Tipple Tales: The ‘flavours’ of The Bombay Canteen

The regional and seasonal approach of The Bombay Canteen has been winning the hearts of food lovers and cocktail enthusiasts alike since 2015.

My first dining experience at The Bombay Canteen was in the year 2016. I was attending a private dinner with the owner of a wine company, the winemaker, and his wife. We had an exceptional meal that night. The flavour of each dish left a lingering effect that stayed with me for long. The meal was authentic, raw, yet refined. They call it regional and seasonal, but I call it flavoursome.

Located in a corner of Kamala Mills in Lower Parel, one of the busiest areas in Mumbai, the site of The Bombay Canteen also portrays a harmonious blend of the bygone era with the modern city skyline. 

The bar at the bombay canteen, which just made it to the long list of asia's 50 best bars.
The bar at The Bombay Canteen, which just made it to the long list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars.

The space is artfully created, rich in warm wood and muted earth tones, offset by the traditional patterned tiles and low walls reminiscent of old Bombay. The glint of stained glass and steel panels with the warm glow of the open kitchen encourages the feeling of sharing within an old bungalow.

This year the restaurant finally made it to the coveted list of ‘Asia’s 50 Best Bars’ (at No. 76 in the top 100 bars list). Though, it has been winning awards and accolades since opening doors in 2015, widely recognised for its progressive food menu drawing inspiration from regional cuisines across India, the bar menu is finally getting the due credit. 

Last month, I dropped by the restaurant to check out the new canteen cocktail menu. 

Sameer Seth and Yash Bhanage, the two partners of Hunger Inc. Hospitality and co-founders of The Bombay Canteen, collaborated with Stranger & Sons gin to launch India’s first distilled cocktail Perry Road Peru last year. “After the success of this collaboration, we are working with the gin brand to develop more such limited-edition flavous,” says Bhanage, “We like to work with the craft drinks industry in India, be it beer or gin. That’s what we believe will be our future focus as well.”

He adds, “As a restaurant, we want to be a platform for all kinds of spirits. Across overseas markets, the craft spirits industry got a push because smaller bars and restaurants supported the local, small-batch craft spirits brands. We need to be that platform for craft spirits in India. I also hope to see more homegrown rum brands soon.” 

Managed by a group of enthusiastic, experienced, bright minds in the cocktail space in India, the bar staff at The Bombay Canteen make it a welcoming space for cocktail enthusiasts and novices. The place has a selection of reimagined classic cocktails drawing inspiration from local and regional Indian flavours. The cocktail programme pays tribute to the untold stories of Mumbai. “Each edition of the bar menu is designed to bring that story to life,” says Deepak Koranga, Bar Manager. He joined the restaurant just after its opening. He has seen the drinks menu transition from a playful pop-up art book paying tribute to the Art Deco architecture of the city, to a vibrant calendar inspired by the slang heard and colours seen on the streets of Mumbai to a historical guidebook that takes you on a trip down memory lane to the golden age of the cinematic Talkies.

Tickled pink (left); and stolen kiss (right) are just two of the many interesting cocktails at the bombay canteen.
Tickled Pink (left); and Stolen Kiss (right) are just two of the many interesting cocktails at The Bombay Canteen.

“Inspired by our culinary ethos, local and seasonal ingredients are used to create infusions, bitters, shrubs, and tonics to create spectacular signature cocktails,” he adds.

The current bar menu (4th edition of the Canteen Cocktail Book) is called ‘People of the Promenade’ and celebrates the people who meet on the promenade stretching across the coastlines of Mumbai.

‘Tickled Pink,’ one of the cocktails from this menu, is made with rose-infused gin, grapefruit cordial, and lime. Another one, called ‘Stolen Kiss’, is a delicious concoction of tequila, pickled starfruit, and pineapple. “We play around with a lot of in-house infusions, cordials, bitters, vermouth, and liqueurs,” says Harish Subramanian, Head Mixologist at The Bombay Canteen.

As I settle at the bar to talk to him and taste a few cocktails, he brings out all the four editions of the canteen-special menus introduced in the last few years.

Picking out the ‘People of the Promenade’ menu, he explains, “This menu will surprise you and awaken your love for unconventional pairings, handcrafted, smooth libations, and in-house infusions. ‘Hair Of The Dog’ made with whiskey, clarified milk, toasted sesame and jaggery, and green apple is a must try.”

The canteen food menu changes often, with the change in season, availability of the local ingredients being the focus, and the same drives the curation of the cocktail menu.

“We are big on the classics too. For example, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Rob Roy, Margarita, Dark & Stormy are some of our most popular cocktails. But the canteen specials are always a hit. Right now, our special is the Spicy Gimlet,” says Subramanian.

The Spicy Gimlet is made with gin, homemade chilli marmalade, homemade bird’s-eye chilli tincture, and lime juice! The chilli marmalade is made simply by cooking together chopped red Bhavnagri chillies and sugar syrup; this jammy delight adds a nice kick and spruces up a simple gimlet.

This was one of the best cocktails that I tasted that evening.

The spicy gimlet at the bombay canteen features chilli marmalade and is one of their best cocktails.
The Spicy Gimlet at The Bombay Canteen features chilli marmalade and is one of their best cocktails.

In the meantime, Koranga brings the soon-to-be-launched Canteen special cocktail for us to try. ‘Lychee Paloma’ is a mix of tequila, fresh lychee (in season), and a dash of Campari to get the hint of bitterness, topped up with soda. A mouth-watering fruity and fresh cocktail with smoky notes from the Jose silver tequila.

The canteen-special cocktails are priced at around Rs 700 to Rs 750.

There is also an impressive menu for the non-drinkers and the designated driver-of-the-day. One of the drinks on the menu is ‘Not A Negroni’ made with an in-house mix of local herbs, spices, botanicals, and bitters, and more minus the spirits.

The bar team has curated this menu which is flavour-favoured, balanced, technique-driven, and most importantly, delicious. “Non-alcoholic drinks have a reputation for being too simplistic and almost boring, and we wanted to change that,” adds Bhanage.

From sustainable bar practices and running a series of Canteen Classes for bartenders and hospitality professionals to introducing innovative themes in the canteen cocktail books, The Bombay Canteen’s commitment to the craft is commendable.

The bar team at the bombay canteen.
The bar team at The Bombay Canteen.

“It was an honour to be on the list of ‘Asia’s 100 Best Bars’ this year. For now, our focus is on enhancing our techniques, glassware, and detailing. We are going back to the basics and improving upon them further. Our new cocktail book is underway, and one thing that we are emphasising is variety in flavours and spices,” concludes Bhanage.

After a riveting experience of tasting and interacting with the men behind The Bombay Canteen, I realised that the Canteen philosophy is not just a representation of the true spirit of Bombay but of a country embracing newness while staying rooted in its history, culture, and regionality. Cocktails at The Bombay Canteen Bar are a manifestation of all that and more. 

Rojita tiwari
Rojita Tiwari is the Founder of Drinks & Destinations, a wine & spirits consulting firm in India. She is an award-winning drinks writer, educator, trainer & consultant, and a juror at several international wine, spirits & cocktail competitions. She is a Senior Specialist at International Drinks Specialist, the UK, and co-founder of Agents Of Cheer & Story In A Bottle, India’s foremost curated drinks events. Her Instagram handle is @rojitatiwari.

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