Name: Mumbai Local
Location: 1148 Davie St., Vancouver
Cuisine: Maharashtrian (regional Indian)
Prices: Appetizers, $8 to $13, Dabba (tiffin-box lunch), $15 to $18; mains, $15 to $25
Additional Info: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (11 p.m. Fri and Sat); reservations accepted.
Rating System: Casual dining
In 2013, a few friends and I decided to eat our way up and down Scott Road, also known as 120th Street, the main commercial artery dividing Surrey and Delta. Our goal wasn’t so much to devour the beating heart of a vital food street, à la Jonathan Gold and his epic forage along Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. We merely wanted to find a great Indian restaurant – one would suffice – that wasn’t owned by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala.
Alas, we gave up. Not because we didn’t discover good food. But because it all got tremendously boring incredibly fast. There just wasn’t much diversity. With few exceptions (the Mumbai street food at Apna Chaat House; the glossy, Cactus Club-esque style and sizzle of Tasty Indian Bistro), it was a whole lot of the same butter, tandoori and tikka chicken from Punjab.
Five years later, I have finally found the great Indian restaurant we were searching for.
It’s not in Surrey. It’s in the middle of the Gay Village in Vancouver’s West End, in a long, narrow space that was previously home to The Daily Catch seafood market.
It’s operated by three friends (owner Shreyash Kulkarni, chef Tushar Tondvalkar and general manager Prem Shetty), who met while working at Western restaurants in Canada, but who all hail from Mumbai.
It’s a modern, black-and-white space appointed in wooden high-tops, painted brick, polished concrete and a sweeping bright-yellow mural designed by Mr. Kulkarni’s wife, graphic artist Shraddha Kumar.
It looks deceptively casual for a restaurant that often scales refined heights – not just the food, but also service and drinks.
It’s called Mumbai Local (a reference to that city’s overcrowded train system) and I love it.
A good portion of the menu is devoted to traditional Mumbai-style street food, for which the coastal city is famous. There is chaat – little crackery snacks that aren’t uncommon in Vancouver, but here are more delicately plated. The sampler platter includes a variety of puffed rice – hollow orbs, thin strips and airy kernels – stuffed, drizzled and tossed with raw mango, mashed peas, creamy yogurt, tangy chutneys, diced onions and crunchy confetti. Most of the time, chaat looks like a sloppy plate of nachos. At Mumbai Local, it feels more like afternoon tea.
There are also soft-toasted pavs (small buns, similar to sliders) filled with patties – chickpea-battered potato, mashed vegetables and a delicious goat burger seasoned with Kashmiri chili paste, mango powder, coriander, cumin and who knows what else, slathered with mint chutney and sprinkled with pink pixie dust made from dehydrated beet root.
At lunch, you can order dabba, a four-layered metal tiffin box containing a choice of home-style stew (meat, seafood or vegetarian), daal, long-grain basmati rice and papadums with achar pickles. The stews (they don’t call it curry here) and daal change daily, with recipes that range from all over India. The day I visited, there was a creamy coconut fish stew from Goa and an exceptionally thick, rich and buttery black-lentil daal – Daal Bukhara – created by one of India’s most famous hotel restaurants in New Delhi.
After opening in the summer, the restaurant attempted a tiffin delivery service for UBC students. It didn’t quite work out, but will soon be relaunching with office delivery downtown.
Expect for the tiffins, most dishes showcase Maharashtrian (or Marathi) cuisine from the state of Maharashtra, which is, apparently, rarely seen outside India and is certainly not found anywhere else in Vancouver.
Interesting, it includes some Indo-Chinese flavours, which are typical in Mumbai. Tender chicken lollipops, for instance, are stained dark-red from Kashmiri-chili marinade, deep fried with a crispy egg and cornstarch coating infused with loads of zesty ginger and served with a “Szechuan” chutney that doesn’t contain any Szechuan chili, but is darkly kissed with soy.
For kombadi vade, a Konkan-style chicken dish, Mr. Tondvalkar uses his grandmother’s recipe for a caramelized-onion and coconut curry made with malvani masala (a freshly roasted spice mix with a bit more heat than garam masala). But he gives the plate a contemporary spin by cooking its boneless chicken breast separately, brining it overnight, slowly cooking it sous-vide for six hours and then searing the skin to a shattering, golden crisp.
Fish aamti is another modern rendition of a traditional coconut and curry-leaf stew with the flaky sablefish seared separately after being treated to a long marinade in kokum (a citrus fruit) syrup. The chef drizzles the sauce with curry-leaf oil for a cleaner flavour, and serves the dish with a gorgeously light and fluffy fermented-rice and coconut pancake.
Desserts are juicy and delicious, not tooth-achingly sweet. There is a luscious yogurt that has been hung until every last drop of whey has dripped out, then folded with saffron and served with fresh pineapple, and guava ice-cream popsicles coated in white chocolate and sprinkled with chili salt.
Terrific cocktails that incorporate rosewater, tamarind, cardamom, saffron and turmeric are created by Mr. Shetty, who trained with some of the best bartenders in Vancouver while working at the Rosewood Hotel and Tableau Bar Bistro.
The service is incredibly friendly, attentive and informed.
There really isn’t anything quite like Mumbai Local in Vancouver. Some will compare it to Vij’s, although the flavours are different and the setting more casual. I have a feeling, however, that it might become just as influential, and popular.