Bombay Vintage. Finding its feet

Bombay Vintage. Beside Cafe Royal, Colaba

“I follow your blog and know your Colaba favourites. Martin’s, Ling’s, Olympia and for Parsi, Ideal Corner in Fort”.

I was at Bombay Vintage, the less than a week old restaurant in Colaba, when I bumped into Sumit who is one of the owners of the Woodside Inn Pubs and the very pretty restaurant, The Pantry, at Kalaghoda. Sumit is a South Bombayite and we once met at Woodside Inn and exchanged notes on our favourite restaurants and saw that many matched. Looked like he remembered our chat when we met.

Sumit in the sweater after he and his friend finished off the Mangalorean ghee roast,
which I tasted a bit from

The restaurants Sumit mentioned are those that I would normally got to if I was at Colaba as I was last Thursday afternoon. I prefer to stick the tried and tested when I eat out. Places with a good vibe, good food and hopefully easy on the pocket (I wouldn’t go to Ling’s if I was alone, works better when you share the food). 

I rarely try out new places when in Mumbai which I know is a funny thing for a food blogger to say.

A few days back I decided that I would start trying out a few new places and tell you about my experiences there. I want to drop in unannounced and eat like a 'normal customer'. Pay for my meal and therefore have no obligation. The flipside though is that some of the food might be wasted as I can’t obviously eat 3 to 4 dishes by myself. 

I don’t want to go and write about hosted meals though as I find those experiences rather unnatural and guided and not reflective of real life situations. I don’t have any issue with those who write about hosted events or restaurant launches. It’s just that I don’t want to. I maintain that blogging is a personal call and one should do whatever one feels happy with. I also can’t attend all the invites one gets because at my age, unlike for 20 year olds, I shouldn’t eat out as often.

So I went to Bombay Vintage, the newly opened restaurant at Colaba, to try it out when I was in town. It’s less than a week old so they are probably figuring out things still. 

I am intrigued by the rush of cafes and restaurants proposing to reinvent Indian food so thought I will check one of these out and Bombay Vintage seemed like a good enough bet.

I stepped into Bombay Vintage at lunch time and found it completely empty. Well it’s only 3 or 4 days old which possibly explains this. I find empty restaurants depressing and rarely eat in them and usually walk out of them. This time I stuck on as I was on a mission. 

The ground floor is small and done up like a sort of a pub with an unfinished look  and looked rather gloomy and desolate in the afternoon. Might seem different when full. The music was a bit too loud specially when you are the only person there.

The downstairs section

I placed my order and went to check the upper floor. That looked slightly bigger and the cream and red theme and formal chairs gave it a feel (metaphorically) of an old Bombay Gaylords sort of restaurant. I requested to be moved upstairs, which I was. If I was to go back, this is where I would choose to sit.

The upstairs section

Upstairs is where I met Sumit and later saw a group of elderly Spanish tourists with an Indian guide come in. The tourists were given ham and cheese sandwiches as they didn’t want anything ‘picante’.

I went through the menu and saw that it had a range of fusion Indian sounding dishes and a few international ones too. The waiter wasn’t able to explain much but the enterprising manager, Bipin, was fairly helpful and had some suggestions on what to order as well.

I decided to give the continental dishes a miss and focus on the Indian ones given the place calls itself Bombay Vintage and spoke of ‘fusion food’ in the PR mails that I had received.

The Bombay 'vintage' angle didn't come though in the menu at least and some menu descriptions would have helped to communicate what the chef had in mind.

I saw that there was a mix of Maharashtrian and Mangalorean dishes on offer. On asking, I found out that the owner is Mangalorean and earlier ran a Mangalorean place here. This probably explains the Mangalorean influence in the menu. The more famous and traditional Mangalorean places in Mumbai are Mahesh, Trishna, Apoorva, Bharat Excellensea and the rather grunge Modern Lunch Home. All pretty close by at Fort.

I decided to start with a Mangalorean food inspired dish called neer dosa chicken sukka roll which seemed like an innovative concept. The waiter got a ghee roast, another Mangalorean dish by mistake, and Bipin quickly changed it.

I later spoke to Sumit who had the Mangalorean ghee roast. Sumit is Mangalorean himself and said the masala reminded him of what he has tasted in Mangalore. I took a bite from Sumit’s plate before going back to my table. I found the chicken in the ghee roast a bit tough but Sumit’s lunch mate thought it was juicy.

neer dosa chicken sukka roll

Sumit’s approval of the Mangalorean spices set the context to my experience of the neer dosa roll. The chicken stuffing was shredded, juicy and the masala flavours were reminiscent of what one would get in a Mangalorean restaurant, coconut flavour dominated, slightly tangy and pretty tasty. The roll was cut into easy to eat portions.

The 'neer dosa' wrap had a nice texture. It was soft but was more like a thin maida paratha and definitely not like the gossamer thin neer dosas one is used to. In fact I had wondered how the mechanics of a neer dosa would allow for a wrap as it is very thin usually. I got Sumit to try a bit and his decoding of the masala and the paratha matched mine. They served this with a chilli mayo and a cilantro (good old dhania) chutney. A good order.

