Maharaja Bhog at The Pavillion, Senapati Bapat Road certainly stands out from the crowd of restaurants serving Continental, fusion and Westernised desi food in the city. Serving traditional food, it takes pride in showcasing Marwari culture through its decor, cuisine and hospitality. Their royal thali, which is a combinational of Rajasthani, Gujarati and a few North Indian dishes, is a treat for everyone who wants to experience a royal fare. This premium vegetarian thali restaurant chain has outlets in Mumbai, Kochi and now is open for Punekars.
Last Sunday when we visit the restaurant, which has both outdoor and indoor seating arrangements, a long queue welcome us. The customers — those dining and those waiting anxiously to get a table — comprise a large number of youngsters. The fact that Maharaja Bhog has outlets in the UAE and the USA proves that Indians have an endless love for thalis.
Besides serving food, the restaurant also believes in charity work — gauseva to be precise. One rupee is collected from each thali bill that goes towards the welfare of injured, blind, handicapped and ageing cows.
The decor takes you back in time. The walls on the passageway have a three-dimensional effect of a jharokha (a type of overhanging enclosed balcony used in the architecture of Rajasthan), and chandeliers and lamps illuminating the place also give a hint of a royal palace. Each corner speaks of royalty and grandeur, for instance, the silver door handle, is shaped like an elephant head and showcases the intricate craftsmanship of Rajasthani artisans. The artistic ceiling and rich upholstery also add a regal touch. The soft Rajasthani folk music, playing in the background, takes your culinary journey a notch higher.
As we soak in the atmosphere, the restaurant manager, Bhanwar Singhji, guides us to a bright, inviting and well-appointed hall that is abuzz with guests busy feasting on the treat and chatting away on a Sunday afternoon. We make ourselves comfortable in a chair with leather covers. The wall opposite our table is unique, and one of a kind. Called the Spice Wall, it has real wholesome Indian masalas like bay leaf, black peppercorns, cardamom, red chillies, turmeric etc that make the space extremely colourful and ‘aromatic.’
FEEL AT HOME
Soon, the service staff brings sparkling bronze thalis (plates) along with about 10-11 katoris (bowls) of varying sizes and three glasses of varying heights for different types of drinks. As we sip on a fragrant welcome drink — Kesar-Chandan ka Sharbat that is invigorating after a drive on a sunny afternoon — we notice that the servers have ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (the guest is equivalent to god) embossed on their uniforms and they totally live up to it.
Another interesting thing about the place is that while the servers who come armed with dishes to be filled in the katoris and insist that you indulge guilt-free, you can hardly hear them talk — they use sign language, numbers to be precise that denote the dishes. For example, two for daal, five for rice and so on.
The service staff is attentive and the hospitality is great without the servers or the manager intruding into your privacy.
THE GRAND MEAL
Maharaja Bhog serves a combination of Rajasthani and Gujarati dishes everyday throughout the month.
We try an array of dishes that are mouthwatering and filling. Cabbage Roll, Dabeli Dhokla, Dal Bati Churma, Paneer Kolhapuri, Bhindi Kurkury, Aloo Patal Bhaji, Shahi Gatta, Rajasthani Dal and Dal Kadhi, Gujarati Dal and Fajjita (made with chickpeas and mango) Kadhi, Phulka, Satpadi Roti, Palak Puri, Dum Biryani, Khichdi are some of the dishes in the main course. With unlimited thali and a variety of traditional desserts like Aamras, Gulab Halwa, Rajasthani Ghewar etc and drinks like Sharbat and Chaas, the restaurant is a foodie’s paradise.
Their Dal Bati Churma is delicious — with a mild flavour of spices and the right amount of ghee in it. It will instantly transport you to the land of Rajasthan. Even my companion, who is not a big thali fan, falls in love with the fare and very coyishly asks for a second helping of Bhindi Kurkury (crispy okra fry cooked with besan and Indian masalas) and Satpadi Roti (a traditional Gujarati roti made with seven grains and a wide assortment of spices and flavouring ingredients), among other dishes.
However, for me, their Aamras is simply mindblowing and I truly relish this treat. Goes without saying, I go for a second helping.
Our eyes light up with delight when they offer us Meetha Paan after we finish our meal because I never want to miss out on a chance of having paan. Soon one of the attendants come with an embellished Persian jug and bowl for hand wash and we feel like royals.
Before we head home — tummy full and smiling — we ensure that we click a picture sitting on the Maharaja chair, wearing the royal headgear/ chundari and this dining experience archived in our memory.
“Pune is a city of foodies and the love for food is evident. We wanted to bring authentic Rajasthani and Gujarati cuisine to Punekars, and the way they are loving our food and service is overwhelming,”
— Ashish Maheshwari, founder and managing director, Maharaja Bhog
ST READER SERVICE
Maharaja Bhog, 2nd floor, The Pavillion, Senapati Bapat Road, Chattushringi.
It is open from noon-3.30 pm for lunch, and 7-11 pm for dinner.
The thalis are moderately priced — Rs 475 + 5 per cent GST for one adult on weekdays and Rs 522.86 + 5 per cent GST on weekends and holidays.
They also have a special thali for kids with smaller portions.
They have Jain menu — food without onion and garlic — as well.
Located in a mall, parking for vehicles is not an issue.