The Turner Road-Pali Road Junction is a high-energy area round the year. Battalion of cars; their incessant honking, mixed with the buzz of people — meeting and greeting each other or shouting into their cell phones.
At this junction stands Lemon Grass, which replaced Pot Pourri in 2010. The restaurant has a steady stream of regular customers who swear by the food, the experience and Uncle Richard’s friendly service.
Last week, the popular restaurant shut down temporarily for renovation and we were among many regulars who rang up the joint frantically, asking — almost demanding an explanation — as to how long would we be denied our favourite Khow Suey and chicken wings.
To stop experimenting is to go stale, believes Mitesh Rangras, head chef and co-partner at Sid Hospitality, which also runs Pot Pourri, Soy Street, Tight and its latest member Aoi. He promises that the new Lemon Grass will be an even better experience.
Change in the air
“Times have changed. People want to try new things. We have customers who eat here five times a week. For a place to do well, it is necessary to evolve and offer something new at regular intervals,” says Rangras who will introduce lamb, beef dishes and delicacies made of local fish such as Bombil, Surmai and black pomfret in the new menu — all infused in South East Asian flavours and herbs.
We speak to a self-declared ‘fan’, 28-year-old Aneesha Thadani, who visits Lemon Grass at least three times a week. “I love the food here. Whenever I am in doubt over where to eat, I just pop in to Lemon Grass and dig into Khow Seuy, stir fried veggies in black bean sauce in flat wheat noodles, burnt garlic cottage cheese dimsum in Thai papaya salad,” says Thadani, who usually catches up with with her friends here but is also not averse to solo visits with her book for company. A choreographer by profession, she lives in Mulund but still comes here for a treat. “Most of my work is in Bandra. So post dance practice, I stop by here for dinner,” she says.
So what else is changing, we ask the chef. While the trademark red and green colours of the restaurant will stay, the shades only get brighter, Rangras tells us. “Earlier, the restaurant had the serene feel of a Balinese garden. We have chosen a brighter green and red this time, along with a dash of off white elements, to pep things up a bit,” he adds. While the renovation will mainly attack functional problems, the idea is to turn the shack feel into a modern, neater experience.
Rangras has finished conducting internal tasting and finalising the new menu. We drop in to try out his new delicacies. We start with Three Mushrooms Soup, which is garnished with dehydrated mushroom dust. Packed with coriander, lemon and herbs, the soup creates a storm of spicy flavours. After a good start, we move on to Salmon Carpaccio in sweet chilli sauce, topped with basil, raw mango, fried onions and olive oil. A rare combination of ingredients, the salmon melts in the mouth. It is something we have never tasted before. Next up, is Vegetarian Dumpling steamed and grilled in Banana leaf. Thai-influenced, the dumplings are coconut-flavoured and stuffed with crunchy carrots and broccoli. Who said non-vegetarians have all the fun?
Another vegetarian item is Crispy Beetroot, inspired by the chef’s dislike for the vegetable. His attempt to make beetroot likeable succeeds. The spicy chilli sauce, basil and reduction of orange juice makes the dish ideal as a bar snack.
We find the Crab and Pomegranate Dimsums bland in flavour, though the pomegranate proves to be a sweet delight. We end the meal with Soft Shell Crabs coated with Japanese Panko breadcrumbs lightly flavoured with lemon and salt. This dish comes with a salad of lettuce and cherry tomatoes. A total winner! Lemon Grass looks set to get many more fans in its new avatar.