Not all who wander Ballard Estate are lost; only the few trawling its sleepy by-lanes for a forgotten ice factory. Part of this ice factory, purportedly one of Asia’s oldest, is now home to a hip new restaurant, The Clearing House, set up by Rishad Nathani, former director of Colaba fine-dine mainstay Indigo. The restaurant is divided into two sections—a sunlit foyer for lunch and a more sombre chamber for the evenings.

The Clearing House quinoa salad with maple roasted pumpkin.
The Clearing House quinoa salad with maple roasted pumpkin.

The good stuff

Chef Nitin Kulkarni, also an Indigo alumnus, runs a sophisticated, if safe kitchen. The menu is that amorphous entity called contemporary world cuisine—comfort luxe, if you will—that Indigo did so well. Familiar western flavours are given the eastern treatment—a wash of teriyaki sauce, a sprinkle of edamame, a touch of kimchi. Some of the small plates – they make up about 70% of the menu— showcased this well, like the Paprika Spiced Lamb Tacos (Rs 650) that folded melt-in-your-mouth lamb into thin, crisp shells. The Edamame and Chestnut Dim Sum (Rs650) floated in an exquisite parmesan truffle broth; we would have swum its umami depths if we could. In the large plates, a plump 5 Spiced Duck Breast (Rs1250) was sticky on the outside, pink and glistening on the inside and served with the silkiest cauliflower mash—that dish got almost everything right.

As did the dessert menu, helmed by ex-Ellipsis pastry chef Husna Jumani. A sober Honey Flan (Rs450) was lifted with crunchy bits of honeycomb and the zing of balsamic drizzled figs; a Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwich (Rs450) became irresistible when paired with peanut butter ice cream and a hint of salted caramel. We can, and will eat a whole bowl of that.

The not-so-good

For all its attempts at sophistication, there a serial melancholy in every plate that comes out of the kitchen. No ingredients sing, no flavours jump out, nothing is particularly exciting. That safe Indigo menu may have worked three years ago; today, Mumbai’s palate demands adventure. And not the kind found in the gritty edamame and water chestnut puree in the unfortunate dumplings. Nor the searing ginger juice in the Ginger and Pear Martini (Rs500) that lit up our throats like it was Diwali again. Not the kind of surprise that the stringy asparagus pulled in the Shaved Asparagus with Water Chestnuts salad (Rs585). You want to ask them why they thought a soggy brioche was a good base for expensive lobster. Or why there’s a sullen skin on the lobster bisque. Or why tasteless edamame was snuck into everything. Or, most importantly, why they didn’t do away with the large plates altogether, a menu so boring our eyes glazed over and we went back to the small plates.

The service was soporific to match. Everything required at least three requests before it was carried out, from fixing a wobbly table to getting us menus. Questions about dishes were met with blank smiles and much mumbling before a recalcitrant maître’d stepped in. We left the restaurant, in the end, as melancholy as the meal, and missing Indigo’s joie de vivre.

Talk plastic

A meal for two with two drinks and with four small plates, one main and one dessert costs 6437.

The Clearing House, 13-15, Calicut Rd, Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001, (6223 2266/ 67). Open from noon to 3 pm and 7pm to 1am.