The kheema pao is a somewhat underrated snack, a simple preparation of minced mutton and in rare cases beef, which is generally fried or cooked with onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and a blend of whole spices that lend it a fiery kick. Given the versatility of kheema, it’s not surprising that many restaurants serve it along with parathas; as a filling for sandwiches and samosas; and even with rice (see some variations that you can dig into here). We made our selection of ten favorites from those eateries that simply serve mutton or beef kheema with pao. In no particular order:
1. Café Excelsior
For Rs100, Café Excelsior serves a ridiculously tiny portion of kheema and four slices of pao. But it’s so delicious you might end up ordering another helping or two. The mutton kheema is lightly cooked, with onion, garlic, spices and most importantly, lots of finely chopped coriander. Beloved of Parsis and Iranis, it’s this herb that sets Excelsior’s kheema apart from other versions of the dish. Rs100.
23 A. K. Nayak Marg, opposite New Excelsior Cinema, Fort. Tel: 022 2207 4543.
2. Hotel Grant House
Finely ground mutton mince is slow-cooked in a copper handi along with ginger-garlic paste, onions, tomato and a blend of whole spices (we could detect the distinct flavours of garam masala and dalchini). The rich, fiery and filling kheema at this 62-year-old lunch home is arguably the best we’ve had in town. (Read about how kheema pao came to be their signature dish, below.) Rs75.
Next to Haj House, near MRA Police Station, Palton Road, Fort. Tel: 022 2261 7059.
People with little or no tolerance for spice will enjoy the relatively bland beef kheema at this gem of a restaurant in Colaba. The roughly-ground beef, cooked with green peas and flavoured with curry leaves and bay leaves, can be mopped up with pao or Khodu’s thick, crisp Malabar parathas. Rs26.
57 Wodehouse Road, opposite Butterfly Pond Salon, near Khatau Road, Colaba. Tel: 022 2216 1557.
4. Koolar & Co. Restaurant and Stores
This King’s Circle establishment is perhaps most famous for its temperamental proprietors, who live up to the stereotype of the blustery Irani café owner with their frequent invective-filled outbursts directed at the staff. Their mutton kheema, we’re glad to report, is less fiery. The greasy Irani special kheema, for instance, has a fried egg on top, chunks of tomato, and the mild tanginess typical of Irani and Parsi food. Rs140.
541, Noor Mahal, at the junction of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Road and H. Adenwala Road, King’s Circle, Matunga (East). Tel: 022 2412 5062.
5. Kyani & Co.
Before it’s fried and served with fragrant, freshly baked pao, the rich mutton kheema at this popular Dhobi Talao bakery is left to marinate for several hours along with ginger-garlic paste, onions, tomatoes, bay leaves, curd and turmeric. The slightly tangy, finely-ground kheema is smooth on the palate but has a spicy aftertaste. Rs50.
657, Jer Mahal Estate, near Metro Cinema, Dhobi Talao, Kalbadevi. Tel: 022 2201 1492.
6. Cafe Military
At this no-frills Irani cafe in Kala Ghoda, the mutton kheema is as simple as its surroundings: minimally spiced, flavourful and notably non-greasy. Rs65 (Rs55 for kheema plus Rs10 for the pao).
Ali Chamber, Meadows Street, near Trishna Restaurant, Fort. Tel: 022 2265 4181.
7. Olympia Coffee House
Olympia’s aromatic kheema pao is of the same mushy texture as baigan ka bhartha. It’s also sabzi-like in that it contains carrots, onions, and white peas in addition to coarsely minced mutton. The kheema is not smothered in masalas, which makes it light and so popular that they sell out by 10am everyday. Rs39.
Rahim Mansion, 1 S. B. Singh Road, near Electric House, Colaba. Tel: 022 2202 1043.
8. Cafe Paris
You have to be an early riser to be able to sample Cafe Paris’s delicious kheema pao lavished with coriander and oil, as it is only served during breakfast (from 6.30am to 10am). Apart from the carrots and white peas that add heft to the Olympia kheema, the mutton mince at Cafe Paris tastes identical to the former and is cooked with just the right balance of masalas. Rs40.
56-A, Makani Mansion, S. B. Singh Road, opposite Camy Wafers, Colaba. Tel: 022 2202 0886.
9. Stadium Restaurant
The deep-brown mutton kheema is deep fried with tomatoes, onions, jeera, green chillies and peas. It’s a delicious but spicy snack not meant for the faint of palate. Rs80.
IMC Building, Veer Nariman Road, next to Churchgate Station, Churchgate. Tel: 022 2204 6819.
10. Toto’s Garage
The Bandra pub’s kheema pao is the priciest on our list of ten favourites. It made the cut on the merit of its big flavour courtesy of the tender and commendably non-greasy mutton mince that’s mixed with finely chopped capsicum, and crunchy pieces of garlic and black mustard seeds. Rs260.
30, Lourdes Heaven, Pali Naka, Bandra (West). Tel: 022 2600 5494.
Kheema sizzles in a pot at Hotel Grant House.
ASK A RESTAURANT OWNER: HOTEL GRANT HOUSE
“There can be no Grant House without kheema pao,” says Shekhar Varma, co-owner of Hotel Grant House in Fort, which is a favourite of politicians, policemen, students and labourers in the area. His brother and business partner Sridhar Varma is equally proud of the culinary legacy left to them to uphold by their father Laxman Mallaya Varma, who set up the restaurant in 1950. “People come for kheema pao, and stay for sea food,” says Sridhar Varma who, along with Shekhar, took over the management of the split-level, 100-cover restaurant in the 1980s. We spoke to the siblings about the history of the Grant House kheema pao and how it came to be pivotal in the restaurant’s success.
Has kheema pao always been part of the restaurant menu?
When dad first set up a small food stall in the same compound as the Prohibition Intelligence department (what is now Haj House), he was only selling snacks like vada pao and bhajias along with tea. The cops who were regulars at the stall, then known informally as Police Canteen, suggested that he add egg and kheema dishes to the menu, and so he did in 1951.
Was it his own recipe?
He put together the recipe by consulting his mum back in Hyderabad and with the help of feedback from customers. It’s a fusion of Andhra and Maharashtrian cooking styles. We’ve used the same recipe for over six decades. A fixed mutton vendor delivers the meat to us daily, which we mince in-house. Either one of us supervises the pounding of the whole spices since the blend of spices and the ratio of this blend used is key to the taste of the kheema. Ginger and garlic paste, fried onions, tomatoes, and green chillies make up the remaining base ingredients of the dish. What sets our kheema apart is that we cook it on dum (a method of slow-cooking) in a copper handi over a wood fire, which enhances the rich flavours of the meat and spices. We also offer kheema ghotala, which is kheema mixed with a fried egg.
Is kheema pao the most popular dish on the menu?
Without a doubt. For many of our customers from outside Mumbai, Grant House is often their first port of call, when they arrive in the city. Some of our patrons visit Mumbai only for our kheema pao. On an average, on Wednesdays and Fridays, we cook about 15 kilos of mutton and sell approximately 200 plates of kheema. There is lesser demand for kheema on Mondays and Tuesdays, since these are fasting days.