Five new chef driven restaurants in Bandra that make Mumbai's 'queen of suburbs' proud

Avocado & cream cheese and liver pate half sandwiches at Suzette Bakery


My wife and I had recently based ourselves in south Mumbai for a two night staycation and I used the opportunity to explore the new restaurants that have opened there. You might have read about our experiences in the blog. We did this as most new restaurants of note today seem to be opening in either Lower Parel or at South Mumbai (Colaba, Fort, Churchgate). Not in Bandra where we live and which ironically was the restaurant opening hub of Mumbai at the start of this decade.

It later struck me that I was not entirely correct in arriving at this conclusion. A number of interesting restaurants and cafes have have opened in Bandra in the last couple of years. Coincidentally, quite a few of these are chef owned or backed, independent owner driven places.

Some have been started by chefs, including expat chefs, who have moved out of the cushioning of their five star hotel jobs to set up their own kitchens. 'Micro-restaurants,' as my food writer friend Nikhil Merchant put it. Where chefs get out of their comfort zones of being in charge of a large kitchen and instead roll up their sleeves and get down to the basics. They often have to do everything themselves here and but in the process get to serve the food they want to. Not what the excel sheet worshipping book keepers of their earlier jobs would dictate.

Some of the places have been started by 'non-chefs' too. Those who love food and have invested their own time and money and have travelled across the world, or India, to learn how to cook the food that inspires them and then have come back and tried to present this through their own restaurants.

I have used the term 'restaurant' loosely here. Chasing your own dreams at your own terms require resources which not everyone has. Bandra is home to some of the world's most expensive real estate and this compounds the problem. Which is why some of the new folks operate out of hole in the wall joints. It is another matter that in Bandra, even 'hole in the walls' look pretty. A reflection of the heart that the people behind these places, who often have left cushier and more prestigious and glamorous roles to start them, have put into these.

I must admit that I had not tried out most of these new places which have opened in my backyard. Which is why I decided to step out of home for meals over the last couple of weeks to check out some of these restaurants. I would walk in unannounced and alone usually. Most often at lunch time. In a couple of cases the owners knew me. This got me a free coffee, a cookie or a sushi roll at times when they saw me, but the rest I paid for. Since I was alone, I ate (marginally more than) what a solo diner can eat and therefore cannot claim to have 'reviewed' the entire menu. I discovered some great dishes in the process, had a few mediocre ones and in one place, drew a complete blank as all the 3 dishes we ordered (K was with me that night) left us dissatisfied. I did go to one more place on a PR invite. The place was empty, the service lost, the food largely disappointed.

In this post I am going to tell you about the places I went to during this self initiated 'Bandra new food discovery mission,' and liked. The dishes that I had there and which I would like to recommend to you. The order of writing about them is the order in which I visited them. This list of restaurants or dishes is not exhaustive but I hope will lead you to some good food. As long as our tastes are similar! I am sharing the rough costs of my meals but you can go onto sites such as Zomato to check the prices and make your own estimates.

Izumi


Minced tuna roll, Izumi


It would be fair to say that this Indian run Japanese place is the most talked about restaurant opening this side of the Bandra Worli Sea Link at the moment. If like me, you had been to Izumi's earlier outlet at Shirley Rajan Road, then you will find the new outlet which has replaced the earlier one (located in the stretch leading to Croma from Title Waves) to be impressively larger and more chic than the earlier one. I wonder if a bit of the vision of its co-owner Anil Kably, who had earlier brought us Zenzi (and later Bagel Shop), has come into this. The have a fully functional bar too. I went well after lunch hours on a working day (3 pm) and found it be pleasantly packed. 'Pleasantly,' not just because the owners are my friends, but pleasantly because it is a good to see a new place do well these days. I get rather spooked when I have to eat at places that are empty.

Boss lady chef Nooresha Kably


The chef, Nooresha Kably, is Anil's wife and they are both friends of ours as I mentioned earlier. Over the years I have known her to be both a very driven and compassionate professional and I saw signs of that in the restaurant. While she has been a caterer before and has run a cloud kitchen too, Izumi is her first restaurant running experience. I saw her that day running from cooking station to customer tables to the kitchen through the time I was there, armed with a look of concentration that would match that of an Olympic sprinter. She came up to say hi and then got back to business though I peppered her with questions whenever I could. She told me that she has been to Japan thrice to study the art of making sushi, ramen and yakitori respectively in order to upskill herself from the time that she ran a sushi delivery place called Sushi Koi (she has retained her head chef from there) in Bandra. She makes a fab khichda too but Izumi is not about that. Here she makes the ramen (noodles) every morning and scouts around to get the best available produce. Which means that while the fish for the sushi would be imported, she will use her Bandra connections to get good quality fresh pork and with the bones that is needed to make the broth of her tonkatsu ramen. She flummoxed her teachers in Japan and got them to help her develop a vegan ramen too.

