That sinking feeling... Gajalee, Phoenix Mills

I am not a good lunch mate. I tend to bully and get my way and make people go to a restaurant of my choice. K would tell you this. Most of our daily dinners while we were dating would be at Chinese places thanks to me. The tradition continues till today. She refers to this as 'passive aggression'. Ips, my foodie partner in crime from work, experienced this today.

We were heading back to work from a meeting. I wanted to try Gajalee at Phoenix Mills.

Gajalee, at Vile Parle, is a Mumbai legend. It is a Malwani sea food joint. I have never been to the one at V P myself. They opened a plush branch at Phoenix Mills at Central Mumbai sometime back. Loyalists of the original Gajalee say that this doesn't match up to the original. I wouldn't know about that but the location's definitely more convenient.

I Rambo'd over Ips' timid requests for simple food - Spaghetti Kitchen, Wich Latte, Tasting Room in the vicinity - and headed to Gajalee. We caught up with K and H there.

Gajalee at Phoenix looks like a fairly posh place. Spacious, clean, cool, quiet, reasonably elegant, clean loos ... an apt place for the corporate crowd from Mumbai's new Madison Avenue.

The food turned out to be patchy though and was nothing to write home about.

I displayed supreme cholesterol consciousness and tried a fish thali. There was a gourd based vegetable dish which was left untouched.

The Bombil or Bombay duck fry was really good. Fresh, light and crisply fried to perfection. K and Ips dug in and it was good enough for us to call for a separate plate of it.

Fried Bombay Duck is apparently one of Sachin Tendulkar's favourite dishes.

The Sol Kadi was nice. The consistency was just right. Slightly thick with a solid and reassuring feel. It had a fresh and pungent taste to it. I always thought that this pink drink was an appetiser. However, H, who is a Maharashtrian, said this was actually an after meal drink.

We asked for 'amboli' instead of rotis. This is similar to neer dosa - the plump and soft dosas which you get in Mangalorean places. This was nice too.

I don't know if you have noticed but I have spoken about everything but the fish in the fish thali! The fish, allegedly surmai or Kingfish, was a washout. It had too many bones to be a surmai. Wonder if it was something else. I am no expert in coastal fish and wouldn't know. It was chewy and tasteless. The taste of the gravy hadn't really infused into the fish. The curry didn't evoke any reverence. Quite disappointing for a place renowned for its fish dishes.

Imagine a Hindi film of the eighties with stellar performances from 'character' actors such as Kader Khan, Anupam Kher, Shakti Kapoor, Shekhar Suman and Nirupa Ray while the hero, Amitabh Bachchan, had a bad day. That's how I would describe the fish thali at Gajalee.

Ips had a mutton thali.The sukha or dry mutton was quite nice. This was served instead of Bombil which came with the fish thali. The mutton curry evoked mixed feelings. Ips felt that the curry was too watery and bereft of character. I tried a piece of mutton from it which was quite tender. The big blob of cuddly fat which came with the piece of meat won me over.

Ips felt like trying a dry prawn dish and we called for 'special sukha (dry) prawns'. The menu card  described it as prawns cooked in dry spices, coconut, onion and chillies.

A pall of gloom descended on the table when it arrived. This was one of the rare days when I had my camera with me during a work day lunch. Yet I could not make this dish look good. Both K and Ips gave the prawns a thumbs down. They were very disappointed by the wet gravy. They were hoping for something more dry and sharp. The fact that the gravy looked like stewed mould didn't help.

Though I must say that the quality of prawns was pretty good. They seemed quite fresh and juicy to me. A defence which didn't work well with the two angst ridden ladies.

I had an upset stomach at night and K said 'A ha'.

So would I recommend Gajalee at Phoenix?

Not on the basis of this experience. It might be a tempting place to take foreigners or out of towners for a corporate lunch. The ambience works. But then poor food is poor food. No point serving it under the guise of 'local food'. That's not fair to Mama Rajadhyaksha and countless other Maharashtrian moms who wield their ladles which such skill and dexterity.

How did this compare with the disappointing fare at Casa Soul Fry? Another recent 'thali' disappointment. 

Well Gajalee was better. It had its moments. Bare as they were.

So what about the legend of Gajalee then?

K said that some of these places probably became famous in an era when there weren't too many restaurants. When people weren't exposed to a lot of good food options. Some of these places don't measure up to our expectations today.

Perhaps she has a point. Or this could be another example of branching out not working.

The jury is out on this but I can think of much better things to do with Rs 900 (18 USD)!

PS: We bumped into a former colleague of K & H on the way out. When introduced to me she smiled and said, "You write a food blog right? I saw it on Agent Green Glass's. I follow your blog".

