Does Mumbai need a SodaBottleOpenerWala?

Warning: Long post ahead
Berry pulao, sali gosht, bedami alu, prawn patia at SodaBottleOpenerWala

There was a restaurant called Jumjoji which had opened sometime back in Bandra Reclamation and they served Parsi food.

I was one of those who had said then that to get the real experience of Irani cafes and Parsi food one should make the trek to South Mumbai and to its heritage Irani restaurants. An experience which a Jumjoji could not recreate I felt.

I did go to Jumjoji eventually and wrote about it here. I kept comparing it in my head with the Irani cafes of South Mumbai rather than enjoy it in isolation. The experience wasn’t too bad though we never went back to it for some reason and I heard that its now shut.

A few years back, an agency designing a restaurant in London got in touch to me requesting my permission to borrow a few Irani café stories from my blog. They said they were designing plates to put in an Irani café themed restaurant in London and wanted the stories for that.

Turned out that this restaurant was the Mumbai and Irani café themed Dishoom which since then has become a runaway hit in London.

My friend Anchal sent me a pic of this plate from Dishoom which
has a story K's Mama told me and is on the blog

When I read about Dishoom, I began to wish that someone would set up a restaurant like that in Mumbai which paid homage to the city’s food history.

Then A D Singh's  SodaBottleOpenerWala opened with its Irani café Mumbai theme in India.

It opened in Gurgaon, and then Delhi though, and not in Mumbai. I went to the Delhi outlet and had a really nice time and wished we had one in Mumbai. You can read about my experience of the Delhi outlet here.

SodaBottleOpenerWala then travelled to Bengaluru and Hyderabad but eluded us in Mumbai.

Well, SodaBottleOpenerWala has finally come to town and opened in Bandra Kurla Complex’s Capital Building yesterday. We went for a media preview the previous week.

The restaurant is fairly spacious by Mumbai standards. The design beautifully recreates the spirit of Mumbai’s Irani cafes and pays homage to the Parsi community too by placing a bike at the gate. 

All Parsis love their two wheelers after all.

With K, food blogger Amrita, her husband Vicky and Mohit of SodaBottle

A tribute to Irani cafe signs of yore

Irani cafe wall art
So why would you choose a SodaBottleOpenerWala in Mumbai when there is a Britannia, Idea Corner, Jimmy Boy or Merwan or Yazdani?

SodaBottleOpenerWala will work for you if you don’t want to travel to South Mumbai. If you want to eat in a large, clean place with air-conditioning, with valet parking AND loos. If you want to have a drink with your meal. Or want to go out for dinner dinner and not just lunch.

SodaBottleOpnerWala is bigger than most Irani cafes barring perhaps Britannia
Unlike Britannia it has air-conditioning, alcohol, loos and is open at night and on Sundays

Jimmy Boy and possibly Paradise are possibly the only Irani cafes open at night. Most Irani Cafes are largely non-airconditioned. They rarely have clean loos if they have them to start with. 

Food in most Irani Cafes are fairly cheap though except in Britannia.

I don't have an idea about the SodaBottle pricing as it was a preview but I don't think Delhi was too expensive.

Also here’s the thing. Unlike what its name and Irani café theme might make you believe, SodaBottleOpenerWala is not just about Parsi food. It has got a number of iconic Mumbai dishes here and is possibly more Mumbaiyya in its DNA than Bombay Canteen which was arguably the first restaurant to make Indian food trendy and sexy for the younger Mumbai dining audience.

SodaBottleOpenerWala is not run by Parsis. It is owned by restaurateur A D Singh, who disarmingly refused to take any credit when I complimented him on the product.

He was being modest though because he was after all the one who appointed Mohit Balachandra as the captain of the team running it. 

I first knew Mohit as someone who writes the blog Chowder Singh which celebrates Indian food, and became friends with him. I later got to know that he works with AD. I have had many great food outings with Mohit and fully trust his food sensibilities. 

They do have a couple of young Parsi chefs in the team. Anahita Dhondy in Delhi and Darius Madon in Mumbai.

A happy Mohit Balachandran

Anahita Dhondy and Ad Singh

I had eaten the SodaBottle food in Delhi and had largely liked it.

This time we tried the food in the preview in mumbai and a different set of dishes from what I ate in Delhi. 

The food was served as plated normally but of course you can’t take responses to a preview meal as a ‘review’ but I still thought I will share how I found it.

The Goan sausage (see what I meant about ‘Mumbai’ and not just Parsi) was not too tart. I asked if these were rosary sausages and turned out they are. So not as tangy, thankfully, as the commercial ones. Just a couple of days back K made the rosary sausages we had got from Goa and the Sodabottle ones reminded me of them. The sausages were served with pao, which are made in house and are pretty nice and soft and much better than the ones served in Delhi. They apply butter on the bun  though which is redundant when served with sausages I feel and you should ask them to skip that.

Goan sausage with bun maska

I was skeptical when I tried the Bhendi Bazar sheekh parathas. Would they be as good as Hai Tikka in Bhendi Bazar?

Mohit told me that he had eaten at Do Tanki in Bhendi bazar and not at Haji Tikka. Do Tanki was a bit disappointing actually IMO with its dry and chewy sheekhs and you can read about it in my post here

The sheekhs at SodaBottleOpenerWala  though were brilliantly juicy, meaty and right up to Haji Tikka standards and way better than what I remember of Do Tanki.

Bhendi bazar sheekh paratha

Do watch this video on The Finely Chopped to know more about Haji Tikka and please subscribe to the channel.

We then tried the tareli machhi, which means fried fish in Parsi. Parsi love seafood. 

They use rawas at SodaBottle and bake the fish instead of frying it. The girls at the table, K and my blogger friend, Amrita of Life Ki Recipe, loved it. 

The fish was well spiced but I found it a bit too chunky as I am not too fond of grilled rawas.

Amrita and K flash tareli machhi fry smiles
Parsis love fish by the way (Amrita is not a Parsi)

Tareli machhi

The chicken cutlet pav was pretty good…the cutlet was flavour packed and yet not spicy. Nor was the chicken chewy. However, as K pointed out, Parsi cutlets are flat while this was round like a batata vada.

Chicken cutlet pav

For the mains we tried the badami alu made with potatoes in a sauce based on the paste of cashews and ground coconut. 

The sauce was creamy and heavenly and reminded me of the Parsi cashew chicken of my mom in law that I loved. There was a green chilli in it and chewing on it added to the experience thanks to the contrasting heaty and mellow flavours.

Bedami alu, best dish of the night.
Parsis, Bengalis, Maharashtrians, Goans...all love potatoes

The sali mutton was pretty good as the mutton was tender, the sauce not too sweet. Just wished they had added some more sali (potato sticks).

Sali gosht which I think they spell 'ghost' here

We had the prawn patia, which K’s granny used to love. The sauce had a nice pickle-like pungency to it. The difference from the patia in a Parsi house and the one at SodaBottle was that the prawns were juicy here and not over-cooked.

We ended our meal with the mutton berry pulao made famous by Britannia. Except the rice is not soggy at SodaBottle and nor is the pulao too greasy and I preferred this to the over-priced and over-hyped one at Britannia. But then you would go to Britannia to chat with grandpa Boman Kohinoor more than anything else (check this link on him).

Berry pulao

I did not have the dhansak that night but liked it when I had it in Delhi. Chef Anahita’s mom supplies the Parsi spices I am told and there is a fair bit of variance in dhansaks across Parsi families and restaurants as I have seen over the years. I had the eggs kejriwal in Delhi. It is closer to the RBYC version at SodaBottle than the one at Bombay Canteen but has mushrooms and the chillies are not visible.

I am trying to avoid desserts these days but if you try them, the mava cake (regular not the  multigrain one) and Toblerone mousse (if you like dark chocolate) are good options. 

The laganu custard was not firm enough and was rejected by our table.

laganu custard and the Toblerone mousse

Mava cake baked in house

We tried a few mocktails and the masala cola is a nice option.

I told Mohit that if he maintains the same standard of the food on regular days as he did in the preview that he has a good thing going.


K’s feedback was that I had told her it’s a Parsi place but the food was not entirely Parsi, which in a way sums it up.

So should one ditch an Irani café and go to SodaBottleOpenerWala?

Well, to get a sense of what Mumbai was about you should head to the Irani, Muslim and Goan joints of Fort, Bohri Mohalla and Colaba. But there is a section of today's dining audience who won't go there.

Places like SodaBottleOpenerWala and Bombay Canteen are meant for them.

Something which my friend Kashinath referred to when I shared on Facebook and I am adding his comment here:

Kashinath Samant "The point is against whom are they competing? A 55 yr old gentleman who has spent his life working around South Mumbai and is used to enjoing bun maska at Kyani or Mutton Pattice at Sassanian will not come to SBOW thinking of it as a joint that serves Parsi food.... A place like this is very much required for the majority who havent really been introduced to Parsi food which unfortunately is not widely available like other cuisines, but then this place I doubt will give them that authentic Irani joint feel that a Kyani, Sassanian, Britannia, Army canteen would give ...."

That's a good point and I feel that SodaBottleOpenerWala and Bombay Canteed compete with the Smokehouse Deli, Fatty Bao and the PaPaYa's of the world for the consumer's walled. Not the elderly Central Bank of India staff from Fort.
Restaurateur Riyaz Amlaani made an interesting observation during our chat show on India's foodiest cities. He said that we should celebrate Mumbai's history but also give a chance to restaurants that reflect the modern, new age world city aspirations of Mumbai.

I have paraphrased him here and this it the video of the chat.

In my opinion, restaurants like SodaBottleOpenerWala with its peppy design, reflect the spirit of modern Mumbai and yet pay tribute to its past. 
Hopefully the food will maintain the standards of the preview. 

One should keep in mind that the Irani cafes of Mumbai represented the pioneering spirit of of their owners. The folks who set them up had come from another country, Iran. They decided to set up restaurants in Mumbai to earn a living without having a background in the industry and in a city where there were hardly any restaurants then. They took up corner buildings which no one else did. Got people from  across castes,  religions and genders to eat together in public which was unheard of.

Sticking to the past and shunning the new would be an affront to their spirit.

So if I was in South Mumbai by myself and am feeling nostalgic, or taking people on a food heritage walk of Mumbai, then I would go to my beloved Irani cafes there.

If I was to choose a place for a night out with K then I’d probably head to SodaBottleOpenerWala.

Except that her first preference, like a true blue Parsi, would be for a European place!

With my Bawi at SodaBottleOpenerWala
To know more about the influences on Parsi food do check out this video where I talk to Dr Kurush Dalal about Parsi food

Disclaimer: We were hosted at a preview dinner and this should not be read as a review


Benaifar said…
Very well written Kalyan.
I agree that while Sodabottleopenerwala offers a new age perspective. But the "coziness" of the ol' Kyanis, Ideal, Sassanian, etc. can never be replicated in the food or feel of these restaurants. And while we will cherish the old, we celebrate the bold and the new too.

You sum it up well when you say that the Irani cafe's in town would be your go to place but something like Bombay Canteen or Sodabottleopenerwala would be more of a night out place.

I just hope the the old cafes can still survive the competition and not get blinded/sidelined by the shine of the new age restaurants. That to me would be a sad loss to the rich history of Bombay.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thank you Benaifer and you have hit the nail on the head. For the old places to survive, it needs us to patronize them. They are businesses after all and if they don't make money they will fold up. Of course helps if a place keeps up with times. Jimmy Boy is a good example where from a kheema pao place they became a laganu bhonu serving restaurant, have an ac section, are open at night, have a (not too clean) loo
Juelle said…
Kalyan, went to Mumbai recently on my annual holiday from London and as usual Parsi food had to be on the cards. This time I thought I'd skip South Mumbai and try Sodabottle at BKC. But I have to say I was completely disappointed with the food. The ambience great, pictures, etc. all brought a smile to my face reminiscent of the old Irani cafes. But the food was nothing to write home about. The Berry Pualo was OK, but the dhansakh, prawn patio didn't taste IMO Parsi at all. Next time I'm going to try Tanaaz Godiwala at Dadar :)