The story of Mumbai's Irani restaurants plays on at The Stadium Restaurant, Churchgate

2 keema ghotalas, 4 colas, 5 plates pav, 1 mutton masala, 1 cutlet with gravy
1 liver fry. Stadium Restaurant, October 2016. Rs 972

1997: A Kolkatan in Mumbai

The first time I went to the Stadium Restaurant, located outside Mumbai's Churchgate station, was somewhere between 1997 to 1999.

I had just moved in to the city to pursue a career in market research. I remember dropping in at Stadium one afternoon at lunch time, possibly while I was out on field work. The place was packed with customers. I don't remember what I ate. Possibly the keema. The budget fitted my meagre allowance for meals while out on work. A few days before that I had gone to Gaylord, as recommended by a PG mate of mine. I had ordered just one dish but the cost of even that sent the bosses at work into a tizzy. My short stint earlier in the more liberal Kolkata branch of the company had spoilt me for the bottomline focus of Mumbai.

My lunch at Stadium didn't lead to any shock waves at work and my voucher was signed without a fuss.

2016: A Bengali In Mumbai and a Mumbaikar now

The next time I went to the Stadium Restaurant was in 2016. Around two decades after I moved into Mumbai.

This was couple of days back actually.

I have no idea why I had not gone back to Stadium in all these years . If I ever ate out at Churchgate, it was usually at the Tea Centre but that's shut as of now.

I was in Town (as South mumbai is referred to) with some of my friends on Saturday. We were looking at a list of nearby restaurants to eat in, which had been given to us, when I suddenly saw the name of the Stadium Resturant and said, "let's go there."

My friends agreed, happy to leave the choice of restaurant to me. We found the restaurant after a couple of wrong turns and walked in. The signboard was covered as there is some painting work going on outside. Stadium Restaurant is located just outside Churchgate station, on the Tea Centre and Ambassador hotel lane, just as I remembered. Diagonally opposite Gaylord's.

We walked in. It was 1 pm on a Saturday afternoon. The restaurant was empty. I felt nervous. I gave a disclaimer.

"Look guys, I last came here in '97. Can't guarantee how the food will be. If it doesn't work, we will go to Salt Water Cafe next door.

I placed our extensive order with the waiter.  I wanted to try a variety of things.

"What's the point of coming here with you guys otherwise?" I asked my friends.

They smiled back benignly. The restaurant started filling up much to my relief. That's always a good sign. I hate eating in empty restaurants.

Stadium Restaurant is not air-conditioned but thanks to the high ceilings, it seemed airy and not hot. The place was clean and not smelly at all, the furniture basic.

Stadium Restaurant, October 2016

"Sab khana ek sat lana,"I told the waiter. I wanted to take my table top shot after all.

Our waiter was pretty efficient and friendly. The food arrived soon and he did bring everything at one go.

My friend, Sid, waited hungrily while I shot a quick pic. The girls were more patient.

Let the lunch begin

While I got the top angle shot ready
Finally


How was the food?

We had ordered keema ghotala, mutton masala, liver fry (not liver masala which has gravy) and cutlet with gravy.

The keema ghotala was so good that we ordered seconds. It's an iconic Mumbai dish in which egg is beaten into cooked keema (minced goat meat), cooked together and served. The quality of the keema at Stadium was very nice. It didn't have an unpleasant odour unlike what I have found in a few famous keema joints here. The spicing was perfect too. No excessive garam masala or chilli heat. The seasoning was just right. Not under salted, not too salty. The egg and the keema combined together very well. There were bits of finely chopped green chillies interspersed through the keema. If you want to avoid chillies, you can just pick these out.

It was one of the best keema ghotalas that I have had and would compare favourably with the keema ghotala at Military Cafe near the Bombay stock exchange that I really like .

Keema ghotala (Rs150) in the foreground
with the cutlets with gravy at the back
Irani restaurant classics

The 'chicken liver fry' was just that! Fried liver. The spices used to marinate the liver was quite nice and chaatpatta. They had used chicken liver as specified in the menu. The liver had been fried expertly and it wasn't too dry. The dish came alive when paired with the intense, crushed green chilli chutney that it was served with. Tread carefully though as the chutney is quite fiery.


