Thursday, March 22, 2012

Saayba Hotel

Saayba Hotel at Bandra is a little delight. We have been eating here for several years. It’s located at the start of S V Road at Bandra. It’s very easy to locate, impossible to park at and its name has a most peculiar spelling. Whether the name has been numerically corrected I do not know, but it’s very awkwardly spelt. Lastly, I am unsure if Saayba has been correctly named at all. My Pocket Oxford Dictionary says a `hotel’ is `a place providing accommodation and meals for travellers and tourists’. Saayba Hotel has no rooms. Saayba is actually a restaurant. Be that as it may, Saayba Hotel serves great Gomantak food.

Pretty flowers - A touch of `upmarket'

I must confess that despite my best efforts I could not find out what Gomantak Food is. Yes I know its coconut based, I know it’s got a lot of fish and meat, I know it’s from the West coast of India focussed around Maharashtra, Goa and parts of Karnataka, but what are the specific spices or characteristics I have no clue. It’s extremely spicy both in the chilly as well as in the `Garam Masala’ department.  I do know that not much dairy [milk, mawa khoa paneer] is used. But beyond that I know nothing. I have no clue as to what Malwani food is or Konkani food is either. Many of these terms are used interchangeably. This adds to the confusion. If any of you do have an idea of what this is do let me know. We did have a great non vegetarian Gomantak/Malwani meal at the restaurant at the MCA Club a few weeks ago. I do not know how long that restaurant will last.

Our evening started with a few intoxicants at Totos. We were joined by the Delhi Belle who is an ex Bombayite. We had gone with her to Arsalan a few weeks ago. Anyway, she was in town and wanted to meet. The last time she said she had to eat Chicken in Wire Mesh a signature dish at Toto. We obviously obliged. This time she wanted to have Brain Masala at Lucky’s. Of course we obliged. The waiter was a bit perplexed and thought we were real cheapies with the three of us ordering one Brain Masala and two Rotis. For the record, the Brain in the Brain Masala is very good. The Masala in the Brain Masala was outstanding. There was unfortunately a lot of Masala and less Brain. But it was happily devoured. Next stop Saayba Hotel.

Brain Masala Fry at Lucky's
Saayba has recently had a dose of `upmarket’. Mrs Mythali Sawant has run the place with her brother Sanjay for several years. The grapevine has it that Mrs Sawant’s son has just returned from Canada and he is flexing his muscles. Saayba is in a state of change. Earlier you had stainless steel Thaalis or `Taats’ [pronounced like `Tarts’ with a silent `R’] in which you ate and the food was served in stainless steel bowls. Reminded me of eating at my maternal grandmother’s house as a child. But alas, all that has gone. It’s now white Melamine plates and bowls and the `Indian breads’ are served in a stainless steel serving bowl. Prices have increased and quantities have, I believe, reduced, but I may be wrong on the portions. Oh yes, they now have a dedicated order taker who is dressed in a white shirt and apron. Here are a couple of photos from the `old' Saayba.

Mutton Fry Masala Sagoti served in Stainless Steel 

Usal served in Stainless Steel

The Taat or Thaali

Let’s get two things clear. Being an Indian restaurant, all food photographs very badly and looks similar. Secondly, all fish is cooked within an inch of its life. It’s always fried to the proverbial crisp, totally dried out and a complete waste of time. This is a problem at Trishna, Apoorva and any other fish restaurant.

Now, onto the food. Once Delhi Belle had got her Sol Kadi, we got down to ordering.

Sol Kadi in a plastic `glass'

Mutton Fry  Masala Sagoti [which is also spelt Mutton Xacuti in Goa], Usal, Teesriya (Clam) Masala, Crab Masala, Vade and Rice Bhakri, Konkani Daal and Egg Pulao. All the curries looked similar but I assure you they tasted different. Each one was really unapologetically spicy in every way. Each of the dishes was also fire hot which is really so important. I really recommend that you have as many of their curries as you can and stay away from the fried fish and fried prawns. If you do like your fish murdered go ahead, as the cliché goes, make your day.

Usal - note the white melamine crockery

Mutton Fry Masala Sagoti 

Teesrya Masala

Crab Masala
The Mutton Fry Masala Sagoti which I order almost every time we eat here is truly exceptional and there is a generous amount of mutton in each dish. All the gravies have ground coconut as a base and the mix of spices differs so dramatically so each dish tastes distinctly different. The Prawns and Potato is another great dish and you can never go wrong with their crab and teesrya. The so called Shell [Clam] with Drumsticks is also rather good.

Unfortunately Amboli is not available on a Friday. But if you visit Saayba on any day when they amboli do not miss it. It is a fermented rice flour pancake with a soft cushiony texture. It is a distant cousin of the Uttapam but way more flavourful.

The Vade &Rice Bhakri - Note the Stainless Steel designer serving bowl!

The Pulaos that Saayba serves are all exceptional. They come in many `flavours’ mutton, chicken, prawn, vegetable and egg. Do get one, it’s not a large portion. The Pulao is served with a searingly hot `Rassa’ or gravy.

The Egg Pulao

Konkani Daal

The food is really really good, robust and delicious. The temperature at which it is served makes it a pleasure to eat, the spices sing, the salt is alive and the balance perfect. The place was as cheap as chips, clean, bright and air conditioned. Drink elsewhere as they serve no booze. Ensure you have a Digene or four when you finish.

Things have changed a lot since I wrote this review. Do have a look at this updated review.


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