Monday, April 13, 2015

The Bombay Canteen

A cousin – née Stonethrower – now married to a Le Grande Fromage in the MNC nutrition and healthcare space, invited us for dinner to The Bombay Canteen.

The Bombay Canteen is in the Kamala Mills compound at Lower Parel - the horrid strip of disbanded cloth mills comprising of the Dharavi like Mathrudas Compound, Kamala Mills, Raghuvanshi Mills and Phoenix Mills. Poorly located with a totally unimpressive façade and decidedly dodgy environs. But, alas, this is where the trendy Sobo Bombaywallahs hang out.

Reservations were made well in advance by Mr. & Mrs. Le Grande Fromage for an unusual for Mumbai slot of 7.30pm. We had no problem with that. This was the only time the restaurant was willing to reserve, the other being an unearthly 10 pm. Both couples arrive bang on time as is our wont and were soon seated.

The room is industrial chic or in other words, don’t spend too much money on the décor. A bar runs along one wall with a large TV screening the IPL match. You have tables for four and several communal high tables running alongside the bar. This is like what you get at LPQ [Le Pain Quotidian]. A counter with stools runs along another wall. Unfortunately, there was loud Bollywood music playing, which meant conversation was difficult. Our table had no light and despite asking several times for the table to be lit [there were lights on the ceiling above the table but they were not switched on] we were told by an arrogant and grumpy manager that the lights were not working. He refused to turn down the music saying that was the vibe of the place and the music was ‘for the enjoyment of all diners’. He then condescended, looked at us pityingly and gave us a torch so we could read the menus. This is the truth!

Service staff was totally clueless and were incapable of speaking in the Queen’s English let alone articulating what they were serving. Coupled with the blaring music, the task of understanding what was being served was a challenge. It was only the captains who hovered that had any idea of how to take an order or answer a question.

Oh dear!

Drinks were ordered. Mr. Le Grande Fromage had something called Tamarind Whiskey Shake which had Whiskey, Tamarind, Orange Juice and Lime Juice. HRH the Queen of Kutch had a Whiskey Sour while Mrs. Le Grande Fromage and I had thoroughly ordinary Old Monk & Diet Coke and Kingfisher beer respectively. Both the Whiskey drinks were decent. For the next round Mr. Le Grande Fromage had Tar—Booze [Tarbooz or watermelon – got it?] which had Vodka, Watermelon Juice, Kala Namak and Pomegranate juice. He liked it.

Appetizers described as `Chotta’ in the menu were ordered. First up was the Goan Pulled Pork Vindaloo served in on a soft Methi Thepla, a sort of play on a Soft Taco. The Pulled Pork was topped with pieces of crisp Brun Pao. This combination worked well. I did have a complaint. There were four of us at the table. We got three Theplas. Surely they could have served us four and charged us accordingly instead of serving just three and leaving us all feeling awkward. I mean the restaurant has Floyd Cardoz as a mentor or guide or something. He should know of such things. In fact, a few weeks ago we were at the lovely trendy Chiltern Firehouse in London where a normal serving portion for their signature crab donuts is three pieces, but without having to ask, our table got a plate with four pieces since we were four at the table. No awkwardness, smooth service. Costs almost nothing extra for the restaurant and scores many many positive brownie points with the punter.

Goan Pulled Pork Vindaloo served in on a soft Methi Thepla

We had also ordered Kejriwal Toast, which was a play on Eggs Kejriwal, a famous Bombay Club dish. This was adapted and much more sophisticated than the original of Fried Eggs with chopped Green Chilly. Here a round of bread was topped with a soft poached egg and green chilly coconut chutney. Great dish. In fact it was so good we ordered another round.

 Kejriwal Toast

Charcoal Grilled Chilli Calamari with sliced Pickled Onions and Black Pepper Prawns served with grilled Nimbu were ordered. It was getting confusing with the Calamari and Kalimiri [Black Pepper] but we managed to keep our descriptions in place. Both these were good with everyone on the table preferring the Kalimiri Prawns.

Charcoal Grilled Chilli Calamari with sliced Pickled Onions 

Black Pepper Prawns served with grilled Nimbu 

While we were eating the starters a waiter turned up with a tray with small bowls of what are described as `Chintus’. These are really small portion of accompaniments to the drinks what we in Mumbai would call chaknas or software to have with the drinks – hardware. What was offered was Chilli Cheese Straw which was thoroughly mediocre and pickled root vegetables – Carrot, Turnip and Beetroot which was quite nice.

