This Mumbai restaurant is fashioned like a cardboard box

You’ve heard of the saying, ‘Think out of the box’. Now, a new restaurant in BKC wants you to think (and eat) inside the box. Cardboard, BKC Inspire’s newest dining destination, stays true to its name. There are sheets of cardboard everywhere, fashioned into stools, tables, chairs, mini-ladders, lighting fixtures and stands. At the entrance, the security guard’s chair and stool is made of cardboard; inside, large ridged sculptures create different seating areas. There are tables of four, a community table and running alongside the glass windows, freelancer-friendly single chairs and attached plug points (WiFi is free). Above are low hanging bulbs, shielded by cardboard lamps.

Successfully casual

It’s like being in a cardboard box but an upscale, coffee-friendly version. The restaurant/café is a partnership between Thyme & Reason Hospitality’s Shilpa Tulaskar and Vishal Shetty and BAD Café’s Bhavna and Amit Dhanani (now going by the name Yung Dhanani).

This Mumbai restaurant is fashioned like a cardboard box

The interiors are the designs of Nuru Karim of NUDES and have been fabricated by Haresh Mehta from Jayna Packaging. It took seven months to work the cardboard into shape. The surfaces are wax laminated to avoid spillage and others are treated to ensure they are immune to weather and environmental damage. In case of a fire, the place is at no less risk than any other regular eatery. The all-day café is positioning itself as a casual hipster kitchen. At its head is chef Yung Dhanani. He certainly looks the part, wearing a burlap apron (courtesy the Burlap People), tattoos on full display, and espousing the cause of eating local, organic and vegan. Yung grew up in Spain, near Malaga and is well-travelled, speaks six languages, plays the piano, has composed the lyrics and music for a few films and is a self-taught chef.

Local, organic and vegan

The food, just like the man preparing it, is an amalgamation of different influences, styles and ingredients. It has names like Rad, Peace, Yeah Baby!, 4 Sho and Your Mama. There are pancakes, upma, French toast, open breads, sandwiches, soups, salads and bowls. The ingredients are locally sourced (breads from Mag St Bread Co; coffee from the South, etc), everything is made fresh, and there’s focus on some unusual combinations. Take the Hard core (₹320). It sandwiches the mellow sweetness of a jalebi with the caramelised meatiness of pulled pork, and orange wedges for a bit of freshness. The flavours are in place but as a concept, it’s a difficult dish to get behind.

It’s an exciting menu, global fare with a heavy South Indian accent (courtesy Yung’s love for South Indian food). A lot of these Southern experiments work.

Brown paper: (clockwise from above) Interiors of Cardboard; What a Goof!; and Wango

Brown paper: (clockwise from above) Interiors of Cardboard; What a Goof!; and Wango  

The seemingly innocent Babu (₹250) packs quite the punch with a fiery orange meen curry tempered with mustard ladled over a neatly folded omelette. The addition of maple syrup cuts through the spiciness but only slightly. There are four kinds of hummus served with Southern Crisps or pappad, which are too heavy for the delicate dips. Wango (₹250) is a revelation. The hummus preparation replaces beans with smoked aubergine and a drizzle of balsamic.

Cardboard does offer vegan and Jain options — the chef is vegan — but, they handle their meat and seafood well. Groovy (₹450) mixes olive, coconut and refined oils for a delicate (if calorie-laden) accompaniment to zesty prawns; raw papaya brings in much-needed freshness. The Zoink sandwich (₹360) — squid, batter fried, stuffed between baguette. The bread is a mouthful and masks the delicate flavours within: chewy squid, sweet caramelized onions, and a dab of aioli. Meeooww! (₹220) is on the drab side, a relatively bland sweet potato patty served with a small koki (Sindhi paratha). My favourite ‘fusion’ dish is in the dessert section: a sticky curry leaf glaze, which brightens up a spongy and mildly sweet apple cake (What A Goof!, ₹275).

Cardboard doesn’t have their alcohol license yet (it is expected in April) but there is enough liquid to satiate. The coffees are sourced from two plantations in the South, the shakes have thin and thick variants and are made without sugar, and there are vegan options. Two stand-outs are a creamy vegan shake with Nutella, banana and coconut milk (₹250) and a refreshing tangy Gnarly (₹200), topped with grated coconut.

Plastic free

Cardboard takes their sustainability angle seriously. Takeaway food is served in paper boxes, there’s nothing plastic in sight, and there are plans for a proper food wastage system. Other upcoming plans include jazz nights – the acoustics are excellent – and busker (open mic) nights. The restaurant’s biggest USP does have its side effects – the smell of cardboard can take time getting used to, and the chairs are sturdy but rough. We can’t help but wonder whether that great equalising factor, Mumbai’s monsoons, will affect the décor. The owners are certain they are safe. Hidden deep inside BKC’s newest hotspot, they are after all, quite boxed in from the elements.

Cardboard, Adani Inspire, G Block, BKC; open all week from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 7:50:40 PM |

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