Friday, 6 December 2013

DINING OUT: Go Dhan-Dhan-Dhansak with the Dikras at Soda Bottle Openerwala

WHERE: Ground Floor (it's closes to the main entrance), DLF Cyber Hub, Next to Building No. 8, Cyber City, Phase-II, Gurgaon
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
DIAL: (0124) 6518801; (+91) 8527636633
AVE MEAL FOR TWO: Rs 1,200+++. The restaurant doesn't have an alcohol licence yet.
STAR RATING: ****/5

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
IT'S HARD to come up with one big idea in a lifetime, but AD Singh is like an ideas factory. The hugely successful restaurateur with an evolved sense of style has spawned three uniquely different restaurant concepts this year (and there's one more in the pipeline).
Soda Bottle Openerwala combines authentic good
food with the eccentricity of the decor of an Irani
cafe, a priceless yet dying institution of Mumbai

The year started with Le Bistro du Parc at Defence Colony, below the Moolchand Flyover, which introduced the city to the idea of bistronomy (a limited menu changing daily, depending on the best produce available in the market). Guppy by Ai followed at the Lodi Colony Market, where family-style Japanese dining has found an address and a loyal clientele who've ensured that it is impossible to find a seat at lunch or dinner if you go without reservation. And now comes Soda Bottle Openerwala, at the busy-as-a-beehive-on-steroids DLF Cyber Hub in Gurgaon, which I rate as the most daring and therefore doubly successful new restaurant to open in Delhi-NCR in many years.
Soda Bottle Openerwala is an Irani cafe, an institution that is gasping for breath in Mumbai, barring the two notable doughty exceptions -- Kyani Bakery and Britannia. The expression 'Irani cafe' at once brings back memories of bun-maska, dhansak, berry pulao, Duke's raspberry drink, nan-khatai and paani kam chai, and of course, Nissim Ezekiel's hilarious poem inspired by the notice at his favourite haunt, the late Bastani and Company at Dhobi Talao, Mumbai:
No talking to cashier / No smoking / No fighting / No credit / No outside food / No sitting long / No talking loud / No spitting / No bargaining / No water to outsiders / No change / No telephone / No match sticks / No discussing gambling / No newspaper / No combing / No beef / No leg on chair / No hard liquor allowed / No address inquiry — By Order." (I owe this gem to Jayshree Bajoria's story carried by the BBC News website, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4485523.stm.)
To bring this institution back to life in a city that has been hardly exposed to it, AD Singh worked hard with his trusted lieutenants Mohit Balachandran (whom many of you may know as Chowder Singh of blogosphere) and Chef Sabyasachi 'Saby' Gorai (who has since left to launch his own consultancy), and a brilliant new hand, Anahita Dhondy, who worked at the Taj and JW Marriott after graduating from the prestigious Institute of Hotel Management in Aurangabad, and then went to Le Cordon Bleu in London to complete her culinary studies.
Dhondy, who's as pretty as she's accomplished at a very young age (she reminded me of the equally talented Naina De Bois-Juzan of Le Bistro du Parc), says she owes her knowledge of Parsi/Irani food entirely to her mother, Niloufer, who's a much sought-after caterer, and her grandmother's dhansak and sambhaar masalas -- the latter being a combination of 15 ingredients, including Kashmiri red chillies, garlic and heeng. She finishes, for instance, her hard-to-stop-drooling-over Salina Marghi (a light but tangy chicken curry with fried potato shavings on top) with gur and traditional Parsi vinegar, which is now produced by just one man in Navsari, Gujarat. That's a family secret, she says.
Soda Bottle Openerwala marries authentic good food, funky interiors that bring alive the eccentricities of Irani cafe decor, and lively music from the 1980s. But the killer app, without doubt, is the food -- ask for the mutton berry pulao (sprinkled with cranberries in the absence of zereshk, or barberries, that the Iranians love), salina marghi, bheeda par eeda (fried eggs, sunny side up, baked with okra), and wash the soul-satisfying meal down with old-fashioned cold coffee made with Nescafe or the Irani chai (where the Brooke Bond Red Label decoction is added to reduced milk), and yes, don't forget the Toblerone mousse (it's a most desirable sin to have been created by a woman!).
It's not for nothing that there's a stream of people walking into the restaurant at all times, and some are groaning about the long waiting period during lunch. AD & Co have given the Irani cafe a new lease of life at a place where you'd least expect it to be successful. It is a tribute both to Delhi/NCR's evolved palate and to AD's entrepreneurial instinct.
Just 22 of the 42 restaurants scheduled to open at DLF Cyber Hub are up and running, yet it already gets more than 10,000 footfalls a day. With restaurants such as Soda Bottle Openerwala, and Made In Punjab (Zorawar Kalra's ever-popular venture) or The Wine Company started by the Yo China-Dimsumbros trio (you'll read about it soon), I can see the number heading in just one direction -- north.