First, I wish to clear a couple of misconceptions about the restaurant at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse. It is no longer the old restaurant that you may have visited, dingy and with dry kebabs and hard rotis. The place has been remodelled, reconstructed, renamed (Gallops) and has a brand new menu with some of the best Continental food in town. Second misconception, it is not restricted to racegoers, anybody can visit it, you don't have to be a member of the RWITC, or have an entry ticket to the races, except when the races are actually on. Enter the first gate of the Mahalaxmi Racecourse, coming from Haji Ali, then through the first break in the fence before the members' enclosure entrance. There is plenty of parking space, you will see cars around, park your vehicle and enter Gallops. Our famous Talk-Of-The-Town paanwalla is sitting outside the restaurant, he will show you the way if you have any problems.
Inside are solid chairs and tables, designed for comfortable eating, the silver and china laid out with the precision of a cavalry officers' mess. And large bay windows on the sides bring the racecourse cheerfully streaming into the room. The win post is almost in line with the windows, and in case the photo-finish camera fails, you can help the judge with the result. It is a large room, siths 140 with space to spare, and at one end three steps lead to an elevated area with a sunken bar, where you sit on a chair, not a bar stool, and look down at the bartender. There are TV sets to watch the races on close-circuit television and a tote machine to lay your bets without interrupting your meal.
Yes, the meal. This column is about food, not the decor. The Gallops serves both Continental and Indian food, and by Indian I don't mean exclusively Punjabi. There's Goan fish curry, dum pukht malai murg in the parda, dal gosht, handi gosht, Hyderabadi biryanis and Shahjahani pulaos. However, for this piece I would like to concentrate on the Continental food.
Rahul Malik, one of the three partners running the place, has worked in kitchens abroad and is extremely knowledgeable on food. If you are a drinking party, and go in a group, the first thing he may recommend is a large tray filled with a kilogram of prawns. There are 25 medium to large prawns in it, count them and they are cooked in three different styles, eight apiece, tandoored, golden fried, and grilled. They come with their chutneys and sauces, the tandoored with the meat chutney, the fried with tartar sauce, and the grilled are naturally moist. But there is no other accompaniment, just prawns. At Rs.500, the tray is a steal. Consider, a kilo of raw prawns, in the market, costs around Rs.300. Depending on the size, you get 22 to 24 prawns. The restaurant does all the marinating and cooking and sells it, in the magnificent splendour of the place, out in the open and under candlelight if it is night, for the narrowest of profit margins. Mr. Malik, a large man in picture braces, evidently fond of food explains: "Every restaruant has to give away one or two of its dishes practically free. It has to do so to keep the customers happy and the business rolling. Our assorted prawn platters is a giveaway." I think, three persons woul be ideal per platter. I would have the extra tandoor, I like the wet masala coating on it.
Other items are not giveaways, but within reach. The chicken liver pate, among the appetisers, is Rs.125, available only at weekends. I would suggest a little finely chopped mushroom in it, it gives it a granular feel. The pate is served on the Gallops' famous melba toast, known to the racing professionals (owners, trainers, riders, tipsters) who have their tea and melba toast in the bower outside the restaurant after the morning track work.
Gallops has its own bakery, and its melba toast is the thinnest available in town, the boulangeries at the five-star restaurants cannot match it. A probable reason for this may be that each slice is hand cut, not machine. You may order the melba toast with your meal, it comes buttered. The bakery also makes garlic and herb rolls, excellent, and a milk bread, though for the time being it is for the proprietors' personal consumption. And, of course, the bakery is used for all the puff pastry that goes on the meat pies and puddings.
To return to the appetisers, I must mention the prawn jatka, which is a sort of a fusion between Creole, Indian and Continental cooking, the selected prawns being sauted with green chillis in a tomato base. The aroma is sharper than the taste, so don't worry. You must be knowing this, but in case you don't, when they talk of jatka in a restaurant kitchen, they are referring to that food which the chefs cook for their own meals, putting a little from here and a little from there together.
Another unusual starter is a smoked cheese flavoured mousse (Rs.75). I have not tried it, but it sounds interesting. And for tea-time, there are potatoes with vegetarian and non-vegetarian fillings. The restaurant is open from noon to 11.30 in the night, and you can turn up after 3 p.m. and they will still serve you lunch, that's one of the special facilities of Gallops.
There is a fine selection of fish, from prawns in a citrus ginger sauce to fish cooked with sundried tomatoes. I suggest you try the rawas in black pepper sauce, Rs.175. Rawas is used because pomfret tends to dehydrate fast. It is grilled and simmered in their pepper sauce. The sauce is the key to it, pepper corns are crushed and sauted in vinegar and oil, before red wine is added to them, and lamb gravy, your roast or brown gravy. By the time it is served, the gravy is quite thick, you have to lift it on the fork and eat it. Or swab a piece of the herbal roll in it and eat it. The taste is both peppery and vinegary, plus burnt wine. And the rawas flesh is moist with it.
The chicken dishes are equally elaborate and it is one of the few restaurants which still makes and serves chicken and mushroom pie, cooked in a creamy sauce, topped with puff pastry and baked.
I also like the shepherd's pie, both the name and the dish. The last time I had it was in a pub in Oxford. I was on a half-day visit from London, not studying there, (please note.) It is minced lamb, between layers of mashed potatoes, the top is gratinated in an oven. You eat it with beer. At least, that is how I ate it with beer. At least, that is how I ate it with beer. At least, that is how I continued to do so here. They also have roast lamb in pepper and wine sauce. Wine and not mint, because, according to Mr. Malik, the Indian palate does not take to mint. But they have lamb chops with mint sauce. Then there's beef and pork. I shall concentrate onthe pork because not many restaurants have it, and also because not many restaurants can gaurantee you won't catch a tapeworm eating it. Gallop guarantees a white pig, farm raised, not a scavenging black pig that you see snorting in the streets, and the restautrant is carful about its source of meat. The fat should be white, not yellow, that's whot you have to check. The restaurant serves a grilled fillet of pork with a pineapple sauce, or a charcuterie, or barbecued spare ribs, or the classic pork chops with apple sauce. It also serves a ham and corn pie, which is my favourite, chunks of ham, sauted with herbs, and sweet corn, in a cheesy whit sauce, topped with a flaky pastry. All the pork dishes are Rs.175 and worth the price. In the West, I understand, pork is considered as white meat and has in recent years become extremely popular.
Then, of course, there's the Indian menu, and, at the very end, trailing the field, a genuine all American apple pie with ice-cream. I suggest, this evening, after the races are over, you go for a walk at the racecourse, take three full rounds, work up an appetite, then go to Gallops and have a meal. Start with the French onion soup, you will find a melba toastfloating in it, a slice of cheese spread on the toast, gratinated. Better still, go to the races, make some money, forget the walk, go to Gallops.