South Bombay. A place that is emblazoned by a panoply of restaurants ranging from fastidious fine dining to lip-smacking finger-food. The contrast strikes you right off the bat. You have these magisterial works of Victorian and Gothic architecture housing every restaurant of every cuisine.
The Leopold Café, a gastropub actually, a 19th century British establishment that prides itself on good food and beer (I haven’t tasted the latter) and Café Mondegar, its Iranian counterpart are located adjacent to each other so you’d there is a fair amount of rivalry going on between the two. While these gaudy cafes use visual cues to amplify the dining experience, you have Bademiya’s Seekh Kebab in the next alley that lets the food do all the talking mainly because they have no choice as the only place they can serve their customers is inside a dilapidated, dingy building while their kitchen is outside on the pavement. The food is delicious nonetheless. Further ahead, the Sardar Pav Bhaji is an absolute calorie-storehouse as they simply drown and douse every single component of pav bhaji in a truckload of butter, including the chopped onions and coriander meant to go as a garnish on top of the bhaji.
Amidst this eclectic mix of restaurants and cuisines, there is one humble little restaurant that has a consummate blend of ambience and delicious food. Swati Snacks is a Maharashtrian-Gujrati venture that brings the traditional recipes from our homes bang up to speed. It serves a variety of vegetarian delights with amplified flavors and a spark of innovation. The space is alluring, well-lit and clean.
We kick-started the meal with Dahi Misal which was essentially a texture-laden bowl of goodness. A sweet imli and date chutney was added to a mixture of boiled chickpeas (Chola) that had grown really soft, couple of legumes kept al dente, and crispy pieces of crumbled pastry, and whole of it was enclosed in the curd that was almost of a soupy consistency. It was topped with sev and pomegranate seeds.
The dish wasn’t hard on the palette which I believe is the perfect way to start a meal. It was subtle and quite refreshing in fact, all thanks to that wonderfully creamy curd soup. We ordered their elusive Ragda Pattice next that was supposedly, a genuine crowd-pleaser and as soon as it hit the table, we could see why. Delicacy was thrown out of the window. This thing looked bold. It looked gutsy and I could tell that the palette was in for a riot. The dish had three patties, their tops looking wonderfully crispy, the Ragda (bowl of boiled chickpeas with gravy), a pudina and green chilly chutney, and a date and imli chutney. We cut one patty open, expecting it to be all potato inside, instead, it was filled with a pea and coriander duxelle.
I was mad enough to load my patty with just the green sauce and it had me sweating profusely and had my nose running like crazy. Then eating it with the Ragda which was quite mild in flavor, cut down the heat however the addition of the date chutney cut it down bigtime until the dish was completely balanced. The Bajra Paneer Pizza was definitely a first for me and boy did it deliver. With a crunchy, brown bajra crust, it was topped with tomato sauce, oregano, black olives, shredded paneer that just melted in your mouth and finally, mint leaves. It was a gobsmackingly good godsend for diet freaks and I kept going back for more until there was none left.
Khichadi is such an embodiment of Indian cooking you know, everything cooked cohesively in one pot and the Fada ni khichadi (a wheat pulao) looked like a proper risotto even when it wasn’t one. It was a congruous blend of veggies and the wheat and was served with a generous bowl of the creamy, soupy, curd which this time, camouflaged a spicy garlic paste. The Dabeli was an absolute rip-off . There’s no way on earth that two portions of dabeli can cost 170 rupees. What is it that they put in there? Gold? Silver? Platinum? Geez! It tasted alright though and the addition of pomegranate seeds to the filling gave bursts of sweetness and acidity.
Gauging from the portion sizes, it was overt that the pricing in general was iniquitous. A bowl of kesar and cardamom custard (shrikhand, as it is called) cost us an outrageous 175 rupees. I could have eaten 3 donuts at MOD for that price, and maybe more on a Tuesday, and while you could argue that it was all smooth and creamy, the amount was scanty enough for the price to be grossly unfair. The waiter albeit, tricked us into buying an absolutely egregious dish. Beetroot and potato patties, a combination that failed miserably for me. Not to mention they were seasoned heavily with chaat masala. The service on balance, was super-quick and certainly impressive.
Regardless of the few negatives, the cooking was home-cooking brought up to date. It was simple and yet it was elegant. I found some of the dishes truly novel and they are a must-try for all the gastronomes out there. The crafty cooking, topped with the casual atmosphere made it a dining experience to remember which is why the restaurant goes down with a strong recommendation and a stellar rating of 8 out of a possible 10.