Does The Bombay Canteen work as a working lunch place option?

Choriz meal at The Bombay Canteen. Rs 580

Where to have an affordable lunch when out on work in Mumbai?

Sometime back I was having a chat on Twitter (hope you follow me @finelychopped) on options for lunch for folks who go out to work in Mumbai.

I was making a point about how traditional eateries in Mumbai's original central business district, district, Fort, offer affordable eating options.  I had places such as Apoorva, Jimmy Boy, Ideal Corner, Swagat, Cafe Military, Modern Lunch Home, Deluxe and Moti Halwai, where I used to eat at when I worked in an office in Fort, in mind. I used to go out and eat everyday at any one of these restaurants when I worked there. 

I lamented the fact that modern office areas in Mumbai such as Lower Parel and the Bandra Kurla Complex do not have such comparatively inexpensive eating options.

'Affordable' is of course a relative concept.

Which is when chef Floyd Cardoz, of The Bombay Canteen, joined in and Tweeted that one could go to his restaurant for an affordable (I don't remember the exact word that he used) adda.

I wryly reparteed that I would require VC funding to eat at the Bombay Canteen everyday.

He replied saying that eating at the Bombay Canteen is not so expensive.

Since then I wanted to figure out how the Bombay Canteen works out as a working lunch option. I had eaten there a couple of times before but those were on social occasions where we had ordered lavishly to try out the menu and the bill was split between us.

I was at Lower Parel's Kamla Mills, where The Bombay Canteen is located, for a pre-lunch meeting recently and took the opportunity and went into the Bombay Canteen for lunch once done with work.

It was 1.40 pm on a weekday and all the tables were occupied with a very white collared (literally) crowd.

I was requested (warmly) to sit at the bar till a table got empty. I saw the person sitting beside me having his meal at the bar itself. Which is a good idea if you don't have the time for an extended lunch.

I placed my order about 20 minutes after I entered. I was undecided between the Goan Choriz 'tiffin box' meal and the mackerel with a Goan rechad masala. Both cost Rs 450. Cheaper options on the menu were the rolls and sandwiches and the chhotas or small plates.

The person taking the order suggested the Goan choriz tiffin box as it is a full meal (I had said that I didn't want a starter) while the mackerel would need a side order. Plus the mackerel would take another 20 minutes to prepare as they make it from scratch I was told. Which meant I would get my meal 40 minutes after I entered the restaurant which doesn't work for me a work day lunch by oneself where one has just come to eat and was by oneself.

I ordered the choriz from the tiffin box (full meal) options and it was brought to the table pretty quick. By then I had spotted a corner table/ ledge by the window and requested to be shifted there. It was quite a comfortable place to sit at when by oneself and I even bumped into some folks I knew who had finished their lunch and looked pretty happy with it.

The meal

There was a dalia salad which was very light and refreshing, mildly tangy, very pleasant to eat texture-wise and was perfect for a summer afternoon. Dalia is broken wheat which is apparently often used as a porridge in North India. I had, as a kid, seen my mama buy it from the local market in Calcutta. He had learnt to eat it while growing up in Delhi he told me and was excited to see it at the grocer's. 

As salads go, this turned out to be one of the nicest salads that I've had and used ethnic ingredients and not alien quinoa, asparagus, broccoli and iceberg lettuce and stuff.

I was a bit apprehensive about the choriz or Goan sausage before the food arrived. Goan sausage, a Goan take on the Portuguese choriz, is a spicier rendition than the original Portuguese preserved pork meat sausage. The Goan Christian converts used local spices to work on the meat dish introduced to them by the Portuguese colonial rulers. Goan sausage is pretty spicy and pungent and a bit like a pickle as Kunal Vijayakar said when we discussed this later. While placing my order, I wondered if I would able to finish such a sharp, piquant and meaty dish by myself.

Choriz and pork mice with salli at The Bombay Canteen

I needn't have worried. The Goan sausage portion at The Bombay Canteen was a small one, perfect for one. It had boiled potatoes in it (which Goans add to choriz fry) PLUS salli, the fried potato straws that Parsis add to their dishes. The potato quotient helped cut the sourness of the meat.

The meat was nowhere as as sour as a typical Goan sausage though it retained its flavour base in the DNA. It's spice levels seem to have been tempered down and the texture of the meat was very pleasant and not too chewy. The choriz was quite pleasant and didn't overwhelm or intimidate my palate.

I later asked chef Thomas Zachariah, of The Bombay Canteen, whether they had done anything to tone down the intensity of the sausage. He said that they had added some minced pork to the dish so that 'regular' (read non Goan) patrons could enjoy it.

