A luxury dinner at Papa’s in Mumbai that breaks all the rules

The 12-seater restaurant features a sophisticated, technique-driven tasting 13-course menu by Chef Hussain Shahzad, highlighting regional ingredients used in unexpected ways for no-fuss, fine dining 

February 14, 2024 03:49 pm | Updated 03:51 pm IST

  • Restaurant Papa’s
  • Cuisine Indian
  • Cost ₹₹₹₹
  • Address SEE MAP
The restaurant brings together the charms of a discreet speakeasy, a luxury restaurant and a friend’s dining table

The restaurant brings together the charms of a discreet speakeasy, a luxury restaurant and a friend’s dining table | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

I am not sure at what point dinner turned into a party. Perhaps it was when Chef Hussain Shahzad started sharing negroni shots with diners, poured into delicate sake glasses from his trusty silver hip flask. Perhaps it was when the unexpectedly indulgent ‘chhena poda’ appeared, topped with a generous, unsteady pile of Kaluga caviar. Or perhaps it was when the room began thudding with Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’, from the chef’s retro-packed playlist. 

Papa’s luxury dining in Mumbai
| Video Credit: Special arrangement
The intimate 12-seater restaurant is built around the chef’s workspace, which is lit theatrically, like a stage

The intimate 12-seater restaurant is built around the chef’s workspace, which is lit theatrically, like a stage | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

We are at Hunger Inc’s newest launch, Papa’s — a space that brings together the charms of a discreet speakeasy, a luxury restaurant and a friend’s dining table. The intimate 12-seater restaurant is built around the chef’s workspace, which is lit theatrically, like a stage. The space, which was kept a secret till opening day, is above Veronica’s, a perpetually packed cafe and sandwich shop, in a building that used to be an iconic neighbourhood bakery called St. Jude’s, set in Bandra’s quirky Ranwar village.

Hussain Shahzad - Executive Chef at Papa’s Hunger Inc. Hospitality

Hussain Shahzad - Executive Chef at Papa’s Hunger Inc. Hospitality | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Imagine a chef runs a sandwich shop at the bottom, and lives upstairs, in Bandra in the 1980s,” chuckles Hussain, his eyes sparkling with delight. “Now, imagine Wes Anderson designed the space,” chimes in Sameer Seth, co-founder at Hunger Inc, along with Yash Bhanage. (The Hunger Inc team, mentored by the late Floyd Cardoz, runs some of Mumbai’s most popular restaurants: The Bombay Canteen, O Pedro, Veronica and now, the newly opened Papa’s, with Hussain at the helm as executive chef.)  

Discussing how they put Papa’s together, with Shonan Purie Trehan, founder of Studio Language Architecture, while watching multiple Wes Anderson movies to reference colour schemes, Sameer says, “We also wanted this to feel right in 2024. Fine dining has become too solemn.“

Modak with char siu pork and apple, and Tingmo with blue cheese, king oyster mushroom, pickled chilli

Modak with char siu pork and apple, and Tingmo with blue cheese, king oyster mushroom, pickled chilli | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

While the food is thoughtful and the 13-course menu is reflective, punctuated with ingredients sourced from across India, Hussain also subverts the rules and makes it fun. A sleek samosa composed of tuna, chamomile and horseradish for instance. Or clear rasam starring trout and roe, vibrant with watermelon and lime leaves.

Breaking rules successfully takes skill, and the chef — who worked with the award winning 11 Madison Park in New York — does it confidently, presenting dishes with a cheeky casual flair that belies the hard work behind the scenes.

“The menu came together with a lot of trial and error. In the last eight years of cooking in Bombay this is the one menu I failed at the most,” says Hussain candidly. “There was a blank canvas that needed to be painted. I could go a million ways... But the biggest thing I wanted to do with fine dining was to bring more flavour to the food. More flavour, without the fuss.”

