Kala Ghoda's Boston Butt shuts outlet, moves to Bandra
Mumbai's first smokery has packed its Kala Ghoda bags for Bandra, leaving behind the question: Why doesn't SoBo like its steak?
There's an unmistakable sense of deja vu when we walk into Boston Butt's new Bandra address. Rubbing shoulders with Irish House — yet again — the space at Pali Naka ticks all boxes of an old-fashioned southern American diner with its bevelled window panes and Prohibition era signboards.
What's missing, though, is the stiff upper lip that defined the decor of the Kala Ghoda outpost. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed. "That was South Mumbai and this is Bandra. We knew we could do away with the mirrored chandeliers and nobody would mind," jokes co-owner Sooraj Rao. "What matters is the food."
Green house California roll
In 2016, Rao along with fellow restaurateurs Nishant Rao, Siddharth Kashyap and Karna Shinde launched the city's first smokery and charcuterie in Kala Ghoda, naming it after the cut of the pig shoulders.
It was a pioneering concept that had everything going its way: a coveted spot in the city's art and fashion district, sprawling space and an audience with the spending power. "We went the whole hog by bringing down smokers from Austin," says Kashyap, also the chef at the restaurant. It was their collective belief that the authentic, Texas-style barbecue diner had the potential to shake up the restaurant scene. Until things went south.
Chef Seefah at Soi 69 in Breach Candy. Pics/CSuresh Karkera
Where: Breach Candy
Serves: Spicy crispy pork
'It's a challenge to get people [in SoBo] to eat tenderloin. I even have a Jain menu, which was the toughest to come up with' Chef Seefah, owner
Where are the carnivores?
"Demonetisation in November 2016 was the first domino to fall. Soon, the embassies and consulates that we were heavily banking on moved to Bandra. We were left with members of the Bombay Stock Exchange, who did not quite fall into our target audience," he says. The succour came from the legal community, who began frequenting the restaurant given its proximity to the Bombay High Court. So much so, that the owners even launched a property called the Boston Legal, where one could flash the bar association ID card, and avail offers and discounts on Friday.
Mock meat on skewers. Pic/Suresh Karkera
But that was not enough. They were still struggling to draw their target audience — the affluent, well-travelled customer who would relish the St Louis Style ribs and smoked ham. "Having said that, vegetarian dishes like the Four Cheese Mac n Cheese and Cottage Cheese Steak were moving fast," he says. The items feature in the new menu as well. By the end of two years, they could no longer ignore the writing on the wall. There weren't enough takers for meat. It was an uncanny co-incidence that around the same time, their landlord decided to dissolve the lease. "We accepted it because it was clearly not working out," recalls Rao.
Promise beyond the sealink
While there were multiple reasons contributing to Boston Butt's dwindling business, one that stands out is the growth of vegetarianism in South Mumbai. According to food writer and columnist Antoine Lewis, the trend is more visible in the mid to high range clientele. "South Mumbai is demanding more vegetarian options. But I also feel people in general are avoiding red meat; beef and pork for political reasons. Chicken, then, has become the meat of the century," he says.
Lunch hour at Burma Burma
Where: Fort, since 2014
Serves: Veg only
'Burmese meat is not for everyone. They typically consume seafood and pork flavoured with ngapi, a pungent, dry, fermented shrimp paste which is an acquired taste. It can make the room smell' Ankit Gupta, owner
Chef Seefah of Breach Candy's Soi 69 couldn't agree more. "It's a challenge to get people to eat tenderloin," she says. At her Bandra restaurant, Seefah, meat dishes constitute 70 per cent of the menu, while at Soi 69, it's 50:50. "I even have a Jain menu, which was the toughest to come up with," she laughs. As a meat lover, she considers Seefah her canvas, where she can be imaginative, while Soi is where she needs to think business. "That' just how the market is so you need to work your way around it," she says.
Not everybody might be willing to take the risk, though. Sometimes, it's safer to play to the gallery. Ankit Gupta, who runs Burma Burma, Fort, says it was a conscious decision to keep it vegetarian as "Burmese meat is not for everyone". "They typically consume seafood and pork flavoured with ngapi, a pungent, dry, fermented shrimp paste which is an acquired taste. It can make the room smell," he says.
What they also found was there was a lot of vegetarian fare that the locals consumed given the propensity for Buddhism, which lent itself to the South Mumbai ecosystem. Having said that, they do have "fake meat" offerings, that resemble the real deal to the T. The Quack Quack Palata, is a street snack of Yangon stuffed with mock meat. "You might think that a vegetarian would get turned off by the sight of something that looks like meat, but that's not true. When they know the ingredients that have gone into it, they are willing to sample it," says executive chef Ansab Ansari.
That South Mumbaikars are willing to experiment with food, even meat, is something Peter Mawiong, owner of Imbiss, the now-shuttered German-themed restaurant at Colaba's Pasta Lane, firmly believes. He might be one of the few to veto the voice that says that meat isn't welcome in SoBo.
The in-house larder board
"At Imbiss, we used to get people from all walks of life because German food was not readily available," he says. But, it's not just about the food, it's also the ambience and the drinks you offer with it, he adds. It's for this reason that the boys behind Boston Butt have created an expansive drinks menu at Bandra that includes vegan cocktails.
They have also increased the meat items, to include the Clams Casino (baked clams with pork pepperoni and pecorino), Mac-A-Pav (Goan style chicken choriz, mac-n-cheese, pao) and the Jambalaya (clam, shrimp, chicken choriz, brown rice). Although Mawiong has been scouting for spaces to make a comeback, he is no longer interested in investing in South Mumbai. "The returns aren't enough to pay the rent. Bandra might be better," he says.
Siddharth Kashyap, Sooraj Rao and Karna Shinde, co-founders, Boston Butt. Pics/Atul Kamble
Where: Earlier at Kala Ghoda, now Bandra West
Serves: Clams Casino (baked clams with pork pepperoni and pecorino)
'[We struggled to draw in our target audience — the affluent, well-travelled customer who would relish aged pork pepperoni and smoked ham]. Having said that, vegetarian dishes like the Four Cheese Mac n Cheese were moving fast' Sooraj Rao, owner.
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