Kathiawadi food festival by chef Dhawal Ajmera (Hornby’s pavilion, ITC grand central, mumbai)

In a NUtshell:

A meal that gave us as much joy as we experienced after eating at Dum Pukht (not comparing cuisines but the sheer feeling of joy) – loved the chat with chef, his team mate , the thoughtfully laid out festival section, ingredients sourced from Gujarat, fabulous taste & textures & most importantly the fact that chef had the guts to offer home recipes (some of them super simple, daily food) at the hotel dinner buffet.

Address & other details: ITC grand central

Meal for 2: ₹4600

Cuisine type : vegetarian only

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I rate all the food items & then give a final overall rating which is a simple average of the individual item ratings. What the ratings stand for: 5 = Excellent, 4 = Very Good, 3 = Good, 2 = Fair, 1 = Disaster

Short description- in case u r in a hurry

We got to know about this festival after seeing an insta post by historian & foodie Kurush Dalal. We follow kurush & his Rhea’s food stories & have always looked forward to pop ups by Rhea. We particularly remembered kurush mentioning ‘I went there with mild trepidation. Most buffet festivals are seldom close to the cuisines they say they are representing ….. after ages I had eaten a 5 star coffee shop buffet that not only rocked my palate but which was true to its cuisine’.

So we booked a table on a Saturday evening thru Zomato. While online booking is usually easy, it is non interactive. So we did not get to mention that we wanted to eat kathiawadi food. Neither did anyone ask.

As we took seat, our server asked us to check out the buffet – indian, continental, Asian etc etc. We asked him about kathiawadi festival. With a plain blank face he said ‘that’s a part of this lovely buffet I just mentioned’. Clearly there had been no training of the staff & they were surely not excited. This cud easily had us walk out & go to K&K downstairs but we just walked in to the buffet area by chance.

The lady at the buffet area gave us a nice talk about the spread & we thought it was worth. Then walked in chef Dhawal – he just sealed the deal. He explained the cuisine beautifully, not in a typical ‘over sweet’ 5 star kind of way but a normal human to human / friend to friend manner. Super enjoyed the chat with him.

There was obviously no menu card, but the food name stickers had short descriptions of the food.

Liked the visual merchandising of the buffet area.

Kunal, who took care of us as we started eating was very pleasing, warm and nice.

Food was marvellous. It was as close as it cud get to home cooked food. No extra thickener, no extra cream on top, no usual commercial kitchen tantrums – still in shock & awe that chef had the belief & strength to serve it on dinner buffet.

Detailed description – in case u hv the time to njoy reading:

Starters

We started the meal with a Combo of jalebi, fafda, Mirchi & papaya

The fafda was the best we have ever had in mumbai. It was super thin, super super crispy , and just unbelievably good in terms of texture and balance of seasoning.

Chef told us that the fafda had to be had in combination with jalebi mirchi and papaya. Had he not insisted, I would not have tried it this way. very happy that he did. Also he did mention that the Jalebis are not crisp but a bit soft. The batter of the jalebis were more fermented & hence sour, that beautifully balanced the sweetness of the ras.

The papaya Chutney was mildly sweet. It gave a nice crunchy texture to the combo. It also was able to cut the sweetness.

Rate the combo 4.95/5

Patra was very good. We were told it is different than the other Gujarati Patra. But we could not make out the difference. Rate it 4/5

Dhokhla also was very good. however it was not any different from the good dhokhlas that we have so far had, either in Mumbai or in Ahmedabad rated 4/5

Khandvi was again very good. it was better than most other khandvis that we have had in Mumbai. Rate it 4.25/5

Dahi bhalla was excellent. it was soft enough in the centre to be enjoyable but firm enough to not crumble. the seasoning was perfect – not over sour. the masalas were not overpowering but just the right amount. Super loved the dish. rate it 4.5/5

Crisp gwarfali fries Were super fun to munch on. chef explained how Ranchi how crispy fries are served with food in the region, to compliment the texture. Rate it 4.25/5

Crisp okra fries were lovely. We constantly Kept munching on these with different dishes. The fries had Perfect seasoning. Rate it 4.5/5

There were few achars (pickles) at the festival.

Tindora achar was made from a green vegetable called tindora. Loved munching on the crunchy tindora – the achar had spices and punch but was not hot / on the face. Rate it 4.5/5

Vadhwan ka mircha achar was an achar made from chillies brought from a place called vadhwan – the chillies were flavorful, somewhat hot but not at all much. Rate it 4.25/5

Mooli achar was fabulous – cud not stop appreciating this simple radish pickle that had captured full flavors & also the crunch of radish. Rate it 4.75/5

Lasaniya batata was a super interesting evening snack that was on the menu. Tangy, hot & chatpata it was.

This was served Along with bhungra – a deep fried crispy roll.

Chef suggested that the Bhungra to be crushed & put atop the aloo. So we did. Loved it. Again, new combo for us. Rate it 4.75/5

Khichia , another crisp was also served. It was one of the best kinds of khichias I have had in Mumbai.

The mains

Khero – dehydrated besan & urad sev cooked in a garlic & tomato based gravy. Loved it. The thin, robust gravy went beautifully well with the once crisp sev. The Sev was now not soggy, it was firm, yet it wud melt away with the first bite due to its being ‘khasta’. Rate it 4.25/5

Moth was a thick dish made of lentil. Loved the texture. Beauty of the dish was the presence of spices but then not being over powering. Rate it 4.5/5

We were told that the kathiawadi Undhiyo was different than the other Gujarati undhiyo (a mixed vegetable slow cooked curry that traditionally was cooked by slow fire that was placed atop an inverted sealed vessel). Kathiawadi undhiyo did not have purple yam & some other ingredients.

Overall directionally it tasted very similar to the normal undhiyo – we had had the good luck of having done of the best undhiyo at homes of people we know. We love undhiyo otherwise & always look forward to it.

Rate this dish 4.5/5

The Daal was very sweet for our palate- however that is how the dish is supposed to be. Rate it 4/5

Sambariya bhindo was an okra (bhindi) dry curry with grated coconut. Loved the simplicity of this dish. Not in the face spices. Not too hot. The bhindi was not slimy, yet there was not oil floating around in the dish. Superb. Rate it 4.5/5

Kobi vatana was the simplest dish I have ever had in a restaurant – eating it was like taking a bite from a friend’s tiffin at office. Simple yet excellent. Rate it 4.5/5

Loved the Gujarati kadhi – as expected it is a bit sweet but was very balanced. The sweet was not overpowering. Rate it 4.5/5

Khichadi was insane. Super simple. Full flavors of ghee. Perfect to taste. Cud not just stop eating. Rate it 4.95/5

Chef had made Khichu for someone & offered the same to us as well. It was made from the atta of khichia. Again, super loved this. Rate it 4.75/5

Dessert

Basoondi was super thickened milk, slightly sweet, not extreme sweet. Flavor of spices was good. Rate it 3.5/5

Aamras was very good. We have had better though. Rate it 4/5

Mohan thal no locho was super fab. It was daanedaar, slightly sweet, had full flavors of ghee. Rate it 4.75/5

Overall rating of food at this kathiawadi pop up averages out to 4.4/5

We were also served a chaas that had a strong clove flavor in it. I asked chef if this was traditional – he said, no.

Wud look forward to next pop up by chef Dhawal.

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