Contrary to my experience with most Restaurants that pull out all the stops at tastings and then slowly decline in consistency, The Bombay Canteen (TBC) continues to impress. After my first visit (read: What’s Old is New at The Bombay Canteen), I went back for a meal with my family, and even ordered take-out from them. Each visit has been more enjoyable than the last.
I was both pleasantly surprised and pleased to be invited on a Market Walk with Chef Thomas Zacharias and the TBC Team. We were a small group of about five invitees – which thankfully, made for an intimate and much more interactive session with Chef.
Before we took off for our walk, we were kindly served breakfast from their Canteen Tuck Shop offerings and some hot Masala Chai.
The Chicken Quiche had creamy, spiced chicken encased in a crumbly shell and it was definitely something I would love to take home and nibble on.
Their Banana & Jaggery Cake – served warm with a drizzle of jaggery reduction over it – had me swooning!
The Cinnamon Roll Muffin and Mawa Cake with house-made seasonal Fruit Jam were also particularly gorgeous when served warm.
There were also Chicken Pastry Puffs and Jaffa Chocolate Cakes which looked tempting, but I decided to save my appetite for later.
Personally, I love going to markets, but honestly haven’t been to a local vegetable market in a long time. The smells and sounds can be overwhelming at first, but once you soak it in, it’s incredible. The erratic weather wasn’t enough to rain on our parade (although it literally did) and the fresh earthy, peppery scent of the farm-fresh produce was rather invigorating. Supporting local producers should be top priority on everyone’s list, but engaging in conversation with them is equally rewarding. There was such gusto and passion in the way they explained the names and origins of vegetables, which some of us hadn’t even seen or heard of before!
We sampled some freshly fried (but not at all oily) Masala Banana Chips – hot, crispy and addictive (which I’m definitely going back for) – and picked up some funky looking veggies for Chef Thomas to experiment with back at TBC.
As you may (or may not) know, TBC keeps their menu seasonal, with food that changes according to the freshest produce available at the time. Adding to their menu for the Monsoon Season and in celebration of Indian Independence Day, were a ton of new ‘India Inspired’ dishes. There’s also a couple of new offal themed items, which I haven’t been brave enough to try out yet. It must be noted, that TBC has made a conscious effort to include more vegetarian fare (I never found it lacking, but then again I’m an omnivore) on the menu.
We started lunch with the Grilled Dhokla Chaat with a date chutney & masala peanut kachuber which was enjoyable, and the Channa Dal Fritters with rajma hummus was rather like a Desi version of Falafel and Hummus, but done really well.
An exciting new offering was the delicious Crispy Quail 65, garnished with curry patta, grated coconut, onion & red chili tadka. Quail is not a popular feature on Indian restaurant menus, so this was unusual but nonetheless delicious. Quail has small bones, so don’t be afraid to go all-out and get your hands dirty with this one – trust me, it’s worth it.
From the new Fancy Drinks, we tried the Chai, Chai, Chai – Absolut vodka with Assam tea, fresh mint and the ‘canteen masala mix’ – which is now my second favourite drink at TBC (the first being their Punch);
Incredible India – with basil, fresh ginger and orange served up in an ice cube, and the Absolut vodka and pineapple-orange juice concoction in a decanter on the side;
the K2 – with white rum, cumin liqeur, jamun juice, black salt and chaat masala – was served like a street-style Gola, and just as fun to drink/eat.
Chef Thomas also took time to fry up some unusual, prickly-gourd type veggie that we picked up from the market earlier. It was the perfect thing to snack on while sipping the Fancy Drinks, and I hope they’ll add it to the menu soon (though, their Lotus root chips are still my top choice).
The Smoked Mutton Gujiya – deliciously flaky pastry stuffed with the softest meat and topped with chopped onions, lime & raw mango chunda – was lovely.
Mushroom & Bhindi Upma with creamy rawa, red chili and curry leaves is the ideal vegetarian comfort food. Crispy fried bhindi was always a childhood favourite – add to that some creamy, cheesy Upma (which is rather like polenta) and you’ve got a winner.
Sweet Potato & Green Chili Dosa was cooked in burnt butter (!!!) and stuffed with roasted cashews, grilled petha and torai. The best part of the dish was the side of TBC’s signature coconut chutney.
The Chicken Ishtew ‘Pattice’ with black pepper & cinnamon coconut curry and crispy puff pastry was the dark horse of this tasting, for me. I’m not a fan of stews, and was dreading this dish. Lucky for me, underneath the buttery, flaky, pull-apart pastry exterior was the most sublime stew I have ever tasted. Dipping the pastry into the stew was even better!
As for dessert, I had high expectations, having tried nearly all of them before. There were two new additions, curated by Sucre des Terres, but made in the TBC Bakery by reigning Dessert Queen, Chef Namrata Pai. A Trifle served in a cutting Chai glass was layered with custard, fruit and sponge cake. Unfortunately, it just didn’t cut it for me, but everyone else seemed to like it.
On the bright side, the Sutarfeni ‘Mill-Fooey’ was interesting enough for me to devour. For those of you who don’t know, sutarfeni is an Indian sweet dish of very fine, stringy sugar-coated rice flour. At TBC, it has been layered like a mille feuille, crisped up and piped through with sharp lime custard and a fennel meringue – superb!
Other than the memory-stirring food, there are couple of other reasons why I’ve grown to love TBC. They’re unpretentious, even when they take a traditional dish and put their own spin on it. A rare thing among restaurants and restaurateurs, there’s a deeply rooted sense of community. Everyone, from the Chefs to the Proprietors (Yash and Sameer, especially), is extremely hands-on and there’s no job ‘too high’ or ‘too low’ for anyone to do. That means a great deal.
Even the most simple sounding dishes – when executed well – can elicit a tremendous amount of excitement from a food geek like me, and every time I visit TBC, I find myself geeking out to an almost embarrassing extent.
It is notoriously difficult to get a reservation here at the last minute, or even a day or two before, so plan ahead. Scroll down for more photos from the Market Walk! You can find The Bombay Canteen on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.