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Crispy Eggplant Burger
Crispy Eggplant Burger

If you're vegan, you can probably count on one hand the number of eateries in the city that cater to your needs while also serving delicious grub. Narrow down the search to just vegan burgers, and you arrive at another figure — nil. But, if you live around Bandra, you're in luck, thanks to a new delivery service called Vegan Burger Kitchen.

Asian-style Sweet Potato and Peanut Burger
Asian-style Sweet Potato and Peanut Burger

The menu currently offers nine burgers, each different from the next, and all made using locally sourced, organic produce.

Being day one of operations, when we call, we're informed that the BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Burger and the Cauliflower and Red Lentil Burger aren't available. On sensing the disappointment in our voice, however, we are promised that it will be available soon enough.

Among the burgers we try, we find two favourites. The first is the Asian-style Sweet Potato and Peanut Burger (Rs 329), where the sweet potato patty pairs beautifully with the creamy soy milk-based Sriracha mayo and Asian slaw. The Crispy Eggplant Burger (Rs 299) is best eaten fresh. The fun lies in biting into the crunchy exterior of the patty — robed in a vegan Thousand Island dressing and pickles — to get to the mushy eggplant that sits inside.

Smoked Black Beans, Mushrooms and Beet Burger
Smoked Black Beans, Mushrooms and Beet Burger

We also enjoy the Smoked Black Beans, Mushrooms and Beet Burger (Rs 299). The patty gets its form and flavour predominantly from the black beans, so if you don't enjoy them, avoid this one. The Unmeat Burger (Rs 329), meanwhile, is an acquired taste. The texture of the wheat protein that makes up the patty is odd and unfamiliar, and the grainy flavour seeps through, despite a generous use of punchy condiments in the burger.

Bounty Pudding
Bounty Pudding

In addition to the burgers, the menu also lists beverages like iced tea and cold brews, as well as two desserts. Pop the Vegan Chocolate Brownie (Rs 129) into the microwave oven for a few seconds before digging in, and you won't be disappointed. The Bounty Pudding (Rs 129) is a riff on the coconut-filled chocolate bar. Here, however, the desiccated coconut is replaced by coconut milk, giving you a chocolate dessert that feels like velvet on the tongue. We hear that the menu is going to be expanded to include more burgers, and meals. Until then, we're content to binge on another Crispy Eggplant Burger.

TIME: 12 pm to 11 am (closed Tuesdays) delivers to Bandra West, Khar West, Santacruz West
LOG ON TO: Vegan Burger Kitchen on Facebook
CALL: 879296027

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Pita pocket
At: Henpecked, Kala Ghoda

Mini pita pockets are cooked in a traditional Neapolitan oven where the "torched wooden logs take up the heat of the dome-shaped oven up to 600 degrees", says head chef Ajay Thakur. The heat transforms the simple pita pocket into what's best described as a Mediterranean phulka. "We stuff it with farm fresh veggies or meat." Thakur learnt to prepare the dish during a trip to Dubai. "That's where the idea struck me. Anything between pita breads is worshipped there," he says. Since it's easy to make, there's hardly ever a chance of it not being available if you ask for it.

Why off the menu? "It is good to surprise your customers. Since the dish employs a unique technique, we like to keep it a secret special."

Beetroot Ice Cream
At: Su Casa, Bandra

When chef Dev Rawat concocted a recipe for the Beetroot Ice Cream, he knew it wouldn't be up everyone's alley. Rawat, who did not want to tamper with the original flavour of the vegetable has, therefore, kept the dish moderately sweet with little sugar.

While he does recommend it, the orders don't exceed five a month. "I have a penchant for the quirky, so it's fine if it's not popular," he says.

Why off the menu? "For any dish to have a place on the menu, it must do justice in terms of sales. Besides, it takes an unusual palate to enjoy roasted beetroot ice cream."

