Matunga’s King Circle is definitely the home of authentic “South Indian” cuisine in Bombay. By this, we mean Tamilian and Udupi food focussed on breakfast, sapadu (full meals) and snacks. One mainstay, which has refused to upgrade, modernize or change in any way shape or form is Cafe Madras (better known as Madras Cafe).

Still bearing the original signage outside and inside, reminiscent of a bygone era, Madras Cafe draws in the crowds by the car, van and truck load. Reach this place after 9am for breakfast or after 1pm for lunch, and you are doomed to wait for an eternity for a place at one of the tables. There must be seating for 30 people at the max, and be ready to share a community table with someone you don’t know.

Cramped, dimly lit and lacking space for folks to maneuver, the place has the most divine smells imaginable and is guaranteed to drive you nuts in your short wait for the food. The place is incredibly clean and the emphasis on hygiene is clear. The manager serves as the head waiter and barks out orders to get you a table or food.

Come here for breakfast and the options are incredible. You could go for the standard fare such as upma, idli, vadai or dosai. If you are in the mood for something more exotic, ask for the pesaratu dosai. A spicy batter is used to make this delicacy. Otherwise, you always have masala dosa, uthapam or rava dosai, which is my personal favourite. All these dishes are served with a freshly made coconut chutney and sambar. The only way to end such an awesome meal is with a tumbler of filter coffee. Amma would be proud!  

Special Tip: On sundays, they serve pongal and this is something you must order. With a generous portion of ghee on top, this tamilian khichdi is a must-try. 

The lunch served here has several bhaaths (mixed rice preparations) which are very nice. The Bisi Bhele Bhaath (equivalent to a fancy sambar rice with veggies) and Dahi Bhaath (curd rice) are very good. They also have fancier dishes like rasam vadai which is nice and spicy.

The pricing is very nominal and you will leave here feeling truly satisfied.

The service has a distinct focus on getting you processed and on your way. They are very polite. However, speed in delivery of food extends to delivery of the bill too. You are gently encouraged to move along and let in the next batch of hungry diners.

My recco – Go to Cafe Madras for breakfast and show up just after 8am. Get a table, and enjoy a sumptuous meal of idli, vadai and coffee.

 Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

cafemadras-sep407.jpg

We love Thai food and so the premier Thai restaurant in Bandra is a place we visit occasionally.

Thai Ban is a quaintly decorated eatery located in the restaurant rich neighbourhood of Pali Naka. The smells in the restaurant conjure up images of a sumptuous treat to come, and it is not too far off the fact.

The appetizers and soups section is pretty decent and we recommend the Steamed Veg thai spring rolls and the Fried corn cakes. They have also recently introduced a Tofu & Bell pepper satay which is not bad, though not 100% authentic. The Tom Yum (fiery clear thai soup) and Tom Kha (coconut  milk soup) are decent without being spectacular.

For those in mood for something different, try the Spicy young papaya salad.

The main course at Thai Ban is very good in depth and authenticity. One of the few restaurants with a good vegetarian Masaman curry, you also get a good spicy green curry. We would recommend the Tao Hood Thod, which has fried tofu in a spicy and sour sauce. Its got a tangy flavour and the tofu is just perfectly succulent. Another favourite is the Pahd Kraw Prik Je (Veggies in chilly garlic basil sauce). Fresh thai basil makes this vegetable really flavourful. They have now introduced a “make your own main course” section and we would suggest trying the Kapprao sauce (which uses Thai bird chillies).

The rices and noodles are decent, and we would recommend the Thai fried rice. Have the non-spicy option. Thai food has many subtle spices and we recommend resisting the urge to just fire up the spice on all dishes. Your digestive system would probably thank you too! The traditional favourite – Pahd Thai noodles- is only ordinary and not the best in Bombay.

Thai Ban has very few tables and is always full for lunch. So, get here early or book in advance.

Tip: This is the best eatery in the area for a working lunch. Good ambience & food and it cannot get too crowded!

The one major negative with Thai Ban is the pricing. The food is very expensive, especially for an eatery of this category. Adding to this, the portions are woefully small. They recently upped their prices and so you can expect major damages on the bill.

Tip #2: Order home delivery from here. They don’t keep the 30 min standard delivery timeline, but they do give a 10% discount on home delivery.

My recco: Go for lunch and try multiple courses – appetizers + main course + rice/noodles.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

thaiban-jan1208.jpg

Pearl of the Orient is a restaurant of tremendous potential. Unfortunately, the folks at the Ambassador, have tried to match this eatery’s potential and have executed textbook “overkill”.

