I am often told that I should go out a bit more, eat at some new places, there is such exciting food in Bombay. Frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. Generally the food is rubbish, drinks overpriced and, if it is a `trendy’ restaurant, it will be full of vapid Yummy Mummies and Daddies. The last decent new restaurant that I can recommend with my hand on my heart is The Table. The Table has good food. In fact, the food is so good that we go there in spite of the hugely overpriced drinks and masses of vapid Yummy Mummies and Daddies that inhabit the place. I say the same for Yauatcha, good food, overpriced drinks, vapid crowd with the added disadvantage of having a smattering of Bollywood `tara’s’.
Anyway, we were at our Travel Agent, a lovely Gujju boy, scared of nothing, absolutely nothing, except – `non veg’. I asked him a totally random question, where do you get the best Pav Bhaji? His eyes lit up, a smile crossed his lips and he said - `Amar Juice Centre. They really charge a lot, but, their quality is fantastic.’
Now, we trust our Travel Agent with all our bookings. Plus, as I have written earlier he is a lovely Gujju boy, so, logically he must know his Pav Bhaji. So, after we finished our work for the morning, we decided to have lunch at Amar Juice Centre Chowpatty.
For those of you in the know, Amar Juice Centre is very famous. The original Amar Juice Centre is at Vile Parle, a Gujju Ghetto if there ever was one. Amar Juice Centre built its reputation on excellent Pav Bhaji, Juices, and, the fact that it remained open till very late at night [or early in the morning] depending on how you looked at your glass. These two factors ensured large crowds which disturbed the neighbourhood. So, the Right Honourable Raosaheb Ramrao Patil sent the nutty Vasant Dhoble to investigate. Vasant Dhoble went there armed with a posse of `Sakharams’ and a hockey stick with which he threatened the staff, the manager and all the patrons enjoying their Pav Bhaji and Pineapple Juice. This ensured further fame for Amar Juice Centre.
Amar Juice Centre now has branches in Andheri and Chowpatty, where we went.
Pav Bhaji was food for the blue collar worker and the barely white collar worker. Cannon Pav Bhaji Stall outside the V T Station [it still exists] was probably the best known. Then, sometime in the early 1970’s a roadside stall called Waikiki – I have no idea why it was so named – opened at Breach Candy, just outside the Hospital where today you have a BEST Bus Shelter. This was bang opposite Rajabali Patel Road. Even today the road/footpath sort of widens at this point. Waikiki served Pav Bhaji, and this was a huge hit. The rich and famous thronged Waikiki and ate this great new thing – Pav Bhaji. Soon Pav Bhaji became hugely fashionable and you had Solly outside Heera Panna Building at Haji Ali and Sardar at Tardeo. Everyone ate Pav Bhaji. This was a time before the mushrooming Sukh Sagars.
Neither I nor the Queen of Kutch had eaten Pav Bhaji on the road or at a restaurant in years. Literally years. If we had the choice we would always opt for Kebabs and not Pav Bhaji. I was deeply suspicious of homemade Pav Bhaji however much I was assured that it tasted just like street food. I do remember buying Pav Bhaji from Maruti Pav Bhaji Walla, also at Vile Parle, several years ago and getting it home. That was quite distinct; it was dark brown and tasted of Malwani type masala. Quite good, I recall. Maruti Pav Bhaji Walla still exists in Vile Parle but in a slightly different location. I was quite looking forward to the Pav Bhaji at Amar Juice Centre.
As we entered, I realised that this was a `Shetty’ operated place, only Tulu and Kannada spoken. For some reason I believed it would be North Indian operated. Anyway, no problem. We waited patiently as what seemed like an entire division of FYJC students from Wilson College trooped down the stairs. Soon we were seated and looked at the menu. Obviously, since Pav Bhaji is what Amar Juice Centre is famous for, this was at the very top of the menu. On offer were several types of Pav Bhaji – Special Pav Bhaji, Jain Pav Bhaji, Khada Pav Bhaji, Masala Pav Bhaji, Cheese Pav Bhaji, Cheese Khada Pav Bhaji, Amar Pav Bhaji, Cheese Masala Pav Bhaji, Paneer Khada Pav Bhaji. No, I do not know what many of them are.
The menu was divided into sections, I kid you not, here are some of the titles:
On The Roll – this has Veg Hot Dogs, Veg Garlic Hot Dogs, Manchurian Roll etc
Grill – Nope not a juicy steak but Veg Grill Sandwich, Sweet Corn Cheese Grill Sandwich
Chat Lo – Yup, Bhel Puri, etc
Blossoms Delight – Water Melon Blossom, Shogun Blossom [Frankly, I have no clue either]
Swath Saath – Extra Pav, Roasted Papad etc
We asked the waiter which was the best Pav Bhaji, and to get us two plates. In retrospect, I should have ordered two different types but now that chance is gone. We got two Melamine plates with 3 sections. The largest had Pav Bhaji – Special Pav Bhaji was what we got – one section had two Pavs with lashings of butter and the last had two Lime cheeks with Chilli Powder sprinkled on them. The Bhaji was a lurid red, hot [as in temperature] and spicy with the taste of raw uncooked out masala and garlic. The Bhaji was less than nice. Frankly I was disappointed, but then I do not know of a `Gold’ Standard for Pav Bhaji with which I could compare this. I do not think I have missed much in my life by not having Pav Bhaji all these years if this is supposed to be really good Pav Bhaji. If this is regarded as `fantastic quality’ and worth the price [Rs 130 ++] by a Gujju who knows the price of everything then it only reaffirms my belief that Gujjus seriously need their heads examined.
The waiter, a friendly young guy told me that weekend are absolutely chocker block, evenings are crazy, and many days they have Kitty Parties attending. Weekday lunch is generally the students from the nearby colleges.
The waiter got a tip of Rs 50/- on a bill of Rs 230/-. Good chap. Not really his fault that Gujjus need their heads examined.
No photos alas.