A legend in a haystack
I have been to Bandra’s Café Delight twice in the last month or so. It was packed with customers both times. The place is close to seventy years old and its ownership has changed hands once over all these years from what I gather. It is located at Hill Road and is just opposite the Holy Family Hospital. This is a fairly busy part of inner Bandra.
It is not the sort of place which one can claim to have ‘discovered’. Not when it is so visibly popular. However, the truth is that I was not even aware of the existence of Café Delight till a couple of months back. This despite having lived in Bandra for about two decades. Lest you think so, I was not alone in my ignorance. My second visit to Café Delight was during the Bandra Irani Café Breakfast Trail that I had conducted in association with the SodaBottleOpenerWala restaurant. There were a few people in that group who had grown up in Bandra. Turned out that they too had not heard of Café Delight till that day.
I think that there could be two reasons for this lack of awareness.
One is that of sheer visibility. If you spot Café Delight from the opposite side of the road, you might think that it is just a provision store. Many Irani cafes in the past functioned as provision stores that served food too. Café Delight was once Irani owned. A gentleman called Khodu Irani was the owner according to what a couple of my Parsi friends, Adil Guzder and Kurush Dalal, told me. It is now owned by a Konkani Muslim family. The current owners have retained the provision store cum restaurant layout. Some other examples of this in Bandra are Good Luck Cafe and Sunrise Cafe. When you walk past Café Delight, as I have done countless times in the past, you would see the shop
counter but might not spot the restaurant inside and hence be oblivious to its existence.
The second reason could be that of ambience. Café Delight is a bit grimy to put it politely and can be a tad gloomy and dark too and is not the sort of place you might like to hang around in. Its customers go there with a clear agenda. To fill their tummies that is, and without emptying their wallets. It is not a place you go to chill or to be seen at, as is the case with many of Bandra’s new favourite hangouts. It is far removed in terms of its looks from the the average Bandra eatery today. I feel that it’s subaltern character is another reason why you might not have chanced upon Café Delight so far, even if you live in Bandra but as an old Bandra hold today, it’s one of the last living memories of Bandra’s Irani cafe heritage.
The ‘Bandra buggers’
True blue Bandra folks would know of Cafe Delight’s existence though. In fact it was three Bandra boys, belonging to different generations, who had first told me about Cafe Delight. Coincidentally, all at the same time, a couple of months back. Young Valentine Noronha, a Bandra born Goan and fellow Candies regular, told me about how he goes to Café Delight for chai and bun maska in the evenings, just as he comes over to Candies in the mornings for a cup of coffee. Chef Aloo, a local East Indian and a talented chef, told me about how he loves the fish curry at Café Delight. He told me that he picks up packets of it, takes it home and adds more fish to it and has it for dinner with his wife. Then, while we were chatting about Irani cafés in Bandra, photographer, raconteur and a Parsi, Adil Guzder, told me about his love for the cheese omelet buns at Café Delight. A combination that is not the menu he said but is something that he always asks for.
Bandra rites of passage
The flurry of Cafe Delight Tales left me intrigued and I decided that it was time that I head there. I went there for lunch one Friday afternoon with my friend Sid. It was post lunch time actually and yet crowded. We were greeted by the sight of a gentleman finishing a bowl of mutton curry with relish. A pile of bones strewn on the table as a testimony of his approval. It took a bit of time for our eyes to adjust to the dullness inside as we had just come in from the sun. We were pointed to a corner inside the restaurant where we had to share tables with other diners as is the practise at most such places.
With Sid at Cafe Delight
Sharing tables is always a good way to hear new stories or even get tips on what to order. We found out that the gentlemen sharing our table with us worked in a direct marketing company. They told me that had come to Bandra from far corners of the city for a meeting at the headquarters of their company which was located nearby. They also told me that they had been making this weekly work visit for more than a decade now and that they always came to Café Delight to tank up with chai and bun maska after their office visit and before they headed back home. They told me, with very satisfied smiles flashing across their faces, that the quality of the food here has apparently remained the same since they had first come to Cafe Delight a decade back and which is why they keep coming back. The affordable prices help too.
Moghlai khaana for the Indian soul
A young waiter came and took our order. The service was efficient and prompt. They did not seem to have any Irani or Parsi food here even though Cafe Delight was an Irani owned cafe once upon a time. Their menu looked like a smorgasbord of what is described as ‘Mughlai food’ here. Dishes which are making an appearance again in cafes and restaurants in Mumbai today, tucked in Chinese baos or Mexican tacos or French puff pastry or served on pretty plates with some micro greens stren on them and with the fat and grease sucked out. At Cafe Delight however, this fare is a way of life and there’s nothing ‘retro’ about it. Barring the dabba gosht, every item mentioned on the menu board seemed to cost less than Rs 100, which seemed unreal. Made you wonder about the quality of the food so do read on to figure out what we found out.
Bandra, September 2017. Delightfully unreal, forgive the pun
We tried the chicken masala and the mutton rashida to start with.
What I noticed about both the dishes was that despite the humble surroundings and the very unbelievable prices, the meat in both was of a fairly decent quality.
The chicken pieces in the chicken masala were not too tough despite their being breast pieces. The curry had that slightly inherent sweet taste which comes from the grinding of assorted spices and dry fruits. While the sauce looked red, it didn’t really torch your throat with chilli heat or oil excesses. The definition of dishes such as the ‘chicken masala’ of course is very fluid and the dish is likely to have many unique variations depending on which restaurant you eat it in. The Cafe Delight one seemed quite spot on.
One could wryly say that there was a touch of ‘molecular gastronomy’ in the mutton rashida at Cafe Delight. Let me explain.
The dish came covered with what look like grated cheese. In reality that turned this out to be grated fried eggs. Eggs are scrambled into the curry of the Rashida though I have no idea what lies behind the origin of the name. The mutton (goat meat) in the dish was acceptably tender and not tough at all even if not the juiciest that I’ve had on my life. As gravies go, I preferred the chicken masala one, possibly because of the slight sweetness in it.
I must add here that my stomach behaved pretty well later that afternoon despite trying our the two gravies indicating that the quality of what I ate was fairly good.
We had both the dishes with soft pav and chapattis but at the end I called for something that was described on the menu as ‘biryani rice’. It turned out to be just that! A plate of long grained basmati rice, delectably and subtly flavoured with ‘Biryani spices’. The Biryani rice paired beautifully with the curries. I could not finish the rice though as I was pretty full by then. This made an elderly waiter gently admonish me and say, ‘you have paid for it, you should eat it.’
This was clearly not a place for ‘recreational eating’ as I had mentioned earlier. You don’t come here for tastings. You come here to quell hunger.
The show stealer at Cafe Delight though was a dish that was not on the menu but which had been recommended to me by Adil Guzder. I am talking of the life redefining, ‘cheese omelette bun’ of Cafe Delight.
Here, a freshly prepared flat omelette is stuffed into a sweet bun (usually purchased from the neighbouring A1 Bakery) with a liberal dose of salty Amul cheese in it. The cheese melts in the heat of the omelette and is lovingly enveloped by the soft, slightly sweet bun and the rest, as they say, is history.
‘Sweet bun and eggs is a strange combination you might think, but it works,’ said Adil and man, was he right or not!
It was the most indulgent and gobsmacking dish that I’ve had in a while. Only a cheese, egg and soft bread loving Parsi could have thought of it. I could imagine my mom in law tripping on this dish.
I liked the cheese omelette bun so much that I ordered it again when I returned to Cafe Delight a few mornings later as a part of the Bandra Breakfast food trail that I conducted with Soda Bottle Opener Wala. It was the cheese omelette bun that won everyone’s heart that Sunday and got the highest number of social media shares too.
If I was to sum up Cafe Bandra, I’d say that it is popular place with budget eats, could be cleaner, offers fairly decent food though nothing astounding barring the cheese omelette bun.
However, there’s more to Cafe Delight than the rashida and the omelette bun.
Pia Promina Dasgupta Barva, who has for long been a customer at Cafe Delight, tells me that this restaurant is where relatives of those who are at the ICU at the Holy Family Hospital come in the morning for a cup of tea and bun maska and to say a fervent prayer for their loved ones in the hospital.
I guess its doubling up as a sanctuary of hope for its patrons is what makes Cafe Delight an intrinsic slice of Bandra which is beyond mundane analysis and criticism. Emotions, love and hope, as any poet or country song writer will any tell you, cannot be dissected after all
If you have any Cafe Delight stories then do share them with me and I would love to add them to the post.