Chilli Cheese Straw

Pickled Root Vegetables – Carrot, Turnip and Beetroot

After the decidedly disappointing start to the evening this was a 180 degree turn for the better. This was good food. Our moods were lifted and we looked forward to our main courses. We ordered three main courses described as `Bada’ in the menu.

My Uncle's Coconut Mutton with Lotus root, Lemongrass & Fried Onion Masala had tender cubes of Mutton and a curry that was flavourful. A good mutton curry. The Choriz "Bunny Pao" with Goan sausage & broad beans stew with Pui Saag (Spinach) was far more interesting. This was a play on the South African Bunny Chow where hollowed bread is filled with a lamb curry. Here the restaurant custom baked hollowed out bread and fills it with a Goan Sausage and Broad Bean stew. This was served with a traditional Masala Dabba with various condiments that, to me. Looked like fixings for Khao Suey. I was a bit mystified by the arrival of the Masala Dabba. I sprinkled some of the condiments, but to my mind they added nothing to the dish. Good gimmick though.

My Uncle's Coconut Mutton with Lotus root, Lemongrass & Fried Onion Masala 

Choriz "Bunny Pao" with Goan sausage & broad beans stew with Pui Saag 

 Masala Dabba 

The last main course was a most unfortunate looking Banana leaf wrapped roasted fish 'catch of the day' marinated with Kerala Tamatar Masala. I have said, and I maintain, that Indian food photographs very badly especially traditionally presented Indian food. I am often amazed how bad our curries look and how readily we eat them despite their looks. Frankly, this dish looks like human excrement on a plate. Honestly, it looks absolutely disgusting and totally unappetizing. This was a dish that you would have been happy to eat at an Apoorva, Mahesh or Trishna. It was fish covered with a coconut masala. Mrs. Le Grande Fromage loved the fish. Please look at the photograph and tell me if you would eat this? Hey Floyd Cardoz could you do something here?

Banana leaf wrapped roasted fish 'catch of the day' marinated with Kerala Tamatar Masala

Rice in banana leaf

The quantities were on the smaller side and I think that we should have ordered four main courses and not three.

Desserts were offered and two were chosen. Guava "Tan-Ta- Tan" which is served on a puff pastry with Lal Mirch Ice Cream. This was a play on the famous Tarte Tatin. It appeared to me that this was not baked in the Tarte Tatin style i.e. upside down and presented turned over. This version had Guava which was baked in a Puff Pastry tart base. Caramel was piped onto the plate. This presentation seemed inspired by the Tarte Tatin served at Gordon Ramsay. I had no problems with this. It was delicious. On the Lal Mirch Ice Cream, I was unsure. It was a decent ice cream and thankfully not much chili flavor. A good dessert.

Guava "Tan-Ta- Tan" which is served on a puff pastry with Lal Mirch Ice Cream
Tarte Tatin at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay

The Khubani Ka Meetha which was served on baked yogurt with apricots, almonds & crushed orange cookies was, I thought, a winner. Ordinarily a Khubani Ka Meetha is sickeningly sweet and the Apricot or Khubani cooked to an absolute pulp. This version was far less sweet and the Apricot had texture. The baked Yogurt or Bhapa Doi a Bengali specialty on the bottom was an excellent counterpoint and the crumbled biscuit added much needed crunch and texture. Well conceived dish.

Khubani Ka Meetha which was served on baked yogurt with apricots, almonds & crushed orange cookies 

All in all what did we think?

The good points. Good food with good strong flavors and bold spicing. They are not shy of using spice. An accurate menu in as much as every dish was correctly described and what was on the menu was served to you, total honesty. No listing of expensive ingredients and not finding them on your dish. Many dishes are unique, with excellent twists and adaptations which I believe will influence how restaurants in future in Mumbai will start to present and cook food.

The bad points. Poor service. And as far as the food is concerned two faults, major faults. All the food was served lukewarm at best – Indian food should be served hot, Garam. This was not so. Let us understand that almost all the food was pre prepared as it was some sort of curry that is prepared in a vat at the start of service. It has to served searingly hot. For me a big no no serving it lukewarm. The second problem is that there was a lot of penny pinching on the quantity of meat or rather the lack of meat in a dish. Meat or proteins are the most expensive component in a dish. The quantity of actual mutton in the My Uncle's Coconut Mutton was minimal. The dish had a lot of Lotus Root, far more in proportion to the mutton. The Choriz "Bunny Pao" with Goan sausage & broad beans stew really skimped on the Goan Sausage. The dish had loads of Broad Beans. This did not leave you with a happy feeling at the end of the meal to realize that there was so much Nickel and Diming. It really is not necessary. The noise levels were staggering. Our evening got very tiresome as having a conversation was impossible. Pity. Are you listening Floyd Cardoz?

