Looking for the local hero
A face-off between two eateries serving authentic Malwani fare in Andheri - one an old stalwart and the other a new entrant - throws up an interesting result
Malwani Kkalwan is old still gold?
AMBIENCE: It's a clean, no-frills place with nothing over the top
SERVICE: the eatery has had consistently excellent service over the years
For years now, there is only one place that most residents in the neighbourhood of Andheri's Seven Bungalows area have frequented for authentic Konkani cuisine — Malwan Kkalwan. (Somehow, a nearby outlet of another popular seafood restaurant has never been able to garner the sort of footfall its parent branch in Vile Parle does). The eatery is located bang opposite a popular pub. But its clientele is a far cry from the raucous filmy folk that the watering hole gets. Instead, it comprises friends and families out for reasonably priced seafood delicacies, and couples who don't need a fancy fine-dine to impress each other.
We place a telephonic order for two dishes and a drink that epitomise Malwani cuisine as much as dal makhni is typical of a dhaba in Punjab. These are bombil fry (Rs 269), chicken masala paired with rice bhakri (Rs 315), and sol kadi (Rs 55) to digest it all with. The restaurant has two tables occupied when we arrive around 12.30 on a Tuesday afternoon to pick up the grub. But going by past experience, service is bound to pick up later in the afternoon, during peak lunchtime.
On opening the bombil fry in office around an hour later, it turns out to be a generous portion. But unfortunately, the besan batter has lost all its crunchiness, though this can be attributed to the delay in trying the dish out. Otherwise, it's a decent enough version of the classic fish delicacy, except that if truth be told, we have had better at some other joints.
The chicken masala, on the other hand, stands out for its creamy texture given the generous addition of grated coconut. The spices like mace and nutmeg also lend it a subtle flavour. The bhakri is a bit dry, however. And the sol kadi, too, is a standard variant of Maharashtra's signature kokum drink.
So, while the culinary experience doesn't really disappoint, it's unlikely that we'll go around tom-toming Malwan Kkalwan like we used to earlier. There seems to be a slight drop in standards (mid-day's photo editor, a true-blue Marathi manoos, corroborates this opinion). You can blame it on complacency. But that's something the proprietors will definitely have to keep in check, given the entry of an excellent new Malwani eatery in the neighbourhood, which you'll read about in the second half of this shoot-out.
At Malwani Kkalwan, Om Cottage, opposite Nana Nani Park, JP Road, 7 Bungalows, Andheri West.
Timings 12 pm to 3.30 pm; 7 pm to 12 am
Nav Chaitanya A formidable start
AMBIENCE: The place has a touch of class that is distinctly local in style
SERVICE: ten points for honesty and efficiency
We pick up our parcel from Nav Chaitanya in less than eight minutes of exiting Malwani Kkalwan, so that there is parity in the amount of time that passes before simultaneously trying the fare from both places. What's more, the order is exactly the same. So, no one can point a finger saying that the parameters for making a comparison between the two eateries are unfair. This restaurant, too, is near empty at 12.40 pm, with just one occupied table. But that might be because it launched only days ago, and word about it hasn't gotten around yet.
In fact, everything about the place screams "new" on entering. This includes the spotless green upholstery on the sofas and the shiny wooden tabletops. Even the service staff has the same sort of enthusiasm that a new student in class displays while trying to impress the teacher. Their honesty is also commendable, since they initially say over the phone that it will take 15 minutes to prepare the order, and then quickly change that to 20 minutes saying that they need the extra time since the bombil fry is made from scratch.
Bombil shallow fry
That does indeed seem to be the case when we bite into the fish starter (Rs 230), considering it hasn't lost its crunchiness entirely even an hour later. But that might also have to do with the sprinkling of rava on the batter, which keeps it from going soggy faster. The only complaint we have, however, is that the fish is a tad too salty, since that takes away from its otherwise robust flavour.
The bhakri, though, is delightfully fluffy. It's the perfect bread to mop up the chicken masala (Rs 290) with, which, in this place, is less creamy than its rival's. But that doesn't compromise the coconut-y gravy. In fact, if anything, it makes it lighter, and hence more palatable.
The sol kadi (Rs 85), meanwhile, is also lighter than the one at Malwan Kkalwan. And the sprinkling of dhaniya leaves lifts the digestive drink. It really is the definitive beverage that typifies this part of the country, and Nav Chaitanya does a commendable job of keeping the flag flying high.
So at the end of the day, the eatery edges out its competitor in terms of the quality of food. The place is also swankier, if that's what you're after. What remains to be seen, however, is whether they can maintain standards as time wears on. But in the meantime, Malwan Kkalwan can't rest on past laurels any longer and would do well to pull its socks up.
Chicken masala with bhakri
At Nav Chaitanya, opposite Versova Police Station, near Cosmopolitan School, DN Nagar, Versova, Andheri West.
Time 11.30 am to 3.30 pm; 7.30 pm to 11 pm
4/4 EXCEPTIONAL, 3/4 EXCELLENT, 2/4 VERY GOOD, 1/4 GOOD, 0.5/4 AVERAGE
Malwani Kkalwan and Nav Chaitanya didn’t know we were there. The Guide reviews anonymously and pays for meals
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