An invitation to the food bloggers in Chennai Food Guide to check out the new offering from Mast Kalandar for the festive season, I decided to join a few other friends for the evening.
The showcase was scheduled at the Velachery outlet, and I stay literally a stone’s throw away from this place. In the last two or three years, I have visited this restaurant just once and to be frank, I wasn’t very impressed. Proximity to the venue was one of the reasons I agreed to join this event, and at the same time, I was curious to see what they had to offer. So it was basically a contradiction of sorts in my mind.
Being so close to the restaurant, I reached first and within about five or ten minutes, the rest of them were there too. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Gaurav Jain, the man behind the brand ‘Mast Kalandar’, and have a wonderful conversation with him. As we’ve heard ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, his story is no different. Eight years ago, lack of options for good, affordable, hygienic, authentic North Indian food in Bangalore prompted him and his wife to leave their corporate careers and start a restaurant and today, Mast Kalandar has sixty five branches spread across four states. It was interesting to hear from him about his journey as an entrepreneur. Slowly our conversation focussed on the food they were going to offer.
For the festive season, they have introduced two special Thalis called the ‘Utsav Maha Thali’ and the ‘Vrat Maha Thali’. He gave a brief insight into what these two thalis were. During the navratri festival season, most of them in North-India observe fasting and break their fast with food that is prepared with a lot of restrictions and religious norms. Some of them are prohibition of use of salt, asafoetida, turmeric, and anything that grows below the ground like carrots, onion, garlic and so on. Based on different regions, there is a slight variation in what is allowed and what is not, but overall, it definitely looked like a challenge to design a menu adhering to all these constraints. A result of this was the ‘Vrat Maha Thali’. It comprised of Kuttu ki Poori, Aloo subzi, Paneer subzi, Kuttu ki Pakodi, kela/banana chat, naariyal/coconut laddu, Mahkna/lotus seed kheer, and raita. Kuttu is basically Buckwheat and the atta made out of it is used to make pooris and pakodis. Since use of salt is forbidden, seendha namak/rocksalt is used in cooking. We were told that all these ingredients are procured from the most authentic places. For the ‘not-so-strict’ people who are not fasting, but would like to feast, there is the ‘Utsav Maha Thali’ 🙂 This thali had more like the ‘no-restriction’ dishes and comprised of Masala pooris, Dal Tadka, Pindi Chole, Kofta gravy, Makhna kheer, raita, salad and sabudana papad. We were also served some starters, which were a part of the normal menu and desserts too.
Now coming to my experience about the food, there were three starters, paneer tikka, hara-bhara kebab and ‘another’ kebab. Paneer tikka was good, hara-bhara kebab was a bit salty, the third kebab was just okay. We shared Thalis so we could taste a bit of everything. With all the background of what goes into the making of ‘Vrat Maha Thali’, I could appreciate the dishes. I liked the Kuttu Poori and Pakodi, Aloo subzi was good, Paneer subzi was just okay and in fact salty. I could see that at least four or five dishes were salty and that needed to be looked into. Rest were all decent, but nothing worth raving about. In the ‘Utsav Maha Thali’, Dal Tadka was good, Pindi Chole was decent, Kofta was not very soft and average, Masala pooris were good and rest of them were okayish, as I said, nothing worth raving about. We were served Gulab Jamuns, Malpua and Chaas. I liked all of them, but couldn’t eat much of the desserts because I was a bit hesitant to eat so much sweet. The Gulab Jamun was really big in size and I had about half of it.
Again, my initial views of the food not tasting like the regular hotel-made ones still remains. After a discussion with Mr. Gaurav Jain, it so appears that it is no accident, but deliberately ensured that the food tastes more home-made, with less of masala and oil and recipes from generations ago. So do not go with an expectation of something like a Paneer Butter Masala from a South-Indian restaurant, instead something more like the home-made North-Indian food. Both these Thalis are priced at INR 229 each.
If I was eating out once in a while, and preferred lip-smacking spicy North-Indian fare, I would go elsewhere, but if I had a compulsion to eat out for a few days together, I would choose one of the combos from here, so as to go easy on my tummy. 🙂