South Mumbai restaurant renaissance explorations part 2: Plenty, Rue Du Liban, Foo Town, Canara Juice Centre

The chicken liver mezze at Rue Du Liban was one of the two memorable dishes of our trip. The other being the buff on soba at Miss T which we had the previous night


This is post is on the second half of our recent south Mumbai restaurant explorations and I do hope that you have read the first part. The stories are from last month when we booked ourselves into a two night staycation at the Trident at Nariman Point. We used the hotel as a base and went to restaurants in south Mumbai that I had not been to before or have not been to recently. In the first instalment, I told you about going to the Table for lunch (no newbie of course) and Miss T for dinner, both at Colaba, on K's birthday. On day 2, we went to two restaurants at Fort and on the last day we had lunch at one at Churchgate before we headed back home  to Bandra.

This post is about Plenty and Rue Du Liban in Fort, Foo Town at Churchgate and then has a little bonus on Canara Juices at Fort.

Fort enchanted


Next to George is Plenty and I liked the way the decors of these restaurant flowed seamlessly
with that of its historic surroundings

If this is not your first time at my blog, then you would probably know that I am besotted with the restaurants at Fort, Mumbai's original CBD. It is my favourite place to eat in the city. I feel that the motley crew of family run restaurants serving regional Indian food at Fort define what the spirit of Mumbai is all about. Most of the food walks that I do in Mumbai are in this area and these walks led  to the birth of my book, The Travelling Belly.

This post though, as I told you earlier, is not about those restaurants.

Plenty Mumbai, Fort

This is a two year old restaurant which I must confess that I had not heard of till the morning we went there. My friend, Ranjit, whom I bank on when it comes to recommendations on where to eat, suggested that I go there with K as we were looking for a casual lunch place, and so we did. 

It is located in a lane near the BSE. The lane is base to a couple of more new restaurants with impressive facades and whose looks blended well the sepia look and feel of Fort. Plenty is a two storied restaurant and I quite liked the way it is designed. There is a lot of wood all around which cues in an old world charm and yet the place looks fresh and new. The big windows make good use of the natural light and allow for people gazing, and what better place to do so in Mumbai than magical Fort? The artificial lights inside are not mobile photography friendly but then life cannot be all 'ha ha hee hee hoo hoo', as the Late Erma Bombeck said, can it?

Kapil Sanghi sees off some of his regulars


It would be fair to say that Plenty bring alive the values of an archetypal Fort eatery beautifully and is an able successor to the legendary restaurants of Fort. It is run by a couple, Kapil and Rashmi Sanghi, who seemed to be quite hands on in running the place. Reshma, a Sindhi, spends most of the time in the kitchen keeping an eye on what is going out. Kapil who is a Marwari and who loves his meat as Rashmi quipped, goes from table to table greeting his customers and ensuring that they are well looked after. The way a Fort restaurant owner would in the black and white era, Most eating at the restaurant the afternoon we went seemed to be regulars. The waiters have picked up the the spirit of the owners and are attentive and passionate in their recommendation of dishes.

In keeping with the casual and communal dining spirit of the Fort of the days gone be, a young gentleman from the table next to us leaned out towards us, pointed to his mutton burger and shouted out, "I strongly recommend the burger here."

There was one very 'non old-Fort' thing about Plenty and that needs to be praised. The toilet. It was fairly chic and brilliantly clean even though I stepped in after lunch hours when it would have been used quite a bit. The owners smiled happily when I complimented them on this.




The menu at Plenty could confuse you as they have dishes such as Hungarian Langos, Singapore curry noodles and roti canai and Penang curry and dandan noodles cheerfully jostling with Kerala pepper chicken stew and Goan prawn curry and Railway mutton curry for your attention. I would not blame you if you were confused about what their focus is and about what you should order if it was your first time here.



Railway mutton curry at Plenty


The dish that wowed us the most from what we ate at Plenty was the Railway mutton curry. The gravy reminded one of a homelike, robust and uncomplicated, onion based curry. Do not ask me if this is an authentic Railway curry as I reckon the answer to that would depend on which part of India's 'railway' one is speaking of. Oh! Calcutta has a Railway mutton curry which we like for example, where the gravy is thinner than the Plenty one and has potatoes in it too.  I was astounded by how tultule (Bengali for tender) the mutton (goat meat) in the curry was. I could break it with a fork and did not even need a knife. The dish came with rice and could make for quite the complete meal and a rather loving one at that.

