Start with a legendary New York-based celebrity chef, his protégé, a young up-and-coming Culinary Institute of America graduate, and a dash of pioneering creativity. Add mood lighting and retro Hindi film tunes that hum sweetly in a nostalgic, old Bombay-style fit-out. Introduce a talented mixologist of French origin with a penchant for creative cocktails made with home-made syrups and freshly cut fruit. Shake it all up with a discerning crown and you get The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai’s hippest new hangout.

The good stuff

The Bombay Canteen marks chef Floyd Cardoz’s return to Indian cuisine. It’s been over five years since he helmed the kitchen at Tabla, the contemporary Indian restaurant by Danny Meyer, which shut in 2010 after being in business for 12 years on New York’s Madison Avenue. Together with chef Thomas Zacharias (formerly the executive chef of Olive Bar & Kitchen, Bandra), Cardoz has crafted an “India-inspired" menu that takes a simple, seasonal and sophisticated approach to regional Indian cooking.

The 4,000 sq. ft space, designed by The Busride Design Studio, resembles a Gymkhana dining room, swish but not stiff, making it a top spot for either a meal or a post-work drink. One half of a stylish, art deco glass enclosure comprises ink-blue leather booths and polished dining tables, while the other half houses a rustic bar with a large communal counter.

The Chintus.
The Chintus.

The appetizers are further divided into tapas-style Chhotas (salads, tacos and toasts with a twist) and Peene Ke Saath, a list of bar nibbles like Arbi Tuk (deep-fried taro-root chaat; 150), Khatta Meetha Chicken Wings ( 250) with a jaggery and lime glaze, and Crispy Whole Mandeli Fry (golden anchovies; 200).

The desi Goan Pulled Pork Vindaloo tacos ( 250) made with methi theplas as a base prove that like Monaco biscuit, theplas can be eaten with just about anything. The Spicy Tamatar & Mungphali Salsa toast ( 100), topped with paneer (cottage cheese), isn’t as successful—but only because the topping is mushy. The spicy-sweet flavours are still lip-smacking. Don’t miss the smoky, melt-in-your-mouth Spiced Grilled Chicken Kaleji ( 150) skewers.

Local produce and indigenous veggies usually missing from restaurant menus are in the spotlight in the main course section titled Bada (single-serve dishes) and Patiala (dishes designed for large groups to share). Vegetarian options include Besan Ka Chilla ( 350) with a spicy, grilled turai (ridge gourd) and ash gourd filling; Multi-Grain Khichdi ( 350) with baingan bharta; and Hara Chana & Vatana “Bunny Pao" ( 350), a chhole-pao-like take on the bunny chow, which is served with a stainless steel spice box filled with chutneys and toppings like peanuts, onions and sev. The Patialas, only for carnivores, include a Milk Braised Kashmiri Raan ( 2,400), a Black Spiced Whole Roast Chicken ( 950) and a whole Andhra Chili Crab (subject to market price).

We were surprised, in a good way, to find meaty lotus-root pieces in our Sukkha Mutton ( 550) gravy of slow-cooked meat, and equally pleased with the catch of the day, a thick and fleshy sting ray, for our order of Banana Leaf Wrapped Roasted Fish ( 450) cooked in an aromatic tomato and coconut masala. We wiped both plates clean with Steamed Kokum Idiyappam ( 75) and Tingmo ( 75), a Tibetan steamed bread slathered with “ghaati" red chilli and garlic masala.

For dessert, float back on a nostalgic cloud to childhood treats—the Falooda Sundae ( 200) comes in a mason jar with strawberry jelly cubes, rose ice cream and sabza (basil seeds); the Ice Cream Sandwich ( 200) gets full marks for the house-baked dark chocolate “Bonbon" biscuits, filled with tulsi (holy basil) ice cream, and shortcrust pastry “Jim Jam" biscuits filled with chocolate ginger ice cream; and the Gulab Nut ( 200), a take on baba au rhum with a donut-shaped gulab jamun filled with an Old Monk-spiked pistachio cream.

The not-so-good

We visited the restaurant with two separate groups of diners and found that on both occasions the vegetarians weren’t nearly as excited about their appetizers and mains as their carnivorous counterparts. One complaint was that the mains (mostly made with veggies and missing protein), though bigger in portion size, weren’t very different in taste from the starters and left them craving something more substantial for dinner. Some of our cocktails, a Jhoom Jaam (made with pandan-infused vodka, orange bitters, apricot jam and white chocolate syrup; 425) and the Tar-Booze (vodka, watermelon juice, kala namak; 350) were made and served with too much crushed ice, diluting the drinks.

Talk plastic

A meal for two with two cocktails costs around 3,500.

The Bombay Canteen, Unit No. 1, Process House, Kamala Mills, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel (West). For reservations, call 022-49666666.

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