When a tweet is not enough to do justice to a restaurant. Masque, Mumbai

The savoury vegetarian brule that I shared at lunch at Masque
A lunch that got me back there for dinner


I ate at Masque a couple of weeks back and this post has taken a while to write. I had battled the temptation to tweet about my Masque experience till I wrote this post, and I didn't give in to it. I felt that an experience as exquisite as this can't be summed up fairly in 140 characters. Just as one should not condemn someone for a bad performance in a tweet. I have had two horrid restaurant/ lounge experiences in the last couple of weeks and am still mulling about whether I should write about them. I haven't tweeted about them though.

A break from eating out

I had stopped eating out towards the end of 2013. A bout of acidity made me feel that I was better off eating at home then. I followed a rather puritan vegetarian based, 'Banu-cooked (when she was #BanuPresent and not #BunkinBanu), diet for a while. 

I fretted about how I would continue to be a food blogger if I didn't eat out. Health comes first I decided and I erred on the side of caution.

A mix of going consistently to do yoga at the Yoga Institute at Santa Cruz (which I still go to), practising Buddhism, treatment by a talented gastroenterologist, evening walks in the park, eating sensibly and getting to do work that I really enjoyed helped me eventually get over that and I began to eat out again after a few months.

Winter turns to spring

This time I was more prudent when it came to eating out. I politely declined restaurant review based assignments or jobs as I didn't want to eat out so often. When eating out, I stuck to places I could bank on in terms of quality and service and without having to travel to much. We kept going back to sure bets such as Ling's Pavilion (which is a hike to South Bombay for us ) and, in Bandra, Candies, SaltWater Cafe, Sassy Spoon, Oh Calcutta Khar and Smokehouse Deli and calling in for food from places such Katy's Kitchen for Parsi and Peetuk and Bhojohori Manna for Bengali. 

A fallout of this was that I stopped going out to new restaurants in Mumbai. And stopped writing about them.

I am happy to say that the situation has changed a bit in the past few months for K and me. We have now consciously decided to try out places we have not been to before when we go out for a meal.

Some outings have been very nice, some mixed and a couple disastrous. I've shared a few of our experiences in Mumbai with you recently including those at Kayani, Taste of Kerala, Cafe Colony, Bastian, Kitchen Garden, Bombay Coffee House and Ashok vada pav wala. These are places which we have been to for the first time.

Some new. Some not so new.

Masque celebrates the joy of eating out


Masque...a truly wonderful experience

This time I am going to write to you about a place that I went to recently and that really impressed us.

I went there for a working lunch and was so impressed by what I ate that, mid-way through lunch, I got in in touch with K and booked ourselves for dinner that night there as we were both free that night. It happened to be Women's Day but that was a coincidence.

Turned out that dinner was even better than lunch! 

The name of the restaurant that I am taking about is Masque,  short form for masquerade. It is a few months old and located in Shakti Mills which is near the Famous Studio at Mahalaxmi. The compound is quite a desolate spot in central Mumbai which now houses a few restaurants and cafes.

The restaurant was quite empty when I went in the afternoon and it was a weekday. At the end of our meal, I realised that it was not a place to come to for a casual working lunch. It is a place you come especially to eat and to eat every well at that. It's what one could call a destination restaurant.

The decor inside is breath taking and draws on memories of Venetian masquerade balls and brought back memories of the ponderous architecture of the hotels in Venice and masks in its curio shops. There is a sense of space at Masque  thanks to the high ceilings and even the bathroom is magnificent. The decor really stood out and seemed special unlike in the case of 5 star hotel restaurants which often underwhelms one.

The curtain at the corner is supposed to depict a masquerade setting


Before sunset ... Lunch

There is a trim menu which you can order from in the afternoon on weekdays at Masque. You are charged according to the number of courses that your order. The manager and the chefs come and explain each dish to you when you place your order and again when the food comes out. And they do this for everyone, not just bloggers or journalists. Not that I had gone in announcing myself to be one!

