I had one of my most exciting meals of 2014 in the fag end of the year. This was at Sodabottleopenerwala in South Delhi’s Khan Market.
I went there one wintry late December night last week with the Delhi based veteran food writer and restaurant critic, Marryam Reshii. I was spending a night in Delhi before heading to Punjab and the first person I thought of meeting for dinner was Marryam and luckily she was free too. It is always a pleasure to meet the warm hearted and very huggable Marryam whose writing I admire and whose experience and expertise in the field of food writing I tap on. We have had a couple of memorable meals together before in Diva and KashmirI kitchen in Delhi and have met in Mumbai too when we are not chatting with each other on twitter.
I have often bemoaned about the lack of hardly anything interesting happening in the Indian food scene in Mumbai. Which is why Sodabottleopenerwala with its vintage Parsi in a new and young milieu offer interested me. I hadn’t been to the original branch in Gurgaon so thought I would check out the more recently opened one in Khan Market.
I was quite impressed by the spread of restaurants in Khan Market when I reached there and also later at M Block and N Block markets at GK 1 where I was put up. Mumbai really misses food hubs like this.
From what I gathered, Sodabottleopenerwala had done a Dishoom in Delhi. Dishoom is the chain of Mumbai’s Irani Cafe inspired Indian restaurants in London which seems to have caught the city’s Indian food lover’s fancy. Sodabottle too builds on the Irani Cafe theme in its name and decor in a modern context and the menu has a mix of Parsi dishes and Mumbai inspired dishes.
A strange choice of place for a Mumbaikar married to a Parsi to go to eat in Delhi some would say but my interest was piqued.
The place gets pretty crowded Marryam told me and she reached before 7 pm to grab a table for us. The restaurant was buzzing when I reached at 7 even though it was a mid week evening. Sodabottle is not very big by Delhi standards. Quite Irani cafe like in size. The tables are like those of Irani cafes and the wall decorations a throwback to the legend of Irani cafes.
I started with a masala chai to thaw from the cold outside. They serve alcohol too. There was nothing too distinctive about the tea and it lacked the sweetness of the Mumbai cutting chais.
We then ordered starters. I chose an eggs Kejriwal. A favourite of ours from Jamshed uncle’s Royal Bombay Yacht Club. I was quite nonplussed when I saw the seemingly fancy presentation of a simple club dish in Sodabottle. There were mushrooms in what is supposed to be a simple cheese slice on a toast of bread covered by fried egg dish sans mushrooms. Nor did I see the accompanying green chillies. I was read to rip apart the dish. Then I took my first bite. The runny yolk, mild cheese, crunchy toast and then the resounding hit of green chillies which were hidden below the egg and cheese took me straight to our many fun filled evenings at the Yacht Club. I was in a happy place.
My experience with the next starter, the kanda bhajiya, that Marryam insisted we order, was similar. This simple Mumbai street food favourite was served as some fancy spiralled dish which looked very different from the gritty edgy spherical Mumbai kanda bhajia. I expected this to be a let down. Then I took a bite and its crisp, sweet caramelised onion flavours took me straight to the Khao Gulley (eat street) stalls of Fort in Mumbai. Once again, like the Kejriwal, a deceptive form and then a very reassuring and heart warming core.
The place was getting filled up and yet the wait staff was quite attentive. The vibe very pleasant, mellow and warm. I liked the way the decor picked on cliches from the now crumbling and fading Irani cafes of Mumbai and presented these in a young and modern format.
Our next dish was the Parsi pickled dish, prawn or kolmi patio. The prawns, as they unfortunately are in all Parsi homes, a tad overcooked and as is to be expected in a patio.The gravy reminded me of my late grandmother in law who loved prawn patio. I once took her some patio from Snack Shack, the Parsi restaurant in Bandra. If I remember her expression and the taste of that prawn patio right, then Mamma would have approved of this one too.
Prawn patio is traditionally eaten with dhandar which is a bland yellow daal and rice. At Sodabottle, they serve it with what they call Mumbai pao. This was a weak spot as the bread was sticky outside and doughy inside and lacked the cherubic fluffiness of the Mumbai ladi pav.
Marryam, who was recovering from an earlier burger tasting meat overdose, ordered a vegetarian Tardeo masala sandwich for her dinner. This too was presented in a more contemporary manner than the Bombay masala toast. The bread was bigger and the crust too chewy to be enjoyed. They had the turmeric hued masala mash of the Bombay masala toast but this was not as heavily slathered in as it is in Mumbai. The only weak link of the dinner. Their breads need working on.
When Sodabottleopenerwalla was opened in Gurgaon it didn’t have the most iconic Parsi dish, the dhansak and this raised howls of protest. They have since introduced it since and I decided to try that rather than the berry pulao. The latter, while made famous by the Britannia Restaurant in Mumbai, is not a dish to be found in Parsi homes.
Evidently I had picked well. The dhansak was served in a brass coloured dabba (tiffin container) continuing the theme of metallic plating which was different and a breath of fresh air.
Recently I had complained on twitter about how Parsi restaurants have stopped serving kachumber, which is so integral to the dhansak experience, with dhansak these days. I was thrilled to see that Sodabottle had served this lime pickled chopped onion, coriander and tomato salad with the dhansak as it is done in Parsi housed. I mopped up some of the dhansak (the Parsi daal cooked with mutton and caramelised rice on the side) and broke into a snug smile. The dhansak was light, well flavoured, enlivened by the tangy hit of the kachumber, and was so much more like a home made dhansak than the thick one served in Mumbai Parsi restaurants. The mutton was moderately tender. This was the dish I would have packed for K if I was going back to Mumbai the next day. Even Marryam approved of the dhansak and we ended the dinner on a supreme high.
I wish I could tell you how the pricing was but Marryam has this confounding habit of mummying me by taking care of the bill and the stack of meals I owe her is just piling up. The dhansak, I remember, is 550 Rs, not much more expensive than the inconsistent one served in Britannia in very grimy surroundings. And you would pay that much and more for faux Spanish or Korean then why not for authentic regional Indian food?
I admit was already excited by the idea of someone picked up Indian regional food and presenting it in a trendy manner when I went to Sodabottleopenerwala and the Mumbaikar Parsi jamai 9son in law) in me approve of the food too at the end of the meal.
Isn’t life beautiful when the substance lives up to the hype?
Come on Mumbai restaurateurs, we can’t let Delhi win this race!