I guess you can’t fight fate. A friend who was in town for a few days wanted to meet up for a “lazy Sunday Brunch” at the Blue Frog, unfortunately or otherwise, we didn’t get a table there, and she later called to tell me about the change of venue to Tote on the Turf.
Tote on the Turf is also run by the Degustibus group, which is the brainchild of the Indigo Akerkars. I did have my reservations, since I was still licking my wounds after a disasterous dinner at Indigo Deli, Palladium, and I hadn’t exactly heard good things about Tote. I had heard, however, that their menu had been revamped, and a little googling showed that the Sunday Brunch was well received among the bloggerati. I was slightly concerned, in a very Groucho Marx fashion, that they could accommodate a table for 6 for a Sunday Brunch when the reservation was made on the immediately preceeding Saturday evening. Ah well.
First up, if you religiously follow press on new restaurants like I do, you’ve probably heard of the design awards Tote has won. I haven’t been there at night but have seen the pictures which are stunning. By day, however, I loved how the sunlight flooded in and bounced off the impeccably white walls and brightened up the place. Fantastic. The brunch is spread over the indoor area and not just bunched up, I find that the latter tends to make the food look unsurmountable. The rest of the food is arranged around the outdoor area by cuisine, which also made me cringe a bit, since it reeked of Marwadi Wedding Buffet Live Counters. Even so, the laid back (no silly dress codes) vibe was quite comforting.
As pointed out by @zedvox, most brunches are average, food wise, the fun is in the lounging. I think it’s a little ambitious to imagine that anything on a Brunch menu would stun. Some even say that the whole purpose of a Sunday Brunch is to pool in and reuse leftovers. Which is slightly worrisome. Am happy to say, though, that the food was largely good and even did stun in parts: The waffles and the compotes, the basil creme brulee (it’s better than it sounds, trust me, but only if you love basil), the salads (though they could have been replaced more often), the khow suey (though it was heavy enough to dissuade diners from the rest of the menu!). Unconditionally brilliant were the chocolate dessert, the woodfire pizzas and the outstanding BBQ Chorizo.
Like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, when it was bad, it was horrid. The fig tarts were ugh, the grand mariner cheesecake was dry, the strawberry cakelet was pretty but stale. The donuts were totally stale. So what would you rather have? A brunch with uniformly ordinary dishes, or a brunch with some brilliant dishes and the risk of the inedible? I choose the latter. Ultimately you do walk away savouring the best parts. But that’s just my opinion.
Notable mention: In a brave move, and perhaps keeping in mind the unpretentious approach, there were an array of kebabs, which were surprisingly good. I suppose the fish could have been fresher (I am not a great fan of the fish kebab, to be honest.) but the seekh was wonderfully succulent (melt-in-your-mouth!) and it actually went well with the other low-carb options available.(My advice to Brunch N00bs is to avoid the carbs and stick to the rest. Exceptions are dessert, pizza and waffles. That explains why I have no idea what the pasta and risotto tasted like.) The Nalli Nihari had three problems for me: one, my Nalli Nihari Standards are set too high.Noor Mohammadi has a Nalli Nihari for which I have woken up early on a Sunday and reached Mohammed Ali Road at 830am. Would I wake up that early for this Nalli Nihari? Naah. Two, assuming it did, the way to eat Nalli Nihari is to soak the bread in the ample fatty gravy of the Nihari and savour it. Tote is slightly too upmarket for that kind of behaviour. It’s too damn white – not in a racist way, it’s just the chairs, the tablecloths, the walls – if you’ve ever eaten a Nalli Nihari, you’ll know what I mean. Three, it didn’t really gel well with the rest of the menu. But kudos to putting the precious bone marrow on an upmarket menu. At least South Bombay will know what life could be like if they dared ventured under the JJ Flyover.
Brunch is, to most people, an opportunity to overdose on a lavish breakfast for the better part of the day, so I missed the “breakfasty” food – cold cuts, cheeses, and the like. There are eggs to order, but come on, we can all scramble eggs. Show me the benedicts!
No one had any complaints about the alcohol (my rule no 2: never mix all-you-can-eat with all-you-can-drink), but I think at 2.5 per person with taxes, it’s a lot better to stick to the Non-Alcoholic price of Rs. 1.6 per person.
I thought the service was really great. The staff isn’t as familiar with the menu as the guys at the Deli and Versova are, but they make up for it in their earnestness and enthusiasm. A few examples, we asked for a pizza which didn’t show up for a bit. I asked one of the waiters if he could check up on it, he did so and kept following up with us as to whether we had been served or not. When it was served, it came with a side of profuse apologies. Absolute turnaround, we hardly minded the delay. A few members of our party were leaving early, so we asked for a clarification on the bill. The Manager who came to assist us actually knelt down so we could discreetly discuss this, which was very considerate, because I’m not the tallest person around and having this conversation with him standing would have been totally awkward and inaudible. Waiters and stewards were more than happy to take our orders from the table (I’ve been given the “please help yourself from the table ma’am” at several established Sunday Brunches which can really irritate me, I mean, this isn’t a wedding buffet here) and we were constantly replenished with drinking water and offered beverages and coffee at appropriate times. I was at the khow suey counter when a fly found its way into the noodles and refused to let go. The staff promptly sent the noodles back without anyone having an opportunity to request them to do so. The only service problem I think is that a lot of the boys at the counters are slightly shy, despite being very talented. While many of them were enthusiastic to tell us what they were serving, at times we had to prod it out of them. Many of them in Hindi, but far from minding it I thought it was great that they aren’t being forced to speak in a language that they weren’t comfortable with and goofing up on account of that.
Should you go? Oh yes. Would I visit again? I don’t think so, maybe after a menu revamp, from the reviews I rounded up the Brunch seems to be standard every Sunday. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s a Brunch after all, so leave your food critic hat at home and don your lounge-lizard coat instead. I am, however, tempted to visit Tote for an a la carte experience some evening. Watch this space.