Three cooks preside over the kitchen of the week-old Mermaid Sea Food Restaurant at Worli Naka. Mr. Gilbert Braganza looks after the Goan cooking, Mr. S.M. Naik over the Manglorean cooking, and Mr. Mohamed Kalim over the Bengali cooking. From the restaurant, through a large glass window, fitted into a fish shape (the outline of a whale), you can see the three master chefs at work, each one outstanding in his own discipline. Any way, the proof of the fish is in its eating, so test it out.
Minus a map, it is a little difficult to find. It is at Worli Naka, bang on, but there are so many streets leading off Worli Naka. If you are coming from town at the traffic lights, take a right turn. Not the first road, which runs along the Mahalaxmi racecourse, the Haines Road cemetery, and ends up at Mahalaxmi Station, but the second road. Immediately you enter the road it is there, on the left--Mermaid Sea Food Restaurant. If you have any further difficulties in locating, it though I don't think you should, call 498 4884. The surroundings are a little declasse and parking may be difficult, but there is valet parking, so don't worry. Also, the restaurant itself is neat and compact, and even pretty with marble statuary of mermaids and Neptune, and a glass tank with fish (the decorative kind). It is small, hardly 50 covers, but built on three levels and giving a feeling of space. The service is friendly and from the see-through kitchen comes the aroma of Goan recheido masalas and Bengal mustard sauces.
This is Mumbai's second exclusive sea food restaurant, the first being Only fish.
The only non-fish items are Manglorean chicken, with neer dosa and, of course, the vegetarian section. The menu is limited and diner friendly. No item number 121A, which would be similar to 15 other dishes on the same menu but with a slightly different gravy. Have your alcohol at home, or at Geoffrey's (what a lovely pub!), and come, the Mermaid does not have a licence. You can have a sol kodi, the Goan beer, or a kokam sherbet, a milder version of it. Both are Goan non-alcoholic drinks, made from the extract of kokum, with black pepper, lime juice, sugar, dark burgundy in colour, excellent as appetisers and digestives. I have not yet made out what is the difference between the two, though the sol kodi is sharper. Both are priced at Rs.20 per glass. There is also the mango panna, a pleasant summery drink, made out of the boiled pulp of the green mango, with elaichi and lavang stewed in it to give it a distinct Indian taste. This also costs Rs.20. Come to think of it, the food is definitely cheap here, fish curry rice for Rs.65, crab curry rice for Rs.95. May be because these are early days, the prices will rise with the growth of clientele at the restaurant, but proprietor Mukund Aparajit assures me, "No, never," Aparjit, incidentally, runs the Bombay Gymkhana's French restaurant, in partnership, among other things.
I will begin with Mr.Braganza's Goan cuisine. Three traditional curry rice servings, pomfret, prawns and crabs, nisteachi kodi, sungtachi kodi and kurleachi kodi, almost like being at the Hotel Mandovi. They are all prepared in authentic Goan palm vinegar and red masala, sour and hot, and with coconut milk to balance it. The rice comes with the curry and there is a choice, boiled, colum and basmati. I prefer boiled, though it sits a trifle heavy on the stomach, but each one to his taste. Incidentally, at the Mermaid, the rice is included in the price only with the Goan curries, for the other curries, Manglorean and Bengal, you have to order the rice separately. The prices, as I said earlier, are more than reasonable, Rs.65 for the pomfret, 75 for the prawn, and 95 for the crab. There is also stuffed crab, and the xec-xec crab, cooked in coconut milk, plus deshelled lobsters in Goan masalas, served with butter rice, and prawns, not too large, not too small, fried. Bombay ducks, the bomil, come bread crumbed and pan fried, crusty on the outside, the softest meat in the world on the inside, three in a plate, each about 8 inches long, price only Rs.40 per plate. If you ask me, the Bombay duck is the king of the fish in the Bombay sea, not the pomfret.
However, there are people who swear by the pomfret. And if you are one of them, you must order the pomfret recheido here (Rs.70 only). The masala is the main thing, a paste of red chillis, ginger and garlic, held together with palm vinegar. The pomfret is slit open along one side, and the masala is stuffed into it, from neck to near the tail, then shallow fried. The fish is well cooked, but the masala has a lingering raw taste and is still wet. It comes wrapped on the meat, have it in small pieces, let the tongue roll over the masala first, then bite into the flesh.
The pomfret is also available Manglorean style, either gassi or fried, Rs.70. You can also have surmai, bangda, baby rawas, shark, squid, prawns, and fish roe in gassi format. Traditionally, these are eaten with rice, but you may have them with neer dosa, which in any case are made with rice powder, done very fine, and with a little coconut milk to add flavour and smoothness. The restaurant also offers sanna, which may be sopped in the curry and eaten, less fattening than rice and very civilised. Or have a gassi with the kora roti. The only chicken dishes at the restaurant, are in this section. The chicken is done in Manglorean style, little pieces of the chicken, with the bone, done in the chicken's own gravy. Chef Naik, who is in charge of the Manglorean food, comes from Udipi, he has worked at the Oberoi and the Leela in Bombay, and the Ramada in the Gulf.
Finally, Bengal's river fishes, and be thankful there is one more restaurant serving Bengali fish. There is rophi and ilesh, and the ilesh, Chef Mohamed Kalim, late of the Chawal Market at Tollygunj, Calcutta, tells me, is the more delicate and more prized of the two. They are cooked in mustard oil, prepared in mustard powder, and with a mustard gravy served in a bowl and kept at your side. Spoon in as much as you like. Chef Kalim is a bit of a character and definitely loves his Calcutta. Calcutta fish, he told me, will taste good only in rye oil, coconut oil and mitha oil won't do. His ilish in a mustard leaf gravy (sorshebatta jholer mach) is a must. You may begin with a Goan seafood soup and have a Manglorean prawn gassi, but end with the sorshebatta. It is a creamy sort of a fish, slightly sweet, offsetting the bitterness of the mustard. And you have to eat it a few times before you understand why a Bengali would die for it, or write a poem on it.
And though you are not a vegetarian, do try the bhendi. They are long ones, and they are stuffed with Goan red masala. No bhendi has ever tasted like this.