Take in a generous slurp of simplicity as you walk into Ekaa, head chef and partner Niyati Rao’s labour of love, that arrives quietly near Azad Maidan in South Bombay. It is the fierce freedom that stuns here—as it threads through the dishes on the menu, both in fine-dining as well as at the bar, touching upon every flavour, taste and emotion that you could possibly experience. There is the freshness of seasonal ingredients, mating the fresh and local, playing up contrasts and textures, and the plating of creations with hushed reverence in front of you that builds up the natural narrative.
The earthy essence suffuses the soul of Ekaa, from the quiet décor and the neatly-arranged plant pods and khus jars, dry herbs, and twigs dotting the shelves on the walls to the unpretentious food that savours the hero ingredient in every recipe created by her.
Putting ingredients first
At 27, Niyati forms the tour de force at Ekaa. She is the creative heart, driving the culinary coup in the interactive kitchen—her “place of worship”—letting guests walk in and chat with the chefs. Ekaa is an expression of her passion for travel, cooking, and experimenting with different cuisines. She fuses traditional techniques and avant-garde methods to create a menu that gives you a chance to explore and taste something different, each time you walk into the restaurant. Blame the premium she places on R&D – a secret she learnt during her years spent in the kitchens at Zodiac Grill, and Wasabi by Morimoto (in Mumbai), A Reverie (in Goa) and Noma (the world’s best restaurant, in Copenhagen). Her experience of working with acclaimed chefs, love for all that is Indian, and fetish for travel and serendipity compose the ditty called Ekaa.
Change is a constant on the menu at the barely-month-old restaurant that has clawed its way up the snob foodie charts already. Niyati’s prized tasting menu at Christmas brought in 22 sea urchins netted by deep-sea divers near a remote village in Madurai in South India. “The urchins were a glorious chance find,” she shares, her eyes shining. “The locals were making lanterns with the shells, unaware of what they were fetching from the sea. We taught them how to store and transport the urchins. I brought the sea finds in a very tiny measure, not in the mainstream menu, as I was unsure if it were fair on sustainability.” The delicate, creamy, egg yolky flavour of the urchins tasted brilliant—like the ocean in the mouth—with the hero ingredient tossed up with handmade noodles, served up with chives and umeboshi or salted sourish Japanese plums brined for a year. The sea-wonder replaced the Japanese ohitashi salad on the menu. “We have been salting these and using them for our koji duck glaze,” she reveals.
There are mouthfuls of pleasure in every bite at Ekaa and the flavours leave you wonderfully giddy. The smooth caress of the rice with the egg yolk butter fills your mouth with untold, robust joy. A pinch-me moment reminds me happily that even Niyati thinks avocado is overrated. This is heartfelt cooking and it tugs at the strings of the heart. The soul-satisfying lentils and spinach arrives in a bowl. Jewelled richness! The crispy chicken wing with cheesy mushroom inside is precious chomp, off the Sheesham serving board—rustic, novel, not fancy-schmancy. The gleaming farmed pork sausages (with lamb casing) arrive stroked with honey chilli—a childhood food memory brought alive by Niyati. Even the humble arbi elevates itself to a food ditty, arriving in fried crispness and with an entourage of fair-skinned rice tortillas, pickled raw papaya, freshly plucked micro greens, and green tomato rojo. For those nursing a hangover, the potato cake slathered with cereal ice cream arrives as a delicious sweet shot.
Every dish at Ekaa is a celebration of Indianness. Even the pork belly with its portly pirouette – with the delicately-spiced gavarfali, fermented cabbage slivers, and slim brioche trio. Culinary magic is a sustained metaphor here, with each preparation startling and wooing at multiple levels, simultaneously. It is an art that few have been able to hone on home turf.
Drinks to savour
The bar menu stands hinged on borrowings from the seven eco-systems—the grasslands, freshwater, ocean, tundra, terrestrial, dessert and tundra. A must-savour is the Petrichor that breathes the moistness of the drenched soil after the first shower, replete with coconut vermouth, gooseberry, and coconut stone. The unique herbs and extraordinary distills at Ekaa compose the layers and emotions that suffuse every cocktail. “Fragrance is taste and taste is fragrance,” says Niyati with a smile, turning dehydrated buffalo pastrami into shavings to evoke the same fragrance as pepper infused wood. “Our Indian palate is so highly evolved that it takes multi-dimensional formats to woo our taste buds genuinely,” she adds. That’s what subtly cups the ethos of Ekaa—its uniqueness. Inspiration flows in from peers and pashas—Manish Mehrotra (Indian Accent, Delhi), Prateek Sadhu (Masque, Mumbai), and Himanshu Saini (Tresind, Dubai).
Time flows beautifully at Ekaa, in a symphony of flavours and textures, with every preparation served with equal veneration. Arrive here to create your own unique experience, at leisure.