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Food: Lonavala locals share their culinary secrets

In the second and last part of the series, we get residents — including the photographer, taxi and rickshaw drivers, and owners of bars and dhabas — to guide us to the hill station's best-kept secrets

The final installment of the two-part series features a local Mughali caterer with talent for mixed meat biryanis, a court clerk-turned cook-turned activist, an all-veg bakery, the newest pub in town and an alfresco cafe that blitzes cold pressed juices a la minute. To end, we’ve also rounded up three dhabas and street-eat joints, you can drive to.

Sattva The Cafe
To say that this juice bar would look right at home somewhere in tucked-away Boho Goa, wouldn’t be wrong. Situated in a tree-covered, wheatgrass pots-lined garden, inside Lonavala’s oldest yoga institute, the Kaivalyadhama ashram, Sattva makes a very soothing first impression.

Dressed in white, purple and green — for the foliage — the three-page menu at this quaint cafe mirrors the simplicity of the open-air space it is in. Your clean, sipping and nibbling options are unadulterated and 100 per cent natural.

Your choices range from cold-pressed fresh fruit and vegetable juices, homemade oatmeal and ginger chocolate cookies made with ragi (finger millet) and jaggery and wheat flour with honey; Rs 15 each), herbal teas and a host of shots extracted from ginger, beetroot and karela.

What we loved the most, besides the free-Wifi-with-juice-deal, was the old-school mini milk bottles that came filled with mixed juices like energize (carrot, orange, lemon and ginger; R180) and Cocopom (coconut water with pomegranate juice; Rs 180). Owner Dhyaan Kotak describes his passion project as a simple space that serves, “a holistic and not organic experience.”

10 am to 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm to 7 pm
Website: www.sattvathecafe.com
address: Inside Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, behind
Hotel Kailash Parbat

Homely Food
We aren’t sure what makes for a better starter: how good the food here actually is, or the story behind the court clerk-turned cook-turned-activist, Shaila Phase, the ‘Mummy’ that runs the kitchen at Joshi Sanatorium which serves home-style Maharashtrian breakfast and lunch.

When we first ate here in 2010, the smiling 76-year-old had already fed countless residents and holiday-makers seasonal vegetables, meat and fish curries, dry meat frys, dals and pulses, for 23 years.

Here, a day in the life of Mummy’s mostly-female army of cooks — many of whom she is training to cook hygienically, therefore, giving them a means to earn a livelihood in their villages — begins with cleaning utensils, vegetables and grinding masalas before they begin to cook the day’s produce and meat, prepared with ingredients which are free of soda, colour and preservatives. We haven’t eaten a thing that we haven’t liked, but the freshwater prawn masala and eggplant bhaji are usually available and outstanding.

Tip: They don’t deliver, so call ahead to order and remember to bring your own takeaway boxes.
9 am to 3 pm Call: +91 2114 270802
Address: Joshi Sanatorium, behind Hari International, Mumbai-Pune Road

Deja Brew
Six months ago, there were zero nightlife options in Lonavala and Khandala. But, as of this Christmas, there are two. We suggest you check out Rahul Sethi’s popular music icons-lined pub instead of the Bandra Reclamation-sized 2 Pegs Down bar at Picaddle Resort — which scratched itself off this list by playing Bollywood with their eDM, retro and rock.

Some of things we liked about Deja Brew (DB) are that it’s divided into an indoor and outdoor area on the first
floor of Sethi’s family-run boutique hotel Cosset, that they have an all-english playlist and finally, their decision to draw in a curated audience by serving only international liquor like Bira beer (R200)
and absinthe (Rs 400).

Tip: Liqueur devotees, ask the bartender what’s on his weekly limited edition list. We sampled a superb Tennessee Honey by Jack Daniel’s and a glowy Gold Cinnamon that was dotted with gold leaf by Smirnoff.
11 am to 11 pm
Call: +91 98231 38381
Address: Cosset, opp Rama Krishna, Mumbai-Pune Road

La Boulangere
If you’ve been to a local’s birthday party in this town, in the last three years, chances are you’ve eaten the cakes that come out of La Boulangere bakery.

Owner Firdaus asim Khan was 24 years old when she started Lonavala’s first all-vegetarian bakery, this after a year-long apprentice program in Fariyas’ bakery followed by another year-long course on bakery and patisserie at Mumbai’s Sophia Polytechnic, ending in a short stint in BKC’s Trident.

We traced Khan’s focused-on-all-things baked obsession to her ancestry, “My grandfather and father are in the business of selling bakery goods, and growing up, I always had to know how every single thing was made.”

Her cute, all-vegetarian cafe is known mostly for cakes, namely the fresh fruit gateaux and chocolate truffle (Rs 60, per piece), but the fudge brownies (Rs 90) paired with a smoking hot cappuccino (Rs 70), is just as good. To eat, try their chilli cheese toast (Rs 50), sandwiches (Rs 50 to Rs 120) and pasta (Rs 250).

