The Best & Bizarre Of 2023

Food and travel writers, Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy, give us a lowdown of events in the food business in 2023, some good, some just ‘interesting’ and the rest just plain bizarre.

Published On Dec 28, 2023 | Updated On Mar 01, 2024

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2023 has been an exciting year for the F&B industry with new restaurant launches, diverse cuisines on offer and chefs who have reinvented themselves. Here’s a round-up of some of the most bar and restaurant launches this year. 

Named after the mythological she-wolf who suckled Remus and Romulus, the founders of Rome, Lupa was the brainchild of Chef Manu Chandra and business partner Rampal Chetan. The drab Canara Bank façade of Spencer Building’s on MG Road was transformed into an Italian villa in Tuscany with wraparound verandahs, potted plants and leonine waterspouts. Lupa is many things – a pizzeria, gelato lab, a salumeria-small plates bar with an underground wine cellar that serves intimate chef tables. 

Manu puts his creative stamp on European and Italian cuisine – Chicken Liver Parfait, Cheese n’ charcuterie board, Kale quinoa salad, Moules Frites, Pressed half brick chicken, Twice cooked pork belly, Pappardelle Oxtail Ragu, Steamed green lip mussels, Lupino Caesar salad with garlic sourdough rosette instead of the usual croutons, besides cocktails like Lupa-tini, The Notorious F.I.G. and Melon, Cheese & Ham. There’s 24-layer chocolate, homemade gelato and generous servings of tiramisu. It recently hosted Deep Purple, Goo Goo Dolls and other artists in town for the Bandland gig. 

After a glitzy launch in April that caused traffic jams on Hennur Road, the sprawling 87,000 sq ft Oia (pronounced Ee-ya), has finally settled down to a life of normalcy. Touted as the largest bar in Asia with a seating capacity of 1800, it is named after a Santorini island. A brainchild of seasoned restaurateur Lokesh Sukhija, behind F&B brands like Miso Sexy, Daddy, Diablo and Bougie, Oia’s Greek-inspired architecture was designed by Abhigyan Neogi. Spread across multiple levels, it has amphitheatre style seating and a signature blue-domed lighthouse to complete the seaside Santorini look of whitewashed houses clinging to the cliffs. 

There’s a green wraparound pool with a bridge, cabanas, columns, arches and gorgeous Picasso-style line drawings. Oia takes pride in its North Indian roots, serving great Tandoori Chicken and Paneer Tikka Samplers. The food is global and creative – Boozy Vodka Pani Puri, Whiskey garlic prawn, Blue Plea Sushi, Greek Cheese Samosas, Edamame Tokri Tart, Creamy chicken cornetto, Beef Baos, Magic prawn and Namma Bengaluru Tacos. Try signature cocktails like People’s Obsession, Picasso, Geisha, Sonorous, Nector and Date Me Please. 

Bengaluru’s hip new bar calls itself a ‘Social Club’ where cocktails and conversation combine with great Asian food and an electric vibe. Located on Museum Road, with its walnut interiors and lush foliage it could pass off as a colonial hangout in Manila. Founder Amit Gowda of Urvashi Theatre and The Druid Garden always wanted a place in Central Bangalore. The bar is the centre of attention and ‘Bartender of the Year 2022’ Sahil Essani uses modern techniques to create stunning cocktails. In the past four weeks, the 184-seater bar has churned out 6500 cocktails. 

The Muro Musings menu has eight cocktails including Rain Check, Stick Around. Heat of the Moment features tequila reposado with lacto-fermented guava, honey and Naga chilli. The Good Apple is a gin cocktail with green apples. Eat your Heart Out features edible Sohrai Art from Sahil’s time spent in the tribal tracts of Jamshedpur. And there’s Reverse Breakfast where you drink your breakfast and eat your coffee. Spread across two floors, the restaurant features cosy booths, two private dining rooms, and indoor as well as outdoor seating. Thai and Cantonese small plates include Thai crispy pork salad, green mango and crispy fish salad, turnip cakes, chicken satay, truffle pork belly and jasmine smoked prime short ribs, mango rice pudding and coconut caramel coffee flan. The vibe is friendly and they believe one should feel the same hospitality as coming home. “Whose house?” the bar crew shouts; “Our house!” the guests hoot back. 

After a long stint at Masque and pop-ups in Ladakh, Chef Prateek Sadhu has set up a new 20-seater restaurant in the Himalayan foothills near Kasauli in Himachal. Launched at the 15-room boutique hotel Amaya in November, Naar means ‘fire’ in Kashmiri, a nod to the wood-fired, grill-centric menu featuring Himalayan-forward cuisine from Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. 

Wild herbs such as wormwood and watercress, and flowers are foraged from local streams while the pine nut ice cream is drizzled with pine oil and fermented pine syrup. The restaurant showcases local traditions like fermentation and smoking. Brined pork is served with condiments like Sikkimese bamboo shoot pickle, apricot jam, diced Himachali apples, and hemp seed chutney from Uttarakhand. Project Trotto showcases the Himalayan trout – a course of smoked fishbone broth and cured fish seasoned with salted, smoked and dried trout. 

