Masque’s new winter menu is a fascinating peek into Kashmir’s culinary traditions - Elle India


Masque’s new winter menu is a fascinating peek into Kashmir’s culinary traditions

It’s a visual treat as much as a gastronomic one

BY Neville Bhandara | January 10th, 2019

Few Mumbai chefs consistently conjure culinary magic quite like Prateek Sadhu of Masque, who’s been plating up his masterful minimalist fare for years, at the restaurant he co-owns with Aditi Dugar. Each time we visit, it’s a visual treat as much as a gastronomic one—and our dinner this past week, as Masque introduced its new winter menu, was no different.

Once again, Sadhu’s Kashmiri heritage took centre stage for this 10-course extravaganza, where some of the valley’s most-loved dishes, such as gushtaba and harissa, made their way to the table, reinvented to fit Sadhu’s classically reimagined interpretation of nouvelle cuisine.

But before we even got our first course, we were ushered into the kitchen for a surprise pre-course consisting of thinly sliced black carrots pickled with coriander seeds and brown-butter-raisin sauce, on a base of yoghurt, carrots and cumin, garnished with rocket flowers.

Pickled Purple Carrot Yoghurt Cumin RohanHande

Back at the table, as we mused over the dish’s pleasant tang, course one arrived: roasted cherry tomatoes stuffed with burrata cream and an onion-tomato glaze, topped with black garlic oil and cucamelon (the tomatoes and cucamelon come from Masque’s Pune farm)—a delicious burst of flavour that was at once warm and comforting. Course three, a modern paani puri, was stuffed with a salsa of charred corn onion tomato, kale and apple gel, won points for contemporarising a much-loved street-food staple.

Tomato Black Garlic RohanHande

Next, Sadhu’s take on harissa: lamb cooked with cardamom and fennel for 12 hours (under pressure) and served with rice, hot mustard oil, a rice chip, and pine salt: mouthwatering, and so tender that we could dissect it with the rice chip itself.

Two picture-perfect fish preparations followed: barramundi ceviche in a veri masala (a combination of spices used in Kashmiri cuisine) emulsion, and coconut milk broth, kafir lime, and veri masala oil. And brined and smoked mackerel that was brushed with garlic-chilli chutney, served on grilled buckwheat toast, with edible flowers. The mackerel won, for its complexity of flavour and texture, and its smoked subtlety.

Strawberry Coconut Veri Masala

The mid-course was katlam, the traditional Kashmiri bread, served with a pickled chilli butter that expertly played our tastebuds; it was spicy yet soothing, and the bread itself was rich and flaky. Kashmir has a much beloved bakery tradition. Every small town has bakeries that serve different kinds of bread (which cary from region to region) that often accompany various kinds of chai: masala chai, nun (salty) chai, butter tea.

At this stage, we had been eating for over two hours. And just as we wondered what would appear next, brined quail, served with a yakhni-inspired broth with spruce oil (infused painstakingly for a month) was placed in front of us. Yakhni, whose two main ingredients are saffron and yoghurt, is usually a rich gravy dish, prepared with melt-in-the-mouth mutton, and accompanied by pulao. Making it drinkable with spruce oil is genius—it reduces the heaviness and adds flavour notes that don’t make it feel like you’re essentially drinking gravy.

Raisin glazed quail yakhni

Next came a bowl of morel mushrooms in a walnut chutney. The earthiness and natural nuttiness of the morels was elevated by the walnut chutney, which is a cherished Kashmiri staple; you’ll find jars of it in any home. This course was an incredible experience in itself, because morels are so rare. One can’t cultivate them; they only grow in the wild, so they need to be foraged.

The second-last course was a rice pudding that featured chicken gushtaba (it’s usually lamb, but Sadhu didn’t want to repeat a main ingredient as we’d just had harissa), sour chicken liver, katlam breadcrumbs, amaranth leaves and a sous vide egg yolk that sort of melded in with everything beautifully once you dug your fork in.

A pleasant guava-tamarind-pomelo palate cleanser followed, complete with a granita of guava and chilli with coriander oil, before the last course arrived: a beautiful pork rib in a mulberry glaze, topped with chicharron and served with a deeply satisfying goan sausage sauce—a serious contender for best dish of the night, and a real threat to the mackerel, which we had earlier crowned.

Guava Tamarind Chilli RohanHande

Of course, knowing how these things usually go, we kept some space aside for dessert. But we should have kept more, because there were three: a rich brown butter ice cream wrapped in toffee persimmon, with persimmon sauce, basil flowers, and sea salt; beetroot cooked in orange juice, with honey ice cream and fennel oil, served with pistachio and orange cake with fennel leaves; Pondicherry chocolate and mawa fudge that hid a delightful passion fruit fudge within.

Beetroot honey ice cream pistachio orange cake

Kashmiri Kahwa Coconut Passionfruit Toffee RohanHande

Three hours and 10 courses later, we exited Masque after an evening that had been as much about gastronomy as it was about cultural learnings, where we watched Sadhu pair quintessential Kashmiri ingredients (buckwheat and smoked fish; fennel and mutton) with a heady dose of customisation (spruce oil; pine salt), and round it off with painstaking attention to detail.

Masque, Laxmi Woollen Mill, Shakti Mills Lane, Off Dr. E Moses Road, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai (Tel: 022 4973 7431; Masquerestaurant.com)

Photographs: Rohan Hande