Mumbai Food: There's an Americano brewing in Kala Ghoda
First in mid-day: Chef Alex Sanchez makes a comeback with an American-inspired Italian menu and a potent neighbourhood bar
As we step in, a mobile ceiling installation of suspended golden and blue circular metal plates, which move with the wind and represent balance, comes into view. Below it stands a familiar face. It's a leaner, fresher-looking Alex Sanchez, who first came to India as a 26-year-old in 2010 to lead The Table. When Gauri Devidayal and Jay Yousuf opened the Apollo Bunder fine-dine, Sanchez was part of the launch team, moving on to lead the kitchen during his two stints before hanging the apron in 2017.
Sanchez, who began his year-and-a-half long sabbatical with a trip back home to San Francisco — and later Italy with his partner, Mallyeka Watsa — is now set to open Americano on March 19. The American-inspired Italian restaurant replaces AKA Bistro at Kala Ghoda.
Done up in gold and deep blue, the space has an upbeat casual vibe, and every nook is designed for eating, with standing areas along the windows as well. The bar boasts a two-step marble top, and a backdrop of bottles and jars are fermenting kombuchas, an experiment by Darren Crawford, who heads the cocktail programme here.
"The dining scene has evolved to a huge extent since I got here, but it is still in its nascent stage. The Table had acquired a distinct personality and thrived on many signature dishes. I felt like I needed to reconnect to my food philosophy. Every chef's dream is to be their own boss and open their own restaurant," explains Sanchez.
Interestingly, partner Mallyeka has had stints at a luxury resort in the Himalayas, as a baker in Paris, and is founder of a skincare brand. "I interned at The Table, but Alex doesn't remember me from then! We connected much later," she laughs.
Our house negroni ('675) sits on a coaster that has an Italian saying, "To have ham over one's eyes". This means having to wake up to reality. The drink is smooth, and not the sugar-heavy version we despise. The conversation steers once again to Mumbai. "The city shook me up," Sanchez recalls, admitting there is a nostalgia component that made him open his restaurant here. "As an expat, Mumbai embraced me, and gave me an opportunity. To start over in another city would be foolish."
From being a "hot head" in the kitchen to learning to be patient and humble, Sanchez tells us about the day when seven chefs didn't show up. "Clearly, it was because I was a jerk. Back then, I imagined I had the right to act like one because I was a foreigner. I learnt to shed the tyranny, and teach." Over the years, his cooking has simplified, too. In the early days, he created a calamari dish stuffed with mousse and kaffir lime. He gave the foam to his chef to try, who made a terrible face. "He must have thought he was having soap. The dish had so many elements. It was clearly overthought. It made me realise the importance of simplicity," says Sanchez.
We begin with an amuse bouche-style potato love letters ('275) that could pass off as sophisticated chips and dip. A fried potato wafer roll holds avocado cream and a red onion dip. Corn "ribs" ('450) with a green garlic aioli have a masaledar paprika and chilli spice mix. We love this take on the Bambaiyya bhutta. We progress to gateway tonic ('650), a refreshing gin-based drink made with fresh ginger, lemon, kaffir lime and lemongrass. The gin is infused with thyme and Assam tea. It pairs well with porcini spiced chicken wings that come with a side of hot sauce made from Bhavnagri chillies. Italy meets Gujarat in chicken wings, who would have thought? From the main course, taglioni nero ('625) is a squid ink and prawn pasta, in a light tomato sea broth. The ribbons have soaked the taste of the sea, and a hint of oregano makes this a stand-out dish.
Alex Sanchez at Americano
We raise an eyebrow when we learn that the cavoletti pizza ('675) is topped with brussel sprouts. Under a warm quilt of fontal cheese, the shredded greens are treated with a sea-salt confit and garnished with mint leaves. The coolest thing is a side of salsa verde and a chilli garlic dip, so you don't waste the crisp edges. We end the meal on a sweet note with a spoonful of airy tiramisu ('300) and a tart blackberry sorbet ('300) with a pulpy thick sheen. On our way out, we eye the installation, which we have learnt is inspired by artist Alexander Calder. We can now connect it to the balance Sanchez creates between the cocktails and food. Welcome back, Alex.
At Americano, Nagindas Master Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
Time 7 pm to 1 am
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