Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > Food> Discover > Nostalgia takes centre stage at this chef’s table

Nostalgia takes centre stage at this chef’s table

A 12-seater chef’s counter restaurant opens in Mumbai to reimagine fine dining

Chef Hussain Shahzad behind the counter at Papa's Mumbai.
Chef Hussain Shahzad behind the counter at Papa's Mumbai.

At the newly opened Papa’s in Mumbai, guests are served a dish named Bugs Bunny—tender rabbit meat coated with weaver ant tare, a marinade made with soy sauce—and told to eat it like a roll, wrapped in jowar pita bread. It is paired with a spicy amla (Indian gooseberry) kosho, which is a Japanese condiment. It ticks off everything that modern Indian, chef-driven menus represent: Indian ingredients reimagined in different forms, accompanied by a backstory and served with a casual approach—use your hands, no spoons or forks required.

Also read | New food buzz in Goa's Latin Quarter

This dish was part of a multi-course menu at the 12-seater restaurant—the newest offering by the hospitality company Hunger Inc—which opens for service today. At Papa’s, diners sit across a u-shaped counter as chef Hussain Shahzad dishes out nostalgia and thayir sadam (curd rice) with pickle from the Tamil Nadu-based food brand Mylapore Ganapathy. The chef who grew up in Chennai, and polished his culinary chops in New York, says, “This is fine dining for me. You will find everything from thayir sadam to caviar.”

The concept of a chef’s counter restaurant is a first in Mumbai. It’s an intimate space with the menu encapsulating the chef’s creativity as diners interact with the chef and witness dishes being assembled.

The restaurant is a coming together of three components. The first is the food. The second is the team’s abiding love for their former mentor and co-founder of Hunger Inc., the late chef Floyd Cardoz. The team called him papaji, which inspired the name Papa’s. The third aspect is that the experience unlocks the possibilities of what a fine dining restaurant could be in Mumbai.

Diners want to be delighted and surprised in a comfortable and convivial setting. The interiors and minor details of the place reflect the warmth of a vintage home with black and white photos, ikat coasters and kantha napkins. I was sitting facing an AC vent and felt cold. In a nice touch, Hunger Inc co-founder Yash Bhanage brought out a shawl.

While Shahzad is the most familiar name, the cocktail menu is the brainchild of beverage consultant company Countertop India. From the drinks menu, try the mildly savoury Vieux Carré (cream-washed whisky, brandy, grape, paprika and sumac) which leaves a hint of spice. Restaurant manager Madhusudan Kashyap is the man behind the wine list. He served a gentle Sauvignon Blanc, rich with perfume of green melon, named Attitude by wine maker Pascal Jolivet from Loire Valley in France.

Every course is peppered with stories. For instance, the team planned a rabbit course, and Bhanage wanted to call it Bugs Bunny. It led to an experiment with bugs, which resulted in the weaver ant tare. There is a duck biryani—Shahzad is a Bohri Muslim and it would be a shame if there’s no biryani—with crispy flavour-rich bits of rice (kurchan) that stick to the bottom of the vessel in which it’s cooked. Shahzad also served a dish named “Rasam” with trout, watermelon, lime leaf and roe. The trout was sliced into sashimi-like pieces and allowed to soak in the cold rasam flavoured with watermelon and lime leaf. The flavours were clean and pure. It was Shahzad’s ode to Cardoz.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air. The chef can also relax. He is enjoying himself, curating the playlist and sharing jokes with diners,” notes Raaj Sanghvi, the chief executive officer of the restaurant awards platform Culinary Culture. He says chef’s counter restaurants originated in Japan and travelled around the world. “At such places, you are not just paying for the food; you are also paying to spend time with the chef.”

He is right. In Mumbai, if food is the new music, chefs are the new rockstars.

Also read | Bengaluru bars get intimate


Next Story