Mumbai food: A private dinner with complete strangers

Updated: Nov 18, 2016, 09:28 IST | Anjana |

A new, boutique culinary experience in Bandra is a celebration of great food and Mumbai's community spirit

Blueberry cheese with microgreens
Blueberry cheese with microgreens

According to a State Transport Ministry report, Mumbai has 8.6 lakh private cars and 1.64 lakh public vehicles. As we make our way to ‘The Love Fools Dinner Lab,’ all of these, it seems, have been squeezed into Bandra’s narrow lanes. Thus, what seems like a gentle WhatsApp reminder from the chef when we’re cruising down the Worli-Bandra sea link — “We will start the first course at 8.30 sharp,” — becomes a deadline that looms large as we merge into the Bandra traffic. Our anxiety does not abate as we draw closer, for stopping a car on Pali Naka at rush hour is heart-stopping — your best option is to hitch a ride on a passing aircraft and parachute onto the roof of Pereira House, (aim for the shadowy patch across the road from Pali Village Cafe).

Creme Brulee
Creme Brulee

The venue for this curated eight-course meal that aims to capture the culinary spirit of at least four continents, is a quiet apartment, dimly lit and practically bare. A table for four sits at the centre of the room and the adjoining area holds a larger community table, the veins on its wooden surface visible in the candle light. An exposed brick wall lends the place a rustic charm — an odd setting for a fine-dining experience, and more like a meeting place for members of a secret society.

Chocolate rolls with lemon-chocolate icecream
Chocolate rolls with lemon-chocolate icecream

In fact, the very concept of a community table seems at odds with the notion of ‘fine dining,’ the preserve of the elite. Besides, when you’re paying top dollar for haute cuisine (`3,000 per head), there is, typically, an underlying expectation of privacy. Chef Sarita Pereira shatters that notion with her ‘dinner lab,’ turning the concept of fine dining into a social experiment of sorts.

At our table are two German tourists, a marketing professional, a food blogger, a student, an ad man and his wife, a gentleman from Boston and another young couple. Hair neatly tucked into a black bandana, the charming chef introduces her concept and explains that a central theme threads through every course. “Today’s theme is Citrus,” she says as we sip on a glass of orange infused water. She disappears into the kitchen while we introduce ourselves in the awkward silence, until someone turns the music on.

The first course arrives — a lemony sorbet around which is poured a prawn-infused bisque — and it’s received like a star on the red carpet. The dish is delicious but just a teaser of a portion really. Wine is poured (for those who opted for the wine pairing: `1,600 to `2,400, depending on the selection), the sorbet thaws, and gradually the buzz of conversation begins to drown out the thumping of my heart. Dining with strangers is not as hard as I thought it would be.

The second course seems like a reward for our courage. It’s a chiffon-light, blueberry-infused cheese that sits on a cashew nut bar, served with a salad of microgreens, pine nuts and berries. It’s a delicious cornucopia of flavours that play off each other, and it’s presented like a work of art. By the time the next course — pine-soaked goat cheese bundled in a ribbon of zucchini with a drizzling of orange oregano sauce (oh, and a single prawn) — is brought out, we’ve discovered that one of the tourists is actually a marketing professional who has lived in Mumbai for over eight years and knows all its little secrets — that Hillary got at least one vote from India (via email), and that, for
women motorcyclists, Mumbai traffic sometimes parts like the Red Sea did for Moses.

Sommelier, Gargi Kothari, pipes in with oeno-facts. She seems well versed in the subject and assures the gentleman from Boston that some wines do boast the aroma of pencil shavings. No, his old boss at a wine shop in Boston wasn’t pulling his leg.

The chef makes another appearance — she does this before each course — to explain what’s coming next. “Indian salmon wrapped in pandan leaf served with a pandan-infused shot.” The coin-sized piece of fish is dominated by the aromatic flavour of the Southeast-Asian herb and the accompanying shot, topped with espuma, is a pleasant, if rather spicy accompaniment. Not all the dishes impress though. The Spanish Coca has treacle-sweet caramelised onions served over cubes of brown bread that are a touch too dry and a portion of lamb served on a red lettuce leaf has too much fat, less meat. However, the only filling dish, the lemon and caper butter risotto, is, absolutely divine.

Desserts are a mixed bag. A chocolate-topped spiced roll isn’t crispy enough and a cube of cheesecake does little to excite. But a “French vanilla, white chocolate, green lemon zest custard,” (sadly, without the caramelised sugar on top) is a pleasant end to the meal.

We also enjoy the creamy, lemony dark chocolate ice cream, and are glad to learn that Chef Pereira will be marketing her artisanal ice creams soon. Also exciting is the fact that one can sign up for Trial Tuesdays, (`600 to `1,200) where you can help the chef by providing your feedback on new recipes. For food this good, one doesn’t mind being a lab rat.

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