Veer Nariman Road in Churchgate is one of my favourite streets in south Mumbai. For Jazz by the Bay (now, Not Just Jazz by the Bay)—mostly for nostalgia value, but its brunch and live acts by the city’s own musicians can still surprise me; for Kamling—its old-world charm and sensational, Tangra-style Chilli Garlic Prawns never let me down; and?for the Tea Centre. Earlier this year, this charming café, started by the Tea Board of India in 1956 as a promotional initiative, closed its doors the second time for “renovation”. In practice, that meant a change of management.
Till then managed by former Doordarshan and Star TV chief Rathikant Basu’s company, and before that by Prahlad Kakkar (who really created its elegant but informal air), Tea Centre is now being run by the the Sai group of hotels that also owns Indian Summer, the restaurant next door.
I went back with a discerning and passionate tea drinker who can tell the subtle difference between the second and third flush of Makaibari Darjeeling. But that didn’t really matter.
The good stuff
Tea Centre’s raison d’être, its various blends of tea—from Golden Flower Orange Pekoe (GFOP) to Hot Butter Apple Tea (a strong brew of tea liquor, brown sugar, lemon, ripe apple juice, honey, nutmeg powder butter, orange juice and slice of apple)—have remained untouched by the new owners and new chef (the management declined to disclose who he was).
The Tea Centre at Churchgate, Mumbai.
The new menu was “Continental” and like all menus that go by that generic name in India, it included Thai dishes, all kinds of pasta, Chicken Stroganoff and Shepherd’s Pie.
We started with a GFOP first flush and ordered our starters: Shrimp Olive Kebabs and Harissa Chicken Skewers. The shrimps had the unmistakable frozen food coarseness, but the flavouring was subtle, with herbs and minimal amounts of butter. The smoky flavour of the chicken skewers went well with a light smell of coriander.
Our main course, Shepherd’s Pie and Thai Chicken, didn’t disappoint—the meat was fresh, the chef hadn’t gone overboard with either oil or spices and herbs; and the portions were generous.
The interiors have been spruced up, but there’s nothing innovative to show. Kakkar’s idea of having framed vintage photographs adorn the whitewashed walls stays, and so do the sofa-style chairs and the bell on each table, meant for summoning the turbaned waiters. The food doesn’t have the finesse and complexity of gourmet cuisine, it’s your basic “Continental” fare, cooked with some respect to the ingredients of every kind of cuisine it includes. The service is awfully slow—two plates of starters took almost an hour to serve. Stick to the old favourites: the muffins, pakodas and scones to go with your tea.
Hot buttered apple tea at Tea Centre.
The price of starters and tea accompaniments ranges from Rs110 to Rs150; and the main course from Rs150 to Rs230. The teas (from Rs38 to Rs210) are, as always, worth your money, time and appreciation.