Restaurant Review: A First Look At Charlee, Suren Joshi’s New Bar-Forward Vegetarian Hotspot In Mumbai

Edgy yet elegant, serving up world cuisine and some creative cocktails, this is going to be the popular new place among the posh, the paparazzi

Published On Feb 26, 2024 | Updated On Mar 08, 2024


A vegetarian restaurant with just two paneer dishes on the menu! Is that even possible? I find that chef Richard D’Souza, who is also head chef at dynamic restaurateur Suren Joshi’s other successful ventures — Joshi House and Sukoon, rises to the occasion yet again, with a thoughtfully crafted menu at Charlee. “Expect something more unique, fun, and enticing,” he promises with a twinkle. 

The excitement is palpable on preview night, as we walk speakeasy-style, through a glitzy spirits store with a gleaming red sportscar, and up a short flight of stairs with rocks suspended from the ceiling. The surreal feel continues into Charlee, as the back-lit bar that lines an entire wall features the same type of rocks. According to Kasturi Wagh and Vineet Hingorani of Kaviar Collaborative, who created these sophisticated-yet-edgy interiors for Joshi and his business partner, entrepreneur Mokksh Sani, the concept was a refined, modern Batcave. Quite fitting in Santa Cruz’s recently jazzed up zip code where rickshaws and Range Rovers rub shoulders and the biggest flex is sipping green juice with your Pilates crew in the day and grabbing drinks with your film star and model buds at the ‘hautest’ new spot at night. 


Charlee seems just right for this. Expect dark interiors, where industrial elements meet contemporary coolth. Think suspended metal nets and minimalistic greys for the seating. One that aptly also has plenty of tech involved. Circular rings of light on walls that are almost hypnotic. And that’s even before you’re drawn into the extra-large screen facing you! A black-and-white Charlie Chaplin slapstick clip entrances you, even as the music takes you into another zone. Seating 60, plus room for a dozen stools along the bar, Charlee manages to pull off being both expansive and cosy at the same time. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this 3,000 sq foot space is a nightclub in the making. The pools of light around globes on each table ensure that you are soon focusing on that most serious task — deciding what you’re going to try from the menu tonight! 

The chilled Avocado Tender Coconut Ceviche is the perfect antidote to a hot day out in Mumbai. Chef Richie surprises us with the addition of tiny cubes of sweet Malawi mango to it, which the Maharashtrian mulgi in me both rejoices over and rebels against (this new Alfonso variant from Africa is fierce and unseasonal competition to the local Raigad and Ratnagiri Aapus mangoes). 

The Beetroot Mango Carpaccio

But as far as taste is concerned, one can only revel… not only is the ceviche fresh and fruity, but it also has a creamy depth thanks to the slivers of tender coconut. And the usually citrussy Leche de Tigre has been given a nice passionfruit twist without being overly sweet. There’s a wide selection of soups and salads. We sample the Beetroot Mango Carpaccio, with slim-as-slim-can-be slices of salt-baked beetroot, mango, arugula, feta cheese, and spiced hazelnuts. On our next visit, we would probably give the spicy, som tam-like Thai Glass Noodle Tofu or the Fig Halloumi salads a chance too. 

Charlee's Baked Brie

Cuisine agnostic, the menu meanders to all corners of the world and we’re happy to travel with it. Charlee’s Baked Brie sees the soft cheese wrapped in filo pastry rolls that have the perfect crunch, drizzled with a slightly spiced honey, and sprinkled with some tart and zingy sumac. Pistachio and figs add to their Middle Eastern aura, reminding you of a gorgeous sweet-savoury baklava when you bite into them. 

There are several intriguing options to consider. From the Naga Chilli Chaap with mock meat, grilled pineapple, and long beans, to Nori Nachos that feature a crisp nori papad, a creamy aubergine and avocado tartare, and wasabi mayo, to Jain Peri Peri Corn Ribs, presented with a pretty corn espuma, grilled corn, Parmesan, and chive. 

Peri Peri Corn Ribs

Chef Richie recommends the Mushroom Galouti and we love how the tasty mushroom pâté is sandwiched between the thinnest khaari filo pastry leaves, and topped with a saffron gel. The traditional galouti kebab was made of finely pounded minced meat, delicately spiced to create a dish that literally melted in the mouth for the aging and toothless Nawabs of Lucknow, who still wanted the refined flavours. Charlee’s version keeps that opulence and delicacy but makes it vegetarian and contemporary in a clever way. 

The Mushroom Galouti

The Bangkok Samosa is an aromatic and Asian avatar of our familiar fave, stuffed with edamame, redolent of galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime, and served with a spicy namprik dip. The Portobello Sliders are excellent. The crumb-fried portobello mushrooms hit the spot perfectly, with a very satisfying bite and rich in taste with a well-made kimchi mayo, and the crunch of lollo rosso lettuce. 

