More than a decade ago, Jiggs Kalra popularised set menus with Indian food and I remember being very impressed with the experimentation, the de-construction and the re-imagining of popular food forms at the Masala Library, Mumbai. Years later I still recall the mishit doi ice cream, mushroom soup served and self prepared as tea, masala muri dressed atop an aloo subi and the paan flavoured buddhi ka baal (cotton candy).
Indian food scene and the palettes of Indians have evolved since and it's the most interesting time to bring in the complex techniques and processes developed in the west to see how we can marry it with the wealth of ingredient, flavours and recipes that we have here, in India. And the young chefs at Masque do just that.
They call themselves an 'ingredient-driven restaurant'. From seaweeds off the Goan shores to corn and rice from heartland Maharashtra, green jowar from Gujarat, recipes from the Kodavas and Marwadis, Masque puts on the table a strong sourcing story, their love for pushing the boundaries and refreshing creativity with pairing and presentation. It is reinforced course after course.
I opted for the vegetarian menu, which does equal justice, if not more, to the concept, as it does to the non-vegeratian version, a big clink of the wine glass to that. Read on for the full monty of the course by course seduction.
Starfruit kanji, Kohlrabi, Aam papad
Spotlighting the pickling traditions of winter, the dish uses kohlrabi scoops, pickled in coriander and yellow mustard (much like the classic paniwala achar).
It’s full of bright, acidic flavours, with the pickled kohlrabi amped up by a star fruit kanji, lime leaf or gonzo nag leaf oil, mango leather or aam papad, watermelon radish star and fresh, crunchy star fruit (or squid for the NVs).
The raw inspiration from kanji and pickled veggies that are a staple in many Sindhi homes with this dish. It a bright, zingy start to the evening.
There is one hero element - Corn; Makkah Mathai employs different textures of corn. The corn mathri crisp is a spin on the popular Marwadi tea time snack, made with corn masa and hemp seeds. Served alongside a bowlful of charred corn, Kashmiri chilli and tamarind chilli chutneys, raw mango and onion. On top of it is corn mousse and chilli salt. Eat it like a chip and dip, and you might as well lick foam off your fingers.
The inspiration is Bhel! My favourite snack (and Gujarat's). Traditionally made with crispy puffed rice, this one’s made with the seasonal green ponkh (green jowar). The crackling seaweed is sourced from shores of Goa. A salad under all the crispiness is a mix of rhubarb, raw mango, green tomato, onion and cucumber tossed in green chilli chutney with pickled seaweed (locally foraged sargassum swartzii). Mix it up and chomp!
Kashmiri Morels, Pea Patra, Saffron
A Masque signature dish with BBQ Pork for NVs. Fennel and saffron sauce as the base, parsley chutney around the rim. The patra roulade is colacasia leaves stuffed with fresh green peas and cottage cheese mash. Fresh gucchi mushrooms (sourced from Kashmir) with crispy morel 'sally' on top.
Xacuti, Burrata (or Poached egg), Ladi Pao
Their take on this popular Goan street snack features chewy carrots, rat-tail radish from Rajasthan (and clams) tempered with mustard seeds and ginger, topped with either a poached egg or creamy burrata.
The story goes that leftover gravy – often Xacuti – was poured over a fresh omelette and polished off with bread.
Served with melt in the mouth, freshly baked buttonsized pav buns to mop it all up!
Course 6, In the kitchen
Red Tamarind, Rose Apple
There’s tamarind and then there’s red tamarind of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It’s more nutritious than the black-brown tamarind in most Indian homes.
Turned into a lush sorbet it's paired with another homegrown fruit, rose apple. Rose apple is getting popular in the gastronomy circuit, growing up I've know it as the humble 'Gulab Jamun' that I would end up comparing it's subtle rose sweetness to my favourite sweetmeat.
Enjoy this course in the kitchen as it's plated right before you and you're given a Polaroid of the experience.
Sunchoke, Ambemohar, Black Garlic
This pulao is savoury, crunchy, herby, umami, spicy, acidic; there's a lot going on in the bowl. Charred parsnips, the root veggie from the family of carrots; A bed of ambe mohar rice, popularly used in Maharastrian cuisine, tossed in black garlic sauce. Cherry tomatoes tossed in podi masala, fresh toor dal pods, kolrabi leaf greens on the side. Served with condiments – Habenaro chili, roasted moong dal tossed in chaat masala, dehydrated tomato chutney. Use it only if you feel the need to dial up the spice, as there is already a load of flavours and textures.
Nolen Gur, Gondhoraj
This pre dessert course is a dessert disguised as a palate cleanser and has a lot of subtle flavours surprisingly complementing each other in perfection. The centre of the bowl has mishit doi, side gonadoraj lime granita, longan berries (very similar to litchi), finished with nolen gud (date plam jaggery sourced all the way from the Santhal forests of Bengal). It goes really quick, this one.
Chocolate, Passion Fruit
Serving this dessert in a cacao shell that are otherwise discarded in the chocolate-making process is a beautiful tribute to India's quiet chocolate revolution. Chocolate and caramel custard, passionfruit seed chikki, and passion fruit sorbet. Hold the cacao bowl in your hand, crack the chikki inside and scoop up all the bits of on to one spoon. I'm not the one for a chocolate overload and the tang of passionfruit is a great flavour compliment.
Pickled strawberry, Strawberry Rabri, Graham Cracker
The Graham cracker is filled with strawberry mawa, topped with pickled strawberries sprinkled with fennel seed and poppy seeds. A modern mouthful of mukhwaas, just enough to feel like The End.
Unit G3, Shree Laxmi Woollen Mills, Shakti Mills Lane, Off, Dr E Moses Road, Mahalakshmi, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400011
Set menu (Ten courses; Veg & Non Veg) - ₹4,500