When you make a reservation at NĀVU, which translates to us in Kannada, you are told to look for the yellow canopy on the first floor, a cheerful landmark that sets the tone for the meal you will experience. When you are handed the menu, you will be forgiven for turning it over to look for more. It’s just one page. The first dish–Cauliflower Crème Brulee–instantly catches your attention. It brings together leeks, truffle oil and candied walnuts. It plays tricks on your mind–are you having something savoury, or a dessert, or is this savoury dessert? I just surrendered to the textures and flavours that were familiar, yet presented in a way I couldn’t imagine would taste so good.
Chef Partners Kanishka Sharma and Pallavi Mithika Menon opened doors to NĀVU in June this year. “Our crème brulee is one of the stars on the menu,” says Sharma. “We always wanted to create a savoury version of a dessert and worked our way to it”. Menon pipes in by saying that there have been studies on flavour chemistry and how ingredients like cauliflower, walnut, truffle, leeks and onions all go together. After trying the dish, as a diner, I would certainly agree that it all comes together wonderfully. “A lot of people have whispered to me that the dish is on the wrong part of the menu, and we assured them that it is absolutely on the right side!” says Sharma.
In a city like Bengaluru, dining out options are often templatised–there is pub grub, popular cuisine-specific restaurants and a prolific café culture. On such a diverse spectrum, there is NĀVU which is a bistro-style restaurant that catches your attention with its menu from the word go. The dishes sound familiar, like the Beef and Mangosteen salad that I had off the blackboard menu, but its treatment—the pairing of seasonal Mangosteen fruit with fork-tender beef, the bite from chilli and the freshness of mint—is what makes it stand apart.
When I visited with my family to celebrate an occasion, we dined on Roasted Parsnips, Beef Tataki, Spinach Agnolotti and NĀVU Quiche. Each plate was beautiful to see, hearty and packed with flavours such that only restaurant etiquette would stop you from licking the plates. Each dish had a sense of familiarity, fresh seasonal produce and a touch of creativity that this duo is known for.
Sharma and Menon’s culinary journey is one that saw the coming together of two food professionals with different backgrounds in food, but similar culinary experiences. They conceptualised and executed supper clubs, ran a hectic catering business, created limited takeaway menus during the pandemic, pivoted to taking over operations of the restaurant at Bangalore International Centre (BIC) and finally took the plunge to open a space of their own. If there is one thing they have done, it has been to experiment with a multitude of dining formats. And for folks like me, who have followed this journey, one brilliant meal to another, NĀVU is the perfect culmination of all their efforts over the years.
Sharma began her Supper Club in 2016 after spending around 15 years in the pickling and preservation food business, largely in Tamil Nadu. “I am a self-taught chef (having studied business and journalism) and the idea for a supper club was always there, but life and circumstances had me take the longer route,” says Sharma, who also had a catering business alongside.
Menon says that she hasn’t been able to answer the question of what got her interested in food professionally. “I have a deep interest in the subjects that surround food, which I don’t think comes naturally to me. I followed my Bachelor’s degree at IIHM Aurangabad with a Master at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy in human ecology and sustainability. I have worked at several places from the erstwhile Zodiac Grill at Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai to Caara and Ek Bar in New Delhi and Caperberry in Bengaluru. But, I am still on the path to discovering why I do what I do”.
Sharma and Menon met a couple of times at various food forums over the years. In 2019, Menon cooked at Sharma’s supper club for the first time. She went on to pitch in with the catering business too. Soon, the duo decided to work together and the rest is history that leads up to NĀVU.
“We wanted to elevate the level of casual dining in the city. You shouldn’t have to spend thousands of rupees to get a good cut of meat and a sauce,” says Menon. “People travel and bring back memories of what they have eaten, but settle for something simple like French fries at a casual dining space. That’s not the standard we want to establish. We want you to eat what you want to eat like you would in any other part of the world. And if we serve you fried potatoes, it will be our way of doing it," she adds.
“We draw from several inspirations – music, travel, stories and books and we have also realised that we like retro food. Our wish has always been to pull that retro food from the past into the present, modernise, yet not to forget its story,” says Sharma.
Menon adds that at NĀVU cuisine is secondary. “There is a flex of European, French and Italian and a lot of Nordic influences in the way we treat our meats. There are also Middle Eastern and Asian influences. We wanted to create the kind of food we look for when we go out to eat. Classic bistro food with hearty, good ingredients that you can have every day at an affordable price.”
The only thing the women behind NĀVU ask of a diner—surrender as soon as you come through the door. Don’t order pasta because you are familiar with it, but do so because it sounds different to you. What’s the worst that can happen— you won’t like it. But at least you would have tried something new!
And on that note, what I do want to try off the menu on my next visit is the Pissaladière described on the menu as a French provincial tart with briny sardines, sweet caramelised onions, chunky tomato jam and Kalamata olives.
Average price for two: ₹ 2500
Address: 32, Patel Rama Reddy Rd, K.R.Colony, Domlur I Stage, 1st Stage, Domlur, Bengaluru, 560071
Contact details: They are currently open for dinner in 2 slots – 7pm and 9pm. No alcohol is served. Reservations can be made on: bookings.airmenus.in/navuproject/order
Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a features journalist based in Bengaluru.