The secret behind this legendary Mumbai Irani cafe which has weathered the tides of time. Kyani & Co

Kyani & Co. Opposite Metro Cinema
Est 1904
Long read

My first and long due visit to Kyani and Co

I have a confession to make. I made my first visit to Kyani & Co, the 114 year old Irani Bakery near the Metro Cinema in Mumbai, just a few days back. This was after almost spending two decades in the city would you believe it?

Some of my friends and readers were perplexed by the fact that I had not been to this iconic restaurant before. 

The thing is, Kyani is not located in my neck of the woods you see. It's not close to Bandra where I live. Nor is it that close to Fort and Nariman Point which are places where I had worked in at South Mumbai. So I never ended up going there. Years back I’d gone to Bastani, an Irani café located opposite Kyani. An ad agency colleague had taken me there. Bastani has shut down since. Kyani & Co, I am happy to report, seems to be doing well.

After my recent visits I think I have an idea of what has worked for it.

Bastani was located opposite Kyani
Many Irani Cafes were set up on street corners
 as shops there were cheaper.
Local Hindus though these locations to be inauspicious 
The Mumbai Finely Chopped trail for Toronto's Bombay Street Food Co

It’s thanks to Amreen and Seema Omar that I finally made it to Kyani & Co the other day.

Who are Amreen and Seema you ask? 

Well I met them a year and a half back. They had hired me to conduct a series of food walks for them then. I had just finished writing the first draft of my book, The Travelling Belly, and was wondering what to do with my life at that point.

Turned out that the two sister in laws were planning to set up a restaurant in Toronto at that time which would be their tribute to Mumbai. Accompanying them on the trip to Mumbai was Eric Boulden, an accomplished restaurant design consultant from Toronto. I joined the gang as a consultant feeding them with Mumbai restaurant inputs and helped them connect with chefs and restaurant owners as Omars looked for ideas to feed their dream.

The Bombay Street Food Co team hard at work
During my years of market researcher, and now as a food blogger, I’ve worked with folks from various nationalities. Amreen, Seema and Eric have showed that Canadians make for the nicest clients.

All those American soap stereotypes about Canadians being happy go lucky people who are warm, supportive, appreciative and loving and who are happy to hug at the drop of a hat?

All true evidently!


Eric Boulden and his wife Andrea who have fallen in love with India

Seema and Amreen were back in Mumbai a year and a half after we had last met. Their restaurant, Bombay Street Food, is seven months old in Toronto now and is doing quite well . Their personal involvement and their love for Mumbai shows in every element of the restaurant and one day I hope to go there and celebrate their success with them.

And my book, The Travelling Belly, is out and is a month old.

Eric, Seema, Andrea, Amreen and me
Taj Tea House, Bandra
Felt proud and happy to get an autographed copy of
the Bombay Street Food from Amreen and Seema
Their attention to detail starts right from the menu card


Chuffed to see some of my inputs in the menu copy
My book The Travelling Belly
Link to order the book on Amazon


Amreen and Seema were back in Mumbai and looking for ideas on how to take their restaurant to the next level.

I took them on a food trail of Mumbai over three joyful days packed with food. We went to a different set of places from the last time. Some were places I take people to on my trails. Some places we hang out at in Bandra. Some new discoveries for me too, or places I was visiting after a while. 

One such discovery was Kyani and Co.

The long trek for breakfast from Bandra

It took me about an hour and fifteen minutes by road to reach there from Bandra, the first time I went to Kyani. I had left home at 9.45 am. This was on a weekday.

I was cursing the traffic and the distance when I finally reached Kyani. Telling myself this is why i hadn't come to Kyani all this while.

Kyani at 11.30 am
Kyani at 1 pm
A warm welcome

It was around 11 am when I reached Kyani and the restaurant was half full and had a sleepy feel to it. I walked up the steep steps to enter Kyani and was welcomed by the aroma of warm bakes. There was a smiling gentleman hovering around the centre of the restaurant holding a green coffee mug. He looked at me while I waited at the door. 

The ropes are meant for the elderly
 but make everyone feel at home


There were thick ropes hanging by the door. I went up to the gentleman and asked him what they were for.

‘For elderly people to hold when they walk up the steps,’ he said.

“I am waiting for some friends,” I said, not wanting to occupy a table till they came.

Kyani, circa 2017
The 'dunk bun maska in chai and then have it'
tea drinking etiquette
History lessons 

“Make yourself comfortable,” said the gentleman with the mug. Turned out that he was Farokh Shokri. A Mumbai born Zoroastrian Irani who runs Kyani and Co today. His family had bought over the place in 1954 from the original owners. 

