Taftoon (Bombay, December 2018)

Here is my last restaurant report from my brief visit to Bombay, just three months after I left. Don’t scoff: it took me nine months to get done with my reports from London in June and I probably ate out just as much in Bombay as we did in London. This was my penultimate meal in Bombay (I ate dinner at Highway Gomantak later that evening), and was the third in three days with my friend Paromita who is as ideal an eating companion as you could hope for: willing to eat anything but not easily pleased. We also ate together at Just Kerala and at my second dinner at O Pedro. For this last meal she recommended Taftoon in the BKC. I should state upfront that—as at lunch the previous day at Soam—we were not regular diners off the street. She has a close connection to the chef and we were afforded special treatment and a number of dishes were comped on the final bill. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the meal.

First, a bit about the restaurant. Taftoon opened a little over a year ago I believe in the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC). This area, home to a number of office complexes and fancy hotels, has seen a lot of trendy restaurants open in recent years—O Pedro is not too far away. Unlike O Pedro and many trendy restaurants in Bombay, however, Taftoon offers neither a specific regional menu nor one that gestures in some way towards the West. Its menu instead is broadly North Indian. Great, you might think, just what we need: another restaurant offering butter chicken and dal makhni. Well, if so you’ll be glad to know that that is not what Taftoon does. Their (large) menu is pan-North Indian and follows the trajectory of the Grand Trunk Road but avoids well-trodden paths. They offer dishes that you could find anywhere between Peshawar and Chittagong but not always in your average North Indian restaurant in Delhi or elsewhere. Which is to say both that it makes stops in smaller cities and towns across the Gangetic belt and that its borders extend past North India to both the west and east. There may be some creative license taken here with maps as there are dishes from Kashmir and Ladakh on the menu and I don’t believe the Grand Trunk Road ever extended to Kashmir. But you shouldn’t worry about this too much.

The important thing is that this is anything but a by-the-numbers North Indian restaurant and this is reflected both in the juxtaposition of a large number of unusual dishes sourced from particular places along the sweep of the road (every dish has its specific; provenance marked) as well as in the innovative ways in which much of it is served. The name of the restaurant, for example, is the name of a particular kind of saffron-scented bread (which I had never heard of before) and they serve it both in its standard larger form and in mini versions that serve as platforms for harissas (not the North African chilli paste but a Kashmiri meat paste—which I had also never heard of before). Tandoors are eschewed in favour of a large enclosed barbecue grill in which food is cooked over open flames; a traditional mutton curry has flamed rum poured into it; there are no gulab jamuns on the dessert menu but you can get kaju kulfi with fig compote. Some of this may seem gimmicky but at our meal everything worked harmoniously. The result on the whole is a restaurant that seems simultaneously traditional and not.

The restaurant’s aesthetic is also not old-school. There’s no kitsch of any kind and other than the view of the kitchen— visible through glass—there’s nothing that indicates the usual signifiers of ye olde North Indian restaurant, or even just Indian restaurant. It’s a large restaurant and the tables are well spaced. Lots of natural light comes in during the day from one wall that is all glass but the rest is not dark either. The feel of the place is not heavy—a nice departure from the seeming notion that many places have that if you want to eat North Indian you must also want to enter a time warp.

For a look at the restaurant, the menu and what we ate—names and descriptions of dishes are in the captions—please launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on service and value and to see what’s coming next.

Service was very friendly, very professional and very present—though keep in mind again that one of the two at our table is a very good friend of the house. As a number of dishes were comped (the mini kulchey-chholey, the dal, the bread basket, the kulfi) I cannot tell you what this full meal cost. I can tell you, however, that the prices were in line with those charged at O Pedro. I’d say it’s good value. The large menu full of tempting things begs for a meal eaten with a large group but if you’re alone they do also have set lunch options that approximate the thali experience—though I have no idea if it’s served a la thalis. On the whole, I’d recommend Taftoon; though for first-time visitors to Bombay with only a few meals in hand I’d suggest it should probably come well below outings to Malvani/Konkani seafood places and also Swati Snacks.

I did say that this was the last of my Bombay meal reports but it occurs to me that I ate breakfast on three occasions at my hotel’s restaurant and took some photographs of the over-the-top spread. If people would like a glimpse of the excess of the fancy Indian hotel breakfast buffet I could be persuaded to make a post on the subject. Otherwise, my trip reports will soon head further north to Delhi and I will probably mix those up with reports from Los Angeles from late-December/early-January as well.

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