Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Jugalbandi of Chefs - Bomra's at O'Pedro Off season popup

Chef Bawmra Jap of Bomra's Goa
and Chef Hussain Shahzad of O'Pedro, Mumbai
On Thursday I attended a media preview of the 'Bomra's at O Pedro' pop-up. I am told this is the first of many (I hope) delicious ‘Off Season’ collaborations O’Pedro is looking at hosting. (Goan eateries typically shut down in the monsoons and O Pedro plans to take advantage by having them pop up in Mumbai). In this first one, Chef Bawmra Jap brings the magic of popular Bomra’s to Mumbai. When I first heard of it, I was excited to go try Bomra's food. They were on my list after winning in the CNT awards last year. On arriving and settling down however, I discovered, that the menu on offer was not classic Bomra’s but more a jugalbandi between Chef Bawmra and Chef Hussain. Bawmra’s strength is his fundamental grip on Burmese/Asian flavours and Hussain’s his knowledge of Goan/Portuguese cuisine. I love discovering classic cuisines and flavours, but I also find menus like this, where talented food minds get creative, extremely exciting!

Against a background of O Pedro’s happy vibe and the company of some of Mumbai's most interesting food writers, Primrose Monteiro D’souza, Pallavi Mehra and Nivedita Jayaram Pawar along with Chef Hussain and Bawmra made for a memorable meal full of great food and riveting conversation at our table!

Here is what I ate (mostly) and drank (sparingly from others since I don’t have sugar) from a menu of small and large plates.

Rahul, the mixologist kindly made me a no-sugar version of Bomra’s Gin Fizz (gin, triple sec, kaffir lime and Ginger Tincture, egg white and tonic water). I also tasted the other cocktails thanks to my generous dining companions. There was also a lovely Candolim Punch (rum, sesame milk, jaggery, cinnamon and lime) that came with a bowl of fruit. The idea being to eat little mango and coconut then chase it with the punch. The cocktails were nuanced and thankfully not overly sweet. There’s also a Kokum Gose beer on offer for the beer lovers.

Scampi Ceviche by the
 "Ceviche Chef" Hussain
The meal started with a selection of small plates. Happily, for me, the first one was a Scampi Ceviche. I love any of the dishes that belong to the raw cured meat /seafood dishes family, ceviche, tartare, poke, crudo, carpaccio. And (as I told him) I crowned of Chef Hussain, with the ‘khitab’ of Ceviche Chef long ago because he’s showcased so many stellar versions of ceviche throughout various menu changes at O Pedro. The Scampi ‘Ceviche’ had fresh scampi against a backdrop of yuzu ponzu sauce, topped with Burmese coriander, kaffir lime, and mango ginger. The zingy yuzu and highly aromatic, spicy herb combination added just the right liveliness to the dish without overwhelming the sweet soft textures of the scampi. One more leaf in the Hussain’s ‘Ceviche Chef’ in my opinion.

As the next dish came to the table, the conversation between the chefs veered towards eating exotic meats in Vietnam. Snake and crocodile are overrated, we were told, and turtle (although controversial) is delicious but both balked at the thought of consuming snake blood. I’ve eaten a lot of these exotic meats in my time, and I agree, but at that moment, I was to focus on the beautiful and far more plebeian rice paper rolls before me. Shiso, avocado and raw mango wrapped in rice paper, offered bright lively contrast to monsoon heavy skies outside. So subtly delicious on their own with the shiso adding a burst of flavour, they did not really need the killer Passion fruit hot sauce they came with. But the sauce was so good, we unanimously elected to hold on to it to keep dipping into throughout the meal.

Then subsequent dish almost dethroned Hussain as Ceviche king (the technicality that it was a tartare and the fact that he put it together on Bawmra’s direction made the difference.) To paint a picture with broad strokes Tartare are the meat versions of seafood-based Ceviche. Usually containing raw meat finely minced or ground served with assorted seasonings depending on the flavour profile of the meal. The Tartare we were served was literally put together on a whim that morning, so it is not on the menu. B*** was minced with Burmese herbs and plated with smoked marrow on top. It was served with little crackers (of Sago I think) on the side. It will tell you how good it was that while everyone tasted and talked around me, I proceeded to polish off every bite of this dish at our table with quiet concentration. Some things, you might never get again in life, after all!