My next appetizer was the vada pav slider. Batata vada patties served in small (good quality) buns with some chilli mayo, tomato and lettuce added in.

Veg vada pav slider

I took my first bite and grimaced as the batata vada was very hot. Freshly fried like in a good vada pav stall. 

Once my taste buds recovered I could feel the pretty authentic garlicky mashed potato street side vada pav flavours in the vada pav here too which was good for a restaurant. Then the sensations of chilli heat swamped me. The batata vada at Bombay Vintage was hotter than any vada pav that I have ever eaten on the streets of Mumbai. I began to sweat profusely and the vada was spicier beyond being pleasant. Because of the hot temperature it wasn’t possible to have a large bite and take in the salads along with the batata vada at one go. Honestly, not an improvement over a good street side classic batata vada. Not something I would order again in its current form and that too in the city of vada pavs.

Among the mains I tried the ‘continental pav bhaji’.

Since the menu has no descriptions, I asked the waiter what this dish was.

He said that they used 'English vegetables' and later Bipin explained that ‘English’ vegetables meant broccoli, zucchini and bell papers. This is served with crips focaccia bread strips and pearl onions and jalapeno peppers instead of the regular finely chopped onion and lime slices.

The dish was presented without the visible blob of butter that is intrinsic to a traditional pav bhaji. Instead it had cheese. Parmesan.

Continental pav bhaji

The vegetables are thoroughly mashed with tomato and potato in a traditional pav bhaji (do check my article on pav bhaji) to a puree like consistency. That’s what they have done in the continental pav bhaji at Bombay Vintage. Like in a traditional pav bhaji, you can’t really taste much of the vegetables here too except a slight heat from the bell peppers. Remember you are paying more for having the more expensive ‘English vegetables’ which you can't actually spot.

The overall taste of the continental was pretty pleasant, tangy, tomato-dominated and a bit a sweet, like a creamy Bombay (sweeter than in the north) butter chicken curry (!) with a strong taste of cheese. Reminds one of the tomato based pastas in mid range Indian Italian restaurants here.

The last dish that I had was a take on another Mumbai classic, missal. They had a version with mutton and I thought I will try the mutton missal at Bombay Vintage.

This was served in a tiffin box. Reminded me of how the now shut Sardar restaurant in Parel would send missal to me when I worked in an office at Voltas house.

The missal was served at a very hot temperature. The gravy was thicker, sort of channa masala like, in comparison to the missals I have eaten in Mahrashtrian joints such as Aaswad and Prakash. As a dish, missal is open to multiple interpretations of course.

Mutton missal at Bombay Vinatge

My problem with the dish was the spice levels. I have not had the legendary tikha (hot) missal of Mamledar in Thane and don’t know if the Bombay Vintage one was as spicy but I kept perspiring because of the chilli heat and gave up trying to eat this after a few spoonfuls. The mutton cubes were a bit under cooked and one could not really taste them properly as one was overwhelmed by the chilli heat. Not a dish I would try again in its present form.

The beauty of a missal is the contrast given by the crunch of the crisp farsan namkeen strewn in the pulse curry. Here, because of the high spice levels, the searing temperature at which the dish was served and the thick gravy, one couldn't taste the crunch. 

In local Maharashtrian joints, the missal has the farsan put in it before it is served. Here it was served separately because of the tiffin format. The waiter should explain that the farsan has to be mixed in the curry as not everyone will know how to eat the dish. There was a Mangalorean kori (rice) roti served with it which was quite redundant and the pav had maska (butter) though traditional places don't put butter in the pav. But then they don't claim to be 'traditional' here to be fair. My only point is that if you play around with a classic then you need to improve it and that didn't happen currently with the missal or the cada pav slider.

The bill for 4 dishes came to Rs 1100 (nothing that I tried was above Rs 300) and the food would have been enough for 2. If I was planning to just eat and not write I would have ordered less.

These are early days for the restaurant and hopefully they will work on creating a more compelling story and more attractive food which is what is needed to create a dent in a competitive Mumbai restaurant market.

My take on the breed of these modern Indian restaurants is that they are good in bringing in a dining public who want air conditioning, clean loos, who don’t want to share tables with strangers or be rushed because there is a crowd waiting to eat and were hence not going to classic Indian restaurants in Mumbai.

However, I would also encourage you to try out traditional eateries which offer time tested food and are much more reasonably priced too. They need your support and there is no point fretting when they shut down otherwise.

But that’s me, you need to figure out what works for you. There are people who feel that cuisines should evolve and one should try out new things and that's where these modern Indian efforts would work.

As for Bombay Vintage, it shows promise and the chef's work shows an understanding of flavours. The restaurant is new and I think they need to work harder on the food once they figure out what works for their diners. Perhaps a trimmer menu which focuses on and reflects the name, Bombay Vintage, will help deliver a stronger story. 

If I was to sum up my food experience, my favourite was the neer dosa sukka and the continental pav bhaji was nice too. The vada pav slider and mutton missal didn't work for me in their current forms.

This meal was done unannounced and was self funded. Bombay Vintage is located just beside Cafe Royal opposite Regal Cinema at Colaba