Expect a cheery vibe and relaxed dining at Neuma, South Mumbai’s haute new restaurant. Plus, the possibility of celebrity sightings to make your visit more interesting!
Bollywood has set its sights on the hospitality industry and it’s not surprising that filmmaker Karan Johar, who clearly understands Indian tastes when it comes to entertainment, is now playing restaurateur with the all-new Neuma, in Mumbai.
The colonial-era bungalow once housed Indigo, one of India’s earliest and best-known fine-dining standalone restaurants, started by the legendary Chef Rahul Akerkar. Setting the bar high with its culinary offerings and general aura of awesome for almost two decades (albeit there being a slight downturn in its late teens), it’s surely a tough act to follow.
Johar has collaborated with Delhi-based True Palate Hospitality, who are no strangers to celebrity associations — they had previously teamed up with cricketer Virat Kohli and Cornerstone for One8 Commune in Delhi’s Aerocity. With the aim of bringing alive this beloved space in Colaba, they brought in architect Ashiesh Shah, known for his beautiful interiors at Mumbai restaurants such as Sequel and Joshi House, to work his magic.
Shah says, “While working on this project, we endeavoured to present the space in a new light while retaining the essence of the erstwhile Indigo restaurant. It was quite challenging, given the legacy of its predecessor. However, this only encouraged us to push the envelope and start thinking out of the box.”
When asked to describe his thought process behind the design of Neuma, he elaborates, “One witnesses an infusion of colour, texture, and form in Neuma, where each space has a distinct character straying away from monotony. In today’s day and age, people are gravitating towards spaces that offer multiple experiences. As one traverses one room to the next, you are offered the joy of slow living and a contrasting fast-paced high energy environment under the same roof.”
Exploring Neuma’s exciting interiors
We do find the space reimagined in a very pleasing way. The cheery Garden Café — all bright whites and stripes juxtaposed against greens, and the understated chic at the Safari — is an intelligent use of the wraparound area around the bungalow. As Shah puts it, “The outdoor area, once underutilised, is now peppered with greens, and made exciting. Post the lockdown, there has been an increased appreciation for outdoor spaces.”
As we walk in through those familiar double doors, a sunroof brings in the sky and sunshine into the area, while the eye travels over the contours of a pendant light made by artisans from Channapatna in Karnataka. An instantly recognisable fixture and something that reflects his leaning towards the luxury of handcrafted bespoke objects, which he makes available globally via his venture called Atelier.
Shah explains, “Neuma serves as an architecturally prominent landmark transporting one to a different time and space. Through our approach, we tried to keep minimalism alive while giving it character through the introduction of items commissioned from craft communities across India. It’s a true celebration of luxury through handmade processes.”
We ask if there are any special pieces in Neuma that guests should look out for. Shah replies, “Apart from Atelier’s custom-crafted pendant light, there’s the Channapatna table below it, and alongside, the Swayam mirror. Besides this, the Guccha light in Verdé and the Moonshadow Vase in Manipuri longpi pottery placed in the Safari Room, which infuses an element of Wabi Sabi (finding beauty in imperfection) to the space.”
There’s a kind of hush in the air at the entrance of Neuma, that continues into what they have dubbed the ‘Courtyard’, which exudes a very Rafflesesue charm with whirring fans and tropical palms in giant planters. The only thing loud here is the pattern on the cement tiles underfoot. Off to the left, is a sophisticated space with spartan Danish sensibilities. The muted lighting that highlights the artefacts at The Blanc gives me the feel of dining in the home of an antiques aficionado.
The elegant private dining area with sage green chairs and accents that leads off from the end of this room is aptly called Verdé. It has a touch of whimsy, with the walls wearing braided ropes like corset ties and that gorgeous Guccha light Shah mentioned dominating the table in a dramatic way. The seating is comfortable, the lights placed perfectly so you don’t get a complementary migraine with your meal. We talk to Shah about the importance of segueing design and function. He says, “Absolutely, restaurant design has gained immense importance over the years. The atmosphere balanced with functionality is absolutely integral.”