This was an example of smart thinking and a testimony to good chefing acumen if you ask me. Efforts like this one at The Bombay Canteen, the Goan sausage with cream cheese bagel in Anil Kably's The Bagel Shop, the Goan sausage with potato sandwich at The SmokeHouse Deli and the Goan sausage Mac and Cheese at Irfaan Pabaney's Sassy Spoon will definitely help take Goan sausage to a larger audience. For the real deal, go to Martin's in Colaba or buy some Goan sausage one of the meat shops at Bandra and follow K's recipe.

The choriz was served with two paos (the bread introduced to Mumbai by the Portuguese). They offered me more paos later at the BC but two were enough to fill me up. I really liked the roast papar too.

The meal was completed with a very refreshing baked yogurt with Indian gooseberry (or rose berry - the waiter, unlike the person taking the order, was not that clear about the menu and described the salad wrong to me too). 

The custard and the dalia salad beautifully balanced the heatiness of the pork.

Refreshing baked yogurt

Does the Bombay Canteen work as a working lunch option then?

1. The ambience: Very pleasant and relaxing. Just what you need on a hot afternoon. Air-conditioned of course. Clean loos. If you are alone then try to take one of the corner tables. The vibe and feel was reflective of modern corporate Mumbai just as the Irani cafes and Mangalorean joints of Fort were once reflective of pre-liberalisation era Bombay where the BSE, and not the NSE, ruled the nation's commercial capital. If you are willing to sit at the bar and eat then you might not have to wait for too long. Service is warm and friendly. Comfort-wise a parallel would be going to the Starbucks at Fort versus going to Yazdani. That's where the comparisons end though as the BC food is way better than that of the Starbucks F&B (I only go there for the Javachip Frappuccino)

The view from my corner at 2 Pm at The Bombay Canteen

2. The food: What I like about The Bombay Canteen's food is that you always feel like you eaten properly at the end of a meal and feel like coming back again. This was my fourth visit here and I have liked 90 percent of what I have eaten here. I wouldn't mind eating the sausage tiffin box meal that I had that afternoon, again. It was quite well balanced and complete and satisfying and felt like 'real food'. The portion was sufficient for 1. I could have done with 10 per cent less of the amount

Technically, The Bombay Canteen is a 'modern' Indian restaurant. Yet, in my experience, the food here is the sort that is meant to satisfy rather than impress. No foam and spheres or smoke here as far as I can see. People who have been to modern Indian restaurants who offer the latter tell me "it was nice but you won't go back for it". 

I would definitely come back for the food at The Bombay Canteen. I just wish they had retained the prawn curry and the kochuri and some of the other dishes that they had offered during the Mother's Day promo where they featured recipes given by the mothers of the chefs and marketing folks.

I packed a couple of chicken puffs from the counter (asked for a separate bill and there was no service charge for this one) for my friends who really loved them I was told.

3. The cost: My meal, with no drinks, cost Rs 450 which went up to Rs 580 after taxes and service charges. For a full meal for one, and a tasty one, with the Bombay Canteen vibe and atmosphere it was definitely good value. The vegetarian tiffin box options would be cheaper. 

This though was a lot more than what I would like to spend on lunch everyday. I can still have a very good meal at Fort for about Rs 150 to 250. That's how much I would feel comfortable to spend today on a daily basis for my lunch. Not Rs 580!

Also keep in mind that I probably ate one of the cheapest meal options possible and didn't order a drink. Not the sort of customer that's good for business

Bombay Canteen prices: April, 2016

So, in terms of absolute costs, The Bombay Canteen does not match up to what Fort offers. Yet, I would probably go there again for a one off meal if I was by myself at Kamla Mills. Makes sense? 

What's your take on what you just read? Would you consider this as a good working lunch option?

Note: The meal was had anonymously


Sanaya said…
What are the dishes you like from their a la carte menu? I found the food at Bombay canteen very average. Also most of the starters are only good for two. You need to order much more if you're a larger group.
Anonymous said…
The ones at V.T./Fort are in some sense, iconoclastic restaurants, where people go more for nostalgia-value, or for ticking them off of their TODO lists, or are regular clientele who've been going there for decades. Hence inflation, food price-rise, may not bother them that much.

But the newer restaurants have yet to develop a loyal clientele and a reputation; they need to pay the bills, and keep the shop open!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Agree. Which is why I didn't question the cost and in fact said its good value. Just that I wouldn't like to spend so much everyday for lunch and thankfully there are cheaper options available. Real estate is the biggest killer. Mine is a consumer point of view and not a restaurant owner's. Bandra East has some reasonably priced ones but not BKC. PS: iconoclastic means someone who attacks icons and cherished beliefs. Possibly a typo or auto correct?