maître d’ - Tote on the Turf
Written by Tom Parker
With the steady stream of exclusive new eateries opening up in India’s culinary capital Mumbai, one restaurant – the wildly ambitious ‘Tote on the Turf’ – has quickly emerged head and shoulders above the competition.
When Rahul Akerkar opened the doors of Tote on the Turf in mid-2009, expectations ran high. Already the founder of one of Mumbai’s most well-established eateries, Indigo, his challenge was not only to replicate the highest quality cuisine but also to create an eating environment on a never-seen-before scale. Located on the city’s largest green space, the Mahalaxmi Racecourse, he drafted in the skills of well-known Indian architect Kapil Gupta.
“The organic design was greatly influenced by the 100-year-old rain trees. We wanted to recreate the feel of being in a wood,” explains Rahul. “Unlike other top-end eateries in the city, we have the luxury of space here.” And by that he means 25,000 square feet that make the competition feel like cluttered garden sheds.
On entering Tote, a mezzanine-level verandah unfolds, gracefully supported by a corridor of geometric branch-like structures – giving the feeling of being inside an urban gastronomic forest. Dashed in flawless cream gloss, the restaurant has a sense of gentle serenity with a non-invasive service team and plenty of personal space. In the evening an outside tree-covered terrace hosts candlelit dinners.
It’s this laid back atmosphere which has quickly ensured Tote as Mumbai’s hottest culinary space, with a steady stream of well-heeled socialites and Bollywood A-listers.
“We’ve tried to make the food reflect the space – it’s simple, honest, and unfussy,” says Rahul. Like its sister-restaurant Indigo, in the south of the city, the menu here is continental and Asian-influenced, but infused with ingenious Indian cooking methods and flavours. For example, one of the house favourites is a mustard pot roast chicken served with idli (a traditional South Indian cake) and sambol (a coconut sauce from South India). There’s also a plentiful selection of Japanese and Thai-style dishes such as pickled cabbage with prawns in kiwi ceviche.
And with the increasing popularity of Italian cooking in India, Tote’s most recent addition is a giant wood-fired oven for pizza, fondly referred to as ‘Big mamma’. “We are trying to gently change the way the Indian palate thinks about what they eat. Our bottom line is to create inspirational food,” says Tote’s sous chef Preeteesh Wagh.
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Rahul Akerkar’s reputation as the city’s most forward-thinking culinary mind began in New York in the 1980s where his first taste of the industry was working as a dishwasher in a French bistro. After dropping out of his PhD programme to pursue a love of food, he gained experience in some of the city’s top restaurants before returning to India and opening up ‘Indigo’ in 1999.
Upstairs in the restaurant is one the hippest meeting places in town – known simply as ‘The Bar’. The dramatic, 40ft-high vaulted ceiling is lavishly covered in polished teak panels, designed to mirror the rain tree foliage outside. In addition to an imaginative cocktail list, it has its own food menu (including an extensive range of tapas), reflecting the informal atmosphere.
Given that Tote is a renovation of Mumbai’s historic Royal Western India Turf Club, a trip to the races post-lunch is a must. With a serious following in the city, the high stakes race days usually run at weekends. Be sure to dress up – the members’ enclosure never fails to attract the great and good of Mumbai high society.
Tote is located in midtown Mumbai, near Mahalaxmi train station.