It took you one year and close to 40 different site visits to finally find the spot you chose for The Clearing House. You said that you had one concept in mind and that totally changed once you saw this space, tell us about that.
Initially the idea was to create a cosy, neighbourhood restaurant in South Bombay, a 60-seater eatery within 3,000 square feet. This space in Ballard Estate was the last site I saw and I immediately knew this was it. It is 4,000 square feet with high ceilings, old pillars, an iron roof and a beautiful, old chimney!
Since the current space is much bigger, did it require a different approach?
The whole concept changed. When I saw the space, which is part of a functional ice factory, one of the oldest in Asia in fact, the first thing that came to my mind was – New York’s meatpacking district. The whole idea of old meets new and using something heritage-like and bringing it up to modern day India.
Can you describe the restaurant’s dining concept?
While I wanted the interiors to look modern, I was certain that the dining experience had to be casual and convivial. The long forgotten art of hospitality is a key element that I wanted to bring back to today’s dining scene. I feel there is a warmth and familiarity which is seriously lacking today. The Clearing House is divided into two distinct rooms: the Foyer is the outer room which was designed to be the day space, perfect for relaxed lazy lunches while the Chamber, the inner room, opens exclusively at night has a more premium dinner ambience.
Can you take us through how you transformed the space? What were the challenges you faced?
Vami Koticha, part of Sameep Padora’s design firm sP+a tells us the team was blown away with the space at first. The context in which the ice factory was situated, the huge volume encompassed by the detailed cast iron ceiling and columns and the chimney made it clear that any intervention had to be in reverence to the context. They worked on subtle yet impactful changes.
The arched windows in the front room had to be created in order to get that natural light flooding in while the skylight was a way of letting customers experience the chimney. The circular booths and bar helped frame the space and reduced the scale of volume, making it less intimidating and more comfortable.
“At the end, the challenge was to create a space with restraint but with an indelible impression that would let the history shine through,” says Vami.
What was the idea behind the food and restaurant? Can you elaborate on the small plates concept?
The first and only brief that I gave Chef Nitin was, “keep it simple.” No fancy names, no complicated components and definitely no molecular drama. We were keen to do a great-tasting menu that’s easy to navigate and highlights simple, memorable flavours with a healthy focus. We’ve got a range of gluten free, sugar-free and vegan dishes on the menu with lots of vegetarian options as well.
We will be changing the menu seasonally to highlight fresh and flavourful produce. The small plates concept helps create a lighter, more dynamic dining experience that incorporates sharing and trying a lot more dishes on the menu as opposed to traditional three-course fine-dining.
What is your vision for The Clearing House and its space in the Bombay food scene?
Honestly I wanted to create something that was familiar and friendly with a truly international standard (minus the pretention). A place where you could walk in and your drink is already waiting for you because the bartender recognizes you. This idea of a kind of community, which is so strong in South Bombay, is what I wanted to recreate. I love Ballard Estate and I think it’s one of the most beautiful areas in Bombay so opening here has been like a dream. We’ve kept the space very open with lots of natural light so you feel like you’re in Bombay but perhaps a different version of it!
Can you tell us about any exciting ingredients you’re sourcing?
Ambada leaves which have a natural lemon-y flavour
Rare Yellow fin tuna
Fresh oysters from Kerala
Organic honey from Himachal
If you were tasked with planning someone’s dinner, what dishes would you pick from the menu?
Paprika spiced lamb tacos
Edamame and chestnut dim sum
Beetroot pot stickers
Rare yellowfin tuna, soba noodles, teriyaki broth
Korean barbeque chicken
Mini lobster brioche with a shot of lobster bisque