GPS: Mahalaxmi Racecourse, Opposite Gate No. 5 & 6, Keshavrao Khadye Marg, Mumbai
Tring Tring: +91-22- 61577777/ 23066262/ 23066161
Click: www.who? (website under construction)
In & Out: 12 noon- 3pm (lunch) 7:30 pm – 12 midnight (dinner)
Damages: Rs.5000/- for a meal for two with alcohol
Must-Order: Gosht Ki Dum Biryani (had at another occasion)
I love inside jokes. Even when they do a peek-a-boo with the outsiders occasionally. So I love the literal translation of Indigo to Neel for Rahul Akerkar’s maiden Indian odyssey TRFKAT (The Restaurant Formerly Known As Tote!!). Mariam decided to give Neel a dekko on the fly giving in to impromptu plans for an Indian dinner. Given ‘em damn calories we really avoid sumptuous Indian fare before bedtime but anyone related to Indigo deserves an unabashed embrace!
Given its last incarnation as Tote the bar pleasures remain largely unchanged with great wines, single malts, mean martinis and signature cocktails. And since Indian food is heavy anyway we prefer to skip tipply pleasures when indulging in a full-blown desi extravaganza. Given the number of vegetarians at the table we ordered and sampled a lot more vegetarian dishes than we’d ever consider on our own - and in hindsight maybe that’s a good thing for reviews if not personal taste! However the vegetarian items not only passed muster but even held their own in a cuisine (traditional Muslim, Kashmiri and Awadhi) that has many more stellar offerings in their carnivorous variety. Since we’re still unused to soups in Indian meals we left the Nalli Ka Awadhi Shorba and Chilgoza (pine nut) Shorba and capitulated to the Sofiyani Paner Tikka and the Lucknow Seekh Kebab. Both the paneer and the lamb competed in the soft-as-a-feather-pillow category and took home joint honours. Both had been marinated to perfection without being doused in spices and were a great way to kick off the meal.
|Lucknow Seekh Kebab|
For the main course the vegetarians settled for Khade Masaley ka Paneer and Kabul ki Dal. While the former was once again delish thanks to the super-soft texture and simplicity of the whole spice gravy the dal was a bit of the letdown given its exotic name. I guess the black dal is such a eulogized item on any Indian menu that expectations from it are higher than an Aamir Khan film!
The carnivores settled for Rajasthani Laal Maas which is rarely found even in restaurant in Rajasthan, let alone Bombay given its rarefied royal origins in the largely vegetarian state. The boneless mutton was tender to the point of being flaky but the gravy was a tad too intensely spiced for our palates.
While we usually look down upon chicken as a legitimate carnivorous option we couldn’t pass up most of the delish sounding options on the menu. Making a mental note to try the Kashmiri Waza Kukkadu (I am guessing a traditional wazwan recipe spin?) we settled for the Murgh Baradari Korma. It was one of those few instances where despite being notably heavy given the almonds/cream combination, the flavours exploded in our palates in orchestrated unison and got a robust thumbs-up from all diners.
|Murgh Baradari Korma|
Unlike most restaurants where rotis get supporting roles, in Neel they occupy a central place of creativity and have curiosity-inducin variants made with melon seeds (Awadhi Magaz Naan), poppy seeds (Bakhumaas), saffron (Shirmal) or sourdough (Khamiri Roti). We settled for the Malai Parathas which reeked of the goodness of fresh cream and were a sinful delight for calorie atheists.
Since nawabi cuisine is incomplete without biryani and since Neel’s chef is Mukhtar Qureshi whose uncle legendary ITC chef created the modern ‘dum biryani’ as we know it now, our meal would be incomplete without some biryani, damn actual appetite! With great trepidation bordering on blasphemy we ordered the vegetarian Guchhi biryani made with morels and were stunned at the fleshy umami texture of the mushrooms and the preparation which almost made us feel like we were eating mutton! There wasn’t a glint of oil or spice, unlike most biryanis we have to put up with when eating out and the rice was the longest grains we have ever encountered; where does Neel source it’s Basmati from, we couldn’t help but wonder? But given the carnivores that we are we couldn’t resist a bite of the Real McCoy aka the Gosht Ki Dum Biryani which substituted the juicy morels for fresh tender baby goat but kept the sparse yet rich flavor of the dum cooking intact. If there is heaven on earth, it surely has to be in a morsel of perfect biryani we would have to conclude!
Never mind that we were bursting at the seams, dessert had to be done justice to, and since the seasonal jalebis weren’t available that evening we settled for the second-best sin, the Parde Mein Khubani, an apricot halwa baked inside a flaky phyllo with the shortening of the crust mixing with the hot melting goodness of the halwa to d a proper tango on the palate (or should it be kathak given the cuisine?). All we needed now was some seriously good churan (Indian digestives!) to end the night without mishaps borne of gastronomic excesses!
Crowd V/S Company
While the menu and language has changed avatar completely, walking to Neel can give one a case of serious déjà vu because the décor is stuck in the Tote era. The same minimalist white décor and vast spaces by Serie Architects Chris Lee and Kapil Gupta that garnered instant eyeballs at Tote’s openings now shoulder the robustness of Neel’s menu a tad uncertainly we felt. Maybe the food warrants warmer cozier interiors with low seating? A touch of sufiyana and ghazal in lamplit shadows perhaps??
Whenever we want a sublime Indian meal that stands heads and shoulder above the generic Khyber and Copper Chimneys, and overrated Peshawaris of the world we’re going to be stopping by at this Mecca of gastronomic delights less ordinary, diets be damned!