Travelling across the sea to get a taste of South Mumbai's restaurant renaissance. Chapter 1: Dining with the Colaba Cartel.



Our dish of the trip. Buff rare with soba noodles at Miss T, Colaba

Fifteen minutes of fame

‘What's a good place to eat in at Bandra? A new one?’ is a question that I often get bombarded with by my friends and I rarely have any useful information to give them in reply. Which is rather ironic. The suburb of Bandra has been my home ever since I moved into Mumbai from Kolkata in the late 1990s. It did not have too many restaurants back then and my newly made friends at work and I would usually head off to South Mumbai to chill, watch movies and eat. South Mumbai is also where K and I spent most of our evenings after work, for the year that we dated before we got married. Supping at restaurants located there... sukha alu, paneer bhurjee, kaali dal and roti at Crystal, prawn marinara and sausages in firecracker sauce at Churchill, beef chilli fry and prawn fried rice at Leopold, Goan sausage chilli fry, pork vindaloo and steak, onions and fries at Martins, sheekh parathas at Bade Miya, salad plates at JATC...  before I dropped her home and headed back to my PG digs in Bandra.

Things changed in the mid 2000s. There was a spate of high profile restaurant openings in Bandra. Trendy ones which presented international cuisines in a manner in which Mumbai had rarely seen till then. These became the talk of the town and made Bandra the food destination that it is today. A couple from that batch are still going strong, Salt Water Café (where we are regulars) and Olive. The others have shut. More opened. Some of those such as Pali Bhavan, Pali Village Café, Smoke House Deli and the Bagel Shop have chugged on and have their band of loyalists. The others closed down while some were lost in a sea of mediocrity.

New business hubs opened up in the city, BKC and then Lower Parel. These became home to some of the most talked about restaurant openings in Mumbai and the pipeline of new restaurants in Bandra (west) slowly dried up.

The old favourites of Bandra, such as Candies, Khane Khas, Punjab Sweets, National and Lucky, continue to be a class act in case you are wondering.  It is not that restaurants do not open here, but none that sets the house on fire as far as I know. I must add that I have been quite impressed by Seefah of late and that I want to try out Curry Tales and Izumi in their new locations.

The empire strikes back


Before Lower Parel and BKC, it was the 'grand dame’ that had actually woken up again at the start of this decade to change the city’s restaurant landscape once again. I am talking of South Mumbai. Colaba first with Indigo Deli and The Table. Then Fort with its little cafes such as the Pantry and Kalaghoda Café, and most recently, Churchgate. A number of new restaurants have come up in the heritage buildings there. Usually backed by both modern interior design and food concepts. There is no part of Mumbai that looks as pretty as south Mumbai and the new restaurants there offer a it well deserved facelift.

This posed a slight problem for me though. The city of Mumbai has expanded exponentially in recent years and south Mumbai is no longer the primary business or corporate hub that it was. One where everyone made a beeline to once.

One hardly has any reason to go to south Mumbai now. The traffic in the city is changing from bad to worse. I am growing older. Gone are the days when I would jump into a Churchgate local on a whim to hang with friends. Plus the trains are more crowded now. I am waiting anxiously for the Bandra Colaba Metro to happen.

If I do go to south Mumbai, it is either to conduct food walks in which case we eat at the old classics at Fort. Or I am with friends and there is only place that we like to go to then. Good old Ling’s Pavilion.

I do not attend restaurant menu tasting events. I do not feel that they give me a good idea of how a restaurant is. Nor do I feel the urge to travel all the way to south Mumbai just to eat. Therefore I sadly missed out on trying out many of the new places that have opened in town but worry not, the time had come to fix this!

A tourist in your own city




It was K’s birthday a few days back in August and we checked into the Trident at Nariman point for a two night staycation. The idea was to vegetate in the room and the folks at the hotel had most kindly upgraded us to a suite facing the sea with a magnificent view and this made it the plan seem even more perfect. I also wanted to check out some of the restaurants nearby. Ones which I had not been to before or had not been to in a while.

Which meant, no Ling’s, Apurva, Martin’s, Ideal Corner, Pradeep Gomantak, Puncham Puriwala, Deluxe, Soam etc, on this trip. It was a sort of a working holiday for me and K played along sportingly.



We went to 5 restaurants in 48 hours. My plan when I returned was to write about all five restaurants in one post. I then realised that reducing each restaurant to just a paragraph each would do them disservice. As might inflicting 4,000 words would do to you.

So here’s the first post which is about the two restaurants that we went to on her birthday. Both of which the birthday girl loved. Thankfully!

Two out of five. Day one.

The Table, Colaba

The Table is no spring chicken of course and you might wonder why I went there on this ‘discovery’ trip.  The Table makes it to most 'top restaurants in the country' lists after all. I do not go there as often as I would like to because of the distances involved. We thought that it would be a good place to have our first lunch at. Especially since it was K’s birthday and the Table is a bit of a special occasion place as the food, the ambiance and the pricing will tell you.