Grilled Kangaroo Fillet With Grilled Baby Spinach and Potato Salad 
At: Estella, Juhu

It was during a trip to Australia that Chef Rohan D'Souza tasted the grilled kangaroo for the first time. "I especially liked the way the Australian chefs play with meat preparations," says the head chef at Estella. His curiosity to learn new cuisines and experiment with dishes motivated him to replicate it at the restaurant. The dish is recommended to guests depending on the availability of meat. "Mostly Australians based in Mumbai choose this," he says. Served with grilled baby spinach, sauce café de paris and warm mustard potato salad, the grilled kangaroo fillet tastes similar to buffalo meat, he says. "It has a wonderful taste that adds a lot of flavour without being overpowering."

Why off the menu?
"Kangaroo meat doesn't come cheap. It's about R4,500 a kg, and is a rare meat available only in Australia."

Bhut Jolokia Chicken Sandwich
At: Dive, BKC

Chef Munawar Taher Peerzade, who heads BKC's Dive, often sees patrons reaching for the tissue box after taking a bite of the Bhut Jolokia Chicken Sandwich. He introduced the item on the appetisers menu when the restaurant launched early this year, but realised it might not be everybody's cup of tea. "I was forced to take it off, because not everybody has a threshold for spice," he says. The bhut jolokia chilli is a hybrid chili pepper cultivated in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur, not easily available in Mumbai. At the restaurant, the chillies are ground into a paste along with other spices to whip up the base sauce for the sandwich.

Why off the menu? "We get the oddball customer who asks for something fiery, so I realised it makes for a good off-the-menu chef's recommend snack."

3 Bean Paella
At: Luca, Lower Parel

This Spanish dish, we are told, is prepared in limited quantities at this newly opened restaurant in Mathuradas Mills. "There are several other bean-based dishes on the menu. This one is only available under chef's specials on specific days. It is, however, available to anyone who asks for it," says head chef Shankar Kokkula. But it's not an eat that can be customized. "It is meant to be had the way it is made, because it is a chef's special." The dish packs in a punch of pulses, loaded with haricot beans, black-eyed beans, kidney beans, green peas and rice, served in a bowl. "It's a free-style dish; you can add vegetables as per your choice and availability of ingredients. The core preparation, however, remains as is. We add paprika for that added fire." This is Kokkula's own spin to the Spanish staple.

Why off the menu? "I have been a fan of the Spanish delicacy and wanted to experiment with it. I didn't include it on the menu since I wished that it be made available on select days."

Honey Darsaan
At: Four Points by Sheraton, Navi Mumbai

It was as a rookie chef that Ashvini Kumar, now executive chef At Four Points by Sheraton, in Navi Mumbai, picked up the recipe of Honey Darsaan, a Chinese Dessert made with fried wonton noodles. Here, the noodles are drizzled with honey and sesame seeds and accompanied with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Although the chef's favourite, it lost out to other desserts during a menu revamp, and was replaced with Granny Smith Apples and Toffee Ice Cream. But like Kumar, there are a few guests who
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"We get around 10 orders for the dish," he says.

Why off the menu? "What happens with fast food desserts is that it's an extensive spread, and you can't have them all on the menu, because it creates clutter."

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The floods have receded and the sun is shining brightly overhead. Sweat beads trickle down our brow as our taxi manoeuvres past bikers, trucks and pedestrians who seem to give two hoots about the incessant honking. Our journey ends outside Sitaram Building, where, in the past, many of us have stumbled in and out of Zaffran in the wee hours, looking to feed our hungry selves after a night of partying.

The restaurant was the brainchild of two friends, Chetan Sethi and Munib Birya, who met at Sophia College during their hotel management course in 1996. At 23, they pooled in finances to open a Mughlai restaurant at Crawford Market in 2003. "It was not even considered close to the hip neighbourhoods like Colaba," laughs Sethi, who mans the kitchen.