Open the menu of this eatery and you will find 20+ pages of food. Separate menus for Hunan, Sichuan, Beijing, HongKong, Thai, Japanese, etc. etc. etc. We all know that the broad descriptor of “chinese” food is about as accurate as “indian” food. It’s great that someone has attempted to break into the various cuisine styles. But, this is a bit too much! Everyone seems lost and confused by the mountain of options facing them. The saddest part is that the waiters seem intent on just selling standard fare – manchurian, sichuan veggies etc.

Having said this, the saving grace is the food. Not hugely authentic, but definitely not lacking in flavour, we recommend starting with the wonderful clear veg wonton soup. The wontons have the right amount of veggies in them and melt in your mouth. Order for 3-4 people and they will serve it in a large center-heated soup bowl – a relative rarity for vegetarians. If you prefer starters to soups, we would recommend either the sesame corn on toast or veg steamed dumplings.

For the main course, definitely have the hunan veggies and tofu in black bean sauce. Another good option is the Buddha’s delight, which is not the flat, cornflour mess served in most other restaurants. Delicate flavour for sure, but nicely done. Accompany this with either the sichuan style noodles or the mushroom pot rice.

For those in search of a more exotic meal, we would recommend the vegetarian sushi, including kappa maki. (cucumber rolls). Not very authentic, but not too bad either. The wasabi is very good and along with the pink ginger makes the sushi a nice side order. The lack of a miso soup means you cannot make this a true japanese meal, but don’t fret. The veg tempura (fried veggies in batter) are also very tasty.

There are limitless other options, but we will let you explore them and advise on any other picks from the jumbo menu card.

The ambience is really why most folks come to this place. It is South Bombay’s only rooftop revolving restaurant and what a view! It overlooks marine drive, and so gives you a bird’s eye view of the queen’s necklace and the Arabian sea. The place rotates at a pace which allows you to get atleast one sighting of the arabian sea, the queen’s necklace, brabourne stadium, the Taj hotel, Bombay High and Nariman point. But, dont worry – no need to hold on to your dishes – this isn’t that fast. The two times you are reminded that it revolves are when you step out of the stationary lift lobby and onto the seating area floor, and when you step back into the lift lobby. Watch out for the kids who love this “transition point” and make it their spot to jump back and forth!

My recco – Go here for dinner and with your special someone. Enjoy the best views in Bombay. As for the food, open any page and pick whatever you see. Do not try to surf through it – your head will spin!

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

pearlorient-dec1207.jpg

A true “old school” restaurant that has been around for ages, Gaylord is a restaurant at which a few generations of Bombayites have grown up.

Situated on the road from Churchgate station to Marine drive, Gaylord has prime real estate to command a presence. While the opposite pavement has a scrap between about 6-7 restaurants & lounges, Gaylord has this pavement pretty much to itself.

Laid out over 3 mezzanine levels, this restaurant has both punjabi food and some continental bakes. While the baked dishes evoke memories of the railway club (in a good way), we would recommend you concentrate on the punjabi food and desserts.

The punjabi main course is quite stellar here and all the traditional dishes are prepared consistently well. Paneer tikka, dal shorba and harabhara kabab are good ways to get started here. The main course has many delicacies from the simple bhendi masala to a more rich dum alu kashmiri. We would recommend the paneer makhanwala which sinfully melts in your mouth and the veg jalfraizy which compensates for its peculiar name with some great spice. For once, we would recommend the Dal Tadka instead of the black dal.

Gaylord has great accompaniments from a fantastic punjabi mix-veg pickle to masala papad. Unlike some punjabi joints, both the rotis and the rice are equally stellar. We recommend the butter naan and the peas pulao.

Having gorged yourself on this much butter and cream, we would still recommend saving space for dessert. The malai kulfi is quite superb, as is the rabdi.

For those in the know, the bakeshop outside is one of the best smelling places on earth. Freshly baked bread, pastries and snacks make it a must for you to take some of this away with you.

A tip: Show up around 10am or 3ish when the freshly baked stuff is wheeled in. Mmmmm…

The service unfortunately has been slow and unhelpful for about as long as this joint has been in existence. Most people serving seem as old as Bombay (not in the nice way), and seem in no mood to tolerate questions or to even put on the pretence of service. One chap (tall with a moustache) IS very good and uses his experience to guide you through the menu (and off-menu) items. But, if you don’t get him, it can get frustrating. We dock them one bone for this.

