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Mumbai Food: City gets 14 new eateries, rolled into one at Lower Parel

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While visiting Kamala Mills Compound on a weekday afternoon for a meeting, Riyaaz Amlani recalls seeing a swarm of office-goers walking out of the gate to tuck into the spread at local street stalls. “I realised a lot of restaurants were running empty because people wanted to eat sandwiches khichiya papad and other khau galli fare,” he says. Amlani saw an opportunity in the fact that not everybody at the bustling office space had the wherewithal to shell out a grand for a meal every day. “I wanted to solve their lunch and after-work scene by bringing cuisines from around the country under one roof at an affordable price,” he says. And so Amlani, who with the Mocha and Social chains has been instrumental in shaping the way young India drinks coffee, dines and parties, is ready with his latest offering, Flea Bazaar Cafe. Wander into this curated market and take your pick.

Craft cocktails on tap for the first time

Craft cocktails on tap for the first time

More the merrier
Nestled in the heart of the erstwhile Victoria Mills — and now Oasis City Centre — we walk into this Lower Parel venue to find 14 restaurants rubbing shoulders in the 1,700 sq ft space. Some names like Munaf Kapadia’s The Bohri Kitchen, Saransh Goila’s Goila’s Butter Chicken and Yugo Sushi’s Sushi are instantly familiar. Others like, Hung Li’s noodles and dimsums, Del Italia’s pastas, Wattsappam’s dosas and appams, El Chapo’s nachos and quesadillas and Bay Burger’s fries and burgers, are making their debut.

Mutton samosas from TBK

Mutton samosas from TBK

And in a city starved of space, we find the idea of collaborative space for restaurants, a step-up. “I have been through the grind and can tell you how hard it is for restaurateurs. A lot of dreams die prematurely because getting licenses is a major problem. It’s easier to get a license to manufacture arms than it is to run a restaurant,” laughs the Impresario CEO.

Welcome to the bazaar
Say curated market and one thinks “food court”, but the decor ensures you feel like you’re at a restaurant and not an impersonal space.  Architect Faizan Khatri’s Studio Eight Twentythree draws out nuances from traditional bazaars like Johri Bazaar, Dilli Haat, Connaught Place and the flea markets of Goa. We see natural stone walls, much like the ones at Crawford Market, complete with abundant greens, pole lamps and elegant cast iron fenestration. What we find intriguing is the collapsible gig area furniture where the chairs are easily lifted by a hook to make way for a dance floor. Despite the sheer quantum of furniture and stalls, there’s enough room to amble along. In the centre is the Social bar with its signature offerings like LLIIT and pauvas (another reason why it’s not a food court in a mall). What piques our interest are the craft cocktails. No shaking, no stirring. With the flip of a tap, your drink is ready.

Bring on the young guns
While conceptualising the restaurant, Amlani’s brief was clear: he wanted ambitious youngsters passionate about their work. Munaf Kapadia of The Bohri Kitchen (TBK) is one. We notice circular tables at the restaurants that have been set up for Kapadia’s pilot offering, the travelling thaal. “A couple of months ago, a group of office goers booked a thaal at his home. They said it was a fantastic team-bonding experience. So we thought why not pitch the thaal as one in a space like this which is bound to attract the corporate crowd,” he says. To ensure that a customer leaves without feeling shortchanged, the prices have been kept reasonable. Most items range between R100-R300. We especially recommend the prawn and coriander steamed dimsum for Rs 220 from Hung Li.

The food is certainly a big draw. But, what’s commendable is the ability of this venture to eliminate the two barriers that usually prevent chefs from getting into bricks and mortar: capital costs and leases. “Hopefully, this concept will spawn more spaces and encourage new talent,” says Amlani with optimism.

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