Filmmaker Mahesh Manjrekar and his son Satya want Malvani food,as they prepare it at home, to reach the world. Their restaurant in Goregaon, Suka Sukhi is the first step in that direction. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
One fine day, at a spare shop that belonged to his Chartered Accountant in Goregaon East, off the Western Express Highway, actor-director Mahesh Manjrekar decided to start a cloud kitchen that served the kind of food he ate at home. It was his longtime dream to start a restaurant on home turf - Shivaji Park; instead, like a prudent businessman, he decided to test the waters first.
Suka Sukhi started in March this year as a takeaway place but soon customers lined up to sit and eat right away. Two makeshift chairs by the adjoining tree became four and then some more; so much, that it began to be a bother for the neighbouring shop. So when the place came up on the real estate market, Manjrekar didn't think twice before converting it into an AC restaurant. In under 10 months, Suka Sukhi went from being a mere cloud kitchen to a 65-seater restaurant.
The kitchen still operates from the old shop; the Ganpati under the tree got a mandir of his own, and the outdoor space a facelift with faux stone wall print on the rexine fabric covering on the sides; the chalkboard with Today's Specials welcomes you with the list of offerings for the day. A board at the entrance declares that the eatery is only for authentic homecooked food lovers.
As the mid-day crew wait patiently for âsahib' to arrive, Manjrekar walks in, stops at the mandir to pay obeisance before sitting down with us for a conversation over sol kadi. "There are no aerated drinks on the menu," he explains, "just sol kadi, kairi panna and kokum sarbat; things that you would be welcomed with at my home as well."
Suka Sukhi's kitchen is an extension of the Manjrekar home in the truest sense. "My mother made sure guests were well-fed," the filmmaker-actor says, "if she had been here, she wouldn't have wanted to leave this space; she loved cooking for people. My wife is the same - a good cook and a great host. Anyone who comes home leaves only after having a meal; never snacks." However, Medha was apprehensive of this venture and letting out family recipes. "She asked me several times if I was sure, perhaps in the hope of dissuading me, but I wanted to serve those who love a good, hearty and spicy meal," he adds.
His native village is Jaitapur, a small port situated in Rajapur Tehsil of Ratnagiri district, which was in the news for building the world's most powerful nuclear power plant. "Before that, it was a sleepy town that no one knew about," he adds as he enters the kitchen to make a mean bombil sukkha. He looks so comfortable handling the spices, following the recipe and being completely in the moment. That's what suka-sukhi means in Marathi - happiness, pleasure, ease, joy or bliss.
In keeping with its spirit of authenticity, Suka Sukhi does not alter the spice levels to suit the customer's taste buds. "We don't compromise; it's made the way it is made at home," Manjrekar says unapologetically, "If you don't like spicy food, don't have it. If you want paneer-based, onion-tomato gravy, go elsewhere. There are many places that serve it and do a good job of it; not us." You recognise the depth of what he is saying when you sample the methi ki sabzi, made with a simple tempering of crushed garlic in ghee, and topped with crumbled peanuts. It tastes delectable, as if it's topped with melted cheese, but it isn't.
The Goregaon restaurant is the first in a chain of three outlets that will open in the country - the one at Calangute, Goa will set the table at the end of the month, as well as the one at Nal Stop in Pune. "If all goes well," says the Vaastav director, "then I'd like to start one in London as well; I've seen a location and will finalise the deal soon. My daughter, a trained chef, will helm the Goa one and then the London one if all works out well," he informs us while placing an order of crispy bombil fry, and a few other dishes. "For far too long, the West has served restaurant-style meals disguised as Indian food - it's time we let them taste real, authentic food. They may not like it immediately, but we won't alter our recipe to suit them," he says confidently, "Think about it, we also didn't immediately take to Italian or Chinese or Japanese cuisine. But over time, our palates evolved and theirs will too. In fact, once they get a taste of the real thing, there's no looking back."
We start with kulithacha pithi (Rs 100), a healthy, nutritious soup made from ground, roasted horse gram. "This was a quick fix my mother made for impromptu guests," Manjrekar tells us as we slurp on this light, flavourful soup. A large, rawa-fried pomfret fry, and a large slice of surmai fry arrive alongside a spicy paplet curry, kolambi curry and halvyache tikhley that are priced as per size of fish. Tikhley is a special black gravy in which black pomfret is cooked - it was Manjrekar's mom's speciality. "The recipe is a guarded family secret. My wife sends the house help outside the kitchen when she measures the spices for the blend," he laughs.
The gravies were devoured with jowar and rice bhakris (Rs 50 each) and sazuk tupatli chapati (Rs 25) and a portion of plain Indrayani rice that Manjrekar sources from two-three farmers in Maharashtra. "I've been sourcing from them for years for home, and wanted the same quality at the kitchen here," adds. "No compromises on any ingredients," chimes in Satya, Manjrekar's 29-year-old son who helms the project.
With no formal training in the industry, Satya relies heavily on the kitchen staff, all of whom are passionate about cooking and serving food. "We have a very strong team trained by our home staff," Manjrekar informs, "Sometimes, I step into the kitchen to rustle up a dish or two with the team and enjoy the process." Satya apprentices with his father in filmdom, but is more inclined to run the food business. He's excited and looking forward to working closely with his sister Ashwami to take the brand across the country and the world.
Back on the mosaic-tiled table in the outdoor seating surrounded by houseplants, and a wicker pendant lampshade gently oscillating above, Manjrekar insists we have the varan with the sticky mushy rice, ensuring he personally serves each one of us on the table - as if we are sitting at his dining table at home. Tempered with loni or white butter, the unassuming dal gets a distinguished lift with the mild flavours of hirwa vatan (green spice paste).
We sip kairi panna made from concentrate that Manjarekar sources from villages in the Konkan. We are quite averse to the taste of bottled, sugary ones from the market - this one is more natural, hitting the right notes of tang. We end the meal with a aamba modak (Rs 90)-made by adding Alphonso mango puree to the coating and the stuffing, that lends it a beautiful golden colour- that looks as beautiful as it tastes, leaving us feeling absolutely suka-sukhi about this afternoon spent with the Manjrekars.
Shop no 2, Tirupati Udyog Premises, IB Patel Rd, near kama estate, opp. hp petrol, Jay Prakash Nagar, Goregaon
Time: 11am to 11pm