4 November 2014
73 Khan Market, middle lane, Delhi (011.4350.4778).
3 Cyber Hub, DLF Cyber City, Gurgaon (0124.6518801).
A second outpost opens, committed to reviving the dying legacy of Bombay’s Irani cafés.
Confession: I never made it to the first SodaBottleOpenerWala in Gurgaon. But I heard the whispers: berry pulao in Delhi! Authentic vada pav! It won awards, praise, and a following, so when the doors to its Khan Market sibling opened, I was first in line.
The décor is fantastic, playful and nostalgic in equal measure. There’s a great family tree that traces the lineage of Rustom SodabottleOpenerWala (the bespectacled dagli- and pheta-clad caricature who you’ll spot on the walls, menu and on their signboard) right back to both aapri rani and Sir Faredoon Mehta (it’s Freddy Mercury), and look for the super little toy train that choo choo’s around the joint as you eat. It’s a little mad and extremely charming, much like the people to whom it pays tribute.
Those same people might not love what’s coming next, and sorry Duke’s, I know what I’m about to say will be considered sacrilege by most, but SodaBottle’s raspberry soda (Rs 145) runs rings around your own. The legendary drink that’s favoured by Bombay Parsi community is given a new lease of life with copious quantities of fresh, pulverized berry, into a gorgeous glass of pure pink fizz and flavour.
Say a resounding yes to the chicken cutlis pav (Rs 145 apiece) because the pav is baked fresh in-house and is the real deal, and the chicken cutlets are crispy and demand to be eaten in pairs. The vada pav (Rs 70 apiece) is also excellent and it is spot on in terms of flavour (the vada) and texture (the pav), and only slightly let down by the insipid green chutney that accompanies it. Starved as we have been for pav in the capital, we went nuts for it in our opening courses, and while the Bohra-style keema pav (Rs 395) was rather reminiscent of my mum’s bolognaise, that’s no bad thing, because it was lovely and moreish mopped up with lots of buttery pav.
I took a Parsi person along with me to gauge the authenticity of SodaBottle’s preparations, and while I was told that the marghi na farcha (Rs 295, that’s fried chicken to you and me) was rather more red than you’d see in any Parsi home, it is bound to be a hit with Delhi’s kukkad-loving crew. There’s more exciting things on the menu, like the Bombay rasta sandwich, or the Bhendi Bazaar sheek parantha, both of which I’ve yet to try, but if Parsi Fried Chicken sounds good to you, give this a go.
Yes, we had the berry pulao (Rs 495), and no, before the ranting begins, obviously it is no competitor to Brittania’s famed berry pulao, the original. But here’s the thing: it’s not meant to be. The premise is the same, but the berries are different, the taste is different, and the bottom line is this: it is a good bowlful of pulao, with tender mutton, fragrant rice, fried onion, nuts and berries, and that is a combo that’s hard not to love. The dhansak, probably the best-known item in the Parsi food repertoire, arrives in a three-tier tiffin box, with mild dhansak, saffron-stained rice and kachumbar sitting one atop the other. There’s more to Parsi food than dhansak, but if this is your first encounter with it, this brass tiffin carrier is a pretty good place to start.
That staple of Parsi weddings, the lagan nu custard, is a delightful way to end an equally-delightful meal. Like a biscuity caramel custard (thanks to the addition of chironji seeds), it slips easily down your throat no matter how uncomfortably full you were only seconds ago. And with a new, extremely reasonably-priced bar menu in place, there’s no excuse to rush through your meal.