Bagheera doesn’t have any signage. In fact, the outside of 518 Main Street looks like a betting shop. The inside does too. A bookie sits behind the counter and the blackboard wall behind is covered with horse racing statistics. When you place your bet, if you know the right secret phrase, a door to your left will open and a short hallway wall-papered with postcards leads you into a hidden speakeasy.
“Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path”
Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Bagheera is named for the black panther character in the story who befriends little Mowgli. Bagheera is actually the Hindi word for panther or leopard. The menu itself at Bagheera takes guests on a literal journey, describing itself as a Field Manual of Bombay to Bijapur that breaks options into different days of a multi-day trip. The Field Manual menu includes illustrations of scenes and animals that speak to Bagheera’s overall Jungle Book theme.
The design elements of Bagheera have been considered down to the smallest detail. The coat hooks under the bar are gold tigers. The wall behind the bar curves up and over, becoming a ceiling decorated with gold jewellery, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, affixed in such an orderly and deliberate pattern that they almost look like tiles. The wallpaper on the wall across from the bar features giant banana plants and tigers skulking through long grasses. The bathrooms are lit with chandeliers that look like they’re made of flamingo feathers and golden monkeys hold other light fixtures aloft in front of the distressed mirror.
A Field Manual of Bombay to Bijapur
The cocktails at Bagheera are enticing expressions of the theme. My favourite is the Mezcal cocktail, the Playmate, which is sweetened with white chocolate agave syrup. The glass is encrusted with cocoa and chili powder which adds a touch of heat to the slight hint of white chocolate sweetness which blends bewitching with the Mezcal smokiness. All of the cocktails I have tried at Bagheera appeal seductively to each of the senses. Aromatics are thoughtfully considered by the bar team. The Gemini comes with a strategically placed piece of cinnamon atop its giant ice cube so that you catch a whiff of its scent with each sip. Another example, the Bon Vivant, comes garnished with a literal bouquet of fragrant sage and lavender.
Bar Snacks are a Little Different at Bagheera
Continuing to follow the Jungle Book theme, Bagheera’s food menu includes Indian-inspired snacks. All of the food items are designed to be shared and are served on thali. “Thali” means plate or tray and the idea is to cover all areas of flavour from spicy and sour, to sweet, savoury, and bitter. Rather than the usual chicken wings and fries, Bagheera is serving an Indian-inspired bar food menu which includes a selection of pakoras.
The chicken pakoras are called Chicken 65, which is the name of an Indian spicy fried chicken dish that originates from Hotel Buhari in Chennai. At Bagheera, bite-sized pieces of chicken thighs are deep-fried and then tossed in garlic soy sauce. They are fantastic morsels of flavourful fried chicken that come with a tomato chutney.
Bagheera’s cauliflower pakoras are innovative in that they use chopped pickled cauliflower rather than the conventional whole florets. The pickling of the cauliflower has a two-fold effect: it adds texture as well as flavour. The bright acidity of the first bite hides the heat that comes after, a heat which builds a little more if you deep into the beet chutney with abandon. Another pakora option is the prawn which are made with big and meaty Tiger prawns. The prawns are battered and fried whole and the batter has great seasoning and spice. They come with a vibrantly green coriander mint chutney.
The lamb koftas are another interesting dish on Bagheera’s menu. Utilizing shredded coconut in the meatball adds texture but also allows the flavour of the coconut to soften the flavour of the lamb from the inside while the coconut curry the koftas come in seasons from the outside.
“Ay, roar well,” said Bagheera, under his whiskers
Overall, the spice and seasoning of the food menu at Bagheera compliments their cocktail menu and stimulates the taste buds. The aromas of the food add to the sensory experience of this speakeasy. A visit to Bagheera is surprising and invigorating. The experience of entering is, in and of itself, unique and exciting. Then, once inside, the food and drink, as well as the atmosphere and design, all come together to tell a lush and fanciful tale of a faraway, indeed fictional, place.