Bambai se aya mera dost
Mumbai's favourite chef in shorts, Irfan Pabaney joins SodaBottleOpenerWala as country head and strives to give Parsi and old Bombay eats at the chain the authentic tick they once enjoyed
The music system is blaring Bollywood tunes from the '90s, and lunch hour at SodaBottleOpenerWala in Delhi's Khan Market is a busy affair. Orders of dhansak, berry pulao and salli boti are flying off the service counter.
On each of the tables, tent cards carry the brand's Bawa mascot in the company of another familiar face, Irfan Pabaney, who sports a colourful purple-magenta bandana. The table tent card reads: New chef, New menu.
Pabaney, 53, joins AD Singh's Olive Group as country head for the six-year-old brand that took quintessential Parsi and old Bombay foods and served them in a café and bar format. "I want to take the Bombay story beyond the quintessential Parsi and street flavours and represent the multicultural, cosmopolitan influences, too," says Pabaney, dressed in a pair of the signature shorts. "I went to just one board meeting in trousers, and then I was back in my comfort attire!" he quips.
After a scrutinised clean up and sharpening of recipes, Pabaney's first new menu at Soda is called Bhonew, a take on the Parsi word for meals. From Koliwada-inspired Kundapuri prawns to the baida roti with a vegetarian filling of minced soya, the new menu gets a fresh perspective. He adds, "I wanted to make it relevant." AD Singh calls him a long time friend, who's food he has enjoyed across different restaurants and cuisines. "Irfan is a perfectionist and wants to make every meal not just good but great. That's inspiring to me," he says.
Veg baida roti
"Not enough bar snacks and a congested menu was the feedback we received," explains the Philippines-born chef, who grew up in Jassawala Wadi in Juhu.
The new role, he says, has brought life a full circle. "After dabbling with European and Asian food, I am finally interpreting and representing Bombay on a pan-India menu," says Pabaney, who worked as consultant after he quit Rachel Goenka's Mumbai restaurant Sassy Spoon in December 2018.
Everyone assumed he would join Rahul Akerkar, who had made a comeback with Qualia. But Pabaney, who started his career at Kemps Corner restaurant Under the Over with Akerkar, and followed him to Indigo, took his time to decide the next move. "I wanted to start my own restaurant but couldn't find the ideal space for the right price. Let's be honest, business is tough for everyone, and there are too many people who want to become restaurateurs. With low customer loyalty, these are challenging times."
Soon after he came aboard Soda, Pabaney suffered a heart attack that caught him off guard. This, despite not smoking, watching what he eats and exercising. "Doctors point to stress, but who knows what it was," he says, quickly smiling, "It can happen to the best of us. I wish to encourage others to take care of their health."
Palak patta chaat
While Soda managed to create a niche when it launched, it somehow lost the way, slipping on consistency. The menu looks cleaner, with a clear distinction between bar snacks and mains, demarcated under vegetarian and non-vegetarian sections. The vegetarian dishes aren't an afterthought, it's clear. From the monsoon chaat menu, he has moved the palak patta chaat to the regular offerings. It is crunchy, garnished with teekha and meetha chutney, sev and pomegranate—very Bambaiyya.
And what Mumbai dish does he personally fancy? "Frankie!"
Is he already plotting to put that on the Soda menu?
Kundapuri fried prawns
250 gm prawns
10 curry leaves
1 tsp ginger garlic paste
½ tsp chilli powder
2 tbsp yogurt
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp green chillies chopped
2 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp corn flour
2 tsp Kundapuri masala
½ tsp lemon juice
For Kundapuri masala
2 tbsp dry coriander
15 dry chillies
2 tbsp roasted garlic
1 tbsp cumin seeds
½ tbsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp dry curry leaves powder
½ tsp black pepper
Clean and devein the prawns. Wash them well with water and drain excess water.
In a bowl, add prawns and all dry and wet ingredients and fold in both flours and egg. Mix well.
Add oil in a frying pan. Once hot, deep fry the prawns. Garnish with chopped coriander, fried curry leaves, lemon wedges. Serve hot.
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