The new face of gastronomy

With the pandemic changing the restaurant culture, restaurants in Mumbai have been forced to reinvent their offerings.

When it opened four years ago, Masque ushered in a new era in the culinary culture, with a 10-course chef’s tasting menu, a masterful plate and impeccable service. But when the pandemic ended in-person dining, Masque, like most dining establishments, had to move quickly to stay afloat. In March, the restaurant, which serves modern Indian cuisine, started offering take-out for the first time. In September, on his fourth birthday, co-founders Chef Prateek Sadhu and restaurateur Aditi Dugar launched what they call a ‘tailgate experience’: customers can book slots via WhatsApp, go to the Mahalaxmi compound and be served safely in their car.

It’s a radical departure from what typically defines fine dining: super attentive waiters who make sure your glass of wine is always full, starched tablecloths, and haute cuisine created with exotic ingredients. But, faced with many challenges – such as restrictions on the number of diners; the need to maintain social distance and reassure customers of safety; and operate with less staff – fine dining restaurants have no choice but to get more creative in these times. Restaurants that previously didn’t offer take-out, like Gallops, whose owner, Jasmine Singh, says deliveries now account for 40% of her business. Clearly, the customers are delighted. After months of home cooking, they are more than happy to be able to access their favorite restaurant dish. “We have clients who come from Thane, and even Pune, for the experience,” says Sadhu.

Masala Library’s delivery menu will not have any dishes that were on its catering menu like this Chenna with pomegranate powder

Gourmet fast food

Less than a fortnight ago, Masque Lab reopened with a six-course meal for just 12 customers at a time, but for the tailgate experience, offered only on Sundays, “It’s mostly burgers and tacos on the menu. “says Sadhu. Of course, this is a fast food with a gourmet twist: the seafood burger, for example, includes kojicured shio fish, crispy shrimp, apple and fennel salad and gravy. tartar.

Most of the menus have undergone such changes. Rahul Akerkar, who set the benchmark for stand-alone gourmet restaurants when he opened Indigo in Colaba in 1999, with a menu made up of deliciously bold ingredients, has removed exotic dishes like octopus from the menu at his Lower property. Parel, Qualia. In their place are comfort foods like burgers, sandwiches, pastas and even a grill menu. “We still have interesting flavors and ingredient combinations, but the food is a little less cerebral than it used to be,” says Akerkar. And, for the first time in 20 years of activity, AD Singh‘s Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bandra also launched an all-day dining format, featuring brunch bowls, burgers, pizzas as well as what Singh calls “gourmet cafe food” like chicken pie, la slow roasted porchetta and burrata salad. .

The prices – which together with exclusivity and ostentation define fine dining – are also more “laid back” now. Pankaj Gupta reduced the rates by about 10% at Taftoon to BKC, “and we priced our take out menu even lower because these customers are not enjoying the dining experience,” he says. For the same reason, Romano’s, the Italian restaurant at the JW Marriott in Sahar, has reduced the price of dishes on its delivery menu by 30%. He has also partnered with food aggregators Swiggy and Zomato, “for greater visibility and to increase sales,” says executive chef Anshuman Bali. A necessary move at a time when, instead of 75 guests, the elegant duplex property can only accommodate 26 people, thanks to social distancing.

Mask now offers a tailgate experience;  making people feel safer to eat out today is boosting the popularity of places like Gallops (right)

Mask now offers a tailgate experience; making people feel safer to eat out today is driving the popularity of places like Gallops (right)

Meals on wheels

A strong supporter of the idea that dining out is as much about enjoying the atmosphere as it is the food, Zorawar Kalra, managing director of Massive Restaurants, did not offer deliveries from the Masala library before the pandemic. After all, much of the restaurant’s magic lay in the ornaments – the swirls of cool smoke that enveloped the dishes and added an air of mystique, the delicate arrangement of each dish, the appetizers and the cleansing sorbets for the meal. palates served between courses – not the sort of thing you can pack in a brown paper bag. But that will change in November. Kalra returned to the drawing board to craft a special delivery menu, eschewing the foams and frills of molecular gastronomy. Hakkasan in Bandra also had to create packaging for the deliveries, “like we’ve never done before,” says Karyna Bajaj of KA Hospitality, owner of the brand. “We have developed menus for special occasions, and we send a Spotify music link with every order, to add to the experience at home,” she adds.

