A Marriage of the Arts

Akanksha Maker | August 1, 2023 | Art

In the manic imposition of restaurants and culinary concepts in Mumbai, the opening of Circle Sixty Nine in the bylanes of Worli has been a welcoming, cultural change. An art deco townhouse built in the 1940s by Jehangir Nicholson, art collector and then sheriff of the city, Kathiwada City House was reinvented by Sangita Devi Kathiwada in 2002.

She went on to facilitate the space into a haven for an intimate community of creative individuals under Circle 1434 – a private members club. The space boasts objects and heirlooms from her lineage and embodies her passion for heritage restoration.

The coming together of two forces – Aditi Dugar (Masque, Urban Gourmet, SeeSaw, TwentySeven Bakehouse) and Sangita Devi Kathiawada, birthed Circle Sixty Nine – a cafe-bistro that is a melange of both their prowesses – food and the arts.

I enter Kathiwadi City House on a rainy Sunday evening. Situated in the unassuming Pochkhanawala Road, the House creates a theatrical walkway with the rustling canopies of banyan trees, which welcomes me into an oasis of restoration, art and heritage. I walk in and find a shiva temple, which modestly sits opposite the door of Circle Sixty Nine.

The entrance of Circle Sixty Nine.

The mural at Circle Sixty Nine is painted by Shilo Shiv Suleiman.

A captivating mural by Shilo Shiv Sulieman, the pièce de résistance of this space, enthrals my gaze. Her quintessential style that intermingles magical realism and mythology is brought out in this work of art as well. An ethereal woman with flowing locks is shown praying at a Hindu citadel, amid a verdant forest that’s alive with colossal flowers, mythical birds and other mystical elements. I carefully seat myself in front of the mural, as I look around to find more art – and this time, I’m greeted by the works of India’s foremost modernists.

On my left is the Nursery Series by M.F. Hussain, on my right are water-colour canvases by Prabhakar Barwe. There’s also an F.N Souza hidden in a corner – which evokes decadence and primitivism; alongside works of Chittaprosad Bhattacharya, P. T. Reddy and Ram Prasad. The cafe’s shelves are skirted with basketry from Burma. Ceramics by Ray Meeker and Ajiki Hiro San add character to the decor.

Water-colour canvases by Prabhakar Barwe and M.F. Hussain’s Nursery series. 

The furniture pieces of the space can be credited to SAR Studio in Pune while its earthy tableware is curated by SOKA Design Studio. Each element of the space is thoughtfully put together to create a semblance of art and aesthetic furniture, under the artistic direction of Sangita Kathiwada.

The menu focuses on fresh, seasonal and local food, and is divided among flat breads, salads, small plates and desserts. To start, I go for a glass of Crios Malbec – from Mendoza, Argentina. The violets, cherries, mocha and spice are balanced with juicy tannins and acidity of this wine from South America – a perfect beginning to this culinary and art immersion.

Goat cheese-stuffed shishito peppers & roasted beetroot & orange salad. 

The goat cheese-stuffed shishito peppers stands out with its refreshing raw mango ceviche, amba (pickled mango sauce) and radish. The crunch of roasted cauliflower with its almond and sesame sauce along with chimichurri makes it an unexpected winner. Some of the other recommendations are 69 layer lasagna with basil oil and chicken bolognese and braised pork belly with leek vichyssoise and pickled cabbage.

In between courses, I can’t help but stare at the art that encompasses me. Sipping on the wine, the details of Barwe’s water-coloured strokes, Suleiman’s fantastical emerald forest and Hussain’s renditions of wooden toys keep my attention.

With each course, I’m drawn deeper into the realm of art and food.

A visit to Circle Sixty Nine is an exploration of the city’s innate soul of art, architecture and food. It’s the unceremoniousness of the marriage between the two arts – culinary and visual – that already makes this an icon, in the gastronomical and artistic legacy of Bombay.

Words by Akanksha Maker.
Images via Circle Sixty Nine.

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