In Bombay, a city surrounded by the sea, seafood is fresh and available in abundance. And feasting on it is a regular and exuberant activity — almost a birthright. Bombayites, raised on the spoils of the sea, crowd into famed spots for favourite dishes. Mahesh Lunch Home for Jumbo Crab and Butter Pepper Garlic Prawns. Trishna for Tandoori Lobster and Squid Koliwada. Or Gajalee for Clam Masala and Stuffed Pomfret.
All of these establishments take their influence from Maharashtrian cooking — just one cuisine in Bombay’s varied palette, which also includes influences from China, the west, and elsewhere in India. Malvani cuisine, from the South Kongan region is especially popular in Bombay and makes delicious use of coconut and fish. If ever the opportunity presents itself, do try some crisp morsels of Bangda (mackerel) Fry.
Yet more seafood-loving Bombayites can be found at Sassoon Dock, the raucous fish market in South Bombay. There, sea creatures of every shape, size and flavour, from baby sharks to blue crabs, are laid out in baskets, on tarpaulins, or piled in vast heaps on the floor. (If you visit, consider wearing an old pair of shoes that you are happy to throw away afterwards). Impromptu fish auctions often break out (open only to wholesalers), and the chefs of famous restaurants can be spied shopping.
At the centre of the market’s trade are the Koli people — the fishing community who inhabited the original seven swampy islands long before Bombay ballooned into a city of twenty million. There are still Koliwada districts in Bombay and, for the Koli people, fish and fishing are core to their identity and everyday life.
It is the Bombayites’ loving relationship to fish and seafood — their traditions, history, local delicacies — that inspired the new lunchtime special at our Canary Wharf café: the Lobster Roll.
Lobster claw meat is marinated tenderly in butter, fried garlic, lime and chilli dressing, and chilli flakes, before being piled into a soft, homemade pau in indulgent quantities. Fried onions and fresh herbs dress this resplendent roll, and we invite you to pour on chilli garlic butter, squeeze over lemon and tie your napkin around your neck to protect your best workwear from the zesty juices. Or to take crunchy respite from the richness with a side of café crisps.
It is available 16th October until 19th November between 12pm and 5pm, and is £25 — a modest price for a little lunch-break luxury, and an evocative culinary connection with Bombay.
With February comes a gladdening of spirits, lighter morning skies and discernibly louder birdsong. It is also the month to bid farewell to our winter cocoons (at least partially) and tune back into the world beyond our blankets. Allow us to ease the de-hibernation process, by sharing some of the things piquing our interest this month.
“Who wants to see some magic?” Chef Arun calls out. He flings the rolled out dough into the air, sending it soaring above the counter. It spins and twists, a graceful dancer in the air. The children watch its arc, their eyes wide with wonder, until it lands gently back in the chef's hands. The children shriek in delight.
January is a most divisive month. For some it heralds the hopeful turning over of new leaves; for others it is a month to trudge begrudgingly through towards the promise of spring. Whichever camp you find yourself in, we have plentiful diversions to share. See them as the cherry atop your already gleeful January cake, or a welcome distraction while you await winter’s end.
I AM HERE, dear reader, slovenly and slouched, staring into my drink at the end of the bar in our new restaurant in Battersea. My mind is still down and out, sifting around in the dregs of ’23 but of course it knows that I should really straighten my back, raise my chin and look squarely up into the cold new light of ’24. My drink – Choti’s Punch – clear and strong, sweet with a little salt, may help.