While Rahul Akerkar of Indigo, Indigo Delicatessen and Qualia fame has opened Ode in Mumbai, his ‘ode’ to European and Indian cuisine, the mother-daughter duo Malini and Amalia Akerkar have launched a new restaurant in Goa. Replacing the old Baba’s Wood Cafe pizzeria in Arpora, Marāi: The Courtyard of Slow Living is a tribute to the slow food movement with focus on fresh ingredients. Chef Rishad Ginwalla comes up with a refreshing menu featuring feni fried chicken, mahi mahi ceviche, watermelon gazpacho and miso roast chicken while the cocktail bar stirs up signature cocktails like Marāi sour, vodka-based Limelight and Patrao’s Punch. The restaurant also has a bakery, delicatessen, pasta lab and lifestyle store. 

Living up to its name, Goa’s latest party spot antiSocial launched on 1st December and is already making waves, and its Morjim neighbours jittery. Spread over 4.5 acres, this 500-seater super club comes with a dance floor for 1000 people. Billed as a live entertainment hotspot and a shout out to the electronic scene, it hosts pop ups, flea markets, carnivals, mid week sundowner Beach Oasis with disco house and afro beats, and has a busy calendar with gigs. The deck is great to enjoy a sunset with beer or cocktails. 

While Subko from Mumbai opened an outlet on 12th Main in Bangalore, Araku expanded its footprint with a new restaurant in Colaba. After launching their first flagship store in Marais, Paris in 2017, Araku Coffee opened their first ever café in India, in Bengaluru in March 2021. Like the Bengaluru outlet, the pristine white minimalist interiors are designed by New York based architect Jorge Zapata with Sandeep Sangaru’s bamboo lamps, planters, books and accessories by Araku. 

The menu is ingredient forward, curated by chief culinary advisor Aditi Duggar and helmed by Chef Rahul Sharma (of Noma and Masque fame). German Spätzle has been reimagined with purple sweet potato from Araku, Congee gets a swank makeover while coffee bite chicken has coffee grounds coating the grilled chicken. Araku uses cascara or the dried coffee cherry often discarded at processing units, in their dishes. There are four main varieties of coffee - the fruity Micro Climate is good for black coffee and cold brews, Signature and Selection mix well with milk, so ideal for cappuccino and lattes, while the bestseller Grand Reserve has earthy flavours. 

In a narrow Bandra bylane of Ranwar village, the iconic 1950s St. Jude Bakery stood at the junction of Veronica Street and Waroda Road. It hosted exhibitions and was a venue for street art with its shopfront mural first painted by Akacorleone, a visual artist of Swiss-Portuguese descent. Since the bakery was named after St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes, it inspired the “Hey, Saint Judee, please help me. I am really a lost cause” graffiti, refurbished by St+art India. When Sameer Seth, co-founder of Hunger Inc of The Bombay Canteen, O Pedro and Bombay Sweet Shop, converted the erstwhile bakery into a sandwich shop, it was named Veronica’s after the street. Shonan Purie Trehan of LAB (Language Architecture Body) oversaw the bakery’s smart revamp into a casual restaurant that serves sandwiches, shakes, short eats, kombucha, rustled up by executive chef Hussain Shahzad. 

Suren Joshi’s Sukoon, literally ‘peace’, is an oasis of tranquility amidst Bandra’s bustling urban landscape. Just off Carter Road, the new health forward, vegan, sattvic and gluten free restaurant is more a ‘garden dining space’ serving smoothies, healthy bowls, salads, wraps and breakfast delights. Chef Tanvi Shah and Chef Richard D’souza have curated an exceptional healthy menu served in immaculate kansa and copperware. 

The stone-bar is adorned with Kombucha and healthy beverages while old Bollywood songs lend an air of nostalgia and timeless charm. Sukoon’s smoothie bowls are unique – from Bobba Sol Kadi, Namkeen Berry Smoothie, Ashwagandha & Spirulina Smoothie, Pumpkin & Peanut Butter to Sattu Avocado. Try the Sourdough Toast, Dabeli Toastie Sandwich, Ragi Dosa, Wild Mushroom Congee, Sweet Potato Gunpowder Wedges, Undhiyu, Millet Maggi, Bharwan Karela with black wheat puri, Jowar Bhel, Avocado & Persimmon Salad, Rainbow Noodle Salad, and Khichu Chaat, featuring rice cakes, chickpea curry and saffron raw mango chutney. 

The dessert menu has Jigarthanda Falooda, Miso & Buckwheat pancakes, Chunky Kerala Chocolate, Red Banana Wich and Desi Ferrero Chocolate. Aiming to be a yoga and lifestyle destination Sukoon opens early at 6 am. Besides being great for your mind, body and soul, it’s also easy on your wallet thanks to its digital detox policy. Abandon your phones and gadgets and they knock off 15 per cent on your bill! 

