Does Mumbai love its food?

In its third edition, Restaurant Week Mumbai is off to a great start, say organisers, with all tables booked. But with a little over a 1,000 registrations as compared to 24,000 at Singapore Restaurant Week that kicked off the same year as we did, does it all add up?

Over the last three weeks, there's been a consistent buzz surrounding Restaurant Week Mumbai, a seven-day long celebration of food, that's a local edition of an international event. We've heard wow stories about a three-course meal at some of Mumbai's exclusive fine dining establishments for as little as Rs 1,000. Amid the obvious excitement of hanging out with illustrious chefs, checking out the insides of a luxe restaurant, like the newly opened Hakkasan, or catching up with foodie friends, there is the need to take a step back and hold up a (rather giant) magnifier.

Chef Vincenzo di Tuoro interacting with guests at Vetro, the Italian
restaurant at The Oberoi, during Restaurant Week Mumbai

Now that the tables have been booked and chefs introduced at the newly introduced Chef's Table Week, here's looking at the numbers. A total of 1,497 tables were booked at 15 restaurants across eight locations in less than five days of reservations opening. But compared to Singapore Restaurant Week (that also launched in September 2010 like the Mumbai chapter), the numbers seem miniscule. In its first year, SRW saw 24,000 diners sign up.

The Mumbai organising team comprising food writer Mangal Dalal, entrepreneur Azeem Zamulbhai and chef Nachiket Shetye, have a quick justification. "We've tried to start small to get things right. We want to pay attention to the menus and make sure customers enjoy a first-class experience. The idea is to allow people to get introduced to a restaurant they haven't stepped into earlier, at affordable prices," says Dalal.

Participating restaurants get to widen their base and possibly convert some first-timers into regulars. Even if they didn't go back every week or month, restaurants are bound to see a new set of consumers walk in, following their Restaurant Week experience, argues Dalal.

Chef Manu Chandra, executive chef, Olive Beach in Bengaluru and Olive Bar and Kitchen, Mumbai, who has quite a fan following, says he's happy to see new faces this time around. "There isn't a single day when tables are empty. We're seeing a different crowd from usual regulars. That's encouraging because it's as if the enthusiasm associated with Restaurant Week has gone viral."

In fact, as you read this, the team at Olive Bar & Kitchen in Mahalaxmi is preparing for, what we are told, is a decadent night of interaction between the best chefs (including Chandra) and hardcore foodies, at what's called the Kitchen Party. The other new introduction at the week is the Chef's Table Week. Corporate lawyer and food blogger Puja Shah booked herself a place at the Chef's Table at Vetro, The Oberoi, for an interaction with Chef Vincenzo di Tuoro.

Her blog lists her encounter with each dish that was served during the seven-course meal. But the young foodie got home a tad disappointed. "The food was great. The presentation was perfect. But the chef landed up spending only five minutes with us. It felt like just another seven-course meal, not a Chef's Table," she says. But Puja seems part of a minority. The Restaurant Week has really managed to creep into conversations.

Mumbai food bloggers, who tend to have a finger on the pulse of the city's dining scene, aren't saying much. Blogger, workshopper and industry watcher, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal thinks it's largely because restaurants are not making the most of the opportunity. "The idea of the Restaurant Week is brilliant but not all restaurants have got the concept right. Do they realise that this is a chance for them to showcase the best of what they have to offer, and bring the consumer closer to a restaurant?" A participant at last year's event, she's stayed away this year because nothing on the last year's menu came with a "wow factor".

The organisers see this as teething troubles. Dalal claims getting restaurants on board has been a lot easier this year than when they launched. He's beginning to shed his inhibitions and aim higher already. "Eventually, I'd like Restaurant Week to include all tables at a participating restaurant for the entire duration of the event. We want to spread out to most major Indian metros. It must turn into a national event and we should collectively look forward to it. We're crazy about food, so hopefully, we should see more innovative ideas on offer in the future."

Participating restaurants
Hakkasan, Bandra (W)
West View, ITC Maratha, Andheri
Saffron, JW Marriott, Juhu
Ziya and Vetro, Nariman Point
India Jones, Nariman Point
The Table, Colaba
Indigo, Colaba
Neel at Tote on the Turf, Mahalaxmi
Olive Bar & Kitchen, Mahalaxmi & Bandra
The Great Wall, Andheri
Koh and Kebab Corner, InterContinental Marine Drive
San-Qi, Four Seasons Hotel, Worli

1,307 The number of people who dined during the first Restaurant Week Mumbai in 2010

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