A few days ago, I had a very expensive lunch. Beer, two courses and no dessert the bill came to a staggering Rs 6,000 for two. No, I wasn’t on Wall Street chewing gold-plated hamburgers (that would have cost more). We were in Mumbai, on a normal weekday lunch, with a friend who had just been offered a great job (yesyes, he paid).
The restaurant was Pure, in the Taj Lands End. This was only the second time I was eating lunch there, and I must say its a restaurant of interest for more than just the prices on the menu. Though usually empty at lunch (indeed, both times we were the only diners) its a gorgeous space – pastel latticework faintly reminiscent of Mughal architecture, large tables, stylish flower centerpieces, service more polished than the polite but intrusive kinds you usually get (check the Taj site out for all the brand names attached, if you’re inclined). Its also backed by a culinary philosophy that the waiters and the menu try to explain. Michel Nischan, the chef-inspiration behind the concept, has spent decades espousing his cause of healthy, natural, new world cooking to some success in New York and elsewhere; lets see how that translated here.
But lets get back to the food. The last time I was here (a few months ago) I was blown away by the gazpacho and its rather dramatic presentation on dry ice, but this time it came in a normal bowl without all the drama. Tasted good and there was still the scoop of sorbet inside to add some flair, but I missed the smoke and mirrors. Presentations were all generally impeccable, though not quite as theatrical as before, and the ingredients were certainly top-notch. Simple massive prawns, perfectly tender lamb, polished execution was everywhere.
But… (oh oh there's a but)
The food, though very competent and certainly new world, wasn’t wow – or at least wow in the sense that one dreams of the taste for months afterwards. Ignore the prices for the moment, but this wouldn’t rank in the top 10 meals I’ve ever had (or even in the top 10 new world meals). Technical excellence was everywhere, but the genius was missing – except in one item. That item wasn’t even on the menu – its free. The Pure version of the bread basket is a broad bean dip accompanying six sticks of flame-grilled course bread. Oh it was all fancily presented – perfect square sticks, patterned grilling, the dip with a tiny cherry tomato – but basically its amazing how a simple piece of bread can be transformed by flame-grilling. Right through childhood, when toasters were made a rarity by frequent power cuts, I’ve been having bread grilled on flames but I realize that its been decades since I had it. That's the essence of new world food – take something basic, do simple things to it but to great effect.
The bottom line on Pure – beautiful space, very competent food different from most menus in Mumbai but don't go expecting Michelin starsbursts. Make sure you have your credit rating pristine – there’s no way you’ll be able to wash enough dishes otherwise.