The history of Bandra is a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Before it became Mumbai’s entertainment district, Bandra was a lazy suburb. Bakeries dotted the streets and the whiff of freshly baked pav was in the air as local residents loved this bread. The glitz and glamour entered Bandra when the film and recording studio, Mehboob Studios was set up in the 1950s. Gradually, Bandra became a posh suburb everyone aspired to live in, where the best bars and restaurants were, and where it was ‘cool’ to be seen.
The suburb is peppered with things that are considered legendary. One of them is Bandra’s oldest recipes of chicken puff from J. Hearsch & Co. The humble flaky puff is so iconic that it has managed to inspire chef Gresham Fernandes to create his own version for his latest pop-up, Bandra Born.
Paying homage to Bandra, the 12-week-long pop-up showcases the neighbourhood and its influences. Bandra’s old fishing villages with graffiti-adorned alleys, the heritage Indo-Portuguese bungalows, the sea-facing promenades, and the cats that laze around in Chuim village – Bandra Born is designed to make you experience all of this (and more) but in a cooler avatar.
Bandra Born and bre(a)d
The ‘cool’ doesn’t come only in the form of what the pop-up is about. Young chefs – like chef Fernandes – are digging into their past to innovate on the plate. It’s this trend that Bandra Born latches on.
It’s a representation of the vibrant neighbourhood but also the Bandra chef Fernandes grew up in. “It’s a reflection of the bylanes I’ve walked, the music that has inspired me, the local characters, the nostalgic bakeries, and the bars that hold a special place in my heart,” he says.
But why a pop-up and not a formal restaurant? “With Bandra Born, we’re not just serving food; we’re curating a time-sensitive experience that’s unique and evokes anticipation,” says Fernandes. Think about it, and it makes sense. After all, Bandra does have nooks and spaces that you can savour.
Transforming an icon into a legend
With this pop-up, chef Fernandes and restaurateur Riyaz Amlani are also breaking away from traditional dining. To host Bandra Born, Amlani has transformed his iconic Salt Water Cafe, giving it a grungier look. In many ways, it feels like Amlani is making a statement by taking away one of Bandra’s most loved restaurants and giving the neighbourhood something new to love.
You can’t deny that Salt Water Cafe was a mammoth-sized icon with a 14-year-long run. Perhaps it is time for a change, but the iconic restaurant has not been torn down completely. The cosy booth seating and bolted tables still remain, except now the space is sprayed with graffiti. You will see graffiti – like you do all over Bandra – on the walls, doors, ceilings, and more.
The dim lighting builds on the mystery, as if it’s letting you in on a secret. There are several elements that will remind you of the streets of Bandra: Cheeky flyers on the staircase and walls, a ‘Bandra Times’ chalkboard inspired by Bandra’s church boards, and more. The space screams ‘Bandra’ in many ways including the playlist (it plays a notch higher), which we are told is what chef Fernandes grooved to in his 20s – a mix of old-school hip-hop and rock.
Naturally, you see more of chef Fernandes and his time spent in Bandra through the food. What is fascinating is that every dish on the menu comes with a compelling origin story. Several dishes are rooted in Fernandes’ personal experiences that most Bandra residents will relate to. Especially the Posh Hearsch Puff, a nod to the chicken puff from Hearsch that the chef has drowned in truffle and wine sauce. The Bada Kheema Paan – a play on the keema pav from Good Luck Restaurant – has minced meat with tomato oil, long pepper and paan leaf, and is served with pav.
If the puff and keema don’t entice you, you can dig into dishes Chef Fernandes was most excited to create. Beets’ Meat brings forward beetroot cooked in two ways – one is slow-roasted, while the other is cooked in apple juice, cider vinegar, and beetroot juice before being steamed and dehydrated till it has a bit of a chew. The beetroot is finished with house-made chilli oil and served on a base of fermented crème fraîche and brined lemons. Bandra Born’s Instagram tells us that this plate of beetroots is quite a favourite.
The other is Chef Fernandes’ homage to Bandra’s love for meat and potatoes, called the Kamina Karpaccio. Created like a ceviche, the tenderloin carpaccio is marinated in Japanese ponzu and topped with potato salli, which adds texture (and gives it that unique Bandra Born twist).
Other dishes that you can try while dining at Bandra Born are The East Indian Crab Curry Dip accompanied by a croissant pav (does it get more Bandra than this?). And a spin on the classic dessert, a Caramel Custard with a spiced glaze.
Spirit-forward – fruity and floral, sour, and salty
The food programme is paired with an equally Bandra-inspired cocktail menu, designed by Pankaj Balachandran. Chef Fernandes says, “I would drink every drink on the menu and that says something.”
You can sample tipples like the Juice & Booze, a cocktail that pays tribute to the sugarcane juice stalls that dot every corner of Bandra. It’s a blend of sugarcane juice, ginger, nimbu, and rum.
A robust cocktail named Gresh’s Juice has been crafted as a testament to Bandra’s lively nightlife. The Buzz Bazaar is inspired by the vibrant marketplace on Bazaar Road, and Galaxy Popcorn is a reminder of the sweet memories of watching films at G7 theatres before the era of multiplexes.
Bandra Born is an exciting introduction for Bandra virgins, and a welcome dose of nostalgia for those who call the bylanes of Bandra their home.
The pop-up is open for dinner only and does not allow kids. Get more details on Bandra Born’s Instagram page.
#BeyondTheRestaurant is a series where we explore new food experiences you can try, outside of a restaurant.