It's all about unity in diversity says the Constitution of India. A message reiterated at this chef's table in Mumbai. Tresind, BKC

Khichdi of India

A brave, new India


I posted a picture of me smiling and digging into a plate yesterday afternoon, added the hashtag #KobjiDubiye (Bengali for digging in to a plate of food), typed "guess where," and then went off to sleep. This was just after I had returned from a tasting of the chef's menu at a relatively new, modern Indian restaurant in Mumbai's BKC which I had been invited to.

When I woke up, I was welcomed by guesses which ranged from Kewpies in Kolkata to Bhojohori Manna, Peetuk, Oh Calcutta etc. My aunt from Toronto asked me on FB, "are you in Kolkata again?" As did Delhi based veteran restaurant critic, Marryam H Reshii, on Twitter.

Understandably so, one could say.

Please follow @thefinelychopped on Instagram

Please follow @finelychopped on Twitter


Chef's Table, Tresind


Nope, I replied. While I could indeed be seen enjoying an excellent ghoogni, kochuri and kosha mangsho combination in the click, I was not in a Bengali restaurant yesterday. Nor was I in Kolkata!

I had gone to a restaurant called Tresind.  Very much in Mumbai!

Tresind is a Dubai based 'progressive Indian' (as their site says) restaurant group/ chain whose founder and MD is Bhupendra Nath. Their corporate chef is Himanshu Saini. I had met chef Himanshu once when he had opened Zorawar Kalra's Masala Library at BKC years back. He belongs to chef Manish Mehrotra's Indian Accent nursery in a manner of speaking and had spent his initial years in the kitchen there. He has grown significantly since then as you might know and is a name to reckon by himself. He is very young too. 32 to be precise.

I had attended a chef's table hosted by Vir Sanghvi and the Food Super Stars team at the Indian Accent in Delhi recently. I found an expression of similar guiding principles - food that pushed the  boundaries of flavour when it came to Indian food, food that looked pretty and minimalistic and where every element on the plate had a reason to be there and, above all, food that tasted good and enticed you to wipe the plate clean- that I had seen at the Indian Accent earlier, in what I  experienced at the tasting at Tresind yesterday too. And I mean this as a compliment.

While the genre (progressive/ modern Indian?) is similar, the expression of the same was very different at each restaurant with the food created by each chef having its own distinct personality. At the Food Super Stars meet, chef Manish Mehrotra had said that he had eaten at Tresind, Dubai, and that he was very impressed by the food that chef Himanshu had presented. Lunch yesterday told me why, even though chef Himanshu himself was not present. He was back at Dubai I believe, but the chef team at Mumbai had executed his vision very well.

The kochuri, ghoogni and mangsho brought the smiles out on the faces of my lunch mate too. He is a corporate who is a fellow Bengali, though from the other side, and has an internationally exposed palate and has eaten at Tresind before.

While this popular Bengali combination made us feel at home for obvious reasons, we did the enjoy the lovely display of cheffing techniques and vision that we got to see through the meal.

Let me tell you about some of the other food too before you think, 'there he goes again. Another Bengali food post!'

Street food...Mumbai, Delhi


Chura globule, cheese pav bhaji kulcha/ bun
Chaat sandwich. Pani puri shot


We were welcomed with an amuse bouche tray which included a tiny Mumbai pani puri which electrified your mouth with its icy cold temperature and sharp hara pani flavour, the well rounded dahi papdi chaat sandwich (memories of Delhi's Bengali market) and the kulcha stuffed with a rather cheesy pav bhaaji, where the flavours inside were as Mumbai Udupi joint as it gets. There was a churan globule too which frankly did not excite me much. I am done with globules to be honest.

I am not sure if the kulcha was a homage to chef Himanshu's Indian Accent back stiry. It is chef Mehrotra after all, who had made bacon and blue cheese kulchas famous at the Indian Accent.

In his talks at the FSS meet, Vir Sanghvi credited chef Mehrotra with having introduced chaat inspired dishes to modern Indian restaurant menus. Mehrotra added that he felt that chaats are one of India's biggest contribution to the culinary world and I agree with him, as I am sure you do.

Amritsar: Fruit salad

Fruit salad ceviche

Next came a fruit salad ceviche which was light, tangy and where bits of roasted corn offered a nice contrast in between the bites of apple and avocado. The acidity of the dish offered a refreshing  start to the lunch. This was welcome given that Mumbai was sunny and muggy that afternoon. I liked the crunch offered by the beetroot chips too.

I have attributed this to Amritsar in memory of the fruit creams that I have there. There was of course no cream in this.

Delhi/ UP/ Mughlai: Fried chicken

Fried chicken


None of what we had tried till then had prepared us for the untamed passion of the 'fried chicken' that followed. A minced chicken fried kofta served on a chicken kadai like curry. If you are old enough to remember a time when opening batsmen in a test match would gently bat out the opening overs till the middle order batsman (think Viv Richards, Sandeep Patil, Gundapp Viswanath) would come and wake people up, then you would know what I mean. The curry was sharp, hot, tangy, spicy and woke up your senses.


