TRIED & TESTED Food review’
Immigrant curry and an Indian version of the Brit favourite, fish and chips — the menu at NRI will take some getting used to. Rhea Dhanbhoora takes a look at whether it’s worth taking a chance on
After 22 years around the world, Michelin star chef Atul Kocchar has a wealth of flavours to bring back home. But, truth be told, I’m a little tired of the ‘concept’ restaurant. As with several other food trends, this is the latest craze, moving from one very luxurious restaurant at Bandra Kurla Complex to several dotting the city — mostly all very highly priced, but not all worth their weight in salt.
Stepping into NRI doesn’t quell your scepticism. You look up at curved lamp posts and are greeted by a somewhat confusing mix of the colonial with contemporary décor. It looks pretentious even before you seat yourself on the little wooden chairs, in front of railway-style tables, with a food cart zipping through the narrow layout. It’s smaller than I’d have imagined, and brighter too, and while the polar opposites in the décor don’t impress, one could say it conforms with the idea of the restaurant and the menu itself. Was I blown away? Far from it. But, if you close your eyes and breathe in the scent of curry leaves, wafts of butter, whiffs of chocolate and listen to the slow rumble of wheels scraping across the tiles, you will be prepared to give it all a chance. And you’ll be glad you did.
Start reading through the menu after ordering one of their signature cocktails (`425) — the Cinnamon Tea Mojito was my favourite. Loaded with white rum, it was oh-so-refreshingly minty, without being over the top.
The story on your plate
It’s true that each dish on the menu has a story, and I was appreciative of the fact that the staff (even if you are not attended to by the chef, which we were lucky enough to be), will trace the origins, having learnt well the flavours and ingredients that inspire each one. In true NRI style, each dish on the paper mat menu goes from Seychelles and Singapore to Sri Lanka and the Caribbean — think Indian settlers during the British Empire and you’ve got your flavour palate.
But, does it translate well enough on your tongue? Can a butter-laden shrimp dish really do with an Indian curry leaf? Would Malaysian stew taste good with a korma? There was really only one way to find out.
The Potted Shrimps (`300) were up first. The cutest pot, the cutest spoon — one would think that they were trying to draw attention away from the fact that at first glance, it looks like you’re going to have a small spoonful of shrimp and a big plate of garlic bread. You’re going to hate this if you don’t control the size of your bite. Spread the shrimp carefully over the bread and enjoy a burst of the butter, lemon and curry leaves. It’s tiny, but filling.
The Chicken Liver Masala Toast (`350) was up next, spiced with flavours from Tanzania and served with toast. It sounded delicious, but failed to impress, reminding me instead of aleti paleti. Try the Malaysian Button Mushrooms (`275) too; the Indonesian, Indian, Malaysian mix and brush of butter makes them a delicious way to begin a meal.
The Robata section has to be the most exciting, with flavours from South Africa (sticky, grilled wings), Seychelles (calamari, anyone?) and Malaysia (Mamak lamb chops, of course). We were thrilled with the Pork Curlies (`425), a large, curled up pork sausage with BBQ sauce. We skipped the Tem Pakora section, but expect an Indian take on Fish n Chips, a Mauritian take on your favourite nuggets and sprouts in your rice paper roll in this section.
The Caribbean Goat Curry (`575) does not come highly recommended by some of the staff, and unless you’re used to the strong flavour, you’re going to dislike it. So, we weren’t surprised when we heard stories of upturned noses (the distinctive smell was appetising to me, but may not be to most people) and abandoned platefuls of this Indian-Caribbean mix. But, goat curry is one thing you can’t miss at a restaurant that claims to bring Indian immigrant recipes to your plate, so we decided to take a chance. The tender goat curry is sweet, savoury, tangy and meaty — it’s so heady, it’s best eaten not described. The Buss Up Shut Roti adds an Indian element to the dish, and is light enough not to overpower the careful balance. Try it if you’re not the squeamish type.
Dessert is rolled up to you on a cart, and there was not much on the menu but a Masala Chai Bailey’s Brownie. It’s too gelatinous and a bit spongy — as a brownie it fails. I expected to hate it, but prepare to be surprised, because the gooey chocolate and tea go well together — mostly down to the fine balance that NRI seems to have maintained well through its flavour amalgamations in most of its dishes.
To eat, or not to eat
Aptly enough for a place that intends to be a mixed bag of flavours, that’s exactly how NRI fares — as a well-crafted balance of hits and misses. Don’t go there expecting to eat Indian food, or to love everything; the popularity of several dishes here will rise and fall according to very personal tastes. If anything, it’s the perfect place to experiment.
Where 2 North Avenue, Maker Maxity, Bandra Kurla Complex
Meal for two `2,000
Alcohol served Yes (pint of beer from `175 onwards)
Contact 30005040/ 30005041