The name Cheval evokes images of old equestrian France – handsome, cavellier horsemen in jodhpurs astride majestic thoroughbreds, tearing across the lush green countryside.
This idea has clearly resonated, with the fresh, minty walls and abundance of plants that line the bright, open windows of this restaurant situated at the historic Kala Ghoda. An equestrian-named restaurant in a suburb which translates as ‘Black Horse’? This place
suddenly got a whole lot cooler.
Wood adorns each surface, including the candleabra in the bar area, where I spy a small humidor to one side. The inside dining walls are lined with abstract art and quirky light fixtures.
Happy, sophisticated families are clinking glasses together while their teenagers gather in the adjoining sunroom, which I am told can be used for private parties.
I am intrigued by a particular entrée on the menu – lamb chips. Could it
be a typo, a misspelling of lamb chops? No, I am told, these are definitely lamb chips. Okay, let’s see what you got.
They arrive, looking innocuously vegetarian, due to a panko-crumbed coating. To one side is a Romasco sauce, comprised of red pepper and tomato blended with hazelnuts to form a paste which has a very mild tang to it.
I bite into the chip and am dumbfounded by the countless textures: the softness of the flesh (this can’t be mutton!) and the granular breadcrumb exterior. This is just like eating chips, only they’re meat!
The sauce could have had more of an impact if it were sharper, yet still I’m in culinary heaven and gobble up the whole dish, not caring that I have four more dishes to taste.
I later find out that not only is the dish made of local mutton, but the preparation that goes into it is immense. Firstly the meat is marinated for seven hours then double cooked for another seven hours. It is then seasoned and set in the cooler before being pressed and crumbed, then cut into pieces and served.
No wonder it tastes like joy.
The cottage cheese ratatouille is infused with the sweetness of maple syrup and balanced by the presence of chilli. The cheese is essentially chargrilled paneer, with the accompanying pine nut vinaigrette adding another facet of flavour.
The ratatouille comprising aubergine, zucchini, red and green capsicum and onion adds texture and dimension to the dish as well as spicy undertones.
This is an item I can finish with ease.
The pan-roasted seabass is imported from Norway, hence the more expensive price tag. A fennel purée is smeared across the plate and acts as a sauce. Surrounded by this, a royal court of finely chopped tomatoes and lemony capers take my tastebuds on an adventure.
In the middle, the seabass sits on a throne of shaved zucchini and capsicum strips. The fish is a little small, however delicately grilled and seasoned with chilli. The slightly salty acidity of the seabass is juxtaposed by the sweetness of the vegetables.
Puzzled by the use of Norwegian seabass, I am told that the restaurant did earlier utilise higher-grade seabass from Chile, however it proved unpopular for both price and tastes of the restaurant’s largely conservative-spending clientele.
The pork roasted shoulder arrives in such a neatly cut, square shape that I initially think my dessert has arrived in the form of chocolate cake. Although not visually appealing in terms of colour, the flavour of the pork is strong and hearty.
It would have been nice to have some fat to add sweetness and distract from the heaviness of the meat but this is assuaged by the sweet mashed potato, with buttery lentils acting as a richly textured gravy.
The chocolate ganache looks spectacular- a chocolate triangular slice grazed with crumbly chocolate powder, hazelnut ice-cream and a butterscotch sauce. The flavour of the ice-cream brings down the sweetness of the chocolate, which oscillates around my mouth with a resounding crunch.
The pièce de résistance is a single hazelnut adorning the cake, covered in sugared caramel. Using toothpicks, the nut is painstakingly dipped in melted sugared caramel, then hung upside down and set to give the razor sword effect.
Cheval supports the domestic economy by using local meat and this is reflected in the competitive prices of each dish. The chefs use laborious techniques such as slow and double-cooking in a genuine effort to bring out the best in local produce. I am pleased to note that every menu item has a justified purpose.
The menu, strategically conceived by the US-trained head chef, is a deliberate fusion of Indian and Continental, catering to the conservative tastes of Jain and Gujrati folk who require gentle coaxing from their culinary comfort zones.
There was no surplus of staff loitering around and service was flawless.
This establishment is suitable for semi-staunch supporters of Indian food who wish to occasionally dip their toe into the stream of Indo-Continental cuisine.
Ambience 8.5, Food 8.5.
Cheval is located near Rhythm House, Mahatma Gandhi Rd, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
Photo credits: mumbaiboss.com