A new Irani Cafe rises in Dongri – Is this the start of something wonderful?

Roshan Bakery and Restaurant, DongriRoshan Bakery and Restaurant which opened about two months ago piqued my interest for two reasons. Firstly, after Café Irani Chaii in Mahim it’s the second old world Irani Café to open in the city, and secondly it’s in Dongri – a part of the city I’ve never visited before.

Farookh Meherbani and his son Shapur who’ve opened the tiny 10-table café have also also been running the 100-year old Roshan Bakery in Mazgaon for the last 50 years. Shapur gave up a career in finance a few years ago to help his father. He also introduced new breads and dishes like nihari, kheema and butter chicken to go with them. It was then that they felt the need to start a sit-down eating place. “Many customers would stand outside the bakery, or at the bus stop nearby, and eat. We felt we should have a sit-down place for them,” explains Shapur.

Farookh and Shapur Meherbani, Roshan Bakery and Restaurant, DongriWhile the bakery is in the heart of Mazgaon, the café is geographically on the edge of the neighbourhood, almost kissing distance from Dongri.  but culturally and demographically within the former: a Lower Mazgaon if you will. “It might say Dongri on the map, but locals would call it Mazgaon,” says my friend Parvez Diwan, who knows every by lane in the area.

That’s probably why the Meherbani’s insist it’s a very cosmopolitan neighbourhood. “We have to open early since all the Iranis come for their brun maska and chai from 7 am until about 11 am. In the afternoon we’ve got doctors from JJ Hospital, often Bohri ladies will have a Menij (kitty party) on the mezzanine upstairs. The through the day people will come for a cup of tea,” says Shapur. Almost on cue two policemen from the next door Dongri police station sit at the next table and order tea. “I’ve had a young Bohri girl come up to me and shake my hand for opening the restaurant. She never had a place where she could have an evening cup of tea,” he adds.

Bread, biscuit and cake display, Roshan Bakery and Restaurant, DongriI surrender the ordering to him even though he’s most reluctant to include any of the Parsi dishes. Only after much persuasion he relents and orders a patra ni machi. In all fairness the Parsi section is quite tiny. Many people mistakenly believe Iranis served Parsi food, but the truth is the cafés were never cuisine based. They were completely functional eating spaces that had grown from street side tea stalls and along with tea (almost never coffee) served mostly breakfast foods or quick eats. The Iranis were lionised for being the first truly cosmopolitan restaurants in India that served everyone irrespective of caste or religion. The only distinction was that different religions would be served in different coloured cups, but after Gandhiji expressed his disapproval, the practice was discontinued.

The non-discriminatory spirit lives on at Roshan. “We wanted a place where anyone can come, from the person who spends fifteen rupees for a chai to two hundred and fifty for a nihari,” says the genial Meherbani Sr.

Patra ni Machi, Roshan Bakery and Restaurant, DongriI’m suitably impressed with Mrs Meherbani’s version of the patra ni machhi. The sweetness of the smooth chutney hits you palate first, then the tart and finally there’s a burn at the back and roof of your mouth. The pomfret is soft and moist and despite the chutney you can taste the freshness of the fish.

Tandoori Pomfret, Roshan Bakery and Restaurant, DongriMore then the patra, it’s the tandoori pomfret that they’re proud of. It’s not the best tandoori pomfret in the world but it’s pretty good. The flesh is firm, but not overcooked, it comes away easily in neat pieces and has absorbed the masala fully. It has a pungent bite to begin with but as it cools the tartness begins to show more prominently.

The fiercely red kheema is as spicy as it looks and needs a pav to neutralize the pungency. However, it’s not flowing in oil and you won’t find any gristle or chewy connective tissue. “We only use shoulder for the kheema,” says Meherbani Sr quite proudly before rushing back to the bakery. The table is choked with plates of food by now – I reach out for what I think are boti, but turn out to be bite-sized, moist and juicy seekhs. I push a couple into a pav and make kebab sandwich. I think it works rather well.

I somehow manage to make space for Shapur’s favourite, the nalli burra lazeez kebab. Served on the bone, the meat has been baked in a tandoor first and then topped with a heavy cream-based sauce. It’s unctuous, heavy and almost a meal in itself.

Shall I order a tameta per eeda?” asks Shapur eagerly. But I’m already done in. I’ll come back another time I mumble feebly.

And I probably will be back since and use this my staging point for future forays. I still have to lift Dongri’s veil.

Roshan Bakery & Restaurant
next to Dongri Police Station
Dr Maheshwari Road
Dongri
Mumbai
Timings: 7 am to 1 am
Tel: 022 23781144/ 022 22378115

Disclosure
Invited by PR company Yes
Guest of the chef/ restaurant Yes
Restaurant knew I’m a food writer Yes
Meal comped by the restaurant Yes

 

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