This is a plush luxurious eating experience.

Spices is located in the uber-upscale JW Marriott hotel which actually sits on Juhu beach. This killer eatery sets the mood from the get-go. It teased us in, with a long candle-lit corridor greeting us at the entrance. The walls are lined with silk cushions and there is a water channel on either side of the dark wood floor which forms the walkway.

The main seating area is soothingly lit and has ample spacing between tables. No need to jostle for space here. The dark wood and silk theme continues with the tables and apholstery, ensuring you are suitably inspired for the meal ahead.

The menu is actually quite diverse with good offerings from Japan, Thailand and China. We recommend focusing on the Japanese or Thai food. There is actually a Spices Sushi bar as well, and this emphasis on Japenese food continues with their Teppanyaki menu, with food prepared at the table. Teppanyaki is not vegetarian friendly and the server had only one tofu teppanyaki suggestion, which he seemed unconvinced with himself.

On the other hand, the sushi menu has quite a few vegetarian options, and the Kappa Maki (cucumber rolls) are actually excellent. The presentation is top notch, and the wasabi (green horse-radish paste) and ginger were fresh. There are very good avocado sushi and mixed veg sushi plates also available.

A good accompaniment is the miso soup, which is top notch. Probably the most famous, traditionally vegetarian japanese dish, this tofu based clear soup is delivered impeccably at Spices. Delicately flavoured it balances out the striking flavour of the wasabi, which I always tend to overdo anyway.

The piece de resistance was the Vegetarian Udon soup, which has thick meaty Udon noodles in a thin soya-flavoured broth. The authenticity of flavours is unmistakable and the chefs have resisted the urge to spice up this delicacy.

The Thai food has limited vegetarian options and we recommend asking the server to guide you through it. We had some wonderfully silken tofu red curry and veg thai fried rice. Both were pretty good. The highlight was the tofu itself which seemed freshly made.

The bill was high as expected in a top 5-star hotel’s restaurant. It seemed worth the hit – the ambience, the aromas and the flavours made for a singular experience. We give Spices a full 5 bones.

My recco – Go for dinner on a special occasion or for a “pick me up” meal. Pamper yourself in an authentic japanese or thai meal, just don’t have a bit of both!

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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Yet another entrant in an incredibly busy restaurant causeway at Pali Naka, Mia Cucina has its work cut out for it. Bandra has some very good Italian eateries and this makes their task that much tougher.

Italians take their kitchens very seriously, so the naming definitely intrigued us. The decor again worked well to separate it. The main eating area is like an authentic italian restaurant gone contemporary. The wine bottles on the shelf, the arches over each passageway, naked brick walls and the frescos adorning the outside eating area all suggest an old italian eatery. The minimalist tables and seating add the contemporary flavour.

The menu is made to look like a notebook with little caricatures signifying vegetables, meat etc.

The very first dish on the menu was a major highlight. We have had pizzella in Rome, and have never seen it anywhere else. Well done to the team at Mia Cucina for bringing this dish to Bombay – it will definitely do well here. Pizzella is basically small pieces of pizza dough, fried and topped with small amounts of tomato based pizza sauce. You will want to order more than one plate.

There is also the Bruschetta Caponata which uses eggplants on this favourite dish. A 3rd antipasta we would recommend is the Suppli di Riso which are balls of Rissotto & Mozzarella. Very innovative stuff indeed!

The pizzas looked excellent and authentically thin crusted, as they arrived at the next table. We went for two other rarities in Bombay. The Cannelloni Imbottiti is an excellent version of the baked dish with spinach and ricotta cheese inside pasta sheets. They have baked it perfectly to retain the moisture within the pasta rolls while keeping the surface browned and crisp. We also had the Parmagiana di Melanzane (Eggplant Parmegiana) – photo shown below – and found it to be well made with authentic preparation techniques, using bread crumbs as the top layer of the bake. The flavour was good, the tomato flavours came through well and the eggplant held together well. Good job!

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We had no room for much else, but if we did, we would have recommended the Cannoli (a fried roll with whipped cream inside). Ssssinful!

The uniqueness of this eatery is the menu itself. Full of authentic, unique dishes that remain rare to Bombay, and priced very economically, this restaurant is bound to be successful. A brief conversation with the restaurant manager showed the pride they showed in fresh ingredients and in sourcing. He even claimed that the tomatoes were imported. Interesting!

