Restaurant review: Diva Maharashtracha
After losing interest in Ovenfresh after a long queue thanks to renovation (and their conversion to vegetarianism), Amma and I headed to Diva Maharashtracha in search of Maharashtrian food pulled up a few notches by the foodie talents of Suhas and Deepa Awchat. It had been a hot and tiring afternoon, and we were already in a rather unforgiving mood. Unfortunately, Diva Maharashtracha could not live up to our expectations.
I had heard so much about the three Awchat restaurants, Goa Portuguesa, Culture Curry, and Diva Maharashtracha—they had won awards, they were being discussed on Page 3. However, my mountain of excitement came sliding down with every passing minute that I spent there.
Restaurant: Diva Maharashtracha (Mahim, near Hinduja Hospital)
My rating: Disappointing
The ambience: The moment you enter, after signing your name at the request of a very sleepy Mawla (Maratha warrior), who presses a button (rather unwillingly) to sound the tutaari and welcome you, you are faced with garish overdone-ness. The designer of the restaurant tried too hard, I think. There was too much. The banana tree, cheap Paithani sarees (that could do with some laundering) on the ceiling and walls, traditional headgear, torches with orange paper flames did not blend in at all with the upholstery and the badly arranged seating or the crockery. The air conditioning was dysfunctional, leaving us hot and flustered, impatient to finish the meal and leave as soon as possible. The lighting did nothing to compliment the food, either. The restaurant faces a sunny street—I wonder why they didn’t think of using that to their advantage. The placemats were a cheap, laminated advertisement of the Awchat restaurants and most un-humble declarations of grandiose. I did not want to read my menu with the overdressed owner-couple staring at me in their traditional finery. Overall, tacky ambience—looks very shady (you don’t want to know the word we used). The lighting was so bad, I couldn’t take any pictures at all.
The music is loud, popular Marathi film music that is totally misrepresentative of Marathi “culture” as they claim to represent. Oh, and suddenly, in the middle of your meal, the music comes to a stop, and a recorded message starts playing in a deep, self-glorifying voice. “Namaskar! I am Suhas Awchat, the owner of this restaurant…!” Takes away from the focus on the food.
The service: Our maître de was trained enough to make a recommendation, and seemed to know his job. The waiter, however, a chap in training, didn’t think we would be interested in the accompaniments that our dishes came with, and took away the serving plate, accompaniment, garnish et al! Service was also terribly slow, and we gulped down nearly a liter of water between the two of us, simply out of hunger. (This, after changing our order of starters because we were told it would take about 20 minutes; unfortunately, the changed order, recommended by the maître de, took that much time as well!)
The food: I must admit, Deepa Awchat has put in some research into this project. The menu showcases dishes from all parts of Maharshtra. In Mumbai, Maharashtrain food has come to mean only Malwani/Kolhapuri food, vada-pav, or misal. Deepa Awchat has tried to bring in food from the coast, the plains and all the other regions in between. I found the menu well developed but very badly classified/presented. Including a bit of the Culture Curry and Goa Portuguesa menus was, in my opinion, a bad idea. When I go to a restaurant looking for a specific cuisine, give me that. Don’t throw me more options just because two other restaurants you own are just next door. It confuses me, and I always wonder if I made the right choice.
We ate very little food because one, Amma was beginning to lose appetite after the long wait, and two, whatever we ate was bad enough to put us off completely. We started with the Kelfulache Vade (Banana flower cakes/fritters), which did not taste of the banana flower at all. You could see the banana flower in the dish, but it did not come through. All you could taste was chickpea flour and salt. The texture was like any ordinary vegetable cutlet dished up by the local Udpi. The vade came with a red coconut chutney, which was quite bland as well (and which, my wicked guess is, was borrowed from Culture Curry, and did not taste remotely Maharashtrian). The maître de had recommended Kokni kebabs, fried kebabs of corn and chilies and curry leaves—these were decent as a dish by themselves, but did not have anything Kokni about them. They were served with ketchup (!) and we actually had to use it to down the kebabs. That, in itself, is an insult to the dish.
By this time, Amma had lost her appetite completely, but I was tempted to try the fish. I ordered the Grilled Surmai. What I expected was a Malvani style pan-grilled fish with light spices and a crisp crust. What I got was a lemony, buttery grilled fish, cut into four unequal and unappetizing pieces, served with a side of boiled vegetables tossed in butter and pepper. I mean, if I had to eat that, I would go to a “continental” place, yaar! I left the dish half eaten; but in the restaurant’s defense, the fish was grilled well (not overdone at all) and the vegetables were perfectly seasoned.
The star of the meal was the Sol Kadhi. We loved it. It was perfectly seasoned, creamy from good quality coconut milk (possibly freshly pressed) and was well-spiked with garlic. The amsul came through just right, and that was the only thing that prevented me from throwing a fit. I must also put in a word for the well-thought condiment tray on our table. The saandgi mirchi (stuffed, dried, fried chilies) were crisp and seemingly freshly fried. The thecha was just right in its hotness, and the mango pickle (with curry leaves, strangely) was fresh and tangy, and the garlic chutney was tasty as well.
Final verdict: I will only go back if they declare that they have renovated, repaired their air conditioning, and fine-tuned their recipes.