Cast your mind back for a minute to the mid-90s, when pool parlours fell out of fashion and arcades came in, kitted out with bowling lanes, air hockey, flashing lights and fountain Cokes. That’s the heaving, frenetic energy that the newly opened FLEA Bazaar Café at Kamala Mills evokes – with a Shaggy song pounding out the speakers and adolescent, greasy, instantly satisfying food to match.
That’s not to say that FLEA isn’t designed for the SnapChat generation. You can’t reach for your cellphone without bumping into giggling girls posing under bulb-shaped lights or angling for the right shot under a neon-pink “dope” sign. There are 3D ceilings and strings of fairy lights, wooden benches and wide windows, plenty of plants and plug points. It’s all new and also terribly nostalgic.
You might think the same about FLEA’s dining format, which borrows equally from the new food halls taking over the West Side of Manhattan, and also the khao gullis of Bandra. Individual vendors curated by promoter / restauranteur Riyaaz Amlani have set up stalls along the wall, and diners can choose from an exhaustive range of dishes, from appams to sushi burritos.
The best of these are tunday kebabs at Lucknowee, an import from UP that has brought with it the cloudiest, creamiest mutton this writer has ever known. Served with stretchy rotis and tart chutney, these can fuel you for a big night of drinking at the gratifyingly cheap bar, run by the Social; or soothe away your hangover the next day. Also reliably good are the above-mentioned sushi burritos by Yugo Sushi, rolls at Goila Butter Chicken, and a Margherita pizza from old-time favourite delItalia, which scores high on crust and sauce, but is smothered under a pile of cheese.
We scrape it off our pie, but not before taking a photo of that cheese pull. #Stories.
Other dishes seem to be designed for the digestive system of sixteen year olds – you’d be hard-pressed to find a salad on any of the menus (you know the other thing that’s missing? Dessert. But we digress). Even the dumplings from Hung-Li come doused in chili sauce with a side of non-veg humour. We consume ours happily, alongside a huge, greasy, flavour-bombed bowl of egg fried rice and chilli chicken. Speaking of greasy flavour-bombs, a cauliflower Manchurian bun from Super Pav packs a big punch, as does a lamb burger from Bay Burger, served with tapioca chips and – much to the dismay of a gourmand friend – nacho cheese sauce. Nacho cheese sauce also makes a star appearance at El Chapo, where it is accompanied by crispy chips and arrives alongside a quesadilla made fat with cheese and steak.
And there in lies a central problem with eating at FLEA – that despite all the variety, the flavours feel repetitive, singular, loud, all coated in a thick layer of grease. It’s the kind of place we’d take out-0f-towners to, where we’d send coltish nieces and nephews, and where we’d venture on unseasonably cool nights for well-priced cocktails, when we’re feeling extra brave and ambitious. But mostly, we might be too old for this scene.
Getting there: FLEA Bazaar Café, 1st Floor, Trade View Building, Kamala Mills, Lower Parel. Rs 1,500 for a meal for two plus drinks.
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