Your thali cravings in Pune should end here.
Thali has to be the most desired lunch-time meal from this city or you could say even this country, where you can get served equal morsels of different preparations (usually ten to twelve food items) of a particular regional cuisine, starting from fried appetizers like vada served with a few different types of chutneys to bhaji with chapati and finally the main course which in this country has to be rice along with a rich mash of pulses tempered with cumin and chillies.
You can find just about any kind of a thali, like the Malvani Thali that comprises of fried Surmai, with chapati, bhaji, fish curry and a cup of quintessential sol kadhi or a Kerala Thali that starts from parotha and tapoica and ends with rice, rassam and payasam. The more well-known thali from the city are usually the Rajasthani, Marwadi and the Gujarati thali. These usually make up of many items on the large eating plate, the choices in each course ranging from two to three, like different styles of fried or baked appetizers or few options in bhaji or dal preparations and also two varieties of rice-plain or a pulao cooked with pulses and vegetables.
While Thackers and Bhagat Tarachand are two of the most well-known eateries from South Bombay that have been into the business of offering some of the most nonpareil thalis, there are also a few smaller establishments like Soam and Swati Snacks that have made a name for themselves serving some of the more non-popularized Gujarati food while occasionally offering thalis by hosting one-off kathiawadi food festival.
'Friends Union Joshi Club' at Kalbadevi is a unique, lesser known old school eatery where time has almost stood still; To be precise it is an old school 'bhojanalay'. As Mr. Yogesh Purohit (owner) says "We serve the best thali in Mumbai." He also adds that he has seen people from all parts of India walk in here to have a meal and people generally don't come with special agenda for having a thali. In-fact, his daily clients are people from stock market and people who are not from this part of the town and who finish their work and drop in because the neighboring stores suggest them as a good eatery. The place is open for lunch from 11.00 a.m to 3.00 p.m and for dinner from 7.00 p.m to 10 p.m. No dinner on Sundays.
Located in Narottam Wadi on Kalbadevi Road, The entrance is a bit inconspicuous as you enter a large arch and see a tiny 'Joshi Bhojanalay - 1st Floor' board over the stairs that lead to a very old structure. Once inside, it appears as old school and rustic as one can imagine. A very canteen like one sided table and bench arrangement that is unusual for this modern world and service staff doing rounds around different tables
Once on the table the drill begins. One after the other, the components of the thali are delivered. Diced onion, tomato and cucumber is followed by a miniature batata vada and roasted papad. The vadas are like delicate fluffs, ever so light that one can just keep popping until the assorted flat-breads arrive; plain chapati, masala chapati, puranpoli bhakri and biscuit bhakri (Puri is served only on Sunday). Pairing these chapatis or bhakris with the different bhajis leads to some unique taste and textures, like the biscuit bhakri (stuffed with jeera, dhaniya and gud) which essentially is thick and slightly crumbly, pairs extremely well with the karela bhaji almost like yin-yang of flavours where the bitterness of karela is cut by the slightly sweet tasting and almost biscuit like texture of the bread. Masala chapati works across the board with any of the matki ki bhaji, aloo bhaji or palak paneer where the spinach is not a fine puree, but a slightly mashed affair with a whole lot of texture in a dish that is generally abused by restaurants and served almost like a soup with a few pieces of paneer. What's noticeable right off the start is the zero compromise on quality of the finished bhaji, where it is rich and dense and never watery. The entire menu is almost rotating every single day, thus you will never find the same bhaji repeated in the next day or two.
Staple like rice is served plain or occasionally during dinner service is replaced with khichdi. Dal is offered both ways, the classic tempered mildly-spiced and the Gujarati style sweetened version, again both thick and dense. The choice to be made here comes down strictly to personal preference. For the sweet course one can opt from either a bowl of Fruit Custard or the traditional Bengali Cham-Cham. Finally, just like any other thali joint you are served with a glass of digestive to wash down the entire meal, here it is Masala Chaas slash Spiced Buttermilk.
The meal is maintained quite friendly to any local person's wallet at 200 rupees for the thali plus 20 rupees for each bowl of dessert.
It is quite rare to come across places that offer wholesome meals with uncompromising quality of food and that do not charge a huge amount in return. Friends Union Joshi Club is one such remarkable place.
Address : 381-A, Narottam Wadi, 1st Floor, Kalbadevi Road, Mumbai
Phone : 022 2205 8089