A taste of the secret formula behind Mumbai's Gomantak restaurants. Sandeep Gomantak, Fort

Sandeep Gomantak, Fort
I'd clicked this picture in 2010 & posted it on my blog
My first visit to this restaurant happened 7 years later

  • Sandeep Gomantak, a Goan seafood restaurant in Mumbai's Fort area.
  • What is Gomantak food
  • Of 'core' diners and 'recreational' diners and how Gomantak restaurants cater to the former
A taste of Goa in Mumbai

I had first passed by Sandeep Gomantak, a seafood restaurant in Mumbai's Fort precinct, in 2010. I had my first meal there 7 years later in 2017.

It was worth the wait!

The thought of finally going there was sparked off by folks who suggested the name of Sandeep Gomantak during a Facebook chat where I had asked people about where to eat Gomantak food in Fort.

Fort is Mumbai's CBD (Central Business District) of yore. It offers much nicer and more affordable eating options for those who work there than the city's new CBDs such as Lower Parel and BKC in my opinion. 

Gomantak restaurants, from what I understand, are small and Spartan restaurants which serve food native to Hindu Goan families. The menu is seafood dominated but you get some good stuff in chicken and mutton too.

To an outsider like me, the food here seems to taste the same as that served in the city's Malvani restaurants which offer food from coastal Maharashtra. Food blogger and author, Saee Koranne Khandekar, is a Maharashtrian and tells me that locals would be able to discern differences between the two.

While neither Malvani nor Gomantak food originate in Mumbai, you could argue that they are more 'local' than the food served in Mumbai's more famous seafood restaurants such as the Trishnas and the Mahesh's as the latter are Mangalorean run. Of course you could also say that Mangalorean, Malvani and Gomantak, though all immigrant food, are an intrinsic part of Mumbai's dining out heritage today.

It's all a question of perspective. I am sure that all three have been influenced by the taste palates of those who live here as well as the availability of produce here.

The basic menu of Gomantak restaurants.
It's all about 'eat local' here

I'd first passed by Sandeep Gomantak when I had worked out of an office in Ford in 2010. That day I had gone with my colleagues to eat at Pancham Puriwala which is possibly Mumbai's oldest functioning restaurant. On the way back I noticed Sandeep Gomantak and took a picture and posted it on my blog. Then I forgot about it.

I was introduced to a place called Pradeep Gomantak back then. This was closer to where my office was located. So I kept going there and was quite happy with it. I often take people to Pradeep Gomantak in my food walks. It features in my book, The Travelling Belly too.

Sandeep Gomantak (in the pic) is larger than
 Pradeep Gomantak, the other Gomantak restaurant in Fort
A Fort by Nitght Food Walk

I finally made my first visit to Sandeep Gomantak a few days back. I was conducting a food walk for a set of corporate CXOs which was hosted by Sodexo. We had gone to Pradeep during my last food walk for Sodexo. We chose Sandeep this time as the later has a larger seating capacity. 

While Sandeep Gomatak is bigger than Pradeep Gomantak, the ambiance is equally basic and comes with no frills. It is lit with harsh white lights. The tables are very basic as is the seating. The furniture is easy to clean and not designed to encourage lounging. The restaurant has has no air-conditioning but we didn't feel the heat outside thanks to the high ceilings. Though a seafood dominated place, it wasn't smelly at all. It was pretty neat and clean just as most Gomantak places tend to be in my experience.

The food that we had at Sandeep Gomantak clockwise from the left corner:
Bombay duck fry, surmai fry, kombdi (chicken curry), vade
prawn curry, sol kadhi
At the Gomantak Chef's Table

We had a sampling of a variety of Gomantak dishes at Sandeep that evening.

We started with a nice and light and slightly spicy sol kadi. It is a drink made with the juice of kokum berries native to Goa. I like to have sol kadi as an appetiser and sometimes as a post meal digestive too. Goans and Maharashtrians from the coast also add it to rice, and have it just as those in the south eat curd rice, pointed out Maharshtrian lady from Mlavan who was with us in the walk. Sol kadi as a drink takes a bit of getting used to s it is pungent and can be salty. I love it and find it very refreshing. I've seen variations in colour, consistency and heatiness (from chillies) in sol kadis across restaurants.