When customers decided to overcome the pandemic at their vacation homes, Bajaj even started delivering to places like Alibaug. The expansion of the scope of delivery was also part of Gauri Devidayal’s plan. “Rather than cutting costs, we looked for ways to increase revenue,” says Devidayal, whose Colaba finedine property, The Table, has also delivered to Alibaug mansions of its globetrotting clients. As Devidayal prepares to launch a new gourmet pizza delivery service, Bajaj plans to unveil a new range of “home experiences” for two to 50 people, “whether to recreate a date or to a little party “. It’s also now possible to ask Romano’s chef Roberto Zorzoli to come home and create a dining experience “for as few as six people,” says Bali, executive chef at the Marriott.

Qurbside, Qualia's new al fresco space

Qurbside, Qualia’s new al fresco space

Fresh air on frou-frou

While these changes are not unfortunate, they raise the question of what the future of gastronomy will be. Culinary writer Rashmi Uday Singh sees it as a shift towards what she calls “fine, balanced cuisine”. She says it’s a welcome course correction. “Our gastronomy was a bit over the top, everyone trying to outdo themselves,” she says. “A lot of it was based on gadgets. Singh believes the focus is now on fresh, local and seasonal ingredients “rather than buying Maine lobster and New Zealand lamb.” She adds, “Of course, these restaurants will give these dishes their own twist, so it won’t be fast food.” Still, Singh says the reduction “happened in the most heartbreaking way and, sadly, caused great pain to restaurateurs and so many employees in the industry.”

The adjustments will also result in better cross-use of ingredients, reducing waste. “We have to be very cost-conscious right now,” says Akerkar, who set up Qurbside Cafe in early October, transforming the wide sidewalk outside Qualia into a romantic outdoor dining room, like you find in Europe. It’s a good decision at a time when people feel more secure when eating out. In fact, Akerkar is now aiming to undertake some reduction of the space inside. “I can give back about 1,000 square feet to the owner and move the bar to the other end,” he says.

(L) For the first time in 20 years in business, AD Singh's Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bandra launched an all day dining format;  (R) Restaurateur Gauri Devidayal focused on increasing The Table's revenue by increasing deliveries

(L) For the first time in 20 years of operation, AD Singh’s Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bandra has launched an all-day dining format; (R) Restaurateur Gauri Devidayal focused on increasing The Table’s revenue by increasing deliveries

Acclaimed lawyer Berjis Desai, one of the first to reserve a table on Gallops lawns as soon as Restaurant Mahalaxmi reopens, says the fact that the tables were far apart was reassuring. “It was nice to go out, meet people and regain a sense of normalcy,” Desai says. That was the general feeling, says Akerkar. “About six months at home made people easier to live with. “People are just happy to go out,” he says. “And they are looking for friendly and hygienic experiences.”

Dia Kothari, a Cuffe Parade-based health coach who recently ate at Masque Lab, says hygiene is her main concern at the restaurant. Fewer guests and waiters with masks, she says, don’t detract from the “if it’s done right” experience, as she also recently discovered at The Table. “There were six people there, which I was happy to see. The disinfection kit on the table blended into the background, so it wasn’t on your face as a constant reminder of the outbreak. The food and service left nothing to be desired. Everything was very well done, ”says Kothari. This confirms Singh’s belief. “Food is a science and an art, and when done well it can be mind-blowing,” she says. “There will always be takers for this attention to detail, regardless of the format.”

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