The chef next door

Alex Sanchez spent the last year doing a deep dive into Italian food. He visited Italy with his partner Mallyeka Watsa, shopped at local markets and experimented with the produce in their rented kitchen. Luckily for Mumbai, these experiments are now on the menu of Americano, Sanchez’s new restaurant.

Americano launched on March 19 in the space once occupied by AKA Bistro. Sanchez clearly wants to let go of the past because there’s not even the ghost of the former restaurant visible. Neither is there anything that will remind diners of his seven-year stint at The Table, which made him a household name in the city’s culinary world.

Making moves

“After I left, there was a moment where I didn't know what I was going to do. Should I stay or go back home?” he says. He decided to stay because Mumbai, specifically South Mumbai (SoBo) had become home. He is familiar with the place, knows all the neighbourhood’s shops and their owners and is a regular at Kala Ghoda Café. It’s why he chose to open in SoBo, though they did look at Bandra and BKC too.

Americano has been in the works for over a year, ever since his return from Italy. A casual dining space, the food is new school Italian offered at approachable prices. “We are a neighbourhood restaurant in philosophy and we want to serve food of value at a standard expected from a fine dine,” he says.

A small door opens into a restaurant with high ceilings in dark blue, soothing beige walls, a green stone bar, booth-style seating and an open kitchen. Glass partitions create an illusion of privacy and demarcate seating spaces, and tall potted plants to offer relief in what is a compact dining area (seating 80 people in a 1,000 sqft space). Around the bar, there are standing tables. Look up and there’s a mobile, an art installation in the restaurant’s colours of dark blue, beige and gold, and used to signify momentum and balance.

The colour theme was also inspired by Sanchez and Watsa’s travels through Italy. “We loved going into these old churches and looking up and seeing these rich, dark blue ceilings with gold stars. Somehow the idea of blue and gold remained in our minds,” says Sanchez. “We wanted to put stars on our ceiling but someone would have to paint then on and it was too much work,” chimes in Watsa. Instead of stars, there is a wood fired oven covered in gold (brass), which reflects rainbows on the beige walls.

Americano comes under the duo’s Ek Number Hospitality venture. Watsa is the co-creator of luxury skincare brand Ayca and has a hospitality background: she studied at École Grégoire-Ferrandi in Paris and worked in French kitchens for over a year. They chose the name because it was ‘light, fun and approachable’. The monogrammed A – found on the mobile above the bar – gives the sub context that Alex is also in the kitchen.

Respecting produce

There’s no doubt that Sanchez is actually in the kitchen because the food that comes out is playful, delicious and treats ingredients with respect. The menus come stacked inside a blue folder (one for each table). The cocktails are San Franciscan mixologist Darren Crawford’s domain and feature his experiments with bitters, syrups and even flowers. The food menu is divided into cocktail snacks – ‘fun, small, salty snacks that are screaming to be drunk with a cocktail or wine’; small plates for sharing; pizzas; pastas – ‘we’ve an intense pasta programme featuring 12 different shapes and eight kinds of dough’; meats; and desserts.

“The ingredients are almost exclusively sourced locally except for things like parmigiano reggiano, olive oil, and balsamic. The semolina is from Andhra, vegetables from Maharashtra, fish from the Goa-Maharashtra border and Gujarat. There’s no need to increase the carbon footprint of our meals. We have to be affordable so that people return to us, and that can be done by using local products, being creative, and making an interesting dish out of something ordinary and inexpensive,” says Sanchez.

Take the Sweetcorn “Ribs” (₹500) – sliced corn arched to look like ribs, grilled till toasty and dusted with a sweet and salty housemade BBQ spice mix. It’s a novel idea and presentation mimics the dish it is inspired from, seamlessly. There’s a fair share of dips, namely a pungent green garlic one, a spicy garlic aioli and a piquant salsa verde. The latter two are served with the pizzas, for people to dunk their leftover crusts in. The Rosso Pizza (₹500) has no cheese, making it ideal for those not eating dairy. It gets its flavour from a mushy tomato sauce, thin enough to not soak through the thick crust, made from dough that’s been fermented for a day and a half. Pici Aglio e Olio (₹500) is their most chewy pasta, hand-rolled noodles drizzled with olive oil, parmesan and topped with breadcrumbs. It’s a simple dish and though the noodles take a while getting used to, it’s delicious. The star dish is the Slow-Cooked Veal (₹500). It’s tender enough to dissolve on the tongue and there’s a pickled pear and bitter green salad to cut through the richness of the meat. Dessert is a decadent Sicilian Pistachio Gelato (₹300), nutty and rich.

In the future, expect small breakfast menus with coffee, tea and a table laid with different bread; and a compact lunch menu with pizzas, pastas, salads and sandwiches. “Luxury now is more about comfort and being relaxed, not so much about the formalities of traditional service,” says Sanchez. “I was raised in fine dining establishments but I am kind of rebelling against that now.” We support this rebellion.

Americano, Kala Ghoda, Fort; 022-22647700

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 6:07:40 AM |

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