When Salt Water Cafe announced they'd be closing shop, patrons were left heartbroken. But Chef Gresham Fernandes and team are back in the game with a 12-week pop-up that celebrates the essence of Bandra.
Can a restaurant with an iconic legacy take on a whole new identity with a menu change and a gritty makeover? That’s what the team at Bandra Born are on a mission to find out. When Salt Water Cafe in Mumbai announced its closure after 15 years of loyal service to Bandra’s breakfast, brunch and boozy scene, patrons were heartbroken by the loss of this local institution. But we quickly found out that the mourning period wouldn’t be a long one as Impresario announced that a 12-week pop-up helmed by the same minds behind Salt Water, would soon take its place.
Bandra Born shakes off the breezy brunch atmosphere of Salt Water in favour of a grungier identity, inspired by Bandra before its hipster era, the Bandra that Chef Gresham Fernandes – co-owner and Culinary Director at Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality – knew in his teens. The idea itself has been in the works for many years - and in some ways for entire lifetimes - as Fernandes describes it as a collaboration built on the experiences from his childhood along with those of Chef Manoj Shetty and Riyaaz Amlani, Director of Impresario.
“I’ve always cooked through nostalgia. I’m not a ‘see something on Instagram and replicate it’ kind of guy, cooking for me is always a feeling,” says Chef Gresham. “Everything I’ve cooked for the last 23 years has been from watching my grandmother or aunt’s cooking or what we’ve learned from other chefs while travelling. This whole menu has been built on those learnings, from all the farmers or tribals we’ve met. Both me and Chef Manoj have been cooking for the last 23 years so it’s a full-circle collaboration of everything. Not just East Indian, or Goan or even Indian, we’ve had fun with it.”.
The interiors are a visual departure from the space's Salt Water days but there are still traces of the old design if you look close enough. “Riyaaz has wanted to work with set designers since way back.” says Chef Gresham, “When they design sets they put it up in a day and take it down in a day and you can make the place in any way you like for a day, a week or even a month. And for Bandra Born, it was more about how we could work with designers, get them all on the same page and make it about an emotion centred around Bandra of the late ’80s and early ’90s”.
What makes this project so different from the many other concept restaurants that flood Bombay is the singularity of its intent. The experience is more than just the ambience or the food, it’s to evoke the experiences that Chef Gresham and the team have built over their formative years and careers in the culinary field. “Back in the day, you knew your neighbours, people shared all their festivals, you had to walk through a village through a paddy field, and people had animals in the backyard, where you could go out fishing, or just skate and cycle around. I grew up in that Bandra, and I wanted to showcase that,” he says.
That nostalgia makes it to the menu in many ways, whether it's a sugarcane-based cocktail that’s a nod to the sugarcane juice guy next to Elco Arcade where people would stop off after shopping, or the Mosambi juice they’d grab near the station after playing football. And would it really be a Bandra experience without a nod to the bakeries? They dreamed up a reimagined version of the iconic puffs from Hearch Bakery, lovingly deemed the Posh Hersch Puff which has even won the approval of the bakery’s owner.
Some dishes even come directly from Chef Gresham’s childhood kitchen. “The crab is one of my grandmother’s recipes. It was usually used as a stuffing for the mud crabs you’d find in the rice paddies. They don’t have a lot of meat in them so she used to make a masala, stuff the crabs with it and then cook them in that gravy. So we’ve made a take on that masala. Then one recipe is from a lady who used to come and cook at my mum-in-law’s house, whose name was Mary, she’s Goan and the reachead recipe is hers. The Lamb Lonvass is my mum’s thing, it used to be a Sunday tradition for us so whenever the family’s in town, Mum would make this, but we’ve reinterpreted it as a Khow suey style dish so it’s a little different.”
The pop-up is set to grace us with this new experimental menu for 12 weeks, but they’re open to the idea of making it a permanent fixture. “We wanted to look through Bandra's past, present and future, but is it just an Instagrammabe concept or something where people will understand the food and the emotion behind it?,” says Chef Gresham, “We’ll look at that and then decide whether it’s something we want to do longer.”
Whether you were a Salt Water stalwart or not, it’s easy to see that Bandra Born has breathed a new life into a beloved space. With a menu that reaches beyond what we know about this storied area of Mumbai and shares a peek into what shaped its unique identity, Bandra Born is a pop-up that's definitely worth a visit.