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To Bombay, with love

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-05-2017 Diya Kohli

Bar manager Raul Raghav recounts childhood memories of sitting behind his father on a scooter on Sundays, facing the other way round so that he could take in all the magnificent art deco architecture as they made their way around south Bombay. Little did he know that one day these images would inspire him to create his own version of Mumbai’s art deco in a cocktail glass.

Launched in March, The Bombay Canteen’s art deco cocktail menu is a lovingly curated journey through the history, architecture and stories of south Bombay. Each of the nine cocktails offers a hat tip to the building it is named after: in colour, shape, form, or simply through association. Thus, there is a turmeric-based gin drink inspired by a yellow building called Sunshine. Then there is the Soona Mahal, whose cocktail counterpart resembles the actual structure of the building, with its pineapple crown, while the tiki-inspired Rajjab Mahal is a tribute to this art deco gem.

The best part is that they are compiled into a beautifully illustrated little pop-up book called Canteen Cocktail, which is dedicated to “the lost, the lovers, and the locals”. It is part menu, part artist’s book, part recipe manual, and all nostalgia and charm. Each drink has an art deco counterpart and is accompanied by quirky couplets. Take, for example, Liberty Cinema:

Built in the year that our country awoke.

Premiering Mughal-E-Azam here, was a masterstroke.

If Bollywood is your bitter of choice.

Toast to this royal love affair with some daaru, and rejoice!

Its namesake cocktail is a stylish interpretation of the regal drama with raspberry-infused gin, lime and sparkling wine.

“Everyone has their own memories and stories of these wonderful buildings. Like for me, my first memory of Eros cinema is about watching India’s first 3D film, Chota Chetan. For me and many others of my generation, going to Eros was an occasion and the place was associated with glamour and stars. And the drinks we created are fashioned after the cinema’s grandeur,” says Raghav. And the Eros Ka Raja and Eros Ki Rani, a clever spin on the Kir Royale and Bellini, are quite the fitting tribute to the building. An old-style banta carbonating machine aerates a Chenin Blanc, giving it the feel of a sparkling wine, which is then combined with cassis and peach purée to create these drinks.

Yash Bhanage, one of the restaurant partners, describes Sea Green Hotel as a breakfast cocktail. “Both Raul and I worked in hotels and one of the things we associated with hotels were breakfasts, which is why we created this cocktail with espresso and caramel and served it in a takeaway coffee cup.”

Each drink evolved through multiple tweaks and tastings. Some of the unusual flavour combinations worked, becoming stars of the menu. Take, for example, Green Fields—inspired by a majestic old pistachio-coloured building overlooking the Oval Maidan, this drink combines the delicate flavours of jasmine, green tea, star fruit juice, lime, and egg white with gin. The result—an intriguingly fresh summer drink.

The cocktail menu harks back to the romance of Mumbai that seems to have gotten left behind in the daily grind. As Bhanage says, “People are so busy looking down to avoid potholes that they have forgotten to look up at all the wonderful art deco architecture around them.” And that is exactly what this cocktail menu aims to do—reintroduce chevrons, curvy balconies and bright colours into our conversations.

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