Buff steak. Plenty, Mumbai


We saw the same devotion to meat that we saw in the Railway mutton curry, in the buff steak that I ordered. The tenderloin was cut in to strips and served. The chef's confidence in the quality of meat showed as they had really kept it medium at my request and had not overdone it. The fried were excellent, was the salad.

We had an avocado toast and they gave us slices of pleasantly ripe avocado (as per our request as we prefer it to a mash) on a bed of a zestful guacamole on a rather crisply done toast.

Avocado toast. Plenty, Mumbai
We liked the layer of mashed potato that they had added the to the fried eggs and green chillies in the eggs Kejriwal. I am sure that our late Jamshed uncle, who had first introduced us to the dish at the RBYC would have enjoyed the mash too as he loved both potatoes and eggs. Noting our concern about the excessive crispness of the toast in the avocado, the maitre d ensured that this was not repeated with the Kejriwal.

Egg Kejriwal, Plenty, Mumbai


I had a cappuccino before leaving. The froth was good and the coffee beans seemed nice but it was prepared too hot for me to be able to enjoy the coffee. I learnt from the owners that they have been running the cafe at Kitabkhana, the bookstore located close by, for years. They strongly recommended the hot chocolate there.

We had decided not to be too adventurous with our orders after we saw the menu and found the food that we ordered to be quite satisfying at the end. Not the sort of avant garde fare that we had eaten the previous day at the Table or Miss T, or would eat later that night at Rue du Liban. The prices are a lot cheaper at Plenty of course than the three I just mentioned. This positions Plenty as a sort of a bistro/ deli/cafe where you can look to de-stress over some happy food. In other words, a typical Fort place. Or, as Kainaz and I agreed, a bit of a modern day Cafe Churchill, Colaba. Albeit with a toilet, more space and less pressure to hurry up.

Memories of Churchill at Plenty


Rue Du Liban, Fort

Mumbai meet Montmartre at night

Lebanese food seems to be the in thing these days with a number of new Lebanese places opening in Mumbai. Twenty years after it became trendy in the west,  but better late than never as my father used to say. We wanted to go to Bayroute, which was probably the earliest in this batch and has branches across the city now, during the trip. The one at Cuffe Parade which we had targeted was too busy and we did not get a booking of our choice (outside seating did not seem tempting in the heat of Mumbai). Friends suggested a couple of other places, Maffy and Rue Du Liban. We chose the latter on a hunch and were really happy with our decision.

When we got off from our cab at the Rue Du Liban stretch at Fort at night, I felt as if we were back in Montmartre in Paris where K and I had spent a bit more than a week a couple of years back. The lane has a few other restaurants and is surrounded with buildings reflecting a very classic architecture. This, along with the signages and lights, gave a very Parisienne feel to lane to me. As did the interiors of Rue Du Liban when we walked in. The lights were dim, the design occidental, the crowds buzzing. It reminded us of the century old cafes that we used to frequent at Montmartre. The designers, as I learnt later, have tried to replicate a Beirut-like feel with the design and well, Beirut was called the Paris of the east in the 1960s.



Rue Du Liban is a fine dining place and the pricing of the food would be in the ball park area of that that at the Table and Miss T, though we got a 25 pc discount as we had booked the table here with Eazydiner Prime. The mood inside was fairly relaxed and not stuffy at all. The crowds seemed to be made up of corporate colleagues, family groups, couples (hardly any kids), all having a good time. There are a number  of vegetarian dishes on the menu apart from the meats and that helps to drive business in Mumbai. The service was prompt and on the ball. The waiters knew their stuff.

Their chef, Chadi Bayram, is from Beirut. I saw him pop out from the kitchen occasionally and walk around the restaurant with an attentive and studious look. "Great food", I gestured to him with a thumbs up, when our eyes met. A bit later I found him standing beside K and me, 'photo bombing' us when we had requested the waiter to take a picture of us. "I joined you as you liked the food," he said with a disarming smile.

With chef Chadi Bayram

   
The menu was extensive and we decided to opt for dishes that we had not tried before and hence stayed clear of mezze dishes (hummus, babaganoush, motabel, falafel, foul madames etc) that we have had in India and abroad. From whatever I saw going out to other tables, these looked good, as did the kebabs and flat breads.

Chicken liver mezze with pita at Rue Du liban


The dish of the night for us was the hot chicken liver mezze. After the buff rare on soba at Miss T the previous night, this would be the most memorable dish of the trip for us. The texture of the liver was delightful. Not hard. Not undercooked. Rather velvety one could say. Metaphorically of course, as the word is better suite for a liver pate. The fruity pomegranate molasses sauce complimented the meatiness of the offal and the masala-like flavours of its baharat spicing. The pine nuts served rather liberally with the dish, added a welcome crunch to the dish

Another high point of the night was the endless supply of freshly made pita that would keep coming to ones table. These puffed up delights looked as happy and giggly as kid having a sundae on a Sunday. I am sure that they have spoilt me for all other pita breads to follow in my life.

