“Would you like to accompany me to Napoli by Shatranj?” I asked my sister Niti and her partner Siddhant on call. It was an instant yes from them, Siddhant’s level of excitement being a tad bit more than Niti’s. “It’s an Italian restaurant that stood proud in Bandra for 25 years before shutting down. Now, it’s made a glorious comeback,” I explain further. But then, I realise Siddhant never needed that explanation. As a kid, he was a regular visitor when the coveted restaurant was frequented by everyone from celebrities to cricketers.
“I would visit Napoli with my family so often,” Siddhant adds. “There were times when I would order Chicken Napoli and ask them to serve it with the Fettuccini instead of rice. Having called so often, the man on the telephone would recognise my voice and know what I wanted immediately. I can’t wait to go back after so many years,” he shares nostalgically. And at this point, I know I’ve asked the right people to join me for dinner.
There are certain restaurants and culinary spots whose food becomes so comforting that it makes your day. So when that restaurant shuts down or a cherished dish is eliminated from the menu, you feel like a piece of you is taken away too. That’s just the power of good food. I felt like that when Mcdonald’s removed Chicken McGrill from their menu years ago; Siddhant felt like that when Napoli by Shatranj closed its chapter eight years ago. But now that it’s back with a bang, every person who visited the iconic restaurant back in the day can relive the nostalgic moments they had with friends and family over wholesome food.
Napoli by Shatranj’s return is owed to its founder and seasoned restaurateur Ashok Datwani, along with his partner and business development consultant Gautam Mansinghani. I never made it there during the initial days. But now that it has re-opened, I had the chance to visit it for the first time and make memories of my own.
Designed by Minnie Bhatt, Napoli by Shatranj’s ambience is classy yet warm and welcoming. The space has a dark colour palette which compliments the carved red bricks and terrazzo flooring. Each table has a light hanging above it for that perfect ‘gram-worthy shot!
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We began with the Shatranj Classic Funghi Marinate (Italian marinated mushroom pea shoots), which Siddhant’s mum tried to replicate when she first had it at the restaurant. He couldn’t help but click a picture of the dish and share it with her with a message that read, “Look ma, they’ve still got it!” The secret of it being so close in taste? The team has retained chef Raju of Napoli to make the restaurant’s OG dishes, in the same way people enjoyed them.
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Besides the nostalgia-driven classics, Consultant Chef Sanjay Kotian has introduced new dishes to the menu that will tantalise your tastebuds. For instance, we devoured Pepperoni Flatbread, crunchy Charcoal Calamari (charcoal-dusted calamari, squid ink oil), the flavourful Garlic and Olive Oil Prawns (served with a lip-smacking smoked garlic foam), and crispy-on-the-outside but soft-on-the-inside Herb Crusted Chicken (herb and parmesan crusted boneless wings served with spicy mayo). The Burrata Beetroot is a good appetiser but I felt the beetroot could have more seasoning. If you love your greens, opt for the re-imagined Ceasar’s salad or Kale crisps.
When it was time to head into the mains, we knew we wanted the Shatranj classic, Chicken Napoli, featuring pan-seared chicken, tomato, spinach and cream sauce, and sauteed veggies, served with rice. “It tastes exactly the same,” recalls Siddhant, right after the first bite. I didn’t have the same point of reference but the sight of all of us enjoying this dish was priceless.
Another Shatranj classic that’s a must-try is the Rawas Green (pan-seared Rawas served with green peppercorn sauce and sauteed vegetables), and of course, some pasta–the Tagliatelle Lamb Ragu is my preferred pick.
More often than not, you find very sweet cocktails in many bars, and that ends up taking away the true flavour of the drink. Keeping this in mind, Napoli by Shatranj presents a meticulously crafted cocktail menu with sugar-free options allowing the spirit and flavours to shine. The in-house mixologist Garry served us innovative blends that perfectly balanced clean aesthetics with complex yet approachable flavours.
For instance, the gin-based Mora Mio infused with HM Mulberry Liqueur, Lemon, and Schiuma is fruity and refreshing with no added sugar. If you want a mix of bitter, sweet and sour, Bella Rosa (Rum, Aperol, Coconut liqueur, Yuzu, Citrus, Schiuma) is a great choice. But for us, the highlight was an untitled Talisker-based cocktail infused with caramelised banana, garnished with a pandan leaf. It’s not on the menu but we insisted that the team add it. We had two rounds of the smoky concoction.
Wait, there’s more. If you don’t wish to indulge in a dessert, have it in the form of a cocktail. The Melodia Di Caffe is the restaurant’s version of a deconstructed tiramisu. Vodka, Espresso, Maple, and Pink Salt perfumed with Absinthe constitute this drink. The finishing touch? The Italian Ladyfinger topped with parmesan placed on the rim of the glass. “Bite into the biscuit first and take a sip of the drink with that,” explains Gary – guiding us through what I describe as an elevated drinking experience.
Another dessert cocktail was close to having a marshmallow in the form of a drink. Named Pavarotti’s Passion, the drink features Gin, White Wine, HM Limoncello Liqueur, Marshmallow Foam And Brûlée.
You can’t leave an Italian restaurant without having a tiramisu. While our favourite dessert wasn’t on the menu that day, we were happy we had its deconstructed version via the dessert cocktail I mentioned earlier. Gautam highly recommended the Chocolate Duo (Chocolate Croquette, White Chocolate Curd, Hazelnut Ice Cream) and Churros Spirale (Spanish Churros, Chocolate Ice Cream, Chocolate Soil), which lived up to our expectations.
Whether you’re someone who’s revisiting for nostalgia or a newbie who is eager to understand the hype around the place, Napoli by Shatranj promises a hearty meal with comforting Italian classics along with contemporary dishes that will leave you wanting more. As for me, don’t be surprised if you’ll find me hanging out at the bar sipping on a new cocktail or deeply engrossed in finishing a whole plate of Chicken Napoli.