Mahabaleshwar, the queen of hill stations, is known for many things – the enchanting views of the valley, the chilly weather almost all year round, its strawberries, and its evergreen forests. One thing it is not known for is the food.
It’s true that there are restaurants lined up one besides the other offering cheap eats like south Indian fare in traditional udupi restaurants, steaming maggi noodles in little cafes, wraps and rolls – ideal for a budget traveller to grab a bite and head off to explore. But unless you’re staying at a resort like Brightland, the chances of finding a good quality, sit-down restaurant, complete with great ambience and music is almost nil.
I heard about The Grapevine coincidentally through the grapevine (sorry, I just had to do that!) It was recommended to me by a friend, Briston, who owns Foxes Fiesta, close to my home in Goa, that too, as a comment on my check-in to Mahabaleshwar on Facebook. When a chef suggests a restaurant to you, you know it HAS to be worthwhile going there and that’s why I did. Obviously, I was not disappointed; on the contrary, I was blown away! And while I wasn’t intending to blog about it initially, after visiting I feel the world should DEFINITELY know about this little jewel.
It took a while to find Grapevine, because Google Maps took me to one side of the building, when the entry to the restaurant was on another. But when I did find it, it stood out right away. Unlike the makeshift restaurants I had seen so far, with their offerings printed on large boards at the entrance and their red plastic chairs within, Grapevine had a clean open facade with white, wrought iron furniture outside.
On entering, a variety of liquor and wine in a wall-to-wall set-up at eye level breaks up the seating areas – one, a couple of steps up on the mezzanine floor, and the other, a couple of steps below ground level. The whole place has a warm, rustic feel and the upbeat music really livens it up, making it almost too hip for Mahabaleshwar!
Apart from a couple of wait-staff who bring food to the table and clear the dishes, the show is almost entirely run by the chef/owner, Raio, a third generation Parsi from Mahabaleshwar. Softspoken and smiling, he greets us with his warm countenance and since Briston has already given him a heads-up that I may visit, he kindly joins us for a chat.
Raio tells me how his grandfather moved here because the clean air helped his asthma troubles. His family then started Imperial stores, a shopping establishment in Mahabaleshwar. Raio always knew that whatever he ended up doing in life, he’d want to do in his hometown. So after studying Hotel Management in Goa and working for the Taj Hotels, he started the Grapevine.
It was quite early in the evening when I visited The Grapevine, and my intention was only to stop by for a coffee or mid-evening snack. But seeing Raio talk about his food so passionately, I couldn’t leave without trying something, nor did he let me.
The restaurant has a huuuuge menu – encompassing soups, starters like tempura, prawn cocktail and parsi mutton bheja cutlets and a small spread of veg offerings too. Mains span from hakka noodles to akuri, pastas, thai curries and of course, Parsi staples like Patra Ni Macchi.
Having fresh seafood brought in all the way from Mumbai up to the hills miles away, just to serve in a gourmet restaurant seems like a whole lot of trouble. So trying a seafood dish seemed like a must-do. On Chef Raio’s recommendation, I tried the Prawn Pattiya which is essentially a Parsi gravy that he has turned into a starter by serving it semi-dry. Perfectly cooked, juicy prawns were coated with the richest sweet-sour gravy I’ve ever tried. Absolute winning dish and we weren’t even sorry that we scraped up every last bit of gravy from the plate.
Just when we thought nothing could top the Prawn Pattiya, the lamb shanks arrived! Oh, those lamb shanks! It cut like soft butter and was so delicate, you’d have a hard time believing it escaped a furious fire just minutes ago. Deliciously smoky-sweet and overwhelmingly tender, the dark gravy penetrated right to the bone! It was served with a generous helping of cheesy mash potato that sent us to seventh heaven!
A Parsi meal without dhansak? No way! Chef Raio sent this delicious quintessential Parsi staple up next. A huge bowl of fragrant brown rice alongside chunky pieces of mutton that had been simmered in a dal based gravy. What was to be a coffee break turned to a full-fledged meal by 8 pm and we could only manage a couple of spoonfuls. I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again – soOoOOooo good!
Lastly, we sampled one of the desserts, the Ferero Rocher terrine, which was a cool slab of dark chocolate Ferrero Rocher, liquid malt syrup, cream and dark chocolate sauce. It is one of Chef Raio’s inventions. Not too sweet, but considering the meal was so indulgent, we were glad the silky smooth dessert wasn’t too decadent.
It’s a pity one has to go all the way to Mahabaleshwar to get a taste of the food at The Grapevine. I wasn’t intending to make another visit to those parts, but there sure is enough incentive now! If you ever visit that gorgeous hill station, do NOT leave without trying this place out!
Address – The Grapevine Restaurant. Mahabaleshwar Jama Masjid Rd, Mahabaleshwar
Cost for 2 – Rs. 1200-Rs. 1500