Mumbai’s buzzing Todi-Mathuradas Mill Compound has a new entrant—Cafe Panama. The newly opened, all-day dining bistro and bar serves European cuisine and an array of tequila concoctions. Founded by Sohel Lalvani and Shaan Gidwani, the new place has a total party vibe!
I was surprised to see this new restaurant in the exact same spot Cafe Zoe used to be in Lower Parel. However, it looks nothing like the popular old joint. The entrance to the new place is a small path of a metre or two long, dotted with plants on both sides, leading you to the entrance where a beautiful, bottle green coloured vintage Ambassador is parked.
As soon as I entered, I felt like I was transported to a tropical island where food and drinks are in abundance and the party never stops. The 30-feet high ceiling is impressive and the plantain trees across the lively dining bistro look imposing. The all-glass roof allows plenty of sunlight.
“We wanted an exposed brick wall and so we decided to have art deco interiors because the element of vintage would go well. We tried to envision what kind of culture would go with this kind of decor,” says Co-Founder Sohel Lalvani. He explains that for South Americans, architecture is a huge part of their culture and they love to eat and dance. Hence, Panama was chosen as the theme.
Blue, gold and green dominate the colour scheme of the place and the bar is decked with brown hanging lights made from cane. There are seating options on the first level too.
Lalvani is an avid traveller and has frequented Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore where he observed that dim lights and a good bar were a sure thing in fine restaurants.
The menu offers a wide range of dishes like—Sopa de Champiñones (a Colombian mushroom and kale soup with hints of truffle oil and porcini dust); Watermelon and arugula in tequila Chili lime (served with sago crackers); the Mexican Caesar Salad (tequilla chilli lime and sago crackers); Burrata with herb chili and mango salsa; Corn Tamale with aged mole and spicy cilantro sauce; Tacos with portobello mushrooms and pepper rouille; Mexican shrimp skillet and Lamb empanadas with Tomatillo salsa and hot sauce; and Pastel de Choco, Veracruz style Grouper.
Vertigo (vodka, sparkling wine, French pear juice, Elderflower and lime juice); Del Toro (vodka, beer syrup, ginger syrup, fresh lime juice); Dark Passion (vodka, fresh passion fruit, peach juice, fresh lime juice); and Eva (vodka, green apple, fresh celery juice, basil leaf, jasmine syrup, lemon juice) are few of the many drinks that are served. The house favourites are Panama (tequila infused with rosemary, thyme and orange zest) and Lilly (gin, fresh cucumber juice, elderflower and fresh lime).
A lot of research and trial and error went into designing the menu, but due to COIVD-19 restrictions, Lalvani could not travel as much as he’d like for this project. “We have a junior chef who has worked in Jamaica and one of our bartenders has worked on a cruise line that sailed from Chili to Maimi,” says the first time restauranteur. So there was a lot of first-hand information about the food and its flavours.
I tried the yuca Fries, Burrata, Mushroom Tacho, Argentinian Pollo Assado, Biscoff Cheese Cake, Hazelnut Mousse Torte and Tres Leches and Argentinian Pollo Assado. The fries made of yuca, a vegetable native to South America, was the highlight for me. Yuca’s taste and texture are similar to a potato, but is less starchy. A mix of spices on it gave a spicy and tangy flavours.
Argentinian Pollo Assado was salty and took too long to be served. There’s surely some room for improvement for the Tres Leches. Though I’d give full marks to Biscoff Cheese Cake and Hazelnut Mousse Torte.
Address: Cafe Panama, Todi-Mathurdas Mills Compound, N.M Joshi Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400013
Timing: 11 am to 12.30 am
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