Brabourne Restaurant: Death of an Eatery


May 6, 2008

Cities are complex entities. They provide shelter for different communities who, over the years, generate their own sub-cultures, shops, markets and restaurants.

This collection of sub-cultures can be termed ‘villages’. London and New York, to those who know them well, are in truth a collection of villages interacting with each other under the umbrella of an urban government, and Mumbai is no less.

You see this more in South Mumbai than anywhere else. At a particular cross roads is the demarcation between the predominantly Maharashtrian Girgaum and the once predominantly Parsi Princess Street and Dhobi Talao areas.

This area around the Metro Cinema boasts some extraordinary buildings, including the imposing Jer Mahal and around it exist several fire temples, the Parsi Dairy Farm, and a number of Irani restaurants. Kayani’s still goes strong with its Shrewsbury biscuits, chicken patties, cherry custard, and bun maska pao.

Change is inevitable. The Metro has of course been spruced up and there is a Rajdhani snack bar on the ground floor which seems to serve all manner of vegetarian snacks.

Across from Kayani’s, its rival Bastani’s has closed and a few shops from Bastani’s was a gem of a place — the Brabourne Restaurant. This represented the watering hole of the hardcore working class, whether Maharashtrian, Irani, Parsi or Muslim. Precisely because of all of these factors, it was no longer relevant to the area.

(A similar change had happened in London, too – when the docklands became developed, the first things the areas lost were the famous eel and pie shops so characteristic of East End working class culture.) So a slice of working class life which went back to the early part of the 19th century has been lost, and the Irani beer bars will go the way of all the older Irani institutions, such as the bakeries, tea shops, and so on.

Last Saturday night I was at the Brabourne Restaurant — for a wake to celebrate the end of this gem of a restaurant run by the most erudite of restaurateurs, Rashid Irani, film critic and buff extraordinaire who led the most incongruous existence as part-beer bar owner and part-writer.

But it would be a disservice to write off the Brabourne as a mere beer bar; it also served a kind of food which had its own loyal clientele. Chief among the attractions was the iconic omelet sandwich, truly one of the great omelet sandwiches of the city with a leathery exterior and a soft gooey interior, perfectly spiced.

In addition, there was a marvelous kheema pao, the breakfast special, but which could be eaten all day. It had the finest mince, with suitably glutinous gravy so that the pao could be used to mop up the juices, bliss!

All this was had in otherwise depressing surroundings, for it was by then an eatery whose death was foretold and one which the owners did precious little to gentrify. I believe it is going to be replaced by one of those bread shops which intend to produce hundreds of varieties of bread untouched by human hand.

Whether such a miracle of sterility will survive in the rather rambunctious and unhygienic street remains to be seen. But one more institution of old Bombay has disappeared, though fortunately it has not gone un-mourned.

Original article here.