Chicken liver fry. Rs 110

The 'masala' in the mutton masala and the 'gravy' in the cutlet gravy was the same. It had a thick texture and pretty flavourful. It was made with crushed cashew nuts and you could taste the cashews in it. According to our waiter, ginger garlic and onion paste went into the masala too. It was not too spicy or high on chilli heat. 

What floored all of us was the brilliant quality of mutton served in the mutton masala. Not chewy or fibrous at all. The mutton in the mutton masala at Stadium Restaurant held the four of us meat mavens in its spell that afternoon.


Mutton masala. Rs 200

The cutlet in the gravy was pretty good. The keema quality once again, as it was in the keema ghotala, was very nice. The cutlet was juicy, quite flavourful but not high on spices or chilli heat at all. The salt levels perfect. I have a feeling that it would taste great without the gravy too.

Cutlet with gravy.
I pushed a bit of the gravy from the top for the picture
Rs 170
I have had the cutlet with gravy in the Excelsior Cafe near Sterling Cinema before and I think at Britannia too. The gravy served at both places is thinner I think and has a tomato base and is red in colour. Different from the one at Stadium.

Excelsior, Britannia and Military are Irani restaurants but are run by Zoroastrian Iranis

Stadium Restaurant, which was opened in 1944 according to the menu card, is owned by Iranis too. Muslim Iranis our friendly waiter told me. Not Chilia Muslims who took over the restaurant business in Mumbai, along with the Shetty's, after the Iranis.

I make this distinction as a possibly reason for the difference in the fare at Stadium Restaurant from that in 'Parsi restaurants'.

The menu is pretty varied at Stadium and doesn't really have too many 'Parsi dishes' apart from an odd dhansak which too is not available everyday. Yet, its an out and out Irani place for sure. Good, food, moderate prices, quick and efficient service. It ticks all the boxes.

We had our food with soft, pillowy pav (Rs 5 per slice), which the waiter told me, they source from Coronation Bakery.


The food got a thumbs up from us


I saw quite a few people eat biryani around us. The biryanis of Irani restaurants are not up my street, and given that there were 3 ex Kolkatans on the table, we gave the biryani a miss. 

We love our Kolkata biryani too much you see.

The biryani at Stadium has its fans


We did go to the Salt Water Cafe after Stadium Restaurant. Not to eat, but for cappuccinos and a baked cheesecake (an old favourite of mine at SWC Bandra), and to use the facilities after Stadium. Irani Restaurants don't really have clean washrooms unfortunately.

Cappuccino and cheesecake at Salt Water Cafe, Churchgate
I don't think I had even heard of these dishes in '97
 when I first went to Stadium!

New friends. New Life

As I looked back on the afternoon, I realised that my life has changed so much between my two visits to the Stadium Restaurant.

I am no longer a market research professional. I am trying my hand in eking out a living as a food writer, blogger, etc in the world of food media. I am a freelancer now and work from home and from cafes. Which comes with its own share of baggage. And am looking forward to the release of my book, The Travelling Belly, now with bated breath.

I have new friends in Mumbai. I am no longer a bachelor living in a PG. I have a family in Mumbai now. I have a home in Mumbai.

Yes, life has changed a lot. From being a Calcuttan In Mumbai, I have become a Bengali in Mumbai. A Mumbaikar. And Mumbai has showered me with lots of love and happiness.

I don't know what the future holds for me but I would like to leave behind a few lines written by Dr Daisaku Ikeda that I read soon after our lunch at Stadium:

"Now is eternity. Right now is the beginning. The past is gone. The future has not yet arrive. The present moment is all that exists." The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol 6.

What I do know is that my next visit to the Stadium Restaurant will not be after a such a long interval.

I will leave you behind with an interesting thought.

Stadium Restaurant was established in 1944. Three years before India's independence. I wonder what tales it would have to tell about the changes in the lives of its patrons.

That would make for many interesting stories I am sure.

Also of interest:




6