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25.04.2018

What are you doing to beat the heat, reader? For us, it’s mangoes, telling ourselves to love the world’s best highlighter (even Fenty Beauty can’t beat the glow of sweat), and a deceptively named Gin-tleman’s Tonic at Toast & Tonic - one of those gin + jasmine tea elderflower + grapefruit-infused tonic affairs, poured over rose petal and cucumber ice.

When we learn about ‘Sharing Table,’ Toast’s new community-dining enticement, we flop up to their doorstep hoping to renew our acquaintance with this drink. We’re usually here for more intimate affairs (not only with the gin, please), but the Sharing Table, inaugurated on a steamy weeknight evening, is very much a social experience: a five-course dinner with experimental food and hungry strangers.

The curated menu for this edition promises BBQ from around the world, from brisket over cheesy grits (America, of course) to an experimental eggplant & seitan yakitori from Japan. We have to say our Gin-tleman’s is even better accompanied by pulled BBQ jackfruit perched on bite sized cheddar jalapeno scones: having distractedly popped one, we must valiantly resist attacking the server for a dozen more immediately.

The faces around us are new, but Toast’s long sharing table reminds us of the one in our ammamma’s Bombay kitchen, a clever, compact device that unfolded itself only for family lunches during summer vacations. It is a good omen for things to come. The yakitori arrives accompanied by miso glazed chargrilled leeks, potato glass, and seaweed dust - no replacement for a meaty BBQ, but full of satisfying umami notes.

The distinct advantage of dining with serious eaters is immediately apparent. For one, everyone falls respectfully silent when each course comes to table. By chance (or not?) it turns out Sharing Table is the sort of things girls love - surrounded by women, we fall into the happy, familiar buzz of friend-discovery. For everyone who thinks of BBQ as a manly affair, we will refrain from saying too much about our conversations (inescapably girly stuff about romance and family. Run, boys).

This writer’s happy reverie about how men really are trash is broken by chicken leg dakgangjeong, served over a bed of kimchi gobindobhog rice and gachunjong lacquer, dusted with a dried shrimp and coriander crumble. Shockingly, we don’t have a single complaint about the intrusion. One bite in and we start plotting. Can we invade the kitchen for more? Stage a coup to take control of the restaurant’s management? Whom must we sweet-talk to ensure a lifetime’s supply of this deliciousness? The chicken is somehow simultaneously crispy and sticky. Shrimp crumbles flavour the rice in a way that would make the fieriest Andhra blood thrum with joy.

It’s so good that anything beyond is bound to disappoint, but the final course of brisket is particularly distressing. While it is smoked to perfection, that fall-off-the-bone tenderness is sorely lacking. We console ourselves by lapping up the cheesy grits studded with wheat berries - a pleasant palate cleanser before the dessert course.

Grilled pineapple custard wobbles next to a scoop of burnt vanilla ice cream before us. Smoked black rice puffs freckle its silky top and a chilli sponge that resembles the tastiest tumbleweed you can imagine perches on the very edge. Its warm flavours lull us into feeling like we are five all over again and have been allowed pudding before bedtime - all’s right with the world after all. Sparkly eyed and deeply satisfied, we gather pots of BBQ sauce and dry rub to take home before departing gently into the good night, plans firmly in place with our new pals for future dates.

Getting There: The Sharing Table is advertised monthly on Toast & Tonic's Facebook and Instagram. Sign up early to ensure a spot. Dinner with a drink (and a second tonic water) is Rs. 2656 per diner.

Accessibility: Three low steps and a ramp up from the pavement to the entrance.

bpb was anonymous and paid for the meal.

Sushmita Sundaram writes about funny people, odd things, and anything edible. Follow her on Twitter at @sushmitas.

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