In the late 1960s and early 70s, I used to go to a restaurant called Gulmurg at Shalimar Hotel, Kemps Corner. It was a friendly restaurant, Hal Green played there, and Chic Chocolate's daughter sang, and evenings gently faded into nights over grilled meats and dal makhanis. Downstairs was a bar called Meikada, which was as busy as hive of drunken bees. They were prohibition days and Meikada was one of the few permit rooms in Bombay. Crowds used to collect outside the bar for the doors to open at 6.30 p.m. There were many regulars, a lot of film directors and script writers, they preferred either the Ritz bar or the Shalimar bar; Ram Jethmalani, lawyer-minister, used to throw parties in the terrace suite; and Khalid Ansari would drop in often. The bar has been renovated, it is now called The Windows, and is a prim and proper cocktail room. The restaurant, which is on the first floor, with a view of the main road outside and in line with the upper deck of BEST buses, is also renovated. The band's podium has gone, and the little dance floor, the tables and chairs are streamlined, the service upmarket. But the food, and this I guarantee, is the same. I will now talk about the food.
Gulmurg is now a multi-cuisine restaurant, but its reputation is still based on its Indian food, the murgh badamis, kadhai goshts, kabab pasandas, parathas stuffed with kheema, aloo-tomato bhajis, paneers in rich tomato gravy, and pakodas in Punjabi dahi curry. The cooking techniques date back to the 1960s, as do some of the loyal clients, and at least one of the stewards, the venerable Mr. Mazumdar. At one time, the signature dish was the paya, cooked into a glutinous jelly, clinging to the fingers, the bones filled with juicy marrow, the gravy tart with spice, accompanied by a plateful of limes, onions in vinegar. However a large Gujarati and vegetarian clientele has displaced the paya from the menu. But despair not, one pone-call (363 1311) in the morning and it will be made available. F&B Rajan Nambiar assures me that it matters not whether the order is for two plates or 20, it will be there. So, that is my first advice to you, order the paya in the morning, or a day before, they are as good as the masala payas we used to get at the Radio on Palton Road, alas also defunct.
The present top-selling item at the restaurant is murgh makhanwalla and it is as rich a dish of white meat as you may find anywhere in the world. The meat is marinated in curd, then grilled in the tandoor, and then cooked in a rich tomato gravy, and the gravy is filled with cream and butter. The meat comes out so tender that you have to be assured it is chicken. Okay, you don't eat it every day, but you certainly eat it on Sunday. You may order a full chicken, Rs. 252, enough and more for three to four diners, or have a half, Rs. 150, for a cosy couple. I understand that out of 50 plates of non-vegetarian meals ordered at the Gulmurg, 30 are for the murgh makhanwalla.
The kebabs are the other popular chicken item, both reshmi and tikka. Prachi Patel, the charming banquets manager and a foodie to boot, explains the difference. Both are kebabs, boneless pieces of meat, but the reshmi come from the breast of the bird, and the kebab is much more tender, on account of the amount of yogurt that is used in the preparation. The correct description would be moist, rather than tender. Because the tikka. is also tender, but the meat used here is generally from the leg. And it is more spicy, that's the tikka part, they use Kashmiri red chillis, grinding them into the masala. There is also the tangdi kebab, the leg meat, but with the bone, and the bone like a handle to hold in the hand, very convenient. You may also order the reshmi kebab in a roll, made with roomali roti, with green chutney and fine chopped onion packed in with the reshmi. It is a perfect roll, sliced neatly, the sides sealed, so nothing drops out, you may pick it in your hand and bite into it. They serve two rolls for Rs. 142. And they make that old Bombay favourite, a chicken baida roti, the egg beaten into an omlette, then chopped up, the chicken shredded, cooked together in a tava and put in a roti, Rs. 125. Goes well with a pint of cold beer on an afternoon. For vegetarians, they make a roll with paneer, or mixed vegetables.
I must also mention the Nizami seekh kebab, it's not on the menu, so ask for it. It is a mince of chicken and mutton, a roll is made, put on the skewer and turned into an unusual seekh kebab. What's so special about it? It is a chicken seekh but with a very distinct meaty flavour.
The kheema is Punjabi, somewhat wet with green peas inside, or dingri (mushroom). Good, I suppose, but I don't much care for it. I like the Muslim kheema, dry, with a green chilli on the side, and an unsliced pau. But the Gulmurg's stuffed kheema is worth trying, stuffed in a naan, and even ,more the cheese paratha. In fact whatever other rotis you order, and there is a large selection, ranging from methi to phudina and lasooni, don't forget the cheese naan. This is perfect, the naan is soft, the cheese softer, the heat of the naan has already melted the cheese and it comes in the mouth like salted butter or cheesy soufflé. Eat immediately, while it is hot, make a meal of it, have it with tea. Rs. 35.
The other item I recommend is the tandoori fish, a whole pomfret marinated in yogurt and assorted spices before being tandoored. The meat flaky and aromatic with the chopped capsicum that has gone into the making. Rs. 185.
For vegetarians, and they are the main customers, there are barbecued squares of paneer, done in tomato gravy; a palak kofta, balls of spinach in a rich cashewnut gravy (for Gujaratis, it is the preferred main dish; and vegetable kolhapuri, mixed vegetables in a hot masala that includes the long red Kolhapuri chillis. Plus, the dals: dal makhani, black lentils and kidney beans, the Punjabi ma ki dal, with lots of cream on top; and the dal tadka, mainly tur, with a little uddad, with the tadka on top, of sizzling jeera, red chillis, rye. Ask for a garlic tadka, only garlic, done in oil and poured on top. It is a favourite with TV Star Satish Shah, he has several bowls of it. It is my favourite also, but I have fewer bowls, I am not so large.
NOTE: They do not take reservations at the Gulmurg, go early if you want a table, or go late. Saturdays-Sundays, it is packed with old-timers and new customers.