Tip: Weekenders, remember to check out the new mommys Saturday and Sunday specials menu. Ferrero Rocher cake anyone?
10 am to 10 pm
Call: +91 86981 44408
Address: Shop 5, Kumar Resort, off Mumbai-Pune Road

Suleman Caterers
One of the hallmarks of a good chef lies in their ability to adapt to the customer’s needs, all while leaving their mark on the final product, which obviously also has to be great-tasting.

Suleman Khan is one such caterer where it concerns biryanis and we don’t call him so without putting him to the test. Ours being a whole goat biryani, made in raan-style.

Of their own rice inventions, we like jum jum biryani because it’s made with chicken, mutton and mixed meat cocktail kebabs. and then there’s the cocktail biryani, an offal lover’s special that packs mutton, masala, kaleji, gurda, mixed meat cocktail kebabs, more white masala and hard eggs boiled (Rs 1,200, a kilo). The most ordered orders? Chicken biryani (Rs 80) and mutton biryani (Rs 100).

Tip: When you say one kilo of chicken biryani know that it means one kilo of meat and the other ingredients of this slow-cooked dish account for extra. They also do a great vegetarian version, on request.
11 am to 11 pm
Call: +91 2114 270861 and +91 94223 11539
Address: Municipal Shopping Centre, 21, opposite aBC Company

Street eats

Masala pav at Ganesh Pav Bhaji Centre
If you’re driving to the market post sunset and notice a large number of cars parked before the aamby Valley right, you are looking at the line for brothers Ganesh and Prashant’s Pav Bhaji Centre.

Hunting for a hot, cheap and tasty snack? Park, order and eat or take away any of the three things the aproned tawa-chefs cook up: pav bhaji (Rs 60), tawa pulav (Rs 60) and masala pav (Rs 15). Call ahead for party orders.

7.30 pm to 10.30 pm
Call: +91 93707 16025
Address: after the Kumar Resort bridge, next to appa Chinese

Corn bhajiya at Lion’s Point
Half the pleasure in singeing the roof of your mouth with a molten hot corn pakoda, dusted with generous red chilli powder, lies in the drive to eat them. For years, even before aamby Valley was a thought, there existed a look-out point that overlooked the entire valley. Naturally, chai stalls, corn carts and egg stands soon sprang up. These days, the flavour of the season is a simple, spiced corn bhajiya (R80, approximately) meant to be popped hot, almost off the flame.
Address: Lion’s Point, on the road to aamby Valley, Lonavala

Maggi at Mangesh General Store

While there is no want of egg — bhurji, omelettes, frys — and Maggi stalls anywhere in this hill station, it is this General Store between Lonavala and Khandala that the locals tend to frequent especially on cold winter nights, for a bowl of cheese (Rs 70), butter (Rs 70), egg (Rs 70) or sada (Rs 50) noodles. Manned by the same jovial gent for the last eight years, some of you may need to ask Lallan to hold the spice.

6 pm to 11.30 pm
Call: +91 91751 95226
Address: Opposite Hotel Rishikesh, Mumbai-Pune Road

Dhabas

Sheetal Da Dhaba
If you happen to open the, “What’s the best dhaba outside Lonavala?” tin of worms, be prepared to get no answers. Locals, residents of Pune and Mumbai, visitors from out of the state and any student with a driving licence, no one can commit to which dhaba they like best. But the first name to be usually said out loud is: Sheetal.

We suspect it has everything to do with its large and newish, eclectic outdoor area, which comes fitted with bed tables, swing tables, table tables and your very own barbeque. Don’t leave without trying their cheese chilli garlic naan (Rs 250), a work of modern flatbread wonder, courtesy their clever chef and his tandoor.

11 am to 1 am
Call: +9120 30189864
Address: at Karla, Mumbai-Pune Road

Sunny Da Dhaba
Before there was a bar, pub and club in Lonavala, there was Sunny’s. Who doesn’t remember driving to this late-night hotspot which is also a favourite with the locals?

Carpet-covered beds, flavoured hookas, tall lassi tumblers, cheese chilli kebab, kitchy Bollywood posters, butter chicken, a private open air section, mutton rara and lachha paratha. What’s not to love? The best thing that’s not on the menu is the outstanding aloo tuk. Request for it.

11 am to 1 am
Call: +91 20 30189857
Address: Mundhavara Phata, Mumbai-Pune Road

The Kinara Village Dhaba
This ‘dhaba’ looks like a Bollywood village set. Their mood lighting, private dining table nooks and decent vegetarian fare keeps the people coming back.Try anything hot off the tandoor or their dum biryani. Don’t miss the jalebi with rabdi.
11 am to 11 pm 
Call: +91 2114 286783
Address: Vaksai Naka, before Lonavala, Mumbai-Pune Road

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