Our meal starts with desi tacos: small methi theplas on which are arranged large spoonfuls of Goan pulled pork vindaloo, garnished with a cube of ivory white, crispy pork skin. Though the tartness and pungency of a vindaloo is barely discernible, the skin provides a welcome crunchiness. The tacos are absolutely delightful.
The launch of The Bombay Canteen (TBC) was highly anticipated, since one of the partners and the culinary director is celebrity Indian chef Floyd Cardoz. A Mumbai boy, Cardoz rose to fame as the executive chef of the highly acclaimed Indian restaurant Tabla in New York. TBC’s menu, developed in collaboration with executive chef Thomas Zacharias, is a playful combination of international ideas and familiar Indian foods.
A persistent yet delicate undercurrent of coriander and date chutney gives the chilled seafood bhel, made with squid, prawns, carrots and strips of mango murabba, its characteristic spicy-sweet edge. In the methi and arugula salad, the nuttiness of sesame, the smokiness of arugula and the slight bitterness of methi combine to make you finish every last spoon. Minus points for the generous use of peanuts in both salads, though.
It was extremely pleasing to see mandeli (golden anchovies) — a small fried fish widely served at dives and thali places in Mumbai — on the menu. The plump, batter-coated whole mandeli fry, served with home-made ketchup, was a little floury, but for a change you could taste the fish. For the ketchup, a coconut base would have been much better.
By incorporating Goa sausage into the filling, the South African street food bunny chow gets a local touch to become a choriz ‘ bunny pao’. The array of toppings like chopped onion and chilli, poha, toddy vinegar and micro greens is reminiscent of a Burmese khao suey. I liked the way all the disparate ideas and flavours melded together.
Gulab nut is an Old Monk-soaked doughnut with a pistachio cream filling that resembles a golf-ball-sized gulab jamun. The cult rum brand fans will love this dessert.
Not everything tastes good, though. The kekda masala on toast was a disaster; the topping didn’t taste at all of crab. The macaroni prawns, in a peppery, rasam-flavoured broth, will either evoke nostalgic memories or leave you utterly bewildered by the strange combination.
Overall, though, TBC is enjoyable, and not just because of its inventive food, efficient service and reasonable prices but because it’s a lovely space. The décor, with brick walls and Minton floor tiles, hints at a decaying bungalow. The large open room and Instagram filter-like lighting envelops you in laidback casualness.
Definitely a welcome addition to the Mumbai food scene.
Published HT, Mumbai; Saturday 28 Feb 2015