Molecular gastronomy isn’t something new in India. But if we had to trace its introduction, all roads lead to Masala Library, the pioneer of this concept in the country. The restaurant by Jiggs Karla certainly brought a global appeal to traditional Indian cuisine. People were excited to eat paneer makhani in the shape of a big tart or something as simple as dal chawal to be transformed into an arancini. Even a dahi bhalla was served in the form of semifreddo and tandoori gucchi was accompanied by mint chutney foam. Even when the theatrics took centre stage, never were the flavours a compromise. These are the kind of dishes that stirred up the Indian culinary scene and still continues to.
As Masala Library completes 9 years, it brings a new chef, Rahul Punjabi, on board to helm the team. Having worked at the three Michelin star restaurant Quay–headed by chef Peter Gilmore in Australia–Rahul is set to take you on an Indian culinary expedition with an all-new menu at Masala Library that fuses classic Indian flavours with modern techniques while still keeping the element of comfort and nostalgia in check.
We got the chance to sit with the chef and understand what the new menu has in store for you.
What To Expect
You will experience well-presented, artsy Indian dishes but with the same level of comfort, it always gives you. “When we opened initially, we were very much focused on molecular gastronomy. What you can expect right now is hearty food plated with a lot of finesse. We’ve used foreign techniques with Indian cuisine but which really makes sense for the dish. There’s also a little playful nature. We adjust the classics in a new way while retaining what makes the classic, classic,” chef Rahul shares.
The new menu delves into centuries-old traditional recipes and presents selections from India’s multi-regional culinary collection in a modern way. You can choose from the fourteen-course, vegetarian or non-vegetarian tasting menu or an a-la-carte menu. You’ll also find two Masala Library classics retained on the new menu, which are Awadhi Nihari and Jalebi Caviar.
A Fresh Beginning
The first few dishes are chaats as the chef wants to give you a fresh and light yet tantalising start to your meal while also taking your palate on a textural journey, which you can get from the soft and crunchy dishes like the Dahi Panna Cotta, Raspberry Chutney, Boondi. Describing the dish, Rahul says, “We take that same tadke vali dahi, set it in a panna cotta and then make a raspberry chutney and add fresh boondi around it. So you get the flavours of sweet, spicy and tangy but also that soft and crispy texture along with it.”
Another preparation is the pani puri course, which Masala Library is known for. But Rahul adds his own spin to it. Your khatta meetha pani is replaced by hibiscus, rose and lemongrass water. The stuffing is made with watermelon, which is treated like a piece of pastrami. “We first dry brine the watermelon overnight in a bunch of different salts and spices. We then cook it down along with watermelon juice and some sugar. And once it’s set we char it over hot charcoal, so that you get the vibe of having pastrami with a soft texture coupled with the crispness of the pani puri,” he adds. Pair this dish with a glass of wine and you’re good to go.
View this post on Instagram
The Main(s) Prep
As you move on to the other dishes on the menu, you’ll come across a bunch of innovative cooking techniques amalgamated with classic Indian dishes. It is made by working hand in hand with producers to source unique ingredients. The presentation is phenomenal and it may feel different, but it still maintains familiarity in terms of flavours and highlights some of the traditional meals you’ve grown up eating.
For instance, the Lobster Poshto, Bhoj Patra is a gastronomic take on the classic Bengali preparation. It features a Bengali-style lobster with a Kasundi and poshto marination. “We’ve taken kimchi leaves, and added those same Bengali flavours to it. We then used that kimchi barbecued on top of the lobster. And we have a bark of a tree called Bhoj patra that’s underneath, which we light on fire at the table for that last drama, but it also invigorates the senses when you’re eating, you know, something barbecued in tandoori,” explains the chef.
He highly recommends tasting the Chicken 65 Croquetta. “We make a chicken keema in the Chicken 65 masalas, and stuff it inside a croquetta,” says Rahul. What you get is a nice mouthfeel from the crispy exterior and soft interior.
Another unmissable dish is the Chicken Tikka, Pearl Barley Khichdi and Foraged Grains aka Bird’s Nest–a tikka dish, which, of course, is something you anticipate in any Indian restaurant. But even with this dish, there’s a touch of innovation right from flavour to presentation. The chicken tikka is served with a khichdi-risotto mix made from pearl barley and mushrooms. Four different grains ( rajgira, jowar, bajra, and buckwheat) are cooked in four different ways and used in the form of crumbing on top of the chicken. The finishing touch is the nest around the chicken. It is made using Kataifi pastry. “When you look at it on the plate, it really does look like a bird. It’s that whole ethos of what the chicken would have foraged throughout his life for those grains. It’s a very striking dish, which is first and foremost delicious. But then it shows what Indian cuisine can be in a newly imagined life while still being very familiar to the palate,” the chef says.
A Slice Of Childhood
It’s not only the traditional Indian dishes that served Rahul as an inspiration for the new menu. One of the dishes–the Methi Matar Malai Tartlet–is inspired by his grandmother’s recipe and a dish he has grown up eating. “We’re Sindhis and my nani wanted me to add this dish to the menu as a way of keeping Sindhi cuisine alive. Whenever we’ve made this homestyle preparation, people have come back and said that it takes them back to their childhood too,” Rahul shares.
For The Sweet Tooth
No meal is complete without a dessert. And Masala Library really knows how to give you that perfect sweet ending. Among them all, the highlight is an elevated version of the Shahi Tukda, in which white bread is replaced with sourdough bread to add more character and crunch. And instead of keeping it in sugar syrup and letting it get saturated with sugar, it is kept as is. Explaining how the dish is prepared, Rahul says, “We’ve made thick milk with almonds and spices that goes as the base with the shahi tukda on top of that. It comes with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. So that contrast of sweet and savoury is what we’re after. On top of the vanilla ice cream, we have a piece of ginger snap tuile to add that dramatic crack on the top and a really good snap of the shahi tukda, which is what want the diner to experience. It’s dusted with some spices on top to round out all the flavours.”
Want to reserve a table and experience the all-new culinary expedition? Find details below.
Address: Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra- Ground Floor, First International Financial Centre (CITI Bank Building), G Block, Opposite Sofitel Hotel, Bandra – Kurla Complex (BKC), Bandra (E), Mumbai – 400051
Contact: 8452900900 / 022-66424142
Hours (Monday-Sunday): Lunch (12:00 – 2:30 pm); Dinner (7:00 – 11:30 pm)