Cream Centre at LuLu Mall , known for its special chana bhatura, opens its franchise in the city

The bhatura at Cream Centre in Lulu Mall is an embarrassing experience in eyeball grabbing. People walking past the restaurant’s all glass front gape when they look in and see the gigantic bhatura, which is also the restaurant’s signature dish. A popular dish at the eatery, several hundred of these pass through the doors of the kitchen every month one is told.

For vegetarians, eating out in the city is rather limiting…there is either Udupi or Udupi versions of other cuisines. Or it involves the laborious process of going through a menu and reaching the philosophical-sounding conclusion that choice is an illusion. It is, therefore, not without cynicism that one approaches Cream Centre.

As one is toying the what-is-so-different-about-this-place line of thought the menu is placed on the table. A cursory glance yields a wow of delight! Pizza, sizzler, pasta, Thai, Chinese, desi, continental, desi street, chaat…it is a merry medley of cuisines on the menu card. The variety pampers the vegetarian and is tempting enough to give it a try.

Many branches

The original eatery in Mumbai at Chowpatty was started in the late 50s. It grew from an ice-cream centre (from where it gets its name) to a vegetarian eating-out place. It has several branches and franchises across India and one in Dubai.

The Lulu Mall restaurant, as with any franchise, has been done up according to how it is at the original, flagship Chowpatty restaurant. Uniformity extends to the cutlery, the salt and pepper shakers, the crockery even the art work on the walls, says Mathew Jose, the manager.

Coming back to the food…the menu announces the chana bhatura as the ‘original chana bhatura’. Really? When it arrives, it brings comprehension as a side dish with it. It is bigger than what most of us who haven’t had Cream Centre’s interpretation can imagine. It is easily one-and- a-half times bigger than the largest bhaturas available in the city. You need a strategy to negotiate it, one option is sharing it. Making it smaller is not an option, Mathew says.

Then there is the chana. Delicious masala coating each chana “specially procured from Mumbai” and cooked in ghee, it is a must-try. The special masala that gives the dish its signature taste is a closely guarded recipe known only to the Chona family (which owns the brand). “The masala has to come from the family. We cannot replicate it because we don’t know what goes into it. Our chefs are also trained at the kitchen there,” Mathew informs. Pickled onions, carrot pickle and green chutney complement the dish. The trio is placed on every table which orders Indian food. The restaurant is planning to include thali meals on its menu.

If the bhatura was about ‘largeness’ then the thin crust mozzarella margherita pizza is about thinness of the pizza’s crust. Almost wafer-thin with a generous topping of mozzarella the pizza is a relief from chewy pizzas. The pizza base is made in-house and the cheese is procured from a dedicated supplier.

The starters too were as appetising as the main course. The sample platter was a meeting of the East and the West. There was paneer tikka – silky soft malai paneer with a tangy marinade, giving it company were chilli cheese sandwich – a melding of gooey goodness of cheese and fiery chillies and corn balls – perfect globules filled with melting cheese and juicy bits of corn. Forget the calorie count, temporarily. Cheese in its many forms, including paneer, is a constant on the menu. The restaurant boasts of an unusual array of sizzlers such as Bambaiyya Pav Bhajji, Italian Baked, Mexican Cajun, Spicy Sa Po Schezwan vegetarian and a Chinese sizzler.

And of course the piece de resistance – the sizzling brownie. A veteran of many a fried ice-cream disasters, one is naturally suspicious of smoking, fried and/or sizzling desserts.

The apprehension, as it turned out, was misplaced. The brownie in a sizzler plate, placed on top of it is a scoop of ice-cream and some nuts. Accompanying it is a bowl of chocolate sauce.

As the sauce is poured on the brownie the action begins. There is smoke everywhere and the chocolate starts bubbling. The chocolatey goodness of the brownie combines with the chocolate sauce and melting ice-cream….it is a must try. Cream Centre turns out to be more than just an experience for the palate. Give it a shot even if vegetarian is not your thing.

The restaurant, next to the food court, is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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