Is Mumbai Turning Into India's Michelin Mecca?

Last week, as part of the first edition of a dining series called Ode to Home that honours the essence of culinary roots, at The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai, the city witnessed the craft and culinary brilliance of Michelin-starred Chef Mano Thevar and Chef Sun Kim from Singapore.

Chef Mano Thevar also leads Thevar, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Singapore. The word ‘Michelin’ seems like a common parlance in Mumbai these days. The city not only gets a healthy dose of takeovers by Michelin-starred chefs and restaurants, but some of them are also setting up shops in Mumbai.

While India doesn't have a Michelin Guide yet, restaurants like Masque in Mumbai and Delhi's Indian Accent which has now also opened an outpost in Mumbai have featured in the Asia's 50 Best and The World's 100 Best lists.

Not too long ago, Avatara Dubai, the world’s only vegetarian Indian-cuisine restaurant with a Michelin star, opened its doors in India at Santacruz West in Mumbai. The restaurant opened in UAE in early 2022 and, within the year, bagged a Michelin star. The parent company of Avatara, Passion F&B, which also owns restaurants such as, Trèsind, Carnival by Trèsind, Trèsind Studio, Maison De Curry, Bistro Aamara, Revelry, and A Cappella in Dubai, decided to also bring Carnival by Trèsind to the Mumbai suburb. The restaurant sits on the same floor as Avatara, right beside it.

“I have always been passionate about taking Indian food global. We started with Trèsind in 2014, giving the global audience a taste of Indian flavours and later in 2016, we established Carnival by Trèsind, where we focused on modern Indian food but in a fun/casual dining experience and this too saw immense success. Later, Avatara happened, thanks to Chef Himanshu Saini and Chef Rahul Rana. They felt a sense of inclination towards vegetarian food and Avatara opened in 2022 in Dubai. Within 3 months, we earned a place in the prestigious Michelin Guide,” says Bhupender Nath, Founder and Managing Director.

“So why not bring it down to our people and what better place than Mumbai? With Avatara, we want people to experience vegetarian food at a fine dining level, which also offers a fresh take on elevating otherwise neglected vegetables that can be turned into a beautiful experience,” he tells us.

What To Expect At Avatara

At Avatara, the meal begins with Naivedya, an amuse-bouche inspired by fond memories of going to a temple and getting prasad in the form of Panchamrit. The makhan malai (freshly churned butter) with popping mishri (rock sugar) and saffron is imaginative, unusual and quite a fitting tribute to the divine forces. As the courses progress, you are treated to panasa, a jackfruit momo with sea buckthorn thukpa and black rice papad that celebrates Northeastern India. There's also Karuvelvilas, a ghee roast karela with a mango sambar gelato and dosai inspired by the chef's childhood memories of being forced to eat karela. This version, however, will have you asking for more.  

The Krishna Phal is a beautiful tribute to Indian fruits featuring passion fruit, guava water, and strawberry chutney. A favourite on the menu is Bal Mithai, a re-imagined version of the classic Uttarakhand dessert.

“The culinary landscape in Dubai tends to cater to a milder palate, considering the diverse preferences of its residents. In contrast, Mumbai's cuisine is renowned for its robust flavours and generous use of spices. Additionally, when serving our people, it's crucial to tread carefully with flavours, as each dish holds a cherished place in their memories,” says Chef Sanket Joshi, Head Chef, Avatara.

“The menu is almost the same in Mumbai as it is in the UAE. There are some dishes such as Ksira, a version of the kheer; Jadon, where chips are paired with root vegetables and served with a tempered channa mash and a pomegranate chutney; Vrihi, a hat tip to the Kolhapuri Tambda and Pandra Rassa; and Shubhanjana, a dish inspired by the humble Litti Chokha of Bihar, that have been added to the menu in Mumbai. We work with ingredients such as hing from Manali, taro leaves from Vasai and Virar, and the flowers we use are all sourced locally, as are most of the vegetables,” he adds.

What’s On The Menu At Carnival By Trèsind 

“With Carnival, we want the guest to experience food with a theatrical experience. Unlike Avatara, Carnival is all about celebration. From food and drinks prepared at the table to having a mentalist wow you with their skills, it’s all about a fun dining experience,” says Nath.

At the bar helmed by Rahul Kamath, you discover that the delicious liqueur is made in-house - Limoncello, CoffeeCreme de Cacao and Orange liqueur. Keeping with the setting, a man in a mask presents delightful cocktails. Java Jamboree, a take on the Expresso Martini and Tiki Tiki, a tropical tiki-style cocktail that combines hibiscus cordial, in house Cacao liqueur and pineapple juice, are a rage amongst guests.

One of the star dishes at Carnival is the sizzling Portobello steak. “When I was in Lucknow, I was fascinated by kebabs and chutneys. While working on the menu for Carnival, we wanted to cater for the vegetarian audience as well, so taking inspiration from the kebab, we created this experience," says Chef Sarfaraz Ahmed, India Corporate Chef at Passion F&B, who helms Carnival By Trèsind in Mumbai.

Another dish on our menu, called Halal Guys Chicken Over Rice, is inspired by the famous New York joint called Halal Guys, where they serve rice with salad. “We created our own version, taking inspiration from Middle Eastern ingredients. We use aromatic rice with chicken as the base, black lime tzatziki, garlic aioli, zaatar crisps and butter head lettuce,” he explains.

Also worth a mention are the Chaat Sundae with yoghurt ice cream, coriander, and tamarind granita; the Kombdi Rassa in the style of dumplings and jhol; the butter pepper garlic prawns and desserts; a mango sorbet paired with coconut ras malai; and the Tiramisu, where filter coffee meets Bailey's ice cream.

Going The Progressive Indian Route 

Interestingly, many of these restaurants abroad that win the coveted Michelin recognition serve what is popularly known as ‘Modern Indian’ or ‘Progressive Indian’ food. While it may be a novel experience for foodies across the world, what makes it work in India? Nath explains this by saying, “We craft our menu based on thorough research. In India, every 200 kilometres, you find a regional cuisine waiting to be explored. Even Indians sometimes don’t know enough about the culinary culture in other regions of the country that they are not familiar with.”

“The objective is to elevate regional cuisines and take them global, breaking the perception that India is only about paneer, butter chicken or biryani. By highlighting local ingredients and honouring traditional flavours, we are able to promote sustainability and support local farmers. Modern Indian cuisine allows chefs to creatively reinterpret classic dishes, offering diners a fresh and modern experience while staying true to the essence of Indian cuisine.”

The Michelin Style Mumbai

According to Nath, the occasional pop-ups by Michelin-starred chefs and restaurants are a way for people in the city to experience food, ingredients and cooking techniques that they may otherwise have access to only if they travel to a different country.

“Bringing a Michelin-starred restaurant to India, or Mumbai for that matter, will widen the horizons for dinner in terms of understanding food, not just at a fine dining level, but also offers a sense of understanding global flavours and the fusion of cultures. For local restaurants, this will set a higher benchmark for quality and innovation and push their boundaries to cater to elevated flavours.”