It’s surprising to me that given the large Indian and Asian populations in South Auckland there so few vegetarian cafes.
On Easter Sunday, Kitty and I went looking for a local lunch and were pleased to find Bikanervala open. A companion to Bikanervala in Mt Roskill, it’s had very mixed reviews for its food and service, but we’d had a reasonable meal there a while ago.
We both ordered a Punjabi Thali ($14.50). They are served on a plastic tray that has 6 small pockets: one for dhal; two for vege curries; one contained a sweet (almond burfi) and a ‘salad’ consisting of a thick slice each of cucumber, raw white onion and tomato; one pocket had very dry rice; and one was filled with a yoghurt raita. There was also a hot and pungent pickle, and a large freshly cooked naan bread that we didn’t need to so took home for a later meal. Plus half an oddly soft poppadum each.
The light tomato paneer curry was the best dish on the platter and the only one we really enjoyed, though the lentil dhal and the raita were quite pleasant. It might have been a long weekend but most of the dishes did not taste fresh. The sweet was an almond burfi, and not to Kitty’s taste at all, so I went to the chaat counter and bought her a delicate looking kaju kesar ($1.50). This tiny saffron flavoured square covered in sliver leaf had a texture that was reminiscent of marzipan but was too heavy for her. Happily she was able to enjoy the mango lassi ($4), which is made with mango pulp, not just flavouring.
Some of the criticisms of Bikanervala have been of the quality of service. The manager was briskly pleasant. The same cannot be said of the chaat counter staff, whom I encountered twice; indifferent and unhappy would be the best one could say.
The following day Matt and I found ourselves lunching at Mumbai Chaat in Sandringham village on our way out to Piha for one of our favourite beach walks. What a contrast! The atmosphere there is bright and welcoming and the managers Ajit Ambani and son Gaurang – today it was Ajit – are always helpful and considerate.
They offer a selection of curries and dhals for the Thali platters. We both chose the vege korma, which is always excellent. I had the spicy mini stuffed eggplants, and Matt had undhiyu, a distinctively seasoned fresh vege mix. I enjoy their yellow dhal, which is a little sweet, and Matt ordered the Gujerati dhal, a thin sweet and sour sauce. Fluffy basmati rice. A raita sweetened with grapes and other chopped fruit. Crisply toasted poppadom. We declined their wafer-thin roti with reluctance, as we’re both gluten-free just now. And Matt had one of their delicious mango lassi.
I’ve been to Mumbai Chaat many times with different companions and we have tried various selections from their menu. These are not the usual spices and flavours of established NZ Indian cafes, and they’re managed with skill by chef Pratibha Ambani (wife of Ajit). Be prepared to have fun trying different tastes to find your own favourites.
Definitely a cafe to recommend.