Chef Gresham Fernandes and Riyaaz Amlani make a powerful team. The culinary director and managing director of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality instinctively understand the pulse of a location, and together they have created a string of restaurants, cafés and bars, including Smoke House Deli, Stone Water Grill, SOCIAL, and the iconic Salt Water Cafe in Bandra, Mumbai.
After running for 15 successful years, Salt Water (as regulars called it) shut shop last month. Within weeks, it was replaced by the brand new experimental restaurant-and-bar space Bandra Born, which opened last week.
The founders describe it as a “culinary playground”, currently hosting a 12-week food pop-up by Fernandes. Playful and studiedly casual, the dinner-only food, bar and “occasional dance floor” is decorated with a touch of grunge and stands out in a Bandra neighbourhood crowded with cute cafés.
The kitchen is helmed by the talented Fernandes, cocktails have been developed by bar consultant Pankaj Balachandran and the space reflects the spirit of Amlani, who knows how to throw a good party. The menu encompasses facets that have shaped Fernandes’ culinary style: love for his grandmother’s food; education in the French approach to cooking at Mumbai’s Rizvi College of Hotel Management, upskilling at Noma in Copenhagen, and an abiding interest in Asian ingredients and Japanese craftsmanship. After over two decades in professional kitchens, he now just wants to have fun.
Consider the dish Beets Meat. The menu simply says seasonal greens and crispy chilli oil. When the dish arrives, the meaty roasted beets are placed on fermented cream flavoured with lime, topped with apple slices, flecked with oxalis leaves and dotted with chilli oil. It is made up of layers of flavours and textures. The dish has a connect with his childhood. Growing up, he used to play football in Bandra and oxalis would grow wild in the football field. He recalls munching on it. But it was only at Noma that he learnt it could be used to cook. “We used to eat it then but we became chefs and forgot about it,” he says, explaining why Bandra Born is about returning to his roots.
The food cannot be pinned to a particular cuisine. It’s high on flavour, or, as the chef says, “like a party in your mouth”, and is served in an unpretentious manner in steel and aluminium plates. The drinks menu, with cocktails, beer and zero-alcohol options, is an ode to Bandra, with drinks like Buzz Bazaar (gin, guava saccharum, coriander and jalapeño) that has ingredients which can be bought on the neighbouring Bazaar Road.
This approach of creating a 12-week pop-up could be a teaser for things to come. It could be a pilot to ascertain if the concept will work. Or, it could be a way to say that they break free of set dining formats and seek change, bending the norms of how restaurants are run. Fernandes used the term “vanguards” to describe what they are doing. So, what will happen after 12 weeks? Stay tuned, he says.
As the food is placed on the tables and the drinks flow, Fernandes sometimes heads to the DJ console to play his favourite techno tunes. The interiors, with neon lighting, graffiti on the wall and posters on the stairway, are designed to make the space look like an underground party place or a speakeasy bar. A graffiti on a seat reads “Stay true”, echoing what the team is attempting to do.