Ishaara in Mumbai serves food with a difference

A visit to the Mumbai’s newest restaurant, Ishaara is a lesson in how to communicate and good Indian flavours

July 31, 2019 07:52 pm | Updated August 02, 2019 12:19 pm IST

Subtle hints:  (Clockwise from left) lobster samosa; yuzu dessert; and bhutte ki khees.

Subtle hints: (Clockwise from left) lobster samosa; yuzu dessert; and bhutte ki khees.

It’s all hands at work at Lower Parel, and Pheonix Mills’ latest restaurant. Ishaara is the modern Indian restaurant started by Prashant Issar and Anuj Shah (Stratix Hospitality); former founders of Mirchi & Mime and Riyaaz Amlani (Impresario Handmade Restaurants). It is the first of what they say will be a worldwide chain. They are off to a promising start.

Enter Ishaara and the malls sounds, fragrances and the pull of consumerism fades away. Daylight streams in nice and bright through the glass windows. There’s a valiant attempt to offer some green relief, in plants strung up on the wall or standing tall in pots, succulents laid out on a community table and even plant-based wallpaper. Green, a deep pleasing shade is also the colour of the staff’s uniform. The dining area is spread out in front of bar, chaat and dessert counters, and a kitchen (concealed within fireproof glass). The overall effect is muted and pleasing: orange cushions, teak furniture, abstract art and concrete columns. There’s soft music streaming swirling through the room, mellow covers of popular English numbers.

Inclusive vocabulary

Ishaara seems like any other restaurant except, you really have to pay attention to your food, to the menu and to the people around you. The restaurant’s service staff is entirely made of differently-abled persons. The 28 recruits have been trained for 45 days in hospitality, etiquette, life skills, job readiness, English sign language alphabet and math. Those from the outskirts of Mumbai are put up at lodgings nearby while others are ferried to the nearest station or home at the end of the shift.

The restaurant has its own vocabulary because here, words aren’t needed. Staff have sign names, pictured on the back of their uniforms. These signs or a raised hand will get their attention. Before the meal, the manager comes over to introduce us to our server, Uma, and advises us on how to order. The menu has signs for every meal section and a corresponding number for a dish; when in doubt, just point at the dish. Though we fumble initially, ordering is a breeze. A suggestion: we would’ve preferred a handy page dedicated to other requests (less ice in drinks, parcel leftovers, etc).

Modern with a twist

Ishaara calls itself a modern India restaurant with food that Issar calls “classical or traditional recipes with modern expression”. There are dishes from across India, familiar names and some experiments. Take the Lobster Patti Samosa (₹380). A crisp shell unfolds to reveal juicy lobster, chopped and tossed in a spicy masala. The pairing works, surprisingly.

The popular dishes do not disappoint. Bhutte ki Khees (₹220) has a silken softness to it, and the sweetness of the corn balanced out with just the hint of spice. Dahi Puri (₹150) is refreshingly cold and packs a punch with the curd and chutneys. The chaat counter, we are told, is there to attract customers at the mall who are looking for something small to snack on; the community table is ideal for this purpose.

Ishaara has just received their alcohol license but teetotalers can choose from a wide range of fizzy, colourful drinks. If ordering an alcoholic drink, the Makroot Cauliflower (₹280) would make for a good accompaniment. It does the work of a chakna, serving up big florets coated with a sticky sweet and tangy sauce. The Soft Shell Crab (₹480) comes full of the promise of showing up the tested trio of butter, pepper and garlic. But, cutting into the crab is a mess and the sauce, though delicious, is too heavy and masks the taste of the crabmeat. Ishaara’s head chef Dipesh Shinde is another Mirchi and Mime alumnus. Issar has just one thing to say about him, “he has magic in his fingers.” Our main course proves him right. Kathal Rogan Josh (₹320) pleases all the ripe jackfruit eaters at the table. The texture of the fruit mimics mutton and the curry is deep red, fragrant and hot. Sufiyani Chicken Biryani (₹380) is packed with tender pieces of chicken cooked in a creamy, almond milk base.

It’s the Mango Pineapple Curry (₹340) that deserves accolades and seconds. Fiery orange, it’s a sublime blend of the sweet tanginess of the pineapple and raw mango with chillies. Each bite is intense and there’s a pungent aftertaste. Our only grouse is the mango in the curry seems tasteless.

For dessert, we skip the Indian experiments and opt for something milder. Yuzu Lime Mousse (₹280) is mellow, has some warmth and crunch from the sesame and is low on sugar.

Served with care

After every dish, Uma asks us that all important question: are you happy with it? We mimic the restaurant’s sign using our hands and a big smile. Ishaara serves robust Indian food at appealing prices and the service is attentive. And they force you to think about your words and actions.

Ishaara, 3rd Floor, Palladium, High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel; timings: noon to midnight; phone: 8657531988, 8657531989

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