Mumbai Food: Certain dishes are off the menu, but never off the table

What makes chefs rustle up innovative dishes, but not put them on the menu? Hear it from the horse’s mouth

There is always the lure of savouring dishes not available to others; something with a limited edition feel, a sense of secrecy. Most restaurants have off-the-menu dishes, and reasons for their classified nature can be anything from the chef wanting to surprise his patrons to the lack of constant supply of a particular ingredient. Here’s a curated list of dishes from across city eateries that chefs won’t readily tell you about. Regulars would know, of course, and now they are all yours to try.

Pita pocket
At: Henpecked, Kala Ghoda

Mini pita pockets are cooked in a traditional Neapolitan oven where the “torched wooden logs take up the heat of the dome-shaped oven up to 600 degrees”, says head chef Ajay Thakur. The heat transforms the simple pita pocket into what’s best described as a Mediterranean phulka. “We stuff it with farm fresh veggies or meat.” Thakur learnt to prepare the dish during a trip to Dubai. “That’s where the idea struck me. Anything between pita breads is worshipped there,” he says. Since it’s easy to make, there’s hardly ever a chance of it not being available if you ask for it.

Why off the menu? “It is good to surprise your customers. Since the dish employs a unique technique, we like to keep it a secret special.”

Beetroot Ice Cream
At: Su Casa, Bandra

When chef Dev Rawat concocted a recipe for the Beetroot Ice Cream, he knew it wouldn’t be up everyone’s alley. Rawat, who did not want to tamper with the original flavour of the vegetable has, therefore, kept the dish moderately sweet with little sugar.

While he does recommend it, the orders don’t exceed five a month. “I have a penchant for the quirky, so it’s fine if it’s not popular,” he says.

Why off the menu? “For any dish to have a place on the menu, it must do justice in terms of sales. Besides, it takes an unusual palate to enjoy roasted beetroot ice cream.”

Grilled Kangaroo Fillet With Grilled Baby Spinach and Potato Salad 
At: Estella, Juhu

It was during a trip to Australia that Chef Rohan D’Souza tasted the grilled kangaroo for the first time. “I especially liked the way the Australian chefs play with meat preparations,” says the head chef at Estella. His curiosity to learn new cuisines and experiment with dishes motivated him to replicate it at the restaurant. The dish is recommended to guests depending on the availability of meat. “Mostly Australians based in Mumbai choose this,” he says. Served with grilled baby spinach, sauce café de paris and warm mustard potato salad, the grilled kangaroo fillet tastes similar to buffalo meat, he says. “It has a wonderful taste that adds a lot of flavour without being overpowering.”

Why off the menu?
“Kangaroo meat doesn’t come cheap. It’s about R4,500 a kg, and is a rare meat available only in Australia.”

Bhut Jolokia Chicken Sandwich
At: Dive, BKC

Chef Munawar Taher Peerzade, who heads BKC’s Dive, often sees patrons reaching for the tissue box after taking a bite of the Bhut Jolokia Chicken Sandwich. He introduced the item on the appetisers menu when the restaurant launched early this year, but realised it might not be everybody’s cup of tea. “I was forced to take it off, because not everybody has a threshold for spice,” he says. The bhut jolokia chilli is a hybrid chili pepper cultivated in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur, not easily available in Mumbai. At the restaurant, the chillies are ground into a paste along with other spices to whip up the base sauce for the sandwich.

Why off the menu? “We get the oddball customer who asks for something fiery, so I realised it makes for a good off-the-menu chef’s recommend snack.”

3 Bean Paella
At: Luca, Lower Parel

This Spanish dish, we are told, is prepared in limited quantities at this newly opened restaurant in Mathuradas Mills. “There are several other bean-based dishes on the menu. This one is only available under chef’s specials on specific days. It is, however, available to anyone who asks for it,” says head chef Shankar Kokkula. But it’s not an eat that can be customized. “It is meant to be had the way it is made, because it is a chef’s special.” The dish packs in a punch of pulses, loaded with haricot beans, black-eyed beans, kidney beans, green peas and rice, served in a bowl. “It’s a free-style dish; you can add vegetables as per your choice and availability of ingredients. The core preparation, however, remains as is. We add paprika for that added fire.” This is Kokkula’s own spin to the Spanish staple.

Why off the menu? “I have been a fan of the Spanish delicacy and wanted to experiment with it. I didn’t include it on the menu since I wished that it be made available on select days.”

Honey Darsaan
At: Four Points by Sheraton, Navi Mumbai

It was as a rookie chef that Ashvini Kumar, now executive chef At Four Points by Sheraton, in Navi Mumbai, picked up the recipe of Honey Darsaan, a Chinese Dessert made with fried wonton noodles. Here, the noodles are drizzled with honey and sesame seeds and accompanied with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Although the chef’s favourite, it lost out to other desserts during a menu revamp, and was replaced with Granny Smith Apples and Toffee Ice Cream. But like Kumar, there are a few guests who
dig the dessert.

“We get around 10 orders for the dish,” he says.

Why off the menu? “What happens with fast food desserts is that it’s an extensive spread, and you can’t have them all on the menu, because it creates clutter.”

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