Thanks to the traffic, it took us more than an hour and a half to reach the Table and we finally got off the cab with our suitcases and entered at 2.45 pm. I must stress that while we reached just before the end of lunch hours, the service was lovely. We were not hurried (was informed about when the kitchen would close) and the food touched the right buttons.

Corn veloute soup


I had a bit of a cold that morning and the corn veloute (a French butter, flour and stock based sauce) soup with its creamy texture and subtle flavours, which was livened up by the sharpness of the corn salt in it, was just the salve that my traffic and dust scarred soul sought. The balance of complexity and comfort in the dish made it a wonderful 'welcome back to south Mumbai' dish.

Always good to be back in south Mumbai

Given that it was the birthday of a Bawi (Parsi woman), it was apt that the next couple of dishes (each a different form of croquette) turned out to be distant cousins of the Parsi pattice!

Machego and leek croquettes


The manchego and leek croquettes, a rather posh cheese and potato pattice, with the bewitching bites of cheese and jalapeno and romesco sauce (which we had learnt to make in a cooking class in Barcelona), took us back to our lovely Spanish holiday from a few years back, and we loved it. 

I could quite imagine my cheese and potato loving mother in a law, the legendary 'Teddy,' doing a little jig if she had had this.

Pan roasted crab cake

We had the pan roasted crab cake too. It was more like a big fat croquette or a Bengali maacher chop, than an Asian steamed fish cake. The texture of the manchego croquette was way tighter than this as the cheese in the former possibly acted as a binder. The crab cakes had liberal bites of steamed crab in it which were just right for the occasion. Let me tell you why.

Visits to Chinese restaurants such as Gypsy in Dadar on her birthday with her parents were a big part of K's growing up memories. A crab sweet corn soup is a must for all Parsi families at such restaurants it seems, including ours. The pieces of crab that would come in the soup would be most coveted. The crab meat at the Table was beautifully tender, plump and huggable and reminded me of her crab soup story. Let me add that the pieces of crab here were more generous than the stringy bits one gets in crab sweet corn soups in the city. The crab cakes reminded me of the Goan potato chops for some reason. Could it be the crumbed casing and the soft texture I wonder. 

Tuna tataki


We followed this with a yellow tail tuna tataki. The tuna was fresh and had been given a delicate sear and left rare. The chef was evidently confident of the quality of the fish and had every reason to be so as the dish showed. The tomato gelee gave it a slight sweetness which was balanced well by the nuttiness of the sesame vinaigrette. The slices of the tuna were thick enough for one to enjoy the fish and yet not so thin that you wondered what just happened there, when you were done. It was served on a bed of finely chopped fresh avocado which added a natural creaminess to the dish and toasted white and black sesame that added a further layer of textural complexity along with the bites of fried fish crackers. Quite an inspired combination.

Zucchini pasta


K wanted to try the zucchini spaghetti and we ordered it. It reminded us more of a Thai papaya salad in texture and not a spaghetti, and made us realise that we just are not zucchini spaghetti sort of people. My original plan was to order the cacio pepe. I guess we were too full by then and we would not be able to finish it had I done so. I would have felt much worse about not finishing the cacio pepe than this ET of a spaghetti.

Tiramisu


We did not order dessert, but the folks at the restaurant most kindly sent us a tiramisu once they heard what the occasion was. Its booziness reminded me a tiramisu that I had once had at a Kiwi run Italian restaurant in Sydney years back and which had then made me rethink whatever I had known about tiramisu till then. Good stuff indeed and we had a fair bit of it, even though we are not big on tiramisu as people.

This was my fourth meal at the Table so far and the second since that their original chef, Alex Sanchez, had left and I must say that it is the best I have had there so far. I would not count the zucchini spaghetti in the analysis of course. That was a bit of dead ball to use cricketing parlance.

Birthday lunch at the Table


Miss T


We went to Miss T, a two year old Asian restaurant, for dinner after we checked in at our hotel and were well rested. Miss T is co-owned by the folks who run the Table (husband and wife duo Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf) and the folks behind the Bombay Vintage, Woodside Inn and the Pantry (Abhishek Honawar, Pankil Shah and Sumit Gambhir). The partners lightheartedly call themselves the ‘Colaba cartel,' and do a podcast under the same name. The Netflix Narcos effect I guess!

It was easier to get a booking here compared to two other places that we wanted to try out that night, Americano (run by Alex Sanchez who was with the Table earlier) and Bayroute which some friends had recommended. There are no coincidences in life they say and it was apt that we ended up at Miss T for the birthday dinner as the meal turned out to be amazing. I had been meaning to visit Miss T for a while but the idea of going there alone, just to eat, had seemed to be a criminal waste of time and money, but that's just me. This time things fell into place.

