Chef Hussain Shahzad Is Hosting A Dinner Party And You Don’t Want To Miss It

The Hunger Inc dishes out its fifth offering, Papa’s - a 12-seater in Bandra, Mumbai, determined to break every rule of fine dining with an unapologetically loud celebration

Published On Mar 22, 2024 | Updated On Mar 26, 2024

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We’ve taken a corner seat at Veronica’s on a Thursday evening, sipping a kombucha while we wait for chef Hussain Shahzad. He walks in towards us, stopping on the way to sneakily pass a bag to a chef. “It’s lauki (bottle gourd), from my home fridge,” he says in an excited tone as he joins us. This sets pace for a chat on the latest offering by Hunger Inc named Papa’s, after the Late Floyd Cardoz whom they fondly called Papaji. 

The menu takes a leaf from the chef’s personal journey, encompassing his heritage, culinary upbringings, cooking stints across New York, Copenhagen, Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore and of course Bombay. With four volumes of doodled ideas in his kitty, here Shahzad cooks what his heart wants to. 

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Hussain Shahzad, executive chef, Papa's

“For the longest time, between 60s and 80s, Indian cuisine did not open itself to interpretation; as restaurant chefs stuck to recreating versions of authentic dishes laid out by standardised Mughlai, Lucknowi and Awadhi cooking. But we are in fun times now,” Shazad believes, adding “No one is taking anything in Indian cuisine at face value. No more ‘French-ifying’ Indian food to appease the West.” 

In the past decade, the exploration of regional and seasonal has solidly come to the forefront. “Today, if you are not cooking regional or local food with right kind of diversity and your technique applied to it, you are not a chef in 2024. You are stuck somewhere else,” says Shahzad, sharing his definition of the 2024 chef. “Someone who is lot more sensible and thoughtful about what their ecosystem is, and how they are going to leverage their own techniques to kind of show off their ecosystem really well. You could be global in your formatting, flavour profile, technique - but deeper level, you should be connecting to your audience,” he says, citing a commentary on Chinese cuisine he recently came across before he goes off to prep for the dinner party: ‘The innovation of today might be the authenticity of tomorrow’. 

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Papa's sits above Veronica's in Bandra, Mumbai

It’s been over a month since the launch of Papa’s, a 12-seater fine-dining shenanigan above Veronica’s designed to replace prim-and-proper etiquettes with a hearty and warm gathering of strangers. 

We are graciously welcomed inside Bandra’s most expensive sandwich shop, and led up the narrow stairs into the mezzanine floor designed by Shonan Purie Trehan, founder and principal architect of Studio Language Architecture who used a speak-easy design language to visualised as the home of chef a above a sandwich shop in the 80s. The 700 square-feet space is done up in an inviting green interspersed with solid wood, peppered with art-deco curves and decorated with knick-knacks. Here, the kitchen takes centre stage, and the chef, gets to be the hero. 

Twelve strangers have now gathered around the bar area, where we are served our prenoted welcome drink in a sake cup – ours is a negroni – just a swig to set the pace for the night. We land our finger on Vieux Carré from the bar menu. Papa’s version of the New Orleans-born classic cocktail has a cream-washed whiskey, brandy, grape, paprika and sumac. It’s stiff, with a bitter balance and hints of spice.  We sip this through the pleasantries and hang at the bar for the first two courses: a savoury bite-sized Bebinca made from celery root, black truffle and date and a Chhena Poda, comte sauce and Kaluga caviar. Here, chef’s Bohri roots follow tradition of the thaal that begins with something meetha (sweet). 

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The Wellington

The tempo rises, with the gentle buzz of banter, as the bandwagon moves to the sit-down around the omakase-style open kitchen, where Shahzad and his four-member team get this dinner party going. In the midst of retro beats ranging from Shaggy to Shakira, we realise we, too, are important characters redefining the norms of fine dining –noisy banter, hearty conversations in-between being comfortably anti-social by poring over a food crossword they’ve rustled up. 

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The Rasam with trout and watermelon broth

The high-seating allows a clear view of final rounds of plating.  A team member answers our curious questions while grating horseradish onto a glazed samosa which packs in a fishy tuna punch. In the recent years, we have witnessed many a modern interpretation of the Rasam and we have now found the one we love. A 14-day dry aged trout is poured with a watermelon broth flavoured with lime leaf and topped with fish roe. 

Dahi bhaat (curd rice) is a universal Indian comfort food, and we are treated to a staple from chef’s hometown Chennai with a Thayir Sadam albeit with a twist: made with sushi rice, beetroot, and flavoured with chevre (goat’s cheese), tempered with, the papad-crunch is provided by a frilly, fried shisho leaf. Mixed together, it carries the one-bowl comfort of familiar flavours and childhood. An interesting side note: Uthukuli ghee is sourced from Mylapore Ganapathy's along with the pickle served with the dish. The magical realism continues, and is at its peak with Modak, that turns out to be a juicy char siu pork with the tartness of apple. 

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The Thayir Sadam

The dinner takes an adventurous turn with Bugs Bunny, skewered rabbit meat rubbed with a red ant paste. It is served with a DIY jowar pita to fold into a shawarma with on garlic chutney and amla hot sauce. Followed by a ‘salad’, we lap up the makeshift palate cleanser of shaved strawberry granita, tomato compote and a dollop of stracciatella. Just in time for our second drink order: Sea Biscuit, a gin-based cocktail that comes with seafaring notes of clams, freshened with basil and fennel. The cocktails, shaken and stirred by Pankaj Balachandran, co-founder, Countertop India, keep pace with the food. 

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Sea Biscuit

Who’s the prettiest of them all? We’d say the latticed-Wellington, inspired by a Kashmiri yakhni. The cross-section reveals layers of aged lamb, morel and sour apple duxelles in a sea silken pumpkin makhni sauce. Perfect crunch gets the perfect drench of korma, with the meat and fungi adding the earthy flavours. 

What The Duck is a mix between a one-pot Ambur-style biryani and a paella made with seven-day dry-aged duck with Indrayani rice and green garlic raita. Chef diligently ensures everyone gets a bottom share of the burnt socarrat from the bottom of the pan. The vegetarians get What the Khuska!, a kimchi fried rice in a paella that runs high on fermented notes. 

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What The Duck

We skid through desserts, which we felt was the weakest link in this showcase. A honeyed Toastie holding a blue cheese ice-cream doesn’t make a big mark on our sweet tooth. We prefer the ice-cream on its own. Potato Chips, which combines flavours of lemon, truffle and champagne and comes topped with strips of potato chips doesn’t come together for us. If you’re tempted to get a seat a Papa’s, rest assured you will be taken care of, in your dietary preferences, as well as your party mood. It’s only time till chef brings out his hipflask when the party flows into an after party. 

Address: Papa’s at Veronica’s, Waroda Rd, Ranwar, Bandra West, Mumbai 

Timing: 8pm onwards (Wednesday to Saturday) 

Meal for one: Tasting menu: INR 4,750 (plus taxes) for vegetarian; INR 4,950 (plus taxes) for non-vegetarian. Wine pairing: INR 4500 (plus taxes); alcoholic beverage pairing: INR 3250 (plus taxes) 


Photo: Featured Restaurant

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