Comorin: Manish Mehrotra’s casual dining bar does street food with a twist

I walk in expecting to see Comorin’s tables peppered with the yuppies that Gurgaon’s Two Horizon Centre tends to draw. Instead, I see a wholesome mix of faces. There are the Snapchatting Gen-Zees, the post-work millennials, the date-night contingent – I even spot a (non-noisy) family or two. On second thought, I realise – it might be tucked away in the middle of Gurgaon, but a Manish Mehrotra restaurant will always draw a crowd.

It’s a good time to be Manish – with Indian Accent ranking #60 on the World’s Best Restaurant list, his already high credibility score has only risen. As he settles in across from me this balmy July evening, his excitement to talk about his much younger child, Comorin, is palpable. “So many bars and restaurants in Delhi fit this template of ‘loud, dark and bar-centric.’ They have a near-identical menu with ‘multi-cuisine’ food ranging from pao to pizza and sushi.” I can almost feel him holding back an eye roll.

It’s clear from the relaxed, outdoor seating with its melange of lights, the bottle of house-blended khus vermouth on the table, and the lemon gunpowder idlis next to it, that Comorin does not conform to that template. “We wanted a sharp focus on great cocktails, and food that felt familiar, but different. So, we zeroed in on one cuisine – regional Indian – and tried to do it justice,” Manish adds.

The menu is Indian-casual, a space Manish claims is a lot tougher to crack than fine-dining. “Opening a casual Indian restaurant in NCR without butter chicken is braver than you think,” he chuckles. “At Indian Accent, I can say ‘it’s a modern Indian restaurant, we don’t do that here.’ With regional food, not having it on the menu raises eyebrows.”

The food is comforting and well-crafted – each recipe is routed back to a street vendor or a home chef and their craziest experiments – and happiest accidents. “It’s inspired by the homegrown innovations of mothers who tried something interesting with the khichdi at home, or street vendors who decided to mix things up a little,” Manish says.

Chef Dhiraj, the head chef, leaves me a menu to peruse as he starts sending over a series of small plates. It’s him, with his cheerful smile and his evident love of street food, that executes Manish’s curated menu everyday. “We didn’t invent these dishes – just elevated them to restaurant standard,” he says, with an enthusiastic flourish of his hand as a waiter places a plate of Raw Banana Dahi Vada on the table.

The dearth of butter chicken isn’t something I’d even noticed, poring over the menu. Running through the gamut of options (Comorin Vada Pav, Bacon Bread Pakora, Champaran Meat, Raan Musallam...) there seems a rawness to every name on the list. Chef Dhiraj even proudly mentions that the raan recently sparked a Facebook debate about whether it was better than Bukhara’s.

The menu finds itself split between small, large and extra large plates. Of the things I tried, I’d go back for three plates in particular. The first is their Sweet Corn Khichdi – warm and homey, with a sprinkling of spicy sem ka beej that gives it a fantastic crunch. The second was their Haleem Butter Toast, whose flavours reminded me of the authentic haleem served at local Ramzan food melas (albeit a more polished version). The last was the Green Chilli Prawns with Mizoram Black Rice, with sharp, unusual flavours that might be an acquired taste, but are worth trying regardless.

The place itself has the vibe of a chill, European bar you’d see on friend’s Insta-story. The bar isn’t typical – there’s no low lighting, or upside-down glasses hanging from the ceiling. Instead, you’ll find lighter pastels – mint-green, cream and peach, with bottles of liquor lined neatly on its shelves. The inside is bright, but not bothersome, while the outside is an easy mix of straight couches and cane chairs with mood lighting. The music is fun, but obscure enough to be not be comprised of the done-to-death songs you normally find on bar playlists. I find myself Shazaming between nearly every course.

The bar menu is also unfussy by design. “There are no gimmicks. No dry ice, no funny glasses. We’re only particular about the cocktail itself. Everything is made in-house – syrups, infusions, flavours...” Manish says. It shows – there’s a clarity and intelligence to every combination on the menu that I haven’t seen in many of the city’s bars.

As I sip on a Pickled Pom Whiskey (a delightfully red cocktail with pickling spices, infused bourbon and pomegranate salted shrub), I feel a gentle buzz come on. In my defense, it’s my fourth drink that evening, but the cocktails are blended expertly enough for me to not have noticed. Of the predecessors, the Nitro Rum Punch (dark rum, earl grey, kaffir lime and pineapple) was the right kind of light for that sultry summer day, but the Dark Khus Vermouth stole the show. This infusion of red wine, cognac, khus, vanilla, chamomile and star anise makes a great case for why you should try their house-blended liquors.

With its mellow vibe, fabulous playlist (there’s a reason I’ve mentioned this twice), and, of course, delightfully atypical menu, Comorin is slated to be a city favourite. It isn’t easy coaxing a South Delhiite to cross the border, so leverage its location while you can – we hear it isn’t opening anywhere else for a while.