The big hole though was also highly ironic. The perfect Italian meal would have led to a 5-bone rating, if only they had a decent wine to go with the meal. Sadly, though many empty wine bottles adorn one wall as decorations, there is no wine served here. This is one shortcoming they would do well to fix. Do this, and the menu’s uniqueness will truly come to life.

My recco – Definitely try the Pizzella to start with, and then wander through dishes which are new and rare to this city. A must-try eatery!

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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Japanese food is the rage in Bombay and a number of high-end eateries have entered with the goal of servicing this demand. Origami, on the top floor of the upscale Atria Mall is one of the better ones.

Many people associate Japanese food with raw fish. The truth is that the Japanese like all their food fresh and well presented. The actual raw material includes many vegetarian staples and several dishes are meant to be vegetarian.

There are several courses in traditional japanese food, and Origami provides good veg dishes in all courses. We strongly recommend the veg sushi and mainly kappa maki (cucumber rolls). They also offer avocado rolls and other mixed veg rolls. The wasabi is sharp, the ginger is literally in the pink of health, and the soya sauce is Kikkoman – need I say more?

There is also the fried veg tempura which is served with an excellent tempura sauce. The veggies themselves could be better, however.

For the main course, we recommend the Veg Bento box. This delightfully presented dish, comes served in the compartments of a wooden shadow box. The edamame (steamed snow peas) was a pleasant surprise and was fresh and crisp.

Another couple good options include Tofu & miso steak and the Veggies in teriyaki sauce.

There are some good sake options, and the servers can assist you in making that decision. If undecided, you could always wash the food down with some icy Asahi beer.

The service is prompt and courteous and reasonably helpful. I only wish they stopped trying to push the thai dishes and recommending “spicy” dishes. The delicate flavours of the japanese food actually comes through very well.

The main downside is the astronomical pricing. Authentic Japanese food is still rare in Bombay, but this pricing still keeps it out of the reach of most.

My recco – Go here for a smart business lunch or dinner with someone close. This is an impressive experience all around.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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Some restaurants open to big hype and conjure up big expectations. Rarely do they actually match the hype with quality. Monza is yet another example of a restuarant with great hype and true potential, but that in the end fails to deliver.

Monza is located in the hub of central Bombay – Phoenix Mills. It has a nicely done contemporary chic decor with diffused lighting, dark wood paneling and nice tableware. The entrance to the restaurant passes by a huge plate glass window which shows the decent sized wine cellar & tasting room within. A great way to set the mood and create a niche, Monza gets full marks for ambience.

The food looks very interesting as well. Largely Italian, as the name would suggest, the chef has been creative and there are a few fusion dishes which introduce asian influences and spice to popular Italian dishes. Sadly, many other dishes simply fall in “no man’s land” – not authentic, and just not good fusion either. The bruschetta we started with is one such sample. What should be a nice balance of fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil on a slice of a baguette, turns  out to be a bit too garlicky, and our plate seemed to have been spiced up. Normally a big fan of spice, the Hound did not like this creation at all. There was a daily special of mushrooms in herbs and olive oil and that was actually quite nice, allowing the delicate flavour of the herbs to come through.

The main course had a few good options. The Pesto Penne was cheesy and much more thick than the traditional genovese option. Very much similar to the Italian American interpretation of Pesto, which tends to favour cheese, it still makes for a tasty, albeit heavy, meal. The Penne Arrabiata is again an instance of the normally spicy tomato base being fired up even more. In this case, the Indianised interpretation seems to work quite well and the Hound gives this a thumbs up!

The real star of the show was the mushroom rissotto. Not too creamy, not too dry, and just perfectly mushroomy, this dish is a not-miss.

We had the Tiramisu for dessert, but the consistency was more that of cheesecake. The light marscapone cream seemed to be either missing or insufficiently whipped. The other desserts did not seem too appetizing either.

The wine cellar created much of the hype around Monza, and it was quite a disappointment. While many old world wines (wines from France, Italy, Germany) were present, they seemed to lack good representation from the New World (Australia, Chile). The lack of a good Riesling or Chianti was also immediately apparent. The Hound is a fan of Sula, and the lack of the full Sula bouquet also did not speak well of the sommelier.

The service was a big disappointment for a restaurant of this class. Slow and lacking creativity, the server had few recommendations and that will cost them one 1/2 bone.

Pricing was high and given the holes mentioned above, we do not believe they managed to justify the cost.

In the end, a nice place to soak in ambience, but Monza is not the best place for good Italian food in the city – not by a long shot!

