A vision to encrypt the philosophies of Indian cuisine, document them for posterity through solid research and present it articulately in its global demeanor, is how Mumbai’s Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra is carrying on the culinary legacy of Massive Restaurants. Review by Varun Inamdar.
Images by Michael Swamy
Jiggs Kalra on one of his television shows said, “A good Indian meal, with all its diversity, consists of kebabs from the north, curries from the south, a Hyderabadi Biryani and sweets from Bengal.” Little did I know that these words would ring back in my ears, after ages of admiring this noted food columnist, historian and connoisseur. And that too seated in a restaurant so articulately curated by the man, himself. Masala Library, where Indian food is prepared in its entire traditional avatar with original recipes collected across the topography of the country and presented in absolute contemporary and progressive avatar.
We arrive at Masala Library, on a scorching afternoon, to be greeted by their affable team. The action soon starts unfolding. Cheddar flavored mini-masala bun, first, adorns our table.
Lecithin stabilized ‘Buttermilk aire’ is served in a conical glass, sprinkled with some curry leaf dust. It is soothing and very much required. The bubbles of the foam burst on our tongue with each sip and turn into a creamy, smooth buttermilk accentuated with curry leaf and black salt. The hidden flavors of cumin and ginger do not go unnoticed and leave us ready for more. Just when we thought, we knew what to expect, came a little tricycle with an amuse bouche. The cycle seat carefully decked with a sev puri, was a clear sign of ‘expect the unexpected’. Mumbai’s favorite snack dressed so beautifully. It was that perfect bite of a crisp puri with sweet, tangy and chatpatatopping. Now, we just relax and submit ourselves to the magic of Jiggs Kalra.
What comes next is a tray with a tea pot, creamer, sugar bowl and few tea cups and we wonder why. We raise our chin to talk to the steward and he announces, “Sir, your wild mushroom chai, with truffle oil crumbs and dehydrated mushroom.” We smile in amusement as he pours the deep flavored and nutty consommé over truffle oil grains and sprinkles some porcini dust. Refreshing, flavorful and woody is how I can best describe it. Chef Michael Swamy says, “I can have this for lunch each day.” He reminds me of what Ludwig Van Beethoven once famously said,” Only the pure in heart can make good soup”. I agree and well, how.
Braised lamb chops arrive next. It is glazed with kokum, tempered with Bengali panchphoran spice mix and garnished with marigold petals. Sweetness, sourness and tenderness of the 3-hour cooked lamb rack is discerning and absolutely fork-tender. Gilawat kebab, delicacy of Lucknow, was served, infused with a blend of spices from the bazaars of Lucknow, cushioned over varqi parathas. Kebabs were succulent, juicy and well-marinated morsels of ground meat, whilst the bread- layered and flaky.
Their star and my most favorite on their menu ‘John Dory’ arrives in all its grandeur. It is lightly brushed with some salt and chilly on a painter’s palette. They have crafted this specific plate on the menu with such distinction that it takes you through a journey around the states, in India, not only through coastal curries but by condensing their flavors to reductions and making butter emulsions, out of them. A quenelle each goes around the fish, for the patrons to get ‘flavors of India’, with amritsari, ajwaini, balchao, patrani, alleppey, goan and bengali curry butters on a plate. A grand salute to the concept and its execution!
A palette cleanser is ushered in. Mishti Doi lollypops made using ‘anti griddle’ freeze technology. I came across this terminology in one of my most favorite culinary books by Chef Grant Achatz. This is a technology invented by him with the help of culinary technologist Philip Preston in which the food item flash freezes retaining a cool, creamy center and giving a crunchy bite to the surface. The doi-lolly is laced with strawberry gel and popped amaranth seeds served in a treasure box. Quite a treasure, considering modernist technology, pride of Kolkata and the king-seed put together.
Rajasthani vegetarians will skip a heartbeat with the next. Crisp bhindi jaipuri salad served on a stack of choorma, islanded in the middle of papad ki subji. And if the flair and crunch wasn’t enough, crushed papad bits, too, sprinkled over. Smooth, spicy and the tanginess of the yoghurt, compliments hot phulkascrushed to choorma very well. Laal mass, amongst the whole fare, looked simple, the spunk of mathania chillies amiss and khasta kachori grits, out of context. However, the taste and doneness of the tender chunks of baby goat cannot be disregarded. Mind you, it lost itself compared to other masterstrokes. By itself, it is an absolute winner.
With so many gastronomical strokes, we wonder what the dessert platter would look like. And little did we know that it would be a deep, star-shaped platter, with minute spheres of saffron jalebi stacked amidst pistachio rabri and saffron glaze. Hot, crunchy, sweet pearls of jalebi, spiced with saffron accentuate the chilled, flaky rabri, flavored with pistachio. A classic Indian dessert in all its flavours, frills and fancies.
Towards the finishing line, candy floss! Paan flavored! It leaves us chuckling with glee and was a refreshing change from customary mouth-fresheners.
On the whole, Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, incorporates molecular gastronomy as an integral part of the menu with a vision of presenting the future of Indian cuisine-Version 2.0. Most importantly, the focus remains on preparing, well-researched Indian delicacies and presenting them, adding an ‘avant-garde’ element. It is not a fine-dining restaurant; it is an evolution, an experience and a benchmark in Indian culinary history.
Restaurant Address: Masala Library, Ground Floor, First International Financial Centre, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East, Mumbai.