“Mexican ceviche has my heart, but I know that it doesn’t work very well in a restaurant setting; there’s a lot going on and there’s too much tomato sauce. So, we decided to serve the Peruvian-style ceviche here,” says Jason James Hudanish, brand chef of POMPA, Mumbai’s newest Mexican restaurant. I’m a bit surprised since the restaurant touts authentic Mexican fare, but one bite of the ceviche de salmon convinces me it was the right call. Thinly sliced salmon and avocado sit pretty in vibrant yellow ají amarillo leche de tigre (curing liquid) while puffed rice paper is delicately balanced on the rim of the plate. Every bite of the ceviche is fresh and citrusy with shaved onion and ají amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilli pepper) bringing added piquancy. I scoop up spoonsful of the leche de tigre, not wanting to let any of its spicy goodness go waste.
This isn’t Hudanish’s first rodeo in Mumbai; he helmed Xico in Lower Parel a few years ago and has also consulted a couple of other restaurants in the city. When Ryan and Keenan Tham (of Foo and Koko fame) along with partner Saamir Chandnani decided to embark on a Mexican dining adventure, they naturally tapped the Miami-native chef known for conceptualising new dining experiences and growing brands globally.
Both the Tham brothers and Hudanish clearly know what works with the Indian palate since the first thing that arrives on the table is a salsa flight with seven housemade salsas and a bowl of blue corn chips. The salsas are presented in ascending order of spiciness — from the mild guajillo salsa to the herby, moderately spicy salsa verde to the fiery hibiscus salsa, every dipping sauce has a unique flavour profile. The mango habanero salsa and banana salsa are a hit at our table, both spicy but with the fruit offering a sweet contrast and layered complexity. We also order the spicy guacamole, which is laced with salsa criollo and works as the perfect sidekick.
The restaurant opened doors in mid-December on the first floor of a mall (that also houses Foo upstairs) in Bandra. While ‘pompa’ means flamboyant in Spanish, the restaurant’s décor is anything but — the space is done up in sage green with terracotta flooring and jewel-toned seating sports tassel details. The showstopper bar is a centrepiece, its illuminated tree-like structure stacked with tequila bottles, naturally. The ambience is understated, veering away from the usual Mexican cliches, except perhaps the colourful ponchos hung on the walls; even this is tastefully done, and the overall effect is rather elegant.
The bar is thrumming with activity and soon, our drinks make an appearance — a competent Tegroni (with tequila replacing gin) and the signature Pomparita, a twist on the margarita with tequila, mezcal, sherry, and Cointreau in a well-balanced medley. The truffle salt on the rim doesn’t add much to the drinking experience, and frankly, doesn’t even taste like truffle.
Next up are a couple of hot aperitivos — the pile of Shallow-Fried Calamari is perfectly cooked and topped with a creamy sauce of roasted Habanero, truffle, and cashew with a drizzle of lemon oil to round off the flavours. The Prawns al Veracruz is a flavour bomb, mini tostadas with grilled achiote-marinated prawns, mango Habanero salsa, and pickled red onions. The tacos come fast and furious, a fantastic hongos de trufa with grilled shitake mushrooms, cashew-truffle salsa, and salsa criolla; and a sublime Yucatan-style pulled pork with melt-in-the-mouth slow-roasted pork, mango Habanero salsa, and cotija cheese.
The lobster taco is a bit of a disappointment — the butter-basted lobster is overpowered by the salsa macha, the purple cabbage slaw inexplicably tastes of beets, and the truffle oil is completely lost in the mix. Several dishes seem to lean on the crowd-pleasing truffle, not exactly an authentic Mexican ingredient. Incidentally, the menu takes the guesswork out of ordering by offering separate sections for Jain, vegan, and gluten-free diners — a nice touch.
We reluctantly skip the quesadillas and move on to the mains. The Crusted Sea Bass sounds great on the menu — panko-crusted fish served with polenta, ají amarillo bearnaise, and herb salad. While the sea bass is well-cooked, the salad lacks dressing, the polenta seems undercooked, and the bearnaise is too salty. The garbanzo rice bowl fares much better, a colourful bowl of cilantro rice, garbanzo beans, refried black beans, cacahuate salsa, pico de gallo, and mixed Mexican cheese — a delicious symphony of flavours and textures that has us cleaning out the bowl.
We end the meal with the classic Mexican dessert tres leches, an airy three-milk sponge cake topped with whipped cream and a crispy feuilletine cracker providing the necessary textural contrast. The other desserts also sound delicious and I’m particularly keen to try the Basque cheesecake flambé and choco taco. Round two at POMPA may happen sooner rather than later.
Address: 1st Floor, VN Sphere Mall, Linking Rd, Bandra West, Mumbai
Timing: Currently open only for dinner with two seatings at 7pm and 9.30pm
Meal for two: INR 2,000 plus taxes (without alcohol)