The restaurant was half empty on a Friday night which reflected the ambiguous feedback that I had got with people whom I had asked about it earlier. We settled down in the downstairs section which seemed more special. The restaurant is located where Busago used to be. The service was competent and the food refreshingly different from what one has had in the Asian restaurants in Mumbai.

Crab and shrimp Rangoon


We started off with a crab and shrimp Rangoon. Samosa like fried wantons which seemed to bring together the shared Muslim culinary tradition that binds Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Lebanon, Turkey and the Indian subcontinent together. There were ample pieces of juicy shrimp and crab bits in it and cream cheese too.  The touch of cheese reminded one of the sambousec of Turkey and Lebanon. There was a very far east Asian archipelago reminiscent pineapple chilli sauce to go with it.  It reminded me of the food we had at the humble restaurant run by a very passionate chef named Sadri at a food court in Langkawai.

I would classify this dish as familiar and comfort evoking, but not mind blowing. That (mind blowing) stuff followed after this.





The next dish that we had was the most memorable one of our food trip to South Mumbai, and not just of that the evening. It featured slices of grilled tenderloin buff, which had none of the overpowering taste that water buffalo meat has and this despite being kept rare while cooking. A testimony to the great quality of the meat used. It was served on a bed of chilled soba noodles which I had learnt to love when we went to Japan last year. What elevated the soba to stratospheric levels here was the soy, peanut and sesame dressing that it had been enrobed with. The entire combination came together on the plate like strangers who had met for the first time and who then realised that they were fated to be together from the start.

Thai Black pepper curry


For our mains, we had a Thai black pepper curry which was novel to us and whose silken (not too dense) coconut milk soul was bejewelled by sharp spikes of black pepper. We chose the mushroom option over chicken and what a bounty of mushrooms it offered! Shitake, oyster, king oyster, shimeji and enoki, with a freshness which one rarely comes across in Mumbai. We loved this new discovery which went beyond the usual red, green, yellow traffic light fare of Thai curries that one had had.

I had this with a coconut rice which featured jasmine rice, flavoured with coconut milk and interspersed with fried garlic, fresh coconut shavings and edamame beans. The combination was acceptable, though a simple jasmine rice would have worked well too. K had the curry by itself as a soup.

Bomras tamarind pork

Another showstopper that night at Miss T was the ‘Bomras tamarind pork.’ It is so named after the Goa based chef who runs a restaurant by his own name and who is said to have given them this recipe. The Spanish pork belly used had a layer of jiggly fat which made one go weak in one’s knees. The sharp marinade of miso, tamarind, oyster and fish sauce cut through the meatiness to give a lovely balance to the dish. A true marvel of slow cooking which made my two year wait to reach it worth it.

Not a pretty picture but the fat reminded me of grilled foie and made me
shiver with ecstasy 


We didn’t order dessert, but they sent us a lovely dark chocolate pudding with raspberry sorbet which was just up the street of our dark chocolate crazy birthday girl.




While the ambiance and the plating is pretty, the focus at Miss T is clearly on the food, as the great quality of ingredients used as well, as the inspired play of flavours made amply clear. The meal sent us back well fed and yet not heavy and  bloated, which another new Asian restaurant that we went to a couple of days later did. They have an extensive cocktail menu too and the place is named after the T shaped bar from what I learnt. We rarely drink these days so I cannot tell you anything more about it.

At the end of the meal, I told K that such level of excellence would make the restaurant feel quite at home in Sydney or Melbourne. I would advise you to not go here for a hurried meal as this is the sort of food that demands you to indulge in mindful eating.

When we looked back at our south Mumbai trip after we came back home a couple of days later , K and I agreed that Miss T was our biggest ‘discovery’ of the trip and that the the buff on tenderloin was the dish of the trip. The Table was lovely too  of course, but do wait for my next instalment to learn about another new restaurant, from the Fort cartel this time, which won our hearts in the trip.

In terms of pricing, Miss T was around Rs 4,000 and the Table (service charge not added here) close to Rs 5,000. Do note that we did not order alcohol or dessert and ordered a bit more food than we would have if we went there regularly. In my book, these would both qualify as special occasion places.

Tips: The ground floor is a nicer place to sit in at both restaurants. While at The Table, do pick up the Mag Street Kitchen croissants and pain au chocolats for later.

And more:

It has probably been 8 years since when we had first started the tradition of bringing in K's birthday with the dark chocolate macaron cake from Pooja Dhingra's Le 15 Patisserie and we continued with the deliciousness this year too at home with George joining us.




Our beautiful suite at the Trident Nariman Point. I slept on the bay side of the bed.





Do read: My post on our Nariman Point food memories which i wrote last year after a stay at the Trident

To be continued






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