Nooresha told me that her team size has expanded from less than 10 to 40 now and that she spends a fair bit of time training them everyday. Anil is usually at the restaurant too, helping Nooresha and occasionally getting chided if he gets into her way in the process. As their friends will tell you, this is a tableaux typical of this wonderful couple. Stories like their's would inspire many others I am sure.

The dish that blew me away was one that Nooresha sent from her side and was not part of my order. This is the minced tuna nakochi seaweed sushi roll, which had fresh avocado and sesame seeds in it too apart from sushi rice. It offered a mind-blowing burst of contrasting flavours and textures which came together in unison and had me smitten from the first bite. If you are a friend of mine and we go there together, then this is the dish that I would order first at Izumi.



I had the tonkottsu (pork bone broth) ramen too. The ramen (noodles), where I chose the 'hard' option, was very fresh and well made. The quality of the pork excellent too. Unlike the two previous occasions (including once before they had opened) when I had the ramen in their earlier smaller and now shut outlet when it was not, this time's ramen was served reassuringly hot. A ramen which does not make you wait patiently till it cools down a bit, is a ramen that has lost the plot at the start as I realised in Japan recently. You wait when your bowl of ramen is placed in front of you, then you slurp, when done, you sigh and smile. All of this fell into place with the ramen that I had at Izumi this time around. Which is why they say that a restaurant, like any endeavour in life or the making of a good pot of ramen soup for that matter, needs to be given a bit of time and Izumi seemed to have gained from this


24 Oct 19 made a small change basis something I learnt in Japan. The ramen is spelt as tonkotsu which means bone broth. I had a pork one at Tokyo and beef one at Osaka. Tonkatsu (my earlier spelling) means breaded pork cutlet and we had that in Tokyo. Katsu means pork I think and hence katsu kari would be pork curry.  

When I thought back to the tonkatsu that I had at Tokyo and Osaka and earlier at Bone Daddy, London, I felt that the broth at Izumi could have been a tad creamier. This is a function of produce available here I think. I once made a kosha mangsho in Sydney with lamb and not goat meat and Australian soft waxy potatoes and not our usual aaloo and that definitely did not taste exactly the way it does in my kitchen in Mumbai. I think we need to keep this in mind while eating at restaurants offering international food in the city. Do not try to compare it strictly with what you might have experienced during your travels. You might end up not enjoying the present by being lost in the past.

The second coming of Izumi, Bandra


Yes, in Japan hot and cold kitchens are usually not mixed says Nooresha but in Mumbai, the average diner wants a lavish spread it seems and hence the huge menu. Which explains why Izumi has a very extensive menu with yakitori, gyozo, sashimi, cocktails, desserts, etc, and is no longer the ramen bar that serves sushi that it once was. Do let me know if you try any of this and find something really interesting.

A ramen and a plate of flounder nigiri came to around Rs 1,500. The tuna roll was on the house.

Suzette Bakery



Suzette Bakery, Pali Naka, Bandra


This is the latest offering from the French trio, Jeremie Sabbag, Antonia Achache and Pierre Labail,  who have made Mumbai their home. The bakery follows Suzette Crepataria and one of our favourite places to go in Bandra, Kitchen Garden by Suzette. Antonia and Jeremie had trained at the Paris Bakery School a few years back from what I gather. I am a big fan of the croissant that they serve at Suzette. The sourdough at Kitchen Garden is quite lovely too. Both breads are a testimony to the attention and sincerity that they showed when in school I reckon.

Jeremy and Pierre. 


The new Suzette Bakery outlet is located in between Suzette and Kitchen Garden at Bandra's Pali Naka. It is a tiny place with limited indoor and outdoor seating. I have been there twice. Once for a late working breakfast and once in the evening with K. Found it packed both times. Found Jeremie and Pierre there both times too. Busy with their work, keeping an eye on what's happening I am sure.

