiyani paneer tikka (made with saunf), adrak ke panje (New Zealand lamb chops in a spicy ginger marinade) and sarsonwali ghobi. In the colder months, Neel will have a grills station in the alfresco section “to cater to the party crowd that generally flocks to Bade Miyan’s in Colaba for hot plates of bheja masala and juicy kebabs”, said Katriar.
Like most high-end Indian restaurants these days, Neel will serve plenty of vegetarian fare but with an innovative twist. The menu includes chilgoze ka shorba (a thick soup made of pine nuts), jaituni kumbh tikka (stuffed grilled mushrooms served with a green olive chutney that has a tapenade-like consistency), Kashmiri seb ki sabzi (a rich, sweet curry made of Kashmiri apples) and gucchi ki biryani (rice cooked with morel mushrooms).
As with most Rahul Akerkar establishments, a number of items blend diverse cuisines. For Neel, Akerkar, who says he has a largely “Western cooking mind”, has created a chicken curry with sai bhaji (a Sindhi spinach and lentils preparation) and a baked fish dish with curd as the base ingredient. “Collaborating with the Q-Man (Mukhtar Qureshi) has been a great learning experience for me,” said Akerkar, who incorporated pork into Qureshi’s seb ki sabzi recipe for Indigo’s recently launched new menu.
Unlike at Ziya, Vineet Bhatia’s Indian restaurant at The Oberoi, where dishes are plated, the food at Neel will be served in sharing portions. “Over time, Indian food has really gotten bastardised,” said Rahul Akerkar. “We wanted to keep away from new trends and stick to old styles of cooking, presenting and serving.” The only concession to current times is the judicious use of oil. “This food is meant to be rich,” said Malini Akerkar. “You can’t expect to be served a light haleem. But where we could, we have tried to cut down on the heaviness.”
The Akekars refused to answer any questions about the pricing of the dishes, but their plans include introducing a prix fixe lunch menu. Neel at Tote on the Turf is slated to open at the end of this month for dinner and will start serving lunch a month later. The Akerkars say they are prepared for reactions of shock and disbelief when people learn that they have chosen to go down the Indian food route. “We are excited and nervous,” said Malini Akerkar. “Perhaps more the former than the latter.”Tags: Anurag Katriar, deGustibus Hospitality, Indigo, Malini Akerkar, Neel, Rahul Akerkar, Restaurants, Tote on the Turf
Neel at Tote on the Turf
LocationMahalaxmi Race Course
Opposite Gate 5 & 6
Keshvrao Khadye Marg
HoursDaily, 7.30pm to midnight