Taj Mahal Tea House (Bandra, Mumbai)

“I want verbals with you…” (Harold in the underground film A Long Good Friday, 1980)

It’s almost a week now since my experience at Taj Mahal Tea House. I’m sat here trying to type this review, fists clenched, brows sweating with rage at the spineless, fibreless beings who work at Taj Mahal Tea House.

The melee started over a cup of tea! Yes, “tea”, that malty, brown liquid that Orwell wrote as being “one of the mainstays of civilisation”.

Given the quality of the waiting staff in many establishments, I’d mentioned at least several times that I did not want sugar in my orange blossom chai. In fact, I laboured over it to the point of almost absurdity. It arrives and upon my first sip of the chai, I taste sugar…!

I agree with the Orwellian thesis that no tea should be drunk with sugar, save for “Russian Style” as he notes or the ubiquitous masala tea in India, where sugar actually accentuates the taste of ginger, cinnamon etc. My frustration soon becomes apparent. I ask the waiter if the tea is with sugar. “No, you requested without sugar”. Yes smart Alec, I did request  it without sugar, but it’s got bloody sugar in it! The waiter scurries off to his kitchen, and comes back with the ‘definitive’ answer from the chef that it hasn’t got sugar in it. I take another sip, just to see if my mid-twenty something brain hasn’t really descended into the depths of senility. Alas, it’s definitely got sugar added. Fortunately, I’m not diabetic, otherwise the restaurant might have had to deal with something other than my wrath: hyperglycaemia.  Anyway, I shared my friend’s pot of 2nd flush Darjeeling, which was passable but on the slightly bitter, overbrewed side.

You might think it’s a trivial incident, but this is part of a wider issue with Taj Mahal Tea House. If the service and kitchen in unison can lie to customers, the place also has no qualms adopting the “rush-’em in, rush-’em out mentality, taking an eternity to serve a pot of tea (it’s hot water and tea leaves for heaven’s sake) and letting customers go unnoticed. Even if you go to any of the other cheaper tea establishments (Tea Trails, Chaayos, Tea Villa), you will find yourself infinitely better taken care of and equally satisfied with the resulting ‘cuppa.

The thing that irks me the most is that Taj Mahal is exactly the sort of place you would want to take your inlaws, a love interest or impress some new guests in Bombay. The place is tastefully furnished: the brushed yellow walls, the dainty white tables, the reclining chairs and the mahogany furniture are all first rate. However, as the old adage goes “it’s the people that make the business” and in this case they are detrimental.

Verbals over…

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