Would we go again? No. Should you go? Probably once.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Balls to beef.

I am very privileged. Being in Bandra, I live within a stone’s throw of not one but two Gods. The first God is of course His Holiness Sri Sri Sachin Tendulkar the God of Cricket. Cricket is after all our religion. Cricket and Beef being the subject of this post, I thought it is necessary to name check Sachin. I will come to Sachin and eating beef later. Be patient.

This is Beef.

The second God who lives in Bandra is His Supreme Holiness Mr Perfection Aamir Khan; the God of All Things Wise. Now you may ask why I am name checking him? Well he is looking more than beefy is he not?

You must be by now aware of the so called `beef ban’ by the Maharashtra Government. This has deeply upset me as I am sure it would every right thinking person. I shall attempt to set out in this post, in as simple a way as I can, what is beef, how this law has come about, how it is utterly silly and will render hundreds of people jobless, and, lastly, how utterly hypocritical and foolish we are as a nation and people.

What is beef?

I am not qualified to get very technical. Briefly, cows, ox, buffalo and the yak are all classified as `bovines’. They have horns, 4 stomachs [i.e. they are ruminants] and cloven hoofs [i.e. hoofs split into two toes].

Bovines are often domesticated. Bovines are generally used for giving us milk, used as draught animals to pull ploughs and carts, used for meat and used for breeding. This is from where we get beef.

As far as domesticated bovines are concerned - cows and buffalo primarily in India - these can also be further broken down into sub categories:

A cow is a female and used for dairy.

A heifer is a female used primarily for breeding

A bull is a male and is used either for meat, or draught or breeding.

A steer is a castrated bull bred for meat.

A vealer is a young animal that is used as meat – veal.

This is Beef too. A 28 day dry aged USDA Prime Rib Eye

The law

In 1975 the Maharashtra Government, passed a law stating that a "cow" which included a heifer or male or female calf of a cow could not be slaughtered. This was very specific. It covered only a limited range of animals. Thus cow slaughter was banned in Maharashtra 40 years ago.

The law further stated that any bulls, bullocks, female buffaloes and buffalo calves could be slaughtered if a certificate was obtained. The certificate was granted in the following cases:

If the animal, whether male or female, (a) is or is likely to become uneconomical for the purpose of draught or any kind of agricultural operations; (b) the animal, if male, is or is likely to become uneconomical for the purpose of breeding; (c) the animal, if female, is or is likely to become uneconomical for the purpose of giving milk or bearing offspring.

Thus when read together, a cow could NOT be slaughtered while other bovines such as buffalo could be, if they were certified. This is how we got our hamburgers and lasagne and steaks and the famous Muslim Saat Handi and Barah Handi and the scores of Galouti Kebabs and Tunde Miya ke Kebabs.

The so called `beef ban’ has come about by a simple amendment to the definition of `cow’ in the 1975 legislation. Today the definition has been expanded by including bulls, bullocks, female buffaloes and buffalo calves and excluding only water buffalo. So now nothing except a water buffalo can be slaughtered regardless of whether it is certified or not.

The Maharashtra Government has also mandated that if you possess any beef obtained from outside Maharashtra you will be fined and jailed.

Thus beef from all bovines except the water buffalo is now prohibited. This means the tins of Corned Beef, Beef Stock cubes, Demi Glace Powder are all illegal to buy, possess or consume. If you have any at home in your cupboard watch it – Inspector Ghorpade will seize it and arrest you. An entire cuisine is suddenly made illegal. Remember the delicious Kerala Beef Fry - Naadan Beef Olathiyathu / Ulathiyathu - Erachi Olathiyathu - remember any French Jus or Sauce made with Veal Bones well they are now gone. Anyway.

The politics

Cow slaughter has been banned for the past 40 years. I cannot understand why the BJP and gang are now grandstanding saying they have banned cow slaughter. Our `Middia’ are being equally inaccurate referring to this ban as prevention of cow slaughter. Unfortunately the mango people do not realise this difference and believe that the BJP has banned cow slaughter now. This is so wrong.

