A Small Find in a Big Mall


Phoenix Market City is possibly Mumbai's largest mall by size. Stuck in the boring side of Kurla (something I'm sure it intends to change), it isn't exactly easy to get to - and by the looks of it not that many are getting there ("sparsely attended" comes to mind). It does, however, one of the route options on my long commute back from Thane, so I decided to head inside for dinner yesterday.

My destination was Cafe Pico. Started by the folks from the rather nice cafe at Le Mill, the place promises food "born of a million little journeys" around the world. The menu lives up to the promise, mixing French, Italian and Mediterranean with the odd touch of the Caribbean, one or two Africans and even the odd foray into the east. Its peppered with dishes you normally do not see in India; strangolapretti, pissaladiere, goujon, duxelle, tagliata all appear at various points and sound nice, juicy names worth exploring, especially if the execution is good. Peering shortsightedly at the menu, I narrowed down on Korean pancakes and polpettone (try saying that quickly).

The bread and two middle-eastern dips were the first to arrive. One was nice, the other inconspicuous. The pancakes were next; I ordered it because the Korean pancake was one of the stops on my Seoul foodwalk - they call it panjeon and it is very popular with young and old. Pico's version, arranged rather more politely, was quite competent (maybe a tad low on the scallion) and quite recognisably Seoul but without the raucous shoju-drunk crowds milling around, it did seem somewhat less of a big deal.

The polpettone was up next, three slices of meatloaf Italian style with tomato sauce and a side of roasted crushed potatoes. Without being flashy or brash, this dish captured my heart. Meat, tomatoes, potatoes, all combined to simple, but comfortingly tasty. This is not the kind of food that will make anyone a celebrity chef, but I will die happy if someone feeds me this kind of stuff every day.

So here's my dilemma - can one base the whole-hearted recommendation of a cafe on one single dish?

Disclaimer: I know the owners and Sunanda has helped with the decor. However, to make me feel like a real journalist I visited anonymously and paid for my own meal.

A tomato in the pan


I got addicted to pan-tomate on a trip to Barcelona. I have, since then, been trying to recreate it in Mumbai, with little success.

Pan tomate is one of those incredibly comforting classics – simple to the point of idiocy but magical nevertheless. I figured it would be easy to recreate it for Sunanda, who spent plenty of time in Spain growing up and is equally addicted. Crusty bread, crushed tomatoes, salt and olive oil – how hard can it be? Tomatoes are everywhere, oilve oil (even Spanish origin, if you're so inclined) is is everwhere, salt is everywhere, crusty bread is…

There, to repurpose Shakespeare, was the rub. Mumbai, the land of A1 pao and Wibs sandwich was sadly, sadly short of hard crust bread. I tried various kinds of breads but none quite fit the bill; squashing tomatoes on one of these usually produced a pulpy bread-tomato-alien-spawn mess hardly geared to impress anyone. Mumbai does sport a few tapas places but they all seem equally keen to steer away from it. I was thus in a bit of a fix there, till genius sparkled.

What I needed, it seems, was a mundane pinch of Mumbai's history.


I'm talking, of course, about the brun pao.

Along with amul butter (and sometimes mafco jelly) brun pao has been the sidekick of cutting chais ever since Iranis started setting out bentwood chairs for their patrons. Irani cafes, Parsi bakeries, all have long histories of this uniquely Mumbai creation that's not quite like any European bread you've come across. Its a little harder to get today than it used to be, but far from impossible. In Bandra, Sunanda loves the brun at A1 Bakery; I prefer the marginally chewier ones from South Mumbai. The most iconic is Yazdani's but Sassanian, Kayani and many others make mean ones too.

Today, some distance into a rather nice keema ghotala breakfast at Edward, I noticed the counter receiving a delivery of brun and ordered the obligatory brun-maska-chai. One bite, and the thought popped up and hit me on the head - this was it, the crusty-outside-chewy-inside pan I had been looking for my tomate. At two rupees a piece, the price of experimentation was rather low.  IMG_7186IMG_7222

Back home, I acted. The olive oil came from Spain (via Nature's Basket), the tomatoes from across the road, French coarse-grained sea salt was involved, the pepper of provenance unknown. I sliced the brun, (toasted it ever so lightly too), crushed a fresh tomato into the surface, drizzled some olive oil of the nicest kind, sprinkled some sea salt and a dash of pepper and I was ready to impress. The results, freshly captured on a thousand-dollar camera were, as you can see, spectacular, and the girl was suitably impressed.

South Mumbai

about Kings Circle, Matunga East, Mumbai 10 comments:

Viator rates the dosa one of the ten things to try before you die. I have my own periodic dosa cravings, but this isn't entirely simple in Mumbai. There's no dearth of options - udipis abound on every street corner peddling dosas and idli any hour of the day that Dhoble allows - but most are not very good. One has to battle a lot of sugared sambar and funny batters before one stumbles upon one that satisfies my Bangalore-honed tastebuds. Rescue, however, is at hand.

