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Britannia & Co.Restaurant, Mumbai
Britannia & Co. Restaurant, 11 Sprott Rd., Ballard Estate, near Fort; tel +91 (0) 22 22615264
(Spelt 'Britania' on the street-level signboard.)
From the archives of ParsiKhabar
Britannia restaurant: Flying food and other Parsi tales
Article by Aarthi Gunnupuri / CNNGo
Bombay Food and Drink Mumbai By arzan sam wadia / June 8, 2010
1923: the beginning
In 1923, like a few other Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran, Rashid Kohinoor decided to get into the restaurant business in the city once known as Bombay.
Britannia & Co. is now in the able hands of the third generation, still whipping up food influenced by the family’s Iranian and Parsi roots. It is not hard to imagine what the joint must have looked like when it first threw open its doors to the British Officers stationed in the Fort area. Not much, the Kohinoors say, has changed; including the Bentwood furniture imported from Poland during the eatery’s early years.
A few modern amenities like a phone and the five-foot odd stacks of air-tight containers, aluminum foil boxes and other packaging paraphernalia have been added and help Britannia run a thriving home-delivery business in South Mumbai.
The signboard outside that reads ‘High-Class restaurant’ may seem misplaced, but as junior Kohinoor chips in, there were once Italian marble-top tables and Japanese-built cabinetry.
The imported Polish bentwood chairs are all that remain of the time.
Repairs are always imminent but long-standing family courtroom drama ensures postponement. “When customers raise their eyebrows at the damp walls and peeling ceilings, I tell them its MF Husain’s work,” smiles Kohinoor.
Kohinoor Sr still personally takes orders. He will admonish you if you don’t eat a stomach full and lapses into poetry of the Romantics if he is so inclined.
Sip away at a Pallonji Rasberry drink and give in to the temptation of the velvety caramel custard; Britannia is a bite-sized piece of the city’s history.
Centurion in the making?
Britannia’s 99-year lease expires in 2023.
Britannia’s logo is an unappetizing black cock. An ode to a pet that Bachan Kohinoor had for several years. It’s likely that Britannia’s owners are more motivated by sentiment than profit, and while they must make enough for a comfortable life, the earnings from the restaurant cannot be commensurate with its fame and legacy. They are open for just four hours a day and their rates are nominal.
At points, both Boman’s sons wanted to quit but he persuaded them to stay on. In fact, his eldest son Afshin, who assists him in managing the place, returned only a few years ago after a stint in Iran. The restaurant’s 99-year lease expires in 2023, just a little over a decade left. There is also just one person from the fourth generation, 13-year-old Daanish Kohinoor, and as his grandfather says, a restaurant is hard to manage single-handedly.
The earliest offerings
The earliest offerings of Britannia were reflective of the family’s Iranian heritage. But Boman’s late wife, Bachan, was a Parsi and after their marriage she introduced Parsi specialties like dhansak and fish patra to the menu. Ironically, she was also the force behind the very famous and very Iranian berry rice pulav. Mrs Kohinoor was a legal adviser in Iran,.
The recipes of the special dishes like the berry pulav and the caramel custard are like family jewels, you have to either inherit them or be willing to part with a six-figure sum (in Indian rupees). ==Flying fish and other tales==
Taken away over the seas
Boman Kohinoor, who inherited the restaurant from his father Rashid, talks about a lady from Singapore who has been visiting for over a decade now. She loves to go back with large numbers of her favorite dishes like sali boti (mutton gravy with crispy fries) and dhansak (chicken or mutton in a lentil gravy), which the family relishes over weeks.
Another patron, an old Parsi doctor, picks up 10 numbers of just one dish — the steamed fish in banana leaf called Patra ni Macchi — and takes it back to London every six months. He freezes them and treats himself occasionally to a genuine Parsi delicacy.
Similarly people in Hong Kong, Malaysia, London, Paris and even as far as Canada, many of them emigrants, carry back a bite of Mumbai’s memories and the taste they grew up with.
Part of Britannia’s charm is its legacy and also the widespread attention it has received from the local and international media. It is not uncommon for locals, travelers and tourists to walk in with copies of articles that might have appeared in a French gourmet magazine or a local daily, clippings that Boman Kohinoor digs out from his dusty file and shows us.
100 chapatis, please
Even the humble, basic chapati from Britannia enjoys international acclaim. Patrons are agog over their melt-in-the-mouth quality. Boman Kohinoor recounts the story of an NRI in London from a few years ago. The gentleman requested an Air India air hostess who used to fly the Mumbai-London sector to carry about 100 chapatis every week for him. Britannia’s air-tight parceled chapatis arrived at Heathrow, without fail, every week, for seven months. After which, either the lady’s route changed or their relationship ended, possibly over the chapatis.
Romin, Boman’s younger son and the chef, is also befuddled at the popularity of the chapatis. "We use whole wheat and make them just as the Parsis do," he says. In fact, he insists, the chapatis, dhansak and fish patra taste just as they would at a Parsi wedding.
Here’s an authentic Britannia recipe for posterity, and a gravy-stained page of Mumbai history.
Britannia-style sali chicken in five steps
(Chicken in gravy with crispy fries, serves four)
You will need:
2 finely chopped green chillies
2 large finely chopped onions
A tiny piece of ginger
Half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder
Half a teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon of garam masala
Half a teaspoon of cumin seeds
7 or so curry leaves
6 cloves of garlic
1 kilo of boneless chicken thighs, 10 pieces or so, cut in thirds
2 tablespoons of oil
On the side:
1 small sliced onion
1 lime cut into wedges
3 cups of thin and crispy fried potato stick chips
(Britannia gets them from Camy Wafers in Colaba)
Step 1: Make a thick paste out of the garlic, ginger, garam masala, cinnamom and turmeric and set aside.
