Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Malt may be Single, but can easily flirt with many Kababs

The last time I tried to get inside, I was with MSMG and another friend known for his brilliant puns, so I’ll call him Punny. Punny, MSMG and I decided to try a new place, and landed up at Barbeque Nation. We tried calling up and reserving a table, but were told over the phone that they do not take reservations between 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm. On reaching there, we were asked if we have a reservation! We obviously did not, and were then told that there would be a waiting of 30 minutes. By the time we decided that we might stick around (less than 30 seconds), the waiting time increased to 45 minutes minimum! That is when we decided to have Kabab Rolls outside Shoppers’ Stop.

In my last post, I was cribbing about the rate of experimentation going down, and attributed some of it to Blackbird. Blackbird returned from Pune on Sunday evening, and fortunately did not come home. He called to ask if we were eating out, and actually suggested that we go to Barbeque Nation! (It was easier for him to reach Bandra than come home to Andheri, and I think he was hungry.) Well, he reached Bandra early, and waited at the restaurant (he was told to wait for half an hour). When MSMG and I reached, the table was ready, and I did not have to wait at all (Yay!).

Now that everyone has been subjected to a really long introduction, I’ll get down to the real thing – the food, the drinks, and the review.

There was no a la carte menu for the food. A buffet spread and a list of kababs (I don’t know why they spell it as kebabs; must find that out) lay before us. The waiters handed us the drinks’ menu, and asked us whether we are vegetarian or not, before proceeding to remove a wooden cover from the centre of the table. A live grill was placed in this hollow, and while we waited for the kababs, another waiter took our order for the drinks.

The variety of alcohol on offer was outstanding. The best of everything - Single Malt Whisky, blended Scotch (including Blue Label), a wide range of flavoured Vodkas (both Absolut and Smirnoff), the premium Vodkas (all three that I would personally stock – Ciroc, Grey Goose, Belvedere) – I could go on, but that would be akin to pasting their menu here. I am not much of a wine guy, so I didn’t notice it, but they did have a good Cognac or two as well.
I tried a Single Malt that I had heard a lot about, but never seen in even the best shops, never been able to procure one from a bootlegger, not seen it in numerous duty-free shops of two International airports, and definitely not in the Mumbai bars and pubs I’ve been to. At 350 Rupees for 30 ml, Talisker is not cheap, but it was “as smooth as a baby’s bottom” (Sidhu, Navjot S., circa sometime in the early 2000s).
Blackbird stuck to a conventional blended Scotch, but a very good one – Chivas Regal 12 y.o. MSMG was a bit confused, and at my suggestion, tried an Absolut Peppar. He called up another friend famous for his alcoholic sprees (call him 9T), and 9T suggested a fantastic combination of Absolut Pepper, tomato juice, and fresh lime.

Meanwhile, the kababs had started coming. The first one to make an entrance was a Vegetarian skewer with Capsicum, tomatoes,… wait! Did we say we were Vegetarian? No! We promptly asked them to bring on the real stuff, and they did – chicken, mutton, fish and prawns. They kept on bringing the kababs till we realized we were full, and hadn’t even seen the buffet spread!
The kababs were quite outstanding; not chewy like some pre-cooked stuff tends to get if they are lying around for a long time. They even had a variety of sauces kept on the side with basting brushes to apply them to the kababs on the grill. But the kababs were succulent, well-marinated and did not need any add-on. (MSMG did remind us, albeit after we had left, that we could have ordered for some roomali rotis, as they also offered a choice of Indian breads.)
I was amazed that they were bringing kababs whenever they saw some empty skewers, without us having to ask for repeats. The fish was excellent – I don’t particularly like the fish in Mumbai; being a Bong from Calcutta, I’m a bit partial to Calcutta Beckty (it’s pronounced bhetki in Bengali). And MSMG and I must have had 25 prawns between us! There was also a Mutton Malai Kabab, very similar to my favourite Kakori Kabab that was so soft that it just melted in my mouth.

The buffet spread is something I really cannot comment about much. I tried only three items – Mutton Biryani, Chicken in a butter and tomato-onion-based gravy (not the usual Butter Masala), and the Raita – and all three very above par.

Blackbird did not even attempt the main courses and directly attacked the desserts, and Blackbird being Blackbird took a liking to, yes that’s right, the chocolateiest (I wrote “most chocolatey” to which Spell-check suggested “chocolateiest”, and while I add this comment, it shows the red curly line underneath!) thing available. I must admit that the chocolate cake, or whatever it was, was really good. Blackbird also later admitted to have liked the Fruit Custard (I think he’s going a bit soft around the edges)!
I don’t remember the names of the other desserts, but I did not try the Gulab Jamuns. I did go for the Phirni (I love the one at Kareem’s Delhi), and it did not disappoint at all.

