While travelling, and when in doubt, look out for a Kwality. This is my theory. You can be certain of a minimum standard of authentic North Indian food from this famous Ghai-Lamba chain. They have restaurants in Delhi, Calcutta, Dehradun, Mussoorie, Calcutta, Lucknow, Pune, Dubai, and, of course, Bombay. There are two in Bombay, at Kemp's Corner, in India House, and at Worli. There is also Kwality's Chinese Room at Kemp's Corner, which continues to be surprisely well in spite of being next door to the king of Chinese restaurants. But never mind that. I shall write about it some other time. This piece is concerned with the India House Kwality, on the opposite side of the road to InterShoppe. Mr. Madan Parrdal is the managing partner, and Mr. Surinder Singh Ghodla, ever smiling, ever obliging, 17 years with Kwality, the manager.
There is nothing remarkable about the place, it is quiet and unassuming, and, if you are not specifically looking for it, you are likely to miss it, in spite of its having been there for 41 years. But it is quite comfortable, air-conditioned (the Electric House Kwality, now alas closed, was the first airconditioned restaurant in Bombay, outside the restaurants within the Taj and Green's), tables well spaced out, waiters who have been with for 20 and 30 years. The customers have also been with it for equally long and very regular. My friend, Ayaz Shermahomed, of Milan Supari fame, eats there every afternoon. And, of course, the food is good. As Mr. Ghodla says: "We have no other attractions, no pub, no band, no cabaret, no hard liquor (beer is available), but our khaana is too good. People come only for our food." The rates also are reasonable.
So, enough talk, let's get down to food. Service is only lunch and dinner. So, channa-bhatura, which were extremely popular, and rivalled those at Chowpatty's Cream Centre, are discontinued, since they are tea-time snacks, and the restaurant is not open at that time. A pity. But, at both lunch and dinner, you get the channa pindi, which nobody makes more perfect than Kwality. They are the real Pindi channas, what we call Kabuli channas, the white ones. To give them the right dark colour, they are boiled, or steeped, in tea leaves. The boiling is done all through the night. The last thing that the chef does before closing his kitchen is place them on the hot tava, and they remain there till the kitchen opens in the morning.
Then the preparation begins, coating the channas with a dry masala made out of a combination of green elaichis, cloves, chaat masala, black pepper, and, though I may be letting out a kitchen secret, pomegranate danas (for khatas). The dry masala is prepared every 15 days or so and kept in stock. Next, onions, chillis and ginger are fried and the pindi channas cooked in them. They come out dry, though, if the customer wants, they may be served with gravy also. And they are served in what they call a dunga bowl to you and me. A dunga costs Rs.40. Lemon is served with it, you squeeze it on the top. You eat them with roti, kulcha, paratha, naan. If you like (I like), you dip your roti in a the mint chutney first. Better still use an onion stuffed paratha.
The parathas are available with several separate stuffings, methi, dal, aloo, gobi, at Rs.15 each. There is also a kheema naan (Rs.20). A couple of parathas with a chat-pata-chaat and a three-decker Kwality ice-cream may be a meal by itself. It must be remembered that Kwality is the original ice-cream chain of India. Another point: The chef rolling the naans and tandoors has been doing so for the last 37 years at the Kwality Restaurant.
Next, the murg tikka masala: the chicken pieces marinated in tandoor masala, a little curd, stirred in a paste of haldi, jeera, garlic, ginger, chopped green chillis. Put on a seekh and barbecued on coal, till half done, then de-seekhed and cooked in an onion and tomato gravy. This is the chicken tikka masala, with a nice thick gravy, you may also have the chicken tikka by itself, dry. Rs.80.
In lamb, there is rogan josh (in Kashmiri herbs), handi gosht (the handi made of clay), bhuna gosht, Kabuli gosht (white sauce), and gosht badami. They are all priced at Rs.70. I prefer the bhuna gosht. It is one of the oldest dishes of the restaurant. Bhuna, in case you do not know, means well done, and the meat is served on the bone, mainly what is known as the chop part of it. Ginger, garlic, kothmir, chillis are the green masalas, there is no coconut, absolutely, this is not South Indian cooking. The final cooking is done in an onion and tomato gravy, with cashew, khaskhas, magaj, khoya (we call it mawa cream). The taste is authentic North Indian. And the great virtue of the bhuna gosht is that it is practically oil-less, sitting light on the stomach. In fact, unlike other restaurants serving North Indian food, all the dishes here are grease-less. You can eat without being sick.
Of equal merit are the biryanis (Rs.75). They are the dum pukht biryanis, the meat seasoned in big and small elaichis, tej pata, onions, the rice (No. 1 Basmati) put on top of the meat, the two cooked together in large sealed handis. Then, when serving, the saffron added to it.
I eat the biryani with dal makhani, but I am not advising you to do so. There are some people, an entire community or two, who cannot eat rice dry, I am one of them. But you can have the dal by itself (Rs.40) and you won't regret it. It is udad dal, known in Punjabi as maa ki dal (I wonder how they arrived at that name). Eighty per cent udad dal, 20 per cent rajma, cooked with cream, in Amul butter. Since the rest of the food is quite light, you may indulge in a little cream and butter.
There is a small continental section, Chicken Petrograd, etc. But I would not go to Kwality to eat Continental food, as I would not go to the Cafe Royal to eat mutton biryani. My friend, Vinod Mehta did once, and the Oberoi, of course, got it for him from their Indian restaurant. The Oberoi can always rise to the occasion. But this piece is not about Oberoi, it is about Kwality. Take a lunch-break tomorrow.