Last week [December 10], The Bombay Canteen was declared the #1 restaurant in India by Condé Nast Traveller India and Himalayan Sparkling Water. And it sure deserves the honour – the efforts of Chef Thomas Zachariah and team seems to have finally paid off.
A Culinary Movement
It’s just my second visit to this place [read about my first experience here], yet it is already on my list of places to dine in every time I visit Mumbai. Now, I’ve been following chef Thomas on Instagram [@cheftzac] – his feed a vibrant, colorful one that chronicles his odysseys in search of ethnic Indian cuisines. A man on a mission, chef Thomas has sparked a movement to bring back local ingredients, reinventing them to present to his diners. I was lucky enough to try out a few additions before they might be taken off the menu [and of course, I missed quite a few dishes. FML 🤦🏼]
Hungry and Disoriented
By the time we reached The Bombay Canteen, I was fucking famished. To the point where I messed up the address and wandered someplace in the opposite direction. In my defense, it was just my second visit there. Also, Google Maps suck. [Quick tip – carry a damn snack before you hit the streets.]
A Sad Day for Drinkers
My primary aim was to try out the new Art Deco cocktails created by Raul Raghav [@cocktailianraul]. But boy was I out of luck. The day [or evening, whatever] was a fucking ‘dry day’. For those new to this concept, no establishment is permitted to sell/serve alcohol, be it bars or liquor stores on a dry day. I ordered a Pallonji’s Raspberry Soda instead. The sweet and sour soda rendered me nostalgic for reasons I couldn’t quite place my finger on.
A Light Affair
As a general rule, I eat lightly when I’m travelling long distances. So, we skipped the mains, and ordered appetizers and desserts only.
We started off with Choriz Pulao Fritters. For the initiates, Choriz Pulao is one of many iconic dishes of Goan cuisine, typically found in Goan homes. This fritter appetizer is inspired by Arancini – an Italian fritter made using leftover risotto mixed with cheese, shaped into balls, crumbed and deep-fried.
The Canteen version is made similarly – pulao is made with a short grain rice, Goan Choriz sausages, onions and potatoes. Aged Kalimpong cheese from West Bengal is then folded in the pulao, shaped, crumbed and deep-fried. The fritters were then served with a citrusy mayo [Gondhoraj limes maybe?]
What was initially meant for their Monsoon Menu quickly became a fan-favorite. It is apparently a nod to The Bombay Canteen’s sister restaurant O Pedro [@opedromumbai], which is Goan-inspired.
Street Food Reinvented
We went for the uber-famous Arbi Tuk – a classy take on SPDP [Sev Puri Dahi Puri]. Arbi, or Colocasia root, cut into roundels and deep-fried resembles the crispy puri or papdi. It is then topped with chilli-spiced yoghurt, a piquant tamarind chutney and fresh red radish kachumber [salad]. This classy yet playful rendition of a chaat item, although excellent in taste, lacked just one thing – sev.
Up next was Pav Bhaji Porterhouse Roll. Classic Mumbai style pav bhaji served as a filling for soft pillowy porterhouse rolls that were baked directly in a pan. The rolls are then served with fermented Bhavnagari chillies, butter derived from chhaas [Indian buttermilk] and chopped onions. An elevated form of a delicious street food indeed.
It’s Dessert Time
Yet another disappointment that evening was that the Ukadiche Modak [from the Ganesh festival menu] had been taken off – just the previous night. I was determined to not let the fact dampen my spirit, and went on to order a couple of desserts.
We first ordered the Til Gud Cake, inspired by the Maharashtrian sweet treat eaten on Makar Sankranti – the festival that celebrates the Northward Apparent Migration of the sun [Uttarayan].
The Til Gud Cake is composed of a Sesame sponge frosted with a jaggery and dark chocolate ganache, topped with a sesame tuile and served with a citrus custard sauce. Although it seemed dense, the sponge was pretty light, the citrus cutting through the sweetness of the jaggery. The sesame tuile was reminiscent of chikki – a peanut and jaggery fudge that Lonavala is quite popular for.
We ended the evening with the Saffron and Citrus Malpua. To say that it was decadent would be an understatement. Malpua, for the initiates, is an egg-based sweet flatbread, deep-fried and soaked in a syrup that may or may not be flavored.
The Canteen version is soaked in a citrus syrup [Citrus seems to be a dominant flavor here, not complaining though], and served with an elegant goat cheese ice-cream. The tartness of the goat cheese and citrus cuts through the deep-fried and typically over sweet Malpua, rendering a dessert that is so well balanced that it blows your mind. Oh, and did I mention the Pistachio crumble? The gets its perfect finishing touch and crunch, not to mention a light earthy nutty note.
All in all, The Bombay Canteen is all kinds iconic, and deserves the mantle of the best restaurant in the country. Chef Thomas’s mission to revive ethnic Indian cuisines and incorporate desi ingredients seems to have just begun. Also, take a bow Chef Heena Punwani [@tiffintales] – you are a pastry Rockstar. I’m looking forward to my next visit, when I hope to taste the new Art Deco cocktails. Until then, signing off.