Background Native Bombay is helmed by Kamal Malik, the founder of Malik Architecture which is known for creating beautiful hotels and homes in India. He is a partner at IF:BE (Ice Factory Ballard Estate) – one of the latest culture and design houses in Mumbai – which is also the home of this restaurant.
What’s it like The exposed brick walls and wood structure complements the contemporarily minimal furniture of Native Bombay, inviting you to a rendezvous with Malik’s architectural pieces that cocoon you into a space of superior design. The lower level of the restaurant is occupied by a modular negroni bar with a stellar list of negronis – a first in the city.
The venue Nestled in a 150-year-old restored ice factory (IF:BE) in the by-lanes of Ballard Estate – the colonial-era hub of Mumbai – a trip to Native Bombay is not only an experience that takes you back in time, but it also basks in the modernity of how far India’s F&B scene has evolved.
Food and drink While the restaurant has put together a set menu of some of their signature dishes, I went for the à la carte option, starting with a cocktail called ‘When in Dholpur’. As the name suggests, the drink teleports you to the eponymous city in Rajasthan, with a concoction that infuses aam (mango) marmalade from indigenous Dholpur mangoes with gin and soda. Topping it off is a spiced mango slice, which the bartender recommended I bite into before taking a sip. The sweet and spicy notes of the mango beautifully combine with the gin, creating an ideal cocktail for Mumbai summers. I also tried the White Negroni which was a “crystal clear drink with woody and floral notes” featuring gin, Indian vetiver Bianco (vermouth) and homemade Suze (French bitters) – an absolute delight on the palate and not too intimidating for someone venturing into negronis for the first time. The floral flavours do the trick of balancing out the bitters quite well.
The small plates present a diverse mix of dishes from all over India, and I picked the ‘Bombay Bomb’ to start with. A mélange of spices and sweet and sour chutneys scintillates over baked shells of potatoes that are sourced from Talegaon in Maharashtra. Adding in some crunch is channa jor garam – a classic street dish made of battered chickpeas. It was certainly a trip down memory lane, considering I’ve grown up devouring these snacks prepared by streetside hawkers.
I also dared to try the Naga chilli pork – even after being warned multiple times by the staff about its spice quotient. The dish is made up of deep-fried pork tossed with several spices including the infamous bhut jolokia or ghost pepper that stands out because of its exceptional heat levels. With a strong character and taste backed by spice, this dish won my heart while burning the roof of my mouth. This adventure was followed by Kerala chicken fry and naan-bombs. While the former is an interesting item that intermingles chicken with Edayur chillies and Thalanadu cloves – sourced from two lesser-known villages in Kerala – the latter were globular pieces of naan bread with smoked cheese inside.
While I was very keen to try their chicken chettinad (borrowed from the chettiyar community of south India) and nalli nihari (slow braised lamb shanks with Kashmiri chillies and mustard oil), I went for Kohli Saab’s butter chicken instead. Tender tandoor-cooked chicken in aromatic cashew-tomato gravy with a generous helping of butter pays tribute to its original creator and co-founders of Native Bombay, Abhayraj Singh Kohli, who is known for introducing several F&B concepts to Mumbai including Grandmama’s Cafe, Tori and MRP, among others. The dish also pays homage to the 79-year-old institution Pritam Restaurant in the Dadar district of Mumbai which claims to have introduced “butter chicken” to the city. It’s noteworthy that Pritam’s owner Amardeep ‘Tony’ Singh is another co-founder of Native Bombay.
Pairing all of this the Native dal makhani which is the restaurant’s signature dish featuring a “secret” recipe and chur chur naan – a crushed, buttery and crisp paratha, is a great idea. To finish, I went for the Kerala single-origin dark chocolate that was sprinkled with Lonavala (a hill station in Maharashtra) chikki (a crunchy Indian sweet made of nuts and jaggery) – a decadent and not overly sweet dessert to end this indulgent pan-Indian culinary experience.
Service The amiable staff had spot-on suggestions, and the service was quick. It was also interesting to discuss the cocktails with the bartenders at the bar while we waited for the table.
Verdict Having traversed the length and breadth of the country in a single meal, I left knowing that there are still several dishes on the Native Bombay menu that I wish I could have sampled. It’s commendable how Head Chef Bhairav Singh and Denzil Franklin (head mixologist) have managed to carve a menu that boasts of distinctive spices, ingredients, and flavours from not just the popular eateries and concepts of Indian cuisine but also the lesser-known villages – the true heroes of our expansive domestic cuisine. Native Bombay has painstakingly weaved together some of the signature dishes of several states in India – presenting a canvas that blends the various flavours that make the diverse kitchens of the country.
Words by Akanksha Maker
Hours: Daily 12pm-3.30pm; 5pm-1am
Location: Native Bombay, 10/12 Cochin Street, Ballard Estate, Fort,
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Contact: +9196190 66000; nativebombay.com