Neha Gupta and Sachin Gupta, who got into F&B with Beyond Designs Bistro and Nineteen78 a few years ago, have set up a triad of restaurants inside the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). Strewn across the gallery’s Heritage Courtyard within Jaipur House on Pandara Road, the restaurants are no less than works of art with maximalist designs and bespoke furnishings. Each is about 1,500 sq ft – Amoda is north Indian fine-dine, The Saddle House serves pan-Asian and continental dishes, and Café Green Lane offers elevated Indian street food, with al fresco dining, indoor seating and a common kitchen. All the furnishings, lighting fixtures and some artworks were produced in-house, at their design studio Beyond Designs.

Dal rice sushi, Fanta Maggi, Oreo Pakoda, Rasgulla Chaat, Gulab Jamun Samosa, Maggi Milkshake, Maggi Paratha, Momo ice-cream, Fire Pan, thought you had seen it all? Viral fever is causing restaurateurs and food vendors to go to any extremes to create weird food combinations that are both enraging and engaging users on social media. Here are some unique dishes from 2023 that left a mark.

The mysterious Kalbutthi or curd rice sizzler became a viral reel. Who would have thought that simple curd rice could create a sensation? Oota Bangalore, a restaurant that celebrates Karnataka’s regional cuisine, picked up this unusual preparation during their field research in 2015. In Banavasi, the ancient capital of the Kadamba kingdom known for its pineapples, Mrs. Indira Phadke unlocked a secret in her Chitpawan Brahmin home. She buried a glowing hot stone into freshly prepared curd rice, poured a dollop of ghee on it, tossed some curry leaves and mustard for a sizzling tempering before covering up the stone with the rice. This unique technique infused the rice with a rich smoky aroma that made every morsel a delight. When Oota posted the reel of the food trials, it fuelled an online debate – from users questioning the science behind it, some alleging that it was just a fad to yet others confirming that it was indeed an heirloom dish that their grandmothers suggested for stomach aches. Have you tried Kalbutthi yet?

While exploring offroad trails in Nagaland, we were in the little village of Zelome in Phek district. It was Good Friday and Pastor Rakongaolü Lawrence apologised that he could only serve a vegetarian meal. We had been overdosing on pork and chicken so a veg meal seemed welcome. As we served ourselves rice, dal, boiled cabbage and yongchak (stinky bean) chutney, there was an unfamiliar tinkling in the yam curry. “W..w.. what is this, pastor? Oh.. they are snails Lawrence. “But Pastor, how are snails vegetarian?” “Snails don’t have blood. And anything that doesn’t have blood, is vegetarian!” “You just have to suck the meat out of it.” The snails are tiny and found in paddy fields. The flesh is just a smidgen but really tasty and worth the effort –like sucking out tightly wedged marrow from a bone. You toss the shells to the dogs, who happily crunch into it like a snack. A perfect arrangement of leaving no trace! In Poilwa in Peren district, local tour guide Heikelung Mbung leads local tours and also organises a unique Snail & Trout Festival to promote local cuisine.

Valentin Melchior (pronounced mel-ki-aur), a French cheese maker based in Bangalore, offers artisanal cheese combining local flavours and Alpine methods. There’s feta, GOAT cheese, brie, mozzarella, the fruity, nutty Tomme de Bengaluru and the creamy four-month aged Kempe Gouda, a salute to the founder of Bengaluru, Kempe Gowda 1. Try a special grazing platter in veg or non-veg – a 16” diameter platter with 3, 4 or 5 kinds of cheese, with relishes/jams, sourdough breads and crackers, whipped camembert with honey and rosemary, fruits, nuts, olives, pickles, charcuterie and customized small bites.

Khodiya Gosht or Khatta mutton is a dish from Kangra that would make the darkest squid ink pasta baulk. Unlike the dark skinned Kadaknath chicken from Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, the black hue of the Pahadi dish comes from charred walnut ink. Not Insta driven, this dish is a traditional prep where whole walnuts are roasted on an open flame, powdered, made into a slurry and sieved to make a smooth black paste that adds the signature black colour and a unique nutty flavour. To try it, drop by at Loya in Delhi or Bangalore.

The Open Field near Khunti is an agro-tourism project run by Dr Manisha and Abhishek Oraon that serves contemporary tribal food using native ingredients and farm to table dining at their 20-acre farm. Khunti is famous for its ‘Hara (Green) mutton’ as the goats left to forage on grass get a glossy black coat that glistens with a greenish tinge in sunlight. The highlight is charboda or the small intestine wrapped around the rib cage of the mutton that’s considered a delicacy. Try the Jharkhandi thali to get a complete taste of local flavours - kutumba (Thai brinjal), Haduwa or dry bamboo shoot, phutkal leaves (Ficus geniculata), Kudrum or roselle fruit (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and pakodas of sanai phool or jute flower (Crotalaria juncea) a member of the hemp family, with trace amounts of THC content of 0.1%.


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