India Modern: Chef Vanika Choudhary’s cuisine-agnostic approach at Noon

Chef Vanika Choudhary draws on her childhood memories and travel experiences to create a menu focussed on indigenous ingredients and technique at Noon.

Named for the Kashmiri word for salt and the time it opens, Noon in Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex is a restaurant ahead of its time — which befits its space-age interiors done by Ashiesh Shah. For a restaurant whose food is prepared with such care and finesse, it’s surprising that Vanika Choudhary is a self-taught chef, propelled by passion alone.

In the works for a while, Noon’s opening was delayed by the pandemic. Its sister concern, Sequel, has three outlets, one of them right next to Noon. Basically you get in through the door and if you take a left, you’re in Noon.

Instead of focussing on a particular cuisine, Noon is driven by its choice of ingredients, which include lesser-known millets and grains and vegetables sourced directly from farmer’s collectives across India. This seems to be the emerging face of Modern Indian cuisine, anchored only by hyper-local ingredients, but freely borrowing from techniques and food philosophies from around the world. Chef Vanika is big on fermentation, inspired by her maternal grandmother who would pickle almost anything under the sun. So Noon makes its own kanjis, kombuchas and keffirs, but also misos, kimchis and coconut milk yoghurt. The restaurant kitchen is something of a lab, filled with glass jars bubbling away gently over the weeks.

Noon's interiors by ashiesh shah are understated, so the food can shine. Image: yash shinde.
Noon’s interiors by Ashiesh Shah are understated, so the food can shine. Image: Yash Shinde.

All the dishes speak of being conscious and mindful, and are constructed with great care and thought. I tried a few and each one was a revelation. While they reinforced my own ignorance of how evolved Indian restaurant food has become, at least at the forefront of innovation, I revelled in the flavours, and thanked the gods for the ambrosial feast I had the privilege to partake of. The Sprouted Finger Millet Tortillas came topped with an avocado and cape gooseberry salsa, seasonal starfruit which provided a tart burst of flavour, spiced shallots steeped in kanji and topped with delicious tiger prawns.

Suggested read: One chef, one recipe: Butter garlic black pepper prawns by Chef Tarun Sibal

Vanika chaudhary is a self-taught chef driven by passion, but don't let that fool you. She is immensely gifted and knowledgeable, and the food at noon is evidence of that. Image: yash shinde.
Vanika Choudhary is a self-taught chef driven by passion, but don’t let that fool you. She is immensely gifted and knowledgeable, and the food at Noon is evidence of that. Image: Yash Shinde.

Each dish is like that, thoughtfully made of many parts, bringing together impossible bunches of ingredients, some of the them in the works for months.

Among the small plates, I can recommend the Buckwheat Tartlets highly. They come filled with goat’s cheese and yellow beets, and black garlic supplies a subtle twist of flavour.

The charcoal-grilled broccoli is served with lacto-fermented coconut yoghurt and fermented green chillies.

Among the mains, Rainbow Trout is a star. Given its freshness, the trout seems to have travelled well from the Himalayas. Lifting its subtle flavour up are a prawn garum, guti aloo, tepache-glazed carrots and an amaranth hollandaise. The Claypot cooked Shiitake Mushroom is served with HMT rice (not named after my newly favourite watch brand) redolent with Kashmiri morels, and served with kimchi, shimeji mushroom, millet miso and edamame XO sauce. It was difficult to part our videographer Yash from that rice.  

Multiple ingredients and techniques make up each dish at noon. Image: yash shinde.
Multiple ingredients and techniques make up each dish at Noon. Image: Yash Shinde.

You would be getting the hang of things now.

For the drinks (no sugar or carbonated drinks in sight), Noon has partnered with Thirsty City 127, and their signature TC127 cocktails have been revisited through Noon’s philosophy of going local and seasonal. The gin-based Saffron Kehwa and vodka-based Kale-Arity are rich on both technique and flavour.

Noon is a restaurant which has all my heart. If this is the future of Indian food, where traditions and traditional foods are nurtured while being gently reinvented, then there’s hope. As long as the diners rise to the occasion.  

Noon, One BKC, Ground Floor, Tower B, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400051

Read more.

India Modern: Ingredients trump all on the menu at Ekaa, helmed by Chef Niyati Rao