On my first day in India I picked up the book Rude Food by Indian writer Vir Sanghvi. Rude Food is a collection of food writing columns that Sanghvi published anonymously in the Hindustan Times while he was the paper’s editor. Opinionated, refreshing, sometimes arrogant and almost always entertaining, Rude Food is a great introduction to Indian food, its history and the main Indian restaurant scenes.
While the subject matter varies widely (think everything from how to make perfect mashed potatoes to the history of South Indian staples like dosas and idli) a consistent theme of the book is the high quality of restaurants in top Indian hotel chains.
Sanghvi reserves special praise for the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai, devoting an entire column to the history of its groundbreaking restaurants. One reference really piqued my curiosity: Sanghvi claimed the Taj’s Indian restaurant, Masala Kraft, was the best Indian restaurant in the world. This was one boast I was happy to test!
Despite wearing our best clothes, I still felt underdressed when we entered the glamorous marble lobby of the grand Taj. By contrast, Masala Kraft was almost disappointingly understated in tone, situated down a hallway in an unprepossessing, internal room overlooking a shopping strand.
While the decor was muted, the food was anything but. Masala Kraft is easily the best Indian restaurant I’ve eaten at, and certainly the most innovative. The menu contained none of the usual Indian standards, like Palak Paneer or Vegetable Korma. In their place was a carefully thought out list of exquisite, modern Indian dishes, the like of which I’ve never seen on any other menu.
Our meal began with a complimentary starter of pappadams, tomato sauce and fresh carrot and cucumber. This was followed by a second complimentary dish of a fried egg-shaped ball filled with potato, organic lentils and sweet yoghurt served with a tamarind sauce.
For entree, I ordered the Lal Mirch Ka Paneer, paneer cheese marinated in chillies and aniseed and char grilled. It was superb, the best paneer I’ve ever eaten. The paneer had an amazing texture, soft to the bite but still meaty and layered. The marinade was perfectly done - well-spiced, but without letting the chillies overpower the other tastes.
Andy choose the Bhalla Chat, lentil dumplings soaked in a sweet yoghurt and topped with date and ginger relish. This was an unsual dish to my tastebuds reared on Western food. The lentil cakes were soft and didn’t have a strong flavour, while the very sweet yoghurt sauce was seasoned with salt and pepper and had an almost eggy mayonaise flavour.
We’d given careful thought to our choice of mains. There were so many intriguing dishes, like snakegourd and drumstick curry, turnip cooked with peppery lentil dumplings, and paneer tossed in sorrel leaves. However, anticipating that we would be feeling full, we choose a simple vegetable dish and a dal.
Of course, these were not “boring” choices. The vegetable dish was Bhavnagari Mirchi, green peppers stuffed with a pickled potato mash, while our Dal Maa Sabut was a delicious combination of black dal in a tomato and cumin sauce.
They came out together and were served onto large individual dishes by the exceptionally friendly waiting staff. The green peppers with pickled potato mash was a welcome respite from the heavier curries we were used to for dinner. The pepper flesh was delicate and soft, while the pickled mash added bite. The dal was proof of how satisfying simple foods can be. As Andy said, the sauce was a wonder, somehow managing to be rich without being heavy.
By the end of the meal we were so impressed that we asked the waiter to give our compliments to the chef. We were very pleased when he sent the chef out to meet us, so we could give them to her in person!
We hadn’t ordered dessert as we were very full by this stage, but the chef insisted on sending out a complimentary tasting plate with some traditional Indian ice cream called kulfi, and a light milky pudding.
Andy and I were lucky to eat at Masala Kraft during the Hindu Navratri festival, as Masala Kraft had put on a special, vegetarian friendly menu. All the entrees were vegetarian, as were 20 of the mains.
Before we left I checked the standard menu, and was reassured to see that many of our favourite dishes, like the paneer starter, were also part of the regular service, and that there was always a good selection of vegetarian dishes on offer, including seven vegetarian mains.
Masala Kraft is not cheap by Indian standards. Our meal, without wine, came to over 2000 rupees (or $70 Australian). However, the quality of the food is superb, and I doubt you could find the equivalent food in a Western country for this price.
More than that, the food was clever, modern and innovative, suprisingly rare features of Indian restaurant menus where you often find the same traditional dishes repeated ad nauseum.
4 Comments posted on "Masala Kraft - Taj Hotel, Colaba, Mumbai, Indian, VVVV"
vegetablej on November 13th, 2007 at 9:45 am #
Good lordy-lord, if this place doesn’t look like Nirvana on earth, I don’t know what does. And a woman chef! How you could bear to leave it, I don’t know, but I guess when you’re on a round the world tour, the next adventure is bound to be just as good.
Getting greener by the minute.
Chris on November 20th, 2007 at 6:56 am #
You know, reading about your culinary adventures in India is starting to make me rethink my next trip. I love SE Asia, but nowhere is more “veggie friendly” than India. Maybe a swing through Nepal, India, and Bhutan is in order!
Smita on November 29th, 2007 at 1:50 am #
Such a co-incidence! I grew up in Bombay, but I’m travelling in Australia and so stop by your blog often for reccommendations. And here you are in Bombay! I get back on December 9th but please know that you have a standing invitation for home cooked meals, both in Bombay and in Rochester, NY. Many thanks for sharing.
Anuradha Khanna Pentapalli on November 9th, 2009 at 7:08 pm #
We are planning to dine at either Masaka Kraft or Shamiana tonight on the occasion of our first wedding anniversary. Your amazing review has made me only waiting to be there soon. Thanks!
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