If you fancy a bajra rotla, with wet lasan chutney, or a bhakri, with a slightly sour kadhi, then I suggest you go to Panchavati Gaurav, the Gujarati thali restaurant in the lane adjoining Bombay Hospital at Dhobi Talao. I place the restaurant among Mumbai's four or five outstanding Gujarati-Marwari thali restaurants, and don't ask me to rank them 1 to 5, that's difficult.
Panchavati Gaurav is five years old, with a large and loyal clientele. I plead guilty for not writing about it earlier. It serves exclusively thalis, and the thalis are all uniform, there are no different varieties, such as regular, de luxe and super de luxe. The service is continuous, waiters hovering around you with fresh supplies from the kitchen, there are 28 items per thali (though I have not counted these), and the food is unlimited. You eat till you are full, then eat some more.
You take the lane opposite the Bombay Hospital and Liberty Cinema, the one adjoining the maidan, it is called Bombay Hospital Lane, you pass a row of chemists, then arrive at Panchavati Gaurav. A swing door takes you into a neat, air-conditioned hall, Warli paintings on the walls, rows of tables with the thalis, vatis, napkins neatly laid down in each seat. The senior waiters wear bow ties and jackets, a notice over the cashier's counter announces: "We serve mineral water for consumption only." Which means everybody gets to drink Bisleri water, compliments of the house, but to drink only not to wash hands. Premjibhai the portly partner-cum-manager of the place, who has evidently lived well on the ghee tarka dals and pista-stuffed gulab jamuns of the place, runs a tight ship. He greets the customers as they enter, with their names if they are regulars, shows them to their tables, spreads the napkin on their laps, snaps his fingers and the waiters arrive with the food, the Bisleri bottles are opened.
A thali costs Rs. 105, a half thali, for a child of ten and under, Rs. 70. I t is all written on the board, above the announcements for the Bisleri. On Sundays, and only on Sundays, there is a different thali, it has the addition of three varieties of sweets, all unlimited, and it costs Rs. 140. For children, Rs. 85. There are no sweets with the daily thalis. They tried them for a few months, raising the price to Rs. 125, but the customers complained they were encouraging diabetes, so they stopped the sweets and cut the price back to Rs. 105. Now you buy the sweets a la carte, Rs. 12 for a plump gulab jamun, stuffed with cardamom and pista, Rs. 20 for amba ras, nice and thick. Everything is made at the Panchavati Gaurav, including the sweets, the masalas.
Let us get on to the thali. And I hope I do not miss too many items. Premjibhai, who keeps referring to me as "malik", says that his food is both Gujarati and Marwari and yet neither. Gujarati is sweet and Marwari not sweet, but his is between the two, also, neither too spicy nor bland. To start with, there are four vegetables, of which one is kathore. The day I ate there this week, I had channa masala, Then there is a potato dish, I had raswalla batata, on other occasions they have sukhi bhaji or masala bharela potatoes, stuffed with copra, kothmir and masala and cooked on a slow fire. The other two were green vegetables. On my day, I had the good fortune to have bhendi, crisp fried, which I love, and the bad fortune to have drumsticks, which I am allergic to. No vegetable, I understand has ever been repeated from lunch to dinner, nor is it repeated for at least three to four days. There are enough vegetables to go round, cabbage, dudhi, Simla mirchi, turi, parwal, yam.
Next, the farsans, without which no Gujarati meal is complete. Samoosas, kachoris, dahi wadas, we have them with afternoon tea, the Gujaratis have them with lunch and dinner. The restaurant provides two varieties per thali, of course, the quantity is unlimited, as for everything else. I had batata wadas and khatta dhoklas, and the latter disappeared in the moth, in their velvety smoothness, as quickly as the waiter placed them in the thali.
The waiters were moving around with shat fancy five-stars call Indian bread: rotlis, rotlas, puris, bhakris. You may choose one of them or all. And don't take them all at once. Take them one at a time, so that they are all hot and fresh. Don't burn yourself. Yes rotlis are made with wheat dough, they are small, the rotlas with bajra and are smaller. The bhakri, and I like this best, is crisp like a biscuit, it is made from a dough of wheat, milk and ghee. Ask for the gur and the ghee, the lasan chutney, make a meal out of them. Even if there was nothing else in the thali, I would go for these. And dinner even better, that is when they serve theplas. They are methi puris, made from a dough of wheat, bajra and besan combined, mixed with methi.
There was both dal and kadhi, the dal tikhi, the kadhi khati. And both sada bhat and masala bhat. The rice was Basmati, Sadhu Brand, tur dal was ladled on it, and then, with a little spoon, ghee spread over it. The aroma of good rice and dal, which must be one of the finest aromas in the world for a hungry man, spread through the restaurant. The masala bhat had bits of vegetables in it plus taj, lavang dalchini, a little garam masala. The khichri-kadhi is in the evening, through half the time you get it at lunch also. A rather large man, looking like a bon vivant, who was sitting at next table with his family, told me he came to the Panchvati at least three times a week. "I told my wife, you make kichri like this, and I will eat at home," he told me. Perhaps I should tell the wife the same thing.
What else comes in the thali? There is dahi and chaas, unlimited, raita, roasted papad, nimbu-keri achar, green chutney, chillis that have been slit open and stuffed with methi dal and kothmir, and sautéed into a pleasant smokey flavouring. Does that make it 28 or 29 items?
Lunch is 11 to 3.30, dinner 7.30 to 11. Monday dinner, they are closed. Go tonight, tell Premjibhai you read about the thali here.