Seafood hunting in Mumbai…Ling’s Pavilion, Malwani Aswad + Pizza Express detour

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The lil brother came to Mumbai for a quick visit towards the end of last year.

Like all Delhi NCR’ites there was only one thing that he wanted here.

Seafood.

“Maharashtrian seafood” he qualified. “Like the pomfret fry you keep posting on facebook”.

Now that’s why you shouldn’t have family on your facebook timeline. The request threw me into a tizzy.  This seafood business was tough. To start with there aren’t any really good seafood places in Bandra now with Saayba becoming a bit inconsistent. Jai Hind’s there but then again not superlative.

I have a problem with most local coastal seafood restaurants here. I don’t like my seafood to be hidden in masalas as the masalas tend to outshout and overshadow the fish.  You could replace the kingfish with aubergine in the average surmai curry here without noticing the difference. If someone’s come out of the deep oceans to meet you then the least you can do is not cover it under a pile of spices. Or subject it to the third degree and kill its soul. My biggest problem is that the seafood here is often overcooked.

Yes, Malvani Aswad, whose fried pomfret, the lil brother saw, is very different, but that’s in Andheri E and you wouldn’t want to take a visitor from another city to Andheri E …not exactly a tourist spot.

So I did what a typical big brother would do. I told him that we’d order biryani when he visited us and that he would eat it and be happy about it.

Things settled, we met and went to Colaba the first night he was free after a Keystone Cops like sequence where I tried to pick him up after the Bandra Worli Sea Link on the way to town.

Me: “Where are you?’

LB: “I am at the end of the Worli sea face”

me: “I am at the end of the sea face. Where are you?!”

LB: “I am at the end of the sea face”

This could go on for a while. Me: “Look around you. Is there a main road?”

LB: “Yes. That’s where the sea link ends too”

Me: “That’s the beginning of the sea face. Not the end! ”

LB: “A cop told me that that is the end of the sea face”.

There was no arguing with that and we took a u turn to pick up our visitor from Delhi”

Me: “So where do I pick you up? How do I find you?”

LB: “Come to where I am standing”

Delhi is really getting to him methinks.

We were headed to the prelaunch party of Pizza Express. Well dear PR person who sends me bcc invites before you go “aha and you said you don’t do events”, let me clarify that this was different. As a market researcher one often sees ideas, products, ads one had researched under great secrecy come to life eventually. This was special. It was great to walk in to Pizza Express, meet Ramit, Nick and the team and see their dream come to life. To see some of the features such as the open kitchen that were on the concept boards translate into reality. To finally taste the dough balls, the thin crusted and lusciously dressed petite pepperoni pizzas, the sweet peppers stuffed with goat cheese antipasti and the cheesecakes which respondents had vetted in a simulated restaurant through a series of wet evenings in Mumbai. Johnny had demo’d the service to these folks and one experienced the same claimed warmth and attention even on the pre-launch party evening when the staff attentively made sure that your requests were kept and plates were full through the frenzy. Looking forward to going back to Pizza Express soon.

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As we nibbled on the delectable food at Pizza Express, inspiration struck me. Or maybe it was the glass of Red Label.

“You want seafood? Can you handle seafood? Seafood in its purest form?”

I did a Few Good Men-like Jessep on lil bro’s Kaffee

“Then let’s head to Ling’s”

We bid goodbye to Pizza Express and headed to Ling’s Pavilion, one of my favourite restaurants in Mumbai, if not the favourite one, and put ourselves into the hands of Baba Ling. Baba sent us a huge plate of pork dumplings from his side as our order got ready. As K observed, Baba rightly assumed that my brother would eat pork and didn’t even bother checking.

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Our seafood order?

Chilli garlic prawn’s which Sassy Fork had introduced me to. Juicy, bouncy, lively fried prawns with a haze of chilli and garlic taste making them even prettier. This was a prawn experience in its purest form. Texture perfect. Not overcooked. The condiments embellishing their taste. Not hiding it.

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The other dish was pepper crab. Again a dish that I first had when Sassy Fork and her folks had taken me out for lunch once. I had recommended the pepper crab over the chilli crab. As any Singaporean will tell you, the ketchup doused chilli crab is for American tourists and not for the discerning eater. The latter would choose the pepper crab.

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The Pepper Crab version at Ling’s is just what the name promises. Pepper and crab. Nothing more.

If you have always wondered how crab actually tastes, and there is very little chance of finding that out in the crab masalas of Malvani or Manglaorean restaurants here, then order the pepper crab in Ling’s and give in to the sweet taste of crab meat with the odd bite of crushed pepper to liven things up. There’s no better way to respect and honour this noble crustacean than this.

The lil brother looked up from his plate and smiled.

He had had his seafood fix.

“Better than the crab we had in Goa” he said with a big smile and his mouth full.

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The story doesn’t end here though. Couple of nights later the lil bro managed to come over to our house and with my in laws dropping in it was the last dinner do in our old apartment. Appropriately on our second last night there.

I wondered what to order for dinner. Cooking was out of the question with all the packing coming up. Then I got an idea as I headed out to Malvani Awad to lunch. The place whose pomfret fry photos had lil brother in its spell.

I had a quick chat with Kumar, who runs the place, and decided to pack food from there for dinner. Prawn tava masala and pomfret fry. My two favourites. Kumar told me that the fish would survive 5 to6 hours in the aircon. And apparently the fried fish would only have a ‘ten percent’ loss of taste if I heated it in the micro or oven without adding oil according to him. So I packed dinner based on what he assured me.

Kumar was right. The food stayed perfectly. A few hours in office. A few hours in the car as I went to the office year end party. And then the drive back home.

The prawns, full of life even after reheating. High end Indian restaurants need to learn from Kumar how to make Indian prawn curries without murdering the prawns. I think the Bong Bong with its malai curry is the only place where you can get succulent prawns in an Indian prawn curry outside of home. Most home cooks I know overcook prawns too. That’s criminal in my books.

While the lil brother likes prawns and crabs, he is not a big fan of fish. My mom would fret trying to get both of us to eat fish when we were growing up. The lil bro would only eat a deeply fried piece of rui when he used to live in Kolkata. I don’t know if marriage has made him more tolerant of fish but pomfret is one fish that he used to like even earlier.

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Once again Kumar was right. The pomfret of course didn’t have the raw passion and zest of pomfret fried in the kitchens of Malvani Aswad and served on its tables but it still did pass muster. I heated it in the oven for about ten minutes and the result was quite pleasing. The skin had the crisp & crinkle that makes all Bengali men love fried fish and the meat really top notch as it always is at Malwani Aswad. I am very particular about where I call for food when we have guests at home and with Kumar and his Malwani Aswad I didn’t have to worry.

So here’s my pick for seafood in Mumbai.

Ling’s Pavilion, Colaba, & Malvani Aswad, Andheri E (opp Buta School Vile Parle E). 

What’s yours?

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