Bandra Born: Inside Chef Gresham Fernandes’ Culinary Ode To The Place That Made Him

Bandra Born, the newest experiment from Chef Gresham Fernandes of Salt Water Cafe fame, is an attempt to create a space that brings together everything that we know and love about Bandra.
Bandra Born, the newest experiment from Chef Gresham Fernandes of Salt Water Cafe fame, is an attempt to create a space that brings together everything that we know and love about Bandra. Bandra Born

To say that Bandra occupies a unique position in the pop cultural and social fabric of the city of Mumbai would be an understatement akin to saying Shah Rukh Khan is just an actor. There’s a distinct identity that personifies the attitude; the flair, and the swagger of its people and their respective cultural idiosyncrasies. 

There’s no dearth of bars and restaurants in Bandra and every one of them is a different manifestation of the character of the area itself. From quaint, affordable bars that blare the 80s’ greatest pop-rock hits, to burger joints perfect for that one final meal before you return home bleary-eyed, to cutesy cafes perfect for the uncertainty of a first date, to restaurants that cater to both casual culinary adventures and families alike; Bandra’s unmistakable aura makes every night (or day) out something to look forward to. There’s a cultural electricity that brings everything the area and its people touch to life in ways unlike any other. 

Bandra Born, the newest experiment from Chef Gresham Fernandes of Salt Water Cafe fame, is an attempt to create a space that brings together everything that we know and love about Bandra. Everything, from the food, to the drinks, to the aesthetic, to the personality of the space  is imbibed with the energy of Gresham and his team and their distinct understanding of what makes Bandra so special. 

As soon as you step into Bandra Born you can see the amount of thought and attention that’s gone into creating a place that transcends the limitations of a physical space and menu. Gresham’s gone a step further than most. He’s taken the essence and the emotions of Bandra and manifested all of this in elements that subtly play on your senses and take you on a journey that every individual at Bandra Born has lived through. You’re transported to childhoods spent in kitchens and at dinner tables, surrounded by loved ones and through adolescent memories filled with love, warmth, happiness and kinship, with food firmly at the centre. 

When speaking to Gresham about his latest voyage, there’s a palpable unpretentious, matter-of-fact earnestness as well as a refreshing simplicity with which he approaches his craft. 

“We didn’t necessarily go out of our comfort zone while creating the menu because we knew exactly what we wanted and how we wanted to do it," says Gesham, while speaking to us in the middle of prep for the day. "The experimentation that came in happened naturally because we’re all so familiar with the food that’s on offer.”

Gresham affirms that the space and experience they’ve created is a delicate combination of both culinary and aesthetic experimentation and that each element, from the food to the drinks, to the decor to even the music, all work in tandem to create an environment that is uniquely ‘Bandra Born.’

“At the end of the day, I don’t want people to come here and say ‘Hey, we had great cocktails and we had a great meal and that’s it.’ It’s about having a great experience and then you do things that build on that experience. Even the little things like the reservation system and how you’re greeted at the door and where you’re seated are important to us."

Chef Gresham Fernandes

Another aspect of the ethos that shaped Bandra Born was looking at Bandra in the past, the present and the future. They didn’t want to focus on one particular era but instead, seamlessly amalgamate the most beloved aspects of Bandra so that each generation that visits would be able to relate to something. The team has aimed to build a brand that uses the instant recognizability of Bandra and its cultural, culinary, and artistic artefacts to draw people in. 

The three primary factors that they’ve taken into consideration while crafting the space are first, how good the food on offer is, second, how good the bar is, and third, how good the overall design experience is for patrons.

“If you click two of these you’re golden,” explains Gresham. “If you hit all three, you’re in heaven. The question is, out of these three factors, can we create something for everybody?”

The decor and the design language at Bandra Born was conceptualized and implemented by the talented team at Bombay Duck Designs. It’s all been crafted by taking inspiration from all the posters, paintings, and typography that Bandra is most known for and there’s even a nod to the old Salt Water Cafe. The bar itself has images and iconography that are instantly recognizable to any Bandra denizen worth their salt and everything about the space, from the graffiti on the walls to the atmospheric, grungy lighting aims to create a quintessentially Bandra-esque experience. 

