Call him the big daddy of Indian food or the undisputed ‘main man’ behind Mumbai’s eclectic fine dining scene, Rahul Akerkar is known for changing the way modern India eats. From conceptualising Indigo, Mumbai’s foremost and most popular fine dine restaurant way back in 1999 to his latest outpost Qualia, Akerkar is a man of many firsts. Bound by a non-compete clause for two years and another two in search of inspiration, restaurateur and culinary genius Rahul Akerkar has thrown open the doors to his latest venture—Qualia—after a four year hiatus.
A culinary genius who truly believes that “devil is in the detail,” Qualia reflects the same vision and passion in the aesthetics as well as in its carefully plated food. True to its meaning, Qualia, which means the quality of a sensory experience, focusses on creating a unique meal experience.
Food Philosophy at Qualia
Akerkar has tried to tie together influences from his several expeditions, along with his childhood food memories. Weaving the two together, the menu at Qualia is dedicated to the nuances of the aambad goad or the sweet-sour flavour profile, as Akerkar describes it. Almost every dish on the menu has an element of pickling, fermentation or souring. An entire wall of Qualia, which forms a proscenium, is dedicated to the fermented goods—from lemons and chillies to cauliflower and seasonal berries—reminiscent of a colourful biology lab with jars of pickling and souring liquids filled with different hued produce.
The menu has been designed to focus on the core ingredients, whether it is veggies or seafood. Each dish piques your interest about the creation and its execution. This is where Akerkar’s expertise executed by a stellar team shines through. There are elements of a dish that seem like a mad scientist’s experiment but are carefully put together. Each dish at Qualia has an uncanny ability to comfort you and excite you at the same time.
The 20-foot bar at Qualia also uses pickles in the libations. Ranjeet Shirke, the bar manager, has drawn up a drinks menu that focusses on light, bright, drinks using comforting ingredients, complete with garnishes and other elements that have undergone treatments like fermenting, pickling, and smoking. The exhaustive wine collection of over 120 labels takes pride of place at Qualia with Akerkar, a wine aficionado, bringing in some of the rare and coveted varietals such as the Greek Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko from around the world.
Apart from the fact that it is early days for Qualia, you will find not just Akerkar, but also his wife and daughter looking into the minute details at the restaurant. Even a simple conversation with Akerkar is enough to whet the appetite and we had a proper interview! (Watch this space.)
Under the watchful eye of Tarang Joshi, Chef de Cuisine at Qualia, we took off on a journey of gustatory delights. The menu draws influences from regional Maharashtrian staples that is combined with contemporary European influences.
Fresh and light pairings such as the one in the Yellow Gazpacho—a bright and colourful soup and salad combination—made with yellow tomatoes and pickled melon, feta and a drizzle of tarragon oil, feature throughout the menu. The earthiness of tomatoes and the sweet melons with bursts of pickle is a happy explosion of flavours that builds your appetite further.
The next dish—Spinach Cavatelli—a bell shaped handmade pasta infused with the vibrant hue and health punch of Popeye’s favourite green was the star of the meal at Qualia. The perfectly cooked al dente pasta and the crunchy, fresh snap peas bathed in glorious white truffle oil and Parmesan soup-sauce is just the perfect combination we would recommend. Given the gusto and speed with which this dish was devoured on the table, it’s one ‘unputdownable’ meal.
Qualia also boasts of a full-service bakery helmed by pastry chef and head baker Rachelle Andrade. Viennoiserie offerings include light-as-air croissants; Pain au chocolat; cinnamon rolls; cruffins; and a divine Kouign Amman; as well as a variety of freshly-baked breads, ranging from rustic loaves like sourdough and ciabatta; table bread like black sesame and green olive epi bread and focaccia; and brioche and milk pullman loaves. The desserts at Qualia reflect the philosophy of bringing together contrasting flavours on the plate. Rice and Pickled Berries is a case in point—roasted Basmati rice ice cream set upon Jasmine rice pudding and generously sprinkled with indigenous puffed red and black rice along with pickled seasonal berries—is where a multitude of textures seamlessly come together.
Andrade’s Charred Chocolate Cake at Qualia is an exception that has won many hearts despite its unusual taste. If, like me, you are the one who loves smoky, bitter flavours, this one is for you. What makes this cake a hit is that it spends some extra time in the oven and acquires a mildly smoky, bitter finish without compromising on the sweetness. It is served it with a sesame ganache, sesame brittle and vanilla cream that helps to balance out the bitterness, which can easily put the average Indian sweet tooth off.
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As a complete meathead, it was surprising to see proteins take consolatory position at Qualia as compared to the vegetarian counterparts. The Yellowfin Tuna Loin and Coimbatore Pork Chops have already garnered a name for themselves amidst the city’s gourmands. However, the culmination of all the different components of both the dishes failed to have the impact I was hoping for—a case of over expectation, perhaps?
At the risk of drawing the wrath of hipsters and superfood buffs, I have not been able to make up my mind about avocados. Suspicions are easily aroused when the buttery fruit is experimented with; the pachadi in the Yellowfin Tuna Loin was one such experiment where the creaminess overtook the Kerala tempering.
Despite not paying much heed to the slightly overcooked tuna, the fish lacked the flavours of the rub which did not penetrate the juicy flesh. The next dish—Coimbatore Pork Chops—was also slightly overcooked, but the perfect pairing of white beans, candied tomatoes and pork worked wonders. At Qualia, what Akerkar wants to achieve is to create food as a conversation. The many sensorial experiences of the degustation is all takes you closer to this.
The Look and Feel
Designed by Chris Lee and Kapil Gupta of Serie Architects, Qualia is conceived as a stage for the art of cooking. Situated on the ground floor along a private road and with a generous pavement, the restaurant offers a 100-foot-long glass façade, which ensures a space filled with natural light. There are three main sections: the main cooking area which includes the wood-burning hearth grill and pizza oven; the dessert and bakery area; and the bar which comprises three distinct expressions of Qualia's menu.
Designed to heighten the sensory qualities of the dining experience from the tastes and aromas of the food from the open kitchen to the choreography of cooking as the chefs create each dish, each section of the kitchen is framed like a proscenium in a theatre drawing the eye through a series of preparatory layers.
The highlight of the space is a long, continuous table in front of the kitchen where the final plating of a dish is done. This table allows select guests who choose to dine there to interact with the chefs and experience the making of the dish.
If you thought creating a menu that’s conversational is a sure-fire way to make your way into the hearts of food lovers, wait till you experience the warm hospitality that makes you feel at home with chef Akerkar hitting all the right spots with Qualia.
Address: Qualia, Ground
Floor, Lodha World Crest, 402
Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower
Parel, Mumbai 400013
Telephone: +91 73045 86862 | +91 22 6849 0000
Images courtesy: Qualia
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