It’s a balmy autumn night out in town. A narrow lane leads you away from a moonlit racecourse through a rain-soaked narrow lane, right into the heart of an erstwhile bustling textile mill finding its legs again with start-up offices, and a boutique or two. It’s after-hours and quiet. You stop outside a low building with a smooth black granite facade. No windows, no signboard screaming a name, just a large black square frame on a wall that is presumably the door. You pause briefly, wondering if you are in the right place, looking around for confirmation, when a guard materialises out of the night and smiles comfortingly while gently pushing open the black square. You step in from the darkness outside and the world around you transforms. This is the beginning of the Masque experience, the unique experiential dining space that opens its black doors to the city tomorrow, giving its gastronomes the gift of ‘Botanical Bistronomy’.
But before I tell you what this cryptic term means (it’s worth the wait!), take a look around with me. A large minimalistic space with black floors and a tall ceiling envelops you. A massive, jagged, metallic art installation in the centre divides the space into into unfussy wooden tables and chairs on the left, and a long, regimented cocktail kitchen on the right. The fluted white walls are bare, the mass of test-tube like lights hanging low over you are stately, and the aura is that of being… unmasked! You ask for a menu to get a sense of familiarity, but wait a minute, there isn’t one! At this point, if you are feeling a bit lost and out of your depth, it’s perfectly alright. This experience is not just new to you, its new to the city, to the country even. Just let your Rhododendron Gin cocktail ease you into your seat and get ready for the journey.
Now about the Botanical Bistronomy. It’s food that is international in its flair and presentation but completely local in its ingredients, consisting of only in-season produce sourced painstakingly from farms, orchards and forests across the country, or just outside the city. So there is that Rhododendron flower sourced from somewhere up in the misty Himalayas, an open Raviolo filled with the unique Fiddlehead Fern (click here for my interesting short story) from the faraway forests of the North-East, heirloom tomatoes and Roquette lettuce flowers in the sharp and fresh Tomato Tart sourced from an exclusive farm outside Nasik, and the dark and gorgeous chocolate in the delicious Chocolate-Salted Caramel Icecream picked up from the charming shores of Pondicherry. The juicy Lobster paired with the Black Smoked Potato and the tender Chicken stuffed generously with Kashmiri Morels are also sustainably farmed and procured. And instead of a printed menu that changes every few weeks, you get one of the 14 Chefs (yes there are 14 of them, no they DON’T spoil the broth but work in perfect harmony!) who takes you on a personalised journey of discovery, explaining the concept of a tasting menu of 3, 6 or 9 dishes paired with cocktails or wine, depending on your appetite.
Speaking of appetites, go here with a good-sized one if you want the real tasting menu experience that is quite the rage in European cities, California etc. Indulge in the full 9 courses with the crafted cocktails, not so much the wines. But don’t limit your appetite to just the food, although I admit it’s hard to get over the freshness and realness of the ingredients that you taste in every mouthful. Do spare a moment to soak in the story that each dish has to tell. Take a few minutes to concoct that one cocktail that defines you from the mix-and-match Cocktail Chart that lets you make your own drink. Sit back and absorb the grand starkness of the ‘Wabi-Sabi’ aesthetic feel around you. And feast your senses on the theatre of dining as tendrils of smoke escape from the slow charring of the Corn Tamale being torched in front of you, and the large loaf of Artisanal Bread arrives nestled like a baby in a cosy blanket, served on a warm bean cushion. That is the experience you are paying top dollars for, and believe me when I say you are! And that is the experience you will take away and cherish long after you have blended back into the jostle and bustle of the city.