2014 was the year when the pop-up movement led by home chefs sprouted in Mumbai. You had
Gitika Saikia cooking up Assamese tribal food, Soumitra Velkar hosting Pathare Prabhu meals, Perzen Patel (of Bawi Bride) and Katy’s Kitchen doing Parsi, and Sneha Nair, Malayali pop-ups respectively. Amidst all this, you also had entrepreneurs such as Meal Tango aggregating pop-up experiences by home chefs.
These experiences were like a breath of fresh air for the city’s food lovers, as they provided an opportunity to try out regional Indian food, which Mumbai’s evolving restaurant landscape no longer seemed to offer.
The home chef pop-up movement has grown since then with people like Gitika Saikia, Ananya Banerjee and The Bohri Kitchen becoming regular players in an arena, which earlier saw one-off events. Interestingly, there are new entrants coming in to this field every month.
The limitations of home chef led pop-ups lie in terms of scalability. A given event would ave anything between two to 10 people attending, which is what the home chef could cater to. There was a specific pool of food lovers who would keep going to these pop-ups, and a large part of the city’s dining out crowd remained unaffected by this movement.
When it came to eating out, European and Asian-themed cafes and standalone restaurants continued to catch the fancy of the city’s younger dining out crowd. There was hardly any new and exciting Indian food on offer barring perhaps Masala Library. The latter, with its steep pricing and formal trappings, remained a place for ‘grown-ups’ though where one had to be in one’s best behaviour. Very different from the young vibe at Farzi Café in Gurgaon, which is run by the same owners.
Then 2015 came, Bombay Canteen opened and things were not the same again. With its trendy ambience, cheerful plating and menu, which was different from the usual butter chicken and palak paneer of traditional Indian restaurants in Mumbai (even the Eggs Kejriwal was given a makeover), inventive bar menu, vibrant social media profiling of its chefs, it became quite the youth hangout. Despite (!) its Indian menu.
Soon concepts, which had been launched in other cities such as Social, Monkey Bar and SodaBottleOpenerWala, were brought to the city. Each had predominant regional Indian menus. Fortunately each has been able to draw young diners consistently ever since they opened in Mumbai. The sort who would normally hang out in the Indigos, The Tables, The Mamagotos, The Smoke House Delis and the Salt Water Cafes of the world. The reach of these restaurants went way beyond what the brave home chefs could dream of.
An audience, which would not travel to old Mumbai for traditional Indian restaurants, now have modern Indian offerings thereby representing the new face of Mumbai for them to patronise. These new restaurants are spread across the city making them more accessible and are air-conditioned, offer valet parking, clean toilets and in a few cases, free Wi-Fi too. Things that are important to today’s diners, which traditional places popular with the city’s food romantics, which haven’t changed with time, don’t have.
As the year comes to an end, Bombay Canteen still remains one of the hardest places to get a table in. As do the Social outlets, SodaBottleOpenerWala and Monkey Bar.
So what worked for these restaurants? How did eating Indian food become cool again in a city, which lapped up international trends and likes to see itself as a ‘world city’ often pushing away the past into the deep recesses of South Mumbai?
Well, these restaurants have been launched by chefs and restaurateurs such as Floyd Cardoz and Thomas Zacharias of Bombay Canteen, Manu Chandra of Monkey Bar, AD Singh and Mohit Balachandran of SBOW and Riyaaz Amlani of Social. People who have been exposed to international restaurant trends, and who have run successful modern restaurants popular with the city’s swish crowd. They are also people who are passionate about Indian food. They have got their learnings from running international-themed restaurants in terms of ambience, flavours, pricing and plating into their new Indian restaurant offerings. This merger of two worlds has worked and the restaurants launched by them have been running full so far.
Which is why 2015 will be remembered as the year when going out to eat Indian food became sexy again in Mumbai.
Kalyan is a food and travel blogger, who is excited about Indian food and tries his best to bring it alive through his stories. He is happiest when he eats at small, family-run places. He blogs at <a href="http://www.finelychopped.net/"> Finely Chopped.</a>