Sometime earlier this month, I accompanied my friend The Tiny Taster to the launch of the ‘Din Bhar and Lunch Menu‘ at The Bombay Canteen in Lower Parel. Honestly, I was actually quite skeptical at first, since I’d heard that the food was a ‘modern take’ on Indian classics – because every time someone tries to re-invent the wheel, I get a little bored – but I was intrigued to know what all the hype was about.
The interiors here are inspired by the Bombay bungalows of old, complete with the typical patterned tiles (which I absolutely loved), a simulated verandah area, a false staircase, and etched window panes.
A huge well-stocked bar runs along one wall – with an adorable tuck-shop style counter at the end that reminded me of the ones we would buy our treats from in school. True to the idea, this tuck-shop counter does actually stock treats, like Mawa Cake, Chocolate Fudge Cake, Nankhatais, soda-pop and more. The cakes and biscuits are made in-house and are available for purchase. I didn’t get to try these, but it’s one more reason to head back here!
Before the meal commenced, Executive Chef Thomas Zacharias gave us a little intro into the idea behind the food – bringing back that flavour of Bombay, keeping it old-school and ‘India Inspired’, not trying to re-invent the wheel! He explained how he goes to the markets himself in search of the freshest produce, keeping it local and seasonal. His passion is what drives the food here – and he even did the research, touring India and exploring every kind of local food he could get his hands on, before joining legendary Chef Floyd Cardoz at The Bombay Canteen. Some of the dishes took me back to my childhood, others – I’m pleased to say – changed my opinion on them for the better.
We ran into some friends, so the four of us decided to join foodie forces and thank God we did, because there was too much food for even two of us to take on!
Famous for their signature vintage-style ‘Fancy Drinks’, I decided on their Rim Zhim Masala Soda – a cumin infused vodka with a sweet-salty soda base. I also had a taste of the Royal Ginfield, which was tasty; the Jugaad (a must-try for Bourbon lovers) and the Passion Fruit and Star Anise Iced Tea (non-alcoholic). Of course, their famous Punch was on hand – brewed overnight and packed with boozy fruits, I was instantly in love with this drink.
From their ‘Chhotas’ aka small plates, I loved their Paneer and Pumpkin Seekh Kebabs – never thought I’d actually like vegetarian kebabs, but this was delicious; the Teekha Meetha Chicken Wings – again, not something I would usually order, but I really enjoyed the sweet-sour-spicy combination with the cool yogurt dipping sauce; and the Chilled Seafood Bhel – a combination of two of my favourite things to eat, which I thought would be gross, but was quite superb.
The Methi and Arugula ‘Salaad’ had a lovely light dressing and would be perfect for summer, as long as they chop up the peanuts, so it’s easier to eat with a fork.
The ‘Bada Pao’ sandwiches, served with salad and addictive masala wafers were something I would come back for. To my huge surprise, I actually preferred the Kutchi Dabeli – a spicy potato-peanut mash topped with lotus stem chips and tangy chutney – over the Tandoori Pork – twice cooked pork with a jaggery glaze, topped with a slaw of cucumber, onion and carrot – unbelievable, I know! The Tandoori Pork would have worked better as dish on it’s own, I think.
The Videshi Mutton with Anda Paratha Roll was your typical meaty roll, but somehow left me wanting more. Call me crazy, but I think I expect all mutton rolls to taste like my beloved Tibbs frankie, so that may be my personal taste which got in the way (sorry, Chef)!
Seasonal Fruit Lassi is also made in-house – we got to try the Strawberry and Mango lassi, and my table was pided on which one was better, but I preferred the Mango one. Chef said that the flavours would change depending on whichever fruit was in season and available, so be sure to ask your server if you’re ever in the mood for it.
The most notable addition to this lunch menu, is The Canteen Tiffin Box – either a vegetable or meat option served with maska pao, a side salad and a dessert (more on the dessert at the end). This makes sense for anyone who is fortunate enough to work in the vicinity – it’s a satisfying combination for a quick lunch and a return to the office. The Sprouted Beans, Corn and Paneer Bhurji was not my cup of tea at all, but everyone else seemed to like it. I expected more flavour from the Mustard Chicken Curry, but it was palatable.
Of the ‘Badas’ aka large plates, the Banana Leaf Wrapped Roasted Fish – Red Snapper (YAY, no Basa) marinated and cooked in an earthy Kerala masala – and served with Steamed Tingmo Garlic Bread was perfect; the Multi-grain Khichdi – a super healthy option, drizzled with ghee and served with a thaali of sides like baingan bharta, mango chutney, papad and pickle raita – was actually one of my favourites.
I even braved the Kheema Bheja Ghotala, (read: BRAINS) topped with a soft-cooked egg, which was quite flavorsome – served with a crispy, buttery Multi-grain Roti.
Now for the best part of the meal, for which a section of my stomach is always reserved – DESSERT! The Dessert Queen at Bombay Canteen is Chef Namrata Pai, who cooks up everything from the Nankhatais and Mawa Cakes at the tuck-shop counter to the fabulous array of sweets that I’m about to discuss. Since there were four of us sitting together, we ordered one of each dessert to share, plus one dessert that was to be an accompaniment to the Tiffin Box mentioned earlier.
Tiffin Box ‘Sweet Dish’ – I’m not sure this one has a name, so let’s call it that. Personally, a huge hit with me – like a de-constructed cheesecake of sorts, the rich creamy base is made from yogurt, topped with a delicious biscuit crumble and freshly chopped mango pieces. If only this was a stand-alone dish on the menu! sigh.
The Guava ‘Tan-Ta-Tan’ has as much personality in its flavour as its name! Slivers of Guava baked on a puff-pastry crust, topped with a chili infused ice cream – the balance of hot, sweet and cold was met.
A Gulab Nut is Bombay Canteen’s take on the traditional Gulab Jamun, except it’s about 5 times the size (like a donut, hence the ‘nut’) and soaked in Old Monk, with a layer of pistachio cream in the middle. I didn’t get much rum from the taste of it, but it was a good dessert overall.
I really loved the Masala Chai Popsicles (who makes popsicles anymore, right?!)!! A super idea, especially because I am not-so-secretly obsessed with tea, but also because somehow the spiced, gingery taste I got from it reminded me of these ginger snap biscuits my Granny used to serve at tea when we were kids. The biscuit crumble gave a nice texture and of course, the jaggery sauce was just the cherry on top of the cake.
Surprisingly, none of the founders of Bombay Canteen are Parsi (I asked, because the decor seemed inherently Parsi) but you will find a Falooda Sundae on the menu, and you should order it, because FALOODA! Rose ice cream, strawberry jelly and those crazy little basil seeds in a bottle, with pistachios and milk are just what the doctor ordered.
The entire meal was really surprising for me, food-wise, because I actually found myself enjoying some of the vegetarian dishes as much as, if not more than their non-vegetarian counterparts (veggie lovers, rejoice). If you’re going to make a trip to Bombay Canteen (as you should), keep in mind that the Punch is ESSENTIAL and be sure to pick dishes with contrasting flavours, since some of the flavour profiles are similar. Keep an open mind and try something which you usually wouldn’t order – it might surprise you!
Happy Eating (and drinking)!