To a lot of people, The Jewel Of India at the Nehru Centre, Worli, is the restaurant where Sachin Tendulkar got married. It is a lot more than that. It is a restaurant that caters a very authentic North Indian cuisine. Its bhuna gosht and rogan josh can pass the test of the most fastidious Sikh truck driver. And you may have eaten prawns, living in coastal Bombay, but it provides its own version, done in a gravy made of mustard and coconut.
However, it is not a highway dhaba, and I am not being a social snob when I say that. In case you have not visited the Jewel, I do not want you to get the wrong idea. It is all marble and glass and leather upholstery, there is a reception area, with the day's newspapers and the month's magazines to read while you wait for your table, a bar that looks out on Mr. Kadri's green lawns and and Mr. Venkatavaradhan's futuristic planetarium, and the main dining hall itself, which has more space per table than any other restaurant I know.That is dinner at the Jewel of India. Lunch is buffet, noon to 3 p.m., and the largest, widest spread of food I have seen outside the new Palms and the old Outrigger. It is also not exclusively North Indian, there is a good sampling of Chinese and Continental.
Lunch is laid out on a combination of tables arranged in the format of the letter 'E'. You pay Rs.250 and dig in. And though Rs.250 may be a lot of money_it is for me_you do, if you are in a position to consume it, get a meal worthy of the price. The management calls it the good will buffet, and I can well understand that.
For instance, the other afternoon I made a note of all the dishes available that day. First, the bread rolls, small ones, hardly two mouthfuls, stuffed with cheese and onions. There were at least two bowls of meat salads, a seafood tossed salad and chicken florida, with pineapples and other diced fruits. And there was a cold meat board: salami, roast beef, cured ham. Then there were kababs: seekh, reshmi, tangdi, and one that was a combination of meat and prawn, minced and wedded in perfect proportions - or did I have that in the bar. To continue, with the fried fish (pomfret, naturally) were long green beans, lightly sauteed in butter, the kind I have not had since Gourdon closed down. The sauted beef morengo stood next to mutton nahari, and in front of them were two types of rice, a mushroom pulao and plain steamed rice, which, in the long run, I think, is the best rice to eat. Though I would not exactly throw away the mushroom rice, provided it is nice and wet, and done in a little chicken stock.
Then the vegetarian part began: a dudhi dal tadka, which I would suggest should be on the menu every afternoon, Also the dahi bhendi, the bhendi long and tender, the dahi almost liquid, like a creamy gravy. The veg. dishes continued: aloo palak, vegetable makhanwalla, paneer mutter, a sweet corn dish (Tripti's Delight). No, that was not the end, I have to mention the spaghetti Neapolitan. And the salads and accompaniments: peanut chaat, green salad, a potato salad, fruit salad, baked beans with curd dressing, cole slaw. And three homemade pickles, a green chilli in tamarind pickle, an onion pickle (onion skins in red vinegar, I think), and a mango pickle. And the desserts: gulab jamun, a cake, souffle, bread and butter pudding, fresh fruits, strawberry ice-cream, and sitafals, cut and glazed and ready to be spooned out and eaten. The rotis come on the table, so that they are fresh and hot, and you serve yourself, one at a time.
It is the Jewel's pride that nothing you want is not available. Mrs. Kiran Advani, who has organised the place, puts it slightly better: The buffet provides food to meet all requirements. If you are dieting, there is the right food for you, breads, a salad with wine and vinaigrette, a boiled vegetable, fruits; and if you want to eat three meals at a time, you can do that also. And if you want to eat three meals at a time, you can do that also, the restaurant has other pluses: it is the only restaurant that cooks exclusively in corn oil, groundnut oil is not allowed in the kitchen. And all the meat except the rogan josh is boneless. The bones, I am told are used for stock, and staff meals.
The lunch crowd is more or less fixed, executives from the offices around Worli, Bombay's new corporate centre, or additional corporate centre. But Wednesday, for some reason, is kitty party day, with pani-puri on the menu.
Dinners are more leisurely, when the buffet is rolled out and the a la carte takes over. That is when you order the methi garlic chicken, cooking the barbecued chicken in a gravy of tomato, garlic and fenugreek. And the Jewel of India Chicken, which restaurant manager Kunal Krori informs is a shredded chicken in a tomato based gravy, with a touch of cashew gravy. And the methi malai mutter in white sauce, recommended for those who do not mind adding extra calories. The restaurant also serves the Jewel Special thalis, veg and non-veg, Rs.225 and Rs.250. I have not tried it, but I can imagine it.
The bar is, perhaps, the best part of the restaurant, it sets the tone of the place. To its regulars, it serves a complimentary cheese cocktail naan. And it is really a cocktail naan, like puris, in small mouthfuls. Unlike normal naans, there is no butter glistening on the surface, turning fingers sticky, and the cheese inside is warm and melting. Be careful you don't burn your palate. You can have your meal in the bar, with a nizami or kabuli roll, which is a large paratha coated with egg and filled with mutton or chicken. There are also vegetarian versions of it in potatoes or paneers. They cost Rs.150 and are a meal by themselves. But who wants to miss the buffet!