Sunday, August 05, 2012

Thali meals in Bombay

- By Deepa Krishnan

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll probably know this: I've frequently spent some sinful mornings in South Mumbai, wandering through Crawford Market (spices and foodstuff), or shopping at Mangaldas Market for fabrics. A day of shopping usually ends with a stupendously sinful Rajdhani thali for lunch.
The Rajdhani restaurant in the photo above used to be tiny and narrow, looking more like a coach on a train than anything else. The service was old-fashioned, and the food was delicious.

A couple of years ago, I walked past there hoping for another fabulous meal, and was hugely disappointed to see it had shut down. When I asked around, I found that Encore Hotels (which owned the Rajdhani brand and the restaurant) had sold the Rajdhani franchise to Mirah Group.

As part of the sale, Mirah Group decided to just take the brand, but not the restaurants themselves. So not only did they close the original Crawford Market branch - the very first in the Rajdhani family - they also closed a larger Rajdhani outlet at Opera House (leaving behind some very saddened diamond traders!), and also a smaller one at Metro Cinema.  I've had many happy meals in these places - they are a little slice of Mumbai lore - so I was really sorry to see the restaurants go.

Instead, Mirah Group have opened a large Rajdhani at the swanky Palladium Mall. I haven't eaten there just doesn't fit into this very Westernised mall. It seems to me that the location and character of a thali restaurant is just as important as its food. At Crawford Market, among the bustle of the trading community, this restaurant seemed to fit right in. After doing business with all the Gujju-bhais in the shops and in Zaveri Bazaar, you actually *want* to eat a Gujarati thali!

Encore Hotels (which still owns the physical space near Crawford Market) has used the space to set up a new thali restaurant right where the old one used to be. They've branded it Revival (the Crawford Market original), and they're offering a pretty incredible looking thali, with their  very interesting "smoked chaas" demonstrations. I haven't been there yet, but I am looking forward to my next shopping trip.
These days my favourite thali meal is at Status in Nariman Point. You see, Status used to be an old hangout of mine, because my office was right opposite it in Maker Chambers. I've spent many happy evenings there. I loved Status then, and I still love it now - there is a great "Bambaiya" feel to it, with the Mangalorean managers and staff, the noisy office crowd, the Gujju and Jain clientele,  the the super-quick service, and the excellent management of seating and waiting. 

I love their menu, because they offer three regional cuisines which are very popular in Bombay - South Indian, Punjabi and Gujarati. And they have several inventions of their own, also, they serve beer, perfect for a quick after-office snack and chat. 

The Gujarati thali is Rs 220 and it is totally fabulous. The chunda and the pickles are great, it's "all-you-can-eat", and the menu always has some interesting invention. I took my inlaws recently to Status and they loved it. I've taken many overseas visitors as well, and it's always a fun meal. The food is not crazily spicy (unlike the thali at Samrat, which I find quite inedibly spicy).
Samrat at Churchgate is not on my list of favourites these days, after a recent meal that I found very spicy. I wonder if they had a new cook that day, because it didn't use to be that way. Have you been there recently? Should I give it another go?

The other thali place I like is Chetana. It is another slice of Mumbai lore, with its own history, ethos and feel. I love the full experience it offers, combining a book-shop with a traditional fabric and craft store as well as a thali restaurant. And what a great location, right inside the Kala Ghoda Art Precinct.
Chetana started out in 1946, just a year before independence. Originally it had an open floor plan,  with space for cultural events, poetry-readings and discussions on philosophy. There was a bookstore, an art gallery area, a small cafe, and even one corner for chess players :) Lots of intellectuals hung out here, including Mulk Raj Anand and Nissim Ezekiel. The art gallery had chattai-clad walls, and on these were exhibited the works of Ara, Raza, Hussain, Padamsi and Souza. India's favourite cartoonist R.K. Laxman exhibited his cartoons for the first time at this gallery. When Jehangir Art Gallery opened, artists moved their displays there, so Chetana stopped exhibiting art works. 

