In Mumbai, an intimate Diwali dinner | ET REALITY


During the Hindu festival of Diwali, intricate neon-hued sand decorations called Rangoli They beautify the entrances of homes across India and the diaspora, their presence meant to ward off evil and usher in good fortune. At a recent Diwali dinner at a Mumbai restaurant MasqueradeIts owner, Aditi Dugar, 40, and chef, Varun Totlani, 31, paid tribute to this tradition by welcoming their guests with an edible set of Rangoli: slices of cured barramundi from the Andaman Islands in the northeast. from the Indian Ocean, topped with colorful garnishes such as yellow fennel flowers, radish microgreens and red pomegranate arils.

“Diwali is the most important festival for us; It’s our new year,” Dugar said. In Mumbai, celebrations for the occasion can be large, impersonal affairs, but for this event, she kept her guest list at 13 people, enough to fill the counter at Masque’s test kitchen, Masque Lab. Hosting a small group, he said, was like “a sigh of relief.”

Masque, which opened in 2016 and has since become one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants, is known for its modern Indian cuisine that highlights ingredients and techniques from around the country (a cucumber, tomato and mango salad can topped with pickled Goan seaweed; dessert could be a popsicle sorbet made with cacti from Rajasthan). And the five-course tasting menu for the Diwali meal, prepared by Totlani, was no different, although there were some adjustments to the service. “We usually explain each dish,” Dugar said. “But this was a party; “We wanted it to be informal.” He also added some colorful accents, like red velvet curtains and bright flowers, to the otherwise quiet industrial-style private dining room.

The night of the event, as guests battled Mumbai traffic, Dugar lit dozens of diyas – festive tea lights that symbolize the victory of light over darkness in Hindu culture – that lined the entrance. And by 8, the hall was packed with people dressed in bright sarees and custom-made kurtas. Before sitting down to enjoy the feast, they ate passed canapés, including pani poori (crispy shells of fried semolina dough) filled with spiced avocado mousse. “If someone came to a Diwali party at my house, I would want it to be great,” Dugar said, “and Masque is my second home.”

The assistants: Dugar and her husband, jeweler and restaurateur Aditya Dugar, 42, celebrated with friends, including architect Ashiesh Shah, 43, who designed Masque; Kulsum Shadab Wahab, 40, executive director of the nonprofit Hothur Foundation; film producer Monisha Advani, 52; Yeshwant Holkar, 41, managing partner of hospitality group Ahilya Experiences, and his wife Nyrika Holkar, 41, chief executive of manufacturing company Godrej & Boyce; and Maithili Ahluwalia, 45, founder of Mumbai-based conceptual lifestyle brand Bungalow Eight.

Table: The guests sat on Masque Lab’s chef’s table, a stone counter overlooking the open kitchen, which Dugar had adorned with colorful paper-wrapped metal tubes containing stems of marigold, anthurium and amaranth, all grown in India. The main course was served on round brass. talis, Individual platters containing small portions of food and various condiments, designed by Dugar and Totlani. “That’s how you would eat it at home,” Dugar said, “so that’s what we did.”

Food: Totlani prepared a custom menu for the evening that included some Masque signatures, among other dishes. While it’s not entirely traditional, “it’s food I would like to eat during a celebration,” she said. Thin cornflour biscuits called mathri were served with corn chaat and homemade chutneys. The next dish was Totlani’s take on Texas barbecue: smoked, dry-brined pork ribs served with crispy rice. The main course consisted of braised lamb masala (or Kashmir morels for vegetarians), asparagus grown in the state of Maharashtra, rice and pav, a popular fluffy bun often toasted in ghee (Totlani’s version is made with a dough buttery laminate). . For dessert, guests enjoyed a Masque icon: a hollowed-out cocoa shell filled with chocolate mousse made with cocoa grown in India, cocoa fruit salad, and cocoa bean brittle. The parting bite was coconut candy topped with edible gold leaf, a nod to the Diwali rituals of eating sweets and giving gifts.

Drinks: Masque’s head mixologist Ankush Gamre created a Rangoli-inspired cocktail for the evening: a vodka martini topped with colorful dots of chilli, charcoal and turmeric-infused oils. There was also a turmeric-infused gin and tonic and a selection of wines, including a Berton Vineyards Metal Label Durif 2019 from Australia and a Crios 2020 Torrontés from Argentina. Even the water had a special garnish: slices of the fragrant Gondhoraj lime from Bengal.

Music: Dugar and his team have been perfecting the restaurant’s playlist, which served as the soundtrack to Diwali dinner, for the past 10 years. “It progresses as the meal progresses,” she said. The selection consists of soft European dance songs and ambient electronica from artists such as Deep Chills and Tame Impala and ends with the melancholic rhythms of “Sunset Lover” by French DJ and music producer Petit Biscuit.

The conversation: Guests began the evening by sharing their Diwali plans and work news, which included a recent Emmy nomination for the Hindi historical drama series “Rocket Boys,” for which Advani is a producer. During the meal, people discussed the quality of the ingredients and how far the appreciation of Indian culture, both locally and globally, has come in recent years.

A lodging tip: In some parts of India there is a philosophy of hospitality known as jatirdari, which maintains that a guest should be cared for like royalty and that anticipating their needs and desires (whether dietary restrictions or a few extra sweets at the end of the night) is the ultimate expression of care. This spirit permeates everything Dugar does at Masque, and while “it’s kind of unreasonable,” he said with a smile, it’s also one of the keys to a successful dinner party.

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