Rahul Akerkar’s name is synonymous with food that is anything but ordinary. The celebrity chef gave South Mumbai one of its most unforgettable culinary hotspots (remember Indigo, where he wowed us with his anniversary feasts and dishes that were way ahead of their time?). But for someone who seems to always be ahead of the curve, change and challenges have been a constant. Case in point: Akerkar and wife Malini Vachani Akerkar’s latest brainchild, Qualia.
Located at Lower Parel’s Lodha World Towers, Qualia comes to the city after a much-needed hiatus, which helped the Akerkars re-centre before diving into a new project. “I took the time to get into a silly head space. When I say that, I really mean, to take my mind back to when I first started Indigo and didn’t overthink things,” Akerkar explains. “I finally travelled a bit, ate my way through a lot of places… did a little bit of diving.” Those who lap up his Insta feed will know how much he globe trotted before he finally opened Qualia.
The result of the break more than makes up for the time food lovers didn’t have access to “a Rahul Akerkar experience”. Qualia’s doors open up to a space flooded with warm lights, dark wood, old-school red leather booths and chain “curtains” that offer diners privacy. Akerkar’s menu is full of what a friend of his once described as “good looking soul food”: a selection of comforting European favourites, but with a surprise element thrown in by way of unexpected pickled elements. Pickle is an important word to remember here, considering the rows and rows of pickle jars that take up the space above the open kitchen. “My mom is of American and German extraction, and my dad is Maharashtrian, so the menu’s got this whole sweet-meets-sour profile. I love this khatta-meetha mix,” Akerkar breaks it down. “Thereâs something pickled in every dish, and the drinks and desserts too.” Think yellow gazpacho sharing space with sweet pickled melon and whipped feta, Brussels sprouts pizza drizzled with preserved lemon, and duck neck sausage embedded with nuts, sitting proudly next to hearty slices of pickled plums. All the pickled ingredients are, of course, house made. The vibrant jars also lend a pop of colour to the space.
Both indulgent, yet simultaneously light and fresh, Akerkar’s menu has something for every kind of mood, whether you’re feeling peckish or look forward to something rich and comforting. He, for one, can’t pick a favourite dish, but you don’t need to be a food connoisseur to be able to notice the complexity of flavours and textures in each creation. For the meat lover, the steak tartare (accompanied by delicately pickled mushrooms, cured egg yolk and sourdough bread) will become one that has you coming back , but Qualia has much to offer to the vegetarian visitor too, ranging from burnt lemon risotto with crispy kale to heirloom beets with a lemon creme fraiche and charred broccoli with pumpkin hummus and pickled apricots. The desserts follow the same thread, with highlights including a charred chocolate cake paired with crunchy sesame brittle, served under a dreamy cloud of vanilla cream.
It’s in the middle of mouthfuls that one truly understands the name of the restaurant. “I was reading a book during my travels, which was about the human brain,” Akerkar recalls. “They were talking about people who had lesions in one chapter and when that happens, people can develop a condition called synesthesia. Because the brain is short circuited or wrongly wired, they associate one stimulus with another sense. In other words, if you look at the digit 5, you may think of the colour blue, so you see 1, 2, 3, 4, blue, 6, and so on. The book also spoke about the qualia of the experiences, meaning the quality of those sensory experiences or somethingâs essence. If you talk about the qualia of a tomato, itâs the quality of the redness of the tomato. Itâs also the word from which ‘quality’ originates.”
Here, the importance of pleasing the senses extends from what’s on the plate. “For the first time in 20 years, I said, let’s base the design around intimacy and go with an open kitchen,” Malini Vachani Akerkar reveals. “Cooking in a restaurant is almost like being on stage, it’s a performance. Twenty years ago, cheffing was not something that everybody got into. Thanks to people like Rahul, cheffing has become cool.”Â The couple remain tight-lipped about their future plans for Qualia, but food lovers can be rest assured there’s much more to look forward to in the coming months. But for now, it’s time to celebrate this culinary comeback one plate at a time.
Address:Â Ground Floor, Lodha World Crest, Building R2, 402 Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai.Â For reservations, call 73045 86862
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