Leo's act two
First in mid-day: Leopold Cafe enters a new chapter with a delivery venture in Bandra. But can it survive the competitive market in the burbs away from the iconic location?
You could take a thousand different routes to get some place, but the chances of you reaching there are higher if you know a landmark. That's because more than being a constant fixture made of brick and mortar, landmarks are like museums of undocumented history. And in a city that's as varied and colourful as a platter of Christmas goodies, with a story as old as time, landmarks are like book tags singling out special and memorable chapters.
Of them, Leopold Cafe, is one of Mumbai's most cherished — if the signage reading, 'Since 1871,' is a reminder of our colonial past, the pub on the first floor, Leo's Square, which was inaugurated in 1990, is an emblem of its changing demographics, and the bullet holes in the glass panes covering that pub are like a testimony to this city's fortitude.
Fusilli pasta in Leo's special sauce
This month, the shared history between the iconic restaurant and the family that owns it enters a new chapter as co-owner Farhang Jehani's son Sharyar lifts the lid over Leo's Kitchen, a delivery joint based out of Bandra, which will be catering to Khar, Santacruz, BKC and Bandra. And much like Leopold, the menu here, too, offers a miscellany of dishes from Mughlai and Chinese cuisines, along with a selection of pastas, wraps and rolls with flavours that are reminiscent of food from multicuisine restaurants of yore. This is natural, considering Sharyar stationed chefs hired for the delivery kitchen at Leopold and the other family-owned restaurants in Colaba during the time that this space was being built.
This manifests itself in the fare. Walk through the squeaky clean kitchen and rows of packaged condiments and pre-made sauces (at a time when contemporary chefs are leading a burgeoning war on processed foods) will confirm that what you're getting here is exactly what you looked forward to eating on Sunday family outings in the early '90s. As such, the penne in alfredo sauce and the fusilli in Leo's special sauce (R250 for veg; R300 for chicken and R350 for prawns for each) taste just the way gluten-heavy and creamy versions of the Italian dish would taste a decade ago, made to suit the Indian palate and without any care for culinary pedantics. The Chinese offerings, too, hark you to the golden era of Chindian cuisine, with starchy chilli chicken (R350), greasy Shantung noodles (R280 for veg; R310 for non-veg), a sweet-salty special oyster chicken (R350) minus the earthiness you'll find in a variant available at a proper Asian diner, and obsolete-but-delicious dishes like Mongolian chicken (R350).
The food comes neatly packed in plastic containers with stickers of quirky Mumbai-themed artwork
It would be important to point out here, that while the pastas — authentically Italian or not — and the wraps — typically fusion as they are — are satiating, a lot of work still needs to go into fine-tuning the Chinese segments. But the best from this lot are from the Indian and Mughlai sections, which have succulent chicken (R250) and fish (R300) tikkas, a robust chicken lahori (R325), juicy and tender mutton rogan josh (R375) and naans (R50 for garlic; R85 for cheese and R110 for garlic with cheese) as soft as a duvet made of microfiber.
And despite the undeniable similarity in the essence and ethos of this space, food-wise at least, this second-generation owner is wary of his passion project being viewed as an offshoot of his forefathers' business. "I told my dad that I'll call it Leo's Kitchen, but that's it," Sharyar, 26, is quick to point out, clarifying his wish to do something new independently. "I was studying the delivery service industry for quite some time. Not only here, but also when I was in the US between 2015 and 2016, while working at the Renaissance Plantation Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. In my free time, I would see the growth and I noticed a huge opportunity in the Indian market," he explains, adding that growing up in a family with deep ties to the hospitality industry meant that food came naturally to him. But the genesis of this venture lied predominantly in the desire to do something of his own. "Even when my father started the pub on the first floor, it was in line with what people wanted at that time," he elaborates.
Pics/Pradeep Dhivar and Bipin Kokate
But why Bandra? "It gives me fresh ground to play on, and we've never entered this market before," Sharyar says. The question that remains is that in the suburbs — which is already swarming with multifarious F&B joints, designed to cater to the diverse needs of its inhabitants, be it vegan-warriors, gluten-haters, or overworked youngsters looking for pocket-friendly comfort food — what more can a delivery kitchen, with nothing special or new in particular, offer? Also, by that logic, most people still visiting Leopold are perhaps doing so far more because of the charm and nostalgia around it than the food. With tough (and able) competition and minus the trimmings of an iconic location or the culture surrounding it, how is Sharyar planning to survive? "With blessings," he responds. Well, count on them.
At Leo's Kitchen, Waman Pundlik Warde Marg, Bandra West.
Time 12 pm to 12 am
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