This isn’t your ordinary restaurant review. We’re giving you backstage passes to some of our favourite fine-dines, wine bars, cafés and dessert parlours.
First up: Masque, a contemporary restaurant hidden in the unlit lanes of Lakshmi Mills, Mumbai. We score the aesthetic anywhere between effortlessly grand to inducing FOMO for anyone who hasn’t been there. Architect Ashiesh Shah pulled the eclectic space together with high ceilings, test tube lights, muted tones and an installation by Rathin Burman. Over by the kitchen, long curtains stay closed until the chefs arrive to present the feature we’re all there to experience: the food.
The Food: You may not recognize a lot of the ingredients at Masque. The cheese may look like papad, a black pastry may pose as an avocado and that dessert you were eyeing will not be sweet. The modern restaurant reinterprets Indian dishes and ingredients to surprise you as you progress along either their set 6-course preview meal,10-course Tasting menu or the 14-course ‘Masque Experience’.
Prateek Sadhu, the charming Executive Chef had previously worked with names like Thomas Keller and Rene Redzepi, and was inspired to bring what he had learned to the table. “Thomas Keller revolutionized the food industry, and I wanted to get to the US to work with him. The finesse with which he ran his kitchen was amazing,” he says. “Noma (by Rene Redzepi) was an experience that changed my life entirely. He put Copenhagen on the map. And when Aditi and I started this restaurant, I knew I really wanted to put India on the map and showcase what it had to offer.”
Thus, the restaurant flaunts Indian produce with a combination of beautiful Kallari cheese and black carrots from Kashmir, vegetables from Maharashtra, Seabuckthorn from Ladakh, tree tomatoes from Sikkim and honey from Arunachal Pradesh.
Two words to describe the food at Masque: “Ingredient-focused. And during research, we literally cook one ingredient in a 100 different ways to find the best possible way to cook it.”
Chef Insight: While no one course is like another, there is one thing that remains a constant in every bite. The chef’s Kashmiri heritage plays a huge part in the food philosophy of the restaurant, making appearances in modernized versions of childhood snacks and ingredients sourced majorly from his homeland.
The 1990s saw an exodus of thousands of Kashimiri-Hindu families, and most were forced to migrate to nearby settlements. Sadhu left his homeland when he was growing up, and found refuge in food. “I couldn’t spend a lot of time in Kashmir, and now I get drawn to it because I feel like I have a lot of questions unanswered,” he says. “Growing up, I used to eat a lot of Kallari cheese. I watched my mum cook the cheese and press it down on the tawa, to make a beautiful thin crust. We’re taking inspiration from that dish and we serve it as a cheese course. And I’m flying in Kallari straight from Jammu. We’re also getting lamb, trout and other ingredients from there, so you could say it is a bit Kashmir-oriented right now.”
Behind The Scenes with ELLE DECOR: Last week, I stumbled into the restaurant during a team brief. After a motivating speech by Prateek and a super-motivating bottle of champagne (they were celebrating 500 days of Masque), the team got to work. The kitchen was studded with pictures of the team; a horizontal portrait of what looked like Po the Panda, and a lot of complex machines.
The chefs were done with prep for the dinner service– they come in at 10 am and finish cleaning by 6 pm – and were chowing down on some homely dal-chawal for dinner. By 7.30, they began working on the courses. All stations were ready: piping perfect churros, frying kallari crisps and forcing butternut squash cheesecakes out of their shells.
By 8 pm, my hands felt idle. Sous Chef Kamlesh Negi and I had a Plate-Off, where we compared plating skills (Not too many people voted for mine on the Instagram poll). We plated a delicious savoury sage ice cream with honey cake, honey and meringue. I wasn’t sore about losing — since they let me polish off both plates.
Why you should go there: Although navigating there can be hard and Google Maps agrees, this restaurant is worth the walk. Prateek calls it ‘Food Theater’, because it is literally 5 acts and 10 scenes of beautiful food.
Where: Gala 3, Laxmi Woollen Mill, Shakti Mills Lane, Off Dr. E Moses Road, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai 11