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Mumbai is on a roll

As a proud Mumbaiwalla who now lives in Delhi, I am torn when it comes to loyalty between the two cities.

When I had just moved to Delhi in the 1990s, I thought the food in Delhi was far better than Mumbai and the Capital was more sophisticated — at least in food terms — than Mumbai.

 

The only advantage Mumbai had was in street food which was much better and more varied than Delhi’s.

 

But even though I visit Mumbai infrequently these days, I have to concede that the food — the restaurant food, at least — is now far superior. And for so many of the restaurants that have opened in the last decade to have succeeded, the city must have a sophisticated and adventurous palate.

 

   What has turned things around in favour of Mumbai? Partly it is that all the great Delhi restaurants now have Mumbai outposts. This time, staying at the ITC Maratha, I ordered a mutton biryani from room service. It came, I later discovered, not from the normal room service kitchen but from the Dum Pukht kitchen and it was sensational: juicy, tender mutton and elegantly elongated grains of basmati, each coated with flavour.

 

   Once upon a time you would have had to go to Dum Pukht in Delhi to get biryani of this quality. Now, you can get it from room service in Mumbai. It is the same with Bukhara; the Mumbai Peshawari is as good as its (differently named) parent.

 

   And now, the last barrier has fallen. The new Indian Accent in Mumbai serves food that is nearly as good as the Delhi original. Indian Accent’s sibling Comorin is on its way and should open in a few months. So will a new Loya. And while the Delhi Wasabi has closed, the Mumbai Wasabi is better than it has ever been.

 

   So that does not leave Delhi with very much to brag about except perhaps for Chinese food. There are no really good Chinese restaurants in Mumbai, certainly nothing in the league of Delhi’s Shang Palace and not one that even comes close to The China Kitchen.

 

   Why has Mumbai got so much better? I think that partly it is the chefs and restaurateurs at standalone restaurants who have made the difference. I first ate Gresham Fernandes’ food eight years ago when he ran a small Chef’s Table operation for Riyaaz Amlani at the St. Jude Bakery in Bandra. I was invited to a small sit down dinner by Deepak Shahdadpuri, a friend of Riyaaz and Gresham (and one of the earliest investors in their company) and all of us were gobsmacked by the excellence of the food: a set-menu of this and that; dishes with no particular provenance, just plates that Gresham had dreamt up and put together.

 

  Then Gresham went off to Japan, to Goa, and to various other places and I missed his food. He is back now at Riyaaz’s Saltwater Grill, which has temporarily been renamed Bandra Born because the menu pays tribute to the food of Mumbai’s most celebrated suburb.

 

   The night I went, some of the food clearly had a Bandra connection: A delicious Bandra puff for instance. There was a trembling crème caramel that would have done any pastry chef proud and a delicious duck rice that struck me as being of uncertain provenance. But much of the food emerged out of Gresham’s imagination. His stunning bone marrow was given the sort of glaze that Nobu gives his black cod in Miso. Cubes of Belgian pork had been flavoured with homemade ginger wine and then crisped at the top; the textures were unbelievable. Even a buffalo meat carpaccio had depth.

 

  "It added to the general let’s-go-to-Mumbai fervour among restaurateurs that Avartana opened in Mumbai while I was there."

   All of it looked like simple, easy-to-enjoy food and was served with an air of cheerfulness. But it was incredibly complicated food that had required hours of preparation. Gresham is so strong technically that he can get any vegetable or fish to behave exactly as he wants it to because of his kitchen skills.

 

   There is nothing like this in Delhi and as much as I enjoyed myself, I urged Gresham to move to a smaller restaurant and to go back to his set-menu with its serious and ambitious food. I reckon he should do it in Goa during the season and can come back to Bandra when Goa is empty in the summer. He is just too accomplished a chef to be restricted to a mid-priced casual place.

 

   The St Jude bakery space where I ate Gresham’s food all those years ago has now been taken over by the Bombay Canteen boys who run a rocking sandwich shop there. But there is a first floor in the building that Gresham did not use and the Bombay Canteen people have now turned it into a 14-cover counter restaurant. I had the best meal I have ever had at any of the Bombay Canteen group’s restaurants at a preview of the new counter restaurant.

 

   But I am not allowed to talk about it. The deal was that only friends and regulars could come for tastings on the condition that they did not post on instagram, did not write about the food and did not even reveal the restaurant’s name.

 

   I accepted the terms of the invite so my lips are sealed. But I can tell you that Husain Shahzad will be cooking behind the counter four nights a week. And that it will be the best restaurant in Mumbai.

 

   The Bombay Canteen group already has three Culinary Culture stars for their mother brand and four for O Pedro. This is their chance to get the full five stars. But we will just have to wait and see.

 

   It added to the general let’s-go-to-Mumbai fervour among restaurateurs that Avartana opened in Mumbai while I was there. The original Avartana in Chennai is one of India’s best restaurants (it got five stars) and a Calcutta outpost is nearly as successful.

 

   But judging by the meal I had at the new Mumbai version, it is in the Chennai league. We are now looking at a situation that even hotel restaurants in Mumbai beat their counterparts elsewhere.

 

   The Jamavar at the Leela in Mumbai is better than the Jamavar in Delhi and the Le Cirque at the Mumbai Leela is better than the Bangalore Le Cirque (which is not saying much because I thought it was the worst Le Cirque in the world when I went a couple of months ago) and better even than the Delhi Le Cirque, which is not bad at all.

 

   While restaurants from all over India come to Mumbai, the city’s own talent shines at such standalone Japanese places as Mizu and Izumi. Modern Indian is well represented with the excellence of Varun Totlani’s food at Masque and Niyati Rao’s amazing cuisine at Ekaa. Even western cuisine thrives in Mumbai. Alex Sanchez’s Americano is the best Italian restaurant in India. Manuel Oliveira’s La Loca Maria is the best Spanish restaurant.

 

   Delhi has nothing that is in the same league. The fact that all the places I went to are packed out tells you that people in Mumbai are beginning to tell the difference between the excellent and the merely good.

 

   Mumbai is on a roll. Can Delhi catch up?

 

   Well perhaps it can. But it won’t be easy.

 

 

CommentsComments

  • Gautam Natrajan 11 Feb 2024

    Mr Sanghvi

    Recently I spent 2 weeks in Delhi and found that good South Indian Food was hard to come by except for a few big(and expensive) restaurants, like Sarvana Bhavan and Naivedyam. Would you agree? If so, why do you think this is?

Posted On: 05 Feb 2024 10:00 AM
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