Eat. Drink. Pa Pa Ya. Repeat!

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As a food aficionado in Mumbai, the excitement and challenge is in keeping track of the sheer number of new restaurants, cafes, restobars, nightclubs, pubs, lounges and bistros opening up in the city, given the sudden surge in the restaurant business. Just when you think you are on top of your game and have done it all, out pops another exciting new place to hang out at, another cracker of a dish to immerse yourself in, another cocktail to curl your fingers around and unwind to… This is why, going back to a place you have already visited needs not just good timing, but a very good reason too! And our repeat trip to Pa Pa Ya Colaba, nearly 2 months after its rocking launch party, had both… in plenty!

It was not only time to try out the plethora of reinvented, modern Asian dishes, designed by Chef Sahil Singh and his team, who have made Asian food look, taste and feel fashionable and fun. It was also time to reconnect with someone who, right from the time we first met at a food event, has been like a soul sister to me – the ever-bubbly, no-nonsense Punjaban Sonali Priy Kapoor 🙂

And oh boy, reconnect we did! Endless conversations on quirky date nights, crazy diet plans and laugh-riot anecdotes continued into the wee hours of the morning with plenty of singing and dancing thrown in for good measure. And the food? Here’s a closer look at the amazing dishes from the 16-page menu, that floated in from the kitchen with flourish…

 

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Pa Pa Ya’s claim of ‘high-energy dining’ is something that trickles through in many different ways, and is so much a part of the experience that you can’t really separate your own excitement from the energy around you. It is evident in the pops of colour, the loud electro pop music, the playful presentation of dishes in quirky bowls, tubs and platters, and the deft use of molecular gastronomy that heightens your experience, right from the signature amuse bouche of Watermelon Cubes in a Savoury Foam to the theatre of the giant fiery Chocolate Ball dessert. And yet, it does not muck around with a classic like the Slow Cooked Lamb Rendang, served with the flakiest Roti Prata from the streets of Singapore, which takes about 8 hours to get from the fire to your plate, but only a few seconds to make its way into your heart.

That’s what makes Pa Pa Ya a repeat offender… a place you would want to go back to for more! More of the fragrant pot-pourri of Asian dishes, and more of the comfort food you just can’t get enough of! And, of course, many more crazy nights like this one 😈

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Ooh La La! A French restaurant in Mumbai! (Flourish)

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You often hear people say that you can ‘see with your mind’, or ‘listen with your heart’ or ‘feel with your soul’. I believe them.

In fact I would take it a bit further and say that you can ‘smell’ something dangerous, ‘touch’ someone with your creativity and ‘taste’ the rain in the air before it comes pouring down. Try it, if you haven’t already!

But, ‘eat with your eyes’? Never been too sure of that one. It’s not just about getting past the literal meaning, erasing graphic visuals of eyelashes dipped in a soup or, worse, a forkful of Chicken Tikka Masala NOT heading towards your mouth… Ouch!

It’s also about those dramatic guys at Dans Le Noir who believe that dining in complete darkness enhances your experience of the food, because in the absence of visual clues from your eyes in a zero-light setting, all your other senses of touch, smell, hearing and taste become acutely sharpened to compensate for and boost your overall dining-in-the dark experience.

But then again, I would never say no to a beautiful bowl of Muesli like this one, 

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Pic courtesy Camille Styles

glistening with shiny spring berries, a mix of toasted nuts scattered liberally on it, and a blob of promisingly sweet creamy yoghurt resting gently on the top… even though Muesli is one of my most hated things to eat!

And then there are those dishes or cocktails served in smoking cradles and bubbling baths that look like something out of your dreams, but turn quickly into nightmares in your mouth…

Such are the conflicting thoughts that go through the head of a food reviewer such as myself (I hope and pray I’m not alone in this!) when trying out a plethora of dishes at a new establishment. Most of them stick to the middle section of the palate range based on which part of the globe they are in, albeit with a few rebellious nudges and touches here and there. But some start off at two extreme ends of the spectrum – too purist or too experimental. And then there are places like Slink & Bardot, the new French restaurant in the city of Mumbai, that are just delightfully unpeggable.

The curiously-named Restaurant and Lounge (ask the irrepressible and charming co-founder Nick Harrison for the story behind the naming 😉) is housed in a restaurant that has seen several changes of hands and paint and cuisines, but never so elegant in design or so plush in feel. The service is surprisingly intuitive and the servers very well-informed about the complex, multi-component dishes. The menu promises French dishes in small plates that are easy to pronounce AND easy on your pocket. (A tail-coated Frenchman somewhere in the world just shook his head in disgust at such a slight… ‘French and affordable? Merde!’)

