If you are a keen Mumbaikar with a penchant for Instagram, you will know that the maximum city is abuzz with the Sassoon Dock Art Project. The abandoned MpBt building of the 142-year-old dockyard has come alive with giant wall murals, witty graffiti, installations created by artists from Singapore, Denmark, France and India.
In an attempt to transition the art experience from palette to plate, food has become an intrinsic part of this initiative. The Singapore weekender kickstarted at Anti-Social in Khar amidst gastronomic flair as Chef Gresham Fernandes, Culinary Director of the Impressario Group, collaborated with Chef Bjorn Shen to introduce a unique limited menu. Chef Shen helms Artichoke, a Middle-East inspired restaurant in the heart of Singapore.
I like watching chefs at work; a habit acquired in childhood when a significant part of the day was spent hanging around in the kitchen observing my mother, who expertly dished out my favourites. When I was first introduced to Chef Shen, he was busy plating the Feta Burrata, or what seemed like a bruschetta topped with crispy brinjal and cream cheese, outside the kitchen in a make-shift stall located in a corner in Anti-Social. As expected, the crowd was drifting towards the food and there was too much noise which wasn’t the ideal space to cook or chat. I stood there absolutely fascinated, as Chef Fernandes and Shen worked in perfect coordination with razor sharp focus, and served nibbles on trays with the kind of manga swiftness akin to street vendors.
Chef Shen offered the brinjal bruschetta to me with eager anticipation. Now, brinjal does not top my list of must-tries and I approached this with a slight apprehension, but it instantly disappeared thanks to the tangy flavours of the feta coated with the creaminess of mozzarella, and textured with crispy slices of the vegetable paired with the signature rye bread of Social. One was not enough, and I passed the Feta Burrata (INR 350) around among my friends; you will always come across familiar faces at Anti-social.
When I caught up with the friendly chef, he deconstructed the dish in great detail - “This is a Tamarind Sambal Eggplant and it’s native to our cuisine, because we love Brinjal. Singaporean food is a natural fusion of Chinese, Indian and Malay. Sambal is a collective word for a group of chilli paste which varies from green chilli, red chilli, dry chilli, sweet sambals, spicy sambals, cooked sambals, raw sambals - there’re hundreds and thousands of variants. The onions were pickled in vinegar and sugar, and the feta burrata tops it off. A signature of my restaurant Artichoke, feta burrata is inspired by my love for this fresh Italian cheese and I had to incorporate Middle-Eastern cheese to create this creamy concoction.”
Chef Gresham is a hardcore locavore and Chef Shen does not shy away from ‘dirty dirty’ dining experiences; which he translated as digging into a plateful with bare hands, mixing everything, getting it all over the face and relishing it while leaving a stain on two in the clothes. When the Indian chef took him to the Mughlai-speciality restaurant Rajasthan in Khar Mumbai, Chef Shen wiped off half the menu. He absolutely savours Indian street food and is a fan of pani puri. So, there was a puri topped with truffle foam which was a hot favourite.
It came as a surprise when the chef said that puris are a common fare in Singapore; “We do a puri in Artichoke with the same truffle foam and it’s topped off with a slice of cold smoked sword fish. But, if there is one thing I learnt on my recce trip here, is that raw fish is not popular in India. So, we did a pickled cauliflower and added some potatoes for the stuffing. It’s almost like a play on aloo gobi.” Impressive.
Fried chicken is his favourite comfort food and he proudly flaunts a tattoo of a chicken wing on his left hand. Social does a great steak burger with donut-shaped buns and Chef Shen added his favourite food to this dish - “The meat is marinated Lebanese kebab-style with yogurt and spices, similar to tandoori chicken, dusted with flour and deep fried. It’s almost like KFC but it tastes like whoa – tandoori chicken! We took boneless fried chicken, stuffed it into a donut, drizzled it with honey and lemon, just as we do in Artichoke, paired with pickles and finished it off with some very pungent Lebanese garlic sauce.” Unfortunately, while I chatted with chef, the crowd polished off every single donut chicken burger.
Crab and crackers were also doing the rounds as I wondered if it was the Gresham X Shen team’s take on fish and chips. “Well, this crab dish is not a stereotypical Singaporean item. Chilli crab, pepper crab and salted crab are popular in my country. But, this is a curried version which was a signature of my uncle William, and I stole the recipe from him. We did a crab meat version here by turning it into a dip and serving it on wonton chips. It’s seasoned with masalas, tomatoes, onions, mustard seeds and curry leaves,” he explained making my mouth water. Later that night, I happily snacked on some crab and chips and realised that the flavours had come together beautifully. But, you know what they say about fish and indigestion, especially if it is not fresh? I had to deal with the dire consequences the following day and realised it was not a very good idea, after all.
Chef Shen indulged his sweet tooth with the tender coconut ice cream at Natural’s and realised that this creamy dessert had to find a place on the menu. Borrowing inspiration from the Singaporean Chendol – a refreshing blend of coconut milk, palm sugar, green starch noodles and sweet beans – he paired the tender coconut icecream with jaggery syrup and jaggery granita. I was too engrossed in conversation to give this a try, but you should not miss a single item (crabs must be fresh) from the specially curated Singapore X Social Menu available at Khar Social till December 10, 2017.
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