The Congress role is even more ridiculous, dubious and totally of double standards. The Congress routinely say that the BJP is communal [which I honestly believe they are] and as a part of majoritarianism, are playing religious vote bank politics. This, the Congress says is manifested in the deeply communal legislation of banning cow slaughter!  Fine, assuming Congress is correct in alleging this I have two questions. First, why is the Congress not using its high powered lawyers – Kapil Sibal, P Chidambaram and others – to file an appropriate Writ in the Bombay High Court and challenge this ban? Besides appearing in the `Middia’ what has the pathetic and perpetually whining Congress done? Nothing.

My second question is, have you seen the date of the parent legislation from where this beef ban started? The Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976. Yes 1976. The BJP did not exist in 1976. The Chief Minister in Maharashtra in 1976 was Shankarrao Chavan a Congress stalwart. Does this surprise you?

Beef exports from India are huge, India is easily in the top 10 nations in the World that exports beef. Yes in the top ten! For whatever reason our successive Governments, yes, sanctimonious Congress included, believe it is correct to slaughter animals for export while it is wrong for our own countrymen to eat exactly the same meat. It is not that cows are slaughtered for export. Cow slaughter is almost universally banned in India. This makes absolutely no sense to me. The exported meat was that of buffalo, the certified animals, never cow.

The economics and the farmer

You could have 3 types of farmers. A dairy farmer who has animals for milk. A farmer may also have animals that he uses for meat i.e. sale to slaughterhouses. Many farmers also use animals as draught to plough their land or pull carts i.e. as beasts of burden. Under the unamended law a dairy farmer could sell his uneconomical animals after they have stopped providing milk to a slaughter house and made some money which he could use to buy a new dairy cow. Those who use animals as draught sold the animals when the animal was too old to work. This was a continuous cycle. Today the farmer cannot sell the animal to a slaughterhouse because slaughter of `beef’ is banned. Is this not `anti-farmer’? Of course it is but that is probably not of any relevance to our lawmakers.

Looking at it slightly differently, a dairy farmer requires female animals to provide the milk. Cows give milk only after they give birth. Therefore to make/keep them pregnant the farmer has very few males on hand whose primary job is to fertilise the cows. Now the farmer cannot possibly ensure that his pregnant cow will give birth to a female calf. The female calf is of use to the farmer because the female calf will soon give milk. What happens if the cow gives birth to a male? This is of no use to the dairy farmer. So he would either sell the animal to a meat farmer, or sell the calf as vealer. Now with slaughter banned what does a dairy farmer do? He has to carry the animal that is of no use to him and bear all the costs attendant to the animal, or, try and sell it to someone as a draught animal. Is this not `anti-farmer’?

On a separate note, Switzerland produces a lot of milk which is used in cheese and chocolate. Ever wondered why there is so much veal in Switzerland? The answer is simple. What does a dairy farmer do with a male calf? Now do you get what I am trying to say!

I am sure you must have owned or still own Kolhapuri Chappals, a pair of leather shoes, your wife has a beautiful calf leather purse. What about the soft beautiful seats you have made in calf leather in your Mercedes, BMW Rolls Royce and so on. So many of us slip on these expensive leathers on our more humble Hondas and Marutis too. Leather. Where does this come from? The skin or hide of bovines. Now with no slaughter what happens to this trade? Is this not `anti-leather industry/tanner’? Is not Kolhapur a part of Maharashtra? So by banning slaughter what have you done to the chappal maker? Only the hide of a bovine that dies of natural causes may be used by the tanning industry. You may have to queue up for your next pair of kolhapuris!!

Entire professions, artisans and crafts men will be deeply and badly affected by this policy, probably to the point of ruin. These artisans and craftsmen have practiced their trade for generations. They do not know anything else. Now with the source of livelihood gone or at least severely curtailed what happens to them? I really shudder to think. Has our venerable BJP bothered to think?

The idiocy and the hypocrisy

What is a cricket ball covered with? Leather, cow leather, beef leather to mix up descriptions as we are wont to do. What do our cricketers do, the Hindus, the vegetarians and the religious? They hold the cricket ball, polish it, rub their sweat on it, lick their fingers and apply their saliva on the ball. I mean hello??? We take great pride in being Hindoo, vegetarian, Jain, Sikh and God knows what else and you as a cricketer are busy licking beef!!! Sachin is a God. He is a God who respects God. He is forever looking up thanking God for his runs, his money and his fortune. He must be a good Hindu and yet he is more than willing to fondle and lick beef. Sacrilege I say. Should the BCCI not use balls made of say plastic or some other material? Is cricket not anti-Hindu?

