Speciality restaurants that source produce hyper-locally have sprouted up in Mumbai. Eco-restaurateur Shraddha Bhansali explains the concept and gives us a list of venues to check out.
Farm-to-table food is a growing trend in Mumbai, with a handful of places having popped up over the last few years to feed the Maximum City’s appetite for eating local. Culture Trip sat down with eco-restaurateur Shraddha Bhansali to talk about the concept and how the trend is presenting itself in Mumbai. Bhansali is the owner of Candy and Green, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in the city’s Breach Candy neighbourhood that focuses on bringing local, seasonal and sustainable produce to people’s plates with zero carbon footprint. Having opened her first restaurant at just 24, she was included in Forbes India’s 2018 ’30 Under 30′ list and was recently appointed the head of sustainability and corporate social responsibility for the National Restaurant Association of India.
Bhansali attributes the growth of the farm-to-table restaurant market to the quality of the food itself. Like restaurants Masque and The Table, her restaurant has a food-first focus, with a menu that takes inspiration from the four corners of the globe, and utmost care is taken when sourcing ingredients and planning the menu.
“When I was initially working on the concept, I went back to the root of what made food special to me,” says Bhansali. “I realised it was because I’d grown up eating food that was [prepared with] so much care and consideration. So when we made Candy and Green, we decided that we were going to be cuisine agnostic – we don’t have a cuisine; we focus on the ingredients and really shine a light on [local] produce.”
The restaurant sources the bulk of its produce from local farming collectives – where the money from the produce goes to the farmer directly rather than through a middleman – and trustworthy vendors. The remainder comes from a 750-square-foot (70-square-metre) rooftop garden, where they mainly grow green, leafy vegetables vertically in organic soil and cocopeat without pesticides. These greens are rotated seasonally with the menu.
The rooftop garden is open for customers to tour, says Bhansali: “It’s one thing to put something on a menu and one thing to show someone something, so we did it [on the rooftop] because we wanted to live this truth so our customers could get a feel of what we genuinely mean.”
Ingredients, she stresses, are the key to her farm-to-table restaurant: “We didn’t want to be known as a vegetarian restaurant because that’s not what we stand for – yes, we’re meat-free, and yes, we don’t use eggs or animal fats – but it was an active choice to use better quality ingredients.”
Here are a few places in Mumbai, as recommended by Bhansali, where you can get a taste of farm-to-table food, the Bombay-way:
A fine-dining eatery based in Colaba, when The Table first opened its doors in 2011, Mumbai got its first taste of a true farm-to-table experience. With seasonal, hyperlocal ingredients, its menu features dishes from across the globe, with an ingredient-driven focus. Bhansali’s must-try is the “boneless chicken ‘wings’ in a ginger glaze”, and reservations are recommended.
Scrapping à la carte altogether, Masque offers an extensive ten- to fourteen-course tasting menu featuring seasonal produce year round. The team at Masque goes to great lengths to source their ingredients – foraging from as far as Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir and sourcing the rest from their own organic and bio-intensive farm in Pune. Masque’s menu is constantly revamped in its entirety every few weeks. That said, the cocktail menu deserves special mention. Centred around Ayurveda and the elements – Bhumi (earth), Jal (water), Agni (fire), Vayu (air), and Akash (sky) – it features ingredients like cooling rhododendron from the hilly parts of the north and earthly and earthy ginger gin and tonic with turmeric.
A hip resto-bar with a seasonal menu, Candy and Green’s philosophy is about balance. Its menu features a few staples (including a “cheat day” mac and cheese) as well as several vegan options, including flatbreads dressed with vegan cheese, soy doner kebabs and dairy-free substitutes. Special mention goes to the kale chip chaat, a reimagining of the traditional palak (spinach) chaat – this crunchy and earthy dish features battered kale chips dressed with yoghurt, pomegranate, chutney and sprinkled with bhujia. Reservations are not required, except for Sunday lunches.
In the bistro’s own words, it subscribes to a “pure and delicious culinary experience”. The menu is thus completely gluten-free, additive-free, refined sugar-free and plant-forward, in keeping with its holistic living philosophy. The sign of a place doing this well, however, is when you cannot tell that you’re eating ‘healthy food’ because you’re more focused on eating ‘tasty food’. The jigsaw scrambled eggs are highly recommended, and no reservations are needed.