Balaji Idli House (Ghatkopar West, Mumbai)

I’m always surprised by the incessant chorus of foodies that hold Matunga as the only legitimate place for South Indian cuisine.

“Ram Ashray”
“Manis Lunch Home”
“Cafe Madras”

These voices cry in unison. I appreciate there is certainly a “network” effect for restaurants. Having multiple South Indian restaurants in the same locality seems to raise standards and increase competition, which given their proximity is so visible. However truly great restaurants stand alone, confident in their fare and knowing people will travel from anywhere to find them.

It reminds me of an imaginary scene where “the World’s Most Important Food” Critic sits on a throne before eager restaurateurs and waiters.

“How are we to win your custom, Your Highness”

The crowd cries with supposed answers

“Tasting menus”
“Molecular Gastronomy”
“Escoffier Classics”
“Delicious food, surely?”

“No” the Most Important Food Critic replies.

“Good service”
“Candles on the table”
“Finger bowls”
“Free offers”

Oh dear, they just don’t get it, the Most Important Food Critic thinks.

Then a lone Restaurateur crowd shouts out:

“I am not to win your custom, I am the Prize and you must find me”

There is silence amongst his peers, who hold their breath.

The Most Important Food Critic pauses for a moment and then smiles with such gleeful radiance.

“Yes he is the one” he exclaims.

Balaji house is not in this great category of restaurants yet but it is a wothwhile and unique experience in Ghatkopar West which is not known for South Indian food. The restaurant is quiet even on a Sunday when I pitch up with fellow comrades. It’s a no thrills place located at the bottom of LBS Marg but the food for the most part is commendable.

Idli in Masala Dahi is a great warm-up. The tart curd sauce envelops the courser soft idli in a truly moreish dish.

The Mysore Masala Dosa comes steaming hot (finally someone who understands that luke warm food is nearly as bad as someone with a limp handshake!) They have stuffed the dosa to the brim with soft potato and spicy red paste. The grated coconut is a nice flourish on top. My dining partner barely manages to finish a quarter of hers, which gives an indication of how generous the portion is.

The vegetable and appam main course speaks more to North Indian cuisine, although the faintest hint of coconut milk is a helpful reminder of the South. The appam is satisfactory although has to be peeled like wallpaper from the banana leaf it is served on. The sweet lassi on the side is a touch too sour.

These couple of niggles aside, Balaji stands out from the crowd in Ghatkopar West for fast, casual South Indian food.

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