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April 15, 2024

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Gresham Fernandes’ ‘Bandra Born’ is love letter to his neighbourhood

Born and raised in ‘Bombay City’, my aunt, long settled in Bangalore, still dreams of one day resting her legs up on a wicker seat in an airy Bandra apartment. Every time she visits, we ‘trash-talk’ Bandra’s aspiring NRIs who hope to leave the city for some kind of North American suburbia or rainy European hellscape. “Some of us are dying to come back. And these people want to up and leave? What rubbish.” she has exclaimed, time and again.

We also love to elucidate that while South Bombay does boast an old-world, colonial appeal, no amount of neo-gothic architecture can compare to the spirited by-lanes of Bandra. Ask anyone who grew up here and they will speak with only the utmost endearment and love. Such is the the case with chef Gresham Fernandes, the creative force behind Chapel Road’s new Bandra Born. After Salt Water Café’s 15-year long run, sitting right where the café used to be, Bandra Born takes on a new soul, paying tribute to the neighbourhood where Fernandes grew up. The space, now revamped with a modern, street style topcoat, offers patrons with nostalgia and spunk in equal parts.

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The design in the restaurant, conceptualised by Bombay Duck Designs, draws inspiration from Bandra walls, so full of character with Bollywood themed graffiti, spray painted slogans, ‘missing cats’ posters, and much more. Most strikingly, Bandra Born’s logo, a blue pav with caricature arms and legs, is tweaked with a delightful range of different faces, taking on the characters of Bandra folk. The intersection of these entities – art, food and people – comes alive in the design and décor, emphasising the role that they play on the neighbourhood.

Image from Bandra Born Instagram

 

Image from Bandra Born Instagram

The ghosts of the Bandra past, present, and future sit and chat over a glass of ganna ‘Juice and Booze’, nodding to every little element that gives the neighbourhood its distinct personality. The menu – where dish names are printed, single spaced on loose sheets of bright coloured A4 paper – is a laugh to read. The medium of course, is the message, where the list resembles the menu cards of local diners around the area, missing only a simple lamination to seal the deal. But each dish is also titled tongue-in-cheek, its nomenclature littered with references and clever little inside jokes for Bandra’s denizens.

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The food, much like the names, felt familiar to the palette, almost like a homemade meal, yet never relinquishing its restaurant-worthy status. In simpler terms? The highest compliment we tend to offer to the best cooks in our families is “You need to open a restaurant!”; Bandra Born’s food tastes like what happens when they finally heed this advice.

As expected, some dishes even had explicit ties to heirloom recipes. ‘The East Indian Crab Curry Dip’, pronounced with coconut and garlic flavours and served with hot, soft Croissant Pav, was one such dish. According to our server, chef Gresham’s grandmother began cooking this meal around the time that crabs would wash into Bandra’s then paddy fields during the city’s monsoon showers. While telling us this, he kindly offered us some wet wipes. “Feel free to eat with your hands.” he said, knowing that the ‘home’ way is the tastiest way.

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The ‘Marrow Chilli Cheese Toast’ too, though arriving at the table unaccompanied by an enticing backstory, retained a kind of domesticity. Perhaps it felt that way because of how absurdly my family eats marrow at my house. I never understood why they eat it the way they do, spending hours hitting the bone against a plate hoping that gravity and willpower will do the trick. That was until I tasted this bone marrow, glazed with mirin and miso, and served with habanero and cheese on toasted bread. This was a dish I would gladly put in that kind of effort for but fortunately the bone was split in half making the marrow easy to scoop on to the bread. The cheese and size of the bones also greatly contributed to making this plate quite a task to finish.

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In fact, every dish we ordered was rather hearty with sufficient to generous portions, barring the ‘THE Potato Chop’ which could be easily excused for its delicious root vegetable filling. Even the ‘Posh Hearsch Puff’ that we expected to be no more than three bites, was enormous for a ‘SMALLS’ section dish. Named after the Hill Road relic, J. Hearsch & Co., this pleasant surprise was primarily prepared with chicken and cheese, its sauce concocted from truffle oil, brown butter, and chicken wing reduction. Staying true to its inspirations, the ‘Posh Hearsch Puff’ was of quintessential ‘Bandra Bakery’ quality; flaky, fresh, and reminiscent of a ‘post PTA meeting’ chicken puff that one would relish at Hearsch and other local counterparts like Andora Café or Bawa Zest. Come to think of it, most of us who have a strong resonance with Bandra would love to see the restaurant collaborate with local diners and eateries whose presence have become synonymous with a childhood spent in the area.

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By the time the dessert made its way to us, we were too busy singing along to the live band’s rendition of ‘Top of the World’ by The Carpenters. Greedily digging into a warm Cheesecake with mulberry compote and listening to music from our school days on Pali Hill, was enough schmaltz to last us the entire year.

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Upon taking a stroll to the second floor, where the bar sat much mellower than the lively downstairs seating, we happened upon the adjacent open roof top. By far the most perfect spot in the entire restaurant, this terrace was covered in strings of fairy lights and overseen by a voluminous mango tree in the corner with what seemed like a firm but loving hand. The seats near the ledge are as good a spot as any to catch some breeze and watch cars go by. The street below seems to have (for now) escaped the relentless construction that has plagued nearby areas over the past few weeks, but the noise remains all the same.

Drill or no drill, there is a cultural electricity that keeps Bandra awake at night and Bandra Born is a sincere love letter from a man to his neighbourhood, to capture exactly that.

Luxebook Recommends: Marrow Chilli Cheese Toast & Cheesecake with Mulberry Compote.

Rose Minar, 87, Chapel Rd, Annexe, Reclamation, Bandra West, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400050.

Zara Flavia Dmello

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