Remember Lazeez, that lovely little restaurant of baida rotis and bheja rolls on the Heera Panna promenade at Haji Ali? As night would descend and the shops close, the chairs and tables would be brought out, the tandoors and tavas lit, and the rich aroma of Mughlai food spread across the southern periphery of Worli. Unfortunately, it was too much of a good thing to last. the shopkeepers in the Heera Panna basements, worried that its kitchen fires would burn down their imported TVs and perfumes, had Lazeez closed down. Shame.
That was some seven years ago. I have been in mourning since then, as I have been for the Village at Worli (Poonam Apartments) and the Thali at Charni Road. Then, early this week, I heard that Lazeez has been resurrected. The same food, the same cooks, the same menu, the same proprietor (Ashraf Patel). But the address has changed. You will have to drive to Oshiwara, which is the other end of Mumbai, a conservative two hours from Flora Fountain. It is at Adarsh Nagar (sometimes known as Old Lokhandwalla), opposite Tarapore Towers, Jogeshwari West. Go late in the evening, when the traffic is flowing and the stomach is crawling, down Bandra Linking Road, past Centaur, past Amitabh Bachchan's house and straight down the Khar Link Road, across Andheri and into Jogeshwari.
It is not much to look at, but then Lazeez never was, just tables and chairs, and a large kitchen, which is the heart and soul of the place, with men toiling over tandoors and tavas. Service is reasonably fast, but not too fast, because everything is made on order, and the food naturally is fresh and fuly spiced. If you are an old lazeez diner, I do not have to describe the food, if not, read on. There are baida rotis, done in roomali, and rolls done in omelettes, some are rolled, others flat, all richly stuffed with meats, you eat them by themselves or with lashesof mint chutney. I prefer the chicken baida roti (Rs.40), it is the Indian version of the Indonesian murtabak. The chicken is minced and spread on the roomali, an egg beaten and poured on it, and the whole thing folded and slid on to the tava, allowing the chicken kheema and the egg to get mixed and cooked. A great deal of expertise is required to prevent the egg from running out. The interesting part is that the roti does not become crunchy like a dosa, it remains soft and yielding, and the minced chicken is moist with the egg, the tastes sealed within the roomali.
But my favourite is the bheja roll was at Heera Panna, is at Oshiwara. The bheja is of the goat, it is mashed and mixed with chopped onions and tomatoes, not too much as to kill the taste of the bheja. These are laid on an omelette, and the omelette itself is laid on a maida patti, so that it will hold together when rolled. It is shallow fried and eaten au nature. At Rs.40, it's a steal. At double that price also it would be a steal.
The other bheja item is the bheja kebab, equally whole-heartedly recommended. A full bheja is served per order, but it is cut into five pieces for easier handling. It is cooked in a green masala, the pieces dipped in egg and rolled in bread crumbs. And I do not know how they manage it, but it is available for Rs.45.
Mr. Patel has acquired two partners, Iqbal Khakhu, whose hobby seems to be good food, and Sumeet Saigal, who I am told is a film actor, though I suspect he is more a TV actor. Mr. Patel is in the fishing business, or his family is, so the best catch from the sea is assured. The day I was there, I had soft crabs, the claws snapping between my teeth and yielding juices laced with Chinese sauces. (That's another thing, they have introduced a select Chinese menu, which was not there at Heera Panna.) You don't get the crabs always, but there's a lot of tandoored seafood, pomfret, surmai, prawns done in a red masala of lal mirchi with ajwain.
For the tandoori items, they use a dry tandoori masala called kachri. As far as I know, it is available only in Delhi, in the shops at the base of Hamma Masjid. It is made of yellow chilli powder, called Pilli mirch, less pungent than red, and also a little sweet, if that is possible. To this is added the regular garam masala and a ginger-garlic paste. The meats, chicken tikkas, tangdi kebabs, reshmi kebabs, boti kebabs, are marinated in the kochjri for eight hours, and just before inserting in the tandoor dahi is applied on them to seal the meat juices. Try it and note the difference.
Also try the achar gosht (Rs.80), a Hyderabadi speciality, cooked in a pickle masala. So what's a pickle masala? Sauf, jeera, kalonji (onion seeds), rye methi, add a speck of mustard oil and ghee, pound by hand. This is added to the boneless meat, when the latter is almost ready. It is a thick gravy dish. It is a little sour, since tamarind or a little amchur masala is added. Incidentally, most of the meat is boneless, including the bhuna gosht.
The man behind all this, of course, is the chef, Vishram Pandurang Gaekwad, he opened the Heera Panna Lazeez, and he has opened this one at Oshiwara. He has been with the place throughout, working his magic. It is all right for a chef of a five star restaurant, experimenting and creating from his state-of-art kitchen, in the company of a large and catering-college trained staff, but what Mr. Gaekwad has been doing here is magic. Make sure you ask for him when you visit the place. And make sure you have his dum biryani. He has the perfect formula, one kilo of rice, one kilo of meat, and a tadka of jaifal and lavang in warm ghee.
PS: If you think you will have difficulty in locating the place, ring me up. I will try and be more accurate.