And the food… beautiful to your eyes, flavourful to your nose, textured and nuanced to your palate and so good that you spontaneously want to give Chef de Cuisine Alexis Gielbaum a big bear hug… just don’t scare him off please because I want to go back for my next round and try out all the other fabulous secret recipes that he has up his sleeves that I got a delicious little peek into!

Here’s a look at some of the dishes and cocktails at Slink & Bardot. Drool, and then make a beeline for this beautifully-appointed cottage at the edge of the sea, and the Sea-Link!

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With Chef Alexis and Gaurav Sharma and Dolly Bose in the busy but pristine kitchen

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With the charming Nick Harrison, Suprio Bose, Dolly Bose and Gaurav Sharma at the lively bar

 

Riyaz Amlani and team Impresario, twirl your hand in a flourish, and take a deep bow, as the French would! 🙂

 

 

A Welcome Shophouse Eatery

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A shophouse is a pretty common sight in many cities of South East Asia. Today, these restored townhouses from colonial times serve mostly as heritage homes, trendy boutiques and hipster bar addresses, set in narrow, deep, 2-storey brick buildings with typical louvred shutters and sloping roofs. Occasionally, you will find some old weathered ones languishing in their original avatars with quaint ground floor shops selling stuff from building supplies to Chinese medicines to steaming noodle bowls to aroma oils, with the owner living above in the comfort of lime plastered walls and terracotta floors.shophouses-emerald-hill-singapore

While walking past a cluster of these shophouses in a quiet, tree-lined lane off Orchard Road in Singapore, I remember marvelling at the diversity of people living in such homes. On one side was a traditional house, modest in its ornate Chinese woodwork, with a shiny bright red floor and dark interiors, from which had emerged a very old bare-chested and toothless Chinese Grandpa, quite cross with my curious stares at his beloved home. Directly opposite was one with a large carpeted porch, lit up with soft-glowing lanterns, leading into what looked like a plush minimalist anteroom. No grandpa here, but the two huge ‘Shi’s (Imperial lion statues) sternly guarding the tall gates, looked down with equal disdain at my trespassing eyes.tumblr_nbrnkzekbR1tnrsx9o4_1280

But my experience at our very own shophouse in Mumbai was quite the opposite of trespassing. Shizusan, the Asian Shophouse Bar and Restaurant that has recently opened at High Street Phoenix was warm and welcoming from the word go. From the subdued diner-style restaurant on the ground floor, to the oakwood and abacus stairwell, to the burst of colours and relaxed airiness of the bar and lounge upstairs, to the towering collapsible gates behind the bright red bar thrown open to reveal bits and bobs from an Asian household, to finally the bulky menu with helpful and very tempting pictures of the dishes…. there is a definite inclusiveness and large-heartedness to the whole thing, as if you are a favoured guest at a well-loved, well-travelled Chinese merchant’s lively living room 🙂

We realised exactly how inclusive, when our group of three – Teddy, Di and I – were seated and Dee Dee (Deepti Dadlani) gave us a mouth-watering rundown of the must-try dishes, a happy mix of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Burmese, Malaysian and even Filipino. And we realised exactly how large-hearted when the heaped dishes arrived in quick succession, the big portions clearly meant to make the hungry soul rub HIS tummy in glee – girls don’t rub tummies, just saying…

Friendly chef Paul Kinny and bar magician Tanai Shirali‘s frequent anecdote-filled visits to our table made sure we and our tummies had nowhere to hide. There were colourful Sashimi Platters, chunky Maki Rolls, delicate Dim Sums (21 different types, I kid you not!), pillowy Baos, crisp Tempuras, a plethora of delicious Asian Tapas along with on-point cocktails like Piss Alley Cat, Cucu and Mao’s Negroni which we had to hungrily and delightfully wade through before we could even reach the distant shores of the main course dishes. But some favourites that emerged out of the sea of beautifully-plated, flavour-punched, cleverly-textured dishes were –

Fish and Chips Maki Rolls

Goi Cuon Summer Rolls

Pork and Jalapeno Gua Bao

Lobster Moneybags and Korean Mandoos

Black Pepper Lobster

Buri Bop, and, the knock-out-of-the-park,

Mussels with Coconut Cream.

After demolishing all of that, it’s difficult to tell if it was a case of my taste buddies giving up on me, or the merit of the desserts themselves, but the 5-Spice Creme Brulee and the Tub Tim Grob both just about missed the mark for me… a tiny sin that then got washed away by the aromatic Mogo Mogo Hot Tea that ended our royal feast with a bang!

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After all the indulgence, our family of foodies felt like well-fed, well-satiated Laughing Buddhas. And since Chinese tradition says rubbing the the tummy of the Laughing Buddha brings wealth, luck and prosperity, we all gave our tummies a nice gleeful rub, girls included! Only because tradition demands it, you see! 😉