Mr Farokh Shokri, the current owner

Farokh told me that the restaurant had been founded by the late Khodamarad Marzban who had come from Yezd in Iran in 1904. The late Mr Marzban, who shares the name with my late father in law, is remembered here through his picture on the wall.

Kyani in Mumbai has no connection with the Kayani in Pune, which is famous for its Shrewsbury biscuits, Farokh told me.


Khodamarad Marzban, the founder of Kyani
His picture is garlanded up there


Later I heard Farokh firmly but politely telling one of his staff members to not speak roughly with customers. “Don’t lose your calm,” he said in Hindi.

So much for the image of the 'grumpy Irani cafe owner'!

The warm welcome at Kyani & Co suddenly made the long trek so worth it. 

A bakery which became a restaurant too...keeping up with the times


From what I gathered, Kyani was primarily a bakery with no food served there apart from bakes and tea till about a decade back.  Then they started serving eggs and kheema (minced goat meat). 

A couple of years back they started serving a few main dishes including Parsi ones. The recipes for these are from Farokh’s home from what I gathered. 

Ambiance

Kyani got pretty packed by the time we left at 1 pm and folks were requested to share tables by then. As Irani restaurants go, Kyani is pretty large and has a small section upstairs too for ‘families.’ That was a legacy from the olden days. Now families, as well as couples hoping to becoming families, sit downstairs with office workers, police constables, school kids and college folks. You will find people of all social and economic classes, community and ages here. 

It's still Mumbai as I remember it being down here at Kyani. A Mumbai that I hope will never change.

The ceilings are high and the place is well lit by natural light. There’s no air-conditioning. It wasn’t warm inside when I went. This was the Mumbai ‘winter of course'. They don't have toilets.

The service was warm. The waiters were happy to guide you in your orders. Listen to your instructions properly. Their pride in working at Kyani was evident.

Freshly baked mawa cakes

The chicken patties are must haves

The Irani cafe biscuits, all baked here
Our Irani brunch 

Amreen and Seeema reached soon and they just loved the place too. I ordered food for all of us once they came in, which was pretty much everything on offer. 

I requested everything to be brought together and it was. 



"Sab kuchh ek saath lana. Photo khichna hai''
Clockwise: Pav, kheema, mint tea with milk and tea separate
sali chicken, chicken puff, pulav, poro, chai
Mutton dhansak dal in the middle


How was the food?

The pav and bun were both incredibly soft

I ordered a poro. This is the Parsi omelette. It's made flat and not fluffy and spicy too. Seema and Amreen loved the fact that it was made flat here like it is in Indian houses. Turns out that they like the soft Bombaiyya bread to the crusty bread in Toronto and are not big fans of the fluffy omelettes of its cafes showing that they are very much Indian at heart.

My mother in law makes poros for me on Monday mornings and she does it well. The one at Kyani's was similar to hers except that she doesn't add tomatoes for herself though she adds them for me. Recipes vary from house to house, from hearth to heart and from heart to heart.

The waiter recommended that I try the chicken patties when I asked him what else is special. This turned out to be a beautiful recommendation. The puff pastry was thin and buttery. The chicken filling inside very well flavoured and juicy which is not always the case in bakeries in Mumbai including in posh ones which can serve some very meh patties. It inspired me to try the mutton puff which was pretty nice too though quite different in taste. In the best tradition of ‘curry puffs’, the filling in the mutton patties was masala packed. The chicken patties would match up with one of the best I’ve ever had.

We had the kheema of course. The quality of minced meat used seemed pretty good and it was not smelly unlike the kheema served in some of Mumbai’s famous kheema places. It was fairly heavy on garam masala as I have found most kheemas that I have tried recently to be. In each of the last three Irani cafes I went to, I preferred the egg dishes to the kheema, possibly because I don’t have a stomach for masalas in the morning. If you do however, then the kheema at Kyani can make for a power packed start to your day.

Behram and Frenny told me that they often come here
for kheema and poro brunches

We tried some of the traditional Parsi dishes. The dhansak here is the thicker variety and the flavours more intense than the ones at newer restaurants such as SodaBottleOpenerWala and Social whose dhansaks have a thinner consistency and are a tad sweet. For someone like me, the latter is more like comfort food. However, Eric Boulden from the Bombay Street Food team, found the Parsi dishes in places such as Kyani or Ideal Corner and Jimmy Boy more memorable. He felt that the modern places are more ‘mass’ oriented. 

