Every year, for the last three years, The Girlfriend and I have been going on a week-long holiday to Pune. Much of the holiday, naturally, is devoted to eating and trying out as many restaurants as we can. Over the years we’ve realised that the places that we’ve really liked and are rarely disappointed with are the Maharashtrian ones.
This has worked out quite well since regional Maharashtrian cuisine, excluding the Konkan, is under-represented in Mumbai. You’ll find a number of restaurants in pockets like Dadar, Parel and Girgaum but not many elsewhere.
One of the few non-Maharashtrian restaurants that we’ve tried and truly enjoyed is Café Maroo in Aundh which is the only Korean restaurant close to Mumbai. It used to be a tiny place but has now moved to a more spacious place across the road. We both love Korean food and liked Maroo so much that one Sunday last year three of us got up early, took an ST bus to Pune, had lunch at Maroo and caught a bus back to Mumbai. Maroo, has fallen somewhat out of favour after The Girlfriend discovered Gung The Palace in Delhi: Maroo’s home-style cooking is no match for Gung’s sophisticated restaurant cooking, but I know it’s a place we’ll definitely return to: if for nothing else, their Kimchi Fried Rice and Soo-Jeong-Gwa, the cinnamon-ginger iced tea.
This year we tried out a few new places but mostly returned to old favourites.
Best Meal: Janaseva Bhojnalay
The first time we visited Janaseva was on Lakshmi Puja 2 years ago. We thought Diwali was a day people spend with their families and most restaurants would be empty. We got a shock when we arrived at Janaseva; there was a long queue from the doorway of the first-floor restaurant right down to the ground floor. We were too hungry to wait that day but we knew that we had to return.
Janaseva offers a home-style, vegetarian Maharashtrian thali. The dining room is basic and functional – three rows of 4-seater, laminate-topped, bench-tables run down the length of the well-lit room.
On the afternoon we had lunch the restaurant was mostly empty: on the first table in the centre row sat a young woman dining alone, at the table next to her were three elderly Brahmins grumbling about how McDonald’s was taking over the world; at the back of the room a group of college students silently ate their meal as did an elderly Muslim couple. Occasionally, the sound of traffic from the busy Garware Junction intruded, but it was barely noticeable.
The food was simple, but very tasty: there was a black sesame thecha, a really lovely varan, a bitter-sweet fried bhindi and coconut, a sweetish pumpkin bhaji, amazingly soft chapattis and a really nice preparation of chawli – my least favourite legume.
Great meals: Soaham Uphar Grih
When we couldn’t get a table at Janaseva we walked down JM Road looking for a restaurant. We almost overlooked Soaham which is on the ground floor of a somewhat run-down old Maharashtrian house. We liked it so much that we’ve returned every year since.
None of the Pune sites/ blogs have put Soaham on a list and I’m not surprised. Soaham is really the Maharashtrian equivalent of a dhaba: plastic tables, plastic chairs, a grimy menu and a wash basin that’s in the outer courtyard. The food, which seems to be cooked in the inner courtyard, is fabulous; very simple, very tasty, very cheap. Loved the Masala Vange in sweet-spicy peanut gravy and the Sev Bhaji in a slightly sweetish tomato gravy. The Shepu Bhaji here is also pretty good.
