Say hello to Mumbai’s newest culinary gem that’s bringing susegad comfort to the Maximum City – O Pedro. Revolutionising the way Mumbai dines since 2015, The Bombay Canteen team has pulled yet another winning rabbit out of their hat. A delicious mix of bygone Bombay memories and the good ol’ local canteen grub has had Mumbai captivated with a spell akin to The Wizard Of Oz’ sorcery. With their second restaurant, they showcase the cuisine from the land of feni and sunshine and aim to evoke the rich and complex culinary history of Goa. Catching up with founding partners Sameer Seth and Yash Bhanage we get talking about Mumbai, Goa, and beyond in this #DSSCExclusive.
Pursuing Master’s in Hospitality Management at Cornell University, the duo bonded like Woody & Buzz from the get go. “We developed a great equation owing to shared common interests, classes, and projects,” reminisces Seth. They went on to explore & build different skill sets, with Seth sharpening his management skills in New York and Bhanage equipping himself with operational gritties at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in Singapore. However, a yearning to change India’s F&B industry had them ideating over Skype into the wee hours of different timezones. Caught amidst a wave of mediocre-modern openings, Indian chefs were smitten by western ingredients and techniques, “The world was moving towards traditional cuisines, and we couldn’t recognise our own strengths,” laments Bhanage.
As the manager at Danny Meyer’s North End Grill, Sameer pitched a nascent idea to its then executive chef, Chef Floyd Cardoz. “Once Chef Floyd was on board, the ball started rolling,” he shares. With the Top Chef Masters awardee as partner and Chef Thomas Zacharias hopping on board as partner & executive chef, the Fantastic Four alliance was complete. “We all have complementary skills and share similar work ethics,” shares Seth. They opened doors to The Bombay Canteen in 2015, “We thought people would embrace our food philosophy and the experimental nature of the menu, but that wasn’t the case,” says Bhanage. Strong advocates of “listening to your guests”, they put the feedback through the wringer to churn out dishes that have Mumbai fixated. “Initially we had alcohol-forward cocktails but the Indian market prefers sweetness in their tipples, so we added fresh seasonal fruits in the mix,” adds Bhanage talking about one such tweak. Metamorphosing regional ingredients into masterstrokes, this restaurant tapped into the booming curiosity about indigenous food. “Today people understand what we stand for. The dishes that didn’t work back then work much better now,” says Bhanage who was featured in ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’ in 2016.
“Popular Choice Award” title holder for 2017, The Bombay Canteen’s exponential growth bespeaks their food and business philosophy, “You’re only as good as the last meal you served”. Seth shares further, “The connection you form with your guests when you’re telling them a story is far stronger than when you’re simply serving them a plate of food.” With that school of thought, they turned the page to the next chapter, O Pedro – a microcosm of all things wonderfully Goan. “Our location in BKC (Bandra Kurla Complex) is surrounded by glass buildings, a.k.a people stuck in offices all day, so we wanted to make a difference,” shares Bhanage. A “happy place” was the goal and Goa won the unanimous vote. “We all have great memories of Goa; whether you went there with friends or family, for the beaches, rejuvenation, or drinking,” adds Bhanage.
With wicker chairs and arched ceilings, Ayaz Basrai (Lead Architect, The Busride Design Studio) transports you from the concrete jungle of Mumbai to a charming & comfortable Goan villa. Steering away from the clichéd attractions of susegad-central, O Pedro aims to showcase traditional Goan & Portuguese cuisine that transcends well beyond the signature (albeit lovely) goan fish curry. “Chef Hussain Shahzad, executive chef at O Pedro, spent weeks perfecting the Goan sourdough poee, and it’s spectacular. Goa has been practicing the art of alcohol infusion for ages, and our cocktails are an interpretation of such small stories,” shares Bhagane. Finding Funny is the ideal demonstration of it, cashew-infused and combined with house-made fennel liqueur, celery sticks add a spin that’s as refreshing as a martini (shaken, not stirred). Looking to spread awareness about Portuguese wine, O Pedro is where you need to head to for giving it a whirl, “We currently have three Portugal wines for people to start experimenting, but hope to expand it.”
Between the extremely-addictive poees and choriz butter, we chat about a pressing matter that affects the industry as a whole, “Hospitality colleges in India aren’t at par with the world, so it’s crucial that students get exposure to careers beyond the usual,” shares Bhanage who regularly hosts tête-à-tête sessions for graduates with specialists from different facets of the industry at TBC. Believers of the principle of grow-your-team vs. grow-your-restaurant-roster, they beam proudly about the fact that almost everyone who started The Bombay Canteen has continued with O Pedro. Seth shares, “The whole idea is to create an environment with discipline, ethos, and care, where people don’t just come to work, they also learn something everyday.”
As we banter with Snoopy, a.k.a Sameer Seth and Angry Young Man, a.k.a Yash Bhanage (as they call each other), Seth summaries their journey promptly, “It’s been too much fun!” And Bhanage is quick to add, “There have been highs and lows, but it’s been a great learning. I feel it’s still quite similar as when we entered the industry, we have long-drawn hours, but as long as you have a passion for it, you keep going.” We gently attempt to bribe the duo to hit the capital city next, but they remain loyal towards the bay, “We want to build the culinary scene and create unique experiences, but Mumbai is where we are for the near future.” Before the “ambitious yet focussed” duo scoot back to greet guests flocking O Pedro, we heat up the DSSC Rapid Fire.
One thing you love about the F&B industry? And one thing you hate?
Sameer & Yash: We love the hospitality part of the industry – taking care of our guests and our team. We hate everything liquid nitrogen.
Your most intriguing food experience till date?
Yash: I was in Kyoto, Japan when I happened to come across a 4-seater space. The chef didn’t understand us or us him, but his hospitality made our day. We ordered water which turned out to be sake and we all ended up laughing. He made us chicken neck and pork thigh, it was phenomenal.
Sameer: It was in Columbia, a 1000-seater restaurant – unlike anything I’ve seen. Chef André Magalhães creates a memorable experience by incorporating theatrics.
One piece of advice for young entrepreneurs starting out in the industry?
Yash: Get your hands dirty! Start from the bottom, clean the tables, put food on the table.
Top 3 restaurants across the world?
Sameer: Uncle Boons, New York; Tate Michiyan, Tokyo; and Taberna Rua das Flores, Lisbon.
Yash: Buck & Breck, Berlin; Chin Chin, Melbourne; and Mister Jiu’s, San Francisco.
Your favourite tipple at O Pedro?
Sameer: Vasco Sour. It’s our take on Pisco Sour, with the perfect balance of sweet & sour.
Head to: O Pedro, Unit #2, Ground Floor, Jet Airways-Godrej BKC Building, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra-East, Mumbai. For reservations call: 022-26534700/01/02.
Dough needed: Lose wallet weight equivalent to Rs. 2,000 for two.
Featured Image Courtesy: Tejal Pandey