|Prawn thermidor at Gallops Restaurant|
Our Gallops story
Come the rains in Mumbai every year and like clockwork K will tell me, “let’s go to Gallops for lunch one day."
Gallops Restaurant is a thirty year old Mumbai culinary institution. When K and I were dating, about a decade and half back, Gallops was the destination standalone restaurant in Mumbai to go to. I am talking of a time when a new restaurant would come up every five years or so in Mumbai to redefine the city’s dining out landscape. Today, there are five restaurants opening ever day in the city! Some of these places become future classics. Many shut down after a while. Some are like fire, to use a Buddhist analogy, that flare up brilliantly for a while and then fizzle out. Other, like Gallops, are timeless like flowing water.
Gallops is not talked about as often as many of the newer restaurants in Mumbai but I am yet to go there and find the place empty. That speaks to me of quality and consistency, whether it's in terms of the ambiance, the food that they serve or the warmth of the service from the staff who have worked here for years.
Gallops takes you back to an apocryphal golden era. Whether that’s what rocks your boat or whether you seek fresh excitement and innovation is a personal call. For some, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive and having an open mind brings variety to the table. I believe that when it comes to eating out, it finally comes down to how good the food is and Gallops never disappoints on this front.
|The big window is a must|
And what’s so special about Gallops in the rains you ask?
Well, the restaurant is situated at the Mahalaxmi Race Course and has managed to retain its premises despite occasional licensing issues (from what I remember reading in the news). Gallops has big windows which look onto the race course, the green expanse of which can be a feast for one’s eyes and is a respite from the dust and grime and concrete of modern Mumbai. During the rains, the verdant and vibrant greens under the grey skies seems that much more magical and romantic. If you have been waiting for long to propose to someone this is where you should head to right now and do book a window table while you are at it. K and I had the first of our special birthday lunches (her's) here, we had our first Valentine dinner here as did we have our wedding dinner for our small band of seven guests consisting of immediate family.
|This clock at Gallops caught my eye the other day|
Gallops, after all, was part of the Mumbai experience that
drew me to the city when I moved in from Kolkata
Riders in the storm
It was pouring this Saturday and I told K that it was the right day to renew our vows with Gallops. We drove out from Bandra at around 2 pm for a late lunch after a busy morning. We called Gallops to find out about till when lunch service lasted. They told us that they are open from noon to midnight and serve all meals through the day.
The Mumbai skies were grey, wet and brooding yesterday and seemed to be auditioning for the role of Gotham city in the next Batman movie. It started to pour as we headed to the Bandra Worli Sea Link. The Bandra roads were packed with cars. I looked at the policemen and women bravely directing the traffic in their yellow raincoats and said a silent thanks to the. I thought of the Phantom City that lay ahead and kept smiling at the wheels even though our car was caught in a mini gridlock with the rain crashing down. It seemed like hell around me and yet I was in a state of rapture and sure enough, we soon reached the Sea Link and then sailed through easily to Gallops from then one. The drive took us an hour on the way to Gallops and just half an hour on the way back.
Enjoying the journey is as important as reaching your goal it is said, and notwithstanding the puddles on the road and the incessant honking and the fogged up windscreens, I drove with a song on my lips, conscious of how fortunate one was and counting my blessings on the way.
The road to Gallops from Bandra as captured by the missus on her iPhone 6S while I drove
|The majestic Sea Link|
|Mumbai se Gotham|
It appeared that we had timed our arrival at Gallops well. A table by the window got empty just as we entered. "Could we please have that table, we have driven from Bandra for that window," I pleaded to the manager and sure enough, we got our window by the table. It's a different matter that it didn't rain at all when we were there but the rain joined us when we drove back home.
Memories of the Raj
In our early days we used to come to Gallops for what we used to call ‘Continental food'. I am talking of dishes with thick béchamel sauce and hunks of meat which in Mumbai today can be found only in old school clubs and the odd restaurant like Gallops. Those were innocent days and since then we have learnt that there is no such thing as 'continental'. That there is French and Italian and within that Mediterranean and Northern European and then Spanish and Catalan and German and what not, just as there is no ‘Chinese’ but Sichuan and Cantonese and Hunan, and no ‘Indian’ for that matter but Punjabi and Gujarati and Odiya and Udupi and…you get the gist.
So what did we eat?
In our recent visits to Gallops we have discovered their Indian menu and have fallen in love with it too. The nalli nihari (strongly recommended by K) and sutli kebabs are our favourites. Actress and self professed rice lover, Bhairavi Goswami, talks highly of the Yakhni pulao of Gallops too on Twitter.
