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Indira is miles ahead of Shivaji

Reported to be South Asia's second busiest airport, one that handles almost 30 million passengers annually, with plans underway to extend this capacity to accommodate 10 million more, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport leaves a lot to be desired.

Although it was given a much-required makeover recently, and the efforts of the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) are evident in the new structure that is undeniably more spacious and is fitted with spiffy bathrooms and an array of restaurants and shops, we are still a long way off from ranking among world-class airports, even in terms of dining options.

At New York's JFK, for instance, you get portions of incredible Sushi, while La Guardia holds a steakhouse par excellence. At the Los Angeles International Airport, there is the Encounter restaurant that serves award-winning cuisine even as visitors take in its out-of-this-world theme. Hong Kong is where you can savour what some say are the world's tastiest Dimsums, after you watch them being steamed on counters at an open kitchen.

Aside from local, Indian and Chinese food, Dubai airport offers Mongolian, French, Italian, American, Lebanese and Irish cuisines, while Singapore's famed Changi airport houses just under a 100 restaurants, bars and eateries, and four humongous food courts.

As for Mumbai's CSIA, here's what it had to offer this writer.

RC Bar and Lounge
At: Terminal 1 A, Security Hold Area
Accessible to: Departing passengers (Kingfisher, Air India, Jet, Go Air, Indigo and some others)
Cuisine: Mixed
We liked: Paneer Tikka

Set up just before the last IPL series, the ambience at this lounge is marked by upbeat club music, dark wooden flooring and a rear section with novel egg-shaped fibreglass chairs. It seems to offer travellers a change from the bleak airport environment. Three laptops (with Wi-Fi connections) positioned on a long bar that runs alongside a window etched with logos of the Royal Challengers cricket team indicate that the area was designed with the business traveller in mind, but just as we got our hopes up, we learnt that the menu was being revamped and all we could order were a few dishes that were also available at the Goodtimes Bar in Terminal 1B.


Thai Curry Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

While the Thai Curry (Rs 260) was a definite improvement over the one we sampled at Goodtimes, the Fish Fingers were disappointingly dry (Rs 260). The Paneer Tikka (Rs 220) and Onion Rings (Rs 160) were pleasant. The Kaali mocktail is prepared with chocolate syrup, coconut syrup and a dash of Tobasco (Rs 230); it made up for the fact that the bar didn't have any desserts to offer.

Foodies Bar
At: Arrival Plaza, Terminal 1 A
Accessible to: Everyone
Cuisine: Mixed
We liked: Orange Caprioska

Part of a Delhi-based food chain, the emphasis at this bar and restaurant is solely on food. A large Foster's sign and a couple of television screens are all that adorn the simple space which, we've were told, serves excellent North Indian food.

The menu, however, also included Chinese and Continental dishes and the drinks menu was rather different from anything we came across at other spots here. Variety, at last!

Though clearly prepared with canned juice, the Orange Caipiroska (Rs 225) was delightfully refreshing, and the Flavoured Rain (Rs 225), a grape and blueberry juice concoction, was even better. Apple and Cinnamon Tango (Rs 225), another non-alcoholic beverage, was a bit sweet, but one imagines, this would be easily fixed with a shot of vodka. The service was flawless � stewards gave us no reason to complain and the fare was just as pleasant.

The Caesar salad (Rs 150) was crisp, although sprinkled with powdered, packaged Parmesan instead of fresh cheese, but the Malwani Fried Fish (Rs 190) was a perfectly crisp batter-coated fish.

Idli.com
At: Food Court, Terminal 1 A, Security Hold Area
Accessible to: Departing passengers (Kingfisher, Air India, Jet, Go Air, Indigo and some others)
Cuisine: South Indian fast food and North Indian cuisine
we liked: Bissi Bele Bhath

Pass Coffee Bean and The Tea Leaf, Gate A4 and the Ultra Lounge (booze and snacks are all that's available at this ostensibly chic spot) with its mysterious Kingfisher logo (employees here assured us the place isn't sponsored by the airline) and head up a long flight of stairs to where a stream of red lanterns adorn the entry to the food court.


Bissi Bele Bhath

Idli.com serves a variety of Idlis and Dosas, even offering combos (a dish with a glass of Pepsi) priced between Rs 90 and Rs 110. Dahi Rice (Rs 120), Paneer Chettinad with Malbari Paratha (Rs 150) and Bissi Bele Bhath (Rs 120), the menu claims are some new additions here.

