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What the Fork: Kunal Vijayakar Serves Up His Favourite Haunts of 2021 With a Delicious Hope for 2022

As I write this, there is huge iffy-ness about what’s in store for us in the coming few weeks. Will this new pedigree of virus unsettle our sovereignty to be able to live our lives, the way we’d like to? Will we be able to walk, talk, and meet and eat without curb and constraint? And by eat, I mean, go out and visit a restaurant. The last charge of the virus indeed took its toll on restaurants. I was told that after the unexpected first lockdown, roughly 20% of all hospitality establishments just did not open up fully. That nearly 30% of all restaurants and hotels have shut down permanently, and the ones who have opened, operate in losses up to 50%.

Battling these bitter, nearly tragic circumstances, restaurateurs still stood firm, stood tall and still applied creativity and style to renovate, reopen, sustain and launch some great places to eat in, and I still managed to spend 2021 having some really astonishing meals. So as the end of 2021 draws close, here is my list of favourite places I ate at in 2021. Some new, some old, but all bloody worth it.

Tori

Let me start with Tori in Bandra. This Latino-Asian restaurant is plastered with Persian rugs, boasts of a great outdoor area, a who’s who guest list and serves a mind-bending fusion of South America and Southeast Asian food. Flavours of Thailand and Peru come together in the form of sushi, sliders, dim sum, carpaccio and ceviche.

Kyma

I always love al fresco places, and have always complained that Mumbai did not have too many open-to-the-sky restaurants where the food was good and the night was long. Maybe it’s the oppressive Mumbai summer that discourages that. But, Kyma is an all-day casual dining and bar, with alfresco dining under cabanas and a gazebo and with a menu of Mediterranean and Asian food.

The salmon truffle cream cheese & jalapeno sushi, Philly cheese dim sum, the local style chili chicken with Manteo steamed buns, fiery wonton nachos, and lemongrass creme brulee for dessert, go great with a glass in one hand and a loved one on the other arm.

Mag St. Café

One of my favourite restaurateurs, Gauri Devidayal, whose Colaba eatery The Table ranks as one of Mumbai’s finest dine-ins, pioneered Magazine Street Kitchen, the city’s first ever experimental kitchen space in the old dock area of the Mumbai. As a tribute to the fine work done there, she’s opened Mag St. Café, in a quaint and familiar spot in a bylane of Colaba.

A lockdown project, Mag St. Café is easy-going, casual and stylish with a menu that resonates exactly the same attitude. Crusty breads, custom-made pizzas, Asian curries, salads, gourmet sandwiches, smoothies and great coffee and desserts.

Sette Mara

From the Levantine kitchens of Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Persia and Georgia, at the St. Regis, Mumbai boasting of Mediterranean and Arabic delicacies is Sette Mara. There is ‘The Cold Kitchen’ and ‘The Hot Kitchen’, from where emerge crunchy tossed salads, traditional mezzes like hummus Beiruti with paprika, parsley and toasted cumin, and hummus Phoenicia with pine nuts, avocado and Z’atar and luscious muhammarah, labneh, talatouri.

Kachapuri, a classical Georgian boat-shaped cheese bread with a variety of stuffings. Large plates like salt-baked whole seabass, Israeli cous cous, and mousaka. And then the time-honoured eastern open charcoal grill foods like charred baby aubergine, Z’atar roasted spatchcock, joojeh kababs and other wonderous charred meats.

Zima

Speaking of which, I discovered Zima in Bandra online and then never stopped ordering from them. This, too, is a Mediterranean place. It’s well-priced, and the food is great. My favourite is their lentil soup with lemon and the Fattouch crunchy lettuce with tomato, radish purslane and a fresh vinaigrette, hummus bil lahm, a creamy hummus with little slivers of sauted loin and pine nuts, and my absolute favourite, the kafta lahm, a mince lamb, onion and parsley kabab, and the dynamite shrimp.

Souffle S’il Vous Plait

It’s nearly impossible to get good French food in Mumbai, and then I discovered Souffle S’il Vous Plait. It’s been there for a while, but I just didn’t get down to going there.

At good old Churchgate, the oh-so-familiar street that we all grew up eating on, a cheerful glittering indoor space as well as curb-side seating, a brightly lit well-endowed bar, with glittering art deco chandeliers. Young Chef Vidit Aren creates meaty, intense French onion soups, chicken liver parfaits, baked cheese souffles, petit dinner rolls with organic raw honey roasts, duck confit, sea bass a la Marseilles, and steak frites. The piece de resistance is of course the finale, the dessert. Fine, moist, boozy Baba au Rhum.

These were just some of the highlights of my favourite meals in 2021. You may notice I haven’t mentioned any Indian or Chinese places. That’s simply because no Indian or Chinese place hit the spot for me this year.

But I have hopes; hopes that we will prevail and so shall the food. So, all the best, a happy new year and may you always be hungry for great food. Bonne Année and Bon Apeptite.

Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer based in Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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