By Sourish Bhattacharyya
THE much-anticipated opening of the Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, the ‘Progressive Indian’ restaurant being launched by Zorawar Kalra, son of the Indian fine-dining maestro, is set for October 5 at its chic address — First International Financial Centre, the green building where Citibank has relocated its India headquarters, at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai.
Zorawar Kalra has been in the news since he sold his stake in Wrapster Foods, the joint venture company that ran the highly successful Punjab Grill restaurants, to his old business partners, Dabur scion Amit Burman and Rohit Aggarwal of Lite Bite Foods. After exiting Wrapster, Kalra formed a new joint venture, Massive Restaurants, with Gaurav Goenka of Mirah Hospitality to roll out the upper-end Masala Library, the middle-market Made in Punjab, which it making its debut at The Hub at the DLF Cyber Park in Gurgaon, and a chain of chic mithai shops.
Speaking from his about-to-open restaurant in Mumbai, Kalra said Masala Library will showcase ‘Progressive Indian’ cuisine, which combines authentic flavours with nouvelle presentation styles. It will also have a lot of molecular gastronomy happening — “not as a gimmick,” Kalra assured us, “but as a genuine flavour enhancer”. He added: “Each dish on the menu has a story. A lot of thought has gone into each one of the items. We started with 100, but have retained just 70 of them.”
He then gave a foretaste of the explosion of creative gastronomy that awaits us at the Masala Library by describing the dish named ‘Steamed John Dory, Flavours of India’. The fish in this preparation will be served on a platter designed like an artist’s palette with eight differently flavoured relishes representing the kitchens of the different parts of the country. So you can have one central ingredient in eight different ways in one serving! Or, as Kalra puts it, “You can taste the whole of India in one dish.”
The menu has Lal Maas, Mutton Vindaloo and Meen Moily to cater to those who like to walk on the much-treaded road, but the sauciest San Marzano tomatoes from Italy go into its butter chicken (“these are not tart and can be smoked very well,” Kalra explained), or the essence of peas are turned into pea pods using the reverse spherification process, or the hearty rarha meat is given a vegetarian twist by substituting mutton with soy, or for those weary of the boring hara-bhara kebab, Kalra’s chefs have created the pesto kebab served with parmesan papad.
Care to sample innovations? Then, your must-have list must include the foie gras crème brulee, prawn balchao kulcha, trio of Bhindi Jaipuri, Papad ki Subzi and Hand-Pounded Choorma (“savour a multitude of flavours from just one dish,” Kalra explained), and ghewar cheesecake with almond chikki. Kalra and his team also have their share of fun with the menu. One of the dessert items, for instance, is Childhood Memories, which takes us to the time when as children we used love eating mud, chalk and other unmentionables. To recreate the experience, this dessert platter has flower pots with brownies mimicking the mud, water cans brimming over with chocolate sauce, edible chalk, and ice-cream biscuits shaped like another childhood favourite, Parle-G.
Will the pricing be over the top? Kalra assures us it won’t be. The nine-course tasting menu is being priced at Rs 1,900++ (vegetarian) and Rs 2,100++ (non-vegetarian) per person. And if you order a la carte, you can have a soul-satisfying meal for Rs 1,500++ per person. Not a bad deal for a restaurant in the financial hothouse of the country that promises to take Indian fine dining, so far dominated by establishments such as Indian Accent, Varq and Masala Art, to another level of excitement, evolution and excellence.