Today, their bookstore is a great place to find a well-curated collection of Indian philosophy, travel, history, culture and crafts. And their restaurant not only looks great, it serves up a tasty set of thalis (Gujarati, Rajasthani, Maharashtrian). In the photo below, you can see the bookstore right behind the restaurant area. On the other side of the bookstore is the craft shop.
Chetana offers a "healthy" thali as well, but hey, what's the point? A thali is meant to leave you glassy-eyed, full and happy. The most fun thing about the thali is the starter, usually deep fried and calorie-rich. Here's our Chetana waiter, bringing us a second round of two delicious starters.
It's mouth-wateringly good, I promise you. Go grab a thali meal today!!


Haddock said...

Never had a smoked chas before.
Will keep a look out for Status, as we have been looking for a good eating joint in that area.
Thalis are my all time favourite. Recently had been to Chennai and was really mesmerised by the unlimited thali for Rs 60/- And such lovely food with many katoris to select from :-)

J├Ârel said...

That thali meal looked absolutely gorgeous! I wish I had known about Status when I was in Mumbai a couple of weeks ago!

BombayJules said...

I have had the Thali from Rajdhani in Pheonix Mills (well actually I grabbed a takeaway as I was passing and the ones in the window looked so good!). I am not an expert on Thalis as I have only bee living in India for two months but I though it was excellent - a really nice selection of dishes and all cooked in heavenly rich gravies. I was blown away!

I am very excited that you have recommended some places on your blog as I intend to visit all of them so thanks for that. I have been reading your blog for a long time now and i have found it so useful for recommendations. Thanks again and I hope to book one of your tours at some point.

Best regards

Anonymous said...

Honorable mentions in the city are Golden Star (opp. Charni Rd. station) and the Surti hotel in Kalbadevi (esp. when the Undhio is in season!!)

Deepa said...

There are lots more interesting thalis, I mean veg thalis, maybe I will write a Part 2 and Part 3 and what not :)


Great piece i wanted to do similar thing since my job keeps me taking to all other places but must say wonderful article....Relish just opposite status is wonderful for continental must try.....d best part of status is the large variety of veg menu .......if u want to do a piece on us club let me know,

BombayJules said...

Hello, me again. I went to Rajdhani in Phoenix Mills to eat in this time with my husband. It was my first proper Thali and it was magnificent!

Jyoti Banerjee said...

Thali is one of the best options for a good appetite as the food items included in it are not much fat or carbohydrate constituting. Also the variety makes the meal special as a sweet-dish is also served in the end.

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Anonymous said...

May I just say, i had a thali at Rajdhani in some fancy mall in Versova or Andheri (can't remember where) and believe me, forget ambience, atmosphere, whatever... the food tasted just as fabulous and we could not move our bodies that day until many hours after we had eaten! - Usha

ankit said...

Thanks for the blog on thalis
i just love thalis in mumbai.
find some awesome deals in mumbai on thalis @ urbanrestro

Unknown said...

superb Thali meals thanks for sharing...
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Unknown said...

Valuable for information.. Is there any further reading you would recommend on this?

Famous Restaurants in Mumbai

Anonymous said...

Seems u haven't tried Panchvati Gaurav near Bombay Hospital.. Try it... Amazing thali..ur article is just incomplete without tasting the thali here!

Unknown said...

Could you please let me know wr exactly is revival thali at Crawford :)

Unknown said...

Please try Thakker Bhojanalaya in Kalbadevi.

Unknown said...

Try thali at Thakkar Bhojanalaya in Kalbadevi on the Agiary road

Unknown said...

Please try Thakker Bhojanalaya in Kalbadevi.

Unknown said...

Thakker bhoj. thali the "original" thali. More than 50 years old ir even older, the best by far. For Gomantak thali, Highway Gomantak at Bandra east, service road parallel to the main road before the Bandra east to west flyover.