This time though I wanted to try out the continental classics once again. K was in the mood for some nalli nihari but with some good Bengali passive aggression I manage to veer our order to what I had in mind, just as I used to back in the day when were dating. She wanted pasta those days and I wanted noodles and we ended up going to Chinese places more often than not tevery night after work before we headed back to our respective homes.
For the record, I have learnt to love pasta since then with a vengeance that would put Dev Shah in the Netflix series, Master of None, to shame.
|Cream of tomato soup, Gallops|
I started the afternoon at Gallops with the dish which, to many of my generation, symbolized the ultimate in dining out experiences. A dish that brought back memories of meals at the Mocambos and the Florianas and the Moulin Rouges and the Kwalitys and the Princess’ of Kolkata for me. A dish which is all about taste and pleasure, shorn of foam, froth and nitrogen dioxide
I am talking of the cream of tomato soup with deep fried croutons. I checked about the croutons with the waiter before placing my order. It was served with bread rolls, white of course and butter shaped into a dainty swirl.
I interrupted the missus, in between her Instagram story updates, and took her phone to click this tableaux for you as my my phone had stopped working recently after it fell into water. In case you have been missing me on Instagram, now you know why.
The soup at Gallops was serving piping hot, it was full flavoured and seasoned perfectly, though I later added the customary dash of black pepper. It was just what one needed in the rain. The croutons could have been a bit crunchier and I wished they had added them a bit later or had given some on the side for me to add but that was a very minor glitch which I was willing to gloss over.
This is not the dish I would recommend you order if you have come to propose as it demands quite a bit of your attention and is a conversation stopper, but fits in fine with the coziness and comfort that a decade and a half of being together brings.
|K with her virgin Hot Toddy|
While I chose some hot tomato soup to go with the rains, K had a virgin hot toddy. The bartender felt that his expertise was being under-utilised with this mocktail and sent the manager back to us with the request, "can he add some orange juice at least?" K remained unmoved and got what she wanted and this is what she had to say on Facebook about Gallops when she posted the above picture:
Red sofa booths.
Staff rolls their eyes when you ask for VIRGIN Hot Toddy.
Welcome to Gallops.
Where horses run and time stands still.
- Kainaz Karmakar
|Bacon wrapped prawns, Gallops Restaurant|
I also ordered the starter K had possibly introduced me to. I had not come across it in Kolkata. This is the dish that K and I used to order at Gallops and often at Chinese restaurants such as China Gate and China Garden and that my late father in law loved too. The dish in question is bacon wrapped prawns. A combination that promised the heaven and earth at a time when cholesterol and triglycerides didn't feature in our lexicons. Today was an afternoon to relive those heady days and then pop my statins the next morning.
They took a fair bit of time to get us the dish at Gallops, but when they did bring it to our table, I realised why it took so long. The dish was cooked to perfection. The bacon was not too crisp or chewy and was delightfully cuddly. The prawn inside was juicy, not tough or overcooked. On the plate were cooked pineapple chunks, possibly canned and definitely not 'organic' or free trade. Who puts cooked and canned pineapple on dishes anymore was my first thought but tI hen proceeded to happily gobble up these delights from our childhood. I remember having the flue when I was around 13 or so and had lost my appetite back then. One day I requested my mother to get canned pineapple for some reason. Not that I used to have it often. But I yearned for it and I think ma got it though it must not have been easy at Karmakar Brothers and Sonali Stores in Bansdroni in the late 1980s.
I missed a touch of salt but perhaps they were going for a sweet vibe here. K pointed out that the bacon wrapped in prawns had the pineapple integrated in them and the chef was possibly aiming at more sweeter notes that savoury ones for flavour.
Years of expertise of the kitchen staff showed in how well the dish was cooked. The dish was presented prettily but I still took three prawns out just for fun and put them on my plate and drizzled some sauce around them and added wee bit of parsley on top, tipping my hat to today’s chefs and their plating.
|Bacon wrapped in prawns V2|
We were mulling about what to order for our mains. I was very keen to go for the prawns thermidor which K had introduced me to, along with the liver pate, when we had first come to Gallops. The menu showed that they have other 'continental' classics too…the tetrazinis, the a la kievs and the stroganoffs, which talk of a time gone by.
During those meagre advertising executive salary days, which in my case were further gnawed away by PG rents, the prawn thermidor seemed like a majestic treat that was worth slogging away in office for. Those days we could afford only one main dish between the two of us.