On both occasions, I had the sandwiches that they make with emmer and rye bread. Emmer is an ancient grain from India Pierre told me. The rye is imported. The bread has depth and complexity and lots of flavour. Fills you up quickly and is low on GI. You get options of buying half sandwiches which is what I go for. In terms of the combinations I tried, my favourite was the sun dried tomato and brie one. It featured a very impressive brie from the folks at Spotted Cow Fromagerie, a company run by a couple of young Mumbai-based brothers. It is good to come across home grown cheese making talent which could impress the picky and cheese obsessed French too. I liked the liver pate (they make the pate in house) too. The pate is of the stiff and firm textured variety, not the creamy parfait one. I tried the avocado sandwich too which I felt was a bit of a waste of money as the depth of the bread overpowered the presence of the slices of avocado in it. You are better of having the open avocado sourdough toast at Kitchen Garden next door if you love avocado.

I tried the olive and sun dried tomato brioche bun when I went there one evening with K. A slightly crusty and chewy and buttery bread with lots of depth of flavour. They have a pepperoni one too but that was over by the time I reached. We tried the Madeline (soft French tea cakes) and K said that these matched the ones that she had at Cannes on her first Cannes Lions trip and had fallen in love with right from the start. Those were served at the hotel for guests in the evening. The pricing of Rs 30 for a Madeline at Suzette would have made an Irani bakery owner proud. The rest of their stuff is a lot more expensive of course.




I bought a sourdough from Suzette and froze it as instructed at the shop, reheated in the oven at home and had it. It magically transformed to appear nice and fresh. It is a lot more expensive than the one I get at La Folie and am not sure if I want to opt for this over that.

They serve coffee made with beans from Koinonia Roasters (as against from Blue Tokai at Kitchen Garden) at the Suzette Bakery and I have had an excellent cappuccino as well as a a soul satisfying espresso here. Expect to spend around Rs 400 to 700 for 2 with 2 coffees and two dishes here. Your spends here would be similar to Starbucks. The quality, way better. The seating a lot scarcer.  

Oh, wait. Have I told you about the quiche? I had a quiche Lorraine on my first visit. It was packed with generous cubes of ham. Ham that sings to you and is not one the soulless ones, starved of flavour, which one often gets in Mumbai these days. Pork of course, not chicken, turkey or soya or whetever nonsense that is served as ham now. The base of the quiche was supple and buttery and yet firm. The cheese was of excellent quality. The quiche was not too eggy as some quiches in the city can be. The quiche is so decadent that one cannot finish it alone. I packed half, reheated it in the oven that evening, and dreamt of the century old cafes of Montmartre in Paris that we had been to a couple of years back, with every bite of it. The good life!

Latin Mess



Arepa at Latin Mess

Let me take you back to a morning perhaps more than a year back at La Folie, Bandra, when a young lady came up to say hi while I was having breakfast. She told me that her name was Ujwala and then most kindly told me that she found me Instagram feed interesting and told me about some of the restaurant recommendations that she had found useful from the blog. We got talking and I learnt her interesting story in the process. Ujwala used to work in the corporate world in Paris where she was awakened to a world of food that she had never tasted before. She then decided to quit and travelled to Latin America. This is because she loved the Latin American food that she had come across while in Paris. She went to Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and learnt how to make some of the dishes that she loved, while there. She told me that she had just returned to Mumbai and was working on opening a small restaurant where she could present some of the food that she had learnt to make.

When I passed by the Latin Mess, a tiny eatery at Bandra's Pali Village recently, I realised that this must be the result of what Ujwala was working on and was curious to see what she had come up with. I walked in at lunch time one day. I was told that that she had just left and that she comes over every morning to start things off. The place is really tiny with about 4 tables. One more table was occupied when I went in and later another. The cheerful design of the place and the intelligent way in which they have used the large windows to make the most of their quaint surroundings, made one feel as if one were in Goa.

The menu is not too extensive which in my books is a good thing and speaks of focus. I placed my order, guided by a young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable manager named Ketan. His recommendations were spot on.




I started with the Edam cheese, white onions and jalapeno empanada... cebolia Y quesa. A baked maida based puff pastry from which a heady rivulet of melted cheese playfully burst out the moment I cut it. The combination of the baked flour crust and the cheese mix inside made it one of the hedonistic dishes that I have had in a while. Along with the tuna mince roll at Izumi, this would be one the most exciting discoveries of my recent 'Bandra new food horizons' journey. According to their website, Ujwala learnt her empanada making skills in Argentina.