Shanklish at Rue Du Liban


A cold mezze that we tried at Rue Du Libam was the shanklish. Dried and aged goat cheese coated in dried thyme and served with cherry tomatoes and, onion, parsley and olive oil. I had this with the pita and must admit that I was not as impressed initially as the price of Rs 800 would have warranted. We did not finish this and packed the rest for home and that is where the magic happened. I had it a day later with a croissant and that is when the flavours of the cheese really came out.

Perhaps the cheese needed to 'mature' a bit in the Mumbai heat and wanted to see Bandra too!

Samaka Tajen


Another dish that we tried from the cold mezze and one which was very interesting was the samaka tajen. Confit grouper served on a tahini sauce with birista-like caramelised onions and pine nuts. I was wowed by the depth and subtlety of the flavour of the sauce and the slight nuttiness which came from the sesame seeds in it. The way it combined with the tender and juicy fish was symphonic.

If the samaka tajin was about poetry, then the lahme meshwi was about ruggedness. Buff sheekhs with a bite which reminded me of the chello kebabs that my mother had learnt to make when we lived in Iran and of the kebabs that K and I had eaten when we went Istanbul. The kebabs were intricately spiced and they went well with the flat bread that they were served with. There were two blobs of fat that we split and which were of course the highlight of the dish, but then when is ever fat not so?

Lamhe meshwi


Foo Town, Churchgate


Here lay Kamling

The plan was to have lunch at our favourite Ling's Pavilion the day we checked out from our hotel and before we headed back to Bandra. Then we changed out plans and decided to check out one more new place here in keeping with the spirit of the trip. We went to Foo Town at Churchgate which many had recommended to me during the trip.

From what I gather, Foo Town is run by Keenan Tham.  His grandfather had opened Kamling in 1968 after having moved into India from China in the 1940s. I have been to the old Kamling a few times and the place was a throwback to the Chinese restaurants of Kolkata that I had been to as a kid. The sort of restaurants that all of us growing up in the 80s in big cities across India loved. Foo Town is the new avatar of it and they have an outlet called Foo at Lower Parel too. I have not been to the latter though I have seen many social media posts on it and both places seem to be quite in vogue at the moment.

Foo Town Churchgate. The section inside is nicer

Foo Town Churchgate calls itself an Asian tapas place. They did mention that they do not serve alcohol when I called them to book a table. It was quite packed even at 2 pm on a Sunday afternoon. Full of family groups and the diners who represented all age groups. The look and feel of the place was modern and bright and rather different from the more sombre design of the Chinese restaurants of yore. It was more like the Asia Woks and Noodle bars that had come up in the mid 2000s and which had signalled the first change in the city's Chinese eating out meter. Yet the mood of those dining here spoke of the same joy that I remembered from the ghosts of Chinese restaurants past.

Duck Dumpling Foo Town, Churchgate


From the dishes that we tried here, the duck dumpling was impressive. The casing though sticky, was not too thick. The pulled duck inside delightfully flavourful.

A dimsum that did not work too well for me was the charcoal hargao where the minced stuffing was too dried out and the charcoal casing was rather slimy. We tried the salmon carpaccio where the crispy quinoa added a nice crunch to the dish though the salmon was not really the hero of the dish and I would not advise it if you are a salmon devotee.




The pink peppercorn prawns that we ordered the small plate section clamoured for ones attention with its forbidden and rather naughty deep fried bites. I liked the fact that the prawns, though deep fried, were not overcooked. The bursts of whole peppercorns added drama to the dish as did the minced garlic 5 spice base to it. The dish was rather different from Ling's pavilion slat and pepper prawns. At Ling's, the dish is more restrained salt and pepper prawns is just about that...prawns, salt and pepper. That's more up our street to be honest.

Pink peppercorn prawns, egg fried rice, Hakka pork


They have retained a few dishes from the old Kamling menu I was told, such as the chilli chicken. I was not too keen to have chicken so we ordered another which is not on the menu but which is apparently from the heritage repertoire, the hakka pork belly. It consisted of neatly sliced roast pork. The meat was tender though rather lean than what one expects from a pork belly dish. You could make out its old school creds from the fact that unlike the prawns that I mentioned earlier, this came with no trappings. Just pork, seasoned well and cooked well. My sort of food!