What The Duck with dry aged duck, Indrayani rice and green garlic

What The Duck with dry aged duck, Indrayani rice and green garlic | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sameer adds, “I think the days when it needed to be French or Italian food to be called fine dining are long behind us, thankfully.” This menu is firmly rooted, not just in India, but also pays tribute to Ranwar village. “It has to have context,” says Sameer, “The shawarma course is inspired by the shawarma stand beside us... “

Named Bugs Bunny, this course is a good example of how Hussain’s style defies categorisation, and is yet a culmination of years of cooking and eating old school menus. “When I create a dish, I want it to be delicious, significant and technique-driven,” says the chef adding, “I bring who I am to the plate... I don’t have a definition of this cuisine, to be honest. But the soul is absolutely rooted in the idea of India. It’s about embracing your heritage. And, as a craftsman, as a cook, you want to show off technique.”

Bugs Bunny starts with rabbit, of course, influenced by Chennai, where Hussain was born and raised. brought up. “I grew up eating rabbit 65 at Anjappar and Ponnusamy. We get sundried weaver ants from Odisha, then make a marinade with crushed pepper, cumin, sumac, a bit of fresh ginger, garlic and chillies.” The wild rabbit, from Nasik, is marinated with the ants, then grilled on charcoal, resulting in a buttery meat, served with garlicy toum.

Thayir Sadam with beetroot, chèvre and shiso

Thayir Sadam with beetroot, chèvre and shiso | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Discussing Papa’s menu, Hussain adds, “There will be dishes that challenge you, dishes that comfort you... Desserts that come as savoury bites that push your perception, but also, a thayir saadam that is familiar...” 

A tribute to Chennai, the thayir saadam is made with sushi rice and goat’s cheese. It is served with slow-cooked beetroot, which is dehydrated and rehydrated till it is intensely flavoured. Instead of appalam, there’s a crunchy shiso leaf. And pickle from the Mylapore Ganapathy store in Chennai. “That’s a very deep memory for me... you don’t need to fix what’s not broken, you just need to reimagine it,” says Hussain, adding that they also use Uthukuli ghee from Ganapathy’s in the kitchen.  

The night begins with cocktails, put together by hipster bartenders dressed in black, with smooth technique and big smiles. Sameer explains how Yash and Pankaj Balachandran, co-founder, Countertop India, worked on making the cocktails “smashable, where you want to have one after the other”. Built with just three ingredients each, to allow individual flavours to come through, the menu features a dirty martini, using olive oil instead of brine, for an addictive umami kick.

The Last Word, a cocktail heady with tequila, maraschino, amaro, palo-santo, pickled tomato brine

The Last Word, a cocktail heady with tequila, maraschino, amaro, palo-santo, pickled tomato brine | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Dinner comes with a thoughtful beverage pairing by sommelier Madhusudan Kashyap, featuring wine from around the world, from French champagne and old world reds to whites with some funk, but also beer and kombucha.  

Sameer says, “This is playfully Indian food. While the soul is Indian, it is a culinary adventure that is equal parts comforting, equal parts surprising. It should evoke emotion.” Hussain concurs, stating, “You want to walk into an experience, and you want to forget your life for a bit.”

Without giving too much away, life certainly pauses when we start on dessert, a compelling blend of freshly fried potato chips, served with a fizzy Champagne zabaglione, laced with honey, butter and truffle sugar.

Chhena Poda with comte, caviar

Chhena Poda with comte, caviar | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The laughter and conversation quiet down as guests spoon it up, every mouthful a crackling surprise of textures, temperatures and flavours. “This dish was our North star,” says Hussain, “when you don’t have any reference point in cuisine, it helped to have a starting point that is an emotion.” 

Potato Chips with lemon, truffle, champagne

Potato Chips with lemon, truffle, champagne | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Papa’s launches onFebruary 16. It is open from Wednesday to Saturday, and seats 12 diners a night. It is above Veronica’s, 3R3G+JMX, Waroda Rd, Ranwar, Bandra West, Mumbai. Call +91 77388 95597 for reservations. It costs ₹4,750/- (plus taxes) for the vegetarian and ₹4,950/- (plus taxes) for the non-vegetarian tasting menus.

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