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.
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.
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.
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.
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.