Monday, May 31, 2010

Mumbai on the platter

Mumbai on the platter

Even if you are never going to visit Chalchitra, take time off to
check out its superb retro façade from the outside. Wait for the sun
to set, and look at the lights as they twinkle. Everything - the
lettering, the colours and the movement of the lights - call to mind
the 1960s. As you walk up the Red Carpet to the first floor, you hear
strains of Hindi film music. It is the leitmotif of the restaurant, a
witty take on our cinema industry. The only music in the restaurant is
Bollywood; the menu alludes to filmi names and scenes and there are
books on popular Hindi cinema for reading. It is perhaps because
Bollywood is headquartered in Mumbai, that much of the menu is
Mumbai-inspired. Ragda pattice sandwich, frankies, pav bhaji and
chutney club sandwich. However, it is not all sandwiches: there are
soups (Mulligatawny, Baked Onion and Paya), salads (mostly of the
chatpata desi kind) and starters, and though the vast majority of them
are the kind that you'd expect outside a movie theatre, there are a
couple of western offerings too. I tried the Murgh Salli Chaat (Rs
165) that turned out to be succulent batons of roast chicken, onion,
mint and coriander napped in a chaat masala that is obviously made
in-house. The salad was served in a basket fashioned out of aloo
lachcha. Simple and effective, it's one of those creations that makes
you wonder why nobody thought of it before. All the starters are
served with French fries dusted with the same chaat masala that is
made in-house, and a 'basket' of papad with chopped papad and peanuts
napped in spices that are irresistible. This is one restaurant where
the accompaniments on the plate are too good to be true. They are
served whether you order the unmissable Shikampuri Kebab (Rs 250/125)
or any other item on the starters menu. In fact, so good are the
starters that it is not a bad idea at all to make a complete meal of
them. The Shikampuri Kebab (6 pieces in a full plate; 3 in a half
plate) consists of extremely finely ground lamb with a centre made of
hung curd. It is easy for a restaurant to get the non-vegetarian
element of the menu right; it's much more challenging to please
vegetarians. Chalchitra's Gongura Charra Aloo (Rs 175/89) is a
delicious, tangy, herby concoction of tiny potatoes left whole and
napped in what appears to be gongura pickle. I can't imagine a more
funky bar snack than these little devils. Prawn Koliwada (Rs 350/175)
is supremely tasty: it just requires a bit of tweaking to make the
texture of the batter more interesting. Right now, it is soft and
spongy, but the kari patta and mustard seeds ground into it are
redolent with flavour. It's a fight for the best main course, but I'd
say Khichda (Rs 275 for non-vegetarian; Rs 225 for vegetarian) wins
for sheer appeal. The nicest part about Chalchitra is the fact that it
is not pretentious. The seating is of the cane chair variety, service
is casual, the jokes on the menu really are hilarious, the food is
great and the prices are low. Too good to be true? We'll know in six
month's time if the quality goes south and the prices north.

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