This week, I wish to reintroduce you to an old and once famous restaurant George. Yes, you remember it. It stands at the end of Homi Mody Street (Kali Mody's father's street), where it meets Apollo Street, near the Horniman Circle and opposite State Bank (former Imperial Bank). Opened in 1928, which makes it 67 years old, and once famous for its payas and biryanis, the place had fallen on bad days. It happens with the best of restaurants. But recently it has been taken charge of by the experienced and professional Shetty brothers (Kishore and Kiran), and under their personal supervision, with their hand-picked cooks and managers, business is booming again and things are looking up. So there is a new place in the Fort to have your lunch in, and a worthy place. Visit it this afternoon, and bon appetit.
I am an old customer of George, all these years that it belonged to the Mughals. It still does, to Mr. Mohamed Ali and partners, but the Shetty are running it. I must explain who Mughals are: Mughals are Muslims from Iran, Iranis are Zoroastrians from Iran. Mehraboon Irani is an Irani, Mohamed Ali is a Mughal, Indian Muslims are Indian Muslims, Parsis are Parsis.
Having clarified that, let me talk about my association with George. I used to go there as a child, with the family, sit appropriately in the family rooms in the mezzanine, and eat kharia (which is paya, which is trotters). Soft, gelatinous meat, very sticky and highly sustaining, they used to do it in a type of beans You sopped bread in the gravy, you banged the bones on the table to get the marrow out. Unfortunately, the payas have not been revived, but there are other wonderful things. I will mention only three items, and you cannot get them much better than at George. This is my challenge to you.
First, the grilled bangda, Rs.20 for a full bangda and a great bargain at that price. The only other place where I have had them of equal quality has been on the islands of the Bosphorous, and that is going a long way from Horniman Circle. At George, it is charcoal grilled, very crisp and very spicy. It is also one of the few South Indian dishes in which coconut is not used. It is prepared by a Manglorean cook, who actually was sent to South Kanara to learn the art from the sister of the Shettys. He would have liked to prepare it in an earthen bowl, but if the quality of the clay is not good, the bowl is likely to crack. So it is done in a normal vessel, but on a sigri, with coals, including coals on the lid to keep the moisture out.
Essentially, it is a pickled fish, charcoal grilled. It is cut into two pieces, for easy cooking, and the head is kept on. 'Muttae', as they call the head, is a delicacy, no South Indian eats his hangda without the head. The two pieces are marinated in green masala, normally overnight, with ginger, green dhaniya, green and red chillis, all ground into a paste. The grilling is done the next day, on a slow fire. An order includes both the pieces, meaning one full bangda, head and all. The skin is crisp, the meat tender, the juices sealed in it, and it is somewhat spicy, the chillis having seen to that. The only problem is the bones. The bangda has a lot of bones and you are constantly picking them from your mouth. But then at the George everything is cooked with the bones, in a proper handi, except the chicken tikka. The proprietors maintain it is the bones that give the meat taste and substance. I do not disagree.
You may eat the bangda by itself. Or you may have it with rice. No, not the bangda itself, that would be too dry, but they serve a complimentary coconut gravy with it, what they use for the fish masala.
The second of my three recommendations is the dabba gosht. Outside of what are known as the 'chillia' restaurants, very few restaurants make dabba gosht these days. It is a Bohri dish, and I am sure you get it in Bohri houses. But how many Bohris invite us ! So, proceed to the George. The mutton, with the bone, is twice boiled and twice drained. This, I am told is necessary, to keep the meat in the caju gravy white. The caju gravy is prepared with little grated boiled egg and macaroni, to absorb moisture and thicken the gravy. Then, when the fat comes on the top of the meat, a raw egg is broken scrambled, and spread on it. And there you have your dabba gosht. The price: Rs.24. Incidentally, the dabba gosht is not available every day. It is among the day's specials. Better check and go.
Finally, the biryanis, both mutton and chicken. They are authentic dum biryanis made by a pair of cooks from Lucknow. There are cooks for everything: Gharwalis to make the vegetarian dishes, mainly north Indian vegetarian, cooks from U.P. for the biryanis and the gravy meats, and the man from south Kanara for the bangda, etc. The Shetty are caterers, they used to run the Garware Club restaurant at the Wankhede Stadium, and now look after the catering at the Chavan Centre. They also have two restaurants, both called Banjara, one at J.J. Hospital and one at Worli. Hence, their acquaintance with cooks and other kitchen staff is wide.
For the dum biryani, the meat is marinated with dahi and masalas, then the rice, half cooked, is drained and placed on the top of the meat, along with potatoes, birasta, which is what the Lucknowis call crisp fried onions. We all know how the lid is sealed with atta, the tapela put on slow, very slow, coal fire, so that the water from the meat does not rise into the rice. How does the cook know when the biryani is ready? He takes a pointed instrument and digs it through the rice and the meat to the bottom of the tapela, then withdraws it. If there is no water on the instrument, then the biryani is ready. More fresh birata is put on the top of the rice, for decoration. And the birasta has to be freshly made, otherwise the taste of the biryani changes. When serving, they dig deep for the meat and the potatoes, then take some rice from the top. The potatoes must taste as well as the meat, that is another test of a good biryani. Both the mutton and chicken biryanis, with raita, are priced at Rs.25, and they are meals in themselves. Follow them up with a mosambi juice, then return to Bombay House and work through the afternoon.
As I said at the start, go to George this afternoon. And go early. It is a big restaurant, one of the biggest dinning areas in town, but it is fast filling up. George has been rediscovered.