They Call It Bombay

But the Bombay Can­teen group com­bines the best of the city’s her­itage and to­day’s Mum­bai

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

It’s been five years since The Bombay Can­teen opened to spec­tac­u­lar suc­cess, rave reviews and sug­ges­tions that it had re-in­vented the restau­rant genre in India (which it had, de­spite be­ing lo­cated in one of those ugly Parel de­vel­op­ments built on the shat­tered lives of the city’s mill-work­ers).

I may have been the only per­son not to have been sur­prised by the rap­tur­ous re­cep­tion the restau­rant re­ceived. A year be­fore the Can­teen opened, I met Sameer Seth, one of the founders and was in­cred­i­bly im­pressed by his vi­sion. Sameer had worked in New York, but had started out in Delhi as man­ager of Shalom (he has now de­fected ir­re­triev­ably to Mum­bai, alas) and un­der­stood the In­dian mar­ket. Yash Bhan­age, his part­ner, was proud to have started out as a waiter at Cellini, the Ital­ian restau­rant at the Grand Hy­att Mum­bai.

Th­ese were young guys with no great fam­ily money back­ing them (they raised funds from in­vestors) and no great rep­u­ta­tions to fall back on. All they had were pas­sion and vi­sion, which I hoped would be good enough to make The Bombay Can­teen a suc­cess.

And yes it was.

In the early days, such was the ma­nia around The Bombay Can­teen that nearly ev­ery­one wanted to go there. I re­mem­ber watch­ing Anee­sha Baig vis­it­ing the Can­teen to do a show with Rishi Kapoor who did what he does best (eat­ing). Rishi com­mented on the co­in­ci­dence that the restau­rant’s tiny plate starters (Chin­tus) shared a name with him.

In­di­vid­ual dishes at the Can­teen be­came the talk of the town. At one stage, more up­per mid­dle class South Bombay types had heard of Eggs Kejriwal than had heard of Arvind Kejriwal.

The first time I met Sameer, he had come highly rec­om­mended by mu­tual friends, but one rea­son why I took him so se­ri­ously from the start was the Bombay Can­teen’s third part­ner.

I had never met Floyd Car­doz but I was fa­mil­iar with the le­gend of Floyd.

A Goan from Mum­bai who had worked at the Taj, Floyd made his name in New York where he was sec­ond-in-com­mand to

QUICK BITES

and its Chef, Daniel Humm, so I am guess­ing that as Tabla and EMP were neigh­bours, Meyer had to sur­ren­der the Tabla lease once he had sold EMP.)

Floyd then tried var­i­ous things, from run­ning an Amer­i­can cui­sine restau­rant called North End Grill to win­ning Top Chef Masters, (where he cooked a vari­a­tion on upma in the fi­nal) but it be­came harder to keep track of him.

So when Sameer told me that Floyd was the third part­ner and would be Culi­nary Direc­tor for Bombay Can­teen, I just knew that the food would be in­ven­tive and de­li­cious.

Floyd (who I fi­nally met a year af­ter The Bombay Can­teen opened) has al­ways been good at men­tor­ing young chefs and soon handed over full culi­nary re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to Thomas Zacharias (who cre­ated the chut­ney that makes Eggs Kejriwal so mem­o­rable) who has taken The Bombay Can­teen to new heights and is truly the one chef to watch in India.

But even as the Can­teen con­tin­ued to be talked about, Yash and Sameer opened some­thing new. I guess the in­spi­ra­tion came from Floyd’s Goan her­itage but they were also for­tu­nate to tap into the cre­ativ­ity of an­other young chef, Hus­sain Shahzad, from The Bombay Can­teen team.

I get stoned for say­ing this but I don’t be­lieve that Goa has a great cui­sine on par with say, Ker­ala or Luc­know. (I will now pause while you guys all mut­ter things like “What does he know? This guy has never been to the right places in Goa.” I have. Be­lieve me. Be­fore you went, prob­a­bly.)

But what the Catholic food of Goa lacks in com­plex­ity or sub­tlety, it more than makes up for in flavour and the sheer joy that em­anates from the dishes. (The Hindu cuisines are more com­plex and per­haps less joy-filled.)

I am sure Floyd does not agree with me but it is in­ter­est­ing that the over­whelm­ing theme at O Pe­dro is fun. This is a restau­rant where a first rate chef turns out won­der­ful food that makes you happy. You al­ways leave more joy­ous than you were when you en­tered.

As much as I love the Bombay Can­teen, O Pe­dro is one of my three favourite places in Mum­bai. (The oth­ers are Soam and Amer­i­cano, since you ask.) I have never had a bad meal there and ev­ery­one I have taken to O Pe­dro (such as the Gag­gan kitchen team – which in­cluded a Por­tuguese chef who knew the orig­i­nals of many of the Goan-por­tuguese adap­ta­tions) has come out rav­ing.

I later asked Floyd if the joy­ous­ness of O Pe­dro was part of the orig­i­nal con­cep­tion. He said it was. Food he ar­gued, is about joy and he wanted ev­ery dish at O Pe­dro to cel­e­brate the hap­pi­ness he felt when he was in Goa.

The log­i­cal thing to have done af­ter two great suc­cesses

The suc­cess of Bombay Sweet Shop demon­strates that great restau­ra­teurs don’t need to edi­tion­alise. They cre­ate.

would have been to repli­cate them. O Pe­dro would work anywhere in India. A Delhi Can­teen would be bril­liant. But the three part­ners were de­ter­mined to keep do­ing new things.

Their lat­est ven­ture, which has just opened in Mum­bai came from a thought that Yash had while tran­sit­ing through Is­tan­bul air­port. He no­ticed how the duty-free shops were full of boxes of Turk­ish De­light and pre-packed baklavas.

Why, he thought to him­self, could we not do some­thing sim­i­lar with mithai?

From that germ of an idea came a full-fledged con­cept.

Why not cre­ate a mithai fac­tory like Willy Wonka’s choco­late fac­tory? (From the Roald Dahl children’s book.) Why not cre­ate an ad­ven­ture play­ground full of fun and won­der, a place where you could eat de­li­cious mithai while watch­ing it be­ing made?

Then, the part­ners and their chefs got to work on the mithai it­self. They con­sid­ered many of the com­plaints they had heard about In­dian sweets: they were too sweet, they were so hard to fin­ish be­cause they were too heavy, the tex­ture of the kulfi could be too hard, and so on.

Their lat­est ven­ture, the Bombay Sweet Shop in By­culla, in­cor­po­rates all their ideas and takes into ac­count all the com­plaints. Noth­ing is sickly sweet. The pedas and lad­doos are smaller so you can eas­ily fin­ish them. Some of the kulfi is made in a kind of Softy Ma­chine.

And like all In­dian mithai shops, there is a savoury chaat sec­tion with ta­bles and chairs. (Or­der the Burmese bhel –Ikid you not!)

I loved it.

So I guess does the rest of Mum­bai be­cause it was com­pletely full when I went. The suc­cess of Bombay Sweet

Shop demon­strates that great restau­ra­teurs don’t need to edi­tion­alise. They cre­ate.

And great chefs like Floyd can ex­cel at any­thing they do: from French food at Le­spinasse to mithai at the Bombay Sweet Shop!

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Eggs Kejriwal at (right) The Bombay Can­teen, the place that re-in­vented the restau­rant genre in India

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