For sixty years, Gomantak Boarding House has been catering to the city's Malvani food-lovers, from mill workers to stars from the Marathi stage. Their kitchen is guided by an almanac -- we suggest you refer to it as well to avoid the long queues

On weekends, if you pass by Shivaji Mandir Natyagruha at Dadar, you'll witness a peculiar sight. A long line, comprising mostly of middle class families, winds its way from behind the bus stop that's located diagonally opposite the famous theatre auditorium.

The Jumbo Crab Masala is the most exotic dish on the menu. Pics/ Atul

They aren't waiting to board a bus for sure. Instead, they wait their turn for a table at Gomantak Boarding House. "Sometimes people have to wait for an hour before they get a table," says Sunil Borkar, the shy owner of the establishment that has built a reputation for its authentic Malvani fare.

Dates matter
The only way you can skip the gruelling wait is if, like the Borkars, you too consult the almanac before making dinner plans. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays are when a lot of people do not eat non-vegetarian meals, so Gomantak Boarding House is relatively empty. Throughout the Hindu month of Shravan, the place remains bare. In fact, the kitchen is stocked only after consulting the calendar. "If it's a day when people fast, you won't find crowds. We plan the day depending on what the Kaalnirnay has to say," Sunil says, pointing to the calendar that hangs next to his desk at the entrance of the restaurant.

Going back in time
Set up in 1952 by the late Ramnath Borkar, Gomantak Boarding House has expanded in phases. "My father started the restaurant in a single shop, which he had rented initially. Then we expanded in the '70s and eventually added the air-conditioned section about 6 to 7 years ago," says Sunil, who now manages the place along with his elder brother Sudhir Borkar.

When the senior Borkar started Gomantak Boarding House, the place catered largely to mill workers, who worked in the nearby textile mills. With expansion (and the closure of mills) the focus turned towards families. "Earlier we would begin serving lunch from 9.30 am so workers could take parcels before they went for their morning shift. Now, people's eating habits have changed and they prefer late lunches, so our timings have also changed," Sunil informs us.

Malvani magic
What has not changed here, however, is the menu. They stick to what they know best -- Surmai, Bombil, Prawns or Pomfret Fry and Masala (Rs 65 to Rs 105) and Chicken / Mutton Sukka (Rs 70 / Rs 80). The most exotic dish on the menu would be the Jumbo Crab Masala (Rs 140) and Shark Masala (Rs 60). The speciality here is, of course, the seafood prepared with authentic Malvani masalas. The Borkar brothers go shopping for the meat and masalas. "That's how we maintain quality and an authentic taste," says Sunil.

Unlike most other Malvani joints that douse the dish in offensively hot spices, at Gomantak Boarding House the meat is king and spices are only used to enhance the flavour. "Our dishes are medium-spicy," Sunil confirms. That combined with reasonable prices ensure the patrons keep coming back.

Since Shivaji Mandir is close by, a number of Marathi stage stalwarts often drop by at Gomantak Boarding House. The owner finds it hard to remember names of actors off-hand. "I don't get to watch much TV because I'm busy at the restaurant," he tells us, apologetically before checking with the waiters. The staff readily supply him names -- Sanjay Narvekar (of Vaastav fame), comedians Raju Srivastav and Johnny Lever have dropped by for the food.

Only for their Fish Fry, patrons come from far-off suburbs but the Borkars have no plans of setting up a chain of restaurants. Offers of partnerships for expansion have also been declined. The only way they envision an expansion is when the building, where the restaurant is located, undergoes re-development.

The veteran owner, with over 20 years of experience in the business, offers an explanation, "It becomes difficult to maintain quality if one expands haphazardly. Let's see, we might take up a larger space once this building gets re-developed. Abhi jaise chal raha hai, chalne do."

Timing: 11.30 am to 3.30 pm; 7.30 pm to 11 pm
At: Mirinda Chawl, near Shivaji Mandir, NC Kelkar Road, Dadar (W).
Call: 24305631 / 24311370 / 24303631