The restaurant ushers in a ‘season of changes’
With the city’s brief change in weather, a ‘season of changes’ is underway at one of its most popular restaurants. Thomas Zacharias, chef-partner at The Bombay Canteen will step away from the pass and hand over his responsibilities to chef Hussain Shahzad.
Shahzad, who was formerly in charge of the stoves at Hunger Inc’s BKC restaurant, O Pedro, will overlook both restaurant kitchens in his new role as Executive Chef of the group.
Zacharias will remain a partner, but play a significantly less active role in the day-to-day operations. What’s next for him? A book? A show? A new cafe? The 34-year-old chef remains tight-lipped. “I have a few things I’m working on, but it’s too soon to talk about it.”
Since March, the restaurant and group—like the industry—has had its share of setbacks. The forced closure due to the pandemic, the passing of chef Floyd Cardoz—its founding partner—and the restrictive reopening protocol were just some of the hard bumps along the way. After experimentation with everything from online classes, to innovative takeaway menus and deli items, as well as India’s first distilled cocktail in a bottle, the team is back in action at their first restaurant, ready to welcome guests.
New chef, new menu
What everyone will be most excited about is to get back to their favourites on the menu, but apart from six classic dishes (Kejriwal toast, Barley Salad, Canteen Ceviche, Arbi Tuk, Chettinad Prawns ‘Ali-Yolio’ and Hara Channa Salad), the offerings are completely revamped. The new dishes point to the new direction for the restaurant. “It’s exciting to be able to be a part of this entire season of change. We’re celebrating everything that India has to offer and looking at spreading the net wider when it comes to regional diversity,” says Shahzad. The new menu is a tighter edit as compared to the older one, with a heavy focus on small plates or ‘chotas’. Diners will love some of the dishes that reinterpret winter produce with a deeper focus on technique and experimentation. The Charred Winter Carrots with goats cheese and pickled onions have a meat-y texture and explode with a smoky depth of flavour. Look out for the Podi B**f Tartare dressed in smoked egg yolk and served with dosa crisps reminiscent of the pork skin crisps from an earlier menu. As an ode to the late Cardoz’s love for kulchas and his dishes at The Bombay Bread Bar in NYC, the menu has a Floyd’s Kulcha Club section that will feature a rotating list of kulchas such as roasted pumpkin with stracciatella and the Bacon Choriz Kulcha.
Vegetarians will be glad for the comforting Safed Dal, a take on the much-used-and-abused Kaali Dal, with slow-cooked urad dal, white beans, mixed sprouts and chilli butter. The menu gets playful with the ‘Just Because We Love It’ section that shines a light on dishes that may not fit the rest of the menu, but the team loves anyway. On it currently, there’s a delicious Slow Cooked Pork Belly Thukpa served with bacon broth, egg yolk and a seriously addictive crackling furikake with pork bits. The thukpa is delicious and enjoyable with the weather outside, but will it be something guests will want to order with their cocktails? The TBC boys don’t seem too perturbed. “If anything, this year has taught to not take life too seriously. You never know what’s around the corner and so we’re learning to focus on simply enjoying the moment,” says partner Sameer Seth.
Dessert makes a small but noteworthy appearance on the menu, with the kitchen’s take on strawberries and cream—a chenna poda doughnut with citrus mousse, roasted strawberries and strawberry sorbet. It’s gloriously messy to eat, but definitely worth the trouble. There’s also the A-kela Bread, TBC’s ode to 2020’s most popular quarantine dessert and lovers of the Guava Tan-Ta-Tan can rejoice, it survived the revamp!
Change, by design
In a unique move, The Bombay Canteen is also using its empty tables (in keeping with COVID guidelines) to double as a platform/gallery space for up-and-coming artists to showcase their work. If guests wish to purchase any of the artwork displayed, they can scan a QR code to be directed to the artist’s website to purchase it.
The lockdown forced the group to experiment with few formats and revenue streams, which also led to a whole new set of learnings by the team. “When we reopened Bombay Sweet Shop, we created care packages that people could order and send to each other. Those flew off the shelves because food was the one way people could connect with each other,” explains founding partner Sameer Seth. Going forward, the restaurant will look more closely at food products and online classes to increase new revenue streams and reach out to newer audiences over a common love for food.
What’s next for The Bombay Canteen?
In a year where so much has happened, many have called into question the role of a restaurant in a post-pandemic society. “I started my restaurant as a place for people to talk to one another, with a very decent but affordable glass of wine and an expertly prepared plate of simply braised lamb shoulder on the table… If this kind of place is not relevant to society, then it—we—should become extinct,” said restaurateur and chef Gabrielle Hamilton in a widely shared NYT article in April. Given that it will be a while before restaurants become centres of urban congregation again, what then is the purpose of a restaurant now?
For partners Yash Bhanage and Sameer Seth, it goes beyond simply feeding people. “What people fail to realise is that a restaurant supports a larger ecosystem,” says Bhanage. “And it’s not just the cool cheesemonger and the farmer. It’s my dhobi whom I saw today after nine months. He irons 50 staff uniforms and hasn’t had that income in a very long time. It’s the security personnel, the fisherfolk and so many other people that we share a symbiotic relationship with.” Sameer has a more pragmatic outlook. “It’s pretty simple to me. Sure, food and the way restaurants will be treated will keep changing. Our place in the community will keep changing. But what will not change is the core notion that food brings joy to people’s lives. And that’s something we strive to maintain at our restaurants.”
The Bombay Canteen will be open every week from 5pm to 11.30pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Children are now welcome even after 7pm.