Three young students of the hotel management institute of the Sophia College, plus a foody friend, have jointly opened a friendly little restaurant, serving Continental food, in a leafy lane of Bandra. This, I believe, is the restaurant of the future, Mumbai 2000 and over. Bistro informality, young management, good food, health food, smiling service, easy prices. The menu is electic: health drinks (the seasonal favourite is a large tumbler of dark ochre plum juice, so thick that you can almost eat the fruit), crunchy salads, a lot of cole slaw, cheese and potato preparations, some pasta, mushrooms variously treated, spinach and aubergines, fish and chicken, chocolate mousse made out of low fat cream, strawberry cheesecake, and fresh fruit yogurts that are sugar free and low cal.
Most of the food is prepared in the minimum of oil and butter, the desserts with non-dairy cream (18 per cent fat content as against 98 per cent in dairy cream), there is no liquor, instead a lot of health juices. And the dishes can be prepared to suit your tastes, more or less spicy, buttery, a little more sugar, perhaps, a thicker gravy. Be free to instruct the waiter, or one of the young management.
The management is Hushan Bharucha, his fiancée Tinaz Mondegarian, both graduates from the Sophia Technology, their fellow graduate Gavin Fernandes, and their equally young cousin, Yohann Banaji, who otherwise works in the merchant navy. Post college, they thought they should strike out on their own. So, here they are, at the Lite House, Fatima Villa, 29th Road, Bandra West. Take the Turner Road and go down it, turn right at Hong Kong Bank, the lane opposite the Daewoo Motor Showroom. I cannot be more specific than that, I am not familiar with this part of Bandra. If you are in doubt, check with the restaurant, phone 6552638, they'll guide you.
There is a valet at the entrance to park your vehicle. Inside, it is small (40 covers) but adequate. There are long oak tables and high-backed benches, like in a school or pews in a church, to sit on. You at once realize that this is a place to eat good food, not flash your expence account and impress your client. One wall is painted a pastoral scene, there are fish nets on the ceiling and the light bulbs are in kerosene lanterns in an attempt at ambience, and each menu has a different painting on its cover, done by the same artist who painted the wall. The two main cooks have been hired from restaurants that specialise in Continental cooking, then retaught by the young students.
I began with the plum juice, a very tall glass, filled to the brim, ice floating on top. A couple of weeks back I would have got a lichees juice, they told me, now the season was plums. And it was pure plums, the seeds removed and the fruit pureed. No sugar, no preservatives had been added to it, nor had it gone through a processor. Half plum purees and half water, as it would be impossible to drink it otherwise.Even then it was quite thick, and distinctly heavy. I gently sipped through the meal. Rs. 40 per glass, and that probably was the price of the fruit that went into it. They even have a karela juice, though not for you. They make it for a regular customer, she comes and picks up a bottle.
For soup, I hesitated between a corn chowder (Rs. 50) and a prawn chowder (Rs. 70). But Bharucha was determined I tried
his cream of chicken (Rs. 60), it would be different from any cream of chicken I had anywhere. It was. For one thing, the stock was full-bodied, they had been simmering the entire day, and to the chicken bones had been added vegetables to give it taste. And there was poultry meat floating in the soup. I could not make out what else it had, but there was a distinct smokey taste about it. They served it with soft garlic toast. I dipped the toast in the soup and ate it. You may also try the prawn chowder, the base is a brown roux of butter and maida, the fish stock has a flavouring of herbs and some tomato puree, the stock has a flavouring of herbs and some tomato puree, the shrimps are first cooked, then further simmered for a long time in the stock, till the soup becomes thick. It is a chowder, not a bisque. Drink it piping hot.
For starters, I had a boiled spinach flavoured with basic herbs, oregano, basil, parsley, spread on a toast, with white sauce and grated cheese, then gratinated in the oven. It was her own concoction, said Tinaz, mother used to make it when they were children. Children love it. Make sure to take your children along when you go to the Lite House. And I had what I would describe as a chicken pancake (Rs. 80). The boneless cut of the chicken was cooked in a tomato gravy, with basil, thyme and rosemary, plus a good deal of chilli sauce (instruct them to use less, they will). The meat was then rolled in a pancake, and white sauce and cheese spread on it.It was cooked in the oven, allowing the cheese to melt, the sauce to mix into the chicken. It was a substantial dish, a proper entree (though on the menu it is included among starters), quite spicy, what they call spicy continental. Other starters include herb flavoured mushrooms, and fish fingers, the fillets first marinated in vinegar and salt, then fried in an egg and bread crumb batter. Needless to say, not at all oily. The fish used is the gol fish. Tartar sauce comes along with it.
For the main course, there's a mixed pasta, with vegetables and salsa; and an interesting combination of sliced aubergines and tomatoes, laid alternately, one on top of the other both Rs. 90. Plus the chicken a la kiev, which comes with the warning, "not meant for the health conscious". It is cooked in the classic style. The breast piece of the bird, with a single bone, stuffed with frozen parsley butter and cheese and rolled up like a pancake. it is cooked gently, so that the butter, though it melts inside the chicken, it does not ooze out. The meat is then shaped like a chicken and placed on a base of mashed potatoes. When you melt it, butter spurts out like champagne. Ladies to be careful it does not spray their clothes. It costs Rs. 100, laundry charges extra.
Head for the Lite House this afternoon, restaurant with a difference.