Rahul Akerkar's Indigo, on Mandalik Road, off Colaba Causeway and behind the Taj, is Bombay's first gourmet restaurant. I mean, outside the restaurants within the five-star hotels, they don't count. For instance, there is a potato crusted rawas that is at once crisp and buttery. It is a nice big chunk of rawas, and it is packed top and bottom with grated potatoes. It is pan-sautéed, the potato becoming crusty on the outside, but at the same time acting as a heat shield for the rawas inside, keeping the meat moist and flaky. The contrast is tremendous, you crunch into the potato and meet the yielding meat inside. And it is accompanied (it is a plated meal) with two vegetables and an unusual sauce. The first vegetable is a puree of ginger and carrot, the second is spinach fried very crisp. You can pick it in your hand and crumble it between fingers. So there is a balance between the vegetables also, a puree & a crunch. And finally the sauce, the executive chef calls it 'kairi curry'. It is a recipe from his grandmother, a mango curry, he has extracted the flavour from it and created a sauce. The dish costs Rs. 260 and it is one of the entrees at the Indigo, a restaurant that has opened more than a month now and if you have not dined there yet you are not living to eat. Sorry.
The executive chef is Rahul Akerkar himself. He is also the proprietor, the inspiration, the idea behind the restaurant. Some time back, I had the opportunity to list the city's best restaurants, I had put Under The Over at Kemp's Corner as my No. 1, also started by Akerkar.
The present restaurant replaces Vintage, a Hyderabad food place. Akerkar has redone the insides completely, from top to bottom, or dining room to kitchen. It is designed on clean, contemporary lines, an ambience of restrained elegance. The walls are bare, the table linen plain, the upholstery in the lounge done with suit fabric, the only decoration sprigs of fresh lilies. There are separate areas, a long bar, a lounge, two dining rooms, downstairs and upstairs. There are no rules, you can eat anywhere you like. There is piped music, a mixture of jazz, some African, some Latin, electic music, no disco or heavy rock, but it is not a stuffy place, overbearing or formal. It is nearest to a bistro that you find in the French countryside, the waiters wear white shirts, dark trousers, ties tucked in, long aprons. The cooks wear bandanas on their heads. They have all been trained by Akerkar. First, you have to untrain them of what they learnt, then train them in new methods, he says.
The food. Yes,that's the main event. The menu is limited, a minimum a la carte menu, appetizers, entrees, desserts. Like all great restaurateurs, Akerkar believes in a small menu that can be changed frequently. But still, there are many flavours, tastes, textures. Basically, the food is European, and the techniques and workings of the kitchen are classic European (50 litres of stock reduced to a ladle of demi glace), but the expression is contemporary. Flavours infused with a little bit of Indianisation. I shall move directly to the appetizers:
A cold carrot and orange soup, Rs. 80. Not many Indians care for cold soups, but for the Indian climate it is appropriate. And a lobster bisque, traditional, no magic in this, except perhaps that it has floating in it bits of crisp okras. Rs. 150. You want to skip the soup, try the mushroom flan. It is a combination of mushrooms, button, black, morel, oyster, sautéed with herbs and a rough puree made of them. This is then mixed in the cooking cement of eggs and cream, put in the oven, and baked so that it firms up and becomes a flan. Served with a lemon mushroom sauce. Rs. 120. Also a gnochi, potato and flour dumplings, with chives added to them, done in a white wine cream, with leeks and saffron. And a fresh tangy roasted lobster salad, with tomatoes, black beans and greens in balsamic vinaigrette. More interesting is the 'raviolo'. It has been explained to me that raviolo is the mother of ravioli. The latter, as you know, is sealed packets of pasta, but in raviolo you don't seal the pasta, they are sheets of pasta, you put one at the base of the dish and one at the top, and fill the space between with prawns and roasted pumpkin, and have it with a roasted pumpkin, and have it with a roasted tomato pesto. The tomatoes are roasted in an oven and this is an innovation, they are in place of sun-dried tomatoes that you get at Italian restaurants. Try them. I am told the oven roasted are better than sun dried, not that I agree. The raviolo is Rs. 160, the lobster salad Rs. 180, excellent for the price.
Finally, my favourite, the grilled cinnamon quail. The quail must be the most tender bird of all, the meat picks off the bones with great ease and even the bones can be chewed. In the wild, it is a protected bird, but you are allowed to buy them at quail farms. At Indigo, it is flash flame grilled, very quickly, and it is treated with cinnamon powder, giving the meat a peculiar flavour. The dish comes with a pickled carrot pomegranate and leek salad. So there is the cinnamon-treated meat, rather sweet, and the tart, somewhat tart. After that, have a shorbet, mango and green chilli, or lichee and ginger. Now that peaches are coming in the market, Akerkar is trying another shorbet, of peaches and plums.
Akerkar says he is not trying to change people's food habits, he is just truing to introduce new tastes. And he is adapting Western food to Indian tastes. For Indian tasted, the food does not have to be spicy, but it must be strongly flavoured. That accepted, at the restaurant they are cutting no corners, everything has to be authentic. If the right ingredients are not available, remove the item from the menu. Basically, everything is cooked in olive oil, and there is a generous use of olives, capers, things are cooked in wines, sauces are prepared overnight. Take a stock of 20 kilos of bones, reduce to two litres of demi glace, add wine, port wine, put on a plate and it coats the plate, glazed like thin honey.
If you are going to the restaurant tonight, I suggest for the entree you have the black pepper crusted tuna. Rs. 260. The meat is taken exclusively from the loin of the tuna, the fillay mignon, the thick muscle above the central bone. The fillay is covered with fresh crushed pepper & sautéed, & served with what they call a capotana, a Mediterrean combination of egg plant, celery, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers in red wine. A warm salady capotana. With white beans & oregano topped with a warm dressing of coriander red wine vinagrette. The chef will cook the tuna for you medium rare to rare, do not instruct him otherwise. The inside has to be underdone, pink, like having a medium rare stake. This is how tuna should be eaten, not overcooked & dry.
There are grilled tiger prawns, with beetroot couscous, pak chori & lobster butter, Rs. 525, but this is usual, do not waste your evening on it. Instead, if you like lamb, go for the braised & stuffed leg of lamb. It's a baby lamb, the leg deboned & stuffed with mint & basil, then braised. It is served with baked rice, aromatic with dill & peanuts, & root vegetables. There's a prune chutney that comes with it, to provide the occasional sweet-sour taste to the lamb. There are two chicken dishes, one grilled, with a mushroom ragout, plusw corn and spinach, the other crisp roasted, with lemon put under the skin of the bird.
A dish already popular is a tortellini made with gram flour (besan atta), with roasted pumpkin and pine nut, and a cream of oven roasted tomato. Or you can order a huge vegetable platter, with an assortment of baked, sautéed, roasted and marinated vegetables, with plantain chips, mung dal pancakes, and three sauces to dip them in: Thai style peanut base, a Latin sauce made from capers and parsley, and a sweet red chilli sauce.
Desserts include a warm banana-walnut-chocolate strudel, a caramelised apple tart, also warm, fruit cheese cakes, etc.
I have referred only to the dinner menu. Lunch service has just started. I have not experienced it, but I am told it is different, lighter, more salady, different prices. For dinner, it is advisable to book in advance, if you don't want to wait in the bar, especially at weekends. Get on the phone for tonight, call: 285 6316, 202 3592.