Best of Mumbai 2011: Food & Nightlife
BEST FINE DINING RESTAURANT
Bistro seems like an inaccurate tag for a restaurant that charges an average of Rs600 per dish. In most reviews, including our own, the Colaba restaurant The Table is referred to as a casual dining restaurant and alternatively, a bistro owing perhaps to its unfussy décor and unpretentious charm. However, we think that the price and inventiveness of its food qualifies The Table as a fine dining establishment and undoubtedly the best one to open this year (it edged over Hakkasan purely because of the originality of the menu as opposed to the replication of one already in existence). Helmed by San Francisco transplant Alex Sanchez, the menu was the equivalent of a global culinary whirlwind, borrowing the delicacy of Chinese dimsum and melding the heartiness of an Italian ragu with the sturdiness of the American meatball. It was in short, spectacular food, delivered as per seasonal diktats, dining trends (both the brunch and high-tea were comparable to its dinner and lunch menus) and Indian proclivities for vegetarian food (the buttery zucchini pasta and Gruyere-filled gougeres have as many devotees as the boneless chicken wings and lamb pappardelle). Hotel Suba Palace, C. S. M. Marg, opposite Dhanraj Mahal, Apollo Bunder, Colaba. Tel: 2282 5000.
BEST CASUAL DINING RESTAURANT
Anytime we fancy moderately priced albeit consistently good South-East Asian food served in an intimate setting, we head to Busaba. When restaurant owner and chef Nikhil Chib opened a second outpost in Lower Parel in February this year, we silently hoped that the branch would better that promise or at least deliver the same. In terms of décor, the new restaurant with its slate grey walls and dim lighting is rather soulless, but as far as food is concerned, Chib did not disappoint. The menu is a mix of old favourites such as the khow suey and som tam salad and equally inventive new options such as duck rolls in hoisin sauce and steamed red snapper. Mathuradas Mills Compound, next to Blue Frog, Tulsi Pipe Road, Lower Parel. Tel: 6747 8971.
The Cafe at Le Mill
Busaba shares the title with The Café at Le Mill, an all-day restaurant housed inside the sprawling concept store, Le Mill in Wadi Bunder. The kitchen is helmed by Nicole Gonsalves-Pereira, a protégée of Gordon Ramsay, who plates elegant food made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Gonsalves-Pereira’s edge over her peers is her great culinary restraint exhibited in dishes such as her excellent grilled beef steak, sparsely seasoned with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil. The café introduces seasonal changes in the menu and also serves an excellent Sunday brunch that is commendably easy on the pocket. Le Mill, 17-25 Nandlal Jani Road, next to Wadi Bunder, New Railway Bridge, Wadi Bunder (East). Tel: 2374 2415.
BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH
Two One Two Bar & Grill
All things being equal—eggs, ham, bacon, waffles—a good brunch must distinguish itself from other contenders by the quality, not quantity of its offerings. The latter is a mistake others often resort to, tempting diners with cafeteria-sized tables creaking with platters of just about every cuisine in the Asian continent. At Two One Two however, you know they take the business of brunch seriously just by looking at the menu, which is a) a la carte and b) mostly devoted to eggs and meat. What’s not to love? Treat the coaster-sized thin buttermilk pancakes as an amuse bouche, whetting the tongue for the phyllo-wrapped brie, its innards oozing out just with a single touch. If you haven’t gorged on the poached eggs or Angus burger with a side of sizzling sweet-smelling Canadian bacon, then do not leave without sampling the sausage platter, a pork fest that goes to Italy and Spain and comes back by way of Germany and Austria. Save a mouthful for the New Orleans beignets; they’re not much to look at, but dip them in the vanilla custard sauce and carbocide might be imminent. 12-A, Hornby Vellard Estate, opposite Nehru Centre, next to the BMW showroom, Worli. Tel: 2490 1994.
