After rumours flying thick for over a year, Rahul Akerkar has launched his new restaurant Qualia in Mumbai. Named after the philosophical concept “qualia”, which refers to the essence of sensory experiences, the restaurant, which opened on 18 April, in Lower Parel, eludes easy categorization and instead brings together a collection of stories, flavours, textures, layers, depths and visuals. “The cuisine is modern,” says Akerkar, and that is pretty much his only concession to watertight definitions. Take, for example, one of the dishes on the menu—a yellowfin tuna loin with a curry leaf and sesame rub, avocado pachadi and pickled beets. The surprising mix of flavours draws on the chef’s travels to Kerala, a newfound penchant for pickling and his training in European cuisine.
“When an artist creates a painting, they sometimes put elements together just because they look aesthetically pleasing. It’s the same for me as I work on a dish. If I’m creating, for example, a tuna dish, I have a sense what it tastes like. Thereafter it’s an evolutionary process about what would go well with the tuna and taste good,” says Akerkar. It is this bold and unscripted approach to food that has made him a game-changer in the culinary world since he opened his first restaurant, Indigo, in Mumbai in 1999. Although it has been four years since Akerkar left deGustibus Hospitality, the company he started in 1996 to run his various F&B brands, the chef has been exploring new culinary directions. “Qualia is an extension of everything I’ve been working on for a long time now. I’ve looked at a lot of pickling and fermenting because they’re old traditions with plenty of health benefits and the ability to make a dish better. I like to look at Qualia the way one looks at pickling—ingredients that you pickle change over time just as my culinary journey has changed over the years,” says Akerkar.
Modern fine dining was virtually non-existent in the country in the 1990s and instead of playing it safe, Akerkar challenged his guests at Indigo by serving dishes like a delicate lobster bisque, pasta done al dente and a savoury Camembert cheese soufflé. In the 20 years since, how India eats out and views fine dining has evolved in a big way. And over the years, Akerkar has managed to keep his finger on the pulse of things and followed the rise of modern Indian cuisine and a return to seasonal and local ingredients. The chef’s keen understanding of what makes for a complete dining experience, right from the design of the space to the food and drink, has been consistent. He believes that not every bite is perfect and is a mix of permutations on the plate. “For a dish to work every bite has to have that balance and all the elements of sweet, sour, salty, bitter as well as crispy, soft and crunchy textures have to be satisfied,” he says.
All eyes are on Akerkar to see whether he will continue to break new ground. And if all the praise on social media by restaurateurs and chefs is anything to go by, Qualia does come with the promise of new sensory experiences.
Qualia is open from 6.30pm-1am through the week and a meal for two costs ₹2,500, plus taxes.