I do not often do food pieces, but there are some places which just have to be written about. Crystal is one such – unassuming facade, with excellent food. Here is a short feature on Crystal that appeared in The India Tube: No frills food.
Atmosphere – that is the word that describes Crystal. The tiny place is thick with that elusive quality called atmosphere, not to be confused with that other word often used to describe restaurants – ambiance.
If Crystal had a cool ad agency to create a positioning statement for them, it would surely be “No frills, only food”. And you would be surprised how many people in Mumbai buy into that statement.
It is not about cheap food – although that mattered a lot in the days when I first got introduced to Crystal. It is about good food. Make that very good food. And the ecosystem around it is just as interesting and inviting – the coconut vendor on one side of the entrance with his cooling, healthy non-alcoholic aperitif and the paanwala on the other (is there anything to beat the joy of a postprandial paan?)
Crystal is one of the few places I have known in Mumbai where it is possible to get light and fluffy phulkas in place of the chewy maida dripping-with-oil-passed-off-as-butter naan. And it is the only place where I have known a waiter to snatch a roti midway between your greedy hand and hungry mouth – you look up with a glare and he says – yeh thanda ho gaya hai – yeh le lo, garam hai (that has gone cold – take this hot one instead).
Crystal is also where old friends of the owner drop in just to chat with him as he sits behind the old-fashioned counter near the steps, and waiters know their regular customers by food preference and perhaps even name.
The exteriors and interiors of the restaurant do nothing to inspire confidence in the newbie. But I have been eating there since the time I first moved to Mumbai over twelve years ago. And I love everything about the place, even the things that would make me recoil in horror elsewhere – the white plastic chairs, the crumbling walls, high ceiling fans, corner sink; they are all part of that ‘atmosphere’.
And adding to it is the background score – old Hindi film music, K.L. Saigal and Hemant Kumar always keeping you soulful company as you make your way through the food.
Favorites from the menu are aloo jeera, baingan bharta, paneer bhurji, yellow dal, phulkas. And then there is the kheer, an absolute must for those with a sweet tooth (and even for those without), served in quaint steel cups; the perfect way to end the meal. You’ll probably end up paying a grand sum in the region of a hundred and fifty rupees for all that.
So, the next time you are in need of comfort food with the feel of home, head to Crystal. It is right next to Wilson College on Girgaum Chowpatty.