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 :)