This time we were debating between whether to go for a slow cooked lamb shank or a nalli nihari with the thermidor. One look at the bacon wrapped prawns and we were back to the prudence of our youth. We realized that one dish more dish would be enough between the two of is. I used my veto and called in for the lobster thermidor among the three options that we were mulling over. K, kindly went along with my suggestiomn, though she maintains that while she enjoyed the thermidor, she would rather go for the nalli nihari today. My point is that I get good nalli niharis elsewhere but very few menus will have a thermidor today.
|Digging into the prawns thermidor at Gallops|
What they brought to the table at Gallops seemed like nother example of a Renaissance painting as you can see from the photo. The broccoli and zucchini were possibly new additions, which I neglected, and went for the fries but not before I took top angle shots for when I return to Instagram.
The prawn thermidor was every bit the cheesy, gooey, indulgent treat that I remembered from the early 2000s. There was a song on my lips with each bite and if you listened hard, you would realize that it was ‘Riders in the storm’ by Bruce Springsteen, though his ‘Glory days’ would be as apt.
What was the soundtrack at the restaurant while we had our lunch? Elevator music consisting of the theme songs from Love Actually, The Godfather and Titanic. No Ed Sheeran, Cold Play or Bieber features in their playlist.
These days I analyse dishes beyond ‘creamy and yummy’ so I must repeat what K said about the thermidor here. This the fact that, like in the bacon wrapped prawns, here too the prawns were cooked just right, despite being baked, and were not over-cooked at all. There was a prominent bite of whole garlic and shredded prawns in the sauce. The sauce was livened up with a bit of Tabasco that I added as I always do to thermidors to cut the heavy cheese.
What struck me about the cheese sauce at Gallops was the robust taste of the cheese in it. Sounds silly to you? Shouldn’t a cheese sauce taste taste of cheese, you ask?
Well, unfortunately not so in many modern western café/ restaurants in Mumbai, where you will have a white liquid flooding a plate of pasta and on tasting find it to be devoid of taste and seasoning.
No such problem here. You might call Gallops old school, but the chefs here definitely went to a school where they were taught to worship the ingredients that they used and that showed in every dish that we ate.
Interestingly, Bengalis of a generation elder to me raised their proverbial eyebrows when I later posted a picture of the prawn thermidor on Facebook. So I did a bit of digging up on the internet (Wikipedia actually) and discovered that the original rendition of this dish was the lobster thermidor which was apparently created in France in the late 1800s. The word ‘Thermidor’ also apparently refers to the stage in the French Revolution where they retreated from very radical positions to a slightly more moderate form of progress (check footnotes).
Which, in a way, the comfort I felt in coming back to Gallops after being exposed to a variety of cuisines across the world, including some pretty nouveaux stuff, was.
|Lobster Thermidor at RBYC|
Lobster thermidor is something our late Jamshed Uncle, who knew me from the time K and I first went to Gallops, would treat us too most liberally at The Royal Bombay Yacht Club. There the dish is made, as it is meant to be made traditionally, with a cheese sauce infused with lobster bits, egg yolk and brandy stuffed in lobster shells and then browned on top to form a cheese crust.
K and I have had the prawn thermidor at Gallops in the past and never a lobster one. They don’t offer lobster thermidor on the menu now and I do not know if they had done so in the past. The prawn thermidor at Gallops consists of a baked cheese dish with prawn bits and whole prawns, eggs yolks and sliced egg whites and brandy (I am guessing) and finely chopped garlic infused into the sauce. This is then browned in the oven for a most addictive cheesy crust under which lies the hot cheese delightful mess. The casserole is very hot and if you serve yourself then do so carefully. We told the waiter that we would serve ourself. "He will take photos first," K explained in Hindi and our waiter smiled indulgently.
We skipped desserts as we prefer to sin with cheese and meats and prawns over sugar and cream, and headed home satiated with the sort of happiness which emanates from deep inside your heart.
This is obviously not the sort of meal you can have every day and which is why modern cuisine has moved away from the cheese and brandy and butter soaked meals. I felt so heavy after lunch that I had a very light dinner at night and yet, couldn’t have been in a happier place or slept more snugly that night.
(A mocktail, a soup, an appetizer and a main course cost us around Rs 2,800 in July 2017. No service charges were applied)
|No selfies when we first came here|
|My Gallops smile|
1. This is not the first time I wrote about Gallops in the rains. Here is the earlier post about going to Gallops in the rains
2. My earlier post about the nalli nihari at Gallops
3. Wikipedia on lobster therimidor
4. Wikipedia on Thermidor