Here's why I think this brand new Irani café-inspired eatery and bar in BKC will be a runaway hit...
Its name is reminiscent of the quintessential Bawaji. Its easy-eating Irani-Cafe-meets-Parsi-home menu has some cleverly named drinks and delicious dishes. It's chock-full of eclectic and eccentric design elements. Basically, the SodaBottleOpenerWala (SBOW for short) that's just opened over the last weekend is a roomful of fabulousness that's just waiting to be discovered.
The roomful of fabulousness
1. It makes the old new
So many restaurants today are tapping into the trend of recreating nostalgia. Be it The Bombay Canteen or the numerous Socials, they are taking regional and traditional comfort food, putting a twist on it terms of surprising flavour combinations or plating, stirring in some nostalgia by way of the crockery used (think enamel plates, mason jars, cutting chai glasses, tiffin dabbas) and creating a whole new climate of culinary kitsch. SBOW does all this and then some. While the menu is awash with nostalgia (more on that later), the design aesthetic is fun, quirky, colourful and nostalgic too. There's a jukebox in the corner belting out The Beatles and Elvis. There are glass jars full of baked yummies and old school candies (hard-boiled sweets, Poppins and Kismi toffees). There's even a tiny toy train that chugs along its aerial track that you could miss spotting if you weren't sitting back in a happy haze of satiety after a meal here like I was. To find this oasis of old-fashioned comfort with a high quirk quotient in the business-like newness of BKC is an absolute pleasure. And that's where it will score points over the other, newer, shinier but relatively more staid establishments. Who wouldn't want to end a boring office day with some unabashed madness that also takes you back to the carefree days of your childhood?
Nostalgic message in a bottle
2. It celebrates true Bawadom
While food is certainly centrestage, what SBOW does is create a wealth of wonder around the otherwise familiar Parsi fare. It draws from the stereotypes of both, the commercial cafés and the private homes, and gives us the essence of what the Bombay Parsi is all about. Sabina Singh, AD's wife and ace designer, has worked closely with architect Clement to distill the quaintest and most idiosyncratic of Parsidom into the SBOW design. There's a shiny Royal Enfield motorbike at the entrance, which on the preview night, even has a mock maintenance-mad Bawa polishing away at it! The serving dishes bring to mind an old Parsi home, as do the framed pictures of the family tree of the fictitious (or is he?!) Rustom Sodabottleopenerwala. There's that stern list on the wall telling you all that you mustn't do, like the now-defunct Bastani at Metro used to have. There's even a reproduction of the frontage of Grant Road's B Merwan, which, Sabina tells us was supposed to be a tribute to that café which shut, except that it reopened again quite unexpectedly! Then again, that's the unpredictable yet persistent Bawa spirit for you. So there are cheery mock-Minton tiles on the floor, bentwood chairs and square tables with those checked cloths, large mirrors and painted glass, and mixed in with the staples, a bunch of wholly unexpected contemporary takes... from a Freddie Mercury-meets-Monty Python image to some really zany videos capturing the essence of Parsi culture.
The hilarious family tree
Restaurateur AD Singh, who has a string of successful ventures old and new across the country to his name (the Olive chain, including the Bistros and Beach), the Monkey Bars and The Fatty Baos, among others) is the man behind this marvel too. At the preview dinner last week, when I quiz him about the wisdom of bringing a redefined Irani café back to the city of origin, a place whose people have had a long-standing love affair with everything Parsi, he answers with a laugh, "That's why I've chosen this location [ostensibly away from the Irani café culture that has its stronghold in South Mumbai]. And why I've put that sign outside the restaurant." The one he's referring to reaffirms to Parsi dikros (boys) that they know their 'mumma makes the best dhansak' and they aren't competing! He's confident that the food at SBOW is good, but for 100 per cent authenticity, he wisely defers to the Parsi matriarchs.
