The East rises in South Mumbai

Three new pan-Asian restaurants opened in Colaba in the last two months

About four years ago I wrote about how Colaba, and the areas around Kala Ghoda, were once again becoming a dining destination. Since then, the number of restaurants opening has been increasing at a steady pace.

Till about 2010 – 2012 there’d be maybe one, maximum two, restaurants opening in the neighbourhood – usually small ones. But suddenly in the last five years, there are at least 6-7 restaurants a year.

That’s not a lot considering that’s how many open in Bandra or Kamala Mills in a month, or a week. But in South Bombay, that works out to almost a 500% increase every year. There are a couple of distinguishing factors: almost all of these are on the higher end of the spectrum, they’re usually bigger spaces, and these are more food-focussed places than mood-focussed.

One sub trend that I’ve noticed within this larger trend is the proliferation of Asian restaurants. Just in Colaba, seven Asian restaurants have opened in the last 18 months. Thai Baan and Lemon Leaf are proper sit-down restaurants and then there’s Bao House and Eastside Story which are delivery-only outlets.

Between February and March alone three new restaurants opened. Kuai Kitchen and Jia which are owned by Neville Vazifdar of Royal China and then there’s Zorawar Kalra’s Pa Pa Ya. The east has risen in the south this year.

Pa Pa Ya

Chorizo takoyaki with parmesan tuile, Pa Pa Ya, Colaba
Chorizo takoyaki with parmesan tuile

Opened in the space previously occupied by Indus Bar at the corner of Hotel Diplomat, behind the Taj, the second branch of the Modern Asian  restaurant is comparatively much bigger than the original at Palladium. A ground plus one, the downstairs is more of a lounge area with the bar, high tables and bar stools while the upstairs has an inner and outer dining room. I liked two things about the space, firstly it was lit brightly enough for me to see my food and secondly the music wasn’t too loud; you could easily have a conversation.

There are some modernist cuisine techniques in the food, but the main focus is on reinterpreting Asian classics, bringing theatre and spectacle to the table and incorporating global influences. Their chorizo takoyaki, for instance, is an interesting adaptation the classic Japanese snack. The original takoyaki primarily contains chopped grilled octopus, Pa Pa Ya’s version adds chopped chorizo for a mildly piquant hit. Pan-fried in a special takoyaki pan, the balls are topped with lashings of mayo and bonito flakes and a parmesan tuile.

Some of the other dishes I liked were the Korean-style barbecue-chicken-filled buns; the steamed translucent pok choy and mushroom dumplings which are served on crisp rice sheets with a spicy Tibetan dressing and whole garlic pickle; and the liquid hazelnut fondant cake. The stodginess of the rice left us quite disappointed with the sushi.

One of their signature dishes is the Malaysian peanut-crusted ikan bakar. In the cavity of a whole deboned fish are placed chunks of the flesh that have been charcoal-grilled then batter coated. At the table, it’s flambéed with absinthe and topped with an Indonesian nyonya curry.

Hotel Diplomat, 24 – 26, B.K Boman Behram Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba

Jia The Oriental Kitchen

Honeycomb design on the ceiling, Jia, MumbaiWhile most restaurants have clear-glass doors inviting passers-by to catch a glimpse of the action inside, Jia’s frosted door present an air of privacy, of reserve. Inside, it’s quiet and sedate; focussed lighting brightens up each table and bathes the restaurant in a soft afterglow. Unlike Royal China which is buzzy and noisy, little ponds of conversation accumulate around the diners here. A white honeycomb design covers the high ceiling of the main dining room.

Downstairs dining area, Jia, MumbaiJia, which means family, represents the Vazifdar’s foray into modern Japanese and Chinese. Free of the constraints of traditional Cantonese, the flavours here are bolder and the plating more dramatic.

We started out with what’s turning out to be a popular dish at most modern Asian restaurants – the salmon carpaccio. Thin slices of salmon each come topped with a slice of chilli, dressed in a tart, nutty ponzu sauce and in the centre is arranged a crunchy seaweed salad.

Then came a gorgeous crispy duck salad with shredded duck built up into a column, topped with a tangy micro green salad and accompanied by grapefruit and pine nuts. I think that’s going to become their signature dishes.

The hamachi and maguro nigiri made with fresh fish and perfectly cooked rice are excellent. Other dishes worth trying are the sweet and flaky, baked mock chicken puff; the plump and light edamame dumpling with truffle oil; the juicy tenderloin with hoisin sauce and batter-fried inoki mushroom and the simple, but elegant, egg fried rice.

While I quite liked the straightforward whisky sour, it was the mango and gin cocktail flavoured with green cardamom, amaretto syrup and angostura bitters that really caught my attention. It tasted like a spiked liquid mango shrikhand.

The mood and the food at Jia are very different from Royal China, if you’re a fan of the latter you probably won’t like the former.

2, Dhanraj Mahal, C. S. Marg, Colaba, Mumbai
022 6156 2222

Kuai Kitchen

Dynamite prawns, Kuai Kitchen, Colaba
Dynamite prawns

For decades Aga Brothers at Cusrow Baug was an institution. It was where we all went for a Frankie (it was the brand’s second outlet in the city after they just opened), bhel and sev puri; for a cold, intensely syrupy glass of orange juice and for Friendly ice cream which had actual pieces of strawberry. I would imagine many a Parsi romance blossomed in this Spartan, tiny, room.

We were devastated when they shut down and Sufra opened only to be replaced by sister-brand Moshe’s soon after which didn’t last too long either.

Kuai Kitchen fortunately seems to have found a place in Colaba’s heart. Kuai means ‘fast’ and the moderately-priced, quick service restaurant offers a surprisingly extensive menu which by and large consists of the familiar and popular. There’s nothing new, but everything is done very well.

I liked all the dim sum I tried: the prawn and chive dumpling, the truffle edamame dumpling , the barbecue chicken bao, then there was a dynamite prawns which was a fusion Asian version of a prawn cocktail, so batter fried prawns coated in a wasabi mayo on a bed of shredded iceberg. They’re doing modern, fun, Americanised sushi, not the traditional, classic sushi which I think is fine when you price something at 550 rupees for 6 pieces.

Oddly enough, one of the dishes I most enjoyed was the veg hakka noodles. And what made it so memorable was the quality of the noodles. In most places, the noodles are overcooked and the topping tends to overwhelm the taste of the noodle. Here, the veg noodles were firm and full of flavour in themselves and that’s because they make the noodles in-house. With multiple restaurants across the country, the Royal China group have set up their own unit and the noodles are far superior to anything store-bought or mass produced.

Chinese desserts are usually the worst thing on the menu, but the chocolate wontons at Kuai were delightful. Puffy, crisp but really light, they were lightly smeared with chocolate on the inside and served with a small bowl of chocolate sauce.

In the short time that it’s opened, Kuai has already turned into our go-to place for an Asian meal. The partner-in-dine has already been back six times and should they start a membership card, they really should consider offering her the first one!

16/A, Cusrow Baug, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Colaba
022 22830692/ 0694

2 replies to “The East rises in South Mumbai

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