When I first heard about Kari Apla serving young Indian food in Mumbai’s Khar neighbourhood, all I could do was scratch my head in confusion. Will they be serving those disgusting combinations like Fanta-Maggi that go viral on Instagram too often? Or was this just some new Gen Z trend that I would struggle to keep up with? After some research it seemed like a restaurant modernising Indian food. It surely must be gimmicky, I thought. But when I learnt that the chef and owners were a young couple who had worked in popular kitchens, my heart did a hopeful flip. I frantically tried to get in touch with them to ask what they meant by ‘young Indian food’.
“We are redoing food that we have grown up eating. And, we are just doing it with our twist, and are incorporating our experiences in European kitchens, Asian kitchens,” says chef-owner Mathew Varghese. He along with chef Ebaani Tewari are behind Kari Apla. So, you’ll notice an amalgamation of both their cultures on the menu. Varghese brings his Malayali cuisine to the table. While Tewari who is half Maharashtrian and has roots in Andhra Pradesh brings forth a blend that’s rarely seen. Mumbai’s omelette pav meets Kerala’s moilee curry, the Mangalorean sukka is served with a Maharashtrian bhakri, and more.
The name of the restaurant too is a blend of their cultures and a riff on their languages. Kari Apla comes from karuveppilai, the Malayalam word for curry leaves and has been tweaked into the Marathi words kari and apla, meaning ‘our curry’.
Cooking up a dream
Kari Apla is the husband-wife duo’s first restaurant and as chef-owners, they say it can be “stressful” to run the space. But I notice a gleam on their faces, the kind you would see a five-year-old have if you offered them candy. The two are an excited bundle, and their mastery comes through in the first bite of the Avocado Thecha I sampled with Batata Papad. Tewari previously worked at Taj Lands End and Bastian. Varghese has worked at Taj Lands End and The Orient Express at the Taj Palace, New Delhi before working as a part of the opening team at Comorin with chef Manish Mehrotra.
As most chefs dream, they too, wanted to open their restaurant. “It was a long-term plan. It was down the road,” says Varghese. Tewari adds, “We are very excited. We are very happy that we did it now because it involves a lot of energy, a lot of running around, and you know, I don’t think this would have been possible 10 years down the line.” Call it excitement or young entrepreneurs’ struggle, you will always find the two at the restaurant. They are either cooking, serving, or bussing tables–it’s always all hands on deck. “I think it’s a little reassuring to people when they read or somebody has told them the food is really good, and then they see that as owners we are always there on the floor,” says Varghese.
The sentiment of ‘apla’ rings throughout the restaurant, As much as you’ll see Varghese and Tewari on the floor, you’ll also notice them in the photo frames. There are pictures of the family, photographs taken by Tewari’s father along the Konkan coast and at Ganpati Phule. And frames from Mumbai, Kerala, and Goa taken by Tewari’s parents’ neighbour. The design of Kari Apla – coasters, menu, a floral motif inspired by curry leaf blossoms and Chettinad tiles – are all designed by Sneha Dasgupta, an old friend of Tewari’s. The duo’s family and friends have through photographs, stories, design, all pitched in to cook this dream.
Apla kitchen, apla cuisine
The beauty of the menu here – apart from the motif – is that at no point does the food seem fussy. Nor has the food been modernised to a point where it would be a gimmick. It’s simply elevated. You see that in the Purple Cabbage Koshimbir, a classic Maharashtrian salad that has been transformed and is made with purple cabbage, avocado, and of course curry leaf.
The south Indian vadai has received a facelift too and is made with sweet potato instead. Their Kadla Curry Hummus is what you would imagine only a Gulf-born Malayali would love but it’s a repeat order for many. “I think every Malayali table we’ve had, they’ve all been very perplexed by it and they’re like how is it in a hummus? Is it on top? Is it mixed with the hummus? We’re like no just try it. The flavours are there, you know, so it works,” says Varghese.
You will also come across dishes served with pav – a Maharashtrian’s go-to carb to pair with just about anything. And, the Malabar parotta has been elevated with scallions and chillies, inspired by the Korean scallion pancakes that Bastian was once known for.
The play on dishes is minimalist but well-thought-out. Whether it’s the Madurai Mutton Cutlet or the Warm Banana Bread with Filter Coffee Ice cream. You can credit the training Varghese and Tewari have received in their careers. But I believe it’s their clever creativity that helps maintain the balance and keeps their tables full.
A necessity in a neighbourhood like Khar, where a new restaurant is mushrooming as rapidly as the new Gen Z slag I need to learn (what even does ‘rizz’ mean?). Bandra-Khar a is not a forgiving neighbourhood if your food isn’t making the mark. “They [customers] are very confidently telling us, ‘Oh you will move out of here within a year.’ And we are like, it was such a task to find a place that we liked and that was in budget,” says Tewari.
As I take my final bite of the Suriani Prawn Fry, which is spicy and generously garnished with fried curry leaves, I now know what young Indian food means. It’s got the spin only young chefs could think of, flavours most of us have grown up eating, and is presented as a dish I could eat in any part of the world. I love the ease of the plates served at Kari Apla, the comforting flavours it offers, and I can’t help but recommend it to friends seeking a new spot to eat.