We saw this handholding approach repeated at night too. The restaurant was fairly full at dinner and yet the folks at each table had someone explaining each course to you.

The chefs often come out to explain their food.
In this case, how to have the oysters


Theatrical but not over the top

It might not be a good idea to come to Masque for a quiet date or a business meeting. My two visits happened to be one of each.

I say this because you won't be able to talk much to each other as they come come out to explain each course and that can be a conversation buster. But that's part of the experience at Masque. Think of it as coming to the theatre. Would you talk while watching a great movie or a play?


The manager who attended my table for both meals
He knew the food being served comprehensively

I would urge you to not come alone for the dinner here if you can. The meal takes an hour plus and from experience I can tell you such meals can get boring not matter how good the food is or how charming the service is.

The food at Masque is not all talk for sure. The two meals that I had turned out to be a couple of the most outstanding meals that I have eaten anywhere so far, in India and outside, fine dine or on the streets.

I am not going to dissect each dish for you because I ate many that day and I can't claim to remember all the details. Plus they will be changing the lunch menu soon and the dinner menu is semi-customised so what you might eat might not be the same as what I ate.

The lunch bulletin

Here's a flavour of what I had for lunch. The dishes that brought me back for dinner.

Andaman snapper ceviche

There was an amazing ceviche (cured fish) made with snapper from the Andaman islands. I was impressed when the manager told me that they had used a mix of sweet lime and regular lemon to cure the fish as the lime that you get here is different from that in Peru. This was smart culinary thinking. I loved the level of tanginess in the dish which got balanced by the avocado puree and bits of red onion put in.

celeriac soup

Then there was the celeriac soup made with finely chopped celery as the base with a soothing broth poured in. The broth was infused with with black garlic from the north east of India. The silken texture of the soup was amazing and I loved was the memories it evoked. The celeriac spoke to me of the comfort of asparagus soup that we looked forward to as kids and the black garlic oil reminded me a bit of birista in biryanis. It's a bit difficult to explain what I mean. The soup didn't exactly taste like asparagus soup or birista (fried onions)! Yet its flavours played hide and seek with one's taste memories. It evoked a sense of familiar in a dish that was new to one and also  one of awe at the culinary genius on display.

Pork belly with alkaline noodles and miso soup

I also had a braised miso flavoured pork belly with 'alkaline' noodles made out of potato. I felt that this was the only weak dish in my two meals that day. The belly was a bit too solid and unidimensional in terms of taste. The meat was juicy but the flavours weren't too exciting and that's what I meant by the word 'solid'. Perhaps I was too full by then to enjoy the dish. The meat was good quality though and they used pork from Coorg in south India.

Ravioli


I loved the vegetarian third course that my lunch mate had chose. A ravioli served on a base of corn and which used cheese produced in Andhra Pradesh. The dish had an intensity of flavours that local Mumbai restaurants using imported cheese rarely deliver when claiming to offer Italian food. There was a parmesan crust at the top which was near intoxicating for a cheese lover like me.

I had a cocktail called terre in the afternoon. As it was hot I wanted something gin based. The drink was made with fresh turmeric juice and grated ginger and was smooth and refreshing. Nowadays I often don't finish a drink and just take a few sips if I place an order.

This glass I emptied. It was so good. The turmeric and ginger added a very fresh dimension to it.

Before sunrise...dinner

For dinner they don't have a 'menu'. You book your table and give your dietary preferences on the phone before coming, they don't take in walk ins at the moment. When you reach the restaurant you sit down and eat the meal that the chef has planned for you.

We chose the tasting menu non-veg which has 6 courses. They have an 'experience menu' which has ten courses and is more expensive. I am not very fond of too many courses in a meal and frankly a cheaper option is alway appealing though 'cheap' is relative in this case. You can pair your meal with wines or order cocktails and drinks. 

