Phir ek baar, Mangii
First in mid-day: Once Juhu's iconic celeb den re-opens eight years after shutting, and while the classic mango tree is missing, the wood-fired oven pizzas are just as delicious
For the longest time, a 40-year-old mango tree that grew in a compound nestled in a by-lane in Juhu lay barren. Then, at the end of 2003, a first-time restaurateur at the time and a 31-year-old Worli boy, Prashant Chaudhri, took over the property to start a new diner there. Unlike former owners, who restrained the tree to the backyard, Chaudhri decided to make it central to his venture.
It came to be called Mangii Ferra or "mango tree" in Latin, which was appropriate since the burly evergreen, adorning the entrance, became a bit of an icon on its own. And in the summer of 2004, a few months after the establishment had opened in February, the tree surprisingly bore fruit.
Carbonara bacon pizza
In the years that followed, the restaurant and the tree bloomed together. While one stood resplendent with low-hanging mangoes, the other was teeming with stars. From Sachin Tendulkar to Talat Aziz, all sang its praise, thanks to the flavourful Italian fare on offer.
Meanwhile, Chaudhri, propelled by the success of his maiden business, embarked on a fervent mission, opening several restaurants, cafés and clubs all across the city.
Elephant asparagus souffle
Then, in 2011, the celeb den and nightlife junction, was forced to shut down because it had become economically non-viable. And within the next three years, the tree, like the defused buzz around the space, dried up.
Mangii Ferra in 2004
"It had to be cut down. But isn't it a spooky story?" Chaudhri inquires, reclining back into one of the many pressed-wicker chairs that are part of the decor of the transformed space, which will open its doors to patrons once again today.
The canopies that once lined the façade of the restaurant in its old avatar have been retained, adding a touch of green to its pale pink exterior. Inside, the playful colours from the erstwhile Mangii have been swapped for warmer, pastel tones, along with pearly clean walls that have been interspersed with rough-textured pillars, glowing in the light of the classic chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Gin and basil smash
One on end, there are cosy seating corners that jut out of the wall from below the window panes, and at the far end of the space there's a wooden panelled wall facing a large table meant to be a private dining area. A decade ago, that part of the restaurant used to be a split level. The ambience is still quaint, but seems to have matured, as has its creator — from a sceptical novice in the F&B industry to a seasoned businessman with a chain of eateries to his name.
"This used to be a great looking restaurant with good food, but we are coming back after eight years; and tastes are bound to have changed," Chaudhri explains, speaking about the restaurant's metamorphosis from a youthful eatery into a modern diner. The menu, too, attempts to embrace current eating preferences, so it offers a few Mediterranean and pan-European options.
Buratta cheese caponata. Pics/Satej Shinde
But by and large, it continues to serve delectable Italian fare. Like, a burrata cheese caponata (R525), which is a traditional Sicilian delicacy made with veggies and eggplant. But here, it makes use of an excellent burrata, with a stretchy exterior and a warm and gooey core. It is paired with fresh rocket leaves and pine nuts, all tossed in extra virgin olive oil and a balsamic dressing. It's like autumn on a plate.
The wood-fired oven pizzas — that they were popular for — continue to feature on the menu. Fresh out of the oven, the carbonara pizza (R725) is a treat. A crisp base is lathered in a creamy white sauce and donned with streaky bacon, rocket leaves, stracciatella and parmesan.
Though a little dry, it's easy on the palate and perfect for tomato haters. The truffle mascarpone fettucine (R675) is a sinful platter of perfectly cooked pasta dredged in a delicate and velvety sauce. It's brimming with a rich earthiness from the fresh truffles and chives. The seafood paella (R625) is a tangy dish that boasts of juicy mussels and squid. While the elephant asparagus souffle (R525) are these herby cutlet-shaped tid-bits served on a bed of cheesy fondue. It settles at the back of your mouth, exploding into a pool of flavours.
And while the goji berry and asparagus ravioli (R525) fails to impress with its stodgy dumplings, the four pepper tiger prawns (R895) makes up for it. With the softest crustaceans, enhanced by the sharpness of the peppers, the dish washes down well with a swig from the refreshing and citrus-ey gin and basil smash (R495).
So, in spite of the new look and the absence of the mango tree, the essence of the old Mangii remains — ingrained in its food, attentive service and Chaudhri's unabashed presence. The logo, which was once the entire tree, has been altered to just a leaf. It doesn't symbolise a rebirth, but instead, befittingly denotes a lingering presence in another form and shape.
At Mangii Ferra, Om Satyadeep, Cross Road, JVPD Scheme, Juhu.
Time 12 pm to 1 am
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