Restaurant review: Irani Chaii, Mumbai’s first Irani cafe in 50 Years

By Junisha Dama, Burrp

Bun maska and Irani chai – the combination makes most of us Mumbaikars nostalgic. Whether over a college project or serious political discussion at an Irani cafe, we’ve all dunked butter slathered buns in sweet chai and eaten pocket-friendly meals. The city, once replete with hundreds of Irani cafes, now has only a handful remaining. However, Irani chai has found a new home in Mahim that is pumping life back into the Irani cafe culture.

 Restaurant review: Irani Chaii, Mumbai’s first Irani cafe in 50 Years

Cafe Irani Chaii. Image Credit: Cryselle Dsouza

“Irani cafes back then were our hangout spots. I would meet friends at the Irani cafe opposite VT station [now replaced by McDonald’s] after work, eat bun-maska chai and we could smoke because it was an open air space. Now you meet people at pubs, which are expensive,” reminisces Christopher Gomes. An architect by profession, Gomes highlights that the cafes wear a typical look. Marble tables with ornate wooden designs and bentwood chairs; marbled floors; wood and mirror panelled walls have been their identity since ages.

What sets Irani cafes apart from other eateries is their similarity to Mumbai lifestyle. They open early morning at 6am and shut shop at 11pm. The pace of the service is busy and swift, just like Mumbai. Mawa cakes, coconut macaroons, khari biscuits and other baked items sitting in foggy glass displays are synonymous with these cafes. But what comes with the extensive egg menu and plates full of kheema pav, is a rich heritage. “You’ll only find Irani cafes in Mumbai, which is a city with very few things that remind you of history,” says Pooja Barge, a regular at Irani cafes in the city. Maybe that’s why you’ll see Mumbaikars fuss over Irani cafes, especially when one announces to permanently shutter down.

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Interiors at Cafe Irani Chaii. Image Credit: Cryselle Dsouza

Iran Comes To Mumbai Again
Enter Mumbai’s first Irani cafe in 50 years – Cafe Irani Chaii that manages to transport you to a different era. If not for the people using mobile phones, it’s quite easy to believe you’ve used a time-machine. The two-week-old Cafe Irani Chaii, owned by filmmaker Dr Mansoor Showghi Yezdi, has been built to keep Irani cafe culture alive and to maintain the friendly ties between Iran and India. The menu instils this further with ‘India Iran Bhai Bhai’ and the two ‘I’s in chaii which stand for India and Iran.
The look of the cafe is the same: Kismi Chocolates and Mango Bites sit in glass jars at the cash counter, wood and mirror panels dote the walls, chequered table-cloths and glass-tops on tables with bentwood chairs and the look is complete with a glass display of bakery items and a sign board that lists the rules: no spitting, no talking loudly and so on.

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Cash Counter at Cafe Irani Chaii. Image Credit: Cryselle Dsouza

Grumpy old waiters that are common of Irani cafes are replaced with younger ones eho welcome you with a smiling face. Dr Yezdi warmly greets his guests, cleans up tables, recommends and serves; and doesn’t mind if you linger a little longer. The vibe here is warm making you feel completely at home.
The food arrives in quintessential white ceramic plates. Akuri (Rs 70 for two eggs) – Parsi-style scrambled eggs were made with a pinch of sugar on Dr Yezdi’s recommendation. The subtly sweet eggs with tomatoes, onion and coriander would be perfect for breakfast with a