We had the bombil or Bombay Duck fry of course and this was a big hit with our group.  It reminded me of the Bombay duck fries that they serve at Pradeep Gomantak. I am told that they often place a stone of fresh Bombay duck to squeeze out the water in local Malvani and Gomantak restaurants before frying them. That makes the fish a lot flatter than it originally is. The resultant fish fry is usually quite crisp.

The Maharashtrian lady's husband pointed out that the Bombil at Sandeep was plump and juicy. The plumpness of the Bombay duck at Sandeep Gomantak was more 'home-like' according to this gentleman than what one sees in restaurants usually. The big and happy grin on his face completed the story.

We had some surmai or king fish fry  too which was again pretty juicy and not dry at all as surmai fries can be. It was not over cooke and was well spiced. Quite a lip smacking dish. Even the other freshwater fish loving Bengali our group approved of it. He is normally a big seafood fan. 'Too smelly, " he said. This is a very typical Bengali reaction to seafish (nona joler maachh).

A rare sighting of two happy Bengalis in a Gomantak Joint
The trick is to feed them chicken curry or mutton sukha here

Since our starters were were all about fish, I chose a prawn curry next. Curries in the west coast of India are coconut based. This is the natural given the bounty of coconut trees here. Some curries see the use of freshly grated coconut, some the use of the juice or milk of coconut. At times desiccated coconut is used too.  Gomantak restaurants in Mumbai espoused the values of 'eat local' much before the term became fashionable.

The prawns used in the curry were pretty tiny and didn't have shells.  The prawns were nice and juicy though and not overcooked. These small prawns are a lot cheaper than bigger ones and this makes the food more affordable. The taste of the curry dominated that of prawns and this is typical of Gomantak restaurants in the city. This is not for those who want to enjoy the seafood without much interference from spices and masalas.

For our final course we had some kombdi vade. This consists of a spicy, coconut based chicken curry (kombdi) srved with vade on the side. Vades are puris typical to the Malvan and Goan coast which are made with a mix of flours. At times, I am told, they can be made without flour which would make them gluten free. The combination of flours and spices made the vade at Sandeep so tasty that one could them even by themselves. The combination of the vade with the chicken curry was heady.

I wanted to try some of the chicken or goat liver based dishes but those were over. Next time I guess.

A Mumbai story that started in Goa

Mr Anand of Sandeep Gomantak

On the way out I met Mr Anand. He owns the place and was at the counter the entire time that were were there. He is quite the hands on owner as are most people who run such restaurants in my experience. 

I asked him about whether he and the folks at Pradeep Gomatak are indeed related as some of my readers had said they were.

He replied with a smile that Ms Manisha, who runs Pradeep Gomatak today, is his cousin. That they all hail from Goa. He told me that he opened his restaurant in 1981 while Manisha's father started Pradeep Gomantak way back in '69.

21st May Update: I later learnt that the restaurants share the same family lineage. That Pradeep and Sandeep were both founded by the Late Gajanan Amonkar and were named after his sons. One of his sons, Pradeep and their cousin Anand, run Sandeep. His brother ran Padeep later and now his niece Manisha does so

Here's a comment from the owners of Sandeep Gomantak on the Finely Chopped facebook page which tells us more about its history:

Sandeep Gomantak Bhojangrah Feeling proud reading your review Mr karmarkar😊 encourages us to do even better. Just an update on some facts abt the restaurants. Both Sandeep and pradeep gomantak were in fact started run and established by Late Shri Gajanan Amonkar who started 3 restaurants in all. In fact both restaurants are named after his sons. Mr. Pradeep still runs sandeep gomantak along with our cousin Mr. Anand. Later pradeep gomantak was run by our uncle and hence now his daughter runs the place.

Both restaurants seem to be equally popular and are keeping the west coast flag flying high in Fort, an area otherwise dotted with  Parsi and Irani, Keralite, Mangalorean and the odd North Indian eatery.