Bawmras Jugalbandi Tartare
as executed by Hussain. 
"I just talk, and he puts it together," laughed Bawmra as he spooned some onto my plate. Hussain agrees. "It's like he is here on holiday, having fun randomly throwing ideas at me and leaving me to figure it out!" But beyond the happy banter, are threads of strong mutual respect and intrinsic understanding of the other’s ideas.
Like the Tartare, many dishes on the menu are a result of the unique synergy of food language between these two chefs. Add the catalyst of trips to Vietnam, much hanging out in Goa over drinks, games of SallyBally (water volleyball), impromptu midnight beef stew, liberally seasoned with herbs and flavourings Hussain has flagrantly stolen from Bawmra’s kitchen garden in Goa and we have an indescribable, irresistible mix of food and fun! As we continued to find out.

Smoked Corn Gnocchi
Next came a Smoked Corn Gnocchi on a bed of banana flower ragu and black sesame puree. The ‘Gnocchi’ is inspired by a Burmese dish called Mont Let Po, or ‘snack balls’ found all over the country. The Banana flower ragu and Black sesame puree are Hussain’s addition. The combination was quite lovely, the gnocchi chewy, the ragu rich in texture and subtle sweetness, the sesame puree lending earthy nuttiness. But this and a tofu curry that came later, were the quietest (though no less flavourful) dishes on a menu that in my opinion, was full of far more flamboyantly flavoured dishes.

Char Grilled Quail in Cherry Teriyaki
Char-Grilled Quail Skewers followed. Small barbeque ‘grills’ assembled out of terracotta flower-pots topped with wire frames bearing what looked like doll sized chicken legs (quail look like miniature chicken legs). Quail is ridiculously easy to overcook to dry nothingness, so I was happy to see these had been handled deftly. Brushed with a cherry teriyaki sauce and cooked to smokey perfection they are quickly wiped out by us. (I shamelessly used my high protein diet to snag a couple of extra pieces here!)

Tofu Curry with Pelata (in the background)
The large plates began with Tofu Curry with roasted pumpkin and lotus root chips and Burmese Palatha (Kerala Parotta’s Burmese doppelganger). 

Spicy Rice Noodles
with Shan Tofu Sauce 
Then came delicious Spicy Rice Noodles with Shan tofu Sauce. The noodles tossed with crisp sautéed snow peas, broccoli and crushed peanuts were fantastic, spicy and perfectly balances. That said I found the Shan tofu sauce was redundant. In Burmese cuisine Shan tofu is chickpea flour tofu. And Shan Tofu sauce is chickpea flour sauce. But for a palate that has tasted the more complex flavours of Gatta and Kadhi, the first is a bland version of Gatta, and the second looks and tastes like a bland Kadhi.

The two large plates that blew me away were the Steamed Fish and B*** Curry

I have fond memories from the first time I ate steamed fish years ago, so this option of Steamed Fish in banana leaves with a mixture of Asian herbs with Burmese Junglee Sauce had me excited. I LOVED every bite, the fish was juicy and flaky topped with a combination of herbs, Burmese coriander (that has a flavour of betel leaves) shiso, green chillies, coriander and more was fantastic. But be warned, this one is spicy, even without the fiery jungle sauce and even for a chilli head like me! I had to quench the fire with generous sips of Tom Yum Iced tea (house made Thai spice infused vodka, rum, gin, triple sec, jaggery, lime).

Candolim Midnight B*** stew
Thankfully the Candolim Midnight B**f Stew, also helped settle the burn. It came accompanied with the rider, “availability determines ingredients, number of cocktails consumed determines the flavour...” and it is over bowlfuls of this same stew that much of this menu was cooked up between Bawmra and Hussain. We got a version that included a large marrow bone requiring the rich marrow be scooped out into the curry. Falling-off-the-bone tender meat, tender chunks of melt-in-mouth marrow and a beautiful silky gravy accompanied by a subtly flavoured Coconut & Edamame rice made a supremely satisfying end to the meal for me! 
While I did take a bite of the Lemongrass Crème Brulee, with spiced biscotti and candied ginger that was dessert, it did not ring any high notes for me after that meal.

Coconut Edamame rice with Candolim B*** Stew
Like any great musical jugalbandi, this meal was a fantastic melding of two great chef's cooking philosophies (and quirks!) that came together in a gloriously flamboyant whole of flavours and textures. One of those experiences that one is fortunate to get a taste of but cannot be replicated again. So go get your fix before the festival ends! 

The Bomra’s at O’Pedro menu is available 27 July - 14 Augus 2019. Most of the above dishes will be available on 27/28 July, and a selection will be available post that until 14 Aug. All on a-la-carte basis (starters from Rs 425, mains from Rs 550, cocktails from Rs 550). At O’Pedro, BKC, Mumbai.

With Chef Hussain and Chef Bawmra outside O'Pedro

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