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Where’s my nei roast?


The year that went past saw a spawning of bars and casual dining spaces. It’s a trend that will continue in 2017, with increased focus on hyperlocal cuisines from India. In 2014, Riyaaz Amlani’s Impressario Hospitality launched Colaba Social. With its quirky, grungy décor, food —chiefly bar staples and popular Indian street fare from across India — and affordable alcoholic drinks, this hip, new space was an instant hit.

What aided its success was its theme: a spacious bar with a fun, casual vibe in the otherwise snooty South Mumbai neighbourhood, dotted with fine-dining restaurants and quaint cafes. Prompted by its success, Amlani replicated the format. He has since opened 14 more Socials across Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, nine of which were launched in 2016 alone.

It’s a format that has seen formidable success in Mumbai. Spacious bars and quality casual dining have indeed been thriving in the city over the past few months — a trend that restauranteurs say is here to stay, and grow, through 2017.

Take for instance the recent crop of bars across the city, be it Raasta Bombay in Khar, Independence Brewing Company in Andheri or Lower Parel’s Mr Baozi and Theory, touted to have the longest (100 ft) island bar in Mumbai.

While fine dining has not exactly been replaced, Amlani says the need for more casual spaces stems from the fact that the millennial generation now forms a chunk of the spenders. “They look for spaces that reflect their personality, places which have a fun vibe as opposed to a formal dining set-up,” points out Amlani, who makes sure each Social has a different décor to offer a “complete and distinct experience”. Spacious bars, apart from being more casual, also bring in numbers, which, Amlani says, in a bar business makes it easier for the owner to recover costs. “That it’s increasingly socially acceptable to drink today also helps bring in the numbers,” he adds.

They may be young spenders but the millennials aren’t careless with their money. The exposure to international cuisines through travels and television has upped their expectations from food. They may not mind fries to go with their drinks but they don’t want a factory line product. This demand has also allowed chefs to experiment with their food, reinvent old classics. What we have, as a result, are more exciting menus across restaurants. Fries? Sure. With truffle oil, sour cream or quattro formaggi? Or how about poutine, crispy fries topped with cheese and gravy?
The trend of casual dining may have been ushered in with the opening up of cafes across the city, but 2016 saw another interesting shift within that. Authenticity of cuisines and flavours has been replaced by the idea of experimenting with it, especially Indian food. Among the early trendsetters were Bombay Canteen in Lower Parel.

Moving away from deconstruction of popular Indian dishes, attempted by Masala Library among others, Bombay Canteen went on to revive a lot of the local dishes, sometimes with a twist. Their menu, therefore, is a mix of classics such as arbi tuk, vindaloo and versions like cheeselink jhaal muri and grilled dhokla chaat. Among others who are now doing “a take on Indian regional cuisine” are Bandra’s Monkey Bar and Lower Parel’s Farzi Cafe.

Chef Thomas Zacharias of Bombay Canteen believes the focus in 2017 will take a more hyperlocal turn. It will go beyond exploration of popular dishes from a state to cuisines from specific regions, such as Mapala cuisine of Kerala, he says. “In every realm, we are witnessing a movement that is bringing us back to our roots, be it fashion, design or food. We are realising that India and its many cultures have a lot to offer.”

Restauranteurs, however, don’t view this as the death of fine-dining in the city. In fact, they believe it’s a format that was waiting to emerge in the city and will only push the fine-dining trend further.

“Cuisines need to be accessible to people. Why should sushi or Japanese food be available only at Wasabi in Taj? Pa Pa Ya in Lower Parel has done a wonderful job of bringing it to people. It’s bound to happen with all cuisines. Earlier, Italian was the prerogative of fine-dining eateries. Today, every other restaurant can rustle up a pasta,” points out Pankil Shah of Woodside Inn and The Pantry, spaces that cater to “older, more mature” audience. “When masses have access to quality food in the casual dining spaces, they will eventually graduate to fine-dining or places like ours, which offer a different experience,” he points out.

Source: Indian Express

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