They serve the dhansak with pulao and not brown rice at Kyani. ‘Brown’ being caramelized and hence brown and not because its unpolished! The thickness of the dhansak dar (dal) was similar to what I’ve eaten at Military Café. The mutton pieces were on the bone and tender.

‘Catering to the masses’, in a way, was a good way to describe the sali chicken at Kyani. The curry was savoury, spicy and had an undertone of garlic in it. It was NOT sweet and tangy. This was not the Parsi jardaloo salli boti which made with apricots. More like the chicken curry in a north Indian restaurant.

“The average Indian won’t like the sweet taste of a Parsi jardaloo chicken,” explained Farokh later. “That’s why we modified it.”

So much for the authenticity debate! The chicken pieces were fairly tender though.

Just before leaving, I ordered a Parsi mint tea and a mava cake. More for taking a photograph really.

The mint tea can be asked to be served black with milk and sugar on the side at Kyani but since I hadn’t specified so, they served it me prepared the way they like it here. Milky, sugary, the flavour of fresh mint leaves (added in while brewing the tea after the order was placed) so refreshing. I’ve had Parsi mint teas in modern cafes in Mumbai but this blew the pants of those.

The mawa cake – ‘made with sugar, ghee, eggs, milk and our secret ingredients,’ said Farokh - were beautifully balanced and not excessively or excruciatingly sweet.


The Parsi mint tea and mawa cake which made me return to Kyani
two days later
Making up for lost time...back two days later

The chai and cake combo convinced me to make up for lost time at Kyani and that’s what I did a couple of days later when I met chef Vineet Bhatia for breakfast at Kyani before we heading off our respective ways on work.

With chef Vineet Bhatia
This time I had left home in Bandra at 8 am and there was no traffic and I’d reached Kyani by 8.45 am. It was too early for chicken puffs we were told so we had mutton samosas. I’d never liked mutton samosas in Mumbai so far and I’ve had most of the famous ones. The samosas at Kyani & co were served piping hot and freshly fried. The balance of kheema (minced goat meat) and mint leaves pretty much perfect. I finally found what I was looking for. These were superb

We ordered the kheema again and once again it was quite competent and both the chef and I liked it.

Akoori at Kyani
Akoori love

Once again, I liked an egg dish over the kheema one though. This time I ordered the Parsi akoori. It was moist like a semi runny scrambled egg which makes it different from the anda bhurjee of Mumbai. At the same time, it had spices in it and chopped tomatoes, chilli and coriander leaves which made it more like an anda bhurjee than a scrambled egg in essence. 

The dish showed how well the Parsis straddle both worlds – the Oriental and the Occidental.

Akooris are made with different level of spiciness from house to house and Irani café to Irani café. I would say that what I had at Kyani was one of the best akooris I’ve ever had! Ideal Corner at Fort does a lovely one too.

We ordered the mint tea but chef Vineet said he’s have preferred it without sugar and this time I found the milk a bit too ‘full cream' or milky and overwhelming myself.

Desserts

After I left the café, I checked my instagram feed and saw that Deepika of @wortheverypennindia insist that I try the caramel custard at Kyani. So I went back in and ordered one.

The custard was served set in a bowl. Slightly different from in other cafes where they take out custard on a plate and serve it.

I planned to have a bite of the custard to taste and let the rest be. Except that everything about custard was too perfect for me to stick to the plan. It was not too eggy or sugary or milky. The texture, neither too thick. Nor too wobbly. The temperature, chilled but not ice cold. Very refreshing. Very ‘have spoon after spoon till nothing is left it.”

Demolishing the caramel custard at Kyani


I looked up and thanked the gods of social media for leading me to such good food and left.

I had always know that Kyani & Co is legendary. This week I found out why.

Good food at affordable prices. Warm service with no service charge. Years of heritage. The passion and involvement of their owner. The desire to make their customer feel welcome when they came in and well fed and satisfied when they left the restaurant.

All reasons to make you want to come back again and again. 

That's the secret to the success of Kyani and Co.

Link to The Bombay Street Food Toronto restaurant site

A phone video that I shot with Seema an Amreen at Kyani & Co:



The local constabulary loves it too

Farokh is always there at Kyani.
The recipe for a successful restaurant that
Seema and Amreen believe in too

Great food, great prices, fantastic service with no service charge

The rope to welcome you in



January 2017



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