A little old, a little new

Updated: Aug 10, 2019, 07:35 IST | Suman Mahfuz Quazi

First in mid-day: Tham brothers' newest launch replaces Churchgate's iconic Kamling, mixing nostalgia with good food and stable price points

Peking pomfret
Peking pomfret

Can't quite remember who said this but, "people both hate and are obsessed with the same thing — change." It is both easy and difficult to move on. So, the closing/alteration of a culturally significant institution, too, is often met with excitement and suspicion, both amalgamating into a brouhaha. And the underlying question behind all the ominous headlines and forebodings is, what next?

Mumbai was asking the same question eight months ago when news broke that the iconic Chinese diner on Churchgate, Kamling, was shutting down. Weeks later, we had reported that Keenan Tham, whose grandfather opened the restaurant many moons ago, will be taking over, sparking a fresh set of conjectures, until it was settled that their 2019 property, Foo (the franchise), will be replacing the once tony address as Foo Town.

Pink pepper prawns. Pics/Ashish Raje
Pink pepper prawns. Pics/Ashish Raje

Sitting inside the newly done-up space, with modern fixtures, mysterious hues and plush seating, after months of apprehension, feels surreal. Where are the tacky red lanterns, the over-used halogen bulbs, the acrid smell of vinegar and cheap oil? It's all gone. This is a new chapter.

Chapter one
In the late 1940s, 28-year-old Mon Yiu Tham (Keenan's grandfather), left his work as a chef and hairdresser in Hoiping, China, to move to Mumbai with a million aspirations tucked under his sleeve. "At that time, he was working as a translator with the Indian government. Then, he got the opportunity to start a beauty parlour with his wife. In 1968, he bought Kamling with his partner, Dr Chen, and Mandarin followed a year later," Keenan shares, as we take a bite from the Asian burrata salad (Rs490), a riotous platter of fresh burrata, served with Roman lettuce and a piquant miso-like dressing.

Asian burrata salad
Asian burrata salad

For seven decades now, the Tham family has been in the hospitality industry. Keenan and his brother, Ryan, are the third-generation owners, following in their father Henry's footsteps, who ran these establishments for years along with Tulun, Dr Chen's son, who continues to be a partner. The decision to shut down something of a symbol, thus, wasn't easy for the brothers either — much more difficult, in fact, than the average romantic Mumbaikar reminiscing about the past. "I grew up here," Keenan tells us, adding that while the decision came riding on a heavy heart, "it was simply time to move on."

"You have to keep up with the times. I have 10-year-olds coming in and asking for sushi. When I was 10, all I knew was sweet corn chicken soup," he quips, adding that while Kamling was iconic in its time, Foo, in way, is a go-to for the city's youth today.

Nikkei prawn tempura uramaki
Nikkei prawn tempura uramaki

Chapter two
And why wouldn't it be if you can sample genuinely interesting dishes at a relatively affordable price. If we told you there's a nikkei prawn tempura uramaki, brimming with umami goodness, chimichurri mayo and coriander oil, all rolled into moist sticky rice, and that it costs a mere R475 (instead of the regular price range for sushis, which is around Rs700), wouldn't you want it?

The menu is a mix of simple, bold and classic dishes. So, it features modern delicacies, like the salmon ceviche (Rs580), a pretty-pink serving of fresh fish laced with a piquant chilli paste and lime, alongside old-time Kamling classics, like the Peking pomfret (Rs475), which comes in a familiarly Indo-Chinese chilli garlic sauce. It may seem like an aberration to try this dish with Foo's classic blue rice (Rs335), a signature that makes use of butterfly pea flower, but they pair surprisingly well.

Foo Town

There are also brand new additions like the aforementioned salad, and broccoli dumplings (Rs360) that are juicy bags filled with a creamy, spicy stuffing. With a range of treats like the delicious pink pepper prawns (Rs475) or the scrumptious charcoal prawn har-gow (Rs410), a cool vibe, a tastefully done up al fresco, where you can feel the wind in your hair, one would have to be really stuck up to not enjoy themselves.

As Keenan says, "I have to keep up with certain expectations and I think we have accomplished far more than my grandfather had set out to do. I am excited about taking his legacy forward. And I hope that if my grandchildren get into this business, they can build something iconic of their own, too." So, the point really isn't so much about how things have changed, as long as they have.

Keenan Tham
Keenan Tham

At: Foo Town, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate.
Opens: Today, 12 am to 12 pm
Call: 9920133488

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