Tonight, visit the old Fountain Restaurant. Amrish Arora, boy genius, has turned the old Irani restaurant into a lively bistro, complete with crostini alle pescei and pollo cacciatora. And if that sounds Greek and Latin to you, it isn't. It's Italiano. The first is a fish (fillets of rawas) marinated in lime and garlic and placed on garlic bread. Distinctly garlicky. the second is a chicken done in mushrooms and peppers.
I am sure you know Fountain Restaurant. There is nobody who has lived in Bombay for more than nine days who does not know it. Standing right in the heart of Bombay, at Flora Fountain, at the start of the old Meadows Street and the junction of Homi Mody street, it belongs to the Rohanis, once famous for tea, khara biscuit, double omelette, all the hardy Bombay Irani specialities. Amrish Arora took over its running some time back, and, after closing it for a couple of months, has reintroduced it with a total change in decor, including a tree over the centre table (you sit underneath it and have your chateaubriand), waiters in tartan jackets, a familiar Rishaad Miranda cartoon for table mats, and food. It is difficult to put it in any category; I would say easy Italian, both food and ambience-wise.The best thing is it is open in the night, which should give Flora Fountain a bit of a night life, something it sadly and regrettably lacks. Regret because it is such a lovely place, with the Akbarally-lit fountain, the old stone Victorian buildings around, what I like to refer to as Bombay architecture, ample of parking place in two empty car parks, and totally minus the hustle and bustle of the day. Dinner service starts at 7 p.m.. I went a little after eight. Lights twinkled, announcing the presence of the restaurant, and the pavement under the canopy had been done up. Inside, the CD was crying for Argentina. I understand, Jangoo Seervai is going to be a regular at the premises, he singing, the accordion playing.
I had a side order of the fountain head salad, made up off crunchy vegetables in a cheese (or cheesy) dressing, expertly tossed. There is also a mixed pasta salad, and another which combines roast beef and chicken in an Italian dressing. The breads include plain garlic, and garlic breads with various toppings (tomato, basil and cheese, or sauteed mushrooms, or chicken salami and cheese, or the rawas, earlier mentioned).
There are four standard soups, including minestrone. On an Italian menu, that is obligatory. And several pastas. I recommend two, though that does not mean you should not exercise your own judgment and try the others. My choice: the spaghetti bolognese (the mince is beef), add a little Tobasco to it; and a macceroni with a mint chicken sauce. If the pasta is going to be your main and only dish, go for the spaghetti with the chunky meatballs. It is served in a tomato gravy. The pastas are priced at Rs.110, a plateful. I suggest they should be served in a bowl, easier to eat, keeps warmer longer. And while I am on prices the soups are Rs.50, garlic bread is Rs.25, almost double with the toppings, but the toppings are substantial.
The main dishes include a roast chicken, served with vegetables, and skewered chicken, served with rice. Beef steaks (tenderloins) with either mushroom or pepper sauce (Rs.120 each), and beef juliennes in a creamy sauce with peppers. The fish come grilled or crumb fried. And the pleasures of crumb-fried fish, I do not have to list. Best of all, among the fish items, and perhaps on the menu, is the pesce milanese (Rs.170. It is a rawas--at least, the night I went it was a rawas), grilled and done in a tangy orange and basil sauce. A little orange juice, a touch of basil, a dash of white sauce, everything mild so as not to interfere with the original taste of the fish. Amrish tells me that the cooking is basic Italian. To this, he will be adding a dish of the day, which will be a little more elaborate and complicated. Finally, the menu will evolve according to the customer's requirements.
Besides the Italian parts of this menu, the other speciality at dinner time is the sizzler. And the restaurant has 20 sizzlers going according to the management. I have counted 12. Chicken sizzlers, beef sizzlers, and vegetarian (cottage cheese shashlik). I don't eat sizzlers, I find chewing and masticating on lumps of meat rather tedious. But my companions at the meal were all praise for the roast chicken with roast potatoes. It cost an even 100 rupees, and there was a choice of sauces, garlic, pepper, cheese and mushroom. Another roast chicken sizzler came with a mustard sauce (Rs.115). And here, I must mention the restaurant's mustard. I do not know how they prepare it, but it is very mustardy (mustardly), which is how a good mustard should be, make your palate hit the ceiling.I am more interested in the sizzler plate that the Fountain Restaurant uses. It is a metal plate, made of cast iron, each one weighing three to four kilos, possibly more. The meats and vegetables are prepared directly in the cast iron plate, then placed on a wooden platter and brought to the table, spluttering and remonstrating like a steam engine. A most impressive sight.
In place of the sizzler, I had a vegetarian dish, an oven-baked eggplant. The menu described it as melanzane alla parmigiana, item No. 45 and price Rs.90. I have a great fondness for eggplant, what we call brinjal, which, I think, is a more appropriate name. The Japanese eat it a lot, and the Turks, and, of course, in Hyderabad the baingan bhartha is a nawabi salute. The Italian one, as prepared at the Fountain, is sliced and marinated in garlic, pepper, lime and curd. It is cooked in the oven with cheese and tomato sauce, glazed with parmessan. Have your fish and fowl, but try the parmessan also.
And, for dessert, have a cheesecake. Philadelphia cheese from the ABC Farms in Pune, a biscuit crunch underneath and a strawberry topping on top. Or have an ice cream, the nut cafe, specially made for the restaurant by Icecream Express. A blend of specially ground coffee seeds, plus nuts (Rs.35). There is also an ice cream machine where you may make your own softee. Choose the various ices on display, add the quick-freeze chocolate and other sauces, and put in the machine. Rs.30 per invention and so much more fun than buying readymade.
So much for dinner. For lunch, the menu is more Chinese and Indian, than Italian. There are three handi biryanis, served in platter, all outstanding. And mini luncheons, which include chicken of your choice and fried rice or noodles. Take your choice, lunch or dinner, and grab the table with the tree.