Restaurant Review | Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon … quaint, vibrant, delightful Parsi cuisine & culture

“With Sodabottleopenerwala, we give to you something unique to India; the dying legacy of the wonderful, chaotic, crowded, bustling, colourful, quirky, eccentric and real world Irani café. Our way of reviving the love for the edu and the disappearing race behind the cafés.”
AD, Sabina & Rustom Sodabottleopenerwala

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonSoda Bottle Openerwala. It was love at first sight! Nostalgia embraces you the minute you walk in through the doors, rather a wave of nostalgia! The cheerful, café like exteriors already beckon curious eyes … wrought iron, relaxed seating, red Coca Cola chairs, 70’s-80’s jukebox music offering a heady mix of energetic english and Bollywood music, galvanised iron flower pots with cheerful winter chrysanthemums, attention to rustic detail in every little thing.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon Then the trademark signage … the bottle opener from our childhood that every household had back then. My first impression of Soda Bottle Openerwala, a wonderful one! It’s the first ever Parsi food destination in Delhi {possibly North India}, and my first in-depth Parsi food exposure. Needless to say, I LOVED it!

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon 5Homey, comforting, flavourful, colourful, noisy and busy, you can’t but help notice the constant stream of patrons walking in! Great great experience. Well located in the very impressive CyberHub in Gurgaon, Soda Bottle Openerwala is like the cherry on the cake.

Irani cafes or Iranian  cafés are Iranian or Persian style cafés in India. They were originally opened by Persian immigrants to India in the 19th century. Today, Mumbai boasts the largest number of Irani cafés, which are very popular for Irani chai (tea). Iranian cafés used to be numerous and popular but competition from modern cafés and fast food restaurants have left them behind. In the 1950s, there were 350 Irani cafés and today, only 25. One of the most popular eating places is the 102-year-old Kyani Café, a heritage landmark in south Mumbai.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon SBO blew me away. It’s been a long-delayed visit, one I longed to experience ever since I saw the FB update announcing it’s ‘birth‘! I fell in love with the name and knew it was going to be magic! Past the doors and nostalgia flooded my senses. The interiors are captivating in a ‘packed’ way! Lots of everything. Everything I love, everything I want to own, everything embraces you with a strange energy.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon AD Singh’s very talented wife Sabrina has done the interiors and my word, what a fab job! It’s an instant walk down memory lane … huge glass jars  filled with home-baked cookies, chipped stained glass, typical chai wala glasses adorning ever table, red checked table cloths with the lace like the nuns used to make, a caddy on every table, old metal tin boxes, the cuckoo clock, kettles galore, chalkboard menus. I could go on forever but you have to be there to experience it.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon 4My photographs cannot do justice to a place so graphic and vibrant. Did I mention the TV playing Parsi news and programmes in the background, or the old Kelvinator fridge in the door? Then all of a sudden you hear a barely audible ‘chugging’ of sorts… and Ruchira excitedly shouts, “Look, a train”!! We bought one like that from Canada when my daughter was 6 months old; still proudly have it almost 18 years later!

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon The menu layout, content and graphics is great; something you feel like framing to hang from your wall! The choice on offer isn’t too complicated, yet there’s loads of choice. Interesting Parsi trivia salt and pepper it, keeping you in splits and giving you loads of food for thought.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon The manager Arnab looked after us and was a wonderful host. Well informed about Parsi cuisine, the history and culture, he took it upon himself to make sure we got a bite of everything. Even though the menu seems fairly simple, there is LOTS to savour.

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon It was time to dig in, and we began with the signature drink and starters.  You get transported into the heart of Parsi culture as the soda bottle with a SBO stirrer arrives, followed by a variety of other coolers. Not too sweet, they are good on the side. The starters were fab.

Soda Bottle Opener Wala I enjoyed the Keema pav, Aloo Aunty’s Vegetable Cutlis {or simply panko crumbed veggie cutlets} served with a tangy tamarind chutney, and the Bombay pav. Took us back to a recent trip to Mumbai and the roadside vada pav we had hungrily devoured. If food builds the connect, and hits the right spot, you know it is good!

Starters, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonThe way the dishes were served won my heart. Simply plated, rustically served and food from the heart is how I’d put it. The much awaited signature dish, the Berry Pulao {mutton version which was the dish of the day}, blew us away. 

Berry Pulao, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonBerries and fried cashews glistening temptingly, it was a matter of seconds before we dug in. A gentle suggestion from Arnab telling us to mix it through to distribute the flavours was spot on! Through the main course, we kept returning to the pulao. It was simple, yet flavourful, mutton cooked to perfection and the cashews and berries adding unbelievable delight. I would go back to SBO only to eat this over and over again!

Patrani Macchi and Salli Boti, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonAlso praiseworthy was the Salli Boti. Salli we were told {for the uninitiated like me} are the crisp potato sticks on top of meat curry. This is the only meat dish {I think} which is served on the bone. The curry had delightful subtle flavours, lingering good spices that teased the palette gently. The crisp potatoes were addictive. The Patrani Machchi was gentle, coconut flavoured and moist. I enjoyed it even though I am not very fond of fish.

Kolmi Fry, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonThe Kolmi Fry or the Parsi style fried prawns were fab too. Crisp, fun to eat and satisfying bites, these stayed crisp for a long time as we dug into the berry pulao.

Desserts, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, GurgaonEven though we were bursting at the seams, it was unanimously agreed that the Millionaires Brownie was a must. We braced ourselves for more indulgence. Deep, dark chocolate brownie with the trademark Indian 5 star chocolate baked in, this was certainly indulgent. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was addictive good. The laganu custard wasn’t available that day, and that was just as well.

Chai Bar, Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon Chef Anahita was sweet enough to take a little time out of her busy schedule to come talk to us. We finished the meal with the chefs recommendation for tea/ coffee which is an intrinsic part of Parsi culture. The lemongrass and mint hot Parsi Choy was brilliant, as was the Pheteli Coffee Hot {pheteli refers to whipped}. We had fresh home-baked style cookies on the side. The berry nankhatai was full of crisp goodness, and the mawa cake moorish. Everything fell into comfort zone!

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon Candies from the good ole days were a final end to our meal … mango bites, kala khatta and boiled orange candy which evoked strong childhood memories. Stored on the shelf near large well-lit glass windows, were lines of quintessential  ‘martabaans‘ or rustic Indian glass jars. When we were little, each house had a few of these stocked with cookies, nuts or boiled candies. Blissfully, we would stick our dirty fingers in. 

Soda Bottle Openerwala, Cyberhub, Gurgaon It was an afternoon well spent with Sangeeta and Ruchira, connecting to Parsi traditions that have richly contributed to Indian culture and cuisine. The cuisine itself was a refreshing change. Trademark flavours of Parsi food are not commonplace in North India unless they are home cooked. Hats off to SBO for being able to bring alive the warmth and joy of this delightful, quaint and vibrant community.

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India


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