The thing about chicken kheema is that possibly even Heston Blumenthal cannot make it taste any different from sawdust and so was the case here, but when combined with the zestful curry, the dish soared and how.

This was also the prettiest dish of the afternoon. I marvelled at how symmetrical the chicken kofta was. Aryabhatta (the inventor of zero) would have approved of its shape I am sure.

Old Delhi/ Lucknow: Lamb khari (nihari)




The lamb khari that followed reminded one of the fact that even when it comes to Mughlai dishes, there are many variations in taste and flavour. If the fried chicken curry in the earlier course was a bit like a tamer cousin of the fiery chicken Changrezi of old Delhi, the curry served with the lamb khari was akin to the the mellowest of nihari curries of Lucknow and old Delhi. It was intensely meaty and yet very calm and sage-like in character. There was tender pulled goat meat sandwiched between fried khari biscuits. Frying the flaky puff pastry meant that it did not get soggy.

It was not possible to have the whole thing in one bite. I did try to make sure that I had a bit of the khari and bit of the mutton and bit of the curry in each bite and this combination was very nice indeed.

There was a bit of green chutney smeared on one of the two kharis and that elevated the taste to another dimension with its sharpness. I spotted a slice of pickled onion too, the natural sweetness of which added yet another layer to the dish. A lot of thought had obviously gone in to this in the kitchen. I liked it better than the fried chicken as this was the sort of flavour construct appeals more to my palate.

Punjab/ Bihar: Tandoori prawns Benedict

Tandoori prawn Benedict


Next in the batting order was the tandoori prawn Benedict. I was interested to try this as it seems that the eggs Benedict seems to be the one dish which almost every modern Indian restaurant chef in Mumbai cannot seem to stop playing with.

There was no poached egg here which seemed a bit puzzling at the start as the poached egg is a big part of an eggs Benedict. After we tasted it, I realised that the poached egg was not required as the dish was perfectly balanced as it was and adding anything more would have been an excess. There was the green chutney again, sliced onion, a prawn...all placed on a brioche made with sattu flour (a flour which is commonly used in Bihar) with a Hollaindaise sauce dip on the side. The prawn cut like a dream, was flavoured beautifully, went well with the onions and chutney and the brioche, and a dab of the Hollaindaise brought the party alive. The person who served us this dish said the Hollaindaise sauce is meant to represent the 'Benedict' element here. And the muffin too I guess. We had been warned I later realised. It did say prawn and not 'egg' Benedict on the menu.

In terms of aesthetics, this would be the runners up after the fried chicken. In terms of taste, possibly the dish of the day.

Gujarat: Farsan 

Gujarati fadsan


Next came the Gujarati farsan platter whose pictures I had seen earlier from those who had come for tastings when the restaurant was new. There was a khandvi ice cream! Think of a sorbet with savoury flavours of whole mustard, chilli, a bit of tart and sugar and you will realise how brilliant it was. It was creamy though. Not an iced sorbet, but I wanted you to imagine the flavours first. Seems hard to fathom I know but trust me, it made a lot of sense

It was served with a Gujarati pickled chilli, whose inherent heat and mustard oil kick made for a nice combination with the creamy ice cream, and a bit of crunchy fafda (namkin). The plate had the papaya pickle that they serve with farsan in Gujarat as I remember from my recent Surat trip. There was a small khandvi pasta roll too which tasted like the regular one and I am not fond of this as such. This dish was all about opening ones eyes to what is possible and that is what I believe is the role of such meals.

Bengal/ Odisha/ Assam/ Bihar: Kochuri, ghoogni, kosha mangsho


Kochuri

Yes, the kochuri (green peas and spinach) did look a bit tyara byaka (wobbly and uneven) as a Bengali reader DM'd me on seeing the pictures on my Insta stories. "Just like I make them," she said with a smile. It gave me and my fellow Bengali lunch mate loads of joy though. Especially the koraishooti (green peas, lighter coloured) one.

Kosha mangsho ghoogni.


I really enjoyed the white peas ghoogni too. A popular street food dish in Bengal. Similar to ragda in Mumbai as our Mahrashtrian maitre de explained. For some reason he pronounced ghoogni as ghuniya. He had a big smile on his face though, so I did not want to be too parochial and say that "ghoogni is way better than ragda." It is though, as the rendition at Tresind showed.

The kosha mangsho, like it happens in mosts Bengali restaurants too, had a bit more gravy/curry than it should have had. The flavours were spot on though. The meat tender.

"Aar ki chai," as we say back home. What else do you want in life?


Spot two happy Bengalis in BKC

India unlimited: Khichdi



Lucknow, Amritsar, old Delhi, Punjab, Gujarat, Bengal done, it was turn for the 'khichdi of India.'

