Bringing a much-needed breath of fresh air to the rather dull Mumbai fine dining scene, no thanks to months of lockdown-induced inertia, and serving as a harbinger of the (hopefully!) good times ahead, +94 Bombay made a quiet, yet impactful debut in mid-December 2020.
I chose the word ‘impactful’ because what this new restaurant purports to do is to fuse the food of the Indian state of Maharashtra (of which, Mumbai or Bombay is the capital city) and that of the neighbouring country of Sri Lanka, whose country calling code is +94.
Two cuisines that have had hitherto very little in common with each other, besides their shared love for the coconut, but this place makes it work. And super successfully at that! Then again, this seems to be the mantra of the Massive Restaurant group, the parent company behind +94 Bombay.
A group that’s constantly pushing the envelope with experimental successes like its flagship fine dining Indian restaurant Masala Library which is also located in Mumbai and considered one of India’s foremost.
+94 Bombay, an amalgamation of the best of Sri Lankan and Maharashtrian dishes, sets you on a voyage of exciting regional flavours along with a one of a kind cocktail and juice bar. Helmed by head chef Dipesh Shinde, the menu reflects the various stages of his life’s journey: his childhood which was filled with traditional Maharashtrian delicacies and his trips to Sri Lanka, the land of serendipity and some stellar fare.
The actual space, spread across 3,664 sq. ft, is designed to resemble a tropical forest with plenty of indoor plants and colourful accessories. Here, patrons can dine with adorable little elephant figurines placed in various colours on each table and even see them adorning the walls. But this isn’t some arbitrary quirk of the interior designer. For, you see, an elephant holds symbolic, cultural, and economic importance in both Sri Lanka and India and thus becomes the de facto brand mascot of the restaurant.
One can observe the chef’s journey from the by-lanes of Mumbai and his love for Colombo in dishes like Samrat vadapav, Mumbai pav bhaaji, Mohammed Ali Road lamb seekh kabab and the rather deceptive Konkan prawn bisque. This one starts off on the palate like just another well made bisque would, with a punchy hit of crustacean and fennel, but its pungent chilli bite soon brings you right back to the heat-obsessed Indian kitchen.
Similarly, the succulent Jaffna goat curry that’s best mopped up with a fluffy Sri Lankan egg hopper, has a sweetish first note but ends in a fiery finale at the back of the throat. The plump, juicy Sunday crab curry scattered with peppery moringa leaves took me straight back to Sri Lanka when I ate a similar iteration at a nondescript beach-side café in Bentota.
Chef Shinde also introduces us to other Sri Lankan wonders like the mouth-watering whole baked chicken, kappa crab cutlet, and the black pepper prawns. He shows off his skills in the Maharashtrian kitchen with wonders like the almost tempura-like deep-fried thecha prawns dusted in a spicy masala, and the light-as-air, all-vegetarian kothimbir wadi pan-fried dumplings made with gram flour and coriander fronds. We also call for the smoky baingan bharta where baby aubergines are first flame-roasted and then coated in a peanut paste and then mashed. This goes so well with the butter-saturated garlic naan.
The drinks menu at +94 Bombay is also a reflection of this unlikely coupling of cuisines. My kokum sour is a yummy gin-based cocktail with a tart hint of kokum, an indigenous Indian fruit belonging to the South East Asian mangosteen family. My companion’s alcohol-free coco crush, though on the less sweet side, is a refreshing libation that does its job in soothing the spice hit of the savoury dishes with its creamy coconut taste. I then try the golden smile, a blend of gin, tonic, pineapple and peach juices. A perfect tropical finale, this one.
We end our meal with a duo of unusual desserts that take the form of the cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg-flavoured Sri Lankan bread pudding-meets-baked custard called watalappam and the Lotus Biscoff gadbad. The latter is an Indian sundae with plenty of chopped fruits, nuts, and bits of jelly along with salted caramel ice cream and cookie butter.
While we are tempted with more sweet treats like a coconut and carrot brownie, and a nankhatai cheesecake that we spied on the menu, we promised ourselves an encore meal at +94 Bombay. Soon.
In a nutshell
+94 Bombay is a place where you’re guaranteed of getting two mind-blowing cuisines for the price of one. And even a vicarious trip to sunny Sri Lanka thrown in for good measure!
Address: Level 1, Palladium Mall, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai, India.
Phone: +912249735025, +919136921735 / 36