My recco – Go to Monza for a light lunch or dinner. Try the rissotto, and expect the overall experience to be good but not exceptional.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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When we heard that the Hard Rock franchise was coming to Bombay, we knew we had to take a look. We have seen the cafes in Vegas, Bali, LA and so many other places. How would Bombay stack up?

This is quite simply the best Hard Rock in the world – for an Indian, anyway.

The setting is an old mill that has been repurposed. This means that we have 30/40-ft high ceilings with multiple levels of seating. The performance stage (meant for live gigs) is above the bar.

The attention to detail at this place is amazing. If you have to wait for a table, they give you an old LP cover of a famous old (60s/70s/80s) rock album, to act as a marker.  Now that’s cool!

The food here is surprisingly good. We would recommend you come here for the ambience, drinks and starters. They have a pretty decent Veg. burger, and its ideal for one person with a decent appetite. We would recommend the Santa Fe spring rolls – a great mexican/asian fusion dish. Also good is the Hard Rock Nachos.

There is a full bar and you get pretty much what you want. We recommend – cold beer! This is the HARD ROCK CAFE. You come here to listen to good – nay, great – rock music, have some snacks and snark down several tall beers. Period!

The reason why it’s the world’s best? In spite of being a few years old, its in impeccable condition, unlike the HRCs in Vegas etc which have become glorified dive bars. The version of rock plays to the Indian taste – Def Leppard, Deep Purple, Metallica, G’N’R, Bryan Adams and Aerosmith all get plenty of air time. You also get the best Indian rock bands playing live many days of the week.

My recco – Get your closest friends and head there now for a great evening of rock!

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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Step into this modern restaurant on a small bylane off Pali Naka and you are transferred instantly to a Pizzeria – no, not in Italy – in Little Italy, New York. The mix of modernity, big city feel & traditional and authentic italian cuisine is a great mix.

 The ambience is modern & minimalist. Large sofas, chairs and booths make it a place you feel comfortable sitting in for a while.

The food is traditional northern italian. They have a decent pesto pasta though the quest for authentic alfredo does not find an answer here. The pasta is cooked perfectly to an al dente consistency and that is good to see. My pick of the bunch would be the penne with mushrooms in olive oil with italian basil. The range of vegetarian pasta options is decent enough, thought not incredible.

The bruschetta is fantastic and makes for a great start to a meal. They have great thin crust italian pizza (not quite the giant slices of NYC, but great stuff). They serve pizza by the slice and that is unique to them in Bombay, as far as we know.

The desserts and drinks are good. They push the giant blueberry cheescake, but I would vote for the equally gigantic chocolate mousse.

The one giant catch – they dont accept credit cards. Hope they have that fixed by now. The good news – the bill isn’t that big anyway.

My recco – A great place for lunch with friends. Order some bruschetta, pizza and wine and soak in the ambience.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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Every so often there is a shift in the benchmark. The advent of Celini is one such instance.

For years, Bombay has benchmarked authentic italian food to the lovely Trattoria restaurant in Cuffe Parade. Time for Trattoria to step aside – there’s a new sheriff in town!

Celini is breath-taking in its high ceiling, modern ambience. Large comfortable sofas await you along with soothing pastel coloured walls. Modern art adorns the walls and your plate is the realm of italian classics.

This restaurant may have the best vegetarian risotto anywhere. An Italian friend ate here recently and remarked that it was as good as back home. Another must have is the wood-fired pizza. Look for the real thing here. Minimal toppings, max flavour and just the right amount of cheese.

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To accompany the meal, fresh bufala mozzarella with tomatoes and basil leaves is recommended. The pastas are all good though the vegetarian range is limited to 4-5 options here.

Some of the finest wines are available and having your pizza with a top quality pinot grigio is recommended.

The service is phenomenal but you do pay for this experience. Its an expensive meal, but you will want to come back for more.

My recco – Plan a meal here to impress your partner. Order a nice wine, some antipasti and wood-fired pizza. Enjoy this modern masterpiece of a restaurant with classical italian cuisine.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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What I like best about this understated place is the unique cuisine. Ambience is minimal and service is polite and decent.

But what you really come here for is in the pursuit of decent mexican grub and palatable gourmet pizza. This place has a decent number of vegetarian option and a good start would be the Potato Macaroni Salad. Another good salad is the Fajita Salad (though not very authentic to its namesake – the Fajita). Be warned – sizes are modest for all dishes.

