If you’re the food lover you claim to be, then you must surely have dined at The Bombay Canteen once. Helmed by the dynamic and passionate duo, Yash Bhanage and Sameer Seth, the restaurant, located in Mumbai’s Lower Parel, has become a conversation starter when it comes to highlighting local Indian flavours. And just as passionate the two are about food, they are equally serious about the tipples they serve at the bar at The Bombay Canteen. As part of their zeal for a good cocktail, every year since The Bombay Canteen opened its doors in 2015, they curate an annual cocktail menu called the Canteen Cocktail Book, inspired by the whimsies of the financial capital.
The spirit of Bombay in every sip
The Canteen Cocktail Book for 2023 is titled ‘Make Mine A Bombay’. At a preview tasting, Bhanage and Prantik Haldar, who heads the bar team at The Bombay Canteen, took over the bar, as the former narrated the tales that led to the creation of this year’s special cocktails, while the latter deftly stirred up the concoctions.
“While our bar has a unique selection of re-imagined cocktails with firm Indian roots, with every new cocktail menu, we attempt to keep elevating our cocktail philosophy. We are constantly trying to better your cocktail-drinking experience and build and cultivate Mumbai’s cocktail community. The idea is to not just get on to newer drink trends but add to the dining experience of our guests,” explains Bhanage.
Haldar, along with his team, has created a menu that takes inspiration from quintessentially Bombay things such as the Dadar flower market or the black and yellow taxi popularly known as ‘kaali peeli’.
“This menu is being launched after the pandemic (the fourth edition was launched in November 2019) – the idea is to remind people of the memories and fun moments of the city that have been a part of our lives for many years. We just want to highlight them in a fun and amusing way,” Bhanage says.
The menu is divided into three styles of cocktails—easy breezy highballs for easy drinking, adventurous cocktails for those looking for a dash of creativity in their drinks and finally stiff-collared cocktails for the serious and intense cocktail purveyors.
Cocktails with refreshing dashes of creativity
We started off with a refreshing Phool, a gin spritzer with Umeshu and a herbaceous but subtle marigold soda. Nothing gets more local than the use of marigold, and it was the bar team’s effort to replace the now ubiquitous but not indigenous, elderflower, Haldar tells us.
The other highball was a very refreshing drink that beautifully showcased what one can do with indigenous flavours with just a little restraint and skill. Named Waiting List, after the infamous queues at Matunga’s South Indian eateries, the drink has a coconut fat-washed tequila with curry leaf soda. Mumbai’s coastal connection is reiterated with the use of coconut and curry leaves.
Things take a serious turn as we try the stiff-collared drinks. Bhanage tells us, these are designed for folks who trudge in at the end of a long workday and just want a strong drink to wash it all away. The Verdict was specifically made for that. It features dark rum amped up by banana sherry and exotic tiki notes.
But our personal favourite was the Rising Star—a love child of a martini and gimlet is how The Bombay Canteen folks describe it—the use of orange bitters and basil cordial explains that. For us, though, while being a stiff one, the cocktail had the sophistication that often only a well-made gin cocktail can offer.
The final cocktails at the preview were the adventurous ones—Paparazzi and Rear View. The names don’t get more Bombay—one an ode to the thriving entertainment industry and the other to the public conveyance system. Paparazzi uses rhubarb and cheese as its base flavours. Haldar uses burrata whey from the restaurant’s kitchen and rhubarb cordial to balance a sweet and savoury vodka drink; a grating of Belper Knolle cheese on top adds further intensity. Rear View, on the other hand, uses tequila as the base spirit, which then uses an adventurous combination of black garlic (kaali), honey (peeli) to come together as a cocktail.
The Make Mine A Bombay cocktail menu is a fine example of letting young bartenders flex their creative juices and dare with flavours instead of hiding behind the tried and tested. The yearning for perfection balanced by diners’ choices may just see some of these cocktails become part of TBC’s regular drinks menu. It was also great to see the bar team continuing to create their own homemade cordials, salts, bitters and even sodas rather than depend on commercial options.
The previous annual cocktail menus at The Bombay Canteen took inspiration from the city’s Art Deco architecture; slang and colours on the streets of Mumbai; a historical guidebook of the golden age of the cinematic talkies, and the people who frequent the Marine Drive promenade in Mumbai.