Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Indigo, Mumbai, India (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 9, Part 2)

Located behind the luxurious Taj Hotel and famous for being a favourite haunt of everyone from Bill Clinton to the Bollywood elite, Indigo has become a famous institution of Mumbai's fine dining scene. The restaurant has a beautiful website, and upon reading their impressive sounding fusion menu I knew we had to make a reservation for a meal at no. 28 on S. Pellegrino's Best Restaurants in Asia list.

Our taxi pulled in behind the Taj, and it was not 100% clear which restaurant was Indigo. Perhaps to maintain their exclusivity (or perhaps because we we're blind), we did not see any signage pointing out that this was indeed Indigo. However, upon seeing the rooftop lined with fairy light-filled palm trees and the swanky interior of the ground floor, I knew we had to be at the right place.
'Indigo?' I asked the well dressed doorman.
'Yes sir,' he said as he ushered us in.

When I made the reservation the restaurant couldn't confirm us a table on the rooftop balcony as they had had a penciled in reservation for the top floor, presumably a private party or a famous celebrity not wanting to be bothered by starstruck diners. As luck would have it, the rooftop was relatively empty, and we were given a seat with a good view of the restaurant as well as overlooking the street below. I'm glad we go a seat here – this is likely one of the prettiest restaurants in Mumbai, looking like it borrowed some design tips from restaurants in Udaipur.

It pays to make a reservation as along with their usual seasonal menu a special additional menu was made available for us to choose from, including a few I'd shortlisted as 'must tries' when I saw their menu online.

We ordered two cocktails as aperitifs РAlissa ordered a Zombie (Bacardi white and dark, Amaretto, cr̬me de banana, orange juice, lime juice and grenadine), and I had the Long Beach Ice Tea (which has all the spirits, plus cranberry juice). I always feel a good cocktail should always be greater than the sum of its parts and these were excellent cocktails Рbalanced in not being overly or weakly alcoholic; these were juicy with fruit and refreshing.

Dinner is served in three courses, all a la carte. Rahul Akerkar, the chef at Indigo, has such a great sensibility for combining flavour that it took us a while to decide what we wanted to eat as everything sounded so good. To give you an idea of some of the dishes we did not order – Potato and morel gnocchi with truffle veloute; Jerk spiced tandoori roasted chicken with jus; scallion polenta and sauteed broccoli; ravioli of mud crab, broiled lobster tail with Indigo's lobster risotto; and crispy duck breast with pulled duck pastilla.

As we were deciding, the obligatory bread basket was placed on our table. The bread was, unfortunately, a little disappointing compared to the amazingly crispy on the outside, soft in the middle creations of both Otto e Mezzo Bombana and Caprice. This might be a matter of local taste, but as a result Alissa and I did not really partake much in the bread. Oh well, all the more space for the dishes we finally decided on and ordered.

As we waited for our first course, an amuse bouche of what I think was apricot chicken mousse was served to us. This was good but not amazing, as the sweetness was the thing that Alissa and I were left with, and not much else. A decent try, but we've definitely had better.

Our first course items arrived in reasonable time. I've been dying to try some heart of palm and desiring something a bit lighter after the perpetual curry diet, my first course was Prawns and Hearts of Palm Salad, with arugula, raspberry coulis and ranch dressing. This was just what I wanted – the prawns were cooked perfectly with the ranch dressing not overpowering. The palm hearts had been seared nicely and after the anticipation of finally getting to eat palm hearts, this was not a let down. On the fork, all the elements combined beautifully. I was very happy with my selection.

Alissa wasn't after something light and instead went for decadently heavy – French Farm Foie Gras Terrine served with pickled rhubarb, rhubarb soup and fruit nut brioche. Alissa commented that the Foie Gras was so deliciously creamy it had something of the quality of blue cheese. The rhubarb soup was served as a foam and the pickled rhubarb tasted almost like a compote. Both were a nice sweet and light contrast to the creaminess of the Foie Gras. Alissa felt that the bread for the fruit and nut brioche was markedly better than the bread served in the bread basket and that the fruit and nut salsa was delicious, again pairing nicely with the richness of the Foie Gras. As with mine, this was an impressive first course.

