Grant Road gets its own Milliways
Two 5-star chefs launch a delivery kitchen to make broths and baos accessible to everyone
If chefs Ashwin Ramachandran and Yash Rajpal had to pick their favourite fictional restaurant, it would be Milliways, situated at the end of time and matter, which Douglas Adams so deliciously chronicled in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Here, guests can eat sumptuous meals and get drunk on The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, all while watching the whole of creation explode around them.
But, in Ramachandran and Rajpal's universe, the idea of Milliways is a tad different and much more accessible. Named after the 1980 sci-fi hit, the delivery kitchen is located near B Merwan's at Grant Road East, and won't serve "large fat meaty quadrupeds of the bovine type, with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost be ingratiating smiles". What you will get, instead, is soulful Asian fare including miso ramen, pork chashu bao, Vietnamese pho or noodle broth and more.
Ashwin Ramachandran and Yash Rajpal work on their creations at Milliways Broth Noodle & Bao. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Not a misfit
When we visit the delivery kitchen on a weekday morning, it's just Ramachandran and Rajpal prepping the day's menu. Except for deliveries, the duo helms all other kitchen activities with help from an assistant. "Both of us have worked at five star kitchens across Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai in a variety of cuisines, so we were familiar with the ecosystem of high pressure and tight deadlines. But, the idea of opening your restaurant or kitchen is always a chef's dream. We wanted to be our own boss," says Rajpal, a Napean Sea Road resident, who opened Colaba's Pa Pa Ya before launching this venture.
Currently, the place is open only for dinner as they are still testing the waters. The idea of offering niche Asian food in a locality dominated by vegetarian eateries was a risk they were well aware of. "Most of our acquaintances and friends wanted to know why ramens and baos, and we said why not? It's wholesome, comfort food with healthy ingredients. Moreover, people are well travelled these days and familiar with global cuisines, so it was risk we were willing to take," says Ramachandran, who dabbled in progressive South Indian cuisine at The Avartana restaurant, ITC Grand Chola in Chennai, before moving to Mumbai a year ago. Presently, there over 30 dishes on the menu with 50 per cent of it vegetarian.
Rendang mutton curry
In ramens, they serve shoyu (soy sauce) and miso (fermented bean paste) versions with marinated grilled tofu and braised shitake mushroom for vegetarians, and chicken, chashu pork belly, shrimp and bekti fish for meat and seafood lovers. The prices range from R200 and go up to R400, which is reasonable for the portions. The dishes are served in special silver pouches and sturdy bagasse containers made from sugar cane fibre, which turns out was the biggest challenge for the owners. "Finding the right packaging is of paramount importance because you don't want to eat a cold broth. We were lucky to find the silver pouches at an expo in Delhi," he says.
Telling Thai from Burmese
We try the khao soi, wheat noodles with fragrant and fiery coconut and Bengal gram broth served with roasted peanuts, shallots, crisp noodles, fried garlic and other condiments. Often mistaken for its Burmese counterpart, this one is thinner in consistency and traditionally made with beef. But, in the face of the ban, the owners have replaced it with mutton. There's also a vegetarian version. "Strangely, the Thai khao soi is hardly available in the city, despite being a lot more aromatic and flavourful due to the array of condiments used in it. The recipe is inspired by the variety served in northern Thailand," explains Rajpal. He recalls how the other day, a customer lashed out at them for messing with the Burmese khao suey.
Spicy shoyu ramen
Having said that, they admit customers are warming up to the idea. "We want to make niche cuisine accessible to everyone. The good part is people in Mumbai are ready to experiment with food," says Ramachandran. Along with educating about the cuisine, their jobs also involve demystifying the name of the outlet. "Not everybody gets it, but that's alright as long as they love the food," he laughs.
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