Step 2: Drop curry leaves and cumin seeds in a pan with hot oil and stir slightly. After a few seconds, when the seeds start to splutter, add the chopped onions and chillies, let it cook and stir occasionally for about five minutes. Add the spices and stir for a minute or so.
Step 3: Now bring in the chicken and stir in the pan till it’s well coated with the spices. Pour two cups of water, add salt and bring to boil. Cover with a lid, reduce heat and let the chicken cook for half an hour.
Step 4: Uncover the dish and let it to simmer in low flame for another thirty minutes until the chicken is soft and tender.
Step 5: In a deep plate, place the chicken and arrange a nice, thick layer of potato sticks around the edges. Serve piping hot with juicy lime wedges and onion.
Berry berry good
Bombay Food and Drink Institutions
By Shirin Kumaana-Wadia / January 5, 2008
The eatery still maintains its worth with a menu card right out of Iran.
You’ll never know what the fuss is about until you actually eat here. This Parsi-Irani eatery is worth its wait in barberry berries. Why them? Because they are the imported ingredients that go into making what Britannia is most revered for… its zesty Persian berry pulav (Zereshk polow).
Most people come to Britannia to consume one of three things — the mutton Sali boti, the dhansak and the berry pulav.
The menu is courtesy [second-generation owner Boman Kohinoor, born 1923]’s wife Bachan who on her travels to Iran (courtesy being legal advisor to Iran Airways; she was posted in Iran for several years while her husband managed the restaurant in India) mastered these recipes. [CNN adds: On her return, she suggested that berry pulav be introduced and to this day, the barberry in Britannia’s signature dish is imported from Iran. But the dish has been adapted to suit Indian tastes. The pulav in Iran is dry and just lightly flavored, whereas Britannia’s version is spicier and more like an Indian biryani, with the pulav rice heaped over a gravy dish. ]
Britannia is one of the dying breed of Mumbai’s Irani cafes that is bravely sticking out through hard times. It once served “bland” European fare to the unadventurous palates of the British before being turned into a military office during World War II for a brief period.
Today, queues of hungry corporate types from Ballard Estate fill a humble room with peeling pistachio walls, dated New Year paraphernalia, Madras-checked table cloths and a troop of dusty ceiling fans, and are served with an efficiency that’s unbeatable.
Britannia & Co. : Parsi eatery in 30th year of serving iconic berry pulao
By Reetika Subramanian, Hindustan Times
About By arzan sam wadia / March 5, 2012
The closely-held family secret [the recipe of the Barberry Rice delicacy] was introduced in the kitchen by Kohinoor’s wife, Bachan, in August 1982. It continues to draw huge crowds every afternoon.
"Back then, the dish made of soft fluffy rice, tender meat or chicken and imported Irani zeereshk berries was priced at Rs 45 a plate," Kohinoor reminisced. "My wife tried out her own version of the Persian zeereshk pulao in our restaurant kitchen, which soon became the high point of our Parsi food menu," he said, adding that owing to inflation, the price of the mutton berry pulao has risen to Rs 350 a plate today. The restaurant also offers a vegetarian version of the pulao on its menu.
Seated on an imported Polish chair with a table swathed in a red checked cloth, Firoza Mistree, says, "Even today, I stand for more than 20 minutes outside the restaurant, waiting for a table," she said.
The sincerest form of flattery
Though the dish has become synonymous with Britannia and Company Restaurant, the 13-year-old Parsi restaurant, Jimmy Boy [estd 1999], at Fort, has also included it on its menu. "Berry Pulao is one of the most popular dishes on our menu. We prepare our own version of the Persian dish with imported berries from Iran," said Sherzad Irani, manager of the restaurant. "We have had customers pack and carry the dish for relatives in Delhi and Kolkata," he said.
The Iranian Pilao: Berry at its Best
By Javed Gaya / DNA India
Food and Drink By arzan sam wadia / February 1, 2010
The Zereshk Pilao is one of the most stunning rice dishes one can possibly serve. The dish has a warm ruby glow with the burberries studding the rice with colour and the saffron with fragrance. This gives this Pilao a superiority and magnificence that is not easily replicated. It is one of the great dishes of Iran and many unfamiliar with Iranian cuisine will only have heard of it through the iconic berry pilao served at Britannia, the last of the great Irani restaurants in Mumbai at Ballard Estate.
What are the berries? The barberries belong more to the family of decorative plants, rather than berries for eating. They were traditionally used in medieval English cooking until about the 18th century and abandoned because the plant was considered a carrier of mildew and other diseases. In Iran it is widely regarded as a delightful addition to pilaos and stews, giving the dishes a biting tart flavour.
Britannia combines contemporary Persian ingredients like the Zeresht with contemporary Parsi cooking, the patra ni machhi, dhansak; dishes that owe little to the Persian heritage.Even the Pilao is different in that it is not cooked in the Persian style.Traditionally, the Persians would cook the meat separately, and the spices would be used sparingly; cumin, for garnishing, otherwise the mainstay being chillies, garlic, seasoning and saffron making it, too bland for Indian taste.The Britannia’s chicken pilao with berries, is cooked like a traditional Indian pilao with the rice and chicken mixed and with Indian spices making it quite unlike the Persian original.Different, but enjoyable and at least one gets a chance to eat the berries and have a whiff of an otherwise great cuisine