After a well paced break our second course arrived. I'd ordered the Rack of New Zealand Lamb, with green tea risotto, miso eggplant and wakame emulsion. Given the experimental fusion of the dish, this was either going to be good or a complete disaster. Thankfully, this was excellent. The lamb was perfectly cooked and was very juicy, with the wakame emulsion being a surprisingly good pairing with the strong flavours of lamb. The miso egglant just tasted like very good eggplant, so I wasn't sure where the miso part was, but then miso can sometimes be subtle that way. The real star of the dish though was the incredible green tea risotto. Who would have thought to add macha powder to risotto, and that the chalky, slightly bittersweet flavour of green tea would combine so well with the cheese flavour of risotto? This part of the dish was outstanding.

Alissa's main was on my shortlist of second course choices, but the dish sounded so perfectly attuned to Alissa's taste buds I had to let her be the one to order the Sous Vide Pork Belly with maple glazed apple, choucroute and corn sauce. As you'd expect with as precise a cooking method as sous vide, the pork belly was perfectly cooked - unctuous and juicy - not at all dry and overcooked as disappointing pork dishes can be. As sous vide's non-direct cooking method often means that while cooked perfectly it lacks maillard reaction flavours, however Indigo astutely gave the pork a delicious maple glaze. While it wasn't crispy as you expect pork belly to be, Alissa felt that the maple glaze was the best thing about the pork. Being a massive fan of apple with pork, the glazed apple was also a hit with Alissa, and mixing a piece of pork and piece of apple with some of the corn sauce was a delicious mouthful.

I knew what I wanted as my dessert before we even arrived at Indigo, and I'm very glad we booked ahead as it was not on the main menu – odd considering its something of a signature dessert. On the plate, the Chocolate Jalapeno Fondant with Vanilla Ice Cream and Lemon Sauce looks very ordinary, though as soon as you drive a spoon into the fondant a lovely river of thick, warm chocolate oozes out onto the plate.

If you've read other posts on the blog, you'll know I'm a bit harsh when it comes to chocolate dessert. Not the case this time. Tasting a spoon of the fondant alone, it at first just tastes like a very good chocolate fondant, but nothing special or overly memorable. And just when I was about to pass judgment I was hit bit the delayed zing of the jalapeno, and had to admit this was an excellent dessert or as the waiter put it, 'this one is truly awesome'. The vanilla ice cream and lemon sauce may seem to be a bit simplistic (I probably would have wanted something like white chocolate ice cream for example), but I think it showed great restraint on the part of the chef as it allowed the fondant to be the true focal point and 'hero' of the dish.

When Alissa chose the Pineapple Upside Down Cake, I wasn't sure how they were going to elevate this dish from the image I have of cooking it in high school cooking classes as a fairly rustic and old fashioned dessert. When the dish arrived, you could tell right away that they had succeeded. The cake was plated beautifully between two sheets of sheets of caramel, seared caramelized pineapple and rosemary ice cream(!) on the side. I'm not much of a cake person, but this was excellent; reminiscent of but far better than the upside down cakes I've eaten in the past. The highlight of the dish was the rosemary ice cream; combined with the soft sponge of the cake, its burnt caramelized pineapple glaze and the glazed pineapple pieces the rosemary flavour sat wonderfully in the picture that the dessert painted – to my mind, something like an old school British colonial meal, the kind of conjuring up of nostalgia and memory that someone like Heston Blumenthal would champion.

Petit Fours served were simple chocolates. These were unfortunately very ordinary in comparison to the desserts we had just eaten, and couldn't compare to the chocolate petit fours at both Otto e Mezzo or Caprice.

The Verdict: Excellent
With such an extensive menu filled with many dishes that sound amazing, Indigo's menu will have you spoiled for choice. Yet considering two of my three dishes as well as our wine came off the additional menu prepared for us, I thoroughly recommend making a reservation to get more choice for your Indigo experience. Service was exceptional – waiters were polite, attentive but never overstayed their welcome by the table side. And most importantly, all the dishes we chose were excellent and very satisfying, with the only real let downs being the less than stellar bread selection, the good but not great amuse bouche and the ordinary petit fours. I'll forgive these small missteps as the good points greatly outweighed the negatives. While I don't think I'd travel to Mumbai just to eat at Indigo as there are places in Australia that do this kind of food as well or better, its definitely a must eat destination for surprisingly modernist cooking in an otherwise largely traditional dining scene.

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