Football, volleyball and hockey all use hide covered balls which we are willing to touch. But a good steak. Naaah, never, not over my dead body, 

I am a Hindu. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Toto's, single girls, mobiles and a toilet.

Toto’s at Pali Naka Bandra is the bar we visit most often. Why? Because familiarity breeds content. Sorry.

For those who may not know, Toto’s has been in existence since 1992 and along with Ghetto is probably the longest running bar outside a 5 star hotel in Mumbai. It has not changed. The music is generally the same [retro Western Rock – never absolutely never any Bollywood]. The crowd is older, local – either working or living in the area – the booze is cheap by Mumbai bar standards, the alcohol is never cut and the food is good. Girls are safe and the staff is generally unchanged.

Ladies were always welcome and single women can be seen on most nights, the usual Mumbai working girls probably living in PG digs or a small flat nearby, enjoying the music, reading a book and having a quiet drink. No one hassled them and they felt safe.

Now, in an abrupt change in the entry policy, single women are not permitted to enter unless they are known faces. On hearing this from Laju Bhatia the owner [yes he is the guy who is always in shades] both HRH The Queen of Kutch and myself were shocked. The reason for this dramatic shift is frankly mind boggling. It makes me wonder why Indians as a nation are granted any privileges [such as the privilege of a lady enjoying a quiet drink alone] when every privilege is abused, twisted, jugaaded and otherwise fucked up in ways you cannot imagine.

This is a fascinating story. Do read on.

No. It is not a story of the girl being a prostitute or a drug dealer. As I said, read on.

The girl in question came in alone and sat at the counter. She had two mobile phones with her. She had two Jack Daniels to drink. Bhatia presumes she had a drink or three elsewhere before coming to Toto’s. The reason for the presumption will become apparent. Girl then went to the toilet and returned to her spot and said that her mobile phone was missing; she accused the waiters of having stolen it. Once the fracas started, the Manager intervened and asked the people around her if they had the phone. Obvious answer – no.

So the girl picks up her other phone and makes several attempts to call the police. All the while she is yelling that (i) India is a fucked up country or words to that effect (ii) Indians are thieves (iii) Mumbai is a city of thieves and so on and so forth. All thru this she is attempting unsuccessfully to call the police.

After a few minutes of this continuing, the Manager steps in and he calls the police who promptly turn up. Stories are told, accusations are made, blame is sought to be apportioned, and finally, the cops say fine, please come to the police station to register an FIR.

At this point the girl says – this is India I will be molested at the police station I am not moving unless there are lady police. So lady police are summoned. None available. More drama. Finally the Manager, the lady and the cops went to the Khar Police Station and a FIR was filed. It was 3 am by the time this got over.

Now comes the clincher.

The next day in the cold harsh light of morning, Bhatia and staff ran the CCTV tapes. By this time the girl started telephoning Toto’s and saying that she was calling her lost mobile and she was getting a ringing tone. So could the staff check in the ladies toilet. The CCTV footage show that the girl had put a mobile phone into the hip pocket of her jeans and gone to the toilet. Finally, the cleaner found that the phone was lodged inside the water in the toilet bowl. The girls claim that she was getting a ringing tone was obviously a fib as if the instrument was submerged there was no way it would have been working. Anyway, the phone instrument was retrieved, the police called again and the phone handed over to them. Folks, please no toilet humour! Yes the same thoughts crossed my mind as are crossing yours!!

Girl now tells the cops that since the phone is now retrieved and with them, they should return it to her. Our worthy cops now have the upper hand and tell girl that since she insisted that an FIR be lodged, which was done, girl would have to make an application to the Court to have the stolen property returned.

You may ask what does this have to do with single girls and the entry policy. Very simple. If a single girl gets pissed and has to be evicted how does one do this when your staff is all male? You could have a huge problem. Single boys can be evicted, simply throw them out, a mixed group can be evicted, multiple girls can be evicted (because presumably some of the group would see sense), but how do you evict a single irate and presumably drunk girl without laying a hand on her?


QED or Quod Erat Demonstrandum.