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A vegetarian speakeasy, Charlee, is the latest talk of the town

Serial restaurateur Suren Joshi expands his portfolio, catering to the vegetarian and Jain segment of Mumbai with Charlee.

I am always in search of a good speakeasy. A part of my Instagram algorithm keeps showing videos of people going through a washing machine or a refrigerator and entering a sprawling bar, bustling with music and an energetic crowd. It’s either this or videos of a much calmer speakeasy where people enjoy a drink and smooth jazz tunes. So when restaurateur Suren Joshi took to Instagram to announce his latest culinary venture—Charlee, a speakeasy, all-vegetarian bar—I was excited!

By the time I went to Charlee, I already had an idea about the entrance, thanks to friends and the social media buzz around this latest hotspot in Santacruz. Let me still explain it to the ones living under a rock. As you enter the glamourous and luxurious Maisonz by Living Liquidz store on Linking Road in Santacruz, you will inevitably stop and admire the shiny red Ferarri. Once you make your way to the back of the store, climb a flight of stairs and find yourself at the entrance of Charlee.


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Joshi, the man behind Mumbai’s variety of restaurants—Joshi House, The Conservatory, Affogato, Javaphile, Sukoon, and Shelter, among more—joined hands with Mokksh Sanni of Living Liquidz for Charlee. “Charlee isn’t just another typical pub,” says Joshi. “It’s an opportunity to explore a mystery spot cleverly tucked away in the busy lanes of Santacruz. Each dish tells a story of fresh produce, and every sip is an ingredient exploration,” explains Joshi.

As a vegetarian, I was thrilled to have a new vegetarian-only spot. Chef Richard D’Souza of Joshi House helms the kitchen at Charlee as well. Chef D’Souza admits that having a bar-forward restaurant but with a vegetarian menu doesn’t resonate with people initially and that is why they had to ensure to make the menu “looks pretty and is exciting”.

The huge bar was difficult to ignore. Head mixologist Sunny, known for his work at Tresind, wanted to move away from darker spirits. “With Charlee,” he says, “I wanted to offer our guests a fresh perspective on the cocktail scene. By incorporating white spirits, roots like turmeric, herbs, complex flavour pairings, and intricate techniques, I aim to introduce them to an entirely new realm of flavours and experiences.” The cocktails are have a good balance of sweet and spicy, or floral and savoury flavours even in cocktails. For example, the Kentucky Sour is similar to the classic Whiskey Sour but skips the egg white and has bourbon, passion fruit, vanilla, and lemon, thus giving it a nice tropical, savoury, and fruity profile.


Photos: Charlee

You are greeted by suspended rocks and a rock wall when you enter the industrial-looking space. However, what caught my eye was the wall-length projection with visuals on it.  The wall had visuals of a DJ spinning tunes and in front of the wall, was a DJ playing some music at the speakeasy bar as well. “Our approach [with Charlee], involved harmonising sleek, refined materials with industrial elements, resulting in an architectural expression reminiscent of a contemporary urban retreat—a fusion of sleek modernism with the rugged textures of industrial design, evoking the ambiance of a refined modern cave, akin to a ‘Batcave meets Gentleman’s Club’ aesthetic,” explain Kasturi Wagh and Vineet Hingorani of Kaviar Collaboration who were the force behind the interiors.

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A projector playing a match is a common sight at most bars but the wall-length visuals caught my eye the most. Upon asking, I was informed that it adds to the interiors of the space where this otherwise blank wall sat. Besides, they also plan on using this for sports screenings, Karaoke nights, and other upcoming events they plan on introducing to the space.

The Great

I loved the fact that this was all-vegetarian—which meant that the entire menu was my playground. Chef D’Souza recommended the Mushroom Galouti (₹550). A Khaari pastry disk, stuffed with mushroom pate, and a drop of saffron gel on top. The khaari pastry disk was soft and crumbly but still held its shape with the mushroom pate inside. The texture of the mushroom pate, unlike a usual one, was smooth and buttery but, no complaints here. The saffron gel gave it just the right tinge of sweetness for balance.


(from left to tight) Mushroom Galouti, Perry Road. Photos: Charlee, Nidhi Lodaya

On most days, I am not a fan of fusion food, for the lack of a better word. However, I decided to try Charlee’s Bangkok Samosa (₹550) which had galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime, and edamame and was served with a namprik dip, which is a Thai spicy chili sauce. A bite of the samosa with the dip reminded me of my recent trip to Bangkok and I went in for a second helping.

The Perry Road cocktail (₹950) pays homage to Bandra’s popular street. This spicy and fruity drink had a base of tequila with cilantro, bird’s eye chili, jalapeno, citrus, and guava. It was refreshing and had the right balance of sweet, spicy, and savoury.

The Good

The most common vegetarian offer for a carpaccio has beetroot but seeing it paired with mango (₹590) paired was a pleasant surprise. However, the beetroot wasn’t as thinly sliced as it should have been. The feta cheese, thankfully, helped cut the otherwise naturally sweet combination of beetroot and mango. The spiced hazelnuts helped offer a crunch and some savoury flavour to the dish.


(from left to right) Beetroot & Mango Carpaccio, The Affogato Tiramisu Martini. Photos: Charlee, Nidhi Lodaya

The Affogato Tiramisu Martini (₹950) was a clear tribute to Joshi’s Affogato in Khar. The cocktail had a nice coffee punch but the vanilla ice cream made the drink a tad too sweet for preference. The cocktail menu lives up to the hype from friends who tried this space out.  Root (₹950) had turmeric gin, sweet lime, yuzu, ginger, and tonic. Turmeric in a cocktail is not a first choice for many, including me. While the drink did have a distinct turmeric taste—it wasn’t overpowering because the other flavours balanced it well.

For mains, I tried the Red Wine Black Truffle Risotto (₹1450). While it wasn’t bad, it didn’t manage to create a punch either. It was something I have had at most places—standard taste for any black truffle mushroom risotto.

The Miss

The Gobi Ghee Roast (₹750) with Malabar parotta was something that Chef D’Souza recommended. I was expecting a spicy, typical ghee-roast-like taste but was a tad bit disappointed when the gravy tasted more like a tomato ketchup.

I had hoped to skip The Peri Peri Corn Ribs (₹550) and the Cheese Arancini (₹590) as they didn’t catch my attention from their expansive menu. But it was served anyway. While the corn ribs make for a good bar snack, they are now commonly on every other menu and there’s nothing unique about them at Charlee either. The arancini was not up to the mark. A better cheese pull would have perhaps made it more interesting, but this is a dish you could easily skip.


(from left to right) Gobi Ghee Roast, Sesame cheesecake. Photos: Charlee

The Sesame Cheesecake (₹590) was a black sesame Basque cheesecake, tahini ice cream, and a black sesame tuile. Have I had better cheesecake before? Yes. Have I had worse than this? Also yes. The combination was good but somewhere between the crowd, and being asked to hurry and vacate the table, the dessert wasn’t enjoyed in the best of its experience.