If you grew up in Bombay, chances are you’ll have a soft spot for Shamiana.
The nostalgia for the all-day restaurant, which opened in 1973 at the Taj (Mahal Palace), spans generations – my grandparents, parents, cousins and I, all have our own special memories here, alongside fond recollections of Sunday family lunches.
But incase you haven’t heard, it was recently injected with a breath of fresh air through a contemporary refurb and revamp…
Moved back to its original location by the lobby, the new Shamiana is accessible in more ways than one, given the new and affordably priced menu.
Exuding that certain Tajness, it’s an altogether inviting space – cheerful and airy with a colourful mosaic carpet greeting you on arrival, an open kitchen set-up and stylish tent-like canopies draped above the tables, in a nod to the shamianas (Indian style of marquee) that the restaurant is fashioned after.
There’s an outdoor terrace too, with stunning antique jaalis forming a shield against the hustle bustle outside.
The al fresco setting is full of promise, of lost December evenings spent enjoying the agreeably pleasant weather over coffee, conversations and a freshly baked almond tart…
But before I start to wax poetic about the dessert, perhaps we should settle in with a tipple first?
Especially seeing as one of the major draws here include the fresh garden-inspired cocktails, which can be ordered to share in playfully-large punch bowls!
The menu spans a world of cultures and influences, with daily specials curated by an Italian chef (Roberto Collini) and an exclusive ‘Taj Autograph’ menu showcasing signature dishes by Taj chefs across the globe (expect the cobb salad from The Pierre in New York and chicken bunny chow from Taj Cape Town).
There’s also a ‘Via Bombay’ regional bites menu, featuring the city’s favourite dishes from pav bhaji to keema pav!
But as eclectic as these offerings are, at its core, this is fuss-free food with a distinctly homely and comforting feel…
Key vegetarian highlights from my lunch here included the simple but oh-so-punchy superfoods salad and the lightly-breaded and double-baked camembert soufflé (which Taj regulars will happily recognise from the days of the Zodiac Grill) to start with.
From the mains, the veggie burger was a tad bland but the rajma-masala so well-received, that my Punjabi lunch companions declared it as good as their home-cooked versions! What I really liked with this dish, was that the masala was added in just the right measure, adding piquancy but not overpowering the depth of flavour from the kidney beans. It was presented on a traditional thaali with all the right trimmings, from pickles and papad to a creamy raita.
The non-veggies among us also had high praise for the fish exotica, and would have been content having had just this flavoursome coconut-based curry on its own!
I should mention that we were a table of four food bloggers/ journalists, and so faced no trouble in summoning an appetite to try the lion’s share of the dessert menu, starting with the super sundae…
… Which took us right back to our childhood days, with its crunchy explosion of homemade ice cream, chocolate, nougat, wafers and oodles of whipped cream!
The deconstructed lemon tart was more artfully concocted – the tart dollops of lemon mousse sharply offset by the lush raspberry-flavoured ice cream soda served on the side…
While layers of citrusy orange-jam beautifully balanced an indulgent jar of gooey chocolate mousse.
But it was the warm, fresh-from-the-oven, baked almond cake which stole the show – nutty, crumbly and (for lack of a better word) perfectly-moist, with a liberal scattering of golden almond flakes and a surrounding pool of almond milk to elevate the nuttiness of it all…
It went down a right treat with my afternoon shot of coffee!
In fact, as I hinted at the start of this post, I can totally see myself coming back to Shamiana for this simple but divine pick-me-up alone, in addition to family outings here and lively get-togethers with friends – most likely after a late night out, when we find ourselves craving something to hit that comfort food spot.
Shamiana at The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai
I attended the press launch of the new Shamiana; but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.