Pali Bhavan nights: Bandra's very bankable Indian restaurant / Indian Fine dining restaurants in Mumbai

The walls at Pali Bhavan are all about capturing memories and
our meals there have been about creating  memories of our own 
Please excuse the poor quality of pictures. The lighting is not very Instagram friendly at Pali Bhavan
This headlining style is based on what I've learnt from the editor of a site I write for. Helps drive readership I am told. Let's see.

What's a meal without a story?

This post is about the dangers of holding on to pre-conceived notions. It is also about our two meals this year at Pali Bhavan, a posh Indian restaurant at Bandra's Pali Naka.

Pali Presidency is not a new restaurant. It is about five years old. That makes it a veteran by Bandra restaurant standards. It stands where Pali Presidency once stood. Pali Presidency was an old school 'fancy Indian restaurant'. Similar to places such as the Quality restaurants you find across the country. We had gone to Pali Presidency with a Sindhi gentleman who would often take the two of us out for meals back then. His name was Tolaram Lekhraj Gwalani. He liked to be called TLG. We called him 'uncle' and we were all fond of each other.  He liked the pickle so much at Pali Presidency that he packed some to take home. They agreed, used as they were to Sindhi eccentricities.

Uncle as well as Pali Presidency are no more but have both left behind fond memories.

On creating fresh memories

I made me first visit to Pali Presidency at the start of this year. After I did so, I wish I had gone there earlier too though I did make up on lost time by going back again this Diwali. I found the food to be consistent on both occasions and I would definitely now recommend Pali Presidency for someone looking for a posh Indian restaurant in Bandra. Or, any 'Indian restaurant' for that matter, given that Bandra today is not really known for having Indian restaurants. The vibe here is a lot more contemporary than Pali Presidency which appeared as if it was frozen in time.

Why was my first to Pali Bhavan so late in its life cycle, especially given that we live next door, you ask?

Well, I had come across a number of expats who were Pali Bhavan fans earlier as well as locals who belong to the wine and cheese set and who would rarely go to traditional, family run, Indian eateries, and who told me that they  liked Pali Bhavan too.

'What would they know of Indian food,' I thought with mistaken bluster and hubris and stayed away from Pali Bhavan over the years. When I wanted 'Indian food', I'd go to the Irani restaurants such as Ideal Corner of south Mumbai or South Indian places such as Deluxe or Apoorva, or places such as Soam or Aaswad for vegetarian food and in Bandra, Lucky in West and Sadichha in the east and of course to Bhojohori Manna and Oh! Calcutta for Bengali, instead. Pali Bhavan was never on my radar. I had decided, without going there, that I would not like it.

Then something happened.

With Julia of Bombay Jules and her husband Paul at Pali Bhavan
K and I had gone there earlier with Sue and Nathan, but I have
lost those pictures during my phone related chaos earlier this year

Memories of the Raj...warm ones though

Towards the end of last year, K went to Pali Bhavan for a couple of office meets and came home and profusely praised Pali Bhavan to me and said that we must go there. Shortly after that we were scheduled to me a couple of British friends of ours who once lived in Bandra, and were back in town for a holiday, for dinner. I suggested Pali Bhavan to them and they agreed. In the past though, I had gone out with them to the more plebeian Indian places in town. Those places are not up K's street through so we met Sue and Nathan Cope, Indophiles, blog readers who became close family friends, at Pali Bhavan.

To sum up the night, we all quite enjoyed the food and the experience at Pali Bhavan. There was a casual and understated feel to the place that appealed to us. It was not stuffy at all. It is not easy to spot the restaurant, though it is located on a busy crossing. The signage is not in your face you see.
Yet, once you step in Pali Bhavan, you will see that the place is packed.

The look and feel of the place matched with what would mind have in mind when you think of the old British clubs in India. Pastel green shades, chandeliers, lots of black and white photographs on the wall. The lighting is a bit muted, not very Instagram friendly but then unlike say a Bombay Canteen, which is another very good option for a slightly upmarket and young, but good Indian food, you will hardly see Pali Bhavan on Instagram. Its packed occupancy on both our visits, outweighed its minimal social media presence, made it 'old school' in a sense. While the ambiance is that of a club, the atmosphere, as I said earlier, is not stuffy or formal. There was a happy buzz there. The service  was competent without being very flamboyant. I am not sure if one could call it a very 'cool' place. A warm place though it sure was.

The story was repeated when we returned ten months later, in October. This time, though we had reservations, we had to wait for an hour at the bar before we got seated upstairs. We were with Julia Edwards and her husband Paul, who once lived in Bandra and miss it terribly now that they are back in the UK. Julia used to write the very popular blog, Bombay Jules, and I am trying to write another blog about her life in Bath as she thinks it is not as interesting as her life in Bombay. I am convinced that it will be splendid though.

There were big groups as well as couples. The average age
not that young

The upstairs section

The downstairs section which has the bar and the loo
and the kitchen

And what about the food at Pali Bhavan?

Mutton galati at Pali Bhavan 

On both occasions we ordered the galawti kebabs which is what K had told me initially that I should go to Pali Bhavan for. It was perfect both times that I had it. The kebabs were really soft, just as they are meant to be. Seasoned well. The spices and chillies muted so that the flavours of the meat, goat (not beef as its Mumbai), came through well. The kebabs were served on small warqi (thin maida based, slightly sweet) parathas and made for a nice mouthful each. This was an example of some pretty refined cooking and the kebabswere pretty different in metre from the more oily and greasy galati kebabs of Tunday in Lucknow but then the world of Tunday and Lucknow's Chowk is very different from that of Bandra West and Pali Bhavan and it is best not compare them and to enjoy both for what they are.