My recco – Go here for dinner, when the sea-breeze from marine drive hits you in the face as you enter and exit. Show up hungry, and don’t expect to stick to your diet or any urgent appointments afterwards.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

gaylord-sep407.jpg

A definite landmark that is mentioned in every single guide book to Bombay, the Haji Ali Juice Center has been around forever.

Present at the crowded and ever-busy Haji Ali Circle and on the seaface that has the island mosque of the same name, this juice center is easily discernible by the huge number of cars apparently parked on the side of the circle.

A very Bombay version of a drive-in/drive-through, the stewards of HAJC will guide you to a cramped corner of the road to pull your car over. They will then scoot over with a menu wrapped in a “protective” plastic sheath. He will also start reciting the seasonal specials before you have had the chance to turn the car’s engine off. His aim is to serve you quickly and get you on your way so the next thirsty traveller can be serviced.

HAJC also serves some snacks and even pizza (???!!??), but we say stick to the fruit juices and milk drinks. Of the fruit juices, you can never go wrong with the standard fare of sweet-lime (mosambi), watermelon or orange. We recommend one of the cocktails – most famous of which is the very exotically named Ganga Jamuna. A mix of Orange & mosambi juice, this is a must-try. Occasionally, they will even serve the even more exotic derivative Ganga Jamuna Saraswati, with pineapple juice joining the party.

The milk drinks are also very good and both the banana milkshake and the sitaphal (custard apple) milkshake are delectable. They also push the chickoo milkshake but the real gem is the seasonal mango milkshake (available only from about May – Aug). Show up in May-early July and you will get Alphonso mangoes in them. Yum!

Another fabulous try in the humid summers is the falooda. Filled with the gelatinous noodles or balls, and a generous serving of rose syrup, this iced milk dish is rarely made better than at the HAJC.

The pricing used to very modest but has gone up a bit with the fame. The crowds have increased too and summer evenings can be positively painful waiting to get a place to park.

The new additions are the plastic glasses to allow take away. For the purists though, I say walk up to the counter (which is long and wonderfully fruity in smell) and ask for a tall glass mug of juice.

My recco – Take a car full of folks and everyone order a different drink. Try at least one seasonal special and be sure to share with all.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

hajiali-dec2207.jpg

A gap in the Indian eatery scene has been a decent noodle joint – atleast it was until the advent of Noodle Bar. This highly successful chain has not suffered the same dumbing down effect as its multi-cuisine sister concern – Bombay Blue.

Noodle Bar is a cafe style eatery with long benches serving as seating and plain wooden tables promising a good east asian food experience to come. The ambience here is one of a buzzing eatery serving up generous portions of noodles to grateful Bombayites of all shapes and sizes. The waiters in their black uniforms scoot briskly from table to table ferrying steaming plates and bowls to the hungry patrons.

The food here has a great range, but the prescribed course would be to order some starters for the table and then a noodle dish for yourself.

For starters, Noodle Bar has some great fried wontons, spring rolls and other standard “chinese” fare. We recommend you go for momos. A relative rarity in Bombay (but very common in Cal & Delhi), these steamed dumplings are heavenly. The accompanying sauces are nothing fancy – soya, vinegar chillies and a red chilly sauce.

For the main course, there are many excellent noodle dishes from all parts of east asia. Our pick is the Noodle bowl, which you can build. Choose the veggies of your choice by checking them off on a form + check off the garnishes (ginger, garlic, etc.) + check off the sauce of your choice (we recommend hoisin or black bean) + finally pick the noodle type of your choice. Herein lies the attraction of what could have easily become a plain vanilla mega-chain of chinese restaurants. Of the many options of noodles on offer, we would recommend either the fine ramen style or the chunky udon.

Pricing is moderate and hence they have a good mix of hungry office-goers, students and recovering workaholics.

My recco – Go with a friend who doesn’t like to talk. Order a couple of starters, a soupy noodle bowl and spend the meal slurping and slarping your way through it.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

noodlebar-dec1207.jpg

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:

hardrockcafe-dec2107.jpg

A caricature of a real dhaba – Papa Pancho – is the brainchild of ad wiz Prahlad Kakkar. The endeavour to try and imitate/maintain authenticity using charpais and copper vessels does continue onto the food, somewhat.

 Papa pancho, not surprisingly is known for good hearty punjabi khana. They do a good job of setting the mood and the waiters do a good job of keeping the mood going. Our waiter had some dry humour and seemed to personify the place.

