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    The Bayview: Forget the a la carte, opt for the buffet - and an eyeful of Marine Drive.

You may not be familiar with the Bayview. This is your introduction to it. It is the coffee shop of the new hotel on Marine Drive. Open 24 hours, it keeps on excellent buffet table for lunch and dinner. sixteen main courses, two soups, ten salads, cold cuts, ten desserts, tea, coffee, eat to your heart's content, and the price Rs.275. No extras, absolutely not one paisa more. If it was a newspaper, it would have described the price as special introductory offer.

The new hotel is the Marine Plaza, it stands where the old Hotel Bombay International and Studio 29 were. The former building has been torn up and redone beyond recognition. Where once Arab passengers sat with their beads, there is an atrium with the glass bottom of a swimming pool for a ceiling and capsule elevators crawling up and down the walls. And the prize suites have extended views of Marine Drive, two TV sets, and walk-in wardrobes.

The restaurant, The Bayview, also has an eyeful of Marine Drive, looking all the more dramatic and immediate because it is seen from the first floor level. And the restaurant extends across the breadth of the hotel's frontage.

It is actually a 24-hour coffee shop, and, at the moment, the hotel's only restaurant. Two more are scheduled to open by the end of the year: a Chinese speciality evocatively named Oriental Blossom, and Geoffrey's, a typical English pub, serving ale and bitters and pub grub. Anybody for a shepherd's pie?

And, so, to Bayview. Take a seat facing the glass plates, day or night, the view is the best in Mumbai, with the single exception of Cafe Naaz. And forget the a la carte, opt for the buffet. It is one of the few restaurants which has buffet service at lunch and dinner. The spread includes Chinese and Italian dishes, besides Indian, and the menu changes twice a day. I can only tell you what I had for lunch.

There were two soups, green peas and manchaou chicken. Gerard D'Abreo, who looks after the restaurant, with the correct amount of sophisticated hauteur and friendly hospitality, brought me the green peas soup of velvety smoothness. We then moved to the buffet table in the centre of the restaurant, properly piled with foods prepared by Sunil Chakravorty and Edward Wilson, both ex-Oberoi.

Most diners would know Chakravorty, he was the Oberoi Bombay's area executive. The entire senior staff comes from five-star pedigree, meaning Oberoi or Taj, and includes Manoj Bhatia, general manager, and Farrokh Mistry, resident manager.

To get back to the food, there were ten salads, plus a tray of meat loaf and boiled eggs. There was lamb, fish and poultry (red cooked lamb, fish almond and chicken makhanwala. Among the vegetables, there were diced vegetables with cashewnuts, chateau potatoes, paneer shahi korma, vegetable jafrezi, aloo gobi, dingri mutter, crepes viscania (julians of vegetables stuffed in crepes), plus, Hakka noodles, dal and Kashmiri pulao. A large chaffing dish contained a variety of rotis, parathas, naans.

The best came after the meal, a side-table with a double row of sweets, including two old favourites, a cabinet pudding, done in the authentic way with raspberry jam and custard, and caramel custard, light and fluffy.

There was a chocolate savoy and a chocolate souffle, I tried both and decided on the savoy for a second helping - richer, another souffle (cherry), black forest (very rich), fruit salad, burfi, and surprise, surprise, an all-American apple pie, with raisins and cinnamon powder, a speciality of chef Bangera, I am told.

The a la carte menu is short but adequate. A tenderloin beefsteak, served with Cafe de Paris butter, Rs.155. If it is your lucky day, you may find it on the buffet table. A pomfret Nantes, a thick fillet, pan-fried in lemon butter sauce, and garnished with mushroom, capsicum, green peppers, diced tomatoes and onions, accompanied with turn potatoes (first boiled, then sauted) and assorted vegetables, Rs.165.

A vegetarian dish I would like to mention is a dum aloo, done somewhat differently. If it is not included in the buffet, order it (Rs.140). It is boiled potatoes, sauted with jeera, and a fresh spinach paste, the potatoes placed in the paste, garnished with green chillis and coriander leaves. Also, the yellow tadka dal is very special, four dals (tur, masoor, channa and mung), with green and red chilli, garlic, jeera and hing, tadka, and one full red Kashmiri chilli placed on the top, as garnish or decoration.

There's a decent choice of pizzas, especially if you like them with ham, sausage or tuna toppings. I do.

However, I advise you to stick to the buffets, timings: 12.30 to 3.00 in the afternoons, 8.00 to 11.30 in the evenings, and Jangoo Seervai on his harmonica on Sunday afternoons, no extra charge.

You may also have a buffet of the dessert items only, with tea and coffee thrown in, for an all inclusive price of Rs.120 per head. I suggest, you dine at home, then drive down Marine Drive to The Bayview and have the dessert buffet. It wouldn't cost you more than the price of an ice-cream and a half. Go through all the sweets - slowly.

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