In Bombay, you have many choices if you want to eat a Gujarati thali. The good old Thackers at Chowpatty (Birla Krida Kendra) serves a reasonably simple non-frill Thali for Rs 80. One advantage is that you will always get place here. Then there is Aram at Mahim (Opposite St Michael's Church), Thackers at Marine Lines, Rajdhani, opposite Mangaldas market, Samrat at Churchgate. Golden Star Thali near Charni Road station and Shri Thakkar Bhojanalaya at Dadysett Agiary lane at Kalbadevi. Panchavati Gaurav (near Bombay hospital) and Chetna (Kala Ghoda) serve a Rajasthani thali. The thali at all these places is priced between Rs 100 and 180 but I would recommend Shri Thakkar Bhojanalaya for its authentic taste and very good quality. Their thali is priced at Rs 130 on weekdays and Rs 150 on the weekends and the place is always crowded. Anil P informs me that Rasoi in Mulund(W) is also good and costs half.
Some days ago, my friend L had told me that Govinda, the restaurant run by ISKCON has opened a branch in South Bombay in the lane opposite the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at Chowpatty. I have heard a lot about their Thali (not Gujarati) and we decided to meet there for lunch only to beat a hasty exit after discovering that they served pizzas, Chinese food and cheesecakes but no Thali. Thus, when L suggested Shri Thakkar Bhojanalaya, I readily agreed but as she had not been to Friends Union Joshi Club, we decided to go there.
Friends Union Joshi Club is located at Kalbadevi. You need to take a left at the Round Building junction (the junction on Princess Street where you have to turn right to go to Metro) and walk on the main Kalbadevi Road for 5-10 minutes and it's located on the right hand side on the first floor in an old building in Narrotam Wadi.
It is a no frills place and the dining room is a big hall with rows of tables with cushioned seating a and each table accommodates two. The place accommodates 60 people at one time. Like all old buildings, it has a high ceiling and huge wooden windows. The absence of air-conditioning is not felt as the place is well ventilated. We seated ourselves on the corner table and from our window we could see the hustle and bustle of the very commercial Kalbadevi road below. Just opposite the hotel, I noticed shops with signboards "Omega Dresses" and "Platinum Men's Attire"
The Thali here is served in a huge stainless steel thali whose diameter must be at least 18 inches. They serve 4 vegetables, one farsan, phulkas or bhakri (small but crisp and is called biscuit bhakri), dal (sweet or regular), dahi or chaas, rice or khichadi, chopped salad, 2 chutneys (I loved the tikha garlic one), fried chopped chillies (tastes yummy) and pickle. You get all this, unlimited for Rs 70. The sweet has an extra charge according to the one you choose. We had Gulab Jamun and Aamras and both were very good.
Like many other 'khanavals' in Bombay, Friends Union Joshi Club was started more than 100 years ago to cater to men who left their villages in Gujarat to come and work in Mumbai and missed home-cooked food. It is now frequented by businessmen in the area and is more crowded during lunchtime and weekdays.
Mr. Purohit, the owner whose father has been running the place since 1955 played a good host going around urging his customers to eat more. He came to our table and was offering me a phulka or bhakri. When I told him I was full, he said that eating here is about 'trupti' and not about being full and put the phulka into my thali anyway.
I was surprised when he told me that he was a Rajasthani (I always thought it was run by a Gujarati) and his father had taken over the place from Joshi. He had taken care to retain not only the taste and quality of the Gujarati food served but also the name because of the goodwill the place had earned over the years.
On our way out he showed us a newspaper cutting, which mentioned that the late Dhirubhai Ambani frequented the place, when he first came to Bombay and his wife Kokilaben was not in the city.
So if you happen to go to Kalbadevi and you are not planning to do any active work after lunch, do go and try the Thali here and then have a good siesta on a very full stomach.