Where: The Taj Mahal Palace, Colaba (Open 24 hours)
Cost: About Rs 4,000 for a meal for two with one drink each
It’s easy to see why Shamiana’s reopening at The Taj Mahal Palace has received so much attention. For one, Mumbai’s first-ever 24-hour coffee shop, which opened in 1973, is back in its old spot by the lobby. Folks in their 20s and 30s then who grew to love it — like my dad, who joined me for my meal here — remember the wild times and waffles they had in this room. Their kids who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s remember being taken here for Sunday brunch.
In cream and dark wood, it looks nothing like it used to: heavy, draped pole tents have been replaced by smooth lengths of white fabric; an open kitchen steams and gleams. Still, it’s steeped in nostalgia. On a far wall are black-and-white photos of models (Cindy Crawford) and musicians (Louis Armstrong) who graced this space. At lunch these days, they look over silver-haired ladies in pearls and pink pashmina.
The new website promises “an international… menu to suit every mood”. This is accurate; all-day breakfast, starters and mains sit alongside sandwiches, ‘via Bombay’ staples like alu puneri, and, most excitingly, the Taj Autograph Collection, featuring favourites from Taj hotels around the world, such as bunny chow from Taj Capetown, and fish and chips from St James’ Court, London.
In trying to please everyone, there are bound to be goofs — perfection would take too many experts in the kitchen. In the burrata salad with bright heirloom tomatoes, croutons, balsamic and olive oil, everything but the cheese is good; its dome has been flamed until the skin feels like leather. Shamiana is not the place to eat pricey, chunky, cheese-glazed nachos, just as Starboard wasn’t. But it IS the place to eat kheema pao, spicy but not fiery, glossy but not grossly fatty, served in a moulded dona with a beribboned muslin-clad half lemon alongside.
Camembert soufflé, passed forward from the now shuttered Zodiac Grill at a third of the price, tastes like it’s lost its refinement but kept most of its flavour.
The super sundae is less an ice-cream dessert, more two choux stuffed and stacked with raspberry chocolate ganache, whipped cream, almond brittle, raspberry and caramel sauces, and some vanilla ice cream. We fared better with a simpler daily special off the blackboard — stacked silver-dollar pancakes pasted with Nutella, layer-cake like.
No matter the meal, everyone leaves Shamiana with the feeling that only an emphatic commitment to service can provide. Flatware is cleared after every dish, every server answers every question knowledgeably and kindly, and they’re plainly worried if diners look the least bit dissatisfied. It more than makes up for the not-great nachos.