In a world where the Kardashian’s are breaking the internet with a glass of champagne plonked on their rear end and a Twitter pedant donning mankind’s angel is going viral on YouTube, it is becoming insanely complicated to judge a book by its ostentatious cover.
Hype is disappointing almost always and walking out of a door scratching your head over the astuteness of the deception you’ve just been dealt has become commonplace. However, all is not lost and there are times where someone does step up to the mantle, making you believe that at least something which glitters is indeed gold.
Enter the first family of India’s restaurant world with their chef d’oeuvre – Masala Library, which in my opinion is one of the top five places in Mumbai’s upscale restaurant scene.
While Masala Library has been around for a while now, it was only last week that I got an opportunity to be wooed by the charms of this chic looking restaurant that promises and delivers Indian food with a progressive twist that will leave you hankering for more.
So here I was, at the allegorical temple of modern Indian dining for an evening of fine feasting when love happened. Love with the finer nuances of the gastronomic treasure trove that India is, and with the masala magic that this library is dishing out.
Masala Library has an unassuming location and the ambiance is free from any frillery, barely chic enough to justify the price tag it commands. For a minute you might have the perplexing feeling that you’re about to ripped off for your wallet’s worth because there is no grand foyer, no elaborate fountain, no ornately done china, and nothing at all that visually validates the spend you’re about to make.
But that’s where the ordinary ends.
The masala experience begins with its impeccable hospitality and the F&B team is highly knowledgeable as well as courteous. The service is mechanically perfect and is totally attentive without being intrusive. The hospitable attitude doesn’t end there though and chef Dhwani – the woman behind the nine course degustation menu, was nice enough to give us a quick walk through of the menu despite having to helm the brigade on a full house night.
While a lot of their gorgeous looking food has been splashed across social media, the subtle job that the bar does deserves a standing ovation. Like the ever doting mother, I had a hellish time when it came to picking favourites, because every drink that turned up on our tables was absolutely perfect.
BURNT CURRY LEAF MARTINI
A vibrant green concoction that looks straight out of a Harry Potter film began the evening’s proceedings. The curry leaf imparted the subtlest of flavours and a thin sheen of its oil to the vodka making for a sharp flavour kick that was perfectly balanced by the sweet and sour mix.
A drink fit for an A-list party!
When a grown man doesn’t let go off a pink coloured drink served in a martini glass you needn’t praise it further. But be forewarned, this drink is really sweet.
The lychee and the vanilla take away any flavour or after flavour of the alcohol, leaving you with a warm fuzzy feeling in the stomach and a reasonably loopy head.
Perfect for new drinkers!
CAC – Cranberry Apple Cinnamon
While this might sound like an ingredient list for pie, it’s the manliest drink on the bar menu.
Apple and cinnamon have been a magical combination for centuries and mixing them up with some fine whisky is absolutely brilliant. The cranberry makes for a tangy palette opener that allows you to soak in the other flavours, thus leaving you with an absolutely delightful cocktail at the end of it all.
STAR ANISE MARTINI
I’ve always damned the 007 franchise for giving us the vodka martini. Honestly, the woody fruity character of gin makes for a much better martini, and mixing it with heavenly sweet peach crush is absolute joy. This particular concoction also had a controlled helping of star anise which helps open up the flavours of the gin you might otherwise miss out on.
A fashionista among cocktails!
The chef’s special menu at Masala Library is a mix of innovation and theatricality liberally doused with culinary brilliance. Some courses draw out the childlike fascination in you while others titillate the inner gourmand. Either way, you’re left smiling the smile you smile when your crush walks past by you.
THANDAI SHOT – Served as an Amuse Bouche
A palette cleansing amuse bouche! The yoghurt spheres formed using a sodium alginate bath popped beautifully in the mouth and a little over a teaspoon worth of the thandai helped clear the booze from the palette. Can’t say more about this, except that it did do justice to the reason why it was being served
STEAMED PATRA NI MACCHI
A portion of steamed basa lightly coated with patra ni macchi chutney was presented in a Piscean looking soup trough. Doused with a coriander shorba, this literally made me die and go to heaven.
The fish was done perfectly and sat just between being soggy and too flaky. The coriander shorba was mild and just about drew out the essence of the ingredients without being too robust for the fish.
The side of edamame was quite unnecessary though it did taste nice.
PRAWN THAYIR SADAM
Butterfly prawns tossed in a curry leaf based sauce and served on a bed of thayir sadam or curd rice. The sharp spiciness of the prawns was balanced well the curd rice that coats your palette with a layer of dairy creaminess.
The accompanying banana chips served as a spoon for scooping up the mixture adding a crisp bite that was otherwise missing.
GILAWAT KEBAB WITH VARQI PARATHA
Food shouldn’t be this heavenly and if it is then there should be a panacea to gluttony!
The kebabs had all the masalas that go into a traditional Awadhi gilawat and I can only say that the end result was softer than molten silk in your mouth.
BACON WRAPPED TANDOORI MORELS
I was looking forward to this the most, but ironically this was the one thing I didn’t quite enjoy
For a kashmiri both morels and lotus stem are food staples and you don’t mess with that. The bacon wrapped morels were overcooked and lost their moisture making them rubbery. The bacon murabba was bitter and corrupted my love for bacon jam.
BRAISED MUTTON CHAMP
At first I thought that the combination of kokum and maple syrup was absolute blasphemy but one bite and I was gladly proven wrong. The tangy sweet combination works exceedingly well as a glaze and the lamb chops were braised to perfection, simply peeling off from the bone.
My absolute favourite from the Masala Library menu!
PAN SEARED RAWAS
If this was a scallop I’d have loved it but I felt that the rawas fillets needed a little more cooking. The mulgai podi and the Malaya curry were decent but the spinach and crab poriyal was a bitter let down.
I’d shy away from this!
KASHMIRI CHILLI DUCK
While they lost the kashmiri in me with their morel offering, they more than won him back with this absolutely divine duck preparation.
I was a bit startled to see a kashmiri duck preparation but the mutsch like chilli gravy went gorgeously with the duck. However, it was the plum sauce on the side that made me fall in love with this and I feel it is good enough to woo any kashmiri diner worth his salt.
What an absolute beauty of a dish!
I first thought that this dish was needlessly fancified, though I couldn’t argue that it tasted really good.
Seeing the jalebi in caviar form was a first of its kind and it was quite delicious. The rabdi was mild in comparison to regular standards and could have been sweeter.
However, I’d gladly have this again!
RAS MALAI TRE LECHES
The signature dessert at Masala Library, the ras malai tres leches is perhaps the best offspring possible from a Mexican and Indian breeding.
Everything from the caramel decoration that crested the dessert to the layers of ras malai stuffed with apple cream and of course the saffron milk, were absolute heaven.
The presentation was perfect too, leaving no corner for negative critique at all.
If anyone looks at a meal from the bill amount then this place is quite expensive. But if you look at the bang you get for your buck, this is one of the best meals you can get in the city.
The ingredients are well sourced and no expense is spared in ensuring the experience delivered to you is exceptional, which makes the 2500 + taxes meal for one (non-veg) completely worth the shell out.
Overall, it’s safe to say that Masala Library is one of the finest culinary establishments in the city or even in the country, and does thorough justice to their signature line “We serve memories, not just food”.
As for whether I would recommend a visit to Masala Library, I doubt that’s hardly a question anymore!
AMBIANCE – 4.5/5
SERVICE – 5/5
FOOD – 5/5
PRICE – 4.5/5