One of my first posts on Finely Chopped was on Martin’s. A hole in the wall Goan restaurant tucked away towards the end of Colaba Causeway. An old favourite of ours. Great food, Spartan but clean settings, very light on the wallet, waiters who welcomed us back as one of their own each time we dropped in. Ironically I had not been there since I begun food blogging. I returned to Martin’s today close to two and a half years after the last post. Thankfully nothing has changed.
I stepped out for lunch this afternoon. The plan was to go to Olympia based on Jamshed Uncle’s recommendation of the biriyani there. I got a bit distracted once I got out of Lakshmi Building. There was Mocambo opposite me. And then I suddenly saw Mahesh. The original Mangalorean sea food hot spot of Mumbai. Mahesh of the butter pepper garlic crabs. Then I remembered the oil spill and moved on. I spotted Anand Bhavan. A South Indian restaurant where Malayalis had queued up for a special Onam Sadya (a festival in Kerala) meal. I looked in and saw people relishing rice, pulses and vegetables off banana leaves. Not my scene. But the patrons looked genuinely happy. Their joy was infectious and I did feel like going in for an anthropological experience.
I felt a like a teenage boy who had suddenly come across his elder brother’s stash of porn. Excited. Distracted by the choices.
Then I remembered Olympia and jumped into the car. Reached Colaba Causeway and spotted Olympia to my right. It was shut. We took a U turn as I thought of going back to Anand Bhavan. I texted Kainaz about. She texted back the magic words, ‘Martin’s’. We immediately took another U turn and headed up Colaba Causeway. Finally the Hindu Temple which marks the left for Martin’s came and we turned in.
And there it was. New Martin Hotel. I noticed the full name for the first time thanks my food blogger hat. Martin’s looked exactly the same. The same owner at the counter. The same two waiters manning the place. One of them who always welcomed me with a big smile of recognition even if I was returning after two years and fifteen kilos and a lot less hair. The decor, if you can call it that, was the same. Cream walls. Menu on the wall which looked the same. About three to four booths with sun mica covered tables and bare wooden benches. It was like returning to your grandparents house.
I was alone this afternoon. So I gave the pretty good Goan Sausage Chilly fry and Pork Vindaloo a miss. Went for a dish which is very uniquely Martins instead. The Beef Steak and Onion fry. Didn’t seem to be on the menu though. Didn’t matter. I asked for it confidently. Our waiter smiled and went to the hole at the end of the hole in the wall. (Here’s a tip. Specify green chillies.)
I was sharing a booth with a well fed happy looking gentleman with a thin moustache who was digging into his mackerel curry and rice. I begun to talk to him.
No he was not worried about the oil slick and what it would do to the fish. Laughed when I asked him about this. Yes, Martin’s was his favourite restaurant and he came here often. He too believed that the biriyani at Olympia (remember?) was one of the best around. He explained that Olympia was a Muslim run restaurant with Muslim workers. This is why it was shut as it remained close during the day during Ramzan. He said that the biriyani there was Kutchi Biriyani and unique. This really whetted my appetite. I really hope that I don’t return to Andheri before Ramzan ends.
The gentleman, a Christian who enlightened me on a Muslim restaurant, finished his meal with a jelly and custard. He became a bit shy when I wanted to photograph him. I did click him surreptitiously from the side for memory’s sake.
Our smiling waiter arrived with the beef steak and onion. My eyes danced with joy as he placed it on the table. I took a million photos of this Kaleidoscopic delight. Much to the amusement of the gentleman I just wrote about.
The beef steak fry is a complete meal. It has all food groups. Meat. Vegetables. Starch in the form of thick potato chips. Bread. The meat is one of the best cuts of beef that I have had in Mumbai. You reach it after digging through some very seductive fried onion rings. Chopped chillies cut the sweetness of the fried onions. The thin steak is cooked to perfection. This is one of those ‘last meal before I die’ dishes. With loads of oil and red meat it sends you hurtling towards Kingdom Come in any case. But as life has taught me recently, it makes sense to live like the grasshopper in the story of the ‘ant and the grasshopper’. Live every moment to its fullest. You never know when the next banana skin will come up.
And so I enjoyed my meal, bite by lingering bite. Remembering the many happy evenings that I have spent here. Heady times. Memories that one can cherish and live on no matter how tough things can get. As the Boss said, “those were Glory Days baby”.
I then did what I never had at Martin’s before this. Inspired by my fellow table mate, I ordered a jelly with custard. I took my first bite and almost slapped myself. What was I thinking of for all these years? How come I had never ordered this before? The jelly and custard was a most angelic experience. Sweetened just right. Chilled. Ever so soothing after the tempestuous, passionate and wild beef steak and chilly fry. This was the perfect ending. Like a mother’s goodnight kiss to a baby. A dessert that was so simple and yet so deeply satisfying. The secret possibly lay in its simplicity. What a poetic end to an epic lunch.
(Someone remind me to avoid these top angle shots in the future!!!)
I spoke to the gentleman at the counter for the first time. His name is Mr Baptist D’Sousa. He has been running this restaurant from the mid sixties. Martin’s apparently is more than sixty years old. He wasn’t first owner. That possibly would have been Methuselah.
Do you want to hear something really funny? Turns out that Mr D’Sousa who runs the nicest Goan restaurant North of Goa is actually a Mangalorean!
A young man looked up as I spoke with Mr D Sousa. We got talking. Turned out that his name is Abhishek and he is from Indore. He was a regular at Martin’s from 1996 to 2003. Starting in his college days when he used to stay at a hostel at Churchgate. He was back in South Bombay for a short while and like me was making the most of it. “Martin’s is all about nostalgia,” he said. No surprise that his order too was a plate of beef steak and onions! We burst out laughing at the realisation of how our stories crossed. I was a regular at Martin’s from 1999 to 2004.
I left Martin’s after paying the majestic bill of Rs 103 (2 USD) for the blockbuster steak and the cherubic dessert. Remembering how my earlier post on Martin’s was my first piece on food to get published elsewhere. On Kirti Poddar’s Feastguru, now sadly shut. Kirti and I made plans to eat at Martin’s for three years. I finally made it to Martin’s today. After he left for Bangalore. This grand meal in simple surroundings at a just about three figure price is the sort of thing that would have tickled Chief Foodie Kirti no end.
I left Martin’s surrounded with happy memories from a lifetime back. A simple uncomplicated time full of hope and restlessness. Memories of laughter. Of discovery and joy. Of impatience. Eager anticipation. Of making life plans. Nervous and excited. Of dreams and of falling in love. Of setting up a life together. Of food that was joyful and nourishing.
Of a wonderland called Colaba.