Mutton Pepper Kulcha
Mutton Pepper Kulcha

On the plus side, rent was low and the duo realised that there would be no dearth of clients, with shoppers, traders and office-goers thronging the area every day. "There were only Irani and Udupi restaurants in the neighbourhood back then," reminisces 38-year-old Sethi , confessing that they were initially met with resistance. "Even friends weren't ready to come to Crawford Market. Then, people started ordering in. We always believed that people will go anywhere for good food," Birya says, finishing the thought.

Fourteen years later, they are ready to launch version 2.0 of Zaffran, paving the way for Ustaadi, which will serve global fare, in addition to Indian cuisine. Spread across 7,000 sq ft with separate smoking and non-smoking sections, it also houses a kids' play area, with toys, a jungle gym and cartoon films on offer. At the table, the little ones will be served in colourful, kid-friendly plates, and a special Chhote Ustaad menu is also in the pipeline.

Kacha Keri Margarita
Kacha Keri Margarita

"We transitioned without shutting the restaurant. Zaffran has been a flag-bearer of wholesome Mughlai and North Indian cuisine; now, we are ready to offer more," explains Birya, who handles the front office and operations.

Old gives way to new
Climbing up two flights of wooden stairs, we walk into the familiar underground den-like space, with walls that mute the noise of the market outside and create a cosy cocoon. Warm yellow light from rustic bronze chandeliers sets the mood, highlighting select walls that have a story to tell. "While we believe in the mastery of art, we are celebrating 'ustaadi' across fields like photography, music and fashion. One section celebrates the mastery of writing with books adorning the walls," says Birya.

Balinese Spiced Banana Leaf Basa
Balinese Spiced Banana Leaf Basa

Warning: the menu is vast, divided into five sections -- All-Day Breakfast and Pizza, Indian, Asian, Cosmopolitan, and Desserts. We begin our meal with Pulled Raan Bao (R375), Butter Chicken Bao (R325) and Balinese Spiced Banana Leaf Basa (R395). The Pulled Raan Bao is spicy, cushioned between a sweet bao that takes the sting out of the chilli. The Butter Chicken version is milder and flavourful.

We unwrap the basa to find it swimming in a coconut curry spiced with Balinese yellow chilli. The steamed fish is creamy, and melts in the mouth. Skilfully executed, the dish is simple, authentic flavours. We also recommend a new entrant in the Indian section, the South Indian-style Mutton Pepper Kulcha (R165), which comes oozing with butter and is garnished with rocket leaves that give it a crunchy finish. We wash this down with a Kacha Keri Margarita (R175).

Belgian Chocolate Roll

For the main course, there is Indonesian Nasi Goreng (R395), which comes with prawn skewers in a green sauce, prawn chips and an egg. Made using jasmine rice, it's a well-balanced dish with the flavours and textures of garlic, ginger, chillies and soy. We savour the slightly fiery aftertaste it leaves on our lips.

The Saffron Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto (R375) is creamy, and the al dente Arborio rice, earthy fungi and sharp saffron make it a delightful combination. We end the meal with a Belgian Chocolate Roll (R195), a gooey chocolate cake that comes covered in a nutty caramel-cracker coating. It immediately brings to mind Cooper's Fudge from Lonavala.

Munib Birya and Chetan Sethi
Munib Birya and Chetan Sethi 

Although flaunting a new menu, Ustaadi retains Zaffran's thought of offering filling, value-for-money fusion and authentic dishes. "No small plate ever fed a customer," laughs Sethi, confessing that they are looking at taking the brand overseas.

Mistaken identities

Pics/ Suresh Karkera, Tanvi Phondekar

It has been an eventful ride, the duo agrees. Hailing from a five-star hotel background where they had duties chalked out, their biggest challenge was venturing out on their own. But they learned on the job, and managed to create a cult following among young diners. Before signing off, they share an anecdote. "Sometimes, guests would walk in, and on noticing there was a wait, they walked up to us, claiming to know 'Munib' or 'Chetan' personally, and demanding to meet them. They didn't realise they were speaking to exactly Munib and Chetan."

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