One of Alex Sanchez’s earliest food memories is a trip to Italy he took with his mother when he was a young boy. “Until then, I was a fussy eater, mostly sticking to bland food. But that trip changed me. The food, simple yet satisfying, turned me into someone who appreciates a wide range of possibilities,” recounts the former chef of Mumbai’s popular fine-dining restaurant, The Table located in Colaba. It is no surprise then, that when the 33-year-old decided to open his own eatery, he chose to work with Italian cuisine.
Americano, which opened its massive wooden doors to Mumbai’s patrons last month, is the newest dining space in Mumbai’s art district of Kala Ghoda. The charming, high ceiling space is located near Kala Ghoda Cafe, with a liberal touch of blue in its decor — from parts of the walls right down to the denim table napkins. The buzzy bar, near the entrance, sets a casual tone for the space, which is what Sanchez intended for his restaurant. “The idea is to have a neighbourhood restaurant where guests don’t have to think too much about what they wear or even how much they spend. It’s an affordable space they can frequent a couple of times a week,” he says.
In several ways, this space sets itself apart from The Table, where Sanchez began his culinary career at 25. While the Colaba restaurant focusses on fine-dining, Americano’s menu serves a variety of bar snacks, small and big plates that derive from the Italian cuisine. “Fine-dining is a lot more about technique… the restaurant becomes a shrine to the food served there and what you eat has all your attention. But at a space like Americano, you don’t think too much about what you are eating. It looks good, it is tasty and soul satisfying. You can give all your attention to the people you are with,” he says.
So the menu offers dishes such as Suppli, the Roman-style rice fritters made with fresh mozzarella and San Marzano tomato; Slow-Cooked Veal, a variety of pizzas and a selection of hand-rolled pasta. The bar menu pays homage to Mumbai, with drinks such as Malabar Cooler and Horniman Sour.
Sanchez says that his choice is a consequence of the fact that he is older today. “Back then, I was fresh out of culinary school and trained under French chefs. I worked on technique and gained the experience, serving memorable meals that were the star of the evening. But now I want to do my own thing, I want to create food that is craveable and affordable,” says Sanchez, who has started the restaurant with his partner Malayeka Watsa.
The chef-turned-restauranteur, however, is aware that the comparisons are inevitable. This is perhaps because The Table set certain trends in the country’s dining scene. “If Indigo became the first fine-dining space outside a five-star, The Table was the first in India to launch the concept of ‘small plates’. Also, as opposed to limiting itself to a specific cuisine, it offered dishes with influences from all over, such as China, Mexico, Mediterranean and so on. All this at a price point lesser than a hotel,” points out Sanchez.
In the six years that Sanchez spent at The Table, he learned two crucial lessons about the Indian patron. “There are constraints due to religious reasons, dietary compulsions and also allergies. And sometimes, the constraints may be a combination of two or more of these reasons. So one has to offer alternatives. The second is that India is a very welcoming. Imagine an immigrant in the US wanting to start his own hip restaurant in an upmarket neighbourhood like Beverly Hills. Sounds impossible, right? But that is what sets India apart. People are generous,” says Sanchez.
So is Americano somewhere between a fine-dining and casual dining space? The chef believes it fits its own niche. “When I look back at the city’s history in terms of standalone restaurants that offer international experience, I see that several spaces came after Indigo Deli. Cafe Zoe in Lower Parel, for instance, offered great food at even more affordable prices in a far more casual space. Bombay Canteen offered an international experience with Indian food. Similarly, Americano has its own niche space in the market,” says Sanchez.