Food is good here and punjabi delicacies like sarson da saag and makki ki roti are solid. Don’t miss the dal makhani. Paneer tikka, lassi from tall copper tumblers and great tandoori rotis, this place is good for all of these. The rajma masala with rice is very tasty as well.

The pricing is very affordable and this is a big plus. The ambience is very casual ideal for a casual meal with friends or colleagues. The service can be very inconsistent and I have seen it get a bit sloppy at times. This is no fancy joint – just good steady fare. The lack of beer to down with the paneer and naan is the only downside for this kind of joint.

My recco – Go with a group of friends and expect a casual, fun meal with good, solid food.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

papapancho-nov407.jpg

This is quite simply THE ONLY PLACE we would recommend to visit after a Saturday morning jog.

Crepe Station Cafe in Bandra is a great place to grab a nice breakfast while enjoying a soothing sea-breeze and the beautiful people of Bandra will keep you company. The windmills on the awning and the fans to keep you cool are all components of this true cafe experience.

Food here is very good. Breakfast from omlettes (for those veggies who do have eggs) to various toast and bread options make for a nice start to the day. Wash it down with one of their signature fruit juices. The top picks would be either watermelon juice or lime juice.

For lunch or dinner, try the namesake of the cafe – a nice french crepe. Technically, they mainly have galettes (salty “crepes”), though they do have a few sweet crepes too. The farm fresh crepe (Spinach and cottage cheese) is very good and so is the one with the tomato concasse. Avoid all “indianized” crepes – somethings were just not meant to be!

There are some nice Italian options including a nice spaghetti alio olio. Garlic bread and bruschetta is also pretty good.

Another nice option are the burgers (veggie burger in particular) and sandwiches. So, as you can see, lots of cuisine options for veggies here. And they all stay consistent with the cafe feel and flavour.

The service can be slow but we really seem to be super relaxed everytime we visit. Pricing is just perfect – not too high, but enough to make it count.

Time for a review in a review:

Crepe Station, (Above Croma), Malad(W)
07012008358.jpg

We recently visited the newly opened outlet in Malad with all the passion of a loyal fan. Boy, were we disappointed!

Right from the get go, this division is located in a mall and does not retain the cafe feel of its Bandra cousin. There was a sizeable Indian section to the menu. Did I mention that Indian food + crepes = bad idea? Well, it is.

We dont frankly care if the food is good or not. They killed whatever is nice in the Bandra original by introducing -hold your breath now – an Indian lunch buffet, full with naans, dal and the works. The servers were also keen to push us in the direction of the buffet. When we did order crepes, it took us a good 30 minutes to receive the 1st crepe.

Fruit juices were limited, ambience limited, service missing. The only thing that rang true was the quality of the crepes. Excellent as always!
We say – avoid the Malad(W) outlet at all costs.

*End of Review in Review* (Don’t ever accuse of not innovating!)

My recco – Visit the Bandra outlet on a Saturday lunch or early evening. Spend a good 2 hrs enjoying a juice, a crepe and a whole lot of ambience

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

crepestation-jan0608.jpg

The hippest lounge to open in Bombay in recent times, comes with a twist.

The food looks intriguing, though we did not try anything. The Patatas Bravas seemed the biggest surprise, and I would love it if someone tried it and wrote to us to tell us if it matches the Catalan original for authenticity. Hummus, fusion mediterranean and some asian fusion snacks are what you get to eat.

What you really come here for are the drinks and music. Live music every night on stage in a huge converted mill is a great concept. Even cooler – folks sit in “pods” rather than just at tables. You need to book these in advance. Each circular pod has unobstructed view to the stage and there seemed to be about 20-30 of these of various sizes. The walls of the pods change colour with the music and that adds to the lounge ambience.

The drinks looked innovative and we highly recommend the Thai Mojito. An asian rendition of the caribbean classic, it uses dark rum, chillies and coriander leaves to make a peppy, refreshing adaptation, which we really liked.

The music was great with Pune based DJ Ma Faiza lighting it up along with some dude on live saxophone. Great fusion there as well.

The energy overall is high, the prices are ok considering how hip this place is, and the ambience “one of a kind”. Definitely visit this place soon.

My recco – Book a pod, grab 4-5 close friends and spend the night having exotic drinks and grub at a fairly exotic lounge.

Check out the Hound Report Card for the final analysis:

bluefrog-jan0408.jpg