Modern global Tantarrra! Bring out the trumpets (or should we?) Trailblazer Rahul Akerkar returns! This brilliant biochemist turned chef-restaurateur made culinary history in 1999 by setting up Indigo, India’s first stand-alone restaurant which gave five-star hotel restaurants a run for their money. After decades of ruling the roost it shut down and April this year Rahul Akerkar made a comeback with “Qualia”. Mixed reactions followed. Nonetheless, Qualia remained packed and overbooked. Will Rahul be able to live up to his reputation? Will “Qualia” which means, ‘the quality of sensory experience.’ live up to its name? or will it be just “Kaalia”? (as in Sholay’s “Tera kya hoga Kaila”) To determine this, I dined and lunched here unannounced four times and of course, paid my bills. DÉCOR High-ceilinged, handsome Qualia’s hundred-foot-long glass façade to the street, floods the restaurant with natural light. Attention gets focussed first on the unusual gold, chain-mail curtains, revealing and concealing the theatre of the kitchen and rows of pickling jars. The long open kitchen runs parallel to the main seating area with its red leather banquettes. Chris Lee and Kapil Gupta ensure that the stage is set for the culinary drama to begin. FOOD Qualia has three identities or so I discovered through my systematic eating research. The sophisticated, high-end gourmet, cuisine agnostic one at dinner, the highly accessible eggs, tartines, pancakes at lunch and the all-day barbecue on Sunday. Common to them all is the sweet-meets-sour profile, something pickled in every dish, drink, and dessert which sparkles with bright acidity. We ate our way through a long list of dishes, impossible to share in this short space. Here’s a quick whiff, at dinner, for example, it’s the masterpiece of yellow gazpacho (see photo) in erotic union with sweet pickled melon and whipped feta. In contrast, at lunch, the “ ode to Aibara eggs” ( see photo) bursts with flavors and textures Rahul’s version of the Parsi “Bheedu pur eedu”. At dinner, Charred Pumpkin harmonizes with Bhavnagri chili, goats cheese and preserved lemon. Crisp sage leaves top the Coimbatore pork chops in a cider cumin glaze with white beans and succulent candied tomatoes. Dinner menu bristles with Yellowfin Tuna Loincurry leaf avocado pachadi, Grilled Octopus, with Goan chorizo, Steak Tartare and a superb steak and more. At lunch, the avocado tartine, healthy, vegan cashew cheese piled with microgreens and potato strings delights. As does the Salmon version. Plenty for vegetarians in all menus. WINE, DRINKS BAKERY From 120 wine labels to a selection of Healthy Thirst Quenchersmade with fresh fruit and vegetables (Ask for the yummy Power track juice) creative cocktails and mocktails delight. Superb bakery (can buy and take home bread too) helmed by Pastry Chef Rachelle Andrade who conjures light as air desserts and dense with flavour bread. Ask for the charred chocolate cake with its crunchy sesame ganache and brittle. If only the portion was bigger.
MINUS POINTS Some of the dishes (especially from the dinner menu) end up being a mere arrangement of ingredients with discordant notes. The garganelli pasta infused with cacao, the thick Neapolitan pizza topped with steak and eggs sound better than they taste. Big prices for the small portions, (dinner menu) especially desserts.
MY POINT Pickling. Brining. Fermenting is as old as mankind. It’s been making recent global waves too. I'm just back from a marathon dining trip in Copenhagen’s Noma, Geranium, 108, Amass where many a pickled and fermented food pirouetted in many a dish. Rahul’s brilliant use of locally sourced Indian ingredients adds currents and tides of flavor in each dish, in a few, there is a tsunami with the danger of drowning. Debates ensued about the authenticity of it all but let's not miss the point. At all times there are high-impact flavors, exhilarating, vibrant and layered with a pickled starburst. Qualia’s food is accessible and comforting (at lunch) gourmet compositions (at dinner) all-day barbecue (Sunday). That’s Rahul’s brilliant three-in-one masterstroke in the handsome high-ceilinged restaurant. Kudos to his professional team (chef Joshi, bar manager Shirke, head baker Andrade) and his family team of wife Malini daughter Shaan and sister Avantika) who bustle around taking care of every detail. Qualia lives up to its name. Trumpets, please! Note: live music on Wednesday, Saturday and all Sunday.
Qualia Ground Floor, Lodha World Crest, 402 Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel 6849 0000 Lunch: 11 am to 3 pm, Monday-Saturday Dinner: 6:30 pm to 1:00 am, Monday-Saturday Qualia BBQ Sundays: 11 am to 11 pm, every Sunday RATING FOOD 4.25 SERVICE 4 DÉCOR 4 Av meal for two Rs 5000