I remember a Pune of the early 90’s, quite precisely in Instagram’s sepia frame. My father’s brawny arm is clasped onto my tiny one as we maneuver into a busy street where walkman-plugged collegians brush shoulders with Gandhi-topi wearing cyclists; chaos too was inert.
A two-step hop into Deccan Gymkhana’s Irani cafe Goodluck and my father breaks into a hysterical dialogue with a podgy looking counter-clerk, perhaps the owner. They chuckle at their Fergusson days, the bun-maskas and Irani chais that propelled those all-nighters; the do-baida ka omelettes and heart shaped cutlets over which government policies were scrutinised. Meanwhile, the mirrored walls tell me that those mighty high counters carry big glass jars half-filled with white cookies. In unspeakable ways, I find a memory while he is lost in his. In 2014, that’s what Sodabottleopenerwala is doing; for the old, it brings back bygones, for the young, builds new ones.
Resting in a quiet nook in Gurgaon’s Cyberhub restaurant complex, Soda, as it’s called out of love (and sheer convenience), is skirted by the more familiar cappuccino-pizza-donut activity. The huge nameplate in the shape of a bottle opener with a Parsi Bawaji’s face peeping through the lever is the first of many symbolic references it draws. The decor recreates ‘Bombay’s’ old Irani cafes in a clean contemporary sort of way. There are graphic floor-tiles in sombre grey and bentwood chairs surrounding square tables. Quite unmistakably, these are draped in chequered cloth, which is then stretched tight under glass tops. There’s an open bakery counter displaying an English pound cake, a Mewa cake and every cookie species in the Indian-Irani cosmos.
The social intricacies of yesteryears are captured in the décor. There’s a pool-table where Parsi men would chat around and a more private dining booths that enabled their women to socialise in the public space. Sabyasachi Gorai, the brain behind, feels he is giving back to a community that has touched his life. “Soda manifests my journey. Be it the baida roti, the rasta sandwich sprinkled with sev, the aakoori anda bhurji, each dish has done its bit in flavouring my past. Simply put, I have made a small attempt at preserving something so deliciously complicated.”
Flowing in with the décor are the refreshing palate cleansers muddled into old soda bottles. The Sekanjebin is an effervescent Persian dried plum and mint cooler and the Ganne Nu Ras is a lemony sugarcane shake. The Raspberry Soda could have done with a thicker straw or a spoon: berry excessive.
Moving on, the food is served on aluminum trays, in total Irani-café style. The appetisers, namely the Kanda Bhajji and Kolmi Prawns, are crispy, crunchy and golden. The waiter doesn’t say it aloud, but thumps the ketchup jug on the table to imply “Tomato sauce no extra charge”, also a very Irani café practice. The main course favours the carnivores, for the others, there’s Berry Pulao, a curious mix of sweet and salt, with raisins, caramelised onions and vegetables mashed up inside a garlicky tomato paste at the centre.
The steamed fish preparation Patrani Macchi came wrapped in banana leaf. On opening, a fragrant steam of fish smeared with mildly-spiced mint chutney wafted out. The Sali Murghi, a traditional Parsi chicken gravy, is well tempered and comes garnished with fried potato shavings; tad too greasy for a second course. Interestingly, the spices are crushed, dried and aged at home of its Cordon Bleu chef Anahita Dhondy, all of 23.“Being a Parsi has sensitised my understanding towards the cuisine’s influences, be it the Anglo-Indian macaroni or the Persian meats.”
Then rolled in desserts, accompanied with cream, sugar and sheer sin.
The Apple Pie was wallowing in burnt nutmeg, but was adequately paired with bland custard. The Toblerone Mousse is a all nougat and toffee, and tasted just the way it was supposed to. At Soda, a meal is best ended on a high. A cup of Irani Chai, perked up with freshly ground masalas or a hand-whipped Feteli Coffee should suffice.
All said and done, Soda is a return, of Parsi-Irani gastronomy, of historic social settings, and also of the crowned soda bottle.
Address: 3, CyberHub, DLF City II,
Sector 25, Gurgaon
Timings: 11.30 am
to 11:30 pm
Meal for Two:
Rs 1,500 onwards