Nightmare on Pali Naka ... Pali Village Cafe

It's not that I have not had bad restaurant experiences before. I normally don't make a scene. I just come home and Finely Chop them. But there is always a first time. Unfortunately tonight was not a good night.

We have grown up reading about Gandhi saying that 'India lived in its villages'. Watching Hindi films which depict the pure and simple and warm hearted folks who live in villages. And if you are a Bourdain fan, you would have seen him go all misty eyes at the villages of Vietnam, Mexico and Sunderbans.

Pali Village is one of the oldest settlements in Bandra. A Catholic residence which best exemplifies the welcoming, peace loving, relaxed, generous and liberal nature of Bandra. The suburb which represents the best of the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai. A suburb to which many of us who have come from outside have given our hearts to. A suburb which has welcomed us with open arms and rather high rents.

And then you have the rather ironically named Pali Village Cafe here. Imagine if you are invited to dinner by someone who keeps raising their eyebrows every time you request for something. Where you run short of the food. Yet the hosts are well fed. Where even as you are eating, you are asked to eat less. Where you are made to feel very very unwelcome. A far cry from the loving images conjured by Manoj Kumar and Tony Bourdain of the generous village life. Now imagine being made to feel so unwelcome and than being made to pay for it too. That's Pali Village Cafe for you.

There's a tremendous buzz about this newly opened place at Pali Naka at Bandra. I tried to go there last Sunday for lunch. Called to book on Saturday. Was told that there was no place. In the meanwhile heard good stuff about it from some. And the paid PR channels were hyper active. I did plan to go there.

Then I heard that Ash was coming in from Calcutta. We made plans to meet along with another friend Suma. The plan was to spend a languorous evening. Chatting and eating. Ash was extremely keen on PVC and tried booking it from Calcutta. She couldn't get through. Then I tried last night. Wonder of wonders. Got a reservation for Friday night. At an unearthly hour of 8.15 PM. With a threat that we would loose the table if we were fifteen minutes late.

I got a call in the middle of the day at work today asking me to confirm my booking. The dire warning of 'ten minutes or no table' was repeated. They obviously thought that they worked for the Moulin Rouge or Queen Elizabeth's parlour.

The three of us reached. In time as instructed. the restaurant was fairly empty and filled up later.

Ordered our first starter... 'dehydrated' chicken strips. Then the next one. Caviare like portions of a jalapeño hummus dip. We had a spoon each and the dish got over. The waiter immediately placed three menus on our table. I begun to sense a stink.

We were stretched. Chatting. Catching up. Two close pals. And me, more a virtual friend. The girls were getting quite giggly at my shooting pics and were having a hearty laugh by asking my questions such as about my 'first impression on eating the chicken'. And whether I start planning what to write as soon as I eat something. They claimed to be quite tickled by the fact that they were witness to a 'Finely Chopped review'.

Note: They feel that the pictures doesn't do them justice. K says I photograph food better than I photograph her. Well, guilty on both counts

We were having a nice time when the waiter came again with the menus. We ordered a couple of pizza slices.

No sooner did the second pizza arrive than the waiter came and asked if wanted to order the main course. By then I was getting rather hot under my collar and said that we'd order a bit later. He looked at us strangely. I asked him whether there was a problem. He backed off.

He came a bit later. By then all three of us were frazzled with the young ones using phrases such as WTF and discussing other restaurants where we have actually had good times. I again pointedly said that we'd order in a while. We begun to go through the menu and decided on the Lamb Stew which someone had praised on FB and which S enjoyed when she came the previous day. Pan seared rawas and something else later were part of our plans.

We thought that we'd start with the lamb stew. We called the waiter and ordered one. He looked puzzled and asked whether we'd order anything else. I said that 'we'll see'. He said, "our portion is small. You'll need more". I cuttingly said that I was aware that their portions were 'small' and again asked if there was a problem.

He went back and got the lamb stew. S said that there was a lot more sauce when she ordered this a couple of days back. Ash spotted an eyelash nestled on the potato. The light was so dim that we couldn't see anything. So we weren't sure unlike Ash. We tried to eat the lamb. Unfortunately they gave us table knives and not chain saws. I tried to flex my biceps and cut the meat. I failed. S felt that it was a lot more tender when she ordered it a few days back.

By then we had had enough. We wanted to eat more but felt cheated and unwelcome and didn't want to spoil our evening. So we called for the bill. The waiter promptly came to our table and made a 'finito' like gesture to someone outside. Obviously not the sort of place which gives you a feedback form. I glared at him. It's been a while since I have come across such rudeness.

I did what I had never done before. Strode up with the girls to the manager and complained. He seemed genuinely apologetic and begun mumbling about two table seatings. That's when another guy came. He facetiously said 'I saw what happened and I am sorry." As fake as a Linking Road 'Gucci' handbag. Obviously in a hurry to get us out.

We were in a hurry to get out too. S was almost run over by their valet while we waited for her car.

How was the food?

Ice tea - watery

Dehydrated chicken strips? It was called something else I think

Jalapeño hummus and pita crackers? Barring the fact that we did a Nirupa Roy of the seventies, widowed mother with two kids sharing one roti, was nice.

Goat cheese and garlic pizza slice... the one who managed to get a bite of the cheese felt lucky. One of the less gloomy spots of the evening

Prosciutto pizza slice ... tomato purée drenched, couldn't taste the meat

Lamb stew? I am surprised that the knife didn't break as I tried to cut it. The accompaniments tasted worse than yesterday's garbage. Which possibly explains the presence of an eyelash on it. Even my camera revolted.

We ordered all of the above in the space of forty minutes so you can imagine how hurried we were.

Our evening at Pali Village Cafe was a blot on the name of Bandra. And of Mumbai. It goes against everything our city stands for. Ironically it stands on a place where there used to be a shop called Lila Stores a few years back. Run by very courteous and helpful folks.

But don't give up on Bandra. Pali Village Cafe is an aberration. A bad dream. The norm are places like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf  where the three of us went after dinner and spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting over cheese cakes, chocolate 'sin' cake and mocha and white chocolate lattes. It was Christmas once again. No wonder Kainaz was there in the next table. Everybody loves a happy place. Thankfully we all made it to one.