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Iconic 58-year-old Churchgate restaurant to host German Oktoberfest

This year, Gaylord, the iconic 58-year-old restaurant at Churchgate celebrates the German Oktoberfest for the first time. It retains its roots through its impeccable, old fare, but spreads its wings by bringing younger people on board, establishing a strong social media presence and wooing newer clientele. Phorum Dalal meets the people who breathe a new life into the vintage institution

Historic structures and museums are not the only ones that weave tales of the past for the present and stand testimony to times bygone. Iconic restaurants, too, witness changing times, don new attires and are quite the telling historians through the food they serve over the years.

Gaylord
Today, Gaylord, 58-year-old restaurant at Churchgate, attracts patrons from all age groups. Pics/Atul Kamble

One such Mumbai icon that has stood the test of time is Gaylord, the 58-year-old restaurant at Churchgate, founded by Delhi-based PL Lamba, along with his then partner, Iqbal Singh Ghai, in 1956. Gaylord was part of the Kwality Group, which Lamba owns today.

Managing director Sunil Lamba and Dhruv, executive director of Gaylord
Managing director Sunil Lamba and Dhruv, executive director of Gaylord

White and red checkered table cloth, wrought-iron garden chairs and the smell of fresh bread mingling with the sweet aroma of scones welcome you when you walk into Gaylord. But look closer — the décor is different.

Crane your neck upward and you see black, red and yellow drapes representing the German flag. Beer bottles hang from the ceiling. Last week, Gaylord kickstarted celebrations for the Oktoberfest, which will continue till the end of this month. On the special menu is a list of Bavarian beers, along with German delicacies such as Black Forest hams, Quiche Coburg, Berlin meats, tortes and Berliners.

Noel D’Souza has been the general manager at the restaurant for the past 26 years
Noel D’Souza has been the general manager at the restaurant for the past 26 years

The event, spearheaded by the youngest Lamba, Dhruv, is one of the many changes the restaurant has adopted to woo a younger clientele. “I came on board six months ago and set up a Twitter handle and a Facebook page for Gaylord,” says the 34-year-old. “My father, Sunil, learnt the nuances of running a restaurant from my grandfather, PL Lamba, and passed them on to me when the time came. But, I represent the third-generation member running this restaurant and I want to incorporate their experience with some bold changes to usher in a clientele like me,” says Dhruv.

The meringues are one of the most popular items at the Gaylord bakery
The meringues are one of the most popular items at the Gaylord bakery

He admits he was bombarded with questions from friends, family and patrons when he decided to market the already popular restaurant. “Many patrons and well-wishers asked me why a classic restaurant needed more publicity. But I stand by my decision — I want to retain Gaylord’s heritage, but also make it more appealing to the younger generation,” he says.

His father embraces Dhruv’s need to reinvent and take his own vision of Gaylord ahead. “Gaylord has seen the transition from Bombay to Mumbai. We love the fact that we retain our regular patrons, but it is a pleasure to see collegians throng to our bakery and young professionals catch up over lunch. If a restaurant does not change with time, it is left behind. We want to cater to newer, younger patrons, too,” says Sunil.

AN Malhotra, the 87-year-old CEO, comes to the restaurant every day till date
AN Malhotra, the 87-year-old CEO, comes to the restaurant every day till date

The memory album
In the ’60s, Gaylord was one of the few restaurants in the area unique for its Continental fare. People from all parts of the city, then Bombay, converged here for its delicious, popular Indian, Continental and Mughlai food.

Back then, Gaylord’s continental fare mainly comprised French dishes such as Chicken Belly, Lobster Thermidon, Peach Melba, Chicken Chasseur, Lamb sticks and Pepper Sticks. In the ’80s, Gujaratis along the Nariman Point belt began eating out more than ever and the restaurant’s footfall increased tremendously. Change became inevitable and the owners had to rethink their fare and up the sweet quotient of the menu. “I clearly remember how our Gujarati clientele devoured Gaylord’s Continental food such as baked dishes and Au Gratin, but preferred their Waldorf Salad with pineapple and cherries. The original dish comprised only apples, celery and walnuts and we eventually decided to ‘Indianise’ it,” smiles Noel D’Zouza, who has been the general manager at Gaylord for the past 26 years.

