If nostalgic charm and the romance of South Bombay’s history have you enamoured then a beeline for Cochin Street at Ballard Estate is a must. The area is known for its Neo-Gothic and Indo-Saracenic architecture. Amid it, sits the restored edifice of an old ice factory, also home to the creative cultural hub of IF.BE. And within this ice factory is Native Bombay.
Divided in two, a negroni-only bar on the ground level and a pan-Indian restaurant on the first, Native Bombay has quickly become the talk of the town. The bar dedicated to negroni is adventurous, and one must greatly appreciate the risk undertaken in a city like Mumbai, especially when Native Bombay is serving A-grade negronis.
The decor and architecture expands on the historic legacy of the heritage structure. Native Bombay's facade is left barren, wearing its age as a badge of honour, while the inside is decidedly contemporary. The strategic use of light and exposed metal and brick walls lend a futuristic persona to the bar. The floor above features exposed brick walls and wooden beams with mellow warm lights, wooden furniture and pieces of art offering the industrial decor a distinct and pleasant charm. Kamal Malik, founder of Malik Architecture and partner at IF.BE, has breathed new life into the space without disrupting its heritage story.
For the love of negroni at Native Bombay bar
Trying the classic negroni is a no-brainer but the best experimental negroni, including House of Dragons’ Emma D’Arcy’s and Instagram’s favourite, negroni sbagliato, is a must try. The version that caught my eye was the Marmite negroni. If you love umami as a flavour as much as I do, don’t think, just order this! It is savoury, rich with flavours but not overwhelming. Umami-heavy marmite, which is a yeast extract, can become a sensory overload but Denzil Franklin, Head Mixologist at Native Bombay, deftly tackled the issue by barrel-ageing the negroni.
The menu of eight negroni also has a Chikmagalur coffee-based negroni, and even a White Negroni made with homemade Indian chirata bitters and infused with Bianco vermouth and Indian vetiver or khus.
It was a prudent decision to not indulge in bar snacks at the negroni bar because Chef Bhairav Singh, Master Chef at Native Bombay was prepping for a feast on the floor above. The bar menu offers some of the best from the dining room’s small plates; however, confoundingly it included the very popular tandoori momos, even though it is blasphemous for a momo purist such as I.
We’ve been told that going forward the bar will develop and become an entity unto itself, not to be confused with the restaurant.
Desi dining elevated
At the main restaurant, the menu is extensive! Chef Bhairav informs us that he has travelled the length and breadth of the country to scour for dishes that oft lay forgotten. The premise, as is with many modern Indian restaurants, is to showcase the glory of Indian dishes from different regions for the modern Indian diner.
We left the decision to the chef to curate the menu for me and my fellow diner for the evening. The dhaba-chicken tikka, which uses whole spices, offered a new elevated flavour that homogenous chicken tikkas of city restaurants miss. Similarly, mushroom pepper fry, which came in a banana leaf parcel, was a showcase of the freshness of the produce as well as the spice. The mushrooms were cooked with Tellicherry peppers and Edayur chillies from Kerala.
Highly recommended are also the saffron butter prawns named Maska Prawns and Jodhpuri ker sangri. The succulent and sweet crustaceans are cooked in tandoor with saffron-infused garlic butter and then plated on a thin layer of chilli-jaggery chutney. When served, the prawns are doused in melted saffron butter. The recommendation is to mix the chutney with butter and create a dipping sauce for the tender prawns.
Native Bombay brings two popular dishes from the ‘blue city’ together in Jodhpuri ker sangri. Mirchi vadas are very popular on the streets of Jodhpur. Chef Bhairav stuffed them with the equally classic ker sangri and batter-fried the ‘chonky’ chillies.
You can give the Naga chilli pork a wide berth. So overwhelming is the Scoville rating on this dish that it can ruin your appetite. The desserts too missed the mark, even though they were on point in conceptualisation. A classic peru (guava) ice cream doesn’t need reinvention and the ras malai tres leche flambéd with rum on the table just created an imbalance of flavours.
We do find ourselves hatching plans to go back to Native Bombay because there is still so much to try and because the team has not dramatically altered the comforting nature of the desi classics. But to be fair, we intend to try out all the negronis on the menu!
Address: 10-12, Cochin St, Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai
Timing: 7 pm to Midnight (Native Bombay Bar: 5 pm to 1.30 am)
Price for two: INR 4,000 plus taxes