Vada pav sliders at Pali Bhavan

K also said that I should try the vada pav sliders at Pali Bhavan. I found the idea of trying out vada paps, a street side dish, in a fancy restaurant a bit funny. Though Bandra West, where Pali Bhavan is located, does not have any good vada pav place in any case. We did order the sliders on our second visit as we had friends from overseas who were in Mumbai for a short visit and rued that the fact they couldn't get to a vada Pav in this trip. Now here's the thing, the vada pav sliders at Pali Bhavan, size apart, tasted exactly like a good street side vada pav....and I have had quite a few in the last twenty years or so in Mumbai to know. Right up to the nice small pavs and the red ghaati masala too. Of course the pricing is not the same as what you get on the streets, but if you still want to have your vada pav in a posh restaurant then the taste of the Pali Bhavan sliders sure will not let you down.

I guess I should take K's food recommendations more seriously!

The other starter that I tried there was on my first visit and is called 'Samosa Patti chaat'. I had once wryly joked somewhere on social media about my apprehension about being served a 'deconstructed samosa' some day at some modern Indian place which was trying too hard to be cool. This was a few days before I tried the chaat at Pali Bhavan. I later realised that the chaat here was just that, a deconstructed Samosa! Strips of the samosa maida shell, the potato filling, some tamarind and green chutneys, served prettily on a plate. Tasted truly superb and I couldn't get enough of it. Once again, do not compare prices with a street side samosa, this is not a streetside joint.

Sauce being added to the raan

The raan at Pali Bhavan features pulled meat

In the mains, we marvelled at their meaty wonders. The first time around it was the nihari, goat marrow bones cooked in a beautifully intense curry where no single spice outshouted the other. The next time we had the Pali Bhavan raan. A slow cooked goat shank, tender to the t, served with a drizzle of gravy the way steaks are served in old school 'continental' restaurants and clubs in Mumbai.

The dal makhni at Pali Bhavan

We had the kaali daal on our second visit to Pali Bhavan. It was fairly competently made and paired well with the phulka rotis. K said she preferred the Bukhara/ Peshawari one at ITC. That's a lot creamier and richer indeed.

Yes, unlike most Indian restaurants in Mumbai, they actually have phulka here. Served hot and pumped up and freshly made and are very home like too. They had the usual naans which restaurants offer, at Pali Bhavan. These were fairly decent. 

Apart from the rotis, on both occasions, the pine nut and mushroom pulao gave pleasure.

Pine nut and mushroom pulao

There's a squid dish on the menu which looks exciting but squids were out of stock we were told on both our visits.

Terrible pic but this is the prawn curry at Pali Bhavan

What we did order the first time, and repeated the next time, was the prawns in a pink peppercorn curry. This is a coconut milk based, lemon grass infused, curry which could be as at home at an Asian restaurant as it would be in a coastal South Indian one. Very Kerala meets Katong Bay. They do it excellently at Pali Bhavan and I had the very well balanced curry with the pulao.

We didn't try the desserts on either visit.

The fortune cookie moment

I realised after both my meals at Pali Bhavan that I now have an answer to those who want to know which is a 'fancy' place to have an Indian meal in Bandra. The food is a mix of Lucnnowi, Keralite, Punjabi and Maharashtrian fare. Very 'Indian', though not the traditional definition of 'Indian food', read 'Punjabi', that we are used to in India.The fact that it is so packed 5 years after its opening, talks of the popularity of Pali Bhavan and of the fact that the food here is good, solid stuff, shorn of any pretences. This is food that doesn't need any labels, modern, molecular, chef driven and so on. This is food that will make you happy as it would those who are with you and life is all about happiness of self and that of others after all as they say.

It was time to eat the humble pie and admit that it was wrong of me to form an impression without trying out a place. I am happy that Pali Bhavan proved me wrong.

I had mentioned Bombay Canteen earlier in the post. Bombay Canteen is newer than Pali Bhavan and is different from it. It is a chef driven restaurant and there is more variety and change in the menus of Bombay Canteen. The place is brighter and it is more spoken about than Pali Bhavan in media, mass and social. What is common though, is that the food, at both places, is very very  good. What restaurants like Pali Bhavan, more quietly, and The Bombay Canteen ,which is more 'out there', have done, is made going to eat Indian food exciting again for a set of folks in the city who had stopped considering this genre. 

For that we need to thank them.

An average meal for 4 at Pali Bhavan, without alcohol, comes to Rs 4 to 5,000. Both my visits were anonymous.


For the record, Julia has been to my food walk at Dadar and had the vada pav there and to the one at Fort and had the pav bhaaji at the Khas Gulley there and remembers it fondly.

She had written two very generous blog posts on her experiences which till today drive enquiries to me:

Finely Chopped Dadar Walk on Bombay Jules
Finely Chopped Fort Walk on Bombay Jules

Talking of galawti, this is my post on my first visit to Tunday a few years back.

With Julia of Bombay Jules who has been such a big supporter
of me. Her smile is a reflection of her warmth and love for India

Our spouses waited patiently and raised their eyebrows at each other
This is how bloggers eat