<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
When my well-travelled food reviewing friend is in town, it’s always a great opportunity for us to catch up and for me to join her on a food tasting experience, which I can also write up for Minority-Review. Trekking all the way to Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) from South Bombay doesn’t seem too bad then!
The venue: Masala Library. The creator is the famous chef Jiggs Kalra.
BKC is a secluded complex of buildings housing financial and other multinational companies. There are a few other big restaurants here like Ping Pong (not so nice food, I’m told) and I wonder how many people come all the way out here to eat, apart from the regular office crowd from the area. I’m told by the PR guy who joins us at the table that people visit all the way from Colaba. And then Jiggs Kalra’s son Zorawar, who is our host, informs us that you have to make reservations to get a table, since the restaurant is almost always packed.
And after eating at Masala Library, I can certainly understand why people would travel and book in advance to be a part of this culinary journey. And it was a journey, considering we spent over three hours eating here.
It looks like any ordinary restaurant but Masala Library – Zorawar tells me that the name is supposed to say that they showcase masalas from the entire country – is so much more. The food here is ‘progressive’ but what that actually means is that you have traditional Indian dishes that have been reworked and presented in a new format that is both pleasing on the eye as well as the palate. You will also find world cuisine that’s been given an Indian twist like the Caesar Salad.
If you’re a follower of MasterChef Australia you’re familiar with molecular gastronomy – the science and art of preparing food differently using technology and chemistry – and the innovativeness of the technique. This is used at Masala Library, not just as a gimmick but also to add a new dimension to the meal.
These bite-sized, complimentary servings of something interesting aren’t really appetizers but more like a welcome wagon. At Masala Library we were served with two such munchies:
The first one was the Papdi Chaat. The flavour of this one was packed into a singular molecular shot that you are supposed to down with one gulp and boom! A variety of flavours hit your taste buds.
The second was the Wild Rice Sev Puri. As you can see from the photo, the presentation was half the invitation to eat. ‘Come on board, let’s go on a food trip.’ This one I didn’t like too much but it was probably the only let down from the extensive tasting that we enjoyed.
Oh I didn’t mention the Muska Bun rolls. Light and fluffy and buttery, they were lovely. If only they were a tad bigger.
My cocktail arrives: a Star Anise Martini (gin based) topped with foam infused with star anise. They use lecithin to turn the liquid into a foam that’s frothy and infused with taste. It has a deep star anise flavour that is sweet and spicy.
As I sip the concoction Zorawar Kalra talks about the restaurant he manages with love. Apparently one TV food personality has referred to Masala Library as the best Indian food he’s ever had.
Just then the Thalassery Rasam, which is a steamed basa dumpling with a dosai tuile arrives smelling ever so wonderful. The dumpling sits centre stage surrounded by a moat of rasam (soup) wafting wonderful South Indian fragrances towards you. It’s a mix of spice and sweet that is pure comfort for the soul and the dumpling is soft and flavoured with peppercorns and curry leaf. Our attending chef, Saurabh Udinia, tells me that a lot of dishes are inspired from the South as well including Tamil Nadu.
Next a gleaming silver tray with a cups and a teapot arrive. It isn’t really the end of our meal so I inquire and am told it’s a soup! Sort of like a cup-a-soup. Only nicer. Wild Mushroom Chai with dehydrated mushrooms and truffle oil crumbs. Another very deep and aromatic dish served uniquely.
Soup is followed by salad, an almost deconstructed Chicken Tikka, egg bhaja and salad with Caesar dressing on a wood log platter. Scrumptious. The egg bhaja, basically a poached egg, was tasty and so were the succulent pieces of chicken tikka that went surprisingly well with the salad sprinkled with parmesan. This is what they’d call the ‘Invention test’ on MasterChef Australia.
I wonder aloud whether they’ll have more outlets of Masala Library in the city. Zorawar says ‘no’. They want it to be an exclusive destination. He also bemoans the lack of Michelin stars for Indian restaurants so they may have to open up an outlet abroad somewhere.
A green cocktail is placed by my side. Mint perhaps or kiwi… No, it is in fact a Curry Leaf Martini (vodka based). Delicious.
Ready for the starters then…
An ornate white platter with a Galawati kebab in the centre and a mini varqi paratha resting beside it is served. Melt in your mouth and perfectly spiced.