On the opposite side of the Courtyard is another unique space — The Rose Bar. Reds dominate the room, while the blue velvet seating is lit up by a sculptural light fixture inspired by Anish Kapoor. The theatrical lighting and materials are reminiscent of decadent cabaret lounges like the Moulin Rouge, but the music is very ‘Spotify 2022 club hits playlist’, clearly targeted at millennials. For us, this contrast doesn’t quite work, but then, going by how buzzing it is on weekends, perhaps the look isn’t quite as important for the cluberati as the fact that they managed to party at Neuma while others had to wait two weeks to muscle their way in!
This bungalow has never been short on drama and taking that familiar flight of stairs to the upper storey reminds us of all those balmy Indigo nights throughout the 2000s, swirling with cigar smoke and Pinot Grigio-fuelled conversation. Shah’s design retains that soul, even as he turns what once looked like a minimalistic Spanish hacienda into an outdoor bar area inspired by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa’s work.
The incredibly beautiful indoor Bar Nautica makes us think the Royal Bombay Yacht Club nearby should upgrade its interiors to something similar! This is probably our favourite section of the restaurant and one that we will want to go back to, both by day and night.
Even the washrooms around the corner have character, with pedestal basins, matte black toilet accessories, and a cunning cherub that makes us fall in love with this part of Neuma a little bit more.
Table tales: Dishing on the dishes
The stage is set and the spaces ready. But what of the main dramatis personae — the culinary offerings that would bring in the serious diners? We sample a selection of them and find them wholesome and familiar. KJo may ask risqué questions of his guests on the show. But at his Neuma, the menu plays safe. Don’t expect edgy ingredients or experimentation with fermentation but go there for comfort food that ticks all the boxes of flavour, texture, and gramworthy plating. The restaurant and bar offerings are all about gathering with the gang over easy-eating food that’s executed well.
Not only does Executive Chef Abhinav Sharma offer plenty of vegetarian options (we enjoy the silky mushroom parfait on toast and a very fresh burrata salad with mesclun greens and a truffle-honey dressing), but Neuma also has a separate vegan selection (created by ex-Olive Bar & Kitchen Chef Rishim Sachdeva, who is behind the largely vegan kitchen at London’s Tendril). Of these, the fluffy Avocado Mousse is a standout dish, although we feel the green pea falafel that comes with is a bit of overkill.
Among the small plates, the honey-glazed chicken, with walnut purée, and a zingy chili granola is a hit at our table. The smokey char on the chargrilled prawns does it for us, while the baked Brie with the sweet-umaminess of the truffle-honey parmesan is universally oohed over. Cuisine agnostic as so many new eateries are, Neuma has it all, from a tender, red wine-marinated New Zealand Lamb shank served with a saffron risotto and caramelised onion; to a moreish butter-poached red snapper Laksa surrounded by peanut sambal, noodles, shallots, and pok choi.
What’s cooking behind the bar?
The bar menu, developed by Countertop India, one of India’s best-known bar and beverage companies, has a clutch of batched cocktails, many of which are ‘cooked’ to perfection. Sous vide is now a household term thanks to Masterchef Australia, but to experience a drink that uses the slow-cooking technique to provide heat evenly to its ingredients, is still exciting.
Aunty Joan’s Rhubarb Pie uses bee-pollen infused gin, which gives it a complex flowery tang; the Isla Vu stars Talisker and orange blossom water with a sliver of nori sheet to give you a flavour pop that intensifies the taste of the drink; and then there’s the really unusual Fish House Milk Punch, which blends brandy, black rum, syrup made from Darjeeling tea, peach, and lemon with milk! This storied cocktail has roots in the gender equality movement… we’ll leave the mystery of exactly how to your mixologist’s storytelling skills when you sip it yourself.
While all of these well-designed drinks will have many takers, our top choice here is the simple yet potent Pistols at Dawn, which melds coffee-infused Reposado tequila with Campari and Sweet Vermouth and is served in a glass with a bullet through it.
We wish the desserts had as much thought and technique put into them. The Sticky Toffee Pudding, usually a sure winner, is quite a disappointment with an indifferent texture and none of that glorious gooey toffee that one expects. Perhaps it’s better to end your meal with a nice cup of coffee. After all, that may be the closest some of us will get to Koffee with Karan!
Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (Max: 5 stars)
Food: 7/10 | Drinks: 8/10 | Service: 7/10 | Interiors: 9/10 | Vibe: 8/10
One dish we loved: The Lamb Shank was flavourful and wonderfully tender.
One dish that didn’t work for us: The rice in the Mushroom Risotto wasn’t quite as al dente as it should have been.