Sindhudurg, Mumbai’s first Malvani restaurant, completed 25 years recently. Bharat Dabholkar breaks bread with Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Shriya Patil
“I first came here ages ago, when I heard of it as a new place opening up—the first place to serve Malvani cuisine,” recounts Bharat Dabholkar, ‘Amul’ ad-man, playwright and theatre and film director. That first tryst proved addictive, and he’s been visiting the almost bistro-like eatery tucked into a Dadar bylane (Alas! No swaying palm trees and waves crashing on the sand) since.
“I’ve come here with advertising colleagues, clients, people from my plays—people from every aspect of my life basically,” lists Dabholkar as he sits amidst the air-conditioned wood panelled interiors. Having his office in Worli only added to the number of stopovers at the restaurant. Why? “The excellent food, and the fact that they’ve continued the authentic Malvani tradition while creating the ambience of a modern restaurant,” explains the man whose roots in the western coast stop at his Goan greatgrandfather. So has this place inspired ideas in a creative mind? Or fruitful meetings maybe? “No,” Dabholkar shakes his shaven creative head candidly against the dark wood backdrop. “When I’m eating I don’t think.”
Sindhudurg was inspired from the Khanavals, small Malvani joints with fixed menus for each day of the week. “What I like is the fact that they didn’t stay small. They’re competing with restaurants from every cuisine, not just Malvani,” says the adman matter-of-factly. This would strike a chord with Dabholkar, who, through his plays competes with “not just other plays, but television serials and cinema as well” for viewership. “And Mumbai being the truest metropolis means there’s a lot of competing cuisines,” he gauges with a business sense rare in artists.
According to him, the joint, under master chef and owner Prabhakar Desai, transformed itself “almost overnight” to its simplistic but attractive, cosy and highly comfortable ambience. “They’ve also kept adding dishes to the menu and added a counter outside where you can purchase take-home Malvani delicacies,” adds the guru of advertising.
“I turned ‘preferably vegetarian’ on the 1st of May,” he confesses, perusing the added dishes on the menu, and proceeds to order (thankfully!) prawns masala, sukya tisrya (a kind of shell fish in dry gravy) and pomfret masala. Umm? “You wouldn’t want me to do this article without seafood would you?” he grins.
Dabholkar explains that a man who’s sampled everything from crocodile steak to zebra meat can’t be fanatical about such vows, but tries sticking to them. Sipping the “best and most authentic Kokam in town”, he remembers times when he came here with colleagues to celebrate after getting a new account. “Or the days I used to rehearse at Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre for my play”, when he dropped in with his troupe after every other rehearsal.
When the food arrives, Dabholkar stands by his no-thinking-while-eating catch-line. He focuses solely on the curiously spiced prawns curry and vada (a seemingly evolved version of the puri) at hand, pausing grudgingly between qu etly delighted mouthfuls to answer a pressed question: “For me, a food place is a place to eat and then leave. I also hate eating at five-stars.” True, for even at parties, Dabholkar is reportedly renowned for skipping the dinner spreads to grab a late night pav-bhaji instead. “Infact, I was addicted to the pav-bhaji stall near my Nariman Point office, and insisted on eating there rather than ordering,” he cites, digging into the tisrya.
The pav-bhajiwallah knew Dabholkar well and made his portion in a particular way—much in the same way that Desai is involved in the day-to-day running of Sindhudurg, maintaining a personal equation with many a customer. “A joint like this, on the Udupi restaurant formula, wouldn’t run unless the owner is personally involved.” Hmm…this from a man who’s known for his ability to run an advertising company through delegation, as he directs a play or film alongside.
“There is one problem with this place though,” Dabholkar laughs, as he cuts through a serving of the mouri or pomfret masala, its lightness contrasting sharply with its far spicier precedents. “You end up eating much more than you planned to.” But, somehow, Dabholkar’s appetite doesn’t show on his muscled arms and toned torso. “A one hour rigorous workout daily at my personal gym,” he comments, frankly as always. “I can’t diet, even if I try.”
The Kharbas, a Maharashtrian sweet-dish supposedly made from the first batch of milk given by a buffalo after her delivery, appears with an imaginary QED signed on it. “Now you know why my caption on this place would be ‘endless good food’,” wraps up Sindhudurg’s persistent patron.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/jyk3