In the middle of one of Mumbai’s most beautiful open spaces, an old shell has been given a new interior. The heritage Tote building—the structure where the bets were placed—at the Royal Western India Turf Club at Mahalaxmi has a new owner. For a year and a half, Rahul Akerkar, one of the country’s best-known chefs, has been preparing a 25,000 sq. ft property on a scale he has not attempted before.
Tote, as the new restaurant, bar and set of banquet rooms is called, is the new member of the deGustibus Hospitality family (headed by Rahul and wife Malini), which includes Indigo, Indigo Deli, Indigo Café and The Moveable Feast, a catering venture.
Shaded spot: White metal ‘trees’ and abstract-shaped skylights give the effect of walking down a forest path.
Established a decade ago, Indigo was Mumbai’s first stand-alone fine-dining restaurant, tempting diners in that segment to move away from five-star hotels. Tote, with a similar pricing strategy, takes that concept forward. Tote joins Gallops and the Olive Bar and Kitchen as the third restaurant on the race course property.
A few days before the launch, the colonial facade of the Tote building gives way to what looks like a bleached, enchanted forest. In the banqueting and indoor restaurant areas, white metal pillars branch out like trees as they reach the ceiling, creating the effect of walking down a forest path. Strategically placed skylights in abstract shapes, mimicking sunlight breaking through dense foliage, heighten that feeling. By contrast, the 40ft long bar upstairs is all dark chocolate wood. The faceted wood panels on the walls give the impression of looking through a kaleidoscope, or at paper that was folded to make an origami figure and then opened out. The original cubbyhole-like windows, through which bets were placed, have been retained.
The restaurant is split into three areas—lounge seating on a veranda enclosed by glass panels; an indoor dining room sandwiched in between, and an alfresco space with the foliage of lush rain trees latticing the sky. This open-air section will house pits for a grill, tandoor and wood-fired ovens and tables sheltered by umbrellas. Chris Lee and Kapil Gupta of Serie Architects wanted to extend the feeling of being under the dense foliage of the rain trees into the building, which led to the tree-mimicking pillars.
Unlike Gallops’ Indian and continental fare, and Olive’s Mediterranean menu, Tote’s focus will be the grill. “Everybody likes smoke, fire and charcoal, so you can’t go wrong with that. And Bombay doesn’t have a hard-core grill,” says Rahul. Samplers from the grill menu: Grilled Baby Rawas, Grilled Mustard Chicken with Jus and Baby Red Snapper with Saffron and Tomato Jus.
Though there will be parallels between the food at Tote and Indigo, the wood-grill steaks at Tote will be a change from the gas-grilled steaks at Indigo and the Deli. “And here you can order a steak, and create your own plate by adding on different sides,” Rahul explains. There are at least 10 options for side orders to choose from, such as Caramelized Mushroom and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes.
Meats such as emu and rabbit, grilled portobello mushrooms, and pork chops and ribs imported from Germany are also a highlight. There are options for all-day dining, such as pizzas, burgers and light sandwiches. The bar offers mini-meals in the form of small tapas-like plates from different cuisines, such as Indian, Occidental and Oriental, as well as kebabs.
There’s a menu of sorts for the music as well. Malini wanted to create a specific sound, a concept similar to Paris’ Hotel Costes, or Café del Mar in Ibiza. That task was outsourced to deejays Nikhil Chinappa and Pearl, whose repertoire for Tote includes Afro-Latino percussive beats, Ibiza’s Balearic dance beats, the deep electronica of bars in Paris and Berlin and jazz-tinged House sounds similar to bars in London and New York.
Tote opens on 25 September.
A meal for two without alcohol will cost Rs1,500-2,000; with alcohol, Rs2,700 upwards. Call 022-61577777 for reservations.