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Remember those late night drives that would invariably end at a ‘Dhaba’, with piping hot Chholey, Tikkis, Tandoori Chicken, Seekh Kababs and crisp, finger-burning Tandoori Naans, with a river of melted butter? Along with thirsty sips of premixed Rum-n-Cokes from pet bottles? For many of us, those impromptu hang-out parties from college days were the fun beginnings of our foodie adventures. It doesn’t matter whether the road led past India Gate, or near Gateway of India, or outside the crammed Azad Hind Dhaba, or out to one of the highway dhabas with tired and hungry truck-drivers for company. The food was always hearty, hot, and delicious, and the appetite bordering on monstrous!

A typical roadside dhaba on the highway serving hot food on Charpai

The stately lion of Punjab Grill

The stately lion of Punjab Grill

Last week, all those memories came gushing in at Punjab Grill. The drive was a short one, even by Mumbai standards. The wood-glass-brass restaurant was decidedly rich and swanky compared to its dusty, ‘Charpai’-laid highway cousins. And the food was a surprise twist on the good-old same-old dhaba favourites. Chef Gurpreet Singh and his team’s new Chakhna Menu of Indian Tapas was, as it claims to be, ‘Dil Se Desi’!

Mele di Chuski - flavoured ice-balls dipped in Vodka, the 'Gola' with a twist!

Mele di Chuski – flavoured ice-balls dipped in Vodka, the ‘Gola’ with a twist!

 

 

That’s because every single item on the menu of Chakkos (drinks) and Chakhnas (small eats) was prepared keeping its ethnic essence intact, and adding a dash of flair here, a funny take there, or just a little splash of colour – or even sound! – to make it fun and appealing!

The Band Baaja Baraat Te Whiskey... served with a hearty honk from the 'Bhopu'!!!

The Band Baaja Baraat Te Whiskey… single malt served with a hearty honk from the ‘Bhopu’!!!

The Frozen Gooseberry Margarita - unique, fun, delish!

The Frozen Gooseberry Margarita is unique, fun n delish!

And appealing they were! You couldn’t stop yourself from reaching out for the Gooseberry Frozen Margarita – a delicious take on the regular Margarita using the pulp of the strongly-flavoured Indian berry, Rasbhari, frozen with liquid nitrogen and served bubbling and smoking at your table! Or the Mele Di Chuski – colourful balls of crushed ice (the all-time fairground favourite ‘Gola’) flavoured with Mango, Pomegrenate, Lime etc. and dipped into Vodka inside Chai glasses. Yum!

The eats were unique too… The ‘desi’ take on BBQ Chicken Wings was the tender and delicious Tandoori Kukkad Wings, coated with a tangy-spicy Imli (tamarind) sauce. The rich, chunky and tender Mutton Boti arrived in a gleaming antique Charcoal Iron!

Tender Mutton Boti served in a real antique Charcoal Iron

Then there was the Cheese Fondue with Mathri, a sure-fire conversation starter if you are not already chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen, as the Fondue sauce is infused with our good ol’ Old Monk Rum instead of wine!

Tandoori Chicken Wings with a delectable coating of Tamarind Sauce

Tandoori Chicken Wings with a delectable coating of Tamarind Sauce

 

YEARS may have gone by since we last hung out with our college buddies late into the night, and returned home to grim and very awake parents! But things haven’t changed THAT much really. There we were, a large group of older, wiser(??), and in some ways crazier foodies, converging at Juhu on a Friday night, sitting around a large table in the open courtyard of Punjab Grill, chatting, laughing, poking fun, enjoying the finger-licking food and relaxed charm of the place, thirstily sipping on the glug-worthy Old Monk Rimzim, and stealing glances at the ‘starry’ sky (there was a giant, compelling poster of bombshell Sunny Leone in Ragini MMS 2 towering high over our heads, a topic of heated debate!).

… And then, still returning home to grim and very awake parents… on Skype! 😉

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