World at your doorstep: How to eat like you are in China or Italy in Mumbai
Assad Dadan

Now that everyone’s travel plans have had to be shelved thanks to the dastardly virus, perhaps the only way to get a slice of adventure is on a plate.

A large part of travelling is tasting the local flavours and appreciating the culture in terms of design, music or dance. And so, I thought I’d recommend the best restaurants to visit that will make you feel like you’ve actually flown to someplace exotic rather than just driven to another part of the city!

No trouble in this China: As the epicentre of the evil, the Middle Kingdom is no longer on anyone’s travel wishlist. But eating at a fantastic Chinese restaurant can actually make you forget all the fear for a while and certainly won’t cause you to contract the virus (contrary to a lot of social media misinformation!).

I recommend checking into Hotel ShangHigh, Zorawar Kalra of Massive Restaurants’ newest brainchild at Kamala Mills in Lower Parel.

The gaudy décor acts as the perfect foil for some spiffing high-energy live performers, while the retro Chinese menu by Chef Pankaj Jha is reliably delicious. Some of my favourites are the Lobster and Pink Peppercorn Dumplings, the tasty green spinach noodles and blue butterfly pea rice and classic mains like Mapo Tofu or Stewed Pork Belly.

The inspiration is a decadent 1930’s-style Shanghai supper club, but the classy cocktails are cutting edge and technically brilliant, garnished with history and good taste.

The Italian connection: With the entire country in lockdown, don’t be sad about missing that Roman holiday. Instead, book an outside table at Cecconi’s at Asia’s first Soho House in Juhu and spend a breezy March afternoon dreaming of great art and architecture and gondoliers in striped tees.

Sip on a sparkling white peach Bellini (the original, I discovered when I was there, was first made in Venice, just like Cecconi’s the restaurant). Pick from Chef Luca D’Amora’s brilliant creations – a Mascarpone cheese dip with truffle and crostini; or classic antipasti like Calamari fritti with lemon aioli and Parma ham with melon; wood-fired pizzas and rustic pastas.

And end the operetta of a lunch on a truly high note like I did – with the city’s best Tiramisu (there hasn’t been one to match the ones the late Giovanni Autunno, who passed away last year, made at his famous Italian restaurant Don Giovanni; but this one comes close).

Thai it up: The lovely ladies greet you at the entrance of Nara Thai with a sonorous ‘sawasdee kha’ and a resplendent smile. The hospitality continues to be as warm as the waters of the Andaman Sea and you’ll be fooled into thinking you’re eating at a plush resort in Koh Samui rather than in BKC or Colaba.

Karyna Bajaj, who is behind many of the city’s high-profile restaurants, brought this one down from Bangkok and Thai food aficionados in the city are rejoicing.

Right from a menu with beautifully shot pictures of the dishes to the actual ingredients and preparations themselves, you’ll feel like you’re really exploring different parts of the Land of Smiles.

From unique options such as crispy fried betel leaves to old favourites like satays and phad thai, every dish is executed to perfection and served with an array of really delicious dips. And unlike other Asian restaurants where the desserts are disappointing, this one has a stunner of a dark chocolate bar with the most sensational kaffir lime ice-cream.

And then it does a fab mango sticky rice, which took me right back to the one I relished almost daily in my private pool villa at the very exclusive Rayavadee resort in Krabi! You know what they say about taste taking you back to places you’ve visited...

A French kiss, anyone? The same dream team that created Slink & Bardot – chef Alexis Chef Gielbaum, co-founder Nick Harrison and Riyaaz Amlani of Impresario Handmade Restaurants, has come up with this beautiful bistro at Churchgate called Soufflé – S’il Vous Plaît.

Their charming cherub logo blows kisses from all around, on the crockery, the vase on the table and the sweet statue perched in the middle of the restaurant.

I love their French Onion soup that’s textured, with a punchy flavour that fills my heart with all its umame goodness just like the one I always have in La Mère Catherine, my favourite bistro in the Parisian quarter of Montmartre, where, it is said the word ‘bistro’ was first coined back in 1814. The Black Truffle & Camembert Soufflé is another hit.

Light, fluffy, cheesy – it certainly rises to the occasion! A salad served alongside the ramekin balances the richness with its simplicity and freshness.

And dessert in the form of a 72% Dark Chocolate Soufflé has a sexy bitterness complemented by the sweetness of the vanilla ice-cream that goes on top of it. There are some very good French mains and a Rhum Baba for repeat guests to try. Like the city of love, Soufflé enchants and enchants some more.

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