Every now and then I go back to the restaurant I consider Mumbai’s finest. The dessert sticks to my mind as much as to the rest of me. This time was no exception. I’d been there twice in the same week, which is a bit of overkill. My excuse? The first time was a dinner with colleagues after work, the second with family. One of the things I like about this place are the very helpful suggestions made by the staff. The first time we went, everyone wanted a dessert by themselves. The server suggested that after a big meal some of the desserts could be shared. He was right.
There is a lot of turnover in the menu, so going back makes sense. The family dinner ended with two desserts I’d never had before. The strawberry cassata (featured photo) was a playful nod at the famous dessert of the 1970s, when, for the first time one could have an ice cream flavour other than vanilla and chocolate in India. This was a modern version, fabulously light and fresh, a tart taste of the fruit uppermost, with the crunchy nuts supplying a very satisfactory finish. The other was a great take on the other Mumbai special: a falooda. This was The Family’s favourite growing up, and I’m just a johnny-come-late to the Badshah falooda. So I’ll just quote her: “Damn good.”
The registrar of marriages and deaths decided many years ago that The Family and I would forever celebrate Einstein’s birthday. So this Albert’s day we went off to have a nice dinner at one of our new favourite restaurant: The Bombay Canteen. When it opened a few years ago it was an instant sensation, with its completely re-imagined Indian food.
The first time we went there we had something they called the Arbi Tuk. As you can see in the featured photo, it looks totally undistinguished: like a simple dish of chopped onions and tomatoes. A mixture like this on top of crisp puris is a staple of street food all over Mumbai. Not only does this clever dish look like the traditional bhel puri, it even fools your palate for a moment after you bite into it. Then you realize that the puri is not puri, it is fried arbi (taro). Its a lovely fresh taste. We talked to chef Thomas Zacharias, and he gave us a plateful of one of the ingredients to taste. The beans which are chopped into it are fresh, and hard to find in the markets. I asked him where he sources his flavourful tomatoes, and he shrugged. The Bombay Canteen is famous for taking extreme care to source local vegetables from local farmers.
Every time we go to this restaurant there is something new on the menu. This time around the list of new dishes included the Haleem. We consider ourselves to be Haleem experts. The deep umami flavour of mutton was satisfactory, but over this rode a wonderful new flavour of roasted jowar. We would go back to a restaurant just for a Haleem like this. We consider ourselves lucky to have found this place before we knew what a lovely Haleem they make.
We ordered Thomas’ version of a tarte tatin, called the Guava Tan-ta-tan. It is was the ultimate in street flavour. The Family and I love to eat guavas from street-side vendors, cut open with a little red chili and salt sprinkled on it. This tarte tatin was made with guavas instead of apples, and came with a scoop of red chili ice cream on it, placed in a plate smeared with runny and spicy guava jelly.
Alice Waters may have started the farm-to-table movement in California, but The Bombay Canteen has perfectly adapted it to Mumbai.