Small wonders3 min read . Updated: 29 Jan 2010, 10:57 PM IST
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.
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.
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".
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.