At 77ft, Escobar has the longest bar in Mumbai, or so the owners claim. Located on the rooftop of a Bandra mall, the lounge and bar that opened this week has been designed keeping in mind those who love their food with their drink.
The wooden bar is wide enough to allow customers to comfortably set down plates and cutlery next to their drinks. The chef and owners decided on a tapas menu of vegetarian and non-vegetarian appetizers with influences from around the world. It’s not just bite-sized food pierced with toothpicks: Along with Lasooni Prawns there are chicken chimichangas, breaded calamari and water chestnut garlic pepper. Served in long, narrow, white dishes, the tapas come with colourful dips. There’s a large pizza oven right behind the bar for thin crust, crispy slices to be shared while cocktails are stirred.
Coal-fired: Kai Yang, a grilled chicken dish inspired by streetfood in Jakarta, at Ink. Photographs by Shreya Patil/Mint
Escobar is another sign of the growing evolution of bar snacks—from peanuts, popcorn and potato wafers to chicken tikka, wasabi peas and mezze platters. Owners and chefs at bars and lounges in Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi say as much thought goes into bar menus as into restaurant menus.
“When going out for a drink, good food is as important as good company,” says Olmo Fernandez, the Spanish restaurant manager of Tapas at Lodhi, the tapas bar at Aman, New Delhi.
“People prefer not to dine but nibble and graze. Bars and lounges have gone from jaali wafers to doing better things,” says Rahul Akerkar, owner and chef, Indigo, in Mumbai. He should know—the bar at his latest venture in Mumbai, Tote, is packed on weekends. Here, besides Kiwi Martinis, you can get Parma ham spring rolls with pickled vegetables, Spanish chorizo, dal gosht with brun pao, asparagus and onion profiteroles with mango pickle.
Aira, a lounge in Bangalore spread over two floors, is best known for its innovative Martinis but is as popular for the French Duck Tikka Kabab served with a tamarind chutney and the Rosemary-infused Tandoor Prawns served with Goan pickle. Besides, there are Cheese Cigarellos and some good old chaat, Delhi-style.
When the management of Blue Frog, a Mumbai restaurant and live music venue, decided to open the Grey Goose Lounge at their property next door, they knew the stars of the bar menu would be their innovative cocktails. But they were clear that the food to go with the drinks had to be as interesting. The lounge only serves a selection of amuse-bouches (literally meaning “amuse the mouth” in French, they are bite-sized servings to stimulate the palate). Along with your pomegranate, passion fruit and mint Martini, you can order fresh oysters that are rolled to you on a trolley, scooped out of their shells and served in Bloody Mary shots.
Bit by bit:The Smoked Salmon Olivette at Escobar is served in a Martini glass and below (back to front) Lamb Sliders, Avacado Rice Wrapper and Grilled Mini Lobster with Lychee Miso at Aurus.
Also try chef Mrigank Singh’s other creations at Grey Goose Lounge, such as the Pâté de Foie Gras on Sultana Bread with Cider Cognac Jelly and the Poached Lobster with Wasabi and Pickled Mango. The foot-long platters have a few pieces of four different canapes, meant to be shared by a group.
At Tote’s bar it’s about making dishes interesting and presenting them with the same sophistication as an entrée, but in smaller portions. Eating, while drinking, is about sharing with a group, so this is Akerkar’s formula for getting people to try more items.
Tabula Rasa, a lounge and restaurant in New Delhi, had also introduced the concept of the small plate before shutting down for renovation. It reopened recently as Ink bar and lounge and 400, a terrace grill and lounge. For Sohrab Sitaram, the owner of the bar, the nibbles he sends out of the kitchen have to be “creative, artistic and innovative enough to be conversation starters”.
At Ink, he has introduced a tapas menu with dishes such as Otak Otak, a Malaysian creation featuring fishcakes wrapped in banana leaf, and stir-fried vegetables served with nuts in a lettuce wrap. “People are so well travelled, it’s a different ball game now. Good food is sacrosanct, just as important as the music, lighting, ambience and the alcohol. It completes the entire experience,” he adds. While Ink’s tapas menu has influences from around the world, Tapas at Lodhi keeps it as authentically Spanish as it gets.
According to Spanish tradition, wine, laughter, friends and tapas all go hand in hand. For Fernandez, tapas is a way for chefs to show off their culinary skills. Since tapas, loosely translated, is supposed to be food served with alcohol, most bars have expanded the scope of tapas outside that of Spanish cuisine. While purists may cringe, now you can just as easily find Italian tapas or Japanese tapas. Valhalla, a business centre-cum-tapas lounge that opened in Mumbai last year, serves world cuisine-inspired tapas.
The prices of tapas at the lounge range between Rs300 and Rs625—the prices on the main course lunch menu are about the same. The platter of amuse-bouches at Grey Goose Lounge costs Rs800 for about 12 pieces.
Restaurateurs cite quality as justification for the prices. “We get the best ingredients we can find. That’s what we charge for. But we make sure they get their value for money or the customers won’t come back,” says Singh.
It’s as important for the canapes to suit the pocket, as it is for them to suit the drink. The flavours of the food should not clash with the taste of the alcohol or vice-versa. At Grey Goose Lounge the canapes are made using fresh ingredients that don’t overpower the senses.
Singh also designs dishes that will feel dry so as to complement the need for the accompanying drink. “I use bread as a base. Starch also makes one thirsty,” he says. The smoky flavour of the tandoor always works well with alcohol, especially beer and whisky. Fernandez suggests pairing seafood tapas with sherry and vodka cocktails and full-bodied red wines with red meat.
While designing a bar menu is more fun for chefs, there are a few things to keep in mind. Chef Vicky Ratnani of Aurus, one of Mumbai’s most popular beach-facing lounges, says: “They should be non-messy. Since the food is mostly eaten standing up, it should not require much cutlery. Finger food is the best.”
At Aurus, there are starters served in Martini glasses, shot glasses and on spoons.
“It’s great fun to create a bar menu. You get to play with ingredients, crockery, presentation, cooking styles. There’s no genre and there are no limitations to creativity,” he adds.
Pavitra Jayaraman contributed to this story.