Raising the local tapas bar

I’m sitting on a bar stool at O Pedro, a Goan bar and restaurant in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex. I’m munching on pork chicharones (fried pork rind) and mackerel parra, the first served in a metal can and the other in a metal tin. I’m sipping on a Pina Baga Lada as I munch and am pondering on the meaning of life.

I lie. I already know the meaning of life. What I’m actually thinking about is why am I drinking the Pina Baga Lada and not the Cashew in Spirit, the latter being a cocktail which should use feni, as the name suggests, but instead has to make do with a substitute. Considering governments of the same hue run both Goa and Maharashtra, how hard can it be for feni to travel from one state to the other? Pretty nigh impossible is the answer.

But, I digress. Back to those metal tins. Further investigation reveals that the service style for these snacks is inspired by the Portugese culture of eating “petiscos”, or small eats. And small eats or carefully curated bar food menus, which in many cases complement the drinks menu, are in vogue. A case in point is chef-partner Thomas Zacharias at Bombay Canteen, in Mumbai’s Kamla Mills area, who says, “Our guests love to snack, and a majority of their mealtime is spent on small plates. The guests are also more adventurous when it comes to these bar snacks as opposed to looking for more comfort food options for the main course plates”.

Raising the local tapas bar

Chintus and chotas

At Bombay Canteen, a restaurant which celebrates Indian cuisine, we have the desi equivalent of tapas — chotas, badas and patialas — and this is just the food we’re talking about! They also offer chintus, small plates of snacks passed around as samplers, for guests to try and then pick.

Of course, it’s not just size that matters, but also the attention paid to the “flavour chemistry” as chef Hussain of O Pedro puts it, where he and Raul Raghav, the bar manager, work in hand to ensure that the drinks at the bar, which have “savoury or acidic elements” are balanced with the quarter plates which, more often than not, use similar elements.

A case in point being the Cashew in Spirit cocktail (made with home made kokum-infused rum) which combines well with the Raw papaya and dried shrimp kismur that uses a kokum chili dressing to bind it all together. Corroborating this is Minakshi Singh, partner at popular Gurugram cocktail bar, Cocktails and Dreams, where one of their signature dishes, Pigs in a Blanket, was always meant to be complimented by one of their gin cocktails, the Foghorn.

Local inspiration

One of the early pioneers in embracing the trend towards specialised bar food menus is Bengaluru’s Toast & Tonic helmed by chef Manu Chandra. T&T is meant to deliver a slice of New York’s East Village (a restaurant hot spot with dishes born of “free expression”) to India, combined with our biodiversity. This has meant that, apart from the small plates complementing a range of gin-based cocktails, the emphasis is on as many local ingredients as possible, as sous chef Chirag Makwana puts it, with everything from “micro greens, millets, local grains, fresh produce and even meat and sea food,” locally sourced, with a strong belief in “sustainable eating and also helping out local farmers and suppliers”. Chefs like Makwana also like the move to small plates as they can “focus squarely on quality and presentation, rather than quantity”.

Sip And Snack
  • O Pedro, Mumbai – Cashew in Spirit (with home-made infused kokum rum) with the Raw papaya and dried shrimp kismur that uses a kokum chilli dressing to bind it all together
  • Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy, Gurugram – Pigs in a Blanket (bacon wrapped sausages) with the Foghorn, a gin classic, with a flavour of ginger
  • CinCin, Mumbai – Burrata (fresh Buffalo milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream) with the Limoncello sour
  • Toast and Tonic, Bengaluru – Smoked mackerel on toast with a glass of Riesling

Bombay Canteen also changes its menu every few months to keep up with the changing local produce, with chef Zacharias currently excited about using hara channa, ponkh, purple mugri, pink guava and more in his menu. At O Pedro, they use ingredients which might be just available forthree to four days or “super seasonal” as a part of their daily specials.

CinCin is not just how they toast your health in Italy, it’s also an Italian restaurant in Mumbai’s BKC, which has focussed on cicchetis (pronounced chi-ketees) from Venice, which are small plates, very high on flavour and made with fresh ingredients. These little bar snacks are traditionally served in bacaris, the local Venetian bars, and interestingly, at CinCin, are laid out on the menu not as per portion size, but pricing, with four options ranging from ₹ 190 to ₹490. Karyna Bajaj, CinCin’s founder, agrees with Makwana on the move to creative presentation, especially now that “feeding the camera before feeding oneself” has ensured that Instagram is quickly aware of whatever’s new on their menu.

As consumers in India become more experimentative and in sync with global sensibilities, like sustainable cuisine and the use of local and hyper local ingredients, outlets like this are well in tune.

All that’s very well, you say, but what’s the meaning of life? Well if you want to know, you’ll just have to catch me on that O Pedro barstool sometime. Until then, tulleeho!

The writer is the co-founder and CEO of Tulleeho, a drinks training and consulting firm and founder-CEO of Bar X, a bar products retail venture. Follow him @tulleeho.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 9:52:32 AM |

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