Coming back to Sandeep Gomantak, there are few things which I observed the other day which  I feel make Gomantak restaurants such a hit among their audience. The food is delicious and the produce used fresh and local. The pricing is cheap. The portion sizes are appropriate for one person. There is no wastage or excess here and the pricing reflects that. The ambiance is basic but clean. As is the cutlery. There is nothing on the plate which is not required. Service is quick and efficient and friendly. Owner involvement is high. You eat, eat very well in fact and move on. 

Till you come back the next day.

The new world of recreational eating 

My visit to Sandeep Gomantak reminded me of the Saturday evening previous to that of my Sandeep Gomantak visit.

I was at the SodaBottleOpenerWala at Cyber Hub that day for a book reading based on my book, The Travelling Belly.

A journalist there asked me a question on the importance of the 'story' behind a restaurant and the chef and the role that plays in enjoying one's meal there

My answer was that there are two kinds of restaurant diners.

Core diners who go to a place to fill their stomach and quell their hunger. This is what characterised the average diner in restaurants in India till recently.

Then there is an emergence of a new breed of people whom I call Recreational diners. These are the the people who look for back stories and photo ops when they go to eat.

The two are not mutually exclusive. I was a 'core diner' when I used to first go to Pradeep Gomantak for example. I used to work next door and needed a place to have lunch at. Though I was first drawn to the restaurant by the story of a Goan who used to eat there when she missed home. 

When I take people to Pradeep Gomatak during my food walks then my group and I are 'recreational diners'. If I go alone to eat Ideal Corner after a walk, since I don't eat much while conducting a walk, I become a core diner. You get what I mean? It's very fluid.

I don't think that there is anything wrong with being either. Go by whatever works for you. Each person is different and and each occasion is different. As long as your choice is led by what makes you happy at that moment you are sorted.

However, what I strongly believe is that it is the core diners that make a restaurant run day after day more than recreational diners.

There is only so many times you will go back to a place lured by the desire to see what lies in the head of the chef.

It finally boils down to the plate of food placed in front of you doesn't it?

I don't know if you have caught this but I speak to Annie Arakkal on 94.3 Radio One Mumbai on food every Wednesday from 1 to 2 pm on food on Foodie Chat With Kalyan Karmakar. I later upload it on my YouTube channel. Here's the clip from when we spoke about Sandeep Gomantak. Please do subscribe to the channel if you don't want to miss out on these radio podcasts:

Do you have a favourite Gomantak restaurant in Mumbai? If you do please write to me about it in the comment section of the blog and lets share the Gomantak love here

Picture appendix:

Other stops during my recent Fort by Night food walk for Sodexo

Ideal Corner: Parsi Food

With Parvez Patel of Ideal Corner
Was excited to see the 'Featured in The Travelling Belly' poster there

Irani Cafe evening favourites at Ideal Corner:
Mutton cutles pav, Bharuchi akoori
(egg scrambled in cream, ghee and with potato chips and dry fruits
and raspberry drink

Taste of Kerala
Appam with egg roast

Adapradaman. A payasam made with coconut milk, jaggery and
a rice based pasta

Pictures from my  book reading at SodaBottleOpenerWala, Gurugram. 

Pic credit: Shiva

Was overwhelmed by the packed house. College friends, family, work colleague,
social media readers, journalists, bloggers, chefs, hoteliers and resturanteurs

With chef Anahita Dhondy of SodaBottleOpenerWala who was
a wonderful host and her food was a big hit
And Rathin Mathur of Rumi's Kitchen who was the moderator
The smiles on our face sum up the evening for me

Also see:

1. A Facebook live video that I did from Sandeep Gomantak which will give you an idea about the place.
2. My blog post on Pradeep Gomantak from 2010. I have gone back often since then and it features in the food walks that I do in Fort and I have written about it in my book, The Travelling Belly
3. My blog post on Pancham Puriwala from 2010 where I had first posted a picture of Sandeep Gomantak