Roast Hakka pork, Kamling


I had this with some egg fried rice which was a nice dose of comfort to end out 48 hour food discovery trip with. It made the bheto (rice loving) Bangali in me smileThe portion size was quite excessive and I packed some to have at home later.

The meal sent me home with my stomach feeling slightly ponderous and heavy, the way one does after an Indian Chinese meal. Just as I had after a dinner at the House of Mandarin recently too.

I knew at the end that the next time I wanted Chinese in town, I would be back at Ling's Pavilion. Call me old fashioned if you want.

Yes, I did feel a bit bloated when I entered home but I was happy too. I had set off on a mission and we had accomplished it well. I must say that I had really enjoyed going to these restaurants, trying out dishes I had not before. Choosing dishes from the menu that looked appealing to us. With no excessive attention or guidance which would happen in a hosted restaurant review. I became even more convinced that this is the best way for me to get a feel of a new restaurant. I did have a couple of PR hosted new restaurant meals after that, where the food was rather desultory, but life is too short to dwell on that.

I was really excited to see some of the good work that is coming up in the city's restaurant scene, at the end of the staycation, and was keen to tell you about it. I hope you find this post useful.

If you have had some great meals in the city then do share your experiences in the comment section. We will all gain from that and will be most indebted to you.

The bheto Bangali with his fried rice at Foo Town

Footnotes:

And the Fort love continues: Canara Juices


I was at Fort a couple of days after the staycation. This time with Kumar Jhuremalani who runs Pet Pujari and Nikhil Merchant of Nonchalant Gourmand. We had attended an event at Mukesh Mills, and then went to Fort to have a coffee at the Pantry, before heading off our respective ways.

"I will take you guys to a place which you will love," said Kumar when we reached Fort and then he looked at me earnestly and added, "you should include it in your Fort walks."

Our destination was a tiny shop in the wall called Canara Juices. It was set up in 1959 and is run by the Vicky, the second generation owner. It is located in the lane perpendicular to Plenty. They have a branch at Lower Parel too. Kumar recommended that we try the avocado and strawberry juice and the drink did turn out to be a winner. I have never had avocado juice before and the closest reference that I can give is that of a creamy sitafal/ custard apple juice. The sugar balance was perfect and it was not excessively sweet and the tanginess of the strawberries added a burst of freshness to it. Vicky told us that he buys strawberries in season and freezes them himself and uses them through the year. The avocados were from Kodaikanal in south Indian. The price per glass was Rs 150 and we had it 'one by two'...two glasses between the three of us. The attention that the owner put to the quality of ingredients used and the overall hygiene and the great value makes this a true Fort gem in my books and I am a fan too now.




Wait, no breakfast at Fort?

You will not find any breakfast outings in this post as breakfast was included with the room we booked at the Trident. Then they kindly upgraded us to a suite there and that came with lounge access. I went there on day one as the breakfast buffet was rather crowded and sat by the window, looked down on the sea, and had a most amazing orange juice, eggs Benedict and cappuccino breakfast. The next morning I convinced K to ditch our usual staycation routine, where I go down and have breakfast while she sleeps on, and got her to join me for breakfast for the lounge. She was smitten too. This was special indeed. 

Eggs Benedict at The Trident Nariman Point, Lounge. One could get used to this life!

Liked what you read? Here's the link to part 1 of this series which covers the Table and Miss T


Appendix: 

The original Finely Chopped #FortEnchanted list  in case you were looking for suggestions. More on that in my book, The Travelling Belly
Parsi: Ideal Corner, Military Cafe, Jimmy Boy, Yazdani Bakery
South Indian 
Udupi veg: Swagat, Mangalorean: Apoorva, Harish Lunch Home, Modern Lunch Home, Keralite: Deluxe, Taste of Kerala, 
Gomantak: Pradeep, Prakash
Punjabi veg: Moti Halwai
UP: Puncham Puriwala
Street Food: Lane parallel to Strand Book Store

Finely Chopped Fort Food Walk by day:



Finely Chopped Fort Food Walk by night for Sodexo:




Finely Chopped Fort Food Walk for the Foodie, Kunal Vijayakar



From the blog and referred to here:
Kamling in 2009
Paris Montmartre experience
Churchill, Colaba
Istanbul, 2008

Link to buy my book, The Travelling Belly, for more stories on Fort

References:

Mid Day on Foo Town
Daily Pao on Plenty
Hindu on Rue Du Liban 


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