Bars just lifted their spirits with novel cocktails
With the rise in the popularity of Peruvian food and drink around the world, it is quite on its way to attaining cult status.
But first, a little history. Pisco, a Peruvian brandy made from local grapes, is a traditional liquor. The cocktail, pisco sour, on the other hand, is a more recent invention, like the whisky sour. Sour refers to an addition of a little citrusy sourness by way of lime juice to the base liquor, after which everything is balanced out by dashing syrup, bitters and egg whites. The drink was created ostensibly by an American bartender, Victor Vaughen Morris, in Peru in the early 1900s. It got so popular that it is not just bandied about as Peru’s national drink but even has a public holiday dedicated to it — February 7.
The city that works the hardest in India also parties the hardest. You can count the many reasons why Mumbai is India’s nightlife/bar capital. You can analyse, sociologically, why it is only here, in this Maximum City, that even on a weekday, you can have an enjoyable evening out, hopping bars. It has as much to do with the relative safety of its ever busy roads as with the city’s cosmopolitan, sporting spirit. Then, there’s the restaurant deadline: at 1 am, still among the best in India.
The energy and the buzz of this city also has a direct correlation to its openness to experimentation. Mumbai has its preferences, its local palate. But that palate is less rigid than elsewhere; it is easy to persuade it to try something new. Which is why the pisco sour is all set to trend here in a sea of mojitos and margaritas. Which is also why the last few months have seen some of India’s most interesting and unique bar concepts take shape here. There are new, bold flavours to be tried and tested.
Lima, chef Atul Kochhar’s new bar that has quietly opened at the Bandra Kurla Complex, ushers into India a taste of South America. Pisco apart, all the familiar tropes of Peruvian bar food are on the platter. But the ambit has been widened, quite sensibly too.
This is not just a bar but a food-forward bar. It is not just Peruvian but South American (the Brazilian churrasco, grills, are on the menu too). Finally, it does not restrict itself to imported ingredients but uses locally sourced products.
The (Mexican) chillies are from a local farm, the sea bass in the ceviche is Indian (as is all seafood), the sausage is Goan (the Portuguese had influenced South America too, as we all know) and there are enough vegetarian options to cater to the Mumbai palate. For those who hesitate to try the tuna tiradito — the bar’s best dish — there’s a spectacular vegetarian papaya version. It’s not raw fish (the tiradito is sashimi- or carpaccio-like thin slices of raw fish, spiced; a Japanese influence on Peruvian food) but it’s tropical. Besides, the masterful thin slicing of the fruit leaves you a little spellbound.Lima has to have the best bar food in Mumbai. If bars and restaurants reflect the personalities of their chefs/owners in ways other than food and drink, this one is as unfussy as Kochhar himself. The interiors are clean and the music not unduly loud.
If Mumbai’s spirit is all-inclusive, so are its spirits. It’s pretty impossible to point at one kind of bar and say, “This is what’s trending.” Unlike in Delhi where cookie-cutter formats are dominating, in Mumbai you could hop from one space to a dramatically different one as the evening progresses. If Lima plays it subtle, Masala Bar, Zorawar Kalra’s latest, is at the other end of the spectrum. Located on Carter Road with a gorgeous view of the sea, this one amps up the drama. It is dark, lit only by (organic) candles, playing high wattage music, serving up mixology from a bar that seeks to emulate a lab. Homemade sattu fizz and orange oil mixes with gin to give you the Mumbai Matinee show. There’s thyme foam on an apple-chamomile reduction made in-house, basil smoke in vodka-based Bollywood Bhang, and a quaint cone of chana chor garam clipped to a contraption that serves up An evening at Chowpati with coconut and curry. The food is tapas-style, “modern Indian”, and those who know Farzi Café, Kalra’s most successful brand, will immediately recognise the antecedent.