I had seen people post pictures of the board which is shaped like the map of India, with many condiments on top and which is served with the khichdi, on social media. I had dismissed it as a gimmick in my head.

In retrospect, it taught me an important lesson about the importance of not being too judgemental in life. The dish actually made a lot of sense at a rather deep level. Let me explain.

The opening of the eyes

As Wajid, who served this dish cheerfully explained, each condiment represented a part of India. For example there was pepper from Kerala, saffron for Kashmir, butter from Punjab, ghee from Haryana, mustard oil from Bengal, chhana from Odisha (it was paneer actually), chana jor from Rajasthan, sukha lasan chutney from Maharashtra,  gongura pickle from Andhra, etc. Wajid took out a bit of each and added it to a piping hot bowl of khichdi.

Khichdi of India

At first one felt that all the condiments had blended in and that you could not make out individual tastes. What was the point of it all you wondered.

The dominant flavour that then emerged was that of the north or Punjab and Haryana (!) thanks to the ghee and the butter. A few more bites and one came across a whole black pepper here, or a chana jor flake there or a curry leaf, and suddenly one begin to experience an array of distinct taste sensations.

Khichdi is  dish which is consumed in some form or the other across the country said Wajid at the start. A dish which everyone can afford. A dish which we turn to even when we are ill and down and out. Comfort food, and that is how it turned out to be for us at Tresind too. After the long list of far more exotic dishes (barring the Bengali ones which was rather home-like for us) that preceded it, the khichdi turned out to be a nice soothing and satisfying finish to the meal. I was full by then but still took a few spoonfuls more than what was on my plate.

The message that the dish gave was clearly one of unity in diversity. Something which our Constitution teaches, as we had learnt in civics in school. As did the entire meal come to think of it. Despite there being flavours and inspiration from so many diverse regions of India, not one single dish felt out of place or discordant. This is no Goan fish curry with Hyderabadi mutton biryani with Kashmiri dum aloo and Punjabi dal makhni hotel banquet buffet acid trip for sure!

North: Sweets

There were a couple of dessert dishes that followed. Both too sweet for my palate though the combination of textures were interesting and my lunch-mate Z, who loves sweets, finished his plates happily. I guess I am not the right person to comment on this. I liked the cold saffron milk in the 'palang tor' and like Forrest Gump would say with due apologies to the chefs, "that's all I have to say about that."






The layers around the food


The restaurant was near empty when we walked in barring a couple of people having a working lunch, one of whom was a friend of mine. A bit later there was a large office group that came in and they seemed to have had the kachori plate and the khichdi from the a la carte menu.

Interestingly, even when the restaurant was empty, it did not feel cold and unwelcoming. The ambiance was warm and yet elegant. It gave diners a sense of space. Looked posh and yet inviting. I am guessing that weekends and nights would be more buzzy.

I have added the geographical tags before each dish in the post myself, though the menu referred to some of it too. In fact, this is one area where the otherwise prompt and efficient service could have been a bit better. They could have described the dishes better at times while serving. While some of the staff members who brought out the food explained it well, the others were a bit perfunctory and could have polished their spiel better. In a meal like this, the quality of commentary play a big role in enhancing the experience.

In case you were wondering and were to ask me to compare, Tresind is a more fine dine, pushing the envelope in terms of technique sort of place compared to the Bombay Canteen, which is more casual, chic. More Delhi than Mumbai one could say. Both offer very different experiences (though I have not been to BC in a while). The staff is usually very good when it comes to explaining dishes at the Bombay Canteen and set the bar in this field I would say.




I was recently a part of a discussion where a GM of a top 5 star hotel in Mumbai said that he felt that customers in Mumbai are not willing to spend as much on food as they do in Delhi. I told him that I felt that this was not entirely correct. That in Mumbai, we know how to recognise a good deal and that many of the standalone restaurants here offer a far more exciting experience than five star hotel restaurants today and that is where people go. Tresind clearly seems to be an example of this. In one of his recent articles in Brunch, Vir Sanghvi wrote about how it was the new standalone restaurants across the country that were making waves in our dining landscape compared to five star hotel ones today and this further confirmed my thoughts on the same.

I also agree with what Rocky of Rocky & Mayur, who tweeted to me when he saw that I had eaten at Tresind. He said that there was a gap for a restaurant like Tresind in Mumbai and that it is indeed a welcome addition to the city's dining landscape.

Yes, that summed up the afternoon for me.




Note: I was here by invite. The non veg tasting menu was Rs 2,200 plus taxes. Veg was 2,000. Given the quality of the food and the ambiance, I would think that it was a very good deal.  

Appendix:

My recent lunch at the Indian Accent
Farsan at Surat
Chicken chagrezi at Al Jawahar, old Delhi
Nihari at Kalu Miya's old Delhi
Nihari at Raheem's Lucknow
Kochuri in Kolkata
My kosha mangsho recipe
Chaat at Delhi's Bengali market
Link to where you can buy my book, The Travelling Belly, and read more such stories


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