What’s next for the palate? A palette…
Steamed John Dory, Flavours of India is what it’s called. The fish is topped with flying fish roe and flanked by quenelles of flavoured butter: Amritsari, Ajwaini, Patrani, Curry leaf and Balchao. I liked the last two the best and even after the fish was over I proceeded to lap them up with my knife.
Next comes a dish that carries forward their preference for nouvelle cuisine dishes. Presentation is simple and elegant. A solitary Pesto Kebab rests in the centre of a plate with a baby tomato and topped with a Parmesan papad that seems just a tad too small. At first cut you think ‘hara bhara kebab’, which I’m not too fond of. But this was really tasty. Basil replaced with coriander it was soft and fresh with a crispy coating.
And to finish off the starters we have a Prawn Balchao Kulcha served majestically on a gold leaf platter and sitting atop lavender petals. Lots of butter and very satisfying.
Since we’re special guests of the owners of course we get special service but Zorawar tells us that his staff have been carefully handpicked and trained for over 3 months so they are familiar with every item on the menu.
A tiny treasure trove arrives and I’m wondering what’s inside. Looks like a dessert but I’m told we’re far from over. This frozen Mishti Doi with Strawberry Coulis on a stick is simply a palate cleanser. They use an anti-griddle at -33 degrees to freeze it so that the texture remains smooth with no crystallisation and maintaining the flavour.
Three mains waft in together: Bhindi Jaipuri with Papad ki sabzi and hand pounded churma, which was very Gujju and supposed to be a combination of three Rajasthani dishes. Then the Kashmiri Chilli Duck with Aloo Bukhara Qorma and Laal Maas in Mathani Mirch with Khasta Kachori grits. The first one was alright. I particularly enjoyed the Duck and the Laal Maas mutton dishes. The meat was cooked perfectly and the spices weren’t overpowering.
They were served with a selection of breads: Sheermal with saffron milk and Bakarkhani. Even these were flavourful, the Bakarkhani quite sweet but then I have a sweet tooth so I liked it. And there was also Taftan bread. But by this time I was quite full and couldn’t devour them all. And of course I had to leave some place for desserts!
In most Indian restaurants you get the standard fare of Ras Malai, Gulab Jamun and halwa. But at Masala Library, from start to finish you will get a twist on every dish you eat.
A Ghewar Cheesecake is proffered topped with pistachio dust and an almond chikki tuille and surrounded by rabdi. Not for the dieter for sure. If so much detail and effort is gone in to making the modest tuille garnish that the owners say you should eat first then you can imagine how the rest of the dish tastes.
Another large dish with the Thandai Crème Brûlée accompanied by a fresh fruit canoli was set in front of us. The rich saffron and thandai were yum. I didn’t touch the fresh fruit canoli though, not one of my healthy days!
The Jalebi Caviar was another inventive spin on just your plain old jalebi. Served in a starfish shaped dish, the ‘caviar’ of tiny jalebi balls were in the centre and surrounding it was a pistachio rabdi with a tiny bit of saffron foam. I loved the fact that they had thought of something unique and out there and had executed it so well.
Last of the desserts and simply named Chocolate, this arrived on another silver platter. On it was a mix of brownie, kulfi and chocolate covered hazelnuts. Simple enough but something has to justify the Rs 1000 price tag. So the chef pours over some liquid nitrogen (another staple of molecular gastronomy) and then the ‘Terminator effect’ occurs. The brownie, kulfie and hazelnuts are frozen.
Watch the video here:
And our chef proceeds to demolish them. They crumble to pieces behind the ice fog, ready to be demolished again by your mouth. I’d give this dish points more for presentation than for taste though but I’m more of an Indian sweets at an Indian restaurant person. If you’re a ‘death by chocolate’ fan then you’ll enjoy this.
And even though we didn’t have this one, the other tables were getting it complimentary and they seemed interesting: little balls of candy floss in yet another weird and wonderful presentation piece.
Masala Library has truly taken a twist on traditional Indian cuisine by mixing it up, innovating and even taking some Western dishes to Indianise but not out of gimmick. There’s a true commitment to serve you with food that is unique and yum.
Innovation means constantly moving ahead and with that in mind the menu here will apparently change every six months. I can’t wait for the next tasting!
Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra,
First International Financial Centre,
Opp. Sofitel Hotel,
Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), Bandra East
Noon to 2.30pm and from 7pm to 11pm
Visit their website: www.masalalibrary.co.in