In a sprawling 3,000 sq. ft ground floor property in Worli, sits Rahul Akerkar’s newest chapter in his robust culinary career. Like all of his restaurants, Ode too was not confined to a cuisine, and instead was presented as a multi-faceted eatery, exploring a wonderful mix of flavours and techniques.
Almost like an epiphany, it became clear that Akerkar created and tended to his restaurants almost like children, each with their own distinctive personalities, their menus harbouring an exciting variety of traits, yet never claiming a definitive one. Where Indigo was the confident, well-liked older sibling, and Qualia was a sophisticated, stylish middle child, Ode emerged, rough-edged, unfinished and loveable, as the youngest of the lot.
Designed primarily with dark greys, browns, and an occasional pop of colour such as in the bright red exposed pipe running along the ceiling, the interiors were designed to let the food shine. As someone who spends most of their dining experiences at Bandra’s many holes-in-the-wall, this space was seriously surprising. It was optimised nicely, the indoors, divided into many areas to choose from: the bar, a comfortable lounge, the well-spaced general seating, and a convertible, semi-enclosed private dining room.
Each area was separate and still coherent, sectioned, not by walls, but seamless divisions like fine mesh or the long granular community table. The airy outdoor seating too, was completely visible from the inside, separated only by window. Even the kitchen was open, and was curiously quiet and un-chaotic, with no more than a low murmur heard between the chefs as they worked in absolute synchrony, a smooth rhythm informing their tasks.
The loudest areas of the room were always the tables that Rahul Akerkar himself was tending to. He would stop by each of his patrons, characteristically leaning over an arm rest with one hand on his hip, inciting laughter from each diner with jokes that you always wish you were privy to.
Perusing through the menu, I recalled the fondness with which my parents would speak of Indigo. That Indigo’s curation of dishes was a spread so personal to Akerkar’s sensibilities making impossible to find the same dish elsewhere, is a sentiment that seemed to ring true at Ode as well.
The menu itself was just one page, with dishes separated into five categories of ‘Hot’, ‘Cold’, ‘Pasta’, ‘Pizza’, and ‘Nosh, nibbles and bread’. We are spoiled for choice these days with so many restaurants offering pages and pages of dishes that can often feel unsure; almost throwing things against the wall and hoping something sticks. Ode’s menu in contrast was succinct and self-assured.
I knew from looking at the menu immediately, that we were getting the ‘Apricot and Rum Glazed Pork Ribs’. I am notoriously untalented at choosing what to eat but this was easily one of my best picks at a restaurant. Perfectly brown and saucy, the ribs were a delight to look at and even more to eat; had I been in the comfort of my home, I would be relishing this dish with my hands. The pork was cooked to precision, appearing sturdy but melting the second it entered your mouth. On brand with the restaurants general use of open heat cooking, the meat had a smoky aftertaste that was noticeable in most of the other dishes as well.
Akerkar happened by our table while we were smack in the middle of demolishing the ribs and thoughtfully explained the dish as we wiped our hands – slightly embarrassed but mostly excited. The sauce on the bottom, he explained, was Mexican influenced, chocolate-based Mole, but the spices were a Khandeshi Kala Masala from the innards of Maharashtra. Such is the food he creates, unusually paired flavours, attributed to his mixed heritage and consequently mixed palate.
“My mum’s side of the family were German Jews, and my father was Maharashtrian, so we always had both European and Indian food at home. Lunch might have been Indian, and dinner would be western and then the next day’s lunch was probably leftovers of both! This is my palate now and I can’t differentiate between the two styles anymore.” he said shrugging.
We nodded knowingly. This little lesson in his family history strikes a chord with most dishes on the menu, which, if they were art, would be jarringly avant-garde. His mixed cultural background paired with a penchant for playing with flavours frequently results in strange, unexpected, and yet delightful dishes that hold so many contradictions on a single plate. Be it the fusion of smoky, zesty and desi in the ‘Charred Tiger Prawns’, served with lemon and a coriander chutney, or the sweet and sour tinge in the ‘Walnut Onion Cappellacci’, Ode’s menu is an ardent surpriser with regards to flavour combinations.
After dipping our toes into the ‘Nosh and Nibbles’, and ‘Hot’ sections of the menu, we wandered over to the bar and perched ourselves on the red leather high stools for a refreshing, cool Djinn Gin and a spiced, pungent Over the Wall – served with pineapple juice, agave syrup and tequila. The drinks were simple and understated and I wished we had ordered them earlier with our meal. The gin especially, was summery, light and would have sat deliciously with the charred prawns, a pairing I have pre-decided to order on my next visit.
When we returned to our table, our ‘Cold’ dishes, ‘Beets and Burrata’ and ‘Steak Tartare’ were waiting for us patiently. Beetroots, I noticed, were a part of quite a few dishes on the menu, and rightfully so. They were sweet, tangy, and to my surprise, quite a versatile ingredient that could be used in the most unlikely ways, such as in ‘Beet Around the Bush,’ a vodka cocktail of beetroot shrub, kahwa tea and balsamic.
The second of the cold dishes, the ‘Steak Tartare’, begged a review of its own. To begin with, the steak was cold and wet, not a style of meat I had ever tried before. It was plated with a runny yellow yolk, and incredible mushrooms, plain, white and unseemly to look at, but packed with citrusy, sweet and sour flavour. To be eaten with crunchy, toasted sourdough bread, all the soft elements of the dish seemed to soak excellently, and we were quick to request a second round of toast. In fact, all the bread we tried at Ode was baked to perfection, as it was in the ‘Carbonara Pizza’, with melted parmesan and crispy bacon covering a warm, fresh crust.
By the time we were ready for dessert, preparing by buttoning open our pants as one does when fine-dining, I recalled how, when asked how many dishes he would recommend for two, Akerkar responded, chuckling, “Depends! Do you have hollow feet?”. Although I admitted sadly that I did not, my appetite surprisingly managed to make room for every single dish as it was brought to our table, right through till dessert.
How could it not? I came to this restaurant for the dessert and would not leave there without it. I read somewhere that the ‘Best Damn Tarte Tartin’ the name for this dish, is an understatement and I am not one to question this.
It arrived at our table brown, glazed, and topped with crème fraîche glacé, and a knot of pickled celery, alongside a shiny, caramelised ‘Dark Chocolate Crème Brûlée’. The meal had been quite the five-act structure, with our story curve falling gently into both desserts.
Akerkar stopped by our table for the last time that evening, to exchange parting thoughts and ask whether we enjoyed our meal. I wondered how many people he personally approached each night, offering the sincere homeliness of an Indian household. “After Qualia,” he said, “I knew I wanted something a little more accessible, un-intimidating, warm.” He was talking about the interior design, but it was a vision, I felt, that could only ever come alive by a good host.
Rahul Akerkar returned from Goa after the pandemic, a partnership with the Aditya Birla Group in hand, hoping to start a new era in his journey, with Ode. Now, he is excited to stay for longer, with a few more upcoming projects in the city underway, and to be announced in May this year.
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