The ambience is good, and the ACs have to work really hard because of the grills on each table. The place is surprisingly not stuffy or hot. The d├ęcor is simple and pleasant, but with the live grill in front, one is really not looking at much else.

Is it VFM (Value For Money)? At 500 plus taxes and unlimited kababs, you bet it is! This obviously does not include the Talisker, but even the alcohol isn’t that expensive compared to a pub like Sports Bar.

Ultimate test for a Restaurant from a Reviewer’s perspective: "Will I go there again?" – MOST DEFINTELY YES!

All-in-all Rating: 8.5 / 10

Restaurant details
Barbeque Nation
Dr. Ambedkar Road Junction
Pali Hill, Khar West, Mumbai

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Death of a Community, the Revival of a Passion

I am one of those self-proclaimed foodies who think they know everything about food and drink. I won’t say I know everything because that is when one stops experimenting and that is the death of a foodie.

During the 2 months of internship (April – June ’06), I visited more than 50 different eating places, expensive, 4D (dark, dingy dirt-cheap and delicious), the usual (McDonalds, Barista etc.) and the unique (Laddoos and Sabudana Vada near Dadar Station, Pav Bhaji on Juhu Beach,…).
A few fellow foodies on campus decided that we should continue trying new places when we start working in Mumbai, and that started me on the idea of “The Sunday Brunch Club”, or TSBC. TSBC would be a forum for us to explore new places every weekend, and even if we were not able to meet up, keep everyone in the group posted on which new place we have tried and what is recommended. I even designed a poster and started a community on Orkut.
Unfortunately, the community, like many others on such social networking sites, did not get going. The last post by a flat-mate (call him MSMG), one of the 5 community members, reads – “Wakey wakey Junta! The club is sleeping!!! A Rip Van Winkle nap now!!! Kuch karon saalon!!” By the way, this is the only post! (Note to self: Ask MSMG what prompted him to visit this page 15 days ago?)

Fortunately, we have been quite active. Some of the original members meet regularly (3 share one flat!), and with the addition of a few more friends, we have eaten out at quite a few new places in Mumbai. The Orkut community is dead, but the club is still alive.

What stands in our way of really exploring places all around Mumbai –
1. Lethargy on weekends – I travel from Andheri to Churchgate everyday for work, and am not in the mood for much travel on weekends. So, south Mumbai is sort of out-of-bounds.
2. An hour long wait at a popular restaurant might be a signal for how good it is, but it just does not suit me. It could also mean that the service is inefficient that day, and that would mean more waiting time. I walked away from a supposedly good restaurant in Bandra last weekend, and satiated myself with Kabab Rolls on the roadside outside the Bandra Shoppers’ Stop.
3. Connected to Point 2 – the places we frequent now know us, and will make place for us very quickly. By “places”, I mean Toto’s Garage Pub at Pali Naka, Bandra (W)! We are the definition of “regulars”, and now the waiters don’t even have to ask for our orders – they just get the drinks!
4. My other flat-mate (let’s call him Blackbird) appreciates food, but I won’t call him a foodie. He does not like any cake or ice-cream that is not all-chocolate. I don’t see a reason for his lethargy since he works a kilometre away, and yet he is too lazy to move beyond Sai Krishna (the Veggie place next door), and he will order the same thing everytime – Medu Wada! (Medu Wada is a South Indian fried snack that looks like a Do(ugh)nut.) If people were to start resembling the food they like, Blackbird would look like one big Chocolate covered Medu Wada, and that would be a big improvement!

My current count is past 110 now. The rate of trying new stuff has gone down, but I intend to reach 150 by mid-June.
I tried out a new restaurant today with MSMG (Blackbird is in Pune!) on Andheri-Kurla Road near the Western Express Highway. It is one of those shady places that says “Family Restaurant & Bar” outside, but rarely visited by families. Tried Boneless chicken with spinach stuffed in an omlette in a tomato gravy. Sounds complicated, but was pretty good. The name of the place is L.P. (Laxmi Palace) Family Restaurant & Bar, and though the chicken was good, I wouldn’t really recommend it on the basis of one “pretty good” dish. (2 stars out of 5)

