Every month, the maximum city sees countless new restaurants and bars, but Pompa in Bandra piqued our interest. Aside from being a Mexican restaurant, a cuisine rarely focused on in restaurants across India; what’s more intriguing is that The Tham Brothers — the folks behind Koko and Foo — are the force behind it.
It is not everyday that you hear third-generation Chinese native restaurateurs dive into a vastly different cuisine from the one they have been offering for decades. Three cities, multiple outlets and projects later, Keenan and Ryan Tham aka The Tham Brothers, have made a name for themselves in the hospitality space in India.
One cannot deny that the duo comes from a family of restaurateurs, dating back to the 1960s when Grandpa Tham’s Mandarin in Colaba was the talk of the town for its Chinese and Cantonese cuisine. After this, many restaurants opened and shut. The Thams’ have always had expansive projects under their belt—Trilogy and The Good Wife in BKC (both of which have now shuttered), and of course the more recent, Koko in Kamala Mills, and eight outlets of Foo in the city, followed by one in Bengaluru and another Ahmedabad. The latest feather in their cap is the Mexican restaurant, Pompa in Bandra, which opened last month.
Pompa in Bandra is an initiative alongside their partner Saamir Chandnani. With a large centre bar, the space portrays luxury and fine dining with bold traditional Mexican flavours. To curate Pompa’s Mexican menu, chef Jason James Hudanish, a Miami native, has been roped in and he brings forth his experience of working with Jeremiah Bullfrog at Gastropod in Miami.
TLM sat down with the Tham Brothers to know more about their idea behind switching gears to open Pompa, how Mumbai restaurants are changing, and more. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How did you stumble upon the idea of having a Mexican restaurant?
Keenan Tham (KT): Koko and Foo are at the forefront, and we are expanding both brands quite rapidly in India, we thought of seeing what is lacking in the market. I think Mexican food is quite distorted in Mumbai, and growing up, we had our versions of Mexican.
There have been a few brands over the years, but I think the time is right now with Indians travelling globally, and they understand the flavour profile, so their expectations have changed. I think because of this, we have come at the right time.
Mumbai knows Tex-Mex as ‘Mexican’. Is Pompa changing that?
Ryan Tham (RT): We have just one nacho and burrito option. We had to figure out what was working and what was not, and we looked at Mexican places doing well globally, and we tried to do the same and that gave us confidence. We have diversified our menu so that it is different from what is available.
KT: Our huge round bar aims to provide a full-drinking experience with our mezcal and tequila-based cocktails. Speaking about the food, we are not just focusing on burritos, enchiladas and the Tex-Mex cuisine. We are focused on ceviche, such as the Ceviche de Salmón, small plates, include chipotle, and lobster, and we have also played around with calamari like our Shallow Fried Calamari. We have also kept in mind the vegetarians of Mumbai, the vegans and the Jains because that is also a market.
How did you manage to create a Mexican experience with your décor?
KT: In terms of décor, we wanted to create a bright and vibrant space. We didn’t want to go with the typical skulls and random graffiti on the wall. We wanted our space to be a happy premium space and with mood lighting. We also have a speaker on the stairs so that when you are walking up, you can hear Latin music coming up. As part of ‘providing a full experience,’ we also have live Latin music.
Restaurants now focus on making décor ‘Instagrammable’. Was that your brief too?
KT: At the end of the day, when you are creating something, you hope the audience likes it and, if they do, they are bound to take pictures [for Instagram]. Have we segregated an ‘Instagrammable’ spot currently? No. We like the entire space so, we are happy that people can pick the spot they like.
From Henry Tham to Pompa, how has the industry changed?
KT: We started Henry Tham right after we returned from Australia, and we were excited to launch a bar and a restaurant because it wasn’t quite common at that time. Later, when we were in our late 20s, we wanted to have fun with our friends and at that point, we felt that Mumbai needed a nightclub [thus came Trilogy]. Our places have been a reflection of our personality and mindset at that point in our age.
Even with The Good Wife, we felt a gap in the Indian market for people to drink after work. Globally, this was a good business model, and we were looking at global trends then. Coming to Koko, we felt there lacked a premium luxury Asian space that could also be a bar. Along the way, we realised we should come up with a pan-India brand [which brought in FOO].
RT: We felt that the casual food dining space needed an organised neutral player, and we thought of taking it to the next level. All of these have been during the various stages of our journey. Whenever we felt that we had a new idea or the audience had evolved, we tried to match their needs and come up with a product accordingly.
Like a star kid, does being a Tham Brother come with a similar kind of pressure?
KT: There is always a pressure to perform, but I think what we are doing is what is right for the current time. As entrepreneurs, we always have this creative buzz, and we always wanted to try new things and continue to be innovative in this new space.
It [venturing into a new cuisine] was challenging. People have an expectation with anything we put our name to so we were cautious and did a lot of food trials. We understand that the failure rate has been high [in this industry] but there is always room for new players and we thought this [Pompa] would match the expectations. We are happy to try and create something, hoping people like it.
What’s a typical meal at home like?
KT: Regular Indian food. But whenever I like to cook, it is usually steak or some good Chinese food at home.
Why the name Pompa?
RT: We love how it sounds. It is short, interesting and catchy. It means flamboyant in Spanish, and that is the feeling you get when you enter the space.