We sampled the Bissi Bele Bhath, a delicious Sambhar-Rice blend, while watching shower-capped attendants at the kiosk scream out orders and stir up dishes with gloved hands, behind the glass counter. It seemed odd somehow, though not in an unpleasant way -- like watching a Hollywood movie with South Indian subtitles.

IIFA Bar
At: Terminal T2, International Airport
Accessible to: All departing International passengers
Cuisine: Mixed

An oversized IIFA award surrounded by rope-light drapes stands at the centre of this space and a reel of film runs along the ceiling before twisting against a wall to form a bar by the window. With Rambo playing on a screen by the bar, and James Bond Martinis on the menu instead of drinks named after Indian celebrities, the IIFA Lounge is little more than a strange showpiece planted in the middle of the airport.

The kitchen is open for lunch and dinner, an attendant said, but on the afternoon we visited, food had to be sourced from a neighbouring stall. You can order Indian food from Indian Paradise, and Chinese from Noodle across the passage, while you examine glass-encased outfits worn by celebrities at previous IIFA events -- Aishwariya Rai's 2005 outfit and one worn by Kareena Kapoor at the 2008 ceremony in Bangkok drew the attention of a couple of children who entered.

No one seemed to take a seat or place an order. The restaurant also has a private dining area -- a puzzling feature at an airport eatery. The loud gold zone is meant to afford VIP guests some privacy but we noted that an etched glass panel with a clear circle at its centre allowed outsiders to peep at VIPs picking at their Stir Fry. Aren't they in for a surprise!

Mumbai StrEAT
At: Terminal 1 B, Security Hold Area
Accessible to: Departing passengers (all airlines excepting Kingfisher and Air India)
Cuisine: Snacks and assorted Indian fast-food
We liked: The Lassi

Right beside Gate No 2 is this counter that offers simple, Indian fast-food. And while we understand why passengers may want to snack while they wait, the presence of a men's shirting store here baffled us.

With the exception of Lincoln Bartlett, the eccentric American tycoon James Clavell dreamed up in Noble House -- he was such a frequent flyer, it just made sense for him to live on his plane -- who shops seconds before boarding an aircraft?

The food stall seemed to be raking it in anyway, with a constant flurry of passengers ordering Pav Bhaji (though it isn't listed on their menu). It was tasty enough (Rs 90), though the pav wasn't sliced and buttered the way we like it.

The eatery has no live tawa; the dish is merely heated here, not prepared on the spot. We noticed Thandai (Rs 70) was listed on the menu but the beverage was unavailable, and judging by the attendant's expression, it looked like it had been so for a long time.

The Lassi (Rs 70) was thick and agreeable. Paneer Tikka Rolls, Chicken Kathi Rolls, Vada Pav and Batata Wada are the other quick bites you can grab here.

24/7 Lounge
At: Arrival Plaza, Domestic Airport
Accessible to: Everyone
Cuisine: Mixed
we liked: California Pink

Just by the taxi stand at the arrival plaza, concealed behind a stream of snack and beverage kiosks stands this modest air-conditioned cuboid that arriving passengers and those waiting to greet their guests might be tempted to visit, even if it's just to escape the heat outside.

The fact that the restaurant has a miniscule but clean restroom is a USP. The attendant offered to fix us a special non-alcoholic drink -- something off the menu -- and given that the menu was limited, we accepted. While we waited for our surprise beverage, the food menu, we realised, had other surprises to offer.

A description under Mexican Bean Nachos (Rs 160) read: "This is one big dude..." The blurb under Chicken Wings (Rs 300), explained that these were: "smothered in our killer, spicy suicide sauce, with cool ranch dip -- more fire than a boatload of Somali pirates."

The Jamaican Rider (non-alcoholic cocktails are priced at Rs 180) was a combination of coconut cream, strawberry crush and vanilla ice cream. It tasted like an icy Yakult. The California Pink, a coconut syrup, lime and cranberry juice concoction, was wonderfully refreshing. Though predictable, all the dishes we sampled here -- Chilli Garlic Potato Pops (Rs 120), Burnt Chilli Chicken (Rs 180) and Chicken Satay were palatable. Don't go in expecting fine or authentic cuisine, and you won't be disappointed.

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