|This what attracted us and made us go in|
I must confess that I had the meal that I have written about here two months back. I don’t know if things have changed since then at this restaurant. It’s just that other more interesting stuff came up since then and I just didn’t get down to writing about our lunch at Craft DDB till now.
Craft Deli Bistro Bar is at the Phoenix Market City Mall at Kurla in Mumbai. We went there on 26th January or Republic Day for a bit of clothes shopping before my birthday in February. We normally go to Phoenix Mall at Lower Parel to shop. We thought Phoenix at LP would be very crowded with all the Republic Day sales going on and decided to Uber it to Phoenix at Kurla instead. Thankfully the drive didn’t take too much time from Bandra west .
This turned out to be a good decision as Phoenix Kurla wasn’t crowded at all. The brands that we were looking for had stores beside each other which made shopping rather easy and hassle free. We finished by 2.30 pm and were wondering where to have lunch.
Phoenix Market City at Kurla has quite a few restaurants. Many of them are branches of popular restaurants from across the city. Some are standalone places. I had come to the mall on a weekday earlier and saw that most of the restaurants were empty then during lunch time. It was the same this time too. Most places were empty. Something I hate when I go out to eat. I need a bit of buzz around me. Feels like being in a mausoleum otherwise.
We were walking around the mall when a restaurant caught our eyes with its warm and pretty wooden décor. It looked like what a café in Europe would probably be like. We saw that the name of the place was Craft DDB and we stepped in. The place was empty. We chose a side booth. Lovely table and chairs and there was a big window beside through which you could see people walking down sporadically. We also saw a bunch of kids playing with bubbles outside the Hamley’s store. Thanks to the big windows looking onto the mall the restaurant didn’t seem so lifeless even though it was empty.
|Lunching while life passes us by|
We decided to go for an appetizer to begin with as we were hungry. Both K and I chose one pasta each for our mains.
My trip to Italy last year taught me that people there don’t seem to look at pasta as a main dish unlike us carb loving Indians. In Italy pasta is prima pasti or the first course for to be followed by a meat mains.
Our first dish at Craft was the Siamese crab cake. While the restaurant largely offered European food, there was some Asian stuff on too.
|Siamese salty crab cake|
We bit into the crab cakes and the dominant taste was that of salt and not of crabs. We were really hungry and tried to eat the cakes and then gave up scarred by the saltiness of the dish.
The manager came to ask us how the food was after each course and I told him about the salt overdose. He offered to replace the dish but since we had a crab cake each by then we declined his offer. We later saw that they hadn’t charged us for the crab cake which was nice of them since we had eaten the dish in all fairness and didn’t really expect our money back.
Ajay, the young chef who was in charge at the restaurant that afternoon, recognized me as someone whose photo he had seen with his former boss, Ranveer Brar who is now a judge on Masterchef India. My brush with food celebrity-dom got us a pizza on the house from the chef. Ajay apparently used to work with Ranveer at Novotel earlier.
|Smiling young chef Ajay sent us a pizza|
This was a kale and asparagus pizza with ricotta. I just loved the pie. Thin crust. Supple and not biscuit like unlike the Indigo Deli pizza which I find to be too crisp and just don't like. The pizza at Craft turned out to be one of the nicest thin crust pizzas that I have had in India. The ricotta added a nice and grainy texture to the pizza. The balance was right, not too cheesy. I was quite excited about tasting Kale as I have heard a lot about this ‘super food’ but hadn’t tried it before. The kale was sprinkled sparsely across the pizza. The bites of kale had a slight bitter touch to it. However, the kale or the asparagus promised on the menu barely came through in reality and the pizza seemed more like a basic ricotta pie.
|Loved the crust. One of the best pizzas I have had in india|
This theme of ingredients mentioned in the menu card not being visible in the actual dish characterised the rest of our meal.
|The 'barely there' kale pizza|
K ordered a beet and ricotta ravioli. The ravioli casing was not too thick which was good. However the dish was all about grated beetroot and olive oil and there was no visible sign of the ricotta or taste of it either. The pasta tasted very summery and Mediterranean (they don’t OD on cheese there I am told) and a tad fried. Reminded me of a Kolkata beetroot based vegetable or bhej chop. But hey, who moved the cheese?! Where was the promised ricotta?
|Beet and invisible ricotta ravioli|
I found the ravioli to be a good taste breaker in between bites of the carbonara that I had ordered which is of course a heavy dish.
I had requested the chef to go easy on sauce in my carbonara. Restaurants love drowning pasta in sauce in Mumbai. I have had a carbonara in Smoke House Deli, Bandra, where the spaghetti was swimming in cream! That’s the problem with the pastas at Salt Water Café too.
|A wickedly pleasant carbonara at Craft. Missed the parmesan hit though|
The chef at Craft listened to me thankfully and the carbonara was nice and tight and didn’t look like the flooded roads of Mumbai during the rains. The dish was a bit heavy on egg as the egg was not only mixed into the spaghetti, like it should be, but there was a poached egg on top too. You could of course remove that if you wished. I didn't! The quality of the pulled pork was pretty good and it was nice and juicy and meaty and, unlike the kale or ricotta in the pizza and the ravioli, the bites of pulled pork was pretty prominent in the carbonara.
But once again I had the same question. Who move the cheese?
The menu promised Grana Pradano in the carbonara but I could hardly taste the cheese. This is a common problem in Italian restaurants across Mumbai. When I went to Italy I found the hit of parmesan, when added (not all pastas have cheese there and hardly any had cheese sauce), very sharp and prominent and yet not over powering. It is all about balance.
I can hardly taste the parmesan in pastas in Mumbai where they claim parmesan has been added. The only time I could sense the parmesan in a pasta Mumbai was when Matteo Arvonio of JW Marriott's Mezzo Mezzo tossed up pastas for me during a shoot for The Finely Chopped, my YouTube channel. That's a 5 star of course and prices are very different.
You can watch that video of Matteo making the pasta here:
Otherwise the taste of parmesan or good cheese rarely comes through sharply enough in pastas in restaurants in Mumbai. Is it because there is a difference in the quality of cheese imported in Mumbai? Is it the heat, humidity and storage conditions here? Or is it because imported parmesan is so bloody expensive here (I am pretty miserly when adding imported parmesan at home to pastas) ?
I hope to find out someday.
I had a cappuccino before leaving Craft DDB and that was pretty good and the chef sent us a rather sweet hazelnut cappuccino to go with it.
|Cappuccino with on the house hazelnut cake|
K wasn’t too impressed by her ravioli or the meal. She summed up Craft as a place which wouldn’t travel to from Bandra to eat in.
In the 1980s, I came across the term ‘military medium’ used to describe medium pacers in the Indian cricket team. That symbolised Craft for me. A place worth hanging out if you are the Phoenix Market City at Kurla perhaps. Not sure if I would travel for it.
These are early days and I hope they will work on customer feedback. The thing to remember is that Italian food is all about simplicity and about highlighting one or two key ingredients. I realise that this is difficult in Mumbai where chefs don't have access to the same quality of produce and where diners have a different taste palate from those it Italy.
I just hope that the chefs at Craft and those who write their menu card are more in harmony.
A fresh lime, a cappuccino and two mains cost us Rs 1,500 which is not bad by the Bandra West standards that we are used to. We were not charged for the salty crab cakes and pizza and pastry were on the house. The visit was unannounced but the chef recognized me as someone his former boss knew.