Since the government is changing from Jhunka Bhakar to Lasagne Bolognaise, I present to you Mrs. Nandita Saigal's bona fide Italian bistro, Nebula, at Dadar. It is as Italian as olive oil and parmesan; red pepper, garlic, paprika and pasta can make it. I find it delightfully satisfying, this Little Italy in the heart of middle class Maharashtrian Dadar, a cricket ball's throw away from Shivaji Park.
The exact address is: 120, Keluskar Road, Shivaji Park, Dadar, and, to be more precise and helpful, I would say it is situated diagonally opposite the Kohinoor Mill Showroom and that little fortress of a Shiv Sena Bhavan. You may approach it from Shivaji Park, taking the first turn right as you reach the maidan, coming from South Mumbai. If in difficulty, call the restaurant: 446 5689 and 446 4963, or let your nose lead you, follow the trail of garlic being sauted in olive oil.
I am not an expert on Italian food, I can only tell you what I have eaten at different times, not the comprehensive menu. There are three salads and possibly the pasta salad is the best. it is cold pasta, served in an Italian dressing (meaning a dressing based on olive oil), with julienne's of fresh vegetables. And, since the restaurant is flexible, it will add sea food or chicken to the salad if requested. The other salad is a layer of tomatoes and fresh ricotta cheese, topped with black olives. Ricotta is an Italian cheese, very much like our paneer, mainly used in cooking and in salads, but it is not a table cheese. It is a goat's cheese and there are enterprising people in India who have mastered the art of making it. Nothing freshens the mouth as the combination of tomatoes and ricotta, try it. Rs. 120.
There are other anti pasta appetisers, including a combination of prawns and squid, cooked together, and served in a spicy tomato sauce. Rs. 185. The prawns are soft and fleshy, the calamiri a little harder and drier, the sauce is thick and filled with herbs. Both the prawns and squids are guaranteed fresh, bought the same morning from the famous Citylight fish market. The restaurant being located so near it is anadded advantage, probably that is the reason it has never had frozen sea food on ots premises. I have also had its fresh prawns in a pink brandy spiked sauce, the sauce has little wedges of green olives, a cooling starter on a warm day. It is called Cocktail Di Gameretti, Rs. 135. And chicken cubes done in olive oil, with crushed red pepper and garlic.
Nebula also serves Indian food, in fact that is how it started. But I will come to that later. You will have to tell the waiter you are there for the Italian cuisine. He will then place on your table a bottle of olive oil with paprika flakes in it, a bowl of parmesan, paprika and chilli powder, and Cooper's red peppermill. If you specifically ask, he will give you olive oil. Ask.
There are only two soups, a cream of mushrooms garnished with chicken dices, and the classic ministrone, both at Rs.60. Skip them and have a pasta instead. The restaurant does the lasagne verde particularly well, the spinach sauted and interleaved with the layers of pasta, plus tomatos to make it a little tart, a cheese sauce to make it properly Italian, baked. And a canneloni in which the pasta is stuffed with spinach and ricotta, abd baked in a white sauce.
At this stage, a description of the main pastas may not be out of place, and I am doing it not to show off my knowledge, I am learning with you. The restaurant has all these available, and you may ask for any of them, along with the sauce (accompaniments) of your choice:
Cappelletti: They are round pastas, small, and come in different colours, green orange and white.
Farfalle: Bow shaped.
Fettuccine: Flat, ribbon like.
Plus, of course, there is macaroni, large and tube-like, and spaghetti.
You choose your pasta and order the accompaniments with them: minced lamb, and cheese, flavoured with nutmeg; tossed eggs and cheese sauce with crisp bacon; cheese and mushroom sauce; tomato and spinach; cream and parmesan; a creamy basilsauce flavoured with olive oil and parmesan; or just plain fettucine, with freshly crushed garlic and pepper.
There are still the main dishes, they come plated, with rice and two vegetables (buttered peas, cream potatoes, sauted onions). There's a full lobster, pan grilled till well done, finished in a creamy mustard and cheese sauce, and gratinated. Rs. 450. And prawns sauted in wine. Rs. 225. Plus, a pan grilled pomfret topped with a creamy wine and mustard sauce, or with a red tangy red wine sauce. Note, the pomfret is fillets. And a pan grilled chicken that I have ordered more than once, it is topped with ham and cheese gratinated.
For the vegetarians, apart from the various pastas, there is rissoto cooked in spinach and cheese, and cabbage rolls styffed with mushrooms and olives. The desserts include tiramesu and brandy snaps, the chocolate sauce with cinnamon flavour.
All this is half the Nebula, the Italian half. It is run by Nandita Saigal, trained in hotel management, experienced at the SeaRock, where she went through the mill. the other half serves North Indian food, managed by her husband, Amit. The restaurant is not divided into two halves, only the kitchens are. You may sit at any table, mix your food if you like. It is essentially Mughlai food, but Mr. Saigal does not like to use the word Muglai because it is associated with cream and mawa. So he calls it North indian, with lean meats and carefully added cooking ingredients. It has been there since 1982 and has pioneered several dishes. I mention the chicken hari mirch, which is long green chillis (not capsicum), split into two, and stuffed with strips of chicken (the breast meat). Masala is then applied to the entire chilli and chicken and crumb fried. It is priced at Rs. 155. I am told there are at least 20 restaurants in the city which have copied this dish. Also, the masala papad and the hara bara kebab.
I could write an equally long piece on the North Indian food, but as I said earlier, we are now under an Italian regime. Think Italian, eat Petti Di Pollo Arrosto Con Olive Nere (roasted breast of chicken served in its own dripping, on a breast of cream potatoes, topped generously with black olives).