BEST DESSERT MENU
There are plenty of places that offer longer and more varied dessert options than you’d find at Suzette. However, unlike at other restaurants where you’re likely to find but one or two offerings of excellent quality, Suzette does only the one or two, but does them exceptionally well. Variations on a crepe, you may sniff, are still just crepes, but slather the mottled organic flour pancakes with dark Belgian chocolate, throw in home-made caramel and strawberry compote and you have something that’s sublime primarily for the simplicity of its composition. Lately, the folks that run Suzette have added a crumbly whipped-to-perfection dark chocolate mousse to their menu, further cementing the notion that when it comes to their desserts, the French truly know best. Shop 1A, Ground Floor, Atlanta Building, Nariman Point. Tel: 2288 0055.
BEST NEW CHAIN
Within nine months of opening, on Carter Road, in Bandra, Yogurtbay succeeded in making a frozen yoghurt-loving city out of Mumbai, something that Cocoberry and Fro Yo, which opened before it, failed to accomplish. On any given evening, you will find crowds thronging their 250 square feet flagship for their excellent fruit and dessert-flavoured yoghurts including strawberry, fruit parfait, blueberry cheesecake, and tiramisu, served with inventive toppings such as fruit poppers (capsules injected with fruit essence) and vegan marshmallows. The secret to their immense success (their daily average footfall stands at about 400 as of this month, and they also launched a second outpost in Breach Candy in the first week of December) is their use of real fruit pulp as opposed to sugar, syrupy preservatives and artificial food colourings. It’s also commendable that since their launch in March, they have maintained the fresh, softy ice cream-like quality of their yoghurt and continue to sustain interest with their constant flavour experiments, of which our favourites have been the New York cheesecake, peanut butter and jelly, and cookie dough. 11 Gagangiri, off Carter Road, next to Crepe Station, Khar. Tel: 3062 9191. Also at 1A, Sagar Vilas Co-op Housing Society, opposite Navroze Apartments, near Organic Fresh, Warden Road. Tel: 98333 60235.
BEST MENU REVAMP
Neel at Tote on the Turf
Of Rahul Akerkar’s four restaurants—Indigo, Indigo Deli, Indigo Café and Tote on the Turf—it’s the latter that has kept the chef and restaurateur from slipping into culinary complacence. In October last year, Akerkar overhauled Tote’s menu after an unexpected public admission that the food they served until that time had been sub par. The revamp certainly had us take note of Akerkar’s still-intact culinary prowess and markedly improved food, so much so that we gave it the honour of Best Menu Revamp in our Best Of Mumbai compilation last year. In June this year, Akerkar surprised or rather shocked us with news of Tote’s makeover as Neel at Tote on the Turf, which would serve Nawabi Muslim fare. However, the restaurant’s Lucknowi head chef Mukhtar Qureshi’s succulent and judiciously spiced kebabs, promptly dispelled any doubts we may have had about the cuisine’s success. Neel now ranks among our favourite restaurants for North Indian food in Mumbai purely by merit of its tender kakori kebabs, robust jaituni kumbh tikka and cinnamon-scented Kashmiri apple curry. Mahalaxmi Race Course, opposite Gates 5 & 6, Keshvrao Khadye Marg, Mahalaxmi. Tel: 6157 7777.
BEST BREAKFAST MENU
Pali Village Cafe
In our opinion, crisp waffles, fluffy eggs and crumbly toast constitute a life affirming breakfast, which is just what you get at Bandra’s charming Pali Village Café. Their breakfast menu, which was introduced in October, offers a good mix of hangover fixes like eggs and bacon, and calorie friendly options such as granola and yoghurt, and cous cous upma. We took an instant shine to their light albeit flavour-packed tofu and walnut bhurji, their remarkably crisp sugar-dusted waffles, and the expertly made cardamom-flavoured masala chai, which, along with the soulful Italian music playing in the background, is the perfect fix for a lazy Sunday morning. Next to Janata Lunch Home, Pali Naka, Bandra (West). Tel: 2605 0401.
Smoke House Deli
Not surprisingly the two-week old Smoke House Deli in Phoenix Mills is the undisputed winner of this title. The members of The Busride, have taken a DIY approach to designing the space, in the form of detailed hand-illustrations that fill the white walls of the otherwise fuss-free 2,500 square feet restaurant. What you see are not whimsical sketches, but intelligent drawings with deliberately obtuse references to the city and the cluster of cotton mills in Lower Parel. Having said that, there is also a playfulness to the panels that feature illustrations of ingredients such as baguettes, bottled preserves and coffee beans. Next to Spaghetti Kitchen, High Street Phoenix, Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel. Tel: 6561 9618.