Now I know how to increase my count quickly – try all these supposedly shady restaurants around Andheri-Kurla Road and MIDC. As for TSBC, we shall continue, but like all Orkut communities, all social networking sites, and all internet and tech-fads, the TSBC community will also fade away.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A train in the rain

My second tryst was during my Summer Internship in 2006. I was staying with some friends in Ghatkopar, and we all were working in Fort. So everyday we went on the Central Lines from Ghatkopar to V.T. (Ok yaar, C.S.T.!!!)
In the interval of 6 years, I had experienced 3 years of public buses, Mini Buses and the Metro in Calcutta, and 3 years of DTC in Delhi. So, I was quite cocky about this new experience – what can Mumbai locals do to a DTC-survived Dilliwallah? Well, it was an experience, but still not as bad as the horror stories I had heard.

Then one day it started raining… people still had 26th July 2005 (the day Mumbai received a record 942 mm of rain) fresh in their minds and started panicking. This was the first few days of June and the Monsoons were still a couple of days away. At worst, it would be a heavier than usual pre-monsoon shower. But everyone panicked and started leaving early. To complicate issues, some official came on TV and asked people not to panic and leave for their homes asap! That was sure to settle our nerves!
On the insistence of a fellow intern who was from Mumbai, we left early. There were three of us – two going to Ghatkopar (S and me), and one to Dombivali (B). It looked like someone had left a great big shower on, and the water kept pouring. We tried getting a Taxi from near the Fountain to VT, but to no avail. Anyway, by this time we were soaked, so it didn’t really matter. B, the Mumbaikar was prepared and had his umbrella, but even that didn’t help much. S and I decided to get to a cigarette, and we tried smoking on the way. It felt good to smoke while getting drenched, but such pleasures are short-lived. The cigarette also gave in to the unrelenting rain, and though it was still lit, it was impossible to smoke because it was so soaked.

We stopped on the way at a roadside stall which gave temporary shelter under its tarpaulin. Ate some bhajia, and then reached the station. What we saw outside startled us – a traffic jam that made Calcutta jams look like smooth flowing jellies. Cars were not moving – some because they couldn’t (stuck behind another car) and some because they just wouldn’t (their engines giving up halfway just like my cigarette)!

We entered VT to find a huge mass of people just waiting. An announcement informed us that the line after Kurla is temporarily down due to a lightning strike. And we also waited! After some time, S said we should take a taxi to Ghatkopar. I reasoned that it will take ages and who knows where the car would break down, leaving us stranded in the middle of nowhere. We were definitely better off here. At least we could go back to office and stay there. We decided to venture outside again and go to some place where we could sit for some time. B had a long way to go, and he wanted to wait and take the first train going to Dombivili. S and I wished him luck, and walked back towards office. We stopped at Suvidha where we were joined by A (it was his place at Ghatkopar we were staying). After having our Masala Dosas, we went back to VT.
By this time, some of the services had resumed, and we got onto a jam-packed train (“Sardines in a tin-can” would be an understatement!). A weird coincidence was that B also got into the same compartment.
The train was finally on its way, stopping at every station, and though we thought there was no space, some people managed to get on without anyone getting off the train.

Near Dadar, one person wanted to get down, and was trying desperately to find his way through. He got stuck a few feet from the exit. On asking the guy standing at the exit to give way, the guy refused. He said, “You’ll have to punch me if you want me to give way”. On further coaxing, he explained, “if I have to give way, I’ll have to temporarily get down, and then with so many people wanting to get on, I may not be able to get on again”. A seemingly irrational statement backed by some very good reasoning.

S, A and I were having a tough time, but B was having a ball. Whenever the train stopped, and someone outside asked if there is space, he would shout, “Lots of space, buddy. 4-5 people can easily fit. Come on in”.

After Dadar passed, we tried to make our way to other side of the coach. We were standing near the exit on the right-hand side, but our platform would come on the left. A was near the middle, so he was able to make some progress, but S and I got stuck. At Kurla, we decided to get off one station before Ghatkopar (Vidyavihar), where the platform comes on the right. We shouted out to A that we’ll meet him back home, and got off quite easily. There were not many people trying to get in, so we didn’t have to punch the unreasonable guy at the exit.

Standing at the station, I looked back at the train. People everywhere like ants crawling over a dead insect – sitting on the top, between the gaps of two coaches, and even hanging on to the window grills outside!
I know I can never do that, and that should have put me off from traveling on Mumbai locals, but here I am back in Mumbai again and back to some more of such exciting and harrowing experiences!