Finesse. Flair. The highest degree of reputability… And *that* cheese soufflé from Zodiac Grill.
These are just a few of the many thoughts which come to mind at the mention of Chef Hemant Oberoi’s name. They smoothly manifest in his eponymous flagship restaurant in Mumbai too, newly-opened in B.K.C. following a celebrated forty-year career with Taj and two globe-trotting openings in Singapore and San Diego…
Perhaps it’s the palm trees wallpapering the bar on the left; the elegantly-rich mahogany detailing in the main dining area, peppered with hints of red and gold; or the high-level curiosities such as the light installation hanging above the centre of the room…
More likely, it’s all of the above which has me instantly taken-in from the moment I enter. Doubling as a chandelier, the latter is particularly striking in the soaring freedom it represents, with a sequence of fish smoothly swirling upwards to transform into a bird!
Washed with natural light flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the old-world décor here (inspired by the elegant dining rooms of 18th century France), impressively manages the elusive too, lending a cosy sense of intimacy to an overwhelmingly cavernous space.
That dining here is to be an event, is confirmed by the graceful appearance of white-gloved waiters bearing intricately-assembled plates on large silver trays.
While it’s all wonderfully old-school, the contemporary menu very much takes root in modern-day, playing with European, Japanese and Latin American influences. There are no gimmicks or displays of culinary chicanery though… just subtle twists and thrilling textural variations, taking their cue from the many inspirations imbibed by Chef Hemant over his illustrious career and food-fuelled travels.
Of course, it’s the light-as-air brie and truffle soufflé which stirs the first ripple of excitement, a refined incarnation of his signature specialty at the erstwhile Zodiac Grill.
The only few minutes of silence – during a long and lazy luncheon – take place as my auntie and I tuck into our individual portions (it’s really too good to share), savouring each fluffy and foamy spoonful, before liberally mopping up all that decadent gravy with brioche and a side of mini onion-croissants.
Layered with finely-sliced slivers of portobello mushrooms, the silken tofu carpaccio is the next of our appetisers to wow. A surprising after-kick of chilli softly lingers, balanced by an umami-rich bite of the baked parmesan crisp roll at the centre.
Hidden black spices and a tangy hint of tamarind, feistily dress up a block of hass avocado, while a mustard-based dressing adds an interesting dimension to edamame and chestnut dumplings… although it’s the plump stems of fresh asparagus which emerge the stars of this show!
Mustard is an ingredient which stands its ground in a quinoa-based risotto too, lending a potent accent to this comfortingly hearty dish.
We tear into freshly-baked bread on the side, spreading on a pat of herby butter with silky smoothness. Blistered snowpeas make for a perfect and light side-dish – moreishly crunchy and softly textured with shallots and toasted almonds.
Sadly, the much spoken-about chocolate shwarma (theatrically carved by your table) is unavailable at lunchtime, but we are well-placated with an Oreo, white coffee and chocolate cheesecake for afters, beautifully-balanced by a scattering of fresh berries for a touch of tartness.
Roasted for a shorter period than regular coffee beans, this unusually light-coloured variety of white coffee was discovered by Chef Hemant on his visit to Vietman, as he engagingly recounts before taking us behind-the-scenes for a tour of his gleaming, state-of-the-art kitchen.
In fact our candid chatter with chef Hemant emerges as much a highlight as the exemplary meal itself, with his passion and culinary artistry shining through across both aspects of the memorable afternoon.
With a single but broad brushstroke, he’s successfully achieved that which has eluded Mumbai’s culinary scene for far too long… reviving the languishing concept of fine-dining, with an unequivocal focus on flavour-first.
Hemant Oberoi BKC, G Block BKC, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East, Mumbai.