Why are the words 'small plate' popping up on restaurant menus across the city? Splitting soups and dishes 'one-by-two" may no longer be an option at some of the fancier restaurants in Mumbai, but they are now pushing this concept as one that's in-between starters and a main course. Sonal Dev tells you where to go to make the best of the phenomenon
Doggie-bagging food isn't the only habit you may have to ditch the next time you dine out in the city. An invasion of small plates, which restrict portion sizes (and sharing) to one person only, are also making their presence felt in eateries across Mumbai.
Whether it's the effect of the downsizing syndrome or the desire of modern diners to try it all we'll never know, but small plates, described as a flavour-packed mini meal, are nutritionally dense meals which are smaller than a main, but more satiating than a starter. So depending on your appetite, they can replace either of the two.
"What separates it from a large plate is the use of stronger flavours, bolder combinations and a smaller portion size," says Chef Alex Sanchez from The Table -- a Colaba-based eatery, which started this trend in Mumbai, last January.
Traditionally, meals have been kicked off with small eats across various cultures -- the Greek love their mezze platters, the Italians relish antipasti, and Spaniards like their Tapas. "Now, all of these, too, are being classified as small plates," says Chef Paul Kinny from Intercontinental Marine Drive, who does an interesting array of Italian antipasti and Thai appetixers at his restaurants, Corleone and Koh, respectively.
This is in direct contrast to the way eateries like McDonalds and Costa Coffee push meals as supersized meals. Like Kinny explains, "Here, the catch phrase is 'less is more'."
"The emergence of small plates can be attributed to a lifestyle change," says Chef Sanchez. According to him, with more people looking for a casual dining experience over fine-dining pomp, city chefs have created a niche for that audience.
In the last one year, six restaurants have added a section of small plates on their menu and if Chef Nikhil Chib of Busaba is to be believed, "Mumbai will soon have an 'only small plate' restaurant," he said, hinting at a new venture, perhaps?
Small sensation: Edamame dumpling
What we liked: Bringing authentic Cantonese preparations into the realm of contemporary Chinese, the city's first Michelin star restaurant, does some chic 'small eats'. The edamame bean dumpling is what caught our fancy, first.
The rice-sheet wrapped dimsums are soft-centred with a distinct bite. Stuffed with a mixture of scrawny edamame beans and crunchy water chestnuts, they're earthy, with an aromatic hint of white truffle mushrooms. Since it would be criminal to leave the restaurant without tasting a delicate duck preparation, we also recommended the duck roll. The dish is a flavour bomb with bits of braised duck, seasoned with star anise, bay leaf, garlic and secret Chinese herbs. Down it with one of their fragrant tea blends and head straight for a siesta.
Small talk: Chef Irfan Pabaney says, "We have a section of nibbles listed under our 'small eats' category. The dishes are a part of the bar menu that offers patrons small bites to be enjoyed with drinks. Well-heeled guests want to try diverse flavours, so the assorted dim sum basket is a hot seller. Full with pieces of scallop shumai, har gau, zucchini and prawn dumpling and chives dim sum, this dish is like a mini meal. The same can be said for the edamame dumpling. Hakkasan is the first restaurant to pair the bean with truffle mushrooms."
Price: Rs 550
At: Krystal, Waterfield Road, same building as ICICI Bank, Bandra (West).
Small sensation: Zucchini 'spaghetti'
What we liked: The menu at The Table intelligently uses single quote marks to explain a small plate called zucchini 'spaghetti'. The four-ingredient dish uses long juliennes of zucchini that resemble spaghetti strands. The dish has a buttery bite, thanks to the usage of ample brown butter. Since the cooking process lasts only for a few minutes, the zucchini is naturally crunchy and sweet. The usage of roasted almond slivers intensifies the textures by adding a snappy crunch.
The dish is finished off with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Had it not been for the simple presentation, the portion size had us convinced that this dish was a main course contender. For meat-lovers, we recommend the boneless chicken wings. Served with a glaze of soy, ginger and sugar, the little meat pieces are at their juicy best.
Small talk: Chef Alex Sanchez says, "The small plate concept is an extension of degustation (the careful appreciation and tasting of food) menus where chefs line up small courses for patrons to sample. Here, the guests can tailor their own culinary experience by choosing whatever appeals to them. The general idea is that a small plate should have more intense flavours. Take for example the panzanella salad at The Table. This salad preparation is traditionally made using tomatoes, but we have used pieces of watermelon to amplify the flavours."
Price: Rs 375
At: Kalapesi Trust Building, Ground Floor, CSM Marg, opposite Dhanraj Mahal, Apollo Bunder
Call: 22825000, 22825001
Small sensation: Santoku smoked salmon
What we liked:Honestly, it was the alliteration that made us curious about this dish. Served in the centre of a large plate, the salmon preparation is a pink-fish lover's dream come true. Santoku, a type of traditional Japanese knife, known for its sharp edges and scalloped blades, is used to chop smoked salmon into chunky bites.
The fish-based timbale is topped with homemade dill and sour cream sauce that imparts a tarty sweetness. To add crunch, the bed of arugula leaves dressed in lemon vinaigrette works perfectly. If you are a cheese fiend, you will enjoy the assorted cheese platter. With bits of gruyere, parmesan, goat cheese, gorgonzola and camembert, this plate is a perfect post-lunch treat. Complete with walnuts and grapes, the dish helps cleanse the palate before the arrival of desserts.
Small talk: Owner Ashish Sajnani says, "Our small plate menu comprises cold dishes. Since cold cuts and cheeses are best enjoyed in smaller bites, we have put them together under a one section. The Santoku smoked salmon is one of the most popular small plates on the menu. The dish works because of its lively flavours and contrasting textures of fish, creamy dressing and the salad. If vegetarians want to enjoy small nibbles, they will have to pick from the appetiser section."
Price: Rs 450
At: Royal Garden Hotel, Ground Floor, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu.
Small sensation: Goi cuon
What we liked: The goi cuon wrap from Busaba's small plate menu is equivalent to a summery day in Vietnam. Stuffed with vibrant ingredients like carrot, radish, cucumber and lemongrass-flavoured tofu, the see-through wrap is sweet and salad-like. The pickling of vegetables gives the dish a tangy kick and the freshly-softened rice paper helps in balancing out the crunch.
On request, you can change the stuffing to chilli chicken or garlic-flavoured prawns. The rolls are best enjoyed when dipped in homemade sauces like green chilli, red chilli and sweet chilli. The menu also has some healthy small plates to offer. We specially approve of the bahn xeo -- a rice pancake stuffed with bean sprouts, tofu, mushroom and shrimps. The dish is light on the palate and is spiced sparingly. Ditto for the ginger, garlic and soy flavoured chicken pieces that are steamed inside a banana leaf.
Small talk: Owner/chef Nikhil Chib says, "The word small plate rings better than appetisers. Since there is a rise in awareness about picking quality food over large quantities, a number of restaurants are introducing this concept. As Asians, we love sharing our food, so the idea of one person per plate is almost non-existent. Therefore, at Busaba, we are trying to keep the portion sizes somewhere between small and big."
Price: Rs 300
At: Mathuradas Mills Compound, next to Blue Frog, Tulsi Pipe Road, Lower Parel
Call: 6747 8971