BEST SERVICE OUTSIDE OF A FIVE-STAR HOTEL
As a first time diner at the Mumbai outpost of Hakkasan, London’s Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant, which opened here in June, you might require frequent translation of the menu that abounds in hard-to-pronounce names of dishes and unfamiliar ingredients. Thankfully, the restaurant’s well-trained staff is ably well-versed with the menu to spare you from what would have been at a different restaurant, a potentially embarrassing situation. And unlike most other snob-central dining places, the servers are capable of making recommendations based on your dietary preferences and restrictions without condescension or clumsiness. The service is prompt and attentive, which means never having to ask for a water refill or for a fork and spoon should they notice you fumbling with the chopsticks. Krystal, Waterfield Road, same building as ICICI Bank, Bandra (West). Tel: 2644 4444.
The Irish House
It hasn’t been a great year for the city’s nightlife scene. Zenzi finally shut for good, and Zenzi Mills was replaced by the woefully commercial Zinc. New bars opened with new gimmicks—The Terrace promised a view of the Queen’s Necklace but failed to mention an obstructing billboard; Cerveza had beers from around the world but no ambience to speak of; I-Bar in Bandra touted itself as an interactive bar where the interactivity is limited to games-loaded iPads fixed to tables. Even Kishore D.F. of WTF! fame (which incidentally expanded to Malad this year) faltered when it came to The Big Nasty, which scored for its look but lost points for the poorly-made drinks and confused soundtrack. Woodside Inn successfully transported its laidback charm to a branch in Andheri, but as far as new establishments were concerned, the only new pub we plan to return to regularly in 2012 is The Irish House, where the lack of originality or even authenticity was more than made up for by the fact that they got the basics down pat: good drinks, good service, good vibe.
BEST BEER SELECTION
In June, we published a quick guide to the few craft beers available in our city. The list was only four drinks long, but trying to find even one of them outside of a five-star hotel bar (and even they are often short on supply) could make you hit the bottle in frustration. As luck would have it, in September, a new bar opened on the first floor of Kala Ghoda restaurant Silk Route; its USP—it would sell beer from around the world. In terms of variety, Cerveza did not disappoint. You can get all those craft beers and much more; there’s over 30 varieties, from wheat beers (Hoegaarden and Schneider Weisse) and stouts (Guinness and Murphy’s Irish) to fruit (Liefmans) and farmhouse beer (Saison Dupont). There’s even Stella and Hoegaarden on tap. Now if they’d only do something about the darn DJ and dim decor.
BEST NEW EXCUSE TO DRINK
Bandra Wine Festival
From wine appreciation and whisky tasting sessions to celebrations of foreign festivals, alcohol companies and event management firms found innovative ways to give us all a new reason to tank up. Of the lot, the Bandra Wine Festival, the third edition of which was held this November, proved the most popular for offering the best in terms of both variety and value-for-money. A Rs500 pass got you ten tastings of domestic labels such as York and Reveilo (but not sadly, as the organisers had promised, wines from South Africa, France, Italy, Spain and Argentina). But not only could you chat with wineries and wine makers, you also got to taste their latest offerings—such as Vallone’s Cabernet Sauvignon Rose—before everyone else.
BEST CELEBRATION OF A NON-INDIAN HOLIDAY
In the last few years, perhaps because of our growing expat population, Mumbai residents have embraced any number of international celebrations from Thanksgiving to Halloween. However, we approached none quite with the gusto we reserve for our own festivities save for Oktoberfest, which saw the celebration of the annual Bavarian drinking festival at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse these two Octobers past. The Indo-German Chamber of Commerce went the whole hog quite literally, bringing down Munich band Die Oberbayern (they play at Oktoberfest in Munich), flying in German sausages like currywurst and popular German brew Erdinger Weissbrau. Nevermind if it wasn’t strictly authentic (how else to cater to vegetarians but with Indian food)–the performers in their dirndls and lederhosen and the general sense of drunken merriment were enough to have many yelling “Prost!”.