Restaurant wiz AD Singh
Now, I've literally grown up on festive Parsi bhonu (fare) at countless weddings and navjotes at Albless Baug and Colaba Agiary. I've been in and out of Parsi kitchens through my formative years, noting the aluminum vessels and contrastingly delicate porcelain, eating everything par eedu (they tend to add a layer of egg to jazz up everything, even the most boring of vegetables). I've met Tanaz Godiwala, the top caterer in the biz, delved into her process and deconstructed the magic of her paatra ni machhi (pomfret fish coated in a flavourful coconut and coriander chutney and steamed in a banana leaf) and chicken farcha (fried chicken that can't ever be matched by the likes of KFC!). Over the decades, I've eaten (or shall I say gorged!) at countless Parsi/Irani joints, ready with enthusiastic elbows firmly placed on tables covered with red-and-white checked tablecloths as dish upon dish is brought forth to my delight. So for me, it's easy to discern what's authentic and what's not about the food at SBOW. I may quibble about the Berry Pulao not coating the mouth with unctuous umaminess as the one at Britannia & Co has been doing at Ballard Estate since 1923. I may grumble that SBOW uses an excess of whole spices like star anise and cloves, which takes away from the sweet richness of the golden fried onions. I may find the Lagan Nu Custard not quite as thick and nutty as the one in Paradise at Colaba or less roasty in flavour than the one at Cafe Ideal on Gunbow Street in Fort. But that's not the point of SBOW, is it?
The authentic Irani café feel
3. It embodies the spirit of Bombay
This is a restaurant whose menu is literally a celebration of all that is quintessentially Bombay (I use the original name here on purpose) and typically Bawa, but in a fun, reinventive way that makes it trendy enough to appeal to those who wouldn't otherwise begrime their Blahniks by stopping by at a regular Irani for chai and bun maska. Behind this menu, ably guided by Mohit Balachandran, brand head and cuisine director of SodaBottleOpenerWala, is Chef Anahita Dhondy, who has been with SBOW right from when the first one opened in Gurgaon in 2013. Now that the fifth SBOW is finally here to wow Mumbai, pukka Parsi Chef Darius Madon will be commanding the kitchen, supported by bakery chef, Akshata Karkaria.
So, what can you expect? Apart from Parsi cuisine, SBOW features all those Bambaiyya faves, from vada-pav to kanda bhajji. Right down to Tardeo AC Market Mamaji's Grill Sandwich, which can be had in a wheatbran version (!) to the by-now-famous Eggs Kejriwal to a spectacularly delish version of Bhendi Bazaar Sheekh Parantha, it's a tribute to our city's popular street food. I love the mish-mash menu, which reminds me of all my personal food discoveries down the decades and makes me fall in love with Mumbai all over again.
Tardeo AC Market Mamaji's Grill Sandwich
At the preview, I try the Kolmi Fry, which comes highly recommended by the other invitees. Each piece has a succulent, well-cooked prawn in the centre, with a crunchy coating comprising fried and spiced onions that taste just like onion bhajiyas. A good accompaniment to drinks, I think. The boneless chicken farcha is actually better than what I've had at the homes of many Parsi friends and certainly from the commercial caterers. The fried chicken has the perfect crunch on the outside, while inside, it's a juicy, moreish morsel. I will certainly go back to sample their Paatra Ni Machhi, Dhansak and a lot of other mains, both vegetarian and non. And to buy some baked goodies such as Shrewsbury biscuits from the glass jars that (to my mind) are a steal at Rs 15 a piece!
The desserts are good, the Irani chai bar and bar menu even better (I loved my Parsiana, a tasty mix of Old Monk, plum and orange, and the idea of a 150 ml 'Parsi peg'!), but why we'll all keep going back to SodaBottleOpenerWala, is for that generous helping of eccentric chic.
Quirky Bawa Resolutions for 2015
SodaBottleOpenerWala: 02, Ground Floor, The Capital Building, G Block, Bandra Kurla Complex, Behind ICICI Bank, Plot No C 70, Bandra East, Mumbai 400051; Tel: 022-40035678; Timings: Noon to 1 am.
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