Farzi Café, which has also been a bar-centric product in a similar vein in Delhi, has just opened in the now fashionable Kamla Mills. (The complex is set to see an unprecedented spurt in restaurateuring over the next year: 25 new outlets are coming up, according to some estimates). There is a lot of curiosity about Farzi, but it is Masala Bar that is the hotspot everyone wants to be packed into. On a Thursday evening, it is jampacked.A little reminiscent of what Thursday bar nights used to be at the neighbouring Olive.
The Neat Desi
You cannot keep technology out of bars. The all-pervasiveness of the social media, especially Instagram, is one reason why flamboyant people and drinks trend. Thankfully, there are other reasons too for bars to be successful. The dominant flavours in Mumbai bars are gradually changing to Indian — a far cry from the earlier decades when this was one city where no one went out to eat or drink desi. Monkey Bar opened with an aggressively pan-Indian, contemporarised bar menu last year. Even before that, The Bombay Canteen (TBC) had broken the ice and made Indian chic.
The best cocktail I try on my Thursday night crawl through Mumbai is undoubtedly the frozen aam panna margarita at TBC. The restaurant-bar, which is as much a drinking space as an eating one, is a little over a year old but its popularity has hardly waned. The icy mango margarita is a reflection of what it does best: old classics in new ways. Chef Floyd Cardoz, partner and mentor of TBC, is in town from New York, where he is soon to open the Paowalla, his new casual restaurant.
But it is Yash Bhanage, the youngest TBC cofounder, who is behind the bar. That he belongs to a family of mangogrowing farmers and has orchards of hapus shows — the aam panna margarita is perfect. It’s not over-ripe and cloyingly sweet, but fresh, tangy and complex with a hint of spice. Fresh ingredients are a big theme in the world of cocktails, with bartenders raiding kitchens and gardens for the best produce. The other is chefs turning mixologists. In Mumbai, plenty of new bars seem to be headed in that direction.Dishkiyaoon, at the Bandra-Kurla Complex, does gur and sugarcane mojitos. Opa!, a new rooftop space, inspired by Middle-Eastern souks, promises the same in the suburb of Sakinaka, and has dedicated crowd from “Town”, Worli and Bandra, turning up here, as their last stop. It is, I am told, a change in crowd behaviour.
Among the most aggressively expanding bar chains in Mumbai — as well as in Delhi — is Riyaaz Amlani’s Social. With multiple outlets in each city, Social may well become your neighbourhood bar, except that it is part of a chain. Lower price points are a big part of its success and appeal with a younger lot of drinkers.
Other chains also want to play with new pricing formats. If you are in Mumbai, you will invariably be recommended The Bar Stock Exchange. The chain has five outlets in the city and three more are set to open in the state by July, including one in Pune. The outlets are owned and operated by restaurateur Mihir Desai, quite a Mumbai phenomenon.
For an enterprise that came up as an experiment just last year, this is stupendous growth. The reason: it has cleverly tapped into a market that is price-sensitive and yet aspires for something different. At the bar, you can trade in alcohol, like you do in the stock exchange; the prices of drinks are linked to their real-time consumption. And when the “market” crashes, a siren blares to alert drinkers.
Bar Bar, set to branch out from Pune to Mumbai next month, has another new concept. Pitched as the country’s first “wholesale bar”, this one tries to entice customers with the promise that you can buy drinks at “maximum wholesale price”, which could be as low as Rs 99 for a 30 ml spirit of your choice. Different brands of spirits are listed under three categories: Popular, Premium and Luxury.If an entire table sticks to one category and orders an optimum number of drinks (12, according to a chart), they could avail of the low pricing. To make that possible, Bar Bar’s parent company Bellona Hospitality, which is the F&B arm of Atul Ruia-owned Phoenix Mills Ltd, has entered into exclusive arrangements with different alcohol companies and distributors. The Phoenix Group is looking at the F&B retail market seriously and this will be one of its most ambitious bar ventures. Will customers queue up for a sip?