Mumbai’s newest ingredient-based restaurant Ekaa is one-of-a-kind

Ruhi Gilder 
In the colonial heart of the city lies a 131-year-old building, Kitab Mahal. A neoclassical structure, its wooden staircase leads to a restaurant that promises to be a gourmand’s delight, Ekaa. The name ‘Ekaa’ refers to ‘one’ or ‘unique,’ and its passionate Head Chef and Partner, Niyati Rao, and co-founder Sagar Neve are committed to make the place live up to its name. With almost a decade of experience at restaurants like Taj’s The Zodiac Grill, Wasabi by Morimoto and A Reverie in Goa, Chef Rao is now seeking to turn seemingly inconspicuous ingredients into heroes of different dishes. When asked how she would describe Ekaa to someone who is not a foodie, she replies with confidence, “It is a chef’s interpretation of different ingredients, there’s no specific cuisine; we take ingredients from all over the world and bring it to one singular space, Ekaa.” 
Towering ceilings, simple wooden furniture with handwoven chairs, sheesham tables and lamps handcrafted by local artisans subtly make their presence known. What stands out even more is the floor plan; diners have a full-fledged view of the kitchen from their tables. A bar with highchairs is separated from the main dining area, and a more private room is available for those wanting an intimate culinary experience amongst close family and friends. Minimalism is evident in each design feature, from the sketch-like botanical paintings that dot the walls, to the whitewashed pillars half-covered in strands of rope, to the simple wooden slabs used to serve dishes. This idea of paring back comes from Chef Rao’s time at Noma, one of the top Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. In a conversation with the spirited Chef Rao, LuxeBook finds out what her inspiration and dream for Ekaa is.  
Main seating area (5)
Main seating area
While her restaurant comes with the label of fine dining, Chef Rao does not want it perceived as intimidating. A warm welcoming atmosphere is what the chef sought to recreate with the help of three separate menus, the first being a tapas menu which is full of dishes light on the pocket, that allow visitors to experience the essence of the place. The second is an à la carte menu with familiar ingredients like mushroom, lettuce, pumpkin, making an appearance in unfamiliar avatars alongside duck, plantain and colocassia (arbi), items that are rarely seen on menus. The final menu is the Chef’s Special which is curated by Chef Rao, and retains an element of surprise. However, elements like Sea Urchin farmed in south India, and coconut sprout, a spongy inside of a coconut before the sapling develops, brought from Kerala, make their way into this 10-course feast. These menus have been specially ideated to ease diners into the concept of Ekaa. While the descriptions may give the space the tag of fine dine, the flavours are familiar, prompting many ‘aha’ moments.  
Ekaa
Sea Urchin
“I took a lot of inspiration from Noma because they take simple ingredients and create absolute magic with it,” says Chef Rao. The respect for local produce prompted her to look at Indian ingredients differently. “The Indian subcontinent is so diverse. I don’t think people are exploring it to its full potential, and that is what I want to do,” she says with a definite nod.  
This reverence for diversity is evident in the cocktail menu of Ekaa as well, wherein the drinks are divided by ecosystems. The grasslands of Gujarat, Rajasthan’s desert, the tundra present in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir, the ocean, freshwater ecosystem inspired by Kerala, tropical deciduous forest, and tropical wet evergreen forest are part of this menu. All 14 cocktails are inspired by these systems, and veer away from spices, towards Ayurvedic ingredients. Around 20-25 barks, roots and leaves are used to make in-house bitters, liqueurs and syrups. I tried the Elysian, a gin-based beverage with wheatgrass, lemongrass, which was ever so reminiscent of the grasslands. A sip of the Old Foraged, from the tundra ecosystem, had a strong aroma of Indian flavours, cardamom led the palate in the form of Kashmiri Kahwa, followed by a hit of Bourbon. The cocktails preceded a range of ingredient-focused plates that made their way to our table.  
Abscission
Abscission cocktail
Ingredient 1: Sourdough 
A crispy slice of sourdough was the perfect foil to the creamy cauliflower, and Tomme De Bombai. Part of the tapas menu, the dish was covered in minty leaves and new almonds for extra crunch.  
Ingredient 2: Churro  
Churro
A perfectly formed churro covered in parmesan cheese sat on a wooden plate. The crunchy churro was meant to be dipped in a bowl of potato silk and smoked thetcha. The combination was unusual but tapped into the memory of your grandmother’s spicy thetcha, traditionally had with bhakri 
Ingredient 3: House Sausage  
Sausage
Sausage
While it looked like a regular sausage, southeast Asian flavours made an appearance in this small plate. The farmed pork sausage was wonderfully glazed with a honey dressing for a kick of sweet amongst the spice.  
Ingredient 4: Wheat 
Wheat
Wheat
The word bhel comes to mind when biting into this dish from the à la carte menu. A round wheat cracker is topped with caramelised eggplant, onion jam, barley, and a spicy powder. The unexpected star of the dish though, is the tofu pudding served on the side. Light and silken, the tofu is draped in soy sauce and balances the crispy wheat base perfectly.  
Ingredient 5: Citron Aged Duck 
Ekaa
Citron Aged Duck
This particular dish comes with four small plates each holding crucial components. A tender minced duck cutlet sits on a bed of crunchy fried onions, waiting to be dunked into a port wine jus on the side. A bowl of pearl barley and mushroom beckons as well, while the star, the locally-sourced duck sits in perfect slices, surrounded by orange wedges. While the duck was a bit chewy in places, the overall dish was executed with finesse, as the elements melded together to create a symphony of flavours.  
Ingredient 6: Pumpkin 
Pumpkin
Pumpkin
Arranged in the shape of a flower, the sweet pumpkin is offset by the sourness of whipped goat cheese, and counteracts with the spiced podi ghee to form a well-balanced dish. A millet salad with greens and candied seeds are the perfect side dish for the creamy pumpkin main.  
Ingredient 7: After 8 
The ideal way to end a multiple-course meal would be with this dessert. Inspired by the chocolate After 8, this sweet dish consisted of whipped chocolate ganache interspersed with explosions of peppermint. Shards of phyllo and nuggets of streusel complement the classic combination of mint and chocolate.  
Address: Kitab Mahal, 1st Floor, D Sukhadwala Rd, Azad Maidan, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001 
Price: Approximately ₹4000 for two (including drinks). 
The tasting menu starts at ₹3750 per person.  
Chef Niyati Rao and Sagar Neve_Ekaa
Chef Niyati Rao and Sagar Neve
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