If you walk by too quickly, you’ll miss this tiny Kohlapuri restaurant. Gaavkari offers a very limited menu but the food is excellent. Order one of the Special Thalis which are served with egg curry, a small wati of a generic gravy, and unlimited refills of tambada rassa and, my favourite, pandhara rassa. This Kohlapuri specialty, a white mutton broth, cooked with coconut milk, cashew and poppy seeds, and flavoured with whole garam masala, is mutton soup for the soul. The first time I tried it, I had seven watis. This time I tried the Special Chicken Thali; the chicken is cut in a typically rural style – small pieces almost all of which are on the bone, and then tossed in a spicy masala and pan fired till slightly charred and smoky
Mathura was a really sleepy, empty place on JM Road. You were never sure if the restaurant was open for service because there were no customers inside and no waiters to be seen. This year the place has been given a rather gaudy make-over, but the food is just as good. The only time I’ve had pithla was when the Shiv Sena opened a number of Zunka Bhakar stalls in the 90’s: it tasted awful and I’ve never eaten it since. The Masala Pithla at Mathura was a game changer; it had a smooth creamy texture with hints of garlic and the punch of fresh green chilli. I’m told the Ravan Pithla, so called on account of it being fiercely pungent, is also very good. The Shepu Bhaji had a freshness which comes from being cooked à la minute, the firmness of the moong dal and onions was a nice contrast to the feathery softness of the dill. We didn’t like the crunchiness of the kothimbir wadi which had been sliced and fried. We both prefer it soft.
Fish Curry Rice
A regular haunt of Puneri Brahmins. The Pomfret Pedavan which is a whole pomfret stuffed with a green masala and steamed is their specialty and always worth ordering. The thin Sol Kadi is on the sweeter side but I love the tival, the complimentary kokum sherbet they serve. Instead of seafood I decided to try the Mutton Kheema for a change. It was so fiercely pungent that I needed to take a sip of Maaza with every bite. It’s perfect for chilli freaks. The only disappointment was the Mandeli fry which though plump and fresh were cooked in a tasteless semolina batter
I’ve passed by Chinese Room on East Street a couple of times but, thinking it was a generic Chinese restaurant, have avoided it. However, since it was recommended as Tangra-style Chinese restaurant we gave it a try and found it to be surprisingly good. Though the Chilly Spare ribs looked very Indianised but the anticipated chilli-soy overdose was completely missing; the aromatic flavours of ginger and garlic dominated. The two things I liked most about the Pork Young Chow Fired Rice was how moist and flavourful the rice was and that it was not at all greasy. All the vegetables in the Pork with Bamboo Shoot and Mushroom were crisp and crunchy and there was a beautiful balance in textures and flavours between the pork and the vegetables.
Disappointing meal: Shreyas
Though it came highly recommended Shreyas turned out be quite underwhelming. Nothing stood out; nothing, apart from the potato bhaji, was truly memorable and yet nothing was bad. I quite liked the variety but not the execution – it tasted lifeless and dull. The service though was amazing – extremely warm, attentive and friendly. I’d give it a second chance.
Shri Krishna Bhuvan
Shri Krishna Bhuvan is at the start of one of the tiny lanes in Budhwar Peth. I’m not sure I’d be able to find it again, but then I’m not sure I’d want to. It is however immensely popular. They only do misal and there are long, but quick-moving, lines for the upstairs dining room and at the downstairs take-away counter. I prefer a spicy misal so I didn’t enjoy their sweet version which is served in two stages: the dry farsan with boiled potato underneath and bread first, followed by the kat. The trick to getting a perfect misal experience I discovered only at the end of the meal, after watching a neighbouring table, is to first mix the potato and farsan well and add all the kat at one time. I added it slowly and by the end of the meal had more kat than farsan in my plate.
Terttulia is an interesting space in the à la Olive bar and Kitchen-style with an inside-outside bar and dining spaces. The food though is rather unappealing. This was possibly the worst liver pâté ever: though it was smooth it had a soggy, diluted, watery flavour that made it feel like it had just been taken out of the freezer and been blended before being served. And it was unpleasantly bitter. The Quarter Pounder was strictly ok, the bread was fresh, and the patty was flavourful. Not exceptional but adequate: my only quibble was that I asked for it to be medium-rare, but it was served well done. The Lamb Kebab Wrap was quite pointless; indifferently flavoured lamb with three cheeses. Plating of both was what you’d expect at an Irani café.
|Invited by PR company||No|
|Guest of the chef/ restaurant||No|
|Restaurant knew I’m a food writer||No|
|Meal comped by the restaurant||No|