If you're looking for sambar with bite, idli with fluff, dosa that might bring Rajnikant back to Mumbai and coffee that is not nescafe then the best way South is East. Matunga East, that is.

Kings Circle is now called BN Maheshwari Udyan but it is still the birthplace of the Mumbai udipi and the only place in Mumbai to get a dosa fix. For decades, two ornate southern style temples in the vicinity have served as the city's anchor for Tamilians, Kannadigas and various other flavours of southies. The udipi revolution is named after the free feasts at the famous Krishna temple of Udipi in Karnataka; it came to Mumbai on the backs of immigrants in search of big city dreams. The sugar in the sambar, the nescafe in the coffee and those atrocious lassi-flavoured dahi-vadas were picked up later; Kings Circle continues to serve the orignals to all and sundry from geriatric regulars to giggly teenagers. All these places serve decent dosa-idli-sambar, but other choices vary. Neer dosa, set dosa, pesarettu, ulundu dosa, various kinds of idli, all these are hard to come by elsewhere but abound at this circle.

I've been wandering these streets for years, and finally compiled what I'm fairly sure is the definitive list.

Cafe Madras
A relatively new kid on the block, but in my opinion the best overall South Indian restaurant in Mumbai. You will rarely hit a miss on the menu, and specials like Madras Misal and Idli with white butter are must haves. No reservations and a perennial wait to get in is part of the experience. Remember to order their magical white butter on the side. Alternative outpost Cafe Gopal in Malad West is usually called a branch, but in reality that's where they started.

What to have: Rasam Vada, Madras Misal, Idli with malagapudi & white butter, coffee

Cafe Madras  Khottu Idli Cafe Mysore

Cafe Mysore
Another part of the venerable Nayak empire, this place is full of celebrity associations - especially Mukesh Ambani. I love those khotto idlis steamed in jackfruit leaves, but do not care as much for their "famous" coffee.

What to have: Khottu Idli

Idli House
This tiny place serves many different kinds of idli including a number of unusual varieties not found elsewhere in Mumbai – and nothing else, no dosa here. There are two kinds of poodi on the counters (each with its proper oil – til or coconut) and even a few dessert idli options make this a place much worth a visit. Also part of the Nayak empire.

What to have: Khottu idli, kanjeevaram idli

Mani's Lunch Home
Mani, like Ramanayaka Udipi, serves only thali for lunch but does the usual dosa-idli fare the rest of the time. The lunch is rather nice, not quite as good as Rama Nayak's but near enough and without all that queueing up. The dosa-idlis are as competent as anywhere in the area. They have a couple of branches – one a stone's throw from Poddar college, but this is the prominent one.

What to have: Lunch thali

Sharda Bhavan
Quieter and more isolated from the crowds that throng Bhandarkar Road, Sharada Bhavan shares the quaint old-world charm of its sibling Amba Bhavan but relies on young collegians rather than geriatric regulars for custom. Usually the easiest of the lot to find parking at. The kela baji is very popular, but I failed to see the point of it. The rasam vada is wonderful.

What to have: rasam vada

IMG_2876 IMG_2872 Rasam Vada

Amba Bhavan Coffee House
If you want great coffee, good dosas and no queues, this unassuming place is the way to go. It still looks like it could have been in a black and white movie, and manages to serve some unusual dishes such as coconut sevai along with competent renderings of the staples. A sibling of Sharda Bhavan, it shares some successes with that establishment such as that lovely kadhi vada. And don't forget the coffee.

What to have: rasam vada, limbu sevai, coconut sevai, coffee

Ram Ashraya
A crowded location at a corner of the Matunga market means the parking is a challenge, but this place serves among many competent dosa-idli choices an earthshaking upma that's the best in the city.

What to have: upma

Upma Ram Ashraya

A Rama Nayak Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding
This venerable grandfather is the udipi that started all udipis in Mumbai. Only serving lunch thalis on banana leaf, it still continues to pack them in seventy years on and with very good reason. Interminable lines are to be expected, but this leads to a procession of simple but very well-made dishes, a couple of sambars and rasams and if you took the luxury option – a sweet - all guaranteed droolworthy. A triumph of simplicity in food; it makes the wait worth it.

What to have: the special lunch thali

IMG_3245 IMG_3241

Anand Bhavan Restaurant
I find Anand Bhavan's basic dosa the best in an area full of great dosas. Reputed to be the olderst, its been around for the obligatory three quarters a century and has gathered its own cohort of fanatic regulars who will, if asked, give free advice on what to eat and sneer loudly if you mention Cafe Madras or old rival Amba Bhavan. The coffee is as good as any on the circle.

