Parnell's newest opening, Merry Mumbai, isn't your average Indian restaurant. For a start, it's referred to as a "cuisine studio." Then there's the owner and chef, Makarnd Karkhanis, who has no conventional training in the kitchen, but proudly boasts 'plant scientist' on his resumé.
Makarnd arrived from India over 15 years ago. After noticing a lack of Indian street food in Auckland, he pressed pause on his botanist career and launched the Soul Curry caravan — something which lead to his self-appointed title as the pioneer of Indian street food in New Zealand. From there he opened Mount Roskill's Curry Mantra, a restaurant based on Marathi (or Maharashtrian) cuisine from the Mumbai region.
Found at 115 Parnell Road, the cuisine at Merry Mumbai is planted in the same territory, though this time Makarnd is using local ingredients, modern cooking techniques and a scientific approach inspired by the likes of Heston Blumenthal. He calls it "molecular gastronomy", which he explains is "a very advanced branch of culinary science in Indian cuisine."
On the menu, that boils down to touches like tender New Zealand lamb kababs presented under smoke-filled domes of glass, red bean chutney moulded into delicate caviar spheres that are placed atop ragda potato patties, and curries that use an extremely generous amount of saffron.
There's still an appearance of butter chicken, though in this instance the glowing orange complexion comes entirely from natural ingredients. There's also usual suspects like naan, rice and dahi puri, only with Markarnd's slightly alternative approach — the puri, for example, trades coriander for an unusual dried raspberry powder. The varkee paratha is a delightful naan alternative; the bread is made with very thin rolled layers which are perfect for pulling apart and dipping. Street food purists will also be happy to see Mumbai's famous potato fritter burger (wada pav) on the menu. They come in pairs with dots of tamarind chutney and dried garlic chilli.
In true Blumenthal fashion, dry ice makes an appearance. The chocolate puri arrives stuffed with mousse and billows smoke after the addition of the cool liquid. On the dessert list is Markarnd's own Indian-inspired ice creams and more substantial offerings like saffron cream brulee and carrot cake with cardamom and white chocolate. If you're stuck for choice, the $35 lunch and $45 dinner menus will let you tick off a good chunk of the above.
Markarnd refurbished much of the minimalist space himself and is currently holding down the operation with a handful of staff from his previous endeavours. Merry Mumbai is open now. Find it at 115 Parnell Road.