Doing it right
A new cafe in Versova gets its act so bang on that we are bound to return there several times over
India isn't Europe yet. We probably won't reach those standards of living in our own lifetime. But the signs of western gentrification are already here. There was a time till the mid-nineties when our idea of foreign food for instance, outside of Chinese dishes, was restricted to one section of the menu termed "Continental". Italian food meant generic pasta and pizza made not with mozzarella, but grated Amul cheese. Coffee shops entered our collective consciousness a little later, though they were restricted to Barista first and then Café Coffee Day. But now, you have eateries that specialise in French, Mexican or Spanish cuisine. The term "Continental", if you've noticed, is in fact hardly there on menus these days. And even when it comes to cafés, we have moved past the usual chains to include boutique options that recreate the sort of experience that you might have in a neighbourhood in Paris.
One such place, called La Gwa, has opened up in a bylane in Versova.
I drop in there on a weekend afternoon to assess the experience, along with my father who's visiting the city. He's a man of taste who's travelled the world. He also isn't easy to please. So, will his judgment of this new spot be on favourable lines? We ask for a plate of scrambled eggs (Rs 149), an aglio oglio pasta (Rs 219), classic cold coffee (Rs 149) and Americano (Rs 99) to find out.
Now, the trick with scrambled eggs is to take it off the heat and then put it back on at different intervals during the cooking process, while stirring continuously throughout. The eggs cook even when the pan is away from the hob, and this ensures that they don't get congealed. The version served here doesn't look as creamy as an ideal one should. Yet, the father polishes it off without a hint of condescension. And a bite confirms why. The dish tastes great. So what if the texture is slightly dry?
Classic cold coffee
The cold coffee also hits the spot. There is a balance that must be struck with this old-time favourite. The coffee can't overpower the flavour, and it shouldn't be too milky either. This place realises that. Its version has the correct light-brown colour and the perfect amount of froth. Think of the last time you had a glass of solid cold coffee, a familiar taste you're bound to be acquainted with. That's what you'll get if you ask for one here.
The Americano is, well, like any other Americano. There's not much you can do to get this beverage wrong. But the acid test for this café lies in the aglio oglio. It's a dish that's usually made with spaghetti. But the one here has twirly fusilli instead. Aglio oglio, on paper, is an easy dish to make. How much can you mess up a dish that has only garlic, olive oil and optional chilli flakes as ingredients apart from the pasta, you might ask. Well, a lot is the answer, if your timing is as bad as that of a hapless tail-ender batsman facing the opposition's strike bowler. But the chef at La Gwa hits it out of the park. His version of the Italian staple is brimming with flavour. The garlic and olive oil mingle as easily as two well-settled batsmen taking off for a comfortable single. The only complaint, and this comes from the father, is that the sprinkling of chilli flakes has been a little too liberal. He brings this up with the chef, who apologises, and then explains that he makes it spicier than he himself would like to because that's just how the Indian palate is built.
So, overall, it's safe to say that La Gwa manages to bring a genuine slice of Europe to a quiet Mumbai neighbourhood. The interiors are tiny, but tastefully done up. The service is as warm as the afternoon outside. Rarely have I ever been to a place where I have no cause for complaint, and there isn't a single one that can be pinpointed here. So, it's redundant to ask whether I will return to the café. At the time of writing, I have already gone back there once. And I'm sure that when Baba visits again, he wouldn't mind returning with his son either. That, really, is the best review possible.
At La Gwa, Royal Apartments, Versova, Andheri West.
Time 9 am to 10 pm
Food review rating: 4/4 EXCEPTIONAL, 3/4 EXCELLENT, 2/4 VERY GOOD, 1/4 GOOD, 0.5/4 AVERAGE
La Gwa didn’t know we were there. The Guide reviews anonymously and pays for meals
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