What to have: dosa, set dosa, coffee

A Rama Nayak & Sons Udipi
The air-conditioned version of Cafe Mysore next door, serving the cafe menu rather than the banana-leaf thali of its namesake landmark.

What to have: the same things as Cafe Mysore

Ayyapan Dosa Stall
This crowded roadside stall attracts a lot of attention but serves fairly average dosas. Its poodi is nice though, and so are the dishes that use it (such as the poodi upma).

What to have: poodi dosa, poodi upma

The map says it all. Enjoy.

View South Indian Restaurants in Matunga East in a larger map

A Meal and a Song

about Oshiwara, Mumbai 3 comments:

I'm always excited about new Bengali restaurants in Mumbai, and fast expanding Kolkata chain Bhojohori Manna has been on my radar for a while now. Initial negative reviews from a trusted friend had dissuaded me from making the journey to Oshiwara; a visit had thus to wait for me to venture nearby on another excuse. Finally, on rainsoaked noon a few days ago, the eponymous song already having been played on iPod, Sunanda and I stepped into the large, empty restaurant.

I'll make the review brief. Bhojohori Manna, if it can continue without any more dental troubles has overtaken Bijoli Grill at the top of my Bengali restaurant choices in Mumbai. With the exception of a somewhat disappointing posto'r bora and a disastrous rajbhog, the food was wonderful. Ethereal luchis, stunning cholar dal, a beautiful daab-chingri, lip-smacking shukto, sublime nolen-gur ice cream - there was much to like on the menu. Places like Oh Calcutta are scared of too much authenticity and routinely modify traditional recipes to local tastes (putting paneer in a paturi, for instance); Bhojohori Manna makes no such concessions but does not seem to have suffered at all. Sunanda – firmly Bandra and often bemused by the bhadralok's sniffings about authenticity – loved the food even as I certified it grandmother quality. The rich flavours, the light touch on spicing and a wonderfully balanced use of mustard all added up to a wonderful meal.

I find Bhojohori Manna an interesting concept. It is what I would usually sneer at - a pure chain with all its mass market implications, not an original standalone restaurant that proved itself before it grew into a chain. Further, it is founded not by a chef or restaurateur but film directors and steel executives. Its nationwide, yet sticks to authentic. Somehow, all these contradictions work.

Outstanding; that's a good last line for it.

Update: 15-July

I was back in Bhojohori Manna yesterday, this time with five other mouths (including an imported one). Kalyan of Finelychopped did the ordering, and it wasn't long before the first luchis landed up. I'm adding photos and a few what-to-orders in this update.

We oredered Luchi-Alur dom. Impeccable luchis landed up, accompanied by a decent (if slightly underseasoned) alur dom. Sunanda and I had tried the other option the last time – koraishuti kochuri with cholar dal and it was equally satisfying.

Alur Dom Luchi

Main Courses - Veg
Bengalis pretend to sneer at anything herbivorous, but secretly we love our veggies. In this case, we decided that a few Maxi Thalis would take care of the veg cravings, leaving us free to indulge in select, carefully chosen non-vegetarian delicacies. On the veggie front, the Mochar dalna was excellent, as was the Shukto. The Panchmishali sobji was nice too, as was the Bhaja moong dal. The Aloo posto  was decent, but not too exciting and otherwise competent Jhuri bhaja had broken into small bits. The Gobindobhog polau was quite traditional – slightly sweet, with nuts and raisins, all ready for the mutton.

Panchmishali Sobji Mochar GhontoShukto 

Main Courses – Non Veg
An early discussion on the merits of prawns in the monsoon led us to eliminate them early on. This meant that we were concentrating our energies on fish – a Barishali ilish for those ready to tackle the bones, and a Bhapa bhetki paturi for the less adventurous. All to be followed – inevitably - by Kosha mangsho. The ilish was incredible – a rich mustard and coconut gravy that was for me the best dish of the day. The last time I was here with Sunanda, we did order prawns and the Daab chingri (jumbo size)  was the highlight.


Other Stuff
We also ordered an Ampora shorbot that I really liked, Begun bhaja that I thought was cut the wrong way and a nice Amer chatni to provide the palate cleanse leading up to the dessert.


The maxi thali comes with some very nice sondesh. I also ordered a previous favourite – the nolen gur ice cream, which is more souffle than ice-cream but very satisfying nevertheless.

I must mention, for those who do not know it, that the restaurant is named after a hugely popular Bengali song about the adventures of a cook called Bhojohori Manna. Written by Pulak Banerjee, composed by Sudhin Dasgupta and performed by Manna Dey for the movie Pratham Kadam Phool, it has ironically nothing to do with Bengali food. In fact, the cook is described as travelling all over the world - Istanbul, Japan, Kabul, Paris - learning to cook everything but Bengali.


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