Every time my parents go to Mumbai, they have to visit Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra and slyly taunt me by sending me photos of nitrogen-loaded Indian food. Really, the restaurant has become one of those iconic stops that you have to make in Mumbai, just the way we always take our relatives from abroad to a nice dinner at Open House in Nairobi. So, obviously, I had to visit…
After a day full of shopping, we headed to Masala Library located in the Bandra Kurla Complex, a long drive from our hotel in Juhu (so I obviously napped in the car). Located deep within an uninspiring office complex, the exterior of the restaurant is unassuming. The interior is simplistic with neutral décor with dim lighting, but this ensures that all the attention is focused on the food.As we sat, the waiter took us through the restaurant’s dining concept. Many Indian restaurants in India only focus on one region, but Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra aims to take its patrons on a gastronomic voyage of centuries-old traditions, combining it with modern day cooking techniques showcasing the culinary excellence across the geographical landscape of India. The experience is showcased through its unique spread represented by dishes from the key provinces of the country.
Kalra, also known as the “Czar of Indian Cuisine” and “Tastemaker to the Nation”, is a pioneering food columnist and author, gastronome and food consultant. You can see his passion in Masala Library’s menu, which heavily relies on molecular gastronomy techniques.
In addition to an a la carte menu with a specifically designed vegetarian menu, the restaurant also offers the Nine Course Degustation menu, a treat for connoisseurs of fine Indian cuisine. Alternatively, the Chef’s tasting menu involves sampling small portions of all signature dishes in one sitting and can be accompanied alongside paired wine complementing each dish.
As we caught up with our cousins who were already at the restaurant, we ordered some drinks. While Mom and I got mocktails, Diva and Dad got a cocktail and a beer, respectively. My Burnt Curry Leaf Martini was lovely as the desi twist on an international classic as a mocktail was a sure winner.
The amuse bouche to cleanse our palate arrived. In a white egg-shaped cup, a mango mousse-like substance to be slurped down awaited us. The mango mousse resembled an egg yolk with that rich yellow-orange hue. Fruity and cold, this was refreshing in Mumbai’s humid heat.As we waited for the food, I devoured the Bun Maska (buttered rolls) on the table. They were scrumptious!To start us off, we ordered two soups: Wild Mushroom Chai and Tomato Soup. A mini tea-service ceremony, the Wild Mushroom Chai really was dehydrated mushrooms and truffle oil dried into crumbs served in a teacup with a clear consommé poured in. It was definitely not what I was expecting, but it was full of flavor.
The Tomato Soup was served poured over a bocconcini chaat and a basil matthi (similar to a breadstick).
It was rich and creamy, though, to me, it had too much of the Indian spices, overwhelming the simplicity of tomato soup as we know it. But this was just a personal preference, as everyone else loved it.Next, for the starters, we ordered a Papad Sampler, Pesto Kebab and Shrooms. The Papad Sampler arrived with papads from all across India, made from different flours including rice flour. The papads were served with a selection of colorful chutneys. It was fun pairing different papads with different chutneys, igniting flavor explosions in my mouth! The Pesto Kebabs were also very delicious, served with smoked tomato. They were a unique mix of Italian and Indian flavors, and the cheesy foam elevated the flavors even further. The final starter, Shrooms was a mix of garlicky mushrooms in a nice spicy sauce. These went down quite a treat as the earthiness of mushrooms was nicely complemented by the fiery piquant sauce. Then, before we moved to the next course, we got another palate cleanser. Propped up on a fake flower box, these were frozen yogurt lollipops that looked just like flowers. Cold and creamy, the frozen yogurt was rich and slightly tart but was sweetened with a drizzle of sweet red syrup. This was a delicious way to get rid of unwanted tastes in my mouth. For mains, we decided to order an Aloor Dom and Dal Makhani. The Aloor Dom really was a take on dum aloo with potatoes filled with fresh ground kasundi and a nut mixture. Kasundi is the Asian or Bengali variety of mustard sauce, a pungent paste of fermented mustard seeds, spices and sometimes dried mangoes, dried Indian plum and olives. With the gravy poured over the filled potato, the dining experience of the delectable curry was taken to a whole other level. The Dal Makhani, a creamy, buttery lentil daal, is said to be a fan favorite. Served simply with no extra flair, the dal was simply moreish. We had the two with a Bread Basket – which came with a selection of three breads such as Malabari Parota, Roti, Naan and Laccha Paratha, allowing us to sample the different types of breads from across the country. Additionally, diners can also order rice and raita (spiced yogurt with herbs and vegetables) on the side.
Then came the famous Paan Candy Floss, a palate cleanser of sorts with the betel leaf-flavored candy floss getting rid of the strong flavors in the mouth in preparation for dessert. It really looked like a cloud resting on top of a wooden box. Quite ethereal, to be honest. For our final course, we chose from a range of desserts including Bibinca and Jamun Mousse. We got the Jalebi Caviar, deep-fried, syrupy jalebi as tiny beads of “caviar” that looked like salmon roe floating in a pistachio milky broth, topped with saffron foam. Each sweet morsel burst on the tongue with a surge of richness. But for me, the Ras Malai Tres Leches, a stack of layered ras malai and fresh fruit cream was divine, especially with the stellar rose petal net garnish. I keep dreaming of this ras malai, hoping to find a replica somewhere in Nairobi because it was that good. For me, Masala Library offers an incredible immersive dining experience and I can see why it appears on several must-try restaurants in Mumbai lists. But I can also see how it is overrated, as it really is one of those “only once” experiences. Perhaps next time, I’ll try the set menu to sample the Chef’s selection as I kept peering at my neighbor’s table and couldn’t stop drooling at some of the courses.
As we headed back to the hotel, falling into a food coma on the drive back through the city, I wondered when should I book my next visit to the restaurant for…(just for the set menu and that decadent Ras Malai Tres Leches!)
Photos and videos by Hitesh Shah