Our policy when eating out is to spend our money on food and not drinks. We enjoy the food more. I feel that alcohol comes in the way of my enjoying a meal. It's a personal choice. Saves us money too!

Prateek Sadhu tells K what to expect while she is freezing
in the cold in the massive kitchen

The meal started with our going to kitchen where chef Prateek Sadhu, who heads the kitchen, explained the concept of the restaurant to us. He served us his take on the middle eastern dolma for the first course while we spoke. It turned out to be a very refreshing bite of fresh flavours which set the tone for what followed.


Prateek unveils the dolma


Prateek explained the concept behind Masque. He said he still had not figured out how to classify the food in his restaurant. There were European influences in it. Oriental too.

He concluded that he probably wouldn't call it 'Indian food'.

Prateek sadhu working with his team of very bright chefs


Make in India and grown in India

What was core to the the restaurant, he said, was their travelling across the country and identifying produce from across India that they could use here. 

So the fish that day was from Andaman and not Chile. The cheese from Andhra Pradesh and not France. The pork from Coorg and not New Zealand. The chocolate from Pondicherry and not Belgium. The Oyster from Kerala and not Tasmania. The duck from Gurgaon and not Malaysia.  You get my point. 

And yet the taste of each dish matched up pretty much the best I have across the world so far. Often superior to what I have eaten in many places in Mumbai which use imported produce!

As the food came, we weren't too sure which was our 'dish of the day' as every course was pretty memorable.

There is no genteel way to eat oysters


We started with the raw oyster which was seasoned with a slightly Thai kaffir lime vinaigrette. The oysters reminded me of the lovely oysters I had at the Sydney fish market except that they were from Cochin.  I have had Cochin oysters a while back at Fatty Bao but that was served cook unlike here. The use of kaffir lime ensured that K, who doesn't like raw oysters, enjoyed it too.

Plated with a purpose

The plating of the dish, and those that followed, were pretty but too the point. There was nothing unnecessary on most plates. The plates didn't leave you confused about how to eat them and if you were, whoever who came to serve, would tell you whether to use your finger, or a fork or a spoon and whether to eat the dish at one go in parts.

With the dehydrated unripe banana chips and dips


An interesting dish served in between courses was dehydrated unripe banana chips which came with some very alluring dips. This was at the start of the meal. I think one of the dips had bhut jolakia but it was treated so well that it didn't scar you for life with its heat.

Choosing the 'dish of the day' for dinner...a unique problem


The pork churros. You can see the tomato and Goan sausage base below the churro 


What followed next was a work of art. A churros infused with pork fat and which was served on a tomato and Goan sausage mix. The sheer intensity of each bite made this possibly the most memorable dish of the evening. The contrasting textures of the crunchy churros, the moist tomato base and the meaty bits of Goan sausage came together very well. I am pretty confident that any Spaniard would approve of the churros that Prateek had conjured.

The dish of the day for her

The duck that followed gave the churros tough competition in terms of culinary excellence in my opinion. It consisted of strips of very juicy duck. Hidden in it was gnocchi, made not with potato but with cheese! Interspersed through the dish were halved green peas which gave a brilliant textural crunch to the dish. For me, this was would be a worthy contender to the pork churros to be the 'dish of the day'.

Here are some interesting facts about the duck. The duck was from a farm in Gurgaon and is raised on organic produce. Earlier in the afternoon they told me that they sous vide meat a lot. I was impressed by how flavour packed the duck was and how delightfully moist it was. The cheese,used for the gnocchi was a cheese lover's delight and was very vibrant. It was from an artisinal dairy in Andhra Pradesh they told me.

Duck
Empty plates were typical of what happened after the food was served


There was a bread  served to us which, you could say, had came into existence because of us!

Surprised? Turns out that they put the sourdough bread in for baking when a customer walks in. It is brought to you midway through the meal with an amazing array of butters made with things like black salt and even chocolate and a hearty celeriac broth.

Our lunch had some nice breads to go with it too.

