My second visit to White Owl proved to be a hoot and a half
I’m not one for tipple, and I’m certainly no connoisseur of beer, so what the hell was I even doing at White Owl? Truth be told, I could wax eloquent about beer, but then I’d be less of a connoisseur and more of a con.
No, I visited (more specifically re-visited) White Owl simply because I remember all too well the friendly vibe of the place, the fun time we had there last time, and the fact that they had an all new menu to try out. With a trifecta brewing like that, who am I to say no to visiting this brewery in the heart of Mumbai’s miracle mile?
The eclectic nature of White Owl makes itself well and truly apparent in the finer details that manifest itself. Industrial, grungy and decidedly edgy, the place feels at once like a factory thanks to the massive pipes with brewing vats visible just beyond the glass façade, and the exposed brick walls (such a popular design cue these days) making their presence felt. Old world Mumbai made its presence felt too courtesy a bicycle propped up on a wall and the almost antique smoked-mirror table tops. Very chic and laidback, this is the ideal place for the young at heart to relax after the rigors of working day.
A special mention has to be made for the service. Vijay (who I consistently called Vinod…or was it Vinod who I called Vijay) was a very friendly guy that was always chatty and full of suggestions, and Executive Chef Dinesh Bherwani (a young guy with a fascinating and fittingly eclectic background) made for some great company, especially the latter. With the launch of a new menu, the temptation ran strong to try a lot of things, but I had asked for smaller portions of everything (including the beer), so that I could cram in more at one go. All for science, of course.
Vinod (Vijay?) rolled out a set of 6 beers for us to sample, and of these the Ace (a dry apple cider) and Torpedo (an American Pale Ale) stood out most for me. The light hints of apple in the former coupled with the easygoing smoothness of it makes it a go-to beer for me in situations such as this, and the citrusy notes in the Torpedo coupled with the fact it was a little less strong than say the Diablo or Shadow saw it come out ahead for me. Take my opinion with a big pinch of salt (and some tequila too), for beer is not my poison.
Great things happen when you step outside your comfort zone. It’s how Cringer became the mighty Battle Cat, or how Rahul from office ensured a yearful of laughs when he decided to drink alcohol neat despite him having as much of a capacity for it as a tiny goldfish. Nonetheless, in the course of my conversations with Dinesh (the Exec Chef of White Owl), I explained how I didn’t want to walk the road more well-trodden, and to surprise me a bit.
And surprise he did.
I have seen some places add this to the menu, but it was my first tryst with the BBQ waffle chicken burger. Wrapped between two soft, fresh waffled buns were gherkin, fried eggs, some yellow cheddar and, but of course, BBQ chicken. It was a more humble brethren of the elevated art-forms available at say Indigo deli, but the humble homeliness of the BBQ chicken was offset by the juiciness of the gherkin, and each mouthful contained of perfectly done fried eggs. This is the kind of burger that would be perfect for a breakfast, and that I suspect is where its origins lie.
Chicken Tikka, the Zero, the Kamasutra and Sunny Leone. These are just some of India’s most successful exports. Wait, scratch that, Sunny Leone is a hugely successful import. Damn, I need to replace it with something. How about Bunny Chow? I know, I know, it’s not an export from India. But it was dreamt up by Indians in Durban, surely that counts for something?
The Bunny Chow dished out by White Owl is almost unrecognizable from the fare you might get elsewhere. It can, however, be a self-contained meal in itself, but it is different in a significant way. You don’t have to deconstruct it piece by piece to enjoy it. Stuffed with corn, kidney beans, cheese and myriad veggies, you simply have to eat, chew and repeat, treating it like an all-in-one dish. Neutral in nature and boasting familiar flavors, this was a dish that will please veggies for sure, although it wasn’t even close to being the best dish on the night.
Nosireebob, that honor was reserved for the Pumpkin Ravioli. I normally look at Pumpkins as something scary, like that stuff they put up on Halloween. Damn, what are all those faces carved out of? I forget, I digress. Anyhow. With four small pillows of ravioli stuffed with buttery sweet, smooth innards and toasted hazelnut thrown in for good measure, this is the kind of dish that most vegetarians should kill for. Wars could be waged over that last piece of ravioli in the plate. I’m just saying this thing could start World War IV.
Being inherently fishy people, we scoured the seven seas of the menu for the best catch of the day. Our eyes settled on the Red Snapper Skewers and it was love at first sight, and then first bite.
The appearance of this was Indian in some ways, but the sweetish nature of the tender meat was complemented perfectly by being charred very slightly in places and the bite of the citrus aioli that complemented the fish perfectly. This dish was a winner through and through and something I can see myself munching on ad infinitum.
Don’t you just love it when something is tailor-made for you? Suits, cars, genetically engineered food…actually, scratch that last one. It is true though; Something bespoke and to your tastes can leave you thrilled like little else can. Which is why I was mildly surprised and thrilled when I saw the chef trot out a special dessert that he refused to describe and simply implored us to try it.
It was love at first bite.
The chef had noted my dual love for chilli and chocolate, meshed into a mousse and perched it atop a lollypop stick. To this he added a garnishing of pop rocks, that old favorite that acts as a wormhole to my childhood. To say this was delightful would be an understatement. The first wave of chocolate gave way to a mild heat born of chilli and as you powered through and crunched through the pop rocks, they went off in your mouth and resounded in your ears with all the power of the fireworks on 4th of July.
It was breathtakingly joyful, and the only negative I have against this dish is that it’s not on the menu. It was crafted just for us, and the thought that a larger slice of the populace can’t try it out hurts me at some level. Pull out your best puppy dog eyes and say pretty please with a cherry on top and you might just cajole them into serving you one!
Continuing the sweet and spicy theme, we rounded off the meal with some Mexican Chilli Hot Chocolate. Memories of the one at Flour Works in Pune still keep me awake on stormy nights, and while this one fell just short of that one, it’s still pretty darn ridiculous to see a brewery churn out one that’s still right up there with some of the better ones in the city. With just the slightest hint of cinnamon (I wish there was more, like enveloping my senses more), this too struck the right balance of bittersweet and spicy and served as the near perfect end to a fantastic evening of chatter and culinary delights.
Eclectic and Inventive, White Owl will leave you hooting with pleasure. This avian outpost tries very hard to be everything to everyone, and remarkably it manages to pull it off too. I can’t say that of many places. I would be cautious of anointing it the best brewery in the city since I haven’t tried Doollaly yet, but I’m confident I will like this bird of prey better simply because it offers a more expansive menu.
Perfect for nocturnal animals, I’ll certainly return for more of the same since White Owl proved to be a hoot.