The many cooks of Colaba
Two established hospitality groups are joining forces to further south Mumbai's culinary revival with a new South-East Asian restaurant, Miss T
Mandlik Road, an unassuming bylane in Mumbai’s tourist hub Colaba, once drew attention for hosting two iconic south Mumbai eateries: Indigo, one of the city’s earliest stand-alone fine-dining establishments, which opened in 1999; and Nikhil Chib’s South-East Asian diner Busaba, housed in a charming old bungalow, which soon became one of the city’s trendiest restaurants. Both restaurants eventually shuttered, and over time, Mandlik Road came to see fewer visitors.
Now, two Mumbai-based restaurant groups with a special affinity for the neighbourhood have come together to restore the street’s culinary appeal. “We want to be a part of the Colaba story," says Abhishek Honawar, who founded F&B company Neighbourhood Hospitality with friends Pankil Shah and Sumit Gambhir in 2006. Their restaurants include the gastropub chain Woodside Inn; The Pantry, a trendy organic café in Kala Ghoda; and a new Indian resto-bar, Bombay Vintage. “We already have three restaurants in the area, and we’d happily open five more, now that the explosion (of restaurants) in Lower Parel is settling down, and Colaba is definitely witnessing a revival."
When the bungalow that housed Busaba was left vacant, Honawar and team decided to partner with longtime friends Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf of the hospitality group Food Matters. The duo own another Colaba favourite, The Table, and Magazine Street Kitchen, an experimental co-cooking and dining space. Their new venture, Miss T, is a South-East Asian restaurant that’s set to open its doors in the first week of August. “We recognize that Indians have an affinity to Asian food," says Devidayal when we meet a few weeks before opening night. The two-storey bungalow is in the midst of a makeover, spirits are being arranged behind a chic T-shaped bar, and figures are bent in busy huddles. “Generally, pan-Asian cuisine is focused on Japanese, Chinese or Thai, but our menu is inspired by the Asian Golden Triangle—Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia," says Devidayal. The menu will include regional delicacies, such as the Burmese Pickled Tea Leaf Salad and Salmon Larb with Sushi Rice from Thailand. Perhaps the most exciting name in Miss T’s list of collaborators is consulting chef Bawmra Jap, a Burmese cuisine specialist whose popular Goan restaurant Bomra’s has won a loyal clientele, including author Amitav Ghosh, who splits his time between the US and Goa. Also lending his expertise to the team is Vietnamese chef Duc Tran of Mango Mango in Hoi An, Vietnam.
The restaurant’s interiors are in keeping with what Devidayal calls the new look of fine dining—dressed up plates in a laid-back atmosphere. There are cosy booths, a lively bar managed by a team from Hong Kong, Proof & Company, and a more subdued upper floor with soft natural lighting, suited for private dining and daytime meals. “The traditional idea of fine dining is changing—it’s not dying, just taking on a different feel. Restaurants are upping the level of food and beverage quality but toning down the formality," says Devidayal.
The closure of old-timers like Indigo is evidence that legacy no longer guarantees longevity in the business. Even well-established chains like Woodside Inn, Honawar says, need to routinely entice a new generation of customers. “They should be excited about what you’re doing today. We built (Woodside Inn) in 2007—when (young people) used to drink in some obscure shady bar, or cars and parking garages. So we wanted to create an experience where adults, 21 and above, could spend time in an atmosphere that was casual. That fundamental has never changed. How we (remain) relevant today is with what we’re offering—10 years ago, most people were drinking Kingfisher draught beer but now we’re pioneering the craft beer movement (in Mumbai)," he says. Woodside Inn was among the first pubs in Mumbai to serve craft beer.
The coming together of two established groups is a rarity in the highly competitive restaurant business, says Devidayal, and that’s a shame. “We’ve turned this place around faster than we expected—just six months. The pace has only been possible because we’ve had all our collective resources pooled in." Their big learning from merging into a five-member team has been that many cooks can occasionally boost efficiency, and make better business sense. “At the end of the day, in Mumbai, commercials are very high. This way we can pivot and restrategize faster. I think it’s the way forward," says Honawar.