Stranger things

Published: Jan 09, 2020, 07:00 IST | Phorum Dalal | Mumbai

This time, Zorawar Kalra offers an out-of-the-ordinary dining experience not with molecular gastronomy but high-energy bizarre performances and retro Chinese food

Zorawar Kalra is a quick learner. After the Kamala Mills fire of December 2017 caused restaurants to shut shop and move out, he waited with Kode and planned his next move. The brown and beige façade of the former restaurant is dressed in a bright pink flower cascade. The space now houses a retro Chinese offering which opens doors on January 11. "Welcome to ShangHigh; you're in for a surprise," says Kalra, dressed casually in a leather jacket [he's flown in from cold Delhi].

Once inside, our eyes fall on the bright fuchsia lights around the bar, and paintings of dragons on the side wall. A two-faced red dragon installation is suspended from the ceiling in the main seating section near the open kitchen that has optional wooden dividers. A line of lanterns create an ambience of a Shanghai supper club.

We stand by the bar and sip our first drink of the evening, Journey of a 1000 Suns ('495) that celebrates sugarcane rum with five Chinese spices and cane sugar syrup. But the star here is fresh tender coconut soda. We ask for a taste separately and love it. Suddenly, the lights go dim, music decibels go up and the spotlight is on the stage.

Guide

A performer takes his position, and removes a straw from his pocket. He shoves it into his nose — all of it — and brings it out; next, his co-performer brings him a bed of nails, on which he decides to lounge with a bare back. She walks on his stomach and he doesn't flinch. We watch, aghast, as the act gets more bizarre by the minute — from walking on a ladder of knives to swallowing an inflated balloon.

We aren't quite sure of what to expect next. The lights come on, and we look at Kalra. "Surprised, right? Okay, maybe we'll get rid of the straw act," he quips, making a mental note.

Such acts will keep gu­ests entertained at regular in­­tervals as they dine. We take a seat and talk shop.

Year book
The bygone year has been challenging for Kalra, with the loss of his father and a best friend soon after. Rivers and Oceans tanked and he admits that was a personal loss too. "A champagne and caviar bar was ahead of its time — it didn't work in a mall with its high price points. Mumbai has fantastic clientele but it faces the issue of oversupply," he says. "In India and London, Farzi Café serves no-frills regional cuisine, but in the Middle East, customers love molecular gastronomy. I do focus on changing with the times."

Remembering Jiggs

His father, Jiggs Kalra, put Indian cuisine on the world map and now, 12 years since he started Punjab Grill in 2004, Kalra pushes the envelope to carry the legacy forward. In 2012, he launched Massive Restaurants. He studied business and learnt the ropes of the food industry from his father. "At the age of 15, dad took us across Wales and Scotland where he was reviewing a few bed and breakfasts. This was in the late '80s, early '90s. It was when I was exposed to concepts like farm to fork, appreciating meats, even caviar and anchovies. Dad would bring back cheeses and meats from around the world and whip up an omelette breakfast on Sundays."

After TYGR and Pa Pa Ya that serve Modern Asian cuisine, it was time, says Kalra, to eat retro comfort Chinese food. We love the food for its simple execution by the new chef on the team, Pankaj Jha.

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Spare ribs Shangainese style (Rs 345) Pics/Ashish Raje

The pork belly comes drenched in a honey barbeque glaze and falls off the bone. The meat is cooked beautifully. It's simple yet sorcerous execution.

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Smoked duck breast, hoisin mango vinaigrette (Rs 295)

A great start to a meal, the meat in the salad is mildly smoked and the fruity mango sauce adds the tart finish. Served on a bed of crunchy greens, this is a great lunch option

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White chocolate brownie (Rs 425)

Brownie without cocoa. With pre-conceived notions about it, we let our guard down when the blondie arrives, with a choco-bar and vanilla filling on it. The spoon sinks in, and the combination of white chocolate, ice cream, and the blondie is a hattrick. We'll do an encore for this beauty.

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Turnip cake (Rs 230)

A tempura coating and mash in­side, this stands out for its crunchy garlic dust, wok-tossed with chives and chillies.

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Spinach noodles with bok choy, asparagus, and mushrooms (Rs 325)

This is a must-have! The noodles are soaked in spinach water to give them a parrot green colour and an earthy vegetable taste. This doesn't need any add-on and makes for a comfort Chinese dish. Reminds us of family outings to Asian restaurants

OPENS January 11, 12 pm to 1 am
AT Kamala Mills Compound, 11, Oasis City, Entrance #4, Lower Parel.
CALL 7718882923/4

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