The traditional puran poli as a tart, filled with the flavours of seasonal vegetables found in the ambati curry. String hoppers with meat curry reinterpreted and served with fried shallots flavoured kahwa broth? These and many more re-imagined versions may just be some of the offerings at Masque, Mumbai when it reopens in Augustafter a month long break for renovation..
Masque, which calls itself an “ingredients-driven and forward-thinking restaurant” ranked at number 16 among Asia’s Top 50 restaurants, 2023, in a poll conducted by industry experts at Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants Academy.
Head chef Varun Totlani has just returned from Kerala after an intense ingredients trail, along with Masque founder Aditi Dugar. But he is not sure if the famed 10-course tasting menu in the works will have something from the state “right away”. Over a call from Singapore, Varun is not giving any more details except for “wait and see” and a vague “tomatoes are trending”.
Masque, which believes in highlighting seasonal produce, will serve interesting dishes such as squash blossom and nasturtium kofta and a tomato dish showcasing the vegetable’s different textures. The oyster stir fry, prepared by the chef at Malabar House Hotel (a Relais & Chateaux property; Masque has recently joined this elite group of gourmet restaurants and boutique hotels) in Kochi has impressed him. “It has stuck with us and oysters will be on the menu after the monsoon,” he says.
Aditi also speaks of exciting encounters in Kerala: the ponderosa lemon also called citron in the markets of Kochi; the herbal porridge consumed during the monsoon; a fried-shallots infused chai, which she found similar to a detoxification beverage from her Jain community. “Interestingly the shallot kahwa (tea) was served with a black lentil and pepper poppadom,” says Varun, adding that he and his team at the Masque lab will “figure out how to replicate the drink.”
Other ingredients that may find their way into Masque’s delicacies are mussad, a mustard sauce that originated from Kochi’s Portuguese connections and the Marayoor jaggery with its GI tag and “candy taste that can be used in our tepache and kombucha.” Herbs, roots and husks from the “pooja shops” in the local Kochi market were used in presentation, and large oyster shells have been reworked as plates. The puttu maker too caught their fancy, says Aditi.
What about your popular cacao desserts, I nudge. “Our cacao offerings are crowd pleasers. The cacao is sourced from Kerala and from bean-to-bar farms in South India,” says Varun, adding that the shell is repurposed and served with a salad marinated in gondhoraj lime. Cocoa nibs, cashew chikki, cacao-powdered twill and a dark chocolate mousse will be there in some versions, he offers.
Meanwhile Ankush Gamre, head mixologist at Masque’s bar The Living Room, is busy preparing new cocktails for the reopening. While he would like to keep them a surprise, he offers tantalising hints on an as-yet unnamed fruity highball. “It is vodka-based and will have in-house vermouth, red and green pear distillation, centrifuge green apple juice and the mix will be carbonated.” He also adds that the line of drinks will use new techniques and the flavour profile will come from a mix of dill leaves, unripe tomatoes, black garlic sauce and kombu seaweed. A vermouth along with 14 botanicals, an in-house sake, a sweet potato shochu will be new additions this season, says Gamre who has a cocktail, Gamble, named after him.
“Food is all about memories and anecdotes and we share this with our diners through our menu,” says Aditi, as she looks forward to the reopening.