Wine-drinking hasn’t yet fully grown to its potential in India. This is largely thanks to the perennial popularity of Scotch whiskey among seasoned drinkers and the snobbery attached with wine drinking that puts off the newbies. But here to not only demystify oenology but also give it an accessible-chic avatar, is The Wine Rack at High Street Phoenix. Occupying a high visibility corner on one of the spots with the highest footfalls in the city is good strategy. Putting the alluring interiors behind all-glass walls so that passersby can watch people have a good time is excellent marketing. And getting celebrity chef Sarah Todd of Masterchef Australia fame to put her name to the eclectic menu is sheer good sense. Hospitality entrepreneur Ashish Dev Kapur, who is behind successful ventures such as Whisky Samba in Gurgaon, The Wine Company in Gurgaon and Todd’s Antares in Vagator, Goa, among others, brings us this restaurant and bar that also has its own wine shop literally taking centre-stage. The manager shows my dinner companion and myself around and informs us that there are over 300 wines from over 35 wine-growing regions of the world to pick from. Of these, as many as 25 can be tasted by glass. And the fact that the bottles can be purchased at a wholesale price, makes it hit many a sweet spot already. The splendid wine wall opposite the well-stocked bar is certainly a sight for sore eyes, with gorgeous bottles beckoning bewitchingly. Overall, the décor is trendy and in keeping with the location and the well-heeled clientele that frequents it.
As we sip on our Prosecco and take in the relaxed and rather fun vibe of The Wine Rack, it’s evident that most of the other diners that night aren’t serious wine connoisseurs, just regular Mumbai folk out to have a good time. The giant Karari Roti, one of their signature dishes, arrives with a flourish. It’s as crisp and tempting as the name suggests and would be a tasty accompaniment on a drinks evening. But since we’re here to sample the menu, we decide to make our selections from the eclectic and well thought out bill of fare. The appetisers are served tapas-style, meaning small, easy-to-eat portions. The soft-shell pakoras are juicy yet crunchy and rather reminiscent of the crab souvlakis we love at Gazi in Melbourne, Masterchef Judge George Colombaris’s popular Greek restaurant. Served with Thai nahm jim and a fresh pomelo salad, they are a great start to an eminently delicious meal. We love that Todd and Executive Chef Himanil Khosla have created some really unique combinations that actually work very well together. Like the duck braised in red wine with cranberry and gorgonzola wrapped in a kulcha.; a tacos-like dish which brings you a burst of interesting flavours in each satisfying bite. Or the really tender lamb slow-cooked in Kolhapuri spices served on a betel leaf, with a mild avocado raita and crisp boondi. The distinct flavours of garam masala and betel surprisingly complement each other in a way that makes you wonder why they haven’t been put together before. Sarah has understood the nuances that make Indian street food special – the combination of tastes and textures that make you want to go back for more. And she has used the ingredients cleverly to make every dish punchy in taste without being over-spiced or unnecessarily hot on the tastebuds.
We are pleased to see that the intensity of the dishes doesn’t do the wine a disservice as is the commonly held belief. The rosé we sample next is a great foil for the food. And the more complex reds actually heighten the taste spectrum on offer. We enjoy the citrus chilli prawn, which make up for the slightly dry and disappointing miso-glazed salmon, served with an indifferent fried rice and bored brussels sprouts. Thankfully, the depth of flavour of the chocolate chilli mousse with a vanilla paprika anglaise makes us sigh with joy and sends us home with a smile on our lips.
The menu here is varied and interesting enough to ensure that we’ll be going back for many more meals. I’ve heard wonderful things from foodie friends about their melt-in-your-mouth goat cheese churros served with truffle cream and a chilli dip; their luscious mushroom risotto, made with portobello, truffle and shitake; their Prosciutto, gorgonzola, roasted pear, basil, rocket, and parmesan pizza; their snapper ceviche and their nasi goreng that accompanies a chunky cottage cheese steak. Melding not only European and Asian but also diverse Indian regions (their Goan pork sausage with the North Eastern chilli bhut jolokia, with a pecorino risotto ticks all the boxes), they manage to represent and fuse world cuisine well. And no need to wrack your brains to pair this with the right wine, the guys at The Wine Rack are at hand to help you out.
Where: The Wine Rack
No 8B & 8C, Groundfloor, Phoenix mall,
High-street, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400013
Phone: 084549 66611
Note: The critic was invited by The Wine Rack, Mumbai but all the opinions expressed herewith are her own