Jam sessions and the glitterati
While I chat with D’Souza, a smiling AN Malhotra, the 87-year-old CEO of Gaylord, walks in. Malhotra is recovering from an illness, but his face lights up when I ask him to turn back time to the 1950s and tell me about life before Gaylord came on Bombay’s gastronomic horizon.

“A lady named Putli Patel ran the Blue Garden restaurant here before Gaylord was built. I worked at Khyber then,” says Malhotra, one of thefounding members at Gaylord. “When Gaylord opened, there would be a fleet of Victorias (horse carriages) lined up outside, waiting for the patrons to finish their meals, while another queue comprised of people waiting for a table inside. Gaylord truly was one of a kind,” beams Malhotra.

Back then, the restaurant had a dance floor and the present-day mezzanine floor didn’t exist. “A live Italian band conducted weekend jam sessions in the evening, which were attended by the who’s-who in town,” says Malhotra, as he points out to a table in a far corner of the restaurant. “That is where music director Shankar Jaikishan would always sit. If that table wasn’t vacant, he got very annoyed,” he adds. Actors Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Saira Banoo, Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt — all were regulars at Gaylord. “Rajesh Khanna began coming to our restaurant before he became a heartthrob. We never gave him preference over others and if the restaurant was full, he waited for his turn. A few years later, after he shot to fame, I met him at a party at Natraj. He humbly walked up to me and said, ‘Malhotra saab, ab toh aap table denge na mujhe. (You will give me a table now, won’t you?)’. He said it in jest and remained one of our frequent customers,” remembers Malhotra fondly.

No executive chef
Contrary to how Mumbai’s cafés and restaurants try to woo big names in the food industry to come on board as executive chefs, Gaylord has not had one since years. It is D’Souza and his experience with the restaurants former chefs that ensures the patrons almost never leave with a complaint. “In the ’90s, we had Chef Bernard Rozario from Kolkata. He was one of the finest Continental food chefs I have ever met. Always open to experimentation, we created some excellent Continental dishes with him during our Christmas celebrations. Most of our menu today is inspired by what he created back then,” says D’Souza. Malhotra, on the other hand, recalls the passion of PL Lamba, who is 95 years old today. “Lamba even managed to bring down a chef who worked for the ruler of Turkey in the ’80s. With him, we introduced a special menu with Doner Kebabs and other delicacies,” recalls Malhotra. Today, in addition to its Indian and Mughlai fare, the team has also introduced Goan delicacies such as prawn curry, and plans to introduce foods from Rajasthan, such as Laal Maas, as well. “We want to give our customers the taste of India,” emphasises D’Souza.

Baking goodness
In 1992, Gaylord launched the city’s first ‘show bakery’, where customers could see the products being baked through a transparent glass partition. Croissants, baguettes, meringues, a variety of breads, doughnuts, cookies, mousse sat pretty in glass shelves and tempted patrons toward indulgence. The bakery was renovated and expanded last year. D’Souza has also introduced Berliner with custard fillings, pretzels, milk breads, baklavas and contemporary tarts and pies to the collection.
The bakery has been instrumental in attracting a younger crowd, and has not gone unappreciated by loyal patrons. Vinay Bansal, a retired IAS officer from Colaba, has been visiting Gaylord since the 1970s. “One of the most pleasant changes at Gaylord over the past few years has been the renovation of what was the garden area outside the restaurant, and the bakery’s renovation. It’s almost like a Parisian café in the middle of Churchgate. But I am glad the quality of their food remains impeccable. My all-time favourite is their Continental dish, Chicken Al La Kiev,” says Bansal.

Walk into Gaylord today and it will still sweep you off your feet, into another time with its old, sparkling chandeliers, the European décor, quaint chairs and a fine menu. But there is no way you will miss its modern, upbeat vibe either. Try telling D’Souza this, and he chuckles, “Well, then, I am the only dinosaur in this place. All that’s left for me to do is to grow some teeth.”

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