I walk into the refurbished, recently opened Smokehouse Deli and my heart skips a beat. Look at all the pretty colours!
Never before have I seen a restaurant celebrate the essence of femininity so candidly: in the lace doilies and curtains, the pastel lampshades hanging stylishly over each table, the incredible attention to detail in the intricate drawings of shelves adorning the walls; a pantry holding jars of candy, vegetables, cheese, wine, cake, framed photographs and of course, a toaster.
More than simply being beautiful, it is the character of Smokehouse Deli which floors me: glass topped tables underneath which ancient black and white photographs are lodged; solemn family portraits and merry children at play, suspended in time and regally immortalised.
I feel as though I am in the house of a hip bachelorette, or trendy grandmother.
A glance at the cocktail list affirms this as I gaze upon row after row of female-oriented tipples; an expanse of Indian and international red and white wines, champagne, daiquiris (referred to as ‘Freezies’), margarita, martini and mojito variations with fruit, herb and floral-infused vodkas.
I order a Chilean cab sav, which I am pleased to see is available by the glass. It arrives promptly and I am overjoyed to see it has been lightly chilled to the precise temperature.
(I formerly neglected to see the ‘importance’ of refrigerating red wine, thinking it to be a horrid urban legend largely invented to mask the incompetence of restaurants in storing alcohol in the Indian heat, however in this happy instance, this is not the case).
A pack of Aunties matching the decor of the place arrive, preening and cawing loudly like peacocks. They see me sitting alone and throw me a sympathetic look, before resuming their gossip. Flanked by another kitty party, there is now a distinct ‘Get out of my room, no boys allowed’ vibe. I’m not complaining.
I order the soup and half sandwich combo, which appears to be a suitably price-conscious solution for lunch. The seafood broth makes an instant impact on the throat with a hit of wasabi which surprisingly adds no obvious Japanese element to the dish.
With an abundance of basa, prawns and mushrooms topped with chives, the concoction is hearty yet light, with absolutely no need to add freshly cracked pepper for flavour.
The sandwich is an ode to Mediterranean diet healthiness: toasted soy and linseed bread overflowing with green, red and yellow capsicum, zucchini, lettuce, cheese and vivacious tahini, which packs a solid punch. It takes all my willpower not to finish the entire dish of both soup and salad, and we’re only on course one.
The waiter, admittedly stunned by my large order, tells me, “Keep some place ma’am, you have a long way to go.”
I reply with a grin, “I eat a lot.”
While waiting for the next course, I continue to gaze around. It’s rare that the decor and atmosphere of a restaurant can make me smile so much. I feel like squealing with delight at each and every newly discovered detail. My orange Botkier bag matches the bread basket!
My beef salad arrives in an Asian-style bowl. A hush falls over the Aunties as 10 pairs of eyes scrutinise my dish from afar.
Decidedly Thai-looking, this cold salad comprises generous dashings of local tenderloin with sharp lime flavours throughout, permeating the blanched beans, sprouts, lettuce and freshly chopped chilli. There is a pleasing crunch to every zingy bite which is punctuated by the cracking of toasted peanuts.
The serve is generous, with enough flavour and elements to hold my attention.
I glance at the other menu and realise it is Burger Week at Smokehouse, a festival of the many variations of burgers available. After some perusal I decide on the Baconator, titillated by the Terminatoresque name. Hasta la vista, baby.
The Baconator gets its name due to the innovative chip dip of bacon bits mixed with mayonnaise. I dunk a heavenly, peri-salted french fry into it and evaluate. Not mind-blowing, but thankfully the fries are just as good on their own. The establishment could even look at using traditional Big Mac burger sauce: a combination of mayonnaise and sweet pickle relish.
The Brioche bun has been toasted and spread with oil and chilli flakes. The beef patty is wrapped with bacon and extra bacon bits have been added on top with mayonnaise. On the ground level, lettuce, tomato and pickle reside, overpowered by its swanky penthouse neighbours.
The result is a juicy, dripping food orgasm. The bacon is hickory smoked and fantastic quality: not just fat. The beef is good quality and does not have the dull aftertaste characteristic of buffalo. As one of the Aunties at the next table put it, with a giggle: “Main share nahin kar sakti.”
During my messy tryst with the burger, the waiters stand and watch me from afar, smiling like proud papas.
I go for the lamb shanks. Lightly smoked, I pierce the flesh with my fork and it falls off the bone. Amazing. The flavours are peppery and robust, mixed with a thick gravy, yet not so much as to turn it into a curry, as normal restaurants would assume the customer wants.
The ice-cream scoop of mashed potato resembles a cloud. I dig in and am met with the perfect combination of garlic and butter. Adding to this is an eclectic vegetable compote consisting of tomato, green and yellow zucchini and chopped black kalamata olives.
The combination of the gravy, meat, vegetables and mash gives my mouth much to think about in terms of flavours of smokey, salty and garlicy, not to mention the abundance of textures.
My only complaint is that the dish was not piping hot.
I end with the panacotta. It arrives quivering like jelly, topped with blueberry compote and what looks like larvae, which turns out to be basil seeds.
Initially the look of the basil makes me uneasy; I have previously had a bad experience with restaurants who tried their hand at a savory panacotta. I need not be. The seeds, far from being savory add a sweet element of texture to the dish.
The panacotta with its custard-like consistency is unusually different to firmer variants I have experienced, yet not amiss with flavour.
The berry compote marries well with the creamy consistency of the dish and all elements end up merging into a sweet amalgamation which dissolves on the tongue.
Smokehouse Deli seems to instinctively know what the Indian consumer wants, with a hint of spice in everything, whether its fries, soup or a burger. The beauty is that spice does not define the dish; rather it adds dimension.
The menu is carefully composed by the Delhi and Mumbai branch head chefs who conceptualise different ideas from around the world, seasonally changing every six months. Where local meat can be used, it is: in salads and sandwiches. Steaks are imported along with certain fish unavailable in India, such as John Dory.
The waiters form an integral part of the backbone of the Smokehouse Deli experience: genuinely pleased by everyone’s obvious pleasure with the food, they are attentive and helpful, with a hint of charm. It’s a refreshing change from the nervous, whimpering, incompetent subservience from most of the sub-standard, badly managed establishments.
Ambience 10, Food 10. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Smokehouse Deli is located at Clove At 33rd Road, B. R. Ambedkar Road, Opposite Brownie Point, Bandra West.