There are two Balwas Restaurants. The better known is at Churchgate, on New Marine Lines, behind the central goverment offices, near Bombay Hospital. The other Balwas is in Police Court Lane, adjoining Handloom House, in the Fort. The food is identical, though may be the range of dishes is less, but the prices are more modest, and though neat and clean, both the eating area and the kitchen, there is no extravagance on decor, and it is not airconditioned. The clientele is mainly office people, and at lunchtime it is a busy little place. Go at 1 p.m., you'll find plenty of room, at 1.15, you will have to wait for a place.
The second Balwas is in walking distance from the office, directly across Pherozesha Mehta Road and Gunbow Street, then through a small lane to Handloom House. I often go there for lunch. A brain plain fried, or a brain wrapped in an omlette, one roti, a glass of orange juice. Then I walk back. There is a lot of work going on on the site of the burnt and gutted Handloom House. What I report is what I hear from other diners at Balwas. The Videocon is putting up a 10, 12, 15 storeyed office building there, already there are two floors of underground parking. The proprietors of Balwas are naturally happy, it will change the place, bring new prosperity and new customers to the restaurant. But right now there are large trucks, carrying cement concrete mixers, moving through the narrow Police Court Lane, and the sound of construction activity.
The proprietors are Palanpuri Muslims, as are proprietors of 80 per cent Muslim restaurants in the city. The classic restaurant of the Palanpuris is the Olympia on Colaba Causeway, followed by a few on Mohamedali Road, then follow the rest. They make a lovely biryani, which is neither Lucknowi nor Hyderabadi and a dal gosht to die for. Regrettably, a lot of them have moved away from this, become more cosmopolitan.
What you get at Balwas are several tandoori items, including a tangdi kebab, which is about the most meaty and juicy that I have eaten anywhere in the city. It is from a broiler, the flesh in large chunks clinging to the bone, and its specialty is that it is served almost au nature. You squeeze some lime on it and bite into it. They serve you a dahi kachumber with it, but I would avoid that. I like dahi and I like kachumber, but milk and onions do not mix. It is one of the grosser aspects of Mughlai cuisine. The tangdi kebabs are Rs. 30 per piece, as Khalid Ansari would say, V.F.M. Most items are V.F.M. at the Police Court Lane Balwas. They use only pomfret,bought fresh at the nearby Fort Market every morning, and they serve a full pomfret, head to tail, with every order. A fried pomfret, fried in sunflower oil, costs Rs. 40. so also the pomfret masala. And the pomfret is cooked in the tomato and onion gravy, with black rye, haldi, jeera, dhania. It is a gravy of medium consistency, you may eat it with rice or roti. The pomfret is piquant in taste and the rice helps in killing the tartness. The choice in rotis is large, from butter naans to parathas, kulchas and baturas. the seafood includes a large plateful of fried prawns (Rs. 55). You may have them as starters, with your coke. There is no liquor, as manager Mauz Ghulam explains: "We are a Muslim restaurant, sir."
Besides Mr. Ghulam, the proprietors are most of the time around the place, personally supervising food and service. There is Abdul Rehman Balwas and his partner, Israil Abdul Rahim. Their chicken dishes, with the exception of the masala fry and the dahiwala, are all boneless, because customers want them that way, they do not want to dirty their hands. And even the chicken biryani comes in two varieties, with and without bones. The waiter will ask you how you want it. Specify. I prefer their mutton dishes to chicken, the mutton palak at Rs. 40 and the mutton dahiwala at Rs. 45. There is also a large section of vegetable dishes. But it is the brain I prefer, the bheja. You get a full bheja with each serving. You may have it plain fry (Rs. 28), with a little kothmir on top and fried potatoes on side. Or you may have it fried in egg (Rs. 35), or order a brain masala (Rs. 45), in a gravy done in Amul butter. The brain directly cooked in the gravy.
Unfortunately, these days, brain is not always available. They say it is in short supply in the market. It always happens after Idd, when there is a drop in the number of goats slaughtered.
The restaurant is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., there's a breakfast service and a tea service, and there is a Chinese section with Nepali cooks that the proprietors are particularly proud of. I do not know how this is, for my Chinese I go to Messrs Wang, Tham or Leong.