Less is more, reads a slogan on the inside door of the now-shut Salt Water Café in Bandra. For Chef Gresham Fernandes, Culinary Director at Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality, those are not just mere words but a philosophy he is trying to live by.
Restraint, he tells us, has attained a lot of importance in his life, whether in the kitchen or how he runs a restaurant. “After you have built things up, after a point, you have to start taking a step back — in terms of how the team is running the kitchen or how the front of the house is running. The main job is to build the framework and give everyone the tools to work within that framework,” he says.
Gresham knows a thing or two about building things. Along with Riyaaz Amlani, the Managing Director of Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality, he has created some of the most popular restaurants and cafes in the city including SOCIAL, Smoke House Deli and Salt Water Café. The latter, known for its terrific breakfasts and lively ambience, downed its shutters two months ago after being in existence for 15 years. The reason was simple, says Gresham, “We needed to evolve. Everyone was strait-jacketing the café into a great place for sangrias or the All You Can Drink cocktail but that’s not all who we are. We can do more,” he says.
The more, for now, is Bandra Born — a 12-week pop-up that showcases the chef-restaurateur’s state of mind (the aforementioned restraint) as well as his creativity. The space is still the same, or is it? The once-quaint and elegant bistro now bears a grunge look with a funky logo and graffiti painted across the walls, multi-coloured posters declaring ‘missing cat’ or ‘wanted housekeeper in Bandra’ among others and a staircase bathed in a purple haze with ‘Don’t Fall For Me’ painted on the steps.
“Riyaaz was toying with the idea of how you can change a space without actually changing a space. Is the space important or is the emotion in the space important? Salt Water Café was an emotion in a space; Bandra Born is another emotion in the same space. We are going against the agenda of what fine dining is. For us, as long as the food is good, the drinks are good and there is great energy, that’s it. I am not working towards making this the best bar or the best place for food; I am trying to make this into the best place with the most positive energy when you walk into it,” states the chef.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say. The restraint Gresham mentioned earlier, can be seen in the fewer ingredients and the minimal-drama way of plating the dishes. An apt example would be the light and fluffy goujons, quirkily named Like Fugias, But Not. The dish is served with a pureed corn chutney which goes well with the cheesy goujons.
At Gresham’s home, potato chops are stuffed with sea snails, but the chef wanted to keep the vegetarians happy as well. So, the potato chop at Bandra Born is a delicious mouthful with parsnip, sweet potato and reshad (a Goan spice blend also known as recheado), all served on a bed of beetroot ketchup. The Kamina Karpaccio with tenderloin, truffled ponzu with a garnish of salli potatoes and pomegranates makes a case for Gresham’s philosophy of ‘flavour-driven’ as opposed to ‘concept-driven’ dishes.
The quirky names of the dishes — Riyaaz’s brain waves we are told — also extends to the cocktails, designed by Pankaj Balachandran, with drinks paying a tribute to Bandra’s landmarks and legends. Pali Hill Paloma is a zesty pick-me-up made of tequila, mezcal and grapefruit whereas Patricia’s Pussycats harks back to the folklore of an Anglo-Indian lady named Patricia who used to take her leopard cubs for walks on the streets of Bandra.
Ask Gresham what happens at the end of 12 weeks and he shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he says poker-faced. As for Salt Water Café, it is still not shut, at least for him. “It will come back in some form or another; we don’t know when or how but it will,” he says. On its Instagram page, the lone post declares ‘we’ll see you soon, somehow somewhere’.
Open for dinner. Meal for two costs ₹2,800 without alcohol and ₹3,900 with alcohol. For reservations, call: 8657738778.