Love it whenever this happens :)


5 Spice said…
There are some Gajalee dishes that are better than the ones you tried:Pomfret Curry,Tandoori Crab and Grilled Rawas.Chappatis are good too
Unknown said…
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Unknown said…
You’re a genius! How did you make that prawn sukha look so sad? It reminds me of the Thai disaster I had last week.
Unknown said…
Hey loved reading this- could visualise the 4 of you with expressions...and AB equals main dish was too hilarious :-)
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@5 Spice: thanks for sharing this. Useful if someone who reads this goes there.

I am loathe to give people second chances. Specially with so many options around. I expect any dish I order to be good. As Simon Majumdar once said on his blog, we are paying for all the dishes right?

Sorry for being brusque but my stomach's still cramping from the lunch :(

@Madhumita... a good meal to sit in and not eat. That's what H did.

@Pree: the subject inspired me ;)
ab$hake said…
Gajalee was better when it started. Since I am from vileparle, we used to visit it often but stopped after the food quality went down and the prices sky rocket high. I had rather prefer the fish cooked at my place since Mom makes it way better and its the same style of Goan/malvani food.

Their bombil fry though is pretty awesome. Its an instant hit with most people.

Ratnagiri ( Near andheri stn) and Pangat ( at Borivali) are much better than Gajalee when it comes to well spent money over good food. I havent been to those places in the last 2 yrs, but I do think they would be better than Gajalee to date.
Scarlett said…
I've been to the Phoenix Mills Gajalee once & I didn't like it. I can't compare it to the one at Vile Parle since I haven't been there, but as a stand alone experience it wasn't so good. And the steep price that I paid for bad food made me not go back there.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Ab$hake: lucky you :)

Thanks for the heads up on Ratnagiri and Pangat.

Gajalee might not have been able to handle the expansion well. Hope they can do a turnaround

@Scarlett: steep price and bad food is a deadlier combo than Marshall and Holding
Samil said…
Dear Knife,

Gajalee was decent in Ville parle, I loved going there as an out of towner and took hordes of people from work at Startv there. Once i had a fishbone stuck at the end of my throat there. I was terrified. They also had athali joint in the back lanes of MIDC, not elaborate but nice and quick.
Whats the best way to cook sausages i seem to get them wrong, underdone, overdone, burst open, too muc fat spilling around. I have tried several kinds of sausages cannot get them right. Please help.
Miri said…
I went to the Phoenix Gajalee last November when I had come down for three days to meet some friends. Loved the Bombil and also the Tisrya Masala (clams) and the Pomfret curry....and as far as the prices are concerned, coming from Delhi they seemed sooo reasonable ;)

But I can see where you are coming from - the prawns looks like a total disaster and so is the mutton!
Shivani said…
I visited the VileParle Gajalee around 2 years back last & the food was finger-smacking, to say the least [esp. their stuffed bombil which is like the flagship dish]. So sad to read that the Parel one hasn't kept up the standards [that prawn curry looks really sad, I'll say you're a damn good photographer :D ] I guess this is what happens when you dole out franchises, if the Rajdhani story is anything to go by.

Btw I'm sure you've tried it already, but when it comes to VFM with Goan/Konkani fare, Highway Gomantak gets my vote
Anonymous said…
You've had all the wrong dishes except for the Bombil Fry.
Try the Tandoori Promfret, Tandoori Crab, Prwans Masal, Ghavni, Dum Mutton Biryani, Chapatis, Sol Kadi, Palak Khichdi.
Also, after reading your blog, we tried the Hangla's at Linking Road. The food was horrible -- right from the mutton roll to the biryani.

Kalyan Karmakar said…
@ Anya: Good to see the debate here. Would be expected on a fairly iconic place.

Going to a Malwani place and ordering tandoori fish or lobster is not what I'd normally do. As far as the 'wrong dishes' are concerned, there was nothing 'wrong' with the money I paid.

I strongly suggest that you go and have a biriyani at Cafe Noorani
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Sam: My sympathies. I was traumatised by a fish bone sometime back. Haven't really got back to fish yet. This was one of the first times that I had fish in a while. Sausage help coming up soon

@Miri, thanks, good to know what to order. It has location and ambience going for it after all. Jai Hind's quite good in the same theme

@Shivani: to spread the good stuff or not? It's a tough call. Hope they can work things out. It's easier to lose a reputation than gain it after all.

I'd been to Highway ages back. More of a Saybaa person.

Then went to Sadicha and Sindhudurg (now shut)when I begun to to go to BKC at work. We tried Highway once again but it was too crowded. It is very popular after all. Couldn't get a table
Shilpa said…
just dropped in to say hi :-)

- former colleague of K & H