Innovative garnishes, bite-sized desserts and traditional flavours will rule the roost in the culinary world, finds Sonal Ved
Mumbai is slowly turning into a city of gourmands and in a bid to ensure that diners keep coming back for more, restaurateurs are constantly innovating and reinventing their menus. While 2012 saw the rise of trends such as wood-fired pizzas, flavoured yogurts, small servings, summery cold soups and desserts spiked with spices, it also witnessed some downfalls. Trends such as foods hinted with chipotle chilli, Cajun-spiced dips and dining on community tables didn’t last for more than a few weeks.
As the year takes a leap forward, restaurant menus have geared up for yet another makeover. To help you get spoon savvy, we ask food experts, bloggers and chefs to look into their crystal balls and scope out trends that are likely to hit restaurants in the months to come.
Cuisines get the 3D look
A dish’s look is as important as its taste. Keeping this in mind, plating trends of the future will focus a lot more on creating a third dimension on the platter. According to food blogger Nikhil Merchant from nonchalantgourmand.com, “Chefs are doing so in various ways. Firstly, a lot of them are adding height to a dish.” This trick helps in creating a hero out of the ingredients by giving them complete focus. The second way is by deconstructing conventional recipes. “By serving classic dishes such as blueberry cheesecake or insalata caprese in a ripped form rather than as a whole, new perceptions about old dishes can be created,” says Merchant. Apart from these, adding innovative textures such as edible soil is also an emerging trend in Mumbai. Merchant informs us, “Edible soil is essentially dry and pounded extract of various ingredients. Though it appears coarse and feels just like loam, it is completely safe to eat.” His personal experiment includes dry and pounded black olive and Himalayan salt soil that he sprinkles on various dishes to create textural novelty.
Popularised by certain North American and European countries, the trend of using heirloom ingredients is slowly creating a buzz in Indian kitchens. Heirloom basically refers to ingredients that belong to the original stream of a particular vegetable.
“Unlike local vegetables that are modified during production to create symmetrical shapes, colour and taste, heirloom produce belongs to the lineage of the mother vegetable and therefore each piece is unique,” says Chef Kelvin Cheung of Ellipsis. What differentiates heirloom from organic vegetables is the fact that while organic is a method of cropping, heirloom means the true breed. While Mumbai has only got a taste of heirloom tomatoes that are imported from countries such as Holland, Hong Kong and Africa, Chef Cheung foresees other vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and green beans touching Indian shores soon.
Health food with a gourmet twist
Healthy food was the catch phrase of 2012, but next year the focus will be on healthy gourmet. “Not only will food be wholesome and nutritious, it will also be delicious,” says owner Abhishek Honawar from The Pantry. Unlike plain diet food that can be boring and tasteless, here the aim is to retain the original characteristics of the ingredients and ensure the food tastes good.
Honawar proves his point by citing an example of a salad. Since salads are supposed to be full of fibre, a healthy gourmet meal will preserve that virtue and also ensure that the salad is scrummy by using inventive dressing or ingredient combinations. At the two month-old Pantry, patrons can get a whiff of this trend by digging into gluten-free red millet pancakes, brûléed cinnamon-scented oat porridge, almond salad with arugula among other healthy treats. And this is just one instance. Food forecasters predict this trend to hop outside salad specials onto other areas of the menu such as gourmet soups, calorie-free desserts and carb-free main course dishes as well. “These will especially work for diners who count calories even while dining out,” he adds.
Cupcakes make way for cakelettes
Cakelettes, like cupcakes are small desserts that can be eaten in one or two bites. They are generally layered and packed with a variety of dessert ingredients such as nuts, fruits, cream and sponge in one go.
“What differentiates the two is the fact that cupcakes carry one or two flavours at a time, while with cakelettes, the possibilities are endless,” says baker Sabina Gupta from Not Just Desserts by Sabina. According to Gupta, one reason adding to the popularity of cakelettes is its size, which is apt for weight watchers. “Since detailing bakes has become the order of the day, cakelettes allow one to experiment with interesting textures, colours and flavours,” she says. The big advantage of ordering cakelettes instead of cupcakes is that you can dress them up to look glamorous or dress them down to look comforting.
