Mumbai's Noor Mohammadi Hotel shows that classics can age gracefully and remain evergreen. A must visit for meat lovers

Chicken Hakimi, shammi kebabs, nalli nahari, Sanju Baba chicken
 white pulao & roti. Our lunch at Noor Mohammadi

Revisiting memories of an epic meal

I had gone to Mumbai's Noor Mohammadi restaurant, which is located below the JJ Flyover, way back in 2010. I had quite a nice time then. I somehow didn't end up going to Noor Mohammadi since then. Most of my food trips to that area would focus on the Bohri Mohalla instead.

The advantage of the recent food trail that I did for the Bombay Street Food Toronto team was that we went to places such as Kyani which I had not been to before, and to Noor Mohammadi and Cafe Colony, which I had not been to in a very long while. In our earlier trail a year and a half back, we had been to places I frequent more often. This time we went to a different set of places.

What made me keen to take them to Noor Mohammad was the memory of the amazing shammi kebabs that I had here, and also the rather rustic ambience, especially on the ground floor, which speaks to me of the Mumbai of yore.

The buff shammi kebabs have been replaced by chicken
They are quite happy to tell you how they make it
Noor Mohammadi refreshed

What I found when I returned, 7 years after my first visit to the Noor Mohammadi Hotel, was a grand old lady with a facelift gone right. They had recently spruced up the decor here it seems. The flimsy chairs which were there on the ground floor have been replaced with sofas with new tables too. The place looked a lot cleaner and brighter.

New look with the same old charm and hospitality
The non air-conditioned ground floor

The air-conditioned section this time

The Bombay Street Food team from Toronto was a bit tired by the time we reached Noor Mohammadi during the Mumbai Finely Chopped Food Trail. So we went upstairs to sit in the air-conditioned section. This felt a bit musty initially as air-conditioned sections in old school restaurants tend to be but we adjusted to that very soon and it didn't bother any of us later. The section was quite well lit compared to what I remembered and the other tables were occupied too. It is not a very large section.

A group of NRIs renewing their Mumbai food memories
at the upper floor
Great service and meheman nawazi

I was really impressed by the service here. 

Our waiter, whose name was Shiraz, had come to Mumbai from Lucknow. I spoke to him in Hindi and he showed a lot of knowledge about the dishes served in the restaurant and his pride in working here was palpable.

He coaxed us to try dishes beyond the kebabs that we had come here for. When I told him that we were not too hungry, he said he would work out smaller portions of a few dishes that he was keen that we try. He highly recommended the chicken hakimi, which had been introduced by the current owner Mr Rashid Shaikh, whose grandfather Mr Abdul Karim had started the restaurant 94 years back in 1923. I had missed trying the chicken hakimi on my last visit here.

The founding fathers of Noor Mohammadi
There's a MF Hussain painting too
Paradise lost

I was glad that Shiraz had got us to order more dishes than we had planned to and that we had not just stuck to the shammi kebabs.

Turned out that he ambiance was not the only thing that had changed at Noor Mohammadi. The kebabs had too. They no longer make it with buffalo meat. They are not beef kebabs anymore. Not even goat or mutton kebabs. The shammi kebabs are made with chicken now.

Chicken shammi kebabs

The kebabs are still made fresh on a tava outside the restaurant but they didn't taste as juicy as I remembered them to be and the  proportion of channa dal in it made it a bit doughy. The fun seemed to have been soaked out of the kebabs.

Food that spoke to ones heart

However the other dishes that we ordered made up for this disappointment. Take the chicken hakimi for example.

Chicken Hakimi

The chicken Hakimi turned out to be truly a work of art. It consisted of juicy tandoori chicken which was finished with a light yogurt based sauce when the customer place their order. The sauce is very delicately spiced  and complemented the chicken very well.  The combination of the chicken with the gravy was truly epiphanic. I am sure Rashid's late grandfather would be proud of his (R's) addition to the menu.

The chicken Hakimi was 'wipe your plate clean' stuff

Chicken Sanju Baba

We had Noor Mohammadi's most famous dish, the Chicken Sanju Baba. It is named after actor Sunjay Dutt who, they claim, had given them the recipe for it. I had liked this dish the last time I came here and did so this time too. There is something about the rustic smoked taste of the curry and the bites of onion and tomato in it which makes it feel like a very bachelor home-like dish and Amreen and Seema of Bombay Street Food felt so too.

You can see the rice in the corner
There's no heavy masala hidden under it unlike in
typical Bombaiyya biryanis

The other dish that we tried was another Noor Mohammadi classic, the white chicken biryani. It's what Bombay folks call a pulao and there are no heavy spices or masala in it. The taste is rather subtle and light which makes it more appealing to my Calcutta biryani trained belly than the Bombay biryani. There is a light white curry infused into the pulao which gives it a lot of flavour.

Nalli nahari with pieces of bone marrow floating in it

They still do serve buffalo meat here even if the buff shammi kebabs are gone. We had the buff nihari. The curry was delicious. It was loaded with spices and didn't skimp on oil and yet the final result was very comforting. There was no throat or heart burn that followed. The nahari had delectable bits of marrow floating through it.

Seema and Amreen Omar of Bombay Street Food said that this was comfort food for them. Their travel weariness and jet lag seemed to be punched away by the curries here and it liked they came out feeling fresh and energised and smiling again at the end.

With Amreen and Seema of Bombay Street Food
 and Eric and Andrea

We had our meal along with some freshly made rotis from the tandoor and soft drinks and felt very happy about life.

The Travelling Belly feeds on Lucknow 

Shiraz, on seeing my book The Travelling Belly, asked me about it. I told him about the Lucknow chapter and the places I have covered in it. On hearing the names of the favourite restaurants from his hometown, he took the book and flipped through the Lucknow chapter while we ate.

Shiraz vets the Lucknow chapter in
The Travelling Belly

They don't charge service charge at Noor Mohammadi but the service is consistently warm and welcoming. They are proud of their food and are happy to share its goodness with the world at large.

The folks making the kebabs were happy to tell us how they make it. The chicken Sanju Baba recipe is written on a poster kept on the wall. 

What goes into the chicken Sanju Baba

Our bill came to just about 700 Rs and currently they still accept only cash here.

Noor Mohammadi has just about 6 years to complete a century of existence and it has proved itself to be a class act Mumbai should be proud of.

As for me, I left resolved to come back much sooner than I did after my last visit!

You can buy the spices used in Noor Mohammadi