The popular Hughes Road institution has been a city landmark since 1929; and the cuisine on offer has had a dedicated clientele. Now, winds of change are beginning to waft into the kitchen, where Parsi women who found employment in the past, were taught to prepare French pastries by Sheramai Tata, a cousin of late Naval Tata
(L to R) Arzaan Sabawalla, HOD- Food Divison, Head Chef and Hooma Billimoria- HOD Cake & Confectionery Dept, at RTI’s Gourmet near Babulnath, in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, November 10, 2022. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)
Article By Anjana Vaswani | Hindustan Times
Mumbai: Rati Patwa, 74, has been making the journey from Makhdoom Baba dargah, in Mahim West, to Babulnath mandir, and back, every day six days a week for 37 years. If she alights at a different bus stop, she’d be lost, she said with a laugh. That’s pretty much how many city residents would feel without the puffs and pastries that Rati and a team of some 50 others, prepares every day, to line the counters at Sir Ratan Tata Institute, also called RTI.
The popular Hughes Road institution has been a city landmark since 1929; and the cuisine on offer has had a dedicated clientele. Now, winds of change are beginning to waft into the kitchen, where Parsi women who found employment in the past, were taught to prepare French pastries by Sheramai Tata, a cousin of late Naval Tata. Sheramai was trained by Swiss pastry chefs, and RTI’s offerings at the time marked the height of sophistication in Mumbai.
Old favourites still sell out, but now a fresh team has been roped in to develop cuisine that meets the demands of modern consumers. Chefs Arzaan Sabawalla and Hooma Billimoria are the force behind ‘Gourmet at 35’ – the menu’s title is inspired by the building’s location at 35 NS Patkar Marg – which includes exotic dishes like crab and artichoke dip, Vietnamese rice paper prawn wraps, Thai glass noodle salad with tofu, pearl barley risotto with mushroom and truffles, and a feathery Japanese cheesecake. Interestingly, the chefs have also given traditional dishes a fun new spin, like in a Parsi-style prawn vol-au-vent and smoked potato and feta quiche.
Sandwiches have always been RTI’s big sellers, but the gourmet menu takes even these up a notch with offerings like Caprese salad croissant sandwich with walnut pesto and a multigrain bread roll with ham, cheddar and cranberry chutney.
“The menu is designed to appeal to savvy, well-travelled consumers, with an aim to re-energise RTI,” said Shernaz Buhariwala, head of operations. In its step-up, classic dishes will be available on popular food delivery platforms.
Also, the old restaurant in the Hughes Road building has been spiffed up now and turned into ‘The Landmark’, a space for intimate private events (for about 35 people) like corporate lunches, parties, pop-up sales, exhibitions and small conferences.
As nostalgia is the flavour of choice, Billimoria has reintroduced some old favourites such as Religieuse — “a French pastry that gets its name from the fact that its icing and assembly makes it resemble a nun in a habit.”
While the organisation has meticulous records – including antique, handwritten recipes – to rely on, it also helps that about 40 per cent of the staff has been there for decades, and as is the case for Rati Patwa, their minds are databases of all the experiments that have been conducted in RTI’s kitchen over the years.
“Some of our customers even ask to chat with the old staff members, who they know by name,” Billimoria said. And, while the team is excited by the response to the new dishes from those who’ve been invited for tastings, this closeness to their customers, they say, will always remain on offer.