In the Kitchen with Bombay Canteen

A celebration of all things Indian, The Bombay Canteen is one of our favourite haunts in Mumbai. A former parking lot situated in the heart of Kamala Mills, this restaurant perfectly blends old world charm with fresh, modern elements, in its architecture as much as its menu. Cement and brick partitions give way to walls of steel and glass. Menus come in register notebooks, with new items marked out in fluorescent highlighter. It’s full of cosy corners and warm light, perfect for a meal alone, for drinks, or for intimate conversation. It is nostalgia and brand-new all at once.

Bombay Canteen was established by Yash Bhanage and Sameer Seth. Both have travelled the world, working in cities from New York to Singapore, before they made their way back to Mumbai to set up this restaurant that feels like it is already a classic. Yash trained at IHM in Goa and at Cornell University’s Hotel School before opening up Antidote in Singapore, a bar that won “Best Bar in Singapore” in 2014. Co-founder Sameer grew up in Delhi and, like Yash, holds a Master’s Degree from Cornell University’s Hotel School before working in restaurants including New York’s Bar Bouloud and North End Grill.

While we ate Virar Chicken Bhujing (a chicken and poha biryani that traces its roots back to its namesake Virar), crispy karari gobi sprinkled with caramelized milk powder, and fresh pomfret grilled to perfection, Sameer and Yash took the Nico Q&A.
Tell us about the inspiration behind The Bombay Canteen?
When we first conceptualized the idea of The Bombay Canteen, we decided that we wanted to build a restaurant that made sense in the Indian context both culturally and socially. More than anything else, we wanted The Bombay Canteen to be a celebration of India that is reflected in the space, the food and drink, as we felt that this is something that would connect with the market in Mumbai.

Your Bombay Canteen favourites?
Sameer: Dark Monsoon, Eggs Kejriwal and My Uncle’s Coconut Mutton.
Yash: Chatpati Karari Gobhi, Goan B**F Olives, G+T.

How do you come up with new additions to the menu?

Yash: We are constantly updating the menu, as the season changes the menu also changes – both in the kitchen and behind the bar. Our focus has always been on fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. At the start of each season, we explore the markets to understand what is fresh and available and based on that, come up with ideas of what we can add to the menu.
Sameer: Very often the inspiration will come from something we see on our travels, or even just looking at the tiffins that some of our team bring to work, there are ideas everywhere. Chef Thomas Zacharias also travels across India to understand the regional cuisines and that gives a lot of inspiration to the menu at The Bombay Canteen.
How do you split the work? What's the best part about working together?
Yash: I handle all things operations related at The Bombay Canteen and Sameer looks at marketing and business development. We’ve known each other for almost seven years since we met at Cornell’s Hotel School and I think the best part about working together has been how since the beginning we’ve been on the same page about what The Bombay Canteen should be. While we might have different styles of working, the end goal for both of us has always been the same – creating a neighbourhood restaurant that celebrates all things Indian.
Sameer: As with most other things, have to agree with Yash here!

Biggest challenge of running your own restaurant?
Sameer: One of the primary challenges in opening The Bombay Canteen was finding the right space that would allow the concept to come to life in its entirety. It took us almost eight months of searching to find the space in Kamala Mills. Even then being one of the first restaurants to open in this mill bought its own set of challenges, such as driving traffic to the restaurant in an area that people were not used to going to, especially at night.
Yash: Ensuring that people understood that we were a fun, affordable and approachable restaurant brand. This was an interesting challenge, as we had a celebrity chef on the team, and we had to leverage his brand while still communicating the core aspects of our brand.

When not at work, you can be found:
Yash: Supporting Manchester United! When I’m not working, I’m normally catching up on the football matches that I may have missed.
Sameer: Developing and dreaming about The Bombay Canteen! I never had the time to pursue any other interests which are reading Mills & Boons, watching rom coms and raising Japanese bonsais.

What are your biggest food/ drink inspirations?
Sameer: While there have been numerous restaurants and bars that have been inspirations, the true inspirations for me have always been the individuals behind those establishments and seeing how they’ve created those concepts in a sustainable manner. These include Danny Meyer and Alan Yau.
Yash: There have been several restaurants around the world which have made me go “wow”, but nothing has been more inspiring than a 20 day trip to Japan four years ago. The drive for perfection in every little detail, from ingredients to the warm hospitality left me awestruck.

Favourite restaurants, anywhere in the world?
Sameer: Uncle Boons, Dead Rabbit & Pok Pok in NYC, A Cevicheria in Lisbon.
Yash: Chin Chin (Melbourne), Burnt Ends (Singapore).

Bombay, in three words?
Sameer: Is an emotion.
Yash: Charming, Motivating, Tiring.

Favourite Bombay spots for:
A quick bite:
Sameer: Fatty Bao; Yash: Ashok Vada Pav
A night out on the town:
Sameer: Woodside; Yash: Gokul
Date night:
Sameer: The Table; Yash: One Street Over
An essentially Mumbaikar experience:
Sameer: Walking aimlessly around South ‘Bombay’ streets on a Sunday afternoon - the architecture is beautiful and it’s really quiet and peaceful. Yash: Cutting the queue at 10am on the bandra Worli Sea link.