Britannia Restaurant


January 5, 2008

Berry berry good

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 83-year-old 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 my late wife Bachan who on her travels to Iran (courtesy being legal advisor to Iran Airways) mastered these recipes, says 85-year-old Boman Kohinoor, the second-generation owner, and to regulars, the eatery’s greatest appeal.

Britannia is one of the dying breed of the city’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.

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.

He worries for the restaurant’s perpetuity amid mounting costs and the looming expiration of its lease. And that makes it imperative that you visit soon.

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.