Warm and nourishing broth

Wasn't planning to photograph the bread but after a few bites, felt that I had to


The last course was a slab of the Coorgi pork belly which was pleasantly succulent and the fat had rendered well and added to the favour. It was spiced quite interestingly. I was quite stuffed at this point but had just about enough space to try this. There were little globes made with apple and pork crackling of course which gave the dish many layers and cut its meatiness and made it more interesting.

Pork belly


At lunch I had seen a glimpse of the chef's wizardry in vegetarian dishes such as the celeriac soup and the corn ravioli. The ceviche was pretty superb too. The dinner that followed showed a further demonstration of their prime understanding of meat and seafood from across India. I met some folks at dinner who were having a non-vegetarian course too. When I compared notes later, I saw that some of the dishes that we had been served were different showing the extent of customisation that goes in.

I like desserts but I must confess that they don't excite me as much as food does. The desserts at Masque didn't wow me as much as the mains but I think you should judge it for yourself.

In the afternoon I had a dark chocolate cake with a couple of ice-creams which was nice without being epiphanic.

Dessert at Masque


At dinner there was a cigar roll with a sorbet stuffed inside. The chocolate used for the roll was from Pondicherry and had a slightly bitter taste to it and a brilliant bite. The sorbet inside was creamy and then sounded magical when you realised that it was made with cashew paste and not dairy.

The Chef's Table

I have just begun watching Chef's Table on Netflix and am awed by the visions shared there of chefs across the world and what they are trying to achieve. I think chef Prateek Sadhu and his team reflect what I have seen on the series so far. Their commitment to scout out good produce across the country, work with farmers and even have their own farms, and deliver food which is memorable will make Masque a restaurant people will travel to Mumbai for.

Prateek Sadhu pours his heart into his cooking
That's the chocolate cigar by the way


If you have been read my posts in the past, you will know that I normally get more excited with street-side joints or small family run places than with fine dining ones. Yet, my meals at Masque thrilled me to bits. I gave this subject some thought and then realised that what I liked about Masque was that it showed the same spirit that these small family run places show.

Masque is a chef driven restaurant and the soul of the chef, staff and owners come through in your experience there. The food coming out of the their kitchens is a result of pure passion. A sort of drive and love for feeding great food that often gets killed in more corporate and promoter run set ups whose focus, understandably as it's a business, is on the balance sheet. 

However, dreams need to be nurtured over time and with consistency for them to flower and I hope that the owners of Masque do so.

One more thing struck me about Masque was their focus on local produce which is what the mom and pop establishments of yore stood for. You see the same here in a way. It's just that the folks at Masque have extended their canvas to spread across country while defining 'local' and at a very different price point of course.

In the process they leave you feeling very proud about what our country has to offer.

With chef Prateek Sadhu at the start of what turned out
to be an epic dinner

Here's a phone video that we shot at Masque right after our dinner:


Tips and value analysis: If worried about the bill, try lunch on a weekday first at Masque

Masque is not a cheap place and you need to save up to go and eat there. Not a place you will return to every month I guess unless you are Mr and Mrs Moneybags. Our lunch bill for two on a working day was about Rs 6,500. The Sunday brunch is more expensive. You can eat cheaper by having fewer courses, and by not ordering no alcohol. That way you can get get a taste of their brilliance by coming for lunch if dinner sounds too expensive. 

Our dinner for 2 came to Rs 8,400.  Just to give a bit of perspective, a recent dinner for 2 at a Mumbai 5 star hotel Italian restaurant cost about Rs 9,200 and the experience was not as memorable in terms of food or service though not bad. I recently met someone who had the experience meal at Masque with wine pairing and that apparently came to Rs 22,000 for 2.  

Make sure they don't charge you for bottled water unless you have asked for it. We got them to remove it both times. 

In case you have read on till here: both our meals were paid for by us and the visits were made unannounced. I am not sure if it was anonymous but what I can say is that tables around us were getting the same service that we were.


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