A new farm restaurant has opened in Karjat, but is it worth its Saltt?
This diner has a gorgeous location but will need to up its F&B game to do justice to it.
After what has been a year of staying cooped up in our homes, travelling through Instagram reels, learning to cook on IGTV and living our lives vicariously, mostly online, you can't blame me for jumping on the first chance I got to get away from the city. Nestled among the verdant green expanses in Oleander Farms, Saltt is a farm restaurant located 58.4 km away from Mumbai's clamour.
After a two-hour-long drive through the scenic Mumbai-Pune Expressway, you arrive at the sprawling farm that offers countryside views surrounded by barren hillocks. And it kind of evokes the same feeling that you would get when packing a picnic to a far-off location, often on borrowed time, and also spaces.
An ancestral property that has been part of Saltt's director, Aaliya Ahuja's family for several years finds new life through a project conjured during pandemic-leavened creativity. Done up in soothing hues of browns and blues, interspersed with wooden furniture, dressed up in distressed paint and big, glass walls, the sprawling dining room, lounge and outdoor seating areas have a certain roominess about them. Plenty of plants and trinkets like old chests of drawers and other memorabilia collected by the family during the travels over the years helps give the space a personal touch. To put it briefly, Saltt's decor may have nothing special to mention, but it does the simple job of putting you at ease.
The menu is a large and varied mix of multiple dishes from several cuisines – it is safe, but also starkly priced, with offerings that range from a bhareli chaat to a mushroom pizza. It's a route I am noticing quite a few new restaurants take, as they shy away from the albatross of having to stick to a niche in a post-pandemic world. I think they're calling it global. Which if you ask me honestly, is what the middle-class Indian called multi-cuisine restaurants a few years ago. Expect Indian favourites, like a malai broccoli sharing space with a tres leches.
Without the astute direction of a trained-chef, and riding on the army of cooks they've brought into their kitchen from the local communities in and around the space, the menu at Saltt is defined by its Indian offerings. The bhareli chaat is a riot of flavours and lots of potatoes. The assorted naans are supple and come with different flavour toppings like blue cheese and garlic. The desserts are good, like the tres leches – a spongy treat, oozing with buttery, milky delight. But if you ask me what worked most, it's the space itself, which allows you to escape into a bona fide out-of-office mode.
What didn't work
Here's the tricky bit. To put it plainly, Saltt's cocktails are forgettable. That too, at a time when F&B is seeing a veritable interest in imaginative bar programmes with the very next person you brush shoulders with, proclaiming themselves gin aficionados. The culinary climate, in Mumbai at least, demands tipples that are creative and immersive. What makes it a double jeopardy is the cost, with some concoctions going up to Rs 850 but made with mid-level gins like Greater Than. There's room for much improvement and honesty here. As for the pizzas, they fail to match up to the brouhaha around them being wood-fired with versions that are 'okay,' at best and amateur at worst. The mushroom chevre pizza, for instance, fails to balance the creaminess of the cheese with the earthiness of shrooms, as it should.
But the food, in general, and especially when juxtaposed with the space and price points, lacks the focused nuance that you would expect from a new-age diner. I am told it's because a chef is yet to be finalised and I guess, we'll have to wait to see. Would I mind returning to Saltt for a quick day getaway from Mumbai on a packed weekend? If I only have a few hours to spare, would I spend four hours travelling up and down for food and drinks that are just about alright? You tell me.