“You can not plan to a point where everything perfectly fits into your initial conceptualization. You have to learn to let go and let it grow and build organically.”

Chef Gresham Fernandes

According to Gresham, vandalism and street-style art were at the forefront of what their brief was. They wanted the space to be reminiscent of their own personal styles, preferences and aesthetics. 

“For us, it’s a culture. It’s about being outspoken, thinking differently, and taking cues from giants like Banksy. They’re people who we look at and take notice of.”

Chef Gresham Fernandes

One particular aspect of Bandra Born’s design language is the endearing caricatures that resemble the everyday citizens of Bandra. Gresham reveals that these are actually anthropomorphic 'pavs’ that create an almost subliminal association between the food and the people of Bandra.

“You need to nudge people into thinking a certain way but once they get it, they get it. We wanted to look at Bandra through a lens. We wanted to craft an identity but also create a blank slate for us to craft our identity. Everything you see is a lens to Bandra.”

Gresham and his team have also gone a long way towards crafting the perfect auditory experience for patrons who visit Bandra Born, hinting they’ve spent as much money on perfecting the sound system as they have on other aspects. It’s abundantly clear how important the music is to the space itself.

“For me it was always ‘keep it warm’, because if you’re playing old school hip-hop it cannot be tweety. It has to be fucking heavy. When ‘Hypnotize’ comes on it shouldn’t sound like you’re fucking playing it from your phone."

"One thing that people are really loving is the playlist. It’s a collaborative old-school Bandra boy hip-hop playlist that all of us have built our tastes into. We keep listening to it in the space and figuring out what’s working and what isn’t. And I think it goes with the spirit of the space too.”

While this might seem a bit extra, it emphasizes the dimensions of experience that Gresham and his team are attempting to provide to the people. 

When asked about his personal top three songs on the Bandra Born old-school hip-hop playlist Gresham said they were Insane in the Brain by Cypress Hill, Street Dreams by Nas, and O.P.P. by Naughty By Nature. 

“The food and the drinks were not the most difficult things to pull out. The bigger challenge was designing the space and figuring out the energy levels we wanted to curate at different times of the day and night.”

Chef Gresham Fernandes

The extras aside, the focal point of the Bandra Born experience is without question the food. It’s no surprise that Gresham and his team left no stone unturned while putting together a menu that runs the gamut of culinary experiences you can have in the area, going from no-frills, salt-of-the-earth bar food to more lofty fare like Chili Oil Grilled Tenderloin. Gresham likens this process to a piece of music wherein the team had to try and find the quintessential ‘bass notes’ for the menu. 

“It’s about creating that foundation that you can build a thousand other dishes around. In music, you’d have building blocks of bass notes and then you can add everything else. But regardless of what you add, there’s that one element that keeps everything together. The ‘coolness’ of what Bandra represents are those bass notes for us.”  

The culinary ‘bass notes’ in question for Bandra Born are the earthy, umami flavours that give the food we eat its electric, almost addictive quality. It’s that ‘zing’ you feel on your tongue and in your head when you take that first spoonful of truffle-infused goodness. Bandra Born aims to play on the fact that most people are drawn to those unmistakable glutamine-infused tastes in dishes they covet. It’s for this reason that the menu is focused on smaller dishes that pack that enormous instantly recognizable umami punch in terms of flavour. 

A key part of Bandra Born’s identity is the fact that the entire team has either grown up in or lived in Bandra for a considerable period of time. Each member brings with them a different perspective and a different outlook that’s been shaped by the era of Bandra that they grew up during. In this way, every facet of Bandra Born is a reflection of the diversity and generational differences that comprise the melting pot of Bandra itself. There’s no one singular Bandra Born identity, but rather a delectable combination of influences, tastes, identities and attitudes that makes it so special. 

Bandra Born is currently in the middle of a 12-week pop-up run. Gresham says they’re going to be winging it beyond that and that nothing’s for certain just yet. 

“Though there was some amount of planning that came into play, this whole project was initiated and flipped into action in about 10 days. This is something that becomes the benchmark for other things that we want to do within the space.”

You can find out more about Bandra Born here.