Crab & Wine Fest At Mahesh Lunch Home
Mahesh Lunch Home has been holding its annual crab festival almost for a decade now. And there’s a good reason why it has been successful all these years…
Having enjoyed the experience at a Crab Festival in Mahesh Lunch Home, I always wanted to revisit it. So when I learnt that the restaurant was hosting its Crab and Wine Festival once again from the 10th to the 30th October, 2012, there was no way I was letting this opportunity pass me by.
The anticipation was high, the spirit was keen, the appetite was willing and the belly was growling – all in all, the perfect setting to dig into whatever the festival had in store for me.
The Juhu branch of Mahesh Lunch Home, for those who came in late, is always crowded. This might have a lot to do with the fact that the suburbs of Mumbai are woefully bereft of good places that specialize in offering coastal fare. Add to it the number of tourists who abound in the locality, and who are curious to sample ‘Indian’ food in India; you get an idea why one has to wait for at least half an hour on the pavement to be seated.
Luckily when I visited Mahesh Lunch Home during the ongoing Crab and Wine Festival, I was able to find a table instantly. Yoohoo, a promising start to a much-anticipated meal indeed.
Once seated, the friendly manager, Manoj Nirgun, volunteered to recommend what we should go for (the festival menu is extensive, while the regular menu can be best termed a tome). Given that the restaurant cooks over 100 crabs daily during this festival, I wanted to do justice to only his shell fish and nothing else. My companion, already worrying about what my raging obsession for all things crab would to the coastlines of Gujarat, Sri Lanka and other places from where they are procured, decided to stick to chicken.
We (who am I kidding, it was me, me, me all the way) started with the Kundapur Crab (700), which is crab tossed in a thick Mangalorean masala, then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. The result – mud crab meat that has absorbed the spiciness of the masala and tastes like a very well prepared crab bhurjee, if you will. Oh yes, my anticipation was rising higher and higher…
… and that’s when it plummeted. I tried the Crab and coriander candy sticks (650). The idea of such a dish, and its description, was novel – it called for mincing crab and coriander together with seasoning, cooking it and then serving it on small sugarcane sticks. When you first take a bite of this dish, your teeth sink into a soft mass of white crab meat and you think you are in heaven. Sadly, the second bite hurtles to straight to terra firma – there’s an inexpiable metallic taste that hits the back of your throat and makes you want to gag. When we asked Manoj, he admitted there was a different after-taste, but added that it was because of the coriander mince, which was hard to believe.
While it takes a lot more than some off-tasting crab to break the resolve of a hardened seafood lover like me, I decided to shift gears and we opted for the Rasilla Chicken Kabab. And this dish is ideal for someone who is accompanying a seafood lover to Mahesh Lunch Home, but can’t be tempted to try the coastal fare. Succulent pieces of chicken, which have been mildly spiced and barbecued – it’s easy to see why non-Indian diners liked it so much. A similar treatment is meted out to the Malbas Machali Tikka – a new addition from the kitchen that had not yet made its way to the menu yet. But hey we aren’t complaining!
And if you are in a Mangalorean joint, it would be sheer sacrilege not to try out the Chicken Sukka (Rs 225). A dyed-in-the wool Mangalorean would find that this preparation has slightly deviated from the traditional sukka style – meaning to say the masala was not as dry as it ought to have been – but fowl-lovers would enjoy it nonetheless.
The surprise package was the Butter Chicken (Rs 250), which is not the regular fare you get in most places. For starters, it did not have the creamy consistency or the bright red hue one is used to. Instead, this one had more caramelized onion paste, which lent a dark brown color to the coarse gravy – interestingly good. But to keep the purists happy and not confuse people who swear by their Fun-jabi food, perhaps the restaurant could cook up a new name for this dish?!
I did have a glass of Four Seasons white wine, but crabs were what I was interested in and crabs was what I gave my undivided attention to.
Having now recovered from the one crabby experience at the start of our meal, I decided to pick up the gauntlet and try a few more crab preparations. So after bravely donning a bib and holding my crab cracker determinedly in my hand, I eyed the Chimborichi Amti (700), a spicy Malwani preparation, with a suspicious glint in my eye. But my trepidation was totally unfounded! The gravy was masaledaar, just the way it should be. I was told the crab was of the soft shell variety, which I could bite into. Please don’t anything so foolhardy because the shell was thick and well, difficult to chew comfortably. But the meat was perfect, once you had fished it out carefully from the claws and other parts.
I am sure that I must have spooked a few of my fellow diners, when I attacked the Crab in coriander gravy the way Captain Jack Sparrow attacks anyone who lays eyes on his cherished Black Pearl. And what’s a few pieces of crab marrow swooshing in the air and chunks of crab meat finding succor in your bib, when you are slurping into the innards of this divine shell fish? Ah, pish-posh… needless to say, I did not give any attention to the people who threw darting funny looks while I was digging into my food in the true sense of the word. A girl’s got to eat, after all!
The Promfret Mallipurum (550) was just delicious, so much for once I pushed the batter fried pomfret pieces to the edge of my plate and slurped down the gravy with gusto – a very unlikely occurrence with me. So what if the peanut-coconut-gravy gravy was more Thai than Kerala – it was nonetheless lip-smackingly devorable. The appams and the roti do not get a special mention here as accompaniments because well, there was truly nothing outstanding to write home about them.
And that sums up our meal – where I thought I had actually gone to heaven… but wait there was the retro music, especially plenty of Bryan Adams who kept begging me to forgive him. Well, given the satiated and happy mood I was in, I was more than willing to forgive Adams and Mahesh Lunch Home for the very dim lighting, which made it hard for me to actually see the speckled crabs or appreciate the exact hue of the gravies, and the extravagance of their offerings.
Overall, I am glad I had the chance to revisit the Crab and Wine Food Festival. It rekindled old memories, and pleasant ones at that, and gave me something even better to look forward to.