What happens when restaurateurs and chefs decide to wipe the slate clean before attempting to redefine a cuisine?
In Mumbai, restaurants have arguably been attempting this for a while, making little progress at a time. Some successes include Bombay Canteen which made us reimagine Indian food – it got us nostalgic about old flavours, introduced us to regional favourites and served us a renewed experience. Ditto with SodaBottleOpenerWala.
Pa Pa Ya did the same for Asian food with its sushi burgers and the like. But a few recent meals I have had in the city have not only been about modernising an existing cuisine, but are breaking free from the confines of the cuisine altogether; and they’re doing it with a great deal of flourish.
A glance through the menu at two Kamala Mills restaurants, Theory and GourmART, makes it hard to use existing labels to identify the food (fusion, modern, progressive?) and even harder to place on the world map.
A pasta on the menu is no guarantee that the dish will take you back to your summer along the Amalfi Coast. Instead, at Theory, you’ll find a gnocchi made with yam, served on a bed of crispy kale. At GourmART, you’ll find a mock butter chicken ravioli with kale saag.
|Pistachio-Mascarpone-Sourcherry-Burnt Miso. Photo: GourmART.|
Chef Ranveer Brar was faced with the dilemma of keeping it all vegetarian at GourmART. On the menu, right beside the ravioli is an Afghan Mantu and a Watermelon Sashimi. The menu is a fascinating amalgamation of flavours, ingredients and tributes to various meals he’s had across his travels.
That is something Theory shares with the gourmet vegetarian restaurant. Focussing on small plates, just like GourmART, Theory has creamy, intensely saline French Lobster Bisque, as well as the Japanese inspired Tuna Carpaccio with ponzu vinaigrette, and the delicious Prawn Carpaccio with a yuzu dressing.
A few years ago, I remember speaking to a chef who scoffed at Mumbai’s dime a dozen multi-cuisine restaurants. They were playing it safe, he said. The real test of a good restaurant was that it specialised in a particular cuisine and did the job well.
Clearly, we live in different times now. More and more menus are ingredient-driven rather than cuisine-driven. Look at Masque at Mahalaxmi for example. This restaurant is a bold experiment for Bombay by any standards. Not only does it follow a farm to fork philosophy, but also serves only tasting menus.
I remember my meal there in September vividly. Not because of the occasional table drama with a smoke gun and so on, but because of the intense, sometimes unpredictable flavour combinations. A corn tamale with chocolate mole is followed by our favourite of the night — a pastry layered with basil, mascarpone and cherry tomatoes.
Calling this world cuisine seems much too generic and doesn’t do it justice.
The gastronomic genre may be hard to place, but you can no longer predict how the food will taste just by reading the description on the menu, and that is certainly very exciting.