Hyderabad’s Kembara Sails Into Mumbai’s BKC Laden With Pan-Asian Delights

With a vast menu by chef Seefah Ketchaiyo, you can be sure that Kembara too will soon be popular.

Published On Feb 21, 2024 | Updated On Mar 08, 2024

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I’m at Kembara, which has just opened in Mumbai’s BKC. The place is a-buzz, a mix of media folk working their way through the menu as well as plenty of BKC denizens fuelling up for post-work shenanigans. It’s a warm and inviting space with high ceilings as most restaurants in the area are these days, but not so cavernous that you feel like a small, insignificant speck in the universe. In fact, Kembara makes you feel seen. 

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Plenty of natural light and natural hues spell inviting interiors at Kembara.

It’s the attentive staff, of course. But it’s also the menu, designed by Chef Seefah Ketchaiyo, who has her restaurant Seefah at Hill Road only about 7 km away. Understanding the rhythms of the Indian diner, she has put together a list of dishes that don’t just aim to please, but almost guarantee it! You read the menu, but you feel it reads you. It’s accessible enough to qualify as comfort food for most, but exotic enough to make a meal at Kembara special. The menu is pretty vast, and it’s impossible to sample enough plates from Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Malay, Korean, and more cuisines in just one meal to present the entire picture, but I do my best. 

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There's a lot to choose from

I start with the palate-pleasing Chili Garlic Cereal Prawn, crunchy and punchy. I’ve arrived late and my dining companion has taken the liberty to order so I’m having the plump prawns at room temperature. And yet, they’re so perfectly spiced and munch-worthy with that crusting of cereal, I could make a meal of just this. But Chef Seefah recommends the Roasted Tenderloin, Crispy Garlic, so I am happy to be steered in that direction. It’s equal parts delicate and robust, a certain sweetness to the meat brought out by the zingy garlic and chilli. 

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The roasted tenderloin is definitely worth the calories.

The Yellow Tail Carpaccio, something I’ve enjoyed at Seefah too, though with a wasabi ponzu, is a cold dish that’s a hot favourite among Seefah’s fan base. The fish so expertly sliced, the sauce so good, you want to lick it off the plate. The sweetness of the fish balanced so well by the green heat of the jalapeño and the umami truffle oil. 

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Yellow Tail Carpaccio is a cold dish that’s a hot favourite among Seefah’s fan base.

The vegetarian appetisers are interesting too, especially the Sesame Balls with Lotus Paste and the Asparagus & Cheese Crispy Roll, but the winner hands-down tonight is the crisp Turnip Cakes - there’s at least one plateful on every table and more in demand! 

The salads look tempting as well, but I save them for lunchtime someday. Crispy Morning Glory with a spicy cashew nut dip, or the Crispy Seabass with Thai Herbs both sound delectable. The sushi section is quite new-agey, with plenty of avocado and truffle mayo bandied about, so you can be assured that the BKC set will be very happy. Since all of her sushi and sashimi is usually good (Japanese has been her husband Chef Karan Bane’s forte from the time the duo worked at the Four Seasons Mumbai together!), I decide to go the dimsum route. 

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Aren’t the Chicken Bunny Baos too cute to consume?
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Delicious Dragon Rolls made with unagi, tempura shrimp Tempura, avocado, and topped with tobiko!

The Chicken Peking dumpling is a tad disappointing though, the wrapper too thick and the poultry too gamey. But the Cantonese-style sweet-salty-spicy sauce each dumpling is served with in a tiny dish is so fabulous, I slurp it up like the tangy one that’s left after the pani puri is gone! I reserve the Chicken Chili Basil Xiao Long Bao, a tricky-to-make and tricky-to-eat dumpling filled with soup, for my next visit. 

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The Crispy Roasted Pork, though perfect in texture with some fantastic crackling, relies on chilli sauce to pep it up a bit for typical Indian tastebuds.

The Asian-inspired cocktails on offer are well thought out. Everyone seems to be gaga about the Green Tea Geisha, which has Tanqueray gin, sake, cold-brewed green tea, and a citrus piquant. Mandarin Soirée is their riff on a Negroni, featuring gin, Bitter Bianco, Vermouth Blend, Campari, and an exquisite orange foam. The Goma Mule is tequila based, with pineapple, ginger, mint, lime, and a hint of sesame. 

