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From ceviche to chilli chicken

Foo, the Mumbai-based Tham brothers' latest offering, hopes to expand the Pan-Asian dining experience

Keenan (left) and Ryan Tham at Foo, their new Asian tapas restaurant in Mumbai.
Keenan (left) and Ryan Tham at Foo, their new Asian tapas restaurant in Mumbai.

Navigate the monsoon drizzle and thronging shoppers at High Street Phoenix in Mumbai’s Lower Parel and you will arrive at a courtyard filled with restaurants. The mall complex is the trendy new dining address in the city. Here, chain brands and QSR (Quick Service Restaurants) outlets of McDonald’s and Subway rub shoulders with concept spaces like an all-day wine bar, Indian fusion food and a modern Parsi café, among others. One of the newest entrants in this space is Foo, an Asian tapas restaurant and bar. It is a collaboration between the Tham brothers (who have been associated with iconic restaurants and nightlife venues like Henry Tham’s, Trilogy, The Good Wife and Koko) and Kishore D.F. (of Sassy Spoon, WTF and Big Nasty fame).

For Ryan and Keenan Tham, this is their first foray into a mall and an experiment with a new value-oriented dining format, one that will spearhead their expansion across the country. “As a company we are in our growth phase. Foo is a brand we want to scale up. A mall offers a varied demographic in one space and we have tied up with the Phoenix group to take the brand to different cities," says Keenan. In fact, there are plans underway to launch five more outlets of Foo in Mumbai itself.

The interiors of Foo.

Although Foo is more affordable compared to their more premium brands like The Good Wife or Koko, the brothers argue that Foo also offers a similar aspirational experience while taking it to a wider audience. Foo offers a hip alternative to the pre-liberalization-era Chinese restaurants with tasselled lamps, where dinner was largely a starch-heavy meal of rice/noodles and thick gravies. And although these restaurants continue to cash in on nostalgia and Indian-Chinese menus, there is space for something different. “The first-generation Chinese wanted to make authentic food for their community. Today the whole game has changed. Customers are evolving and are more well-travelled and have eaten across the world. We want to give them a similar authentic experience here," says Ryan. Foo fashions itself as an Asian tapas restaurant with over 100 small plates on offer. It also challenges the greasy perception of Chinese food by offering steamed baskets of okra, sweet potato, snapper, chicken and salads. This apart, there is sushi which is removed from the traditional maki and sashimi and is instead inspired by Nikkei cuisine, which is a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese styles and an explosion of flavours with more sauces and toppings. Dimsum come in options like wasabi truffle edamame or the striking charcoal har-gow (shrimp dumplings). At the same time, Foo’s menu offers a range that is accessible to a wider audience, with everything from a classic chilli chicken to ceviche. Although there is a section featuring big plates as well, this is a far more limited menu. There is a spiffy bar menu put together by Dimitri Lezinska, of Discovery Channel’s Cocktail Kings fame and the man behind Koko’s excellent tipples. Expect drinks like a Yuzu Negroni and a Toni Bee crafted out of beetroot gin.

Black sesame cheesecake.
Black sesame cheesecake.

The Thams are among the first families of Chinese food in Mumbai. Back in 1962, Tham Mon Yiu moved to Mumbai from Kolkata and set up Kokwah, one of the three Chinese restaurants in the city back then. Kokwah reopened as Mandarin, which soon became a Colaba favourite catering to the South Bombaywallas as well as the Chinese community in the city with their traditional offerings. Yiu also partnered with Tulun Terence Chen to open Kamling at Churchgate. Each successive generation of the family helped expand the brand, bringing something new to the table. Yiu’s son, Henry Tham, transformed Mandarin and reinvented Chinese food as a more elegant dining affair in his eponymous restaurant. Henry Tham’s got yet another makeover as his sons Ryan and Keenan infused it with a new vibe—Chinese food was paired with cocktails and house music. The restaurant flourished till 2004 when it finally downed its shutters. Henry Tham’s was a precursor to the brothers’ foray into the nightclub space with Trilogy. Perhaps the most successful restaurants operated by the Tham brothers are The Good Wife and Koko. Both are mixed-use spaces and can segue from an all-day diner to a Friday night party spot with ease. And Foo is the latest in this tried and tested Tham format. “We feel that for today’s audience a night out means a good mix of food, drinks and ambience," says Keenan.

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