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FIRST IN MID-DAY >> A soon-to-open Colaba eatery has promising food, unusual cocktails and classy interiors, which have little to do with the word garage in its name
It's tricky business foretelling the fortunes of a new restaurant, given how unpredictable the food industry is. But one thing we can place our money on is that Garage Inc will attract curious foreigners after it launches this weekend. How do we know? Simple. The restaurant is housed in a stately SoBo building that is now a backpackers' hostel, and its lodgers have already started peeking in through the eatery's door since it's right under their noses.
A couple, for instance, walks in when we are there for a preview, and the guy says, "Nice," immediately on entering, effectively giving the place its first review. They are offered a table since the kitchen and bar staff are in, and what do you know? Another foreign tourist walks in minutes later, this one a lone ranger, who gets a corner seat.
Kasundi fish tikka. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
We, meanwhile, are in conversation with Anisha Maker, one of the partners, and tell her about how surprised we are with the interior decoration. You'd expect a place like Garage Inc to play up the theme of automobiles. But the owners have kept it subtle here. The only links the restaurant's décor has to its name are black-and-white wall frames that document objects invented in people's garages, such as the first camera, windmill and beer bottle. "Our outlet in Delhi looks more like a garage," Maker tells us, adding, "But we haven't made too many changes to this property."
Which is just as well, we think, because the eatery is blessed with an old-world charm thanks to the building it is in. Before being turned into a hostel, it was home to the Mulchandanis, who ran a restaurant called Palkhi in the ground-floor space where Garage Inc will open. And the faded frescos on the curved ceilings and black-and-white flooring of the erstwhile establishment have been left untouched, giving the space the whiff of bygone days.
Som tam salad
The menu, though, includes modern touches. Yes, it does have classics like galouti kebabs and kadhai paneer. But then it also has something called makhani fondue, where the Punjabi dal replaces cheese and four types of Indian flatbread are served instead of croutons, turning the original Swiss version on its head. And the cocktails are even edgier. We try moon shine - a tequila-based drink with activated charcoal and edible silver - and ori-gin, which has earl grey and elderflower. Both involve unusual combinations, but that doesn't mean we are complaining - on the contrary, we are left feeling pleasantly heady.
Other examples of innovative dishes include the kasundi fish tikka and butter chicken pao. In the former, the Bengali love for mustard in fish is exploited to give the north Indian staple a successful makeover. And the latter, quite obviously, fuses the cuisines of Delhi and Mumbai, without making a hash of things.
The Delhi momos, though, fall flat (literally, since the waiter accidentally drops the wicker basket they were in, before replacing the dish). And similarly, the khao suey isn't the most authentic version of the iconic Myanmarese dish.
But apart from these rare misses, our overall assessment is that the place will get way more clientele than just backpacking tourists. Some of Colaba's sheen has faded in recent years due to the swanky establishments that have mushroomed in places like Bandra and, dare we say, even Andheri. But the suburbs will never be a match for SoBo's historic past, and kudos to Maker and her partners for preserving it at Garage Inc.
OPENS: August 25
AT: 15, Walton Road, Colaba.
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