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The bar programme at Kembara is quite in sync with the food offerings, so it’s a pleasure to pair one’s drinks with the dishes.

My Galangal Grove is made with Ketel One vodka, vermouth, galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime with a hint of Thai chilli. An easy drink with a tiny bite, but I would like the herby aromatics to come through a bit stronger. My next is more intense… Manga, with a base spirit of Captain Morgan dark rum is made with spiced tea syrup, orange, pineapple, and cardamom, dusted with cinnamon. I could totally imagine a tea plantation owner settling into her wooden-slatted planter’s chair at sundown with this chilled one in her hand, as the shadows lengthened and a cool cardamom-laden breeze played at the nape of her neck. Ah well, cocktails that ignite your imagination, now those are increasingly rare. But, back to more prosaic business. 

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The sheer variety of enticing entrees makes it tough to pick.

For mains, we get the Green Curry Fried Rice. Now this is a staple that Ketchaiyo’s introduced at Seefah, along with a Tom Yam Fried Rice. The idea is just genius, and my friend and I agree that we could have just this by itself as a main, it’s that flavourful! It brings together the best of a moist and masterful coconutty Thai curry with the slightly harder texture of rice from a typical fried rice. We team it up with a braised crab meat and steamed broccoli creation. The combination isn’t a match made in heaven, but as individual dishes, we think they’re great and worth a second date. While the curries are perfect for vegetarians, I like that they also have a Stewed Pork Belly and Sunny Side Up or a Cantonese Braised Tenderloin over steamed jasmine rice too, a good option for meat eaters looking for a quick one-pot meal there. 

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The Tom Yam Fried Rice will be a much-loved dish at Kembara Mumbai.

When it comes to dessert in an Asian eatery, I’m always quite wary. They usually tend to veer from cloyingly sweet to too wishy-washy. But that’s not true at all in the case of the beautifully decadent caramelised banana fritters served with a scoop of ice-cream. They’re just right, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, enhanced by the crunch of peanuts. The lemongrass cheesecake, topped with lemongrass puree, caramel sauce and berries, is rich and intense and perfect for those who like their desserts gooey. While I miss her famous Honey Toast, I do hope that mango season will bring Mango Sticky Rice to this venue too. 

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Don’t skip dessert here.

As the appetite abates and the satisfaction sets in, the eye travels around Kembara. The warmth and fluid lines are courtesy the vision of entrepreneur Shilpa Datla, I realise when I meet her. Her grace is reflected in the design by architect and interior designer Padmini Pandey and the concept of Kembara, which means ‘to wander’ in Malay worked in so wonderfully throughout, encapsulating the journey across Asia. Datla points out how the materials used are natural and earthy, and that the eye-catching light installation suspended from the ceiling is made from cane, which adds an organic and artistic touch. The stunning bar is very similar to the original one in Hyderabad. 

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The installation on the ceiling, the stunning bar, the beautiful mirrors and lighting, the comfortable seating, it all adds up to a great experience.

Be it Knowledge City or BKC, the clientele is similarly upscale and either on the lookout for trendy lunch spots to put on their business accounts or families specially driving in for a fun dinner experience. Kembara Mumbai is also in the perfect position to draw the post-show crowds from the nearby NMACC. The savvy restaurateur, who first collaborated with Chef Seefah during the expansion of her Feu, speaks about their shared vision of establishing a refined pan-Asian restaurant in major cities. “Kembara is a call for a delectable expedition, much like a ship setting sail. The entire concept, from the menu to the interiors, is designed for easy replication in metros nationwide. We want to take this ship, wandering off to different cities across India,” smiles Datla. I’m certainly glad the ship weighed anchor in Mumbai. 

Address: Kembara, Ins Tower, opposite Indian Oil Petrol Pump, G Block, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra East, Mumbai 

Timing: 12pm-11.30pm (on all days) 

Meal for two: INR 2,000 (plus taxes)


Photo: Featured Restaurant; Priya Pathiyan

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