Head mixologist Sunny, whom you may recognise if you have been a regular at Tres Ind Mumbai, comes to the table (literally as well as figuratively!) with a sunny smile and recommendations for his signature concoctions. Many are technique forward and creatively crafted. My eye goes straight to Movie Time. Could it be because of the subliminal influence from the Chaplin clips? Or is it the twin temptation of truffle and popcorn? Either way, it’s a formidable cocktail that I’ll definitely go back for. Think smooth Bourbon whisky infused with popcorn, and a truffle fat wash which gives it a creamy mouthfeel. Served in an old-fashioned glass with a little paper cone of popcorn clipped to the side to bring it home with an extra bang. 

Movie Time

And while I’m clicking pictures for my social media, a throwaway comment about how by the time I’m done, the drink will be a little watered down, leads to an interesting conversation with Sunny about how his ice programme sources specialised ice that is made in a way that it doesn’t melt very quickly! The Cacao Negroni is another smooth one, which gives you the best of a classic negroni but makes it next level with cacao-infused gin, and rosemary smoke. 

Next, Sunny encourages us to try Root despite my reservations of turmeric in my tipple. He laughs it off, saying that is a very normal reaction. When I do taste this aptly named cocktail (the turmeric and ginger are both roots with very distinct flavours) I find that the haldi-infused gin and the gingery zing go surprisingly well together, with the citrus of sweet lime and yuzu giving the deep drink a welcome brightness. 

Tequila-based drinks being so on-trend at the moment means that the sweet-floral Jalisco Spritz, with lychee, hibiscus and citrus, and spicy-fruity Perry Road, with guava, bird’s eye chili, and jalapeno, will be popular picks, especially when Charlee starts a day-time service a couple of months down the line. The Affogato Tiramisu Martini is a tribute to Affogato, one of Suren’s most popular ventures, a cafe and gelateria in Bandra. This creamy yet bittersweet cocktail has vodka at its centre with espresso, tiramisu, and vanilla ice-cream all playing their part. 


With zero-proof drinks as well as a variety of kombuchas (Boocha Bae’s rose, mango-turmeric, lemon-ginger-hibiscus, and apple-cinnamon), Charlee has you covered even if you’re the rare abstinent frequenting a speakeasy! And there are bar nibbles that you can binge on if you’ve flagged a bar stool on a busy night. The now-ubiquitous Truffle Fries are there, of course. But their hot cousin, Peri Peri Fries also makes an appearance, with a sweet pineapple salsa on their arm. The Gunpowder Babycorn, Sriracha Salted Edamame, Kimchi Brussel Sprouts, and Kasundi Potato Wedges, are all spice-forward snacks that are equal parts addictive and thirst inducing! There’s Cheese Board, a glorious grazing board that can be shared, with Brie, Edam ball, gouda, Parmesan, smoked Scamorza, exotic fruits, crackers, Kalamata olives, and marmalade. 

The mains story 

For mains, we try the Gobi Ghee Roast, which brings a beautiful sweetness to cauliflower with it being roasted in ghee and topped with a rich Malvani-style gravy, that teams up with a light-as-air Malabari parotta in a dance that delights the tastebuds. The Black Truffle Udon, with the plumpest and most delicious noodles I’ve had, features a creamy mushroom sauce, scrumptious shimeji mushrooms, and generous shavings of black truffle, which make the entire dish an umami party that you just can’t get enough of. Its Italian counterpart is a Red Wine and Black Truffle Risotto that we didn’t try but have earmarked for future visits, as it promises morels and butter-poached portobello. 

Truffle Eggplant Bharta

Those who like their mains spicy might be better served going for the Tom Yum Noodles with the Thai flavours of kaffir lime, and galangal. The Truffle Eggplant Bharta sounded like a great idea too, serving up baingan bharta, but making it trendy with the addition of truffle butter, sun-dried tomato, and sourdough bread! 

Sesame Cheesecake

Head pastry chef Ameek Kaur has taken on the challenge of creating complex desserts without using any egg. Whether you have the intensely moreish Hangover Chocolate a sinfully good dish of chocolate cream cheese, poached cherries, cherry ice cream, topped with a cocoa tuille like we did, or the lighter Mango Yuzu, a Jain dessert which has a mango sorbet, fresh mangoes, cashew crumble, and a yuzu mascarpone espuma, which she loves herself, or any of the others, you will be blown away by how good each is, in taste, texture, and temperature.

As for those paneer dishes, I’m sure the Thecha Paneer appetiser and the Pepper Paneer Masala main are good, but we don’t try them, and we don’t miss them… there are so many other great options for our palates to savour.  

Address: Charlee, First floor, Vatsala Niwas, Enter through Mansionz, Linking Road, Santacruz West, Mumbai 

Meal for two: INR 4,000 (with drinks)

Photo: Featured Restaurant