Sunday, September 6, 2015

Go Open The Soda Bottle

Soda Bottle Opener Wala opened to curious anticipation and much fanfare a while ago. Parsi cuisine in Delhi had a distinct novelty and mystique to it. During the initial days, trying to get in on a weekend night was almost impossible. The fact that the surprisingly young and charming Chef Anahita Dhondy, ended up winning many debut awards that year, added to the covetability. We would invariably wind up at Cyber Hub at the end of a hectic week, really hungry and the prospect of waiting for 45 minutes to get a table at SBOW drove us to all other restaurants in the vicinity. I must admit that since I am not really one of those typical, proverbial, name-dropping, pushy Delhiite diners who like to throw their weight around(literally and figuratively), I had to forgo many a meal there.

The odd times I did end up there was at tea time and somehow the snacks, although quaint in an Irani café manner, did not exactly warm the cockles of my heart. The snacks have that stamp of sustenance that have kept busy Bombayiites thriving in between their mad dash to work and back every day. I too always ended up grabbing a snacky bite and thought, fine it is all about fried cutlets and crispy crunchies. But a restaurant experience has many elements to it. I guess there is a right time for everything. The real test of a restaurant is in a complete meal. The setting has to be perfect or the memorable experience eludes you even in the best intentioned of places.

Last week it was one of those Sundays when you are at peace with yourself, feeling lazy and pampered, with no great pressing issues hovering over your mind. If you manage to overcome the need to have the Sunday breakfast of Aloo ka Paratha and drown in an intoxicated post brunch stupor, but instead opt for a fruit and porridge kind of sensibility, then around noon you are just ready to head towards a place such as SBOW.  It was a Soda Bottle Openerwala kind of day, bubbling with possibilities, gushing with gaiety and sparkling with sublime sunshine.

The décor still brings a smile to my face. The grey linoleum flooring, the mismatched, quaint furniture, the tiffins stacked on top of a sideboard, Shrewberry’s biscuits and assorted cookies in thick glass jars that are a vivid vision in the inner memorabilia of anyone who has always been a food loving kid. There is nostalgia steeped in the décor. 

Just reading out the menu loud is a sensory delight. It’s not a menu, it’s a way of life. ‘Irani Wrestler’s Omelette’ and 'Bheeda par Eeda' being a case in point. Konna Baap ni Diwali, anyone? The Bawa world we Delhiites know so little about, shrouded in mystery, Hindi-movie-caricaturised. We have snatches of it saved from some trip to Bombay and strolls in Colaba years ago. I also spent a considerable part of my teens in Amdavad or Ahmedabad where many of our neighbours were Parsis. We did get invited into their genteel, gara embroidered, pearly world once in a while and the food was always amazing.

A tin of fast disappearing Chicken Farcha
So this Sunday I found myself ordering Kolmi Fry(Bombay style Fried Prawns with Onions) and Chicken Farcha for starters with two chilled Foster’s beers on which there was a ‘buy one get one free’ deal going. The red and white check tablecloth could have been my own grandmom’s table on a Sunday or the kind of ghingham we fauji wives invariably pick up from Babina and build a lifetime of entertaining around it. This check makes you feel at home. I was tempted to try the Vada Pav the table next to us ordered. 70 bucks for a vada pav? Not me. But later I see for 70 bucks, two huge vada pavs arrive on a sophisticated platter, complete with a proud green chilli proclaiming an air of authority! The occupants of the table next to us are obviously professionals from Mumbai living in landlocked corporate hub, Gurgaon and for them the Vada Pav is perhaps a rite of passage to feeling one with their grain. I can still postpone it to the next visit.

Kolmi Fry

When our snacks arrive in their upretentious containers, they are hot and crisp. The farcha I have had before and is just a dependable fried chicken. But the Kolmi Fry is something else. Succulent prawns ensconsed in a nest of deep fried onion slivers. Going by the onion rates, I don’t know what I relish more, the prawn or the generous casing of onion cooked to perfection and served with the freshest mint chutney ever.

The Dhansak Dabba

But it is with the main course that the meal exceeds all expectations. Many friends had recommended the Berry Pulao but I thought of settling with the most obvious choice, Dhansak. Since we are a seafood-loving family, I order the Prawn Patio with some Pav along with it. The Dhansak arrives in an old fashioned tiffin(with a few battered edges for authenticity). There is the caramelized rice, rich, brown, aromatic. The kind of rice that was cooked years ago in very classy homes. Each grain of rice telling a story of its own, wafts of sweet cinnamon pervading the crisp brown onions on top. The Dhansak itself has perfectly cooked mutton in a rich lentil gravy with just the right balance of spice and consistency. The zesty onion and tomato Kachumbar salad provides the right crunchiness to the bite of mutton. There are many interesting veg options that I may like to try next time such as 'Breach Candy Awesome Okra' and 'Jardaloo Ma Tarkari'.
Prawn Patio

The Prawn Patio is a refreshing Indian style stir-fry which probably someone would conjure at home in a hurry. I loved the lightness of the sauce and agreeable, piquant flavours. The tangy sauce is something you can dunk your pav and lick your fingers eating. I refrain from ordering dessert for two reasons. One, that I want the sweet intoxication of the main course to linger for a while. Secondly it is a place I definitely want to visit again and again. So there will be a day right for dessert. Its not for very long that you can keep a foodie away from a mawa cake, bawa style. But I'll keep it for a 'feeling low' day.

A Happy Plate!
SBOW is a meal experience that leaves one sated and satiated. It is replete with drama, craftsmanship, research and discovery.

Irani Café culture came to India with the Persians back in the 1950s and today Bombay hosts the most number of Irani cafes, known for their eccentric owners and comfort food. Gradually the tradition of such cafes died down due to the foray of fast food concepts that flooded the country. Probably our kids and their kids would never see them.
Only 25 such cafes are now still in existence.
I am so glad that Delhi has a small sliver of this fascinating Mumbai heritage to call its own!

Meal for 3: Rs 2000 approx

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