I followed this with the arepas which she had apparently learnt to to make in Colombia. A sort of a burger where the buns are flat ones made with corn bread. I chose one which came with a rather full bodied and juicy pulled pork stuffing. It was one of the best renditions of pulled pork that I have had in Mumbai. This was served with some wickedly delicious plantain fries. I could not finish the burger. I packed half and used the pork from it the next day in a pasta. I was keen not to waste any food during my solo dining explorations and had placed my orders accordingly too. The bun got rather soggy though and is best enjoyed fresh.



























I tried an interesting fermented pineapple drink called tepeche on Ketan's recommendation. The vinegary aroma of which reminded me of Goan sausages. It was fizzy, not too sweet. Refreshing once you got used to it.

 My bill here was around Rs 650 and I think the empanada itself would have made for a sufficient lunch.

Curry Tales

Seafood thali at Curry Tales, Bandra


Curry Tales is run by a former business consultant/ corporate professional turned chef and restaurateur, Sandeep Sreedharan. The new outlet at Bandra's Hill Road (beside Kobe's) is the second one and has replaced the earlier one which was at Khar near the station. The first one was was smaller and busier than what I saw at the new outlet when I went in slightly after lunch time (2.15 pm) in the middle of a working week. This outlet is more elegantly designed. It looks more distinguished than before. A bit less lively one could say.



The menu offers south Indian food based on recipes Sandeep says that he has picked up from local aunties that he has met during his travel and his mother and his own family. The menu is extensive and intimidating for a solo diner and I was wondering what to order. Sandeep was not there but their manager, who happened to be a Bengali from Nadia and very well versed with the menu, came to my rescue and strongly suggested that I opt for one of the thalis. I chose the fish thali and was smitten by the brilliance of the juicy surmai fry as well as that of the cubed surmai in a coconut based, mellow yet flavour packed, Malabar curry. Anoop Chand, a young food enthusiast and a Keralite too, wrote to me on Instagram saying that while the fish looked good, thali as a concept is apparently alien to his community and that not everything is 'Malabari.' While I cannot comment on that, what  I can tell you is the curry was subtly flavoured and yet tantalising. I have known Sandeep for a while. He is extremely passionate about seafood and this passion was expressed in the excellent quality of the fish that I had.

The avial was of the dryer varietal and had a prominent flavour of coconut oil and brought joy from the first bite that I took of it. The sambar and rassam were both pretty good. There were soft and thick dosas of the sort one hardly gets in Mumbai and red rice too. There was a tendli (ivy gourd), mustard seeds, curry leaves and grated coconut bhaaji that was so light and yet lip-smacking, that I was inspired to make a version of it at home later. There was payasam to finish the meal and chhaas at the start. I spent around 750 with tips as they did not add a service charge here and the service was very good and I am a bit partial to Bengali staff. Money well spent. And the thali made life easier for me.

Of the more well known chef backed places of note that have opened in Bandra, this is the only Indian one as far I know (there is Thangabali too though that is a chain I think).  I am no south Indian or Keralite, but have travelled reasonably enough in the south (not to Kerala yet) and have been fortunate to have experienced some Malayali food in Mumbai's Fort to feel that what I experienced in the thali at Curry tales was quite a creditable, competent and confident effort. Perhaps there is a lesson hidden in that. The fact that the home advantage...which in the world of food means serving food that is part of your culture, cooked with produce that is local... does count for something. Even if it does not have the allure of serving foreign food. The quality is likely to be more assured in this.

I must add that my friend Gopal of Slogan Murguan says that the food at the Keralite restaurants at Fort is way better. While I know where he is coming from, I feel that efforts like Curry Tales need to be encouraged and I did enjoy my thali.

Seefah Hill Road


Salmon nigiri at Seefah


The fifth place that I tried during this self initiated project, is a tiny, much talked about on social media place, opened by an expat chef who used to work in a city five star hotel. Rs 3,000 and three underwhelming dishes later one night, I felt that while the chef and the staff's enthusiasm and energy levels were high, they probably need some more time to find their feet.

Moving on, I do have a fifth option for you though and let me tell you about that instead. Albeit one that I have spoken off before here. This too, has been set up by former five star hotel chefs. One an expat. The other homegrown talent.

I am talking of Seefah from Seefah Ketchaiyo from Thailand and her husband and local Mumbai boy, Karan Bane. After clearing an interview held at Chiang Mai years back, Seefah had moved into Four Seasons Mumbai at the early days of the property. She met Karan there and they eventually got married. They left the hotel a few years back and opened a restaurant called Blue in Bandra. I had gone there once and must admit that I found the experience to be mixed and had written about it being so.

With Karan and Seefah


Seefah and Karan then set off on their own (Blue was in association with others) and opened Seefah at Hill Road. Their second outlet, like Izumi and Curry Tales', is much bigger than their first outlet (Blue in this case). I've been to Seefah quite few times recently and have become a fan of the food there. I find a certain sense of home styled integrity in the food that I have here.

Where they score the highest is the nigiri, which as sushi lover will tell you, is the purest form of sushi and one which does not allow you to hide poor produce or culinary technique while making it. A true test of sushi making prowess if there ever was one. These are Karan's babies. He specialised in Japanese cooking when at the Four Seasons and tells me that he now sources the fish from the same supplier. I have had the nigiri every time that I have been here and be it in terms of the quality of the fish, the skill with which the rice is rolled, the temperature at which it is served (a bit too cold at Izumi), it is the best available at its price range I feel and would give many a five star hotel sushi chef in Mumbai a complex, and brings back memories of the sushi we had in Tokyo and Kyoto last year.



They make a mean shoyu beef ramen too which I had during a festival once. They bring in freshness to the menu at Seefah through such periodic festivals.

Seefah's memories of the home she has left behind come through in dishes such as the delicately flavoured and textured Thai red and green curries (which are served with sticky rice as this place is all about value) and the duck rice and the banana pancake that she does, as well as dishes such as Tom Kha (creamy) soup that she occasionally dishes out in festivals. Any MAMA noodle fan (which Seefah is too) would dote on the broth in this.

I have seen the husband and wife duo at the restaurant whenever I have dropped in, or at least one of them. Seefah tells me that their philosophy of taking care of their employees has meant that her staff has stayed with her and that I know is a big achievement in these days.

I cannot honestly say that I love everything here. I find their chilli based dishes (the chili oil dim sum and the dan dan noodles from a promotion) to be a bit too heavy handed in their chilli quotient for my tastes. They do not serve any pork dishes here which is a bit of a dampener for lovers of far eastern food.

My recommendation if at Seefah's, is to look for Seefah or Karan, tell them what you like and what you do not, and let them help you order. I am sure you will find something that talks to you from its heart.

The palace of inner happiness

At the Latin Mess. When Bandra felt like Baga


Bandra has been my home ever since I moved to Mumbai two decades back. What I love about the suburb is the fact it that it welcomes all. Its food scene reflects this spirit of openness in terms of the number of international cuisine focused restaurants which have opened here over the years. Think Pot Pouri in 'conti', Sheriff in Mexican, Thai Baan  in Thai, for example, which were trend setters for their times even if shut today, to realise what I mean. Or the Bagel Shop with its bagels for that matter which is still chugging along. And the evergreen Olive Bar & Kitchen with its Mediterranean focus. Even Pali Market and places such as Lalu's have offered international produce way before fancy supermarkets came up here.

I also feel that Bandra has always fostered a spirit of creativity and you will find its cafes today filled with people who work by themselves.

Yes, Bandra has changed over the years. The cottages are giving way to towers, the roads are more crowded, the real estate prices no longer make living here affordable to the young and the restless. Yet, as the restaurants that I have written of show us, its fundamental nature has not changed and this makes sure that it spirit has not fallen prey to changes in the environment.

The five eateries in this post have shown that the the food scene in Bandra continues to weave its own unique magic quietly but resolutely, even though times are changing.

Oh, and some of its old favourites...Candies, Punjab Sweet House, Khane Khas, Lucky, Cafe Good Luck, National Restaurant... continue to be going strong and remain neighbourhood favourites. As are cafes such as KC Roasters, La Folie and the Village Shop which too are independent owner driven places and while new, have made a mark for themselves. And let's not forget the Salt Water Cafe which remains buzzy even after all these years showing that not everything that was once trendy has to fade out. That a class act never gets dated.

Little wonder that my love affair with Bandra remains as fresh as the day when I had first moved in here.

Twenty years after Bandra became my home. Curry Tales.


Appendix:

My posts on my recent South Mumbai restaurant explorations

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