Opening a mid-range Irani café in Mumbai is not for the faint of heart. Restaurateur AD Singh admits it took some mustering of confidence. SodaBottleOpenerWala launched two years ago and has four very popular branches in Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad but it held off on the Mumbai debut because this is the biggie: not only are the Parsis famously fussy about their food, Irani cafes themselves are not extinct here yet and still dish out cheap, delicious plates of full-fat goodness. What SodaBottle does differently is serve slightly healthier variations (multigrain mawa cake and tareli machchi that’s baked, not fried) and some nice cocktails and—most importantly—it recreates the cosy vibes of Ye Olde Bombay in the soulless concrete jungle that is Bandra Kurla Complex.
The décor and packaging go a long way in crafting this illusion. Sturdy wooden chairs, plush booths, chalkboard notices, huge glass jars filled with toffees and yellowing photographs of stern-looking strangers all combine to give this small, bright space a solid veneer of whimsy. The staff all wear name tags with their last names swapped out for Parsi-sounding surnames; so the waiter is Khilanewala, the bar staff is Daruwala and the bus boys are Chaiwala. It can feel a bit too art-directed, but it’s airy and pleasant. The jukebox plays Boney M, Abba and old Bollywood hits, intensifying that feeling that you fell through a rabbit hole and woke up in the ’70s.
Chef Darius Madon’s menu walks that line again between comforting and conscientious, and includes rasta sandwiches, homely innovations like kheema macaroni, and spiffied-up old favourites like lagan nu custard baked in ramekins. The drinks list is particularly impressive, ranging from Irani chai to Raspberry soda to cocktails like the Jimmy Boy, a bourbon and pineapple concoction. But the tastiest thing with a straw is the Sekanje Bin, a sour-sweet iced drink with dried plums and mint.
The only item here with Irani café-level of oiliness is Aloo Aunty’s Vegetable Cutlet, but even those crunchy crusts hide a quite wholesome filling. The Chicken Baida Roti is a virtuous version of its Bohri Mohalla twin: non-greasy, mildly spiced and served with a punchy pudina chutney. But if the idea of eating healthy in an Irani café galls you, try the Kolmi Prawns, which are wrapped in slivers of onion and fried to a crisp.
For mains, skip the Berry Pulao (Café Britannia still rules in this department) and get the Salli Gosht. The mutton is juicy and cooked just right; mop it up with super soft, pillowy pao. If you want another excuse to eat the pao, get the smoky, fatty Fried Goan Sausages. For dessert, we’d recommend the cardamom-flecked Lagan Nu Custard, which is creamy but not too sweet. Mohit Balachandran, brand head and cuisine director, says he had a fight on his hands getting the Parsi chef to agree to present this beloved wedding treat in such a non-traditional form.
Likewise, SodaBottleOpenerWala might have a fight or two on its hands from purists, but for the executives trapped in the arid underarm of BKC, it’s a welcoming little bistro for a quick lunch or cocktails after work.
A meal here will cost you about Rs 1,000 per head (exclusive of taxes and alcohol). The all-day diner (12 noon to 1 am) will open in Mumbai on September 26, 2015 at 02, Ground Floor, The Capital Building, G Block, Bandra Kurla Complex, Behind ICICI Bank, Plot No C 70, Bandra East. Tel: 022 4003 5678