One fine evening, a close friend and I were invited to the new Mediterranean restaurant that’s born in the business hub of Mumbai. Situated in the opposite building to my office in Lower Parel, we headed to savour some authentic food from across the Mediterranean region at the newly-opened Aqaba. When we walked into the plush restaurant, I was reminded of a five-star hotel lobby that’s spacious and elegant. With bare walls and limited decor, Aqaba created this calm atmosphere that brought the city’s hustle-bustle to a standstill. What added to this serene evening was the soothing instrumental music that did not interrupt our conversations or gorging.
With regard to the food and drinks, Anuj Thappar, Chef and Director at Aqaba gives us an insight into the menus, and tells us why Aqaba is not just another Mediterranean restaurant in Mumbai city.
There are so many restaurants in Mumbai that serve Mediterranean cuisine. What makes Aqaba special?
There are many restaurants that serve some Mediterranean dishes but very few restaurants, if any, that are dedicatedly Mediterranean. At Aqaba, we serve food inspired from across the Mediterranean, including Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, northern Africa and the Arabian coast.
And in addition to the food, our ambience is the personification of relaxed luxury where the openness of our space is in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city.
What was the thought process you employed to come up with this menu?
The menu was designed to offer food from the Middle East, but to also incorporate eclectic dishes from regions such as Jordan, Southern Italy, Spain, and Northern Africa amongst others. We also want guests that are discerning and looking for a unique dining experience, to be able to find that experience, in their own city. Lastly, we have tailored the dishes to the Indian palate so the sensitivity towards flavors we enjoyed is maintained, while not losing the authenticity of the cuisine.
What’s your favourite from the menu and why?
I’m very partial to the Mansaf, a traditional Jordanian dish made of lamb and fermented yoghurt and served with rice but also fancy our range of Mezze.
The Mansaf is a very simple dish and it’s because of its simplicity that the flavours are more pronounced. There are more than 20 mezzes to choose from but what stands out as a common factor in all is that they’re light and the perfect start to the evening or perfect accompaniment with drinks!
Which recipe has been a hit among Aqaba’s patrons till date? What could be the reason?
While it’s still too early to say, our experience so far is that people are very receptive and eager to have the availability of a highly under-represented cuisine in Mumbai.
There are a few signature dishes that have received a very good response from all. For the vegetarians, the Moussaka, Paneer Shawarma and Broccoli & Mushroom casserole are a must try. For the non-vegetarians the Chicken Tagine, Lamb Moussaka and Beef Kebabs are a definite hit.
Is the aim to serve authentic Mediterranean food or will there be some tweaking to suit the Indian palate? If yes, tell us more.
This really was the million dollar question for us to answer as well! From our initial trials and interactions we decided we need to have our food to be as authentic as possible while being attuned to the Indian palate. I think the words you’ve chosen are very apt – authentic cuisine that’s tweaked for the Indian palate but not Indianized cuisine.
Share some insights on the drinks menu too. Which are the drinks that the Indians scout for in your drinks menu?
The cocktail and drinks menu is as important as the food menu because we find that this particular cuisine is best enjoyed when paired with wine or sangria, and have worked with a wine sommelier to curate a wine list for Aqaba. Our Watermelon and Basil Mojito has been a regular favourite among guests as has our Burning Mandarain cocktail (orange flavoured vodka with jalapenos and soda).
As with the food, it’s important to constantly innovate on the drinks as well as people always want to try something new.