M. Mahadevan’s latest restaurant Bombay Brasserie brings home the wide array of Mumbai’s flavours
I suspect our waiter has stage ambitions. He’s startlingly operatic when he notices me pushing away the frightfully pink watermelon blossom cocktail. “No,” he gasps. “Why?” I nervously say it’s too sweet. “But, but there’s no extra sugar,” he persists, bending forward and looking at the drink suspiciously, “Just some cranberry juice.” He peers at me. “Tell me. Tell me why. I’ll remove it. I’ll take responsibility. I won’t charge.” Strained silence. He adds with a sniff, “I just want you to be happy.” I can almost sense the outbreak of one of those intensely overwrought Phantom Of The Opera songs. Cue a sweepingly sappy background score: “No more talk of darkness/ forget these wide-eyed fears/ I'm here, nothing can harm you/ my words will warm and calm you…”
How does M. Mahadevan do it? The city restaurateur has an inexplicable gift of pulling impressive restaurants out of his hat, when you least expect it. Bombay Brasserie is his latest triumph. Not just because of its pretty setting, which even offers space for a little greenhouse style dining area, rimmed by a canopy of rustling trees. Or the fact that – with no advertising barely two weeks after it’s official launch – the restaurant is packed by 8 p.m. on a week night. No. His biggest achievement is his staff. Somehow, even as every other Chennai restaurateur is desperately trying to cobble together a team of cooks and waiters, Mahadevan has managed to open with a team that’s efficient, quick and genuinely committed.
I attempt to pacify our waiter by talking a long, appreciative sip of my drink, served in a chic but impractical clunky glass jar. Mollified he bustles about checking on his other customers, which include two loud children, one of whom insists on sitting sideways and pulling faces at me. Just my luck – when I retaliate (“because two can play at this game, missy”) her father turns around and catches me in the act. Deeply embarrassed, I bury my head in the menu and proceed to order far too much food.
Bombay Brasserie has an ambitious charter – to encapsulate the flavours of maximum city. Given that Mumbai is famous for being a gracious melting pot of culture, tradition and ideas, this is not easy. It does, however, make for a wide array of dishes. Sindhi fish made with seyal masala, a speciality of the Sindhi community that settled in Mumbai after partition. Anglo-Bangla fish fry, served with kasundhi mustard. Mutton boti, influenced by Bohri cuisine. The cuisine is pegged as a ‘contemporary interpretation of classic Indian,’ but in reality its food is more of an earnest take on age-old recipes. Most of the dishes are fairly straightforward, with chefs opting for smart plating rather than fiddly tweaks.
Our meal begins with a Prawn thecha, crisp batter fried prawns tossed in a rural Maharashtrian chutney. The key to this chutney is that it’s made by crushing ingredients; hence the result is a crumbly blend of well roasted peanuts interspersed with shredded coconut and bolstered by the sharp fragrance of green chillies. We try spongy squares of Lucknowi paraath paneer, skilfully balanced so no single flavour stands out. The result is a pleasing, if reticent, appetiser.
For the main course there is Lasooni Baingan, spicy brinjal fried till its soft and golden brown, before being cooked with tomato paste and garlic cloves to make a robustly flavoured dish. We eat it with crisp chur chur parathas, fried till their edges are sharp and crunchy then brushed with a quick slick of chilly powder. Of course, since this a Mumbai-inspired menu, there’s also Salli Chicken, that much loved Parsi favourite featuring fragrant chicken gravy topped with a pile of crisp, golden potato chips.
The décor at night is reminiscent of a Meatloaf video. I realise that is an infuriatingly random metaphor. But think about it: Romantically golden light bouncing off yellow paint, heavily stylised brick and stone walls and then – to top it all off – hanging chandeliers that drip funky metal spheres.
In the centre of it all there’s a display kitchen, where extraordinarily cheery chefs rhythmically skewer kebabs and pat dough with floury fingers. The meal ends with juicy just-fried jelebis served with cool rabdi. Ridiculously sweet. Also frighteningly addictive. Our waiter looks happy. Curtain call.
Bombay Brasserie is on 3, College Lane, Nungambakkam. A meal for two is approximately Rs. 1,500. Call 42100709 for reservations.