The Fort is acquiring as many Manglorean seafood houses as it once had Irani chai-omelette wallas. Good for it. The latest is under the Street (renamed Ambalal Doshi Marg), called Wall Street Dining Bar. It looks upmarket all right, with fancy flooring,starched linen, china and silver, and a dozen table captains in dark suits, all patiently waiting for customers. If the quality of food has anything to do with it, they would not have to wait long. I say, in three months, under that, you will have to book a table for your appams and idiyappams and denji gassi.
I was there early in the week, the place had hardly opened for businesses. It is run by the same people who own the very successful Apoorva, across Horniman Circle, further down Bombay Samachar Marg, the Shetty Brothers and Devdas Alva. The new restaurant is the former Lalit, now completely recasted, and, if you happen to have lived that long, the B. Tambe Restaurant of the 1950s, among Bombay's first all-vegetarian restaurants, with an unlimited thali for eight annas.
The food costs a lot more now, and it is mostly non-vegetarian, Manglorean, plus North Indian tandoori and karai, plus a selection of vegetarian items. For this item (No. 139), I am concentrating on the Manglorean, with a few items from Kerala thrown in.
We begin with sol kadi, which can both begin and conclude a meal, being an appetiser, a cleaner of taste buds and a digestive, but I have said that before. What I have not said is, there are sol kadis and sol kadis, but this one is among the two best in town, ranking with Dr. Awchat's sol kadi at Goa Portuguesa. Though Dr. Awchat's cooks use more kokum, here they use more coconut, a little jaggery, and season with curry leaves, making it more creamy and less tart. Still, it depends on how you like your sol kadi, I am not one to force my tastes on anybody. The point is, and I do not wish to start a controversy, sol kadi is not Goan. It is from Malwan, from Sawantwadi to Ratnagiri. Incidentally, at Wall Street, a glass costs Rs.30. There is also a kokum sherbet, Rs.25.
Let me move down the menu, to pulimunchi da bangude. Bangude is bangda, mackrel, they use two full mackrels and prepare them in a chilli and tamarind paste. At Apoorva, they call it bangde chilli, so much simpler. It is priced at Rs.70 and is ideal as a starting fish. Follow it with kori aajadina (Rs.90). Kori is chicken, aajadina is fry, if you know the language, everything becomes simple. You may have it sukka or you may have it gassi. Sukka is when you are drinking, you pick up little bits of meat on the bone and bite into them. My friend, M.S. Kottaray, used to love it, after drinks, he would go to a Manglorean restaurant in the Central Camera lane, off Dadabhoy Naoroji Road, and order sukka chicken in several saucers. I would have the chicken gassi. And I must say that at Wall Street it tastes very much like it used to do in those hungry-thirsty days. The chicken, incidentally, is gaoti, country-bred, and it is chopped, rolled, marinated in Manglorean masalas. No bones are discarded, Manglorean cooking does not permit that. A dish costs Rs.90. And before I forget, it is prepared by Ramana Shetty, the restaurant's Manglorean chef, specially imported from Lawnsway Drive-In Restaurant, on the outskirts of Mangalore town. He is definitely an acquisition for Bombay. I plan to do a full interview with him at a later date, once he's settled down and before any other restaurant steals him.
Other dishes include shallow fried fishes. You make your choice pomfret, surmai with the gelatinous skin, which you should any day prefer to pomfret, or the more exoticlady fish (kadim), and Bombay duck, though I do not like the idea of the central bone being removed before it is served, there is so much juice in that central bone to suck in. Most probably they will fry your fish with a coating of semolina, instruct them not to. The surmai and pomfret are served in fillets, though often there is a full baby pomfret, lady fish come three per plate. Of course, you may have your fish in gassi or curry. There is some confusion between these two gravies, I will try and explain. They are one and the same, though gassi may be a little thicker and a little less sharp. But actually it is a matter of names, in Mangalore they call their curries gassis, in Savantwadi, Goa, Kerala, they call their curries curries.
Finally, there are clams, and a crab gassi to die for, live black crabs, cooked on the spot, 350 gms per serving, price Rs.125. Yes, Rs.125, in this day and age and in the Fort.
Now, for the high spots. Wall Street, arguably, is the only restaurant in South Bombay that serves appam lunch and dinner. This is a Kerala speciality and they have got a Kerala chef to make it. He is also trying to introduce chicken stew here. Then, perhaps, we can go for appam chicken stew for breakfast at Wall Street. The appam must be the most delicate of breads in the world, more so that even a roomali roti. Prepared from rice dough and coconut milk, fermented with toddy and allowed to rest for eight to ten hours, it is then rolled out in a specially made cast iron kadai with a bulge in the centre. It comes out crisp on the sides, fluffy in the centre. Bite straight away, eat it sopped in all curries, gussies. Then change over to idiyappam, the steamed rice noodles, repeat the process. And, to confuse diners, they also have neer tellao, which is neer dossas, like pancakes, made only with rice, steamed, no oil. They come white, folded, have them with food or by themselves, fresh. Did I say three months! Make it two months, you'll require to book your table at The Wall Street Dining Bar.