The pastas are ok, but skip to the thin crust pizzas. My fav is the spicy veg – a nice mix of authentic crust and indian flava on the top. They are very proud of their thin crust, so dont do a faux pas and ask for the cheesy stuffed crust. This ain’t Pizza Hut, buddy!

The must try section is the mexican food. They serve a good bean’n’ cheese taco. The hard shell is good, but go for the soft taco – yum! Another nice dish is the mushroom & corn burrito. If you want something lighter, the olive & jalapeno quesadilla rocks.

The rest of the menu is decent and the focaccia sandwiches are worth a shot.

The best part – its so damn affordable. I told my wife there is no way they stay in business. Two years later, I am so happy they proved me wrong. Where else would I get my taco fix?

My recco – Order some mexican food, pick a juice and have them deliver it at home. The place is small and their delivery times are good.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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This is one place which remains an enigma to me. Sheesha – the rooftop hideaway for college kids and everyone who was young at heart – this is what was my impression from six monhs ago. Age has not been kind to this place.

We walked in on a typically busy Saturday afternoon, and found half the place turned upside down. I understand that places need to renovate, but please do not serve food to us with dusty overturned tables within sniffing distance of our sinuses. A straight ding of 1.5 bones to this place.

Lets not bash this place completely. The kababs are still amazing. Try either the Afghani Paneer Tikka or Ajwaini Paneer Tikka and you will be set (my pick – the Ajwaini, tastes better and you can fool yourself into believing the Ajwain will digest faster). The other awesome starter is the Aatishi Aaloo. The Mushrooms are also very nice. Have this with a cold fresh lime soda (sorry, no beer here!) and some parathas, and you are set.

Your first wrong step would be to over-extend and try the main course. The Dum Aaloo Kashmiri is very average. Oily, over-masala’d and the polar opposite of subtle, this was a definite miss. The Kaali Dal is ok, though other places in the area do a better job. Stick to starters and you’ll be better off.

The biggest disappointment here is the service. The blase, chalta hai attitude mixed with a healthy dose of “adjust karo” makes for a heady mix of poor service. Our waiter forgot our order and came back with hardly an apology. As many as 4 waiters avoided my pleading gestures as i begged for some green chillies to end the misery of the main course. Bad show guys!

The saviours are the elements. This is an open rooftop restaurant – a rarity. It has decent hookahs and with waiters ignoring you, you could remain in a happy sulk in a corner forever, as long as the coals keep the hookah bubbling along.

My recco – Wait until March, when hopefully their repairs are done. Then, go at night, go with friends, and set low expectations. Order kababs, a hookah, some rotis and laze the night away. Ask for your bill 30 mins before you’re ready to leave!

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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One of our first Indian restaurants named after the chef, Moshe’s is a great place to get some authentic mediterranean food.

Hidden behind an entrance of bamboos, which totally obscure the sign, and give it this quirky ambience which is so unique, this restaurant has fans all over Bombay. The wooden floors creak when you walk over them, even though they gleam with the dark polish which has been applied. The chairs have this modern look to them and the whole place looks wonderfully relaxed.

Ok, ok – but what about the food? Well, its awesome. Pastas which all seem freshly made in unique sauces, and freshly baked bread, as far as the eye can see. I recommend the Pesto pasta, which has just the right amount of roasted pine nuts in it, and resists the temptation to get too cheesy. Bruschetta and several types of Focaccia bread can be had with your pasta or salad. Another great dish which is soooo authentic is the fondue – and so many options here.

(TIP: Moshe’s is one of the few places in Bombay where you can buy Fondue cheese to use in the fondue-maker you have at home)

Dishes from Morocco including Tajine rotate in and out of the supplementary menu, which is written in chalk on a blackboard. For those who love desserts – sorry but I ain’t one of you – the range of choice seems limitless.

The veggie options are decent though not limitless, and the food is a bit pricey.

The nice thing? There is no pretence to the place. Moshe walks around the place most evenings. He is as much a Bombayite as the next bloke, and will give you tips on the best hidden menu dish to order. This is definitely one restuarant where you have plenty of options not listed in the printed menu card or on the blackboard. Ask and you will be happy you did!

My recco – Make it a long slow meal with friends. Order a couple of fondue, crack some jokes, sip some wine, and trade travel tips with the folks at the next table. Dont leave the cafe without a goodie bag full of bread and cheese, and a paunch worth bragging about!

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

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