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    Mirch Masala: North Indian meats, Malabar curries, Bengali seafood at Linking Road's Mirch Masala.

If you are a lamb eater and would like a nice leg of lamb tonight, I suggest the Mirch Masala on Linking Road, Bandra-Khar. It is an elaichi flavoured raan, a nice round mound of red meat, extremely tender and juicy. Test it out, you can almost cut the meat with a spoon; taste it, there is a meaty after-taste of cardamoms. They make it from the butt half of the leg, the lower thigh. Small pockets are made in the meat and stuffed with whole cardamoms. Then marinated through the night with yoghurt and pounded spices, including more cardamom, a little quantity of cummin, black pepper, a touch of nutmeg. The cooking the next day is over a slow fire, and the cooking liqueur is strained and made into a sauce. The raan is brought to the table, dressed with and three varieties of pulaos, and it is carved in front of the diners. The three pulaos are a vegetable pulao, saffron rice, and a chutney pulao, otherwise knows as the Nilgiri Pulao. The entire dish costs Rs.225, and it is meant for two persons, though, since you will be ordering other food, four can easily have it.

There are at least four more dishes at the Mirch Masala that I would like to recommend, space permitting.

But first a little bit about the place and its two interesting proprietors. Mirch and Masala are not quite appropriate titles, because the food is not that spicy. All the food is Indian, mostly from the North, but there are Malabar curries, and Bengali prawns, naturally throughly mustard. There was also a Parsi patri ni machi (not on the menu) that I was served, which was the only thing I did not care for. Too thin, too dry, too bland, an apology for Mrs. Godiwalla's patra ni machi. But then it is not a Mirch Masala regular, so need to complain.

The restaurant is in a hotel, Hotel New Castle, shaped a little like an European castle, at 355, Linking Road, where Bandra ends and Khar begins. An easy way of finding it is, if you are driving from town, go past what is known as Satguru's Junction, it is a few shops after that. Tel. 648 0483, 602 2148. The two proprietors are Dayal Advani and Bakul Shah, both of them have been professors at Mrs. Thangam Philip's Institute of Catering at Dadar. The restaurant is their showpiece, to show people what they are capable of, otherwise their business is to set up and promote restaurants for other people. They have set up some 30 restaurants in India, besides Kuwait and London. The one in London sells cooked curries to Harrods and Selfridges. How? The cooked curries are chilled in a blast chiller, then displayed in refrigerated counters, and sold by the kilo. The one at Linking Road is their own, and a nice comfortable place, not very large but well appointed and with excellent service and interesting food. It is there for eight years now, if I did not write about it earlier, it is because I did not know.

And, so, to the food. The murgmashooq is one of the prized dishes among the fairly large chicken selection. It is skewered meat, boneless, served on the skewer and looking very colourful with red tomatoes and green peppers. It comes with a combination of pulaos, freshly cut and crisply done vegetables, and a mint sauce that by itself is worth the dish. The price is Rs.160. Also to be shared by several persons.

Let me mention a few more chicken items, the murg khurchan is strips of chicken breast sauted with tomatoes, spices and coriander leaves. And the kadai murg Karachiwalla, is cooked in the kadai, also with fresh tomatoes, the meat is boneless. There is also a chicken in a garlic flavoured fenugreek gravy, what we call chicken saagwalla. It is my favourite chicken dish, in all restaurants. If I cannot make up my mind, I ask for saagwalla chicken.

In lamb, I will mention the two kheema dishes. The kheema is the Punjabi variety, roughly chopped, with the fat. The fat, I think, is a very important feature of the kheema, otherwise it becomes too dry and you have to put ketchup on it to eat it. No ketchup is required here. The first dish is the dum kheema kofta (Rs.125). The mince, which is pounded with onions, is a little spiced to make the koftas, and these are steamed on the cover of the dish in which the kofta curry (golden fried onions, tomatoes and fresh coriander) is being cooked. As the curry gets cooked, the koftas are cooked in it. Mr. Advani calls it food like home, served in a restaurant. The second dish is the kheema bhindi (Rs.135). The mince is done on the tava, with tomatoes, onions and spices, and the bhindi, cut fine and done crisp, is stirred into it. The kheema acquires the flavour of the bhindi, which is one way of eating vegetables. I am one of those who loves eating vegetables in light meat gravies.

My visit to Mirch Masala was in the afternoon. Most of the restaurant was occupied by a kitty party, a group of ladies, 30-40, who have been meeting regularly every third Wednesday of the month. They all seemed to be knowing one another and the restaurant staff very well, and they made a happy if noisy group, all of which enhanced my dining pleasures. And there are a lot of things about Mirch Masala that are attractive. You are given small pappads, the size and shape of puris, compliments of the house. And with it you get two chutneys, mint and tamarind, dip into both and eat. And order the chattiwali lassi (salted), made with yoghurt and nothing else, butter floating on the top. It comes in cool brass tumblers, like in the dhabas of Punjab, though the tumblers are not dhaba size. The chaats (starters) also have a Punjabi taste about them. Pakorras made of cream corn and cottage cheese, very soft. And murg chatpata, boneless chicken breast, stir fried on the tava with fresh mint and a lot of coriander. It is served on the tava, kept in the centre of the table, you pierce a piece with a fork and eat it. There are batter fried prawns, marinated fish, but we shall proceed.

Order the samudri khazana (Rs.240). It is a pomfret and shrimp combination, a large, full pomfret in which slits are made, and the slits are filled with mildly spiced and stir fried shrimps. The pomfret, thus stuffed, is broiled in the oven. It is served with a salad and rotis of your choice. I suggest the roomali roti. But you don't have to go by my suggestion, take a careful look at the roti section. Besides the usual naan makhani and paneer kulcha and pudinha paratha, there is a khile hue moong ki roti, made with sprouted whole green gram. Even better, a deshi jowar ki roti, a genuine farmer's food, the jowar dough mixed with chopped onions and coriander leaves. Put a little ghee on it and you can eat it by itself.

Some authentic biryanis, done on dum and brought to the table with the thick dum roti sealing the Lal Killa rice and the lamb meat in the pot. Make sure to take in the aroma when the seal is broken. That is half the pleasure of the biryani. The other half is the complimentary mint raita that comes with the biryani. And one more rice dish before I finish, the chingre machre malai from Bengal. The rice is cooked in an outer dish, the fresh shrimps, marinated with crushed mustard and green chillis, in an inner dish. The inner dish is placed in the outer dish, with the rice making a wall around it. Then the two dishes are sealed and placed in a third dish, which contains boiling water and cooks the rice and the shrimp curry. Some of the curry, as it gets cooked, or at least its aroma, spreads into the rice as the two are getting cooked. The entire double compartment is brought to the table and opened. The mustard taste is very strong and distinct. Of course, you have to like mustard to like the dish. I do. Price Rs.155. And I better make it clear that all dishes mentioned here may be shared comfortably by two persons.

That's all. And after this discovery I shall look at Linking Road with a fresh eye. So far I thought Linking Road was a place women went to shop because they said it was cheaper than Warden Road and Crawford Market.

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