Let me begin with a disclaimer: I’ve never been to one of those classic Bombay Irani cafés. I’ve heard praises (and seen photos) from friends in Bombay, though, and they’ve invariably waxed eloquent. When I heard, therefore, that a Parsi restaurant had opened in Gurgaon (and with the deliciously appropriate name of Soda Bottle Opener Wala, too!), I began clamouring to go there for a meal.
It’s taken us a while, but we made it to Cyber Hub this last weekend. Cyber Hub is, at present, mostly a food mall, though multiple options for entertainment and recreation are in the pipeline. Right now, this spacious open paved area (rather reminiscent of European city streets, with flowering plants and garden umbrellas) is home to restaurants like Oh! Calcutta, Hard Rock Café, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts—and Soda Bottle Opener Wala.
Soda Bottle Opener Wala is right near the entrance, with a few tables out in a little enclosed space (sadly overshadowed by a huge Hard Rock Café sign). The interior of the café, beyond this outdoor space, is quaint in a charmingly stereotypical Parsi way. The cashier’s desk—right next to the doorway—also doubles as bakery counter, with large glass jars full of different types of biscuits, nankhatai, and mawa cake.
The décor is eclectic, ranging from brightly coloured lampshades to old black-and-white photographs of Bombay, to a tiny red train that chugs around overhead, near the ceiling, on a little track that winds its way all around the room. There’s a bar counter midway (no alcohol available, though there are loads of interesting soft drinks, both cold and hot—including some delightfully named teas). There’s also a large blackboard with a list of typically ‘eccentric Parsi café’ dos and don’ts: No Talking Loudly. No Singing. No Childish Tantrums. No Talking to Cashier. No Asking for Recipes. (and more).
There’s also a blackboard—a large one—that lists all that Soda Bottle Opener Wala has on offer. For some inexplicable reason, not all of these are listed on the menu cards. And, since we didn’t notice the board till after we’d placed our order, it was a little irritating to discover that we could actually have ordered from a wider range of dishes than we’d been presented with.
The menu (which has more than a sprinkling of wry Parsi humour) has its selection of typically Bombay-style breakfast dishes: vegetable sandwiches, keema pav, seekh paratha, tamatar papeta par eeda (Parsi-style eggs, tomatoes and potatoes), masala French fries, etc. It also does a range of Parsi specialities, including sali marghi, patra ni machhi, berry pulao, and marghi na farcha (fried chicken). After much dithering, we decided to share an appetiser—kolmi fry (Parsi style fried prawns); and follow that up with a main course each—mutton berry pulao for me, Goan sausage pav for my husband. The waiter assured us that these would be individual portions. Both of us passed up the drinks, though the ganna nu ras (sugarcane juice), iced qahwa, and sekanjbin (a Persian dried plum and mint cooler) all sounded good.
First up were the fried prawns. These were a little like onion bhajjis: lots of sliced onions had been mixed into a lightly spiced chickpea flour batter, along with small prawns, and spoonfuls of it had then been deep-fried. The succulence of the prawns, combined with the crunch from the onions, the very small but crucial amount of chickpea flour to bind it all together—all good. This came with a side of sliced raw onions and a little green coriander chutney.
Next up were our main courses. In another reflection of the eccentricity that marks Soda Bottle Opener Wala, these were served in aluminium cake tins! My husband’s pav was fluffy and golden, the accompanying gravy, thick with minced meat, correctly spiced—not too spicy, not bland, and very flavourful. Like the prawns, it too came with a side of raw sliced onions.
My berry pulao looked, at first glance, rather like a pudding: a neat little mound of cooked rice (unmoulded from a bowl), topped with loads of blackcurrants, deep-fried sliced onions and fried cashewnuts, topped off with a jaunty little sprig of mint. Breaking into the mound with a spoon, I discovered what lay under: the mutton, cooked in a thick gravy that was again spicy but not too much. In fact, the entire dish was the perfect example of good contrasts in textures and flavours: the sweetness of the currants, the nutty and rich crunch of the cashews, the faintly bitter browned onions, the fragrant rice, the mildly spiced mutton. I ended up eating far more than I should have. (The portion sizes, by the way, are pretty substantial. The next time we go, we’ll skip the appetiser).
Mains over, we decided we had to have a dessert. And, while the Toblerone mousse sounded delicious (as did a couple of the other desserts), we both picked the lone Parsi dessert on the menu: the lagan nu custard. Also served in small, shallow aluminium ‘cake tins’, these are a Parsi version of a caramel custard: rich, firm but mildly jiggly, and satiny. Plus, they’re beautifully spiced with nutmeg, and garnished with a sprinkle of chironji seeds. All very, very nice.
Our bill—which arrived after a couple of reminders—was for Rs 2,214, inclusive of taxes and service charges. It was while checking the bill that we discovered that instead of Goan sausage pav, my husband had been served bori keema pav (we’d assumed that the curry served with the pav had been made by mashing up the sausages, so we hadn’t realised the waiter had mixed up our order). The waiter did now admit that he’d made a mistake, but anyway—since my husband had eaten the dish, and liked it, we decided all was well that had ended well.
“You can have the Goan sausage pav the next time we visit,” I told my husband as we were leaving.
“No,” he said. “Next time we come, I’m going to try something completely different. Maybe the sali marghi or the patra ni macchi.”
Note that neither of us even imagined not coming back here. Yes, we don’t know how authentic (or not) Soda Bottle Opener Wala is, but we certainly loved the food and the ambience.
Soda Bottle Opener Wala
Shop No. 3, Cyber Hub
DLF Cyber City, Phase-II
Tel: 0124-6518801, 8527636633