An offshoot of molecular gastronomy, edible foam is slowing taking over the garnishing industry and giving clichéd cheese sprinkles a run for its money. “Using various culinary equipments such as an ISI canister or stick blender, flavoured liquid is buzzed to create edible foam,” says Chef Cheung. This foam is then perched on pastas, fish, risottos, grilled meats, and other dishes and served to patrons in its lathered avatar.
The foam mainly tastes like the parent ingredient but is merely a fleeting flavour. Chef Cheung adds, “While the tiny bubbles look good, their basic aim it to create a burst of flavour and accentuate the taste of the final dish with which it is served.” At his restaurant, Ellipsis, one can taste edible air made out of unique flavours such as citrus, pepper, mint, truffle mushroom, smoked tomato, artichokes and Parmesan cheese.
Native Indian flavours
With the advent of niche international cuisines wooing Indian diners, local cuisine had taken a bit of a backseat. But this is about to change as a lot of restaurants promise to focus on authentic Indian flavours from lesser-known communities such as Bihari, Moplah, Assamese and Andhraite in the year to come. Glimpses of this can already be seen on the menus of Indian restaurants such as Soam, Neel and Zaffran who have been experimenting with regional flavours of Gujarat, Awadh and North India respectively. Apart from that, contemporising Indian food is also on the cards. The bearer of this trend is the one month-old Bong Bong. The Bandra-based eatery not only focuses on provincial Bengali food, but also serves dishes with modern twists. “Take, for instance, the Five Spice Potatoes or Pach Poran. Though the spices used to marinate vegetable are traditional, we use cream to give it a continental feel. Similarly, our Herbed Bhapa Chicken has steamed meat flavoured with parsley,” says co-owner, Surjapriya Ghosh. Ghosh’s restaurant aims to introduce 25 fresh neo-Bengali dishes in the year to come.
Three restaurant openings to look forward to:
Mai Tai, a Lower Parel-based food lounge is likely to open its doors in the first half of next year. The eatery, brought to Mumbai by the same company that owns Shiro, Hard Rock Café and California Pizza Kitchen, will specialise in contemporary Thai food. The restaurant’s ambiance will be inspired by Tiki culture and its menu will comprise dishes such as bruschettas, summer rolls, crispy chicken, falafel burger and Thai curries among other things.
The Sassy Spoon
Express Towers at Nariman Point will house a new restaurant called The Sassy Spoon early next year. The eatery owned by Rachel Goenka will specialise in eclectic European fare. The restaurant’s ambiance will have a different day and night setting, and we look forward to feasting at their al fresco dining area. The Sassy Spoon’s menu will comprise dishes made using unique combinations such as chocolate and basil, gun powder and sea food.
Ketan Kadam of 212 Bar and Grill and Sundance Café will add another feather to his cap with the launch of Crazy Dog. The restaurant slated to open near Sterling Cinema by the end of January, will have a casual ambiance with comfort-food filled menu. Their menu boasts of dishes such as Cottage Cheese Steak, Thyme Roasted Chicken, Baked Potato Skins and Cajun-spiced Chicken Tenders among other dishes.
Rumour has it
Apart from these, there is talk among industry insiders about four more openings. The first is Wagamama, a British-headquartered restaurant specialising in affordable Asian food. The eatery currently has its branches in Denmark, Switzerland and England.
This will be their first Indian venture. Then there is an unnamed project by the owners of Silver Beach Cafe. Though its location and menu have been kept tightly under wraps, the owners were happy to tell us about the opening of a second branch of their Andheri-based eatery Nom Nom in Bandra.
An official announcement is also awaited for Masala Library, a fine-dine restaurant specialising in Indian fare by Jiggs Kalra. And Olive’s Manu Chandra is likely to bring Bangalore’s Monkey Bar to the city.