The painting of a woman sitting irreverently with a wine glass at Mumbai’s newest restaurant, La Loca Maria, triggered memories for me of my trip to Malaga two years ago. The bright colours, bold flavours, confident women, and big heartedness of the port city in Southern Spain is something I can ever forget. Cut to 2019 in the heart of Bandra, I was overcome with the same warm feeling, at La Loca Maria.
The brainchild of Chef Manuel Olveira Seller, La Loca Maria sits beautifully in the heart of Bandra, and occupies the space that belonged earlier to popular bakery Birdy’s. A turn on Turner Road and you can’t miss the 24-seater restaurant’s quaint blue gates and Spanish tile name plate. This new eatery warms up to you with its Hispanic art murals showcasing a woman who lives her way a la Frida Kahlo. While at one place she’s holding her sangria, in another she’s lying on the beach in her cool black bikini. I am later told that she is a representation of Chef Manuel’s mother, Maria, who never did live by societal norms. Chef Manuel explains to us that his mother is his ultimate inspiration – she was the first in her town to start her own restaurant. The walls then were a creative collaboration with local street artists and Za Works, a local visual design studio, which brought alive Maria on the walls.
La Loca Maria is a manifestation of Chef Manuel’s Spanish heritage mixed with global influences. Originally from Toledo in Spain, he has successfully worked as Chef de Cuisine at several illustrious five-star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants around the world (including St. Regis, Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, and Le Cirque and Café Belge at The Ritz-Carlton in Dubai). He came down to India earlier this year, and encouraged by his Indian wife, Pratima Tuljapurkar, is now sharing his passion for food with Mumbai.
We started with tapas that gave us an introduction to the flavours the chef works comfortably with. The beetroot hummus was flavourful and light as air, accompanied by fresh pita bread. The first complex dish came in the form of BFF Carpaccio, thinly sliced, layered with truffle, parmesan and spicy aioli, with flavours that were offbeat. Next in line was the Charred Octopus, pan seared and flavoured with paprika, arugula, and mustard served with potato – is an acquired taste but is fantastic if you enjoy the texture and flavour. The octopus wasn’t chewy and the potatoes added a smoothness. The most interesting dish was the popular Gambas Al Ajillo, a dish I had previously encountered in Spain. Who can resist well-cooked prawns in chilli oil? Suffice to say it packed a punch.
The main courses were heavy but the real stars of the show. The Lobster Ravioli was a beautiful concoction that paired apple puree ravioli with a sublime, smooth seafood bisque. Then came the Braised Buff, a personal favourite, accompanied by pineapple chutney that resulted in a sweet balancing of flavours. Then, the Goat Cheese Cappelletti that added the magic – a bold dish punctuated by bolder flavours. The dessert was by far the lightest on the menu, a Tiramisu that was deconstructed beautifully and accompanied by a light, airy biscuit and home-made ice cream.
What caught our attention are the details – a pineapple chutney that was unusual, the chilli oil that was robust. Nothing about this restaurant or the menu is subtle and we love that. The only gripe? The space that felt cramped, and we cannot wait to see it grow into a bigger space.
Where: Shop No. 5, Carlton Court, Corner of Turner Road Signal Between Citibank ATM and Cafe Coffee Day, Bandra West
Tel: +91 9324404335
Opening Hours: 12:00 noon to 3:30 pm and 7:00 pm to 11:30 pm
Recommended dishes: Lobster Ravioli, Sea Bass Crudo, and Gambas Al Ajillo
Price for two: Rs 2,200
Noise Levels: A tad noisy but afternoons are quieter
Service: Cordial and attentive
All images: Courtesy La Loca Maria