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Lounge review: Garde Manger & Estella, Mumbai

Yet another 'health food cafe' in Mumbai (but its main draw is waffles!) and a new fine-dining place that claims to serve 'modern Australian' cuisine, but doesn't

Blueberry and lavender Viennese shortbread with rose petal panna cotta at Estelle.
Blueberry and lavender Viennese shortbread with rose petal panna cotta at Estelle.

The world may be embracing the “fat is good" movement, but Mumbai hasn’t got the memo yet. Just look at the number of health food cafés popping up every day, promising low-fat, low-GI (glycaemic index, which calculates the impact of foods on blood glucose levels) and, often, low-taste alternatives to regular food. All-veg Garde Manger in Vile Parle, Mumbai, takes a valiant stab at the former and only occasionally slips into the latter category.

The good stuff

In a neighbourhood known for its calorific delights—deep-fried bombil at Gajalee is a hop away and a Natural ice-cream parlour winks at you from right next door—this little café, with a menu vetted by a dietitian, is a welcome addition. Garde Manger indicates a cold pantry in French, and the menu leans heavily in that direction, with most of its space taken by salads, smoothies and cold-pressed juices. Bhelpuri gets a salad makeover in the Mumbai Local (Rs100 for two cones), where chickpeas, paneer, tomato and onion get only a smattering of puffed rice for crunch. Served in banana-fibre cones (and topped inexplicably with liquid nitrogen), it has all the taste of the Juhu beach snack, with none of the worry about hygiene. An Italian Caprese (Rs350) shows up in a shot glass, with cherry tomatoes, bocconcini and basil speared on a tiny skewer. If you’re around for breakfast—or any meal, really—skip the Cous Cous Upma (Rs325) and opt for a smoothie instead. The Muesli Peanut (Rs180) was practically a pud—a thick shake of granola, peanut butter, honey and soy milk that you could, and should, eat with a spoon. We couldn’t get enough. Equally delicious, and we’re hoping guilt-free, were the Fruit Popsicles (Rs50), where instead of icy sorbets you have creamy fresh-fruit shakes on sticks.

The not so good

If you’re putting trendy superfoods on the menu, it stands to reason that they should be the stars of their namesake dishes. But a Zesty Quinoa Salad (Rs240) comes padded heavily with lettuce—the quinoa as window dressing. Similarly, a Black Rice Salad (Rs350) buries the nutty, chewy goodness of the rice under an avalanche of shredded red cabbage.

And for a café that prides itself on its health food, the thing that seemed to be drawing people in droves to it was the multigrain waffle. Whatever healthy quotient it may have had, it’s obliterated under a blanket of sweet milk and dark chocolate. It’s a small gripe but maybe we’re missing the master plan here—bait people with the waffles, make them stay for the smoothies.

Multigrain chocolate waffle.

Talk plastic

A meal for two with two salads, two smoothies and a dessert costs Rs1,200.

Garde Manger, Parmar CHS, Paranjape B Scheme, 1st Road Near Mahila Sangh School, Vile Parle East (7045004488). Open 8am-11pm daily.

Mumbai Local salad at Garde Manger.

Preview: Estella, Mumbai

For a city by the sea, Mumbai has precious few beachfront dining options. For a while, the Juhu neighbourhood had the monopoly on these—the high-end Vie Lounge, Aurus, and the city’s only seaside dive bar Sea View all stood on the same stretch. All three shuttered a few years ago, but Aurus has now been reincarnated as Estella, a “modern Australian" fine-dining restaurant. We stopped by to taste an abbreviated menu a couple of days before it opened to the public.

Estella retains the best of Aurus’ interiors—the slatted-wood deck and roomy cabanas overlooking Juhu beach—but where the latter was made for Mediterranean-themed sundowners, Estella leans more towards adults-only whisky-and-jazz nights. There’s a distinctly grown-up air to its seductive dark mahogany and granite aesthetic, with French nu jazz and obscure Pink Floyd to soundtrack dinner.

The cocktail menu is tailored to complement this vibe, picking classics—cosmos, whisky sours and gin fizzes—over flashy mixology, made with top-drawer spirits. Where it attempts to innovate, things get a trifle strange. A Champagne Margarita that fuses triple sec, tequila and rose wine tastes like something a doctor might prescribe, while the High On Cream, with layers of Patrón, Ketel One, Jägermeister and espresso, topped with truffle-oil whipped cream is an abomination you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

The food is a trifle more cheerful, though. The small plates detour through Vietnam, Thailand, Spain, Italy and the Levant by way of Australia. Australian seafood gets the Spanish treatment with clams, shrimp and scallops tossed al ajillo, with garlic butter and saffron. Italian burrata tops a salad of kale, broccoli, beet and heirloom tomatoes. Chicken wings are reinterpreted as Chicken Wing Cakes Decompressed, glazed with a sticky, umami bone broth redolent of marrow while a Roast Brazilian Duck is peppered with sweet pickled beetroot in a crostini.

But on the whole there’s no real indication of what makes the food at Estella any different from the many contemporary world cuisine restaurants that dot Mumbai. Modern Aussie food centres around a philosophy—hyperlocal ingredients, a focus on foraging, a hat tip to bush tucker, or at its simplest, a nod to the country’s natural bounty in its surf-and-turf. There’s none of that here. The most Australian the menu gets is in its copious use of lamb—a particularly well done Lamb Wellington Deconstructed gets a special mention. But where are the langoustines and bugs? Where is the gentle citrus tang of lemon myrtle? By the time the dessert rolls around—a rose panna cotta with Viennese shortbread—your culinary disorientation is complete. Estella has a great location and good food; maybe it doesn’t need the “modern Australian" label at all.

Estella, Ground floor, Nichani Kutir Building, opposite HDFC Bank, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu. Open 7pm-midnight. Cocktails are priced at 95-895, appetizers at 450-1,050, mains at 50-2,850, desserts at 75-1,100. For reservations, call 7999998232.

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