Getting their Mojo back?

Ten years after they brought Mocha to the city, the Impresario Group has opened Smokehouse Deli. Is the fare at this simple all-day cafe with private jokes and city history outlined on its walls reason enough to drop by? Anjana Vaswani finds out

Most residents would recall how Mocha took the city by storm, when it opened its doors a decade ago. The quaint little coffee shop at Churchgate had a menu that boasted of exotic fruit-flavoured sheeshas and incredible desserts that college-goers, in particular, couldn't wait to sample.

In those days, when the ability to tell a cappuccino from an espresso was deemed the height of sophistication, the exotic array of coffees and teas available here generated much curiosity too.

So perhaps it's only fitting that when exotic beverages and fancy French desserts are readily available around every corner, Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality Pvt Ltd has decided to keep it simple.

Group CEO and MD Riyaaz Amlani says, "The idea is to serve good, tasty, inexpensive food. Most of the dishes are priced between Rs 300 and Rs 500."
Before we get to sample the fare though, drawings all around the uncluttered 2,500 square foot space yank us out of reality for a bit. It's like we've walked right into the video of Norwegian group A-Ha's 1985 song  Take On Me.

Sketched by designer Ayaz Basrai, the stencilled wooden chandeliers suspended over the bar are among the first things to catch our eye.

Other ornamental props that will find their way into the Deli will include antique-style telephones with painted-on rotary-dials and model airplanes with outlined windows. "We'll be marketing a whole line of accessories inspired by this decor in about a month's time," Amlani reveals.

We take a seat at one of the tables by the window not a real window that is but a stuck-on frame that offers a sketched view of the harbour.
Basrai's interpretation of the Dockyard Explosion of 1944 draws attention to a string of butterflies labelled with names of former Governors of Maharashtra, including Lord Reay, Montstuart Elphinstone, Lamington and Sandhurst.

"There are private jokes buried in some of the sketches stuff that only we found funny. Look around and you may get it," Amlani says.

One wall is even dedicated to Basrai's version of the history of cotton, "because this used to be a cotton mill," Amlani explains, as he draws our attention to a "sketchy reference to James Hargreaves' invention of the Spinning Jenny," and to a wonderful yarn about the Lamb of Tartary depicted along the same wall.

"Eventually, we'd like to put the sketches up on our website and hyperlink them to related articles," Amlani adds, excited that this would include, "the Mughal sketches from the walls our Delhi branch and obtuse references to Lord Corbusier from our Chandigarh branch."

We've been digging ravenously into a glorious stream of appetisers that has been flowing out of the kitchen even as Amlani leads us through all of this.
A generous serving of mouth-watering Smoked Pimiento and Jalapeno Crostini (Rs 280), with caramelised onions and topped with molten brie and just a soupcon of pesto was followed by an equally large portion of Chickpea and Horseradish fritters (Rs 280), perfectly complemented by the gentle wasabi-mayo drizzled atop them.

This was followed by a portion of Fried Chicken Strips (Rs 320) coated with Panko (a Japanese version of breadcrumbs, which Chef Glyston Gracias explains, are prepared with specific herbs and crackers such that when fried, they form a crispier coating than that formed by regular breadcrumbs and are also healthier as they absorb less oil), industrial-sized Toasties, one with Arugula, Poached Pear and Cheddar (Rs 230), the other stuffed with Smoked Chicken and Gherkins (Rs 290), both served on beds of incredibly crisp paprika-seasoned French-fries and a Tenderloin Steak (Rs 450, in pic) that really lived up to its name.

Though simply presented, each dish served as testimony to the culinary prowess of Impresario's Head Chef Gresham Fernandes. We also loved that you can even choose to order just half a toasty with a cup of soup here (Rs 150). Tiramisu, Creme Brulee and Walnut Prune Pie are listed among the ample variety of classic desserts (Rs 130 to Rs 190).

Though the breakfast menu will include treats like vanilla pancakes, Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine, simpler diners can sink their teeth into fluffy omelettes and even just enjoy a perfectly-prepared portion of scrambled eggs with a beautifully buttery croissant. And kids are most welcome.

At: Smoke House Deli is located at C-09G, Phoenix Mills Compound,  462, Senapati Bapat Road,  Lower Parel
Call: 24933222, 65619618

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