Thalis. The name itself scares me because of the sheer amount of food that is put in front of you! I am also a little scarred by the experience that I’ve had where you have 15 servers hovering around you trying to dump things in your plate. It’s a little scary for a little to sit with a giant plate, 10 bowls and 15 people trying to fill up your plate as though it was the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest plate serving! It also didn’t help that we would eat Gujarati food everyday at home and a thali place did not provide us with any novelty. I think I must have been to 2 thali places and that scarred me enough to never go back.
Coming to present day, we had a friend visiting Baroda and we were wondering where we could go for a nice lunch. He wanted to eat some Gujarati food and the only place that S knew of serving good Gujarati food was Mandap in Express Hotel. I put aside my fears of a thali restaurant and we went ahead. Express Hotel was one of the first hotels that were set up in Baroda. They were the first ones to introduce éclairs and croissants in the city through their bakery. S also tells me that he’s been going to their restaurants since he was a kid and he has seen the servers age while they have seen him grow! I find that story absolutely adorable. Its kind of like the story I have in a Pune restaurant called Vaishali that we used to frequent so much that a lot of the servers knew our orders! Always good to be where people recognize you..
The restaurant has a lot of wood. They have old wooden jharokhas or windows decorating the walls, cloth tied up above tables to give you the feeling that you are in a tent, ‘sankheda’ chairs and wooden tables. I loved the thalis! Unlike a lot of other places that serve stainless steel thalis, their plates are made of ‘kaansa’ or bell metal. They are a light golden-ish color and you have the same kind of bowls and spoons. A refreshing change. At the center of the tables, there is a dish with all kinds of condiments to help enhance the flavor of your meals. So colorful and beautiful! There was the standard mixed pickle, some fried chillies, fried capsicum, lemon wedges, imli chutney and green chutney. The colors were gorgeous and it all looked very inviting.
As soon you enter and sit down, you are served plain chhaas and a mocktail. The mocktail, on the day we went, was ‘Blue Lagoon’. I typically don’t like it so did not bother to try it either. The chhaas was nice. Plain, with salt, and thin, like a gujarati chhaas. Very refreshing. As it is with all thali places, hoards of servers come asking you 50 questions to a minute, holding out all kinds of food! We were starting off with the quintessential Gujarati farsan, patra and samosas. The patras were ok, a little too firm and thick but the samosas were yummy! Simple potato filling, nothing fancy, just well fried and well-seasoned.
The person handing out vegetables followed the farsan. We had four vegetables- Punjabi Chhole, drumsticks in besan gravy, potato and peas vegetable and ladyfingers! It might seem strange to have chhole on a gujarati thali, but I really like the idea because I do not always enjoy all the Gujarati vegetables. This makes it possible to eat something that can be quite tasty. The chhole was good- nothing extraordinary but nothing to complain about either. The aloo-mutter subzi had a nice balance of spices and had a little bit of clear gravy. Normally this vegetable is very oily wherever I have had it before but this time, it wasn’t that bad. I actually appreciated the fact that most of things were lower in oil, comparatively. I love bhindi and was so glad to see some on my plate! Well cooked, and a little spicy but tasted good when eaten with the roti. My favorite was the drumstick vegetable! It is a ploy to put drumsticks on your plate because I don’t know of anyone who would be able to eat the drumsticks in a dignified manner outside. In any case, I love the besan gravy – spicy, tangy, sweetish and rich. I am a huge fan of anything made from besan so maybe my opinion is biased, but I still think it was very well made.
Next came the person with the dals! If you’re in Gujarat, and eating a Gujarati thali, you have to have kadhi! Mandap offers your four choices of dals and kadhi and you can choose 2. Since we are Gujaratis and have the same flavored dal and kadhi at home every time, I went ahead and asked for the ‘Punjabi’ dal and kadhi. I put Punjabi in inverted commas because it is not really a Punjabi kadhi! I think its just kadhi and dal that has a little less sugar or jaggery, and has some more garam masala. I enjoyed it a lot more than the Gujarati kadhi or dal. I do think the Gujarati kadhi must have been really good because a friend relished a couple of cups! He said that it was the perfect impression he had of Gujarati kadhi – sweet and tangy.
After we were served the vegetables and our dals and kadhis, we were served rotis and theplas. The theplas are the cutest I have ever seen! They’re small, almost like mini puris, and thick! They were really tasty and I have never had anything like them. They had ghee rotis but when we asked for plain, they were happy to oblige.
Now my favorite part – the desserts! We had so many choices, I felt utterly lost. There some gajar ka halwa, gulab jamun, fruits in a custard sauce and ras malai. I decided to stick to the gajar ka halwa and the gulab jamun. The gulab jamun was not good. The syrup was fine, but the gulab jamun itself was very dense and heavy and was quite thick in the center. They were very passable. The gajar ka halwa on the other hand, was very good -Not very sweet, just right and rich. It didn’t have too many dry fruits, was pure and simple. I loved the consistency and sweetness in it and enjoyed it more because it was warm. The perfect winter dish!
The service at Mandap is better, it’s a slightly more fine dining place. The waiters are courteous and don’t look hurried. They will not give you 5 seconds to choose and then move on. They do a better job of pouring things in the correct bowls and don’t make it look like a mess, like other thali places. I have been told this is not the best thali experience you can get and there are others that are better, but I was extremely satisfied with this experience and the food.
For making me enjoy going to a thali restaurant, I give Mandap a 3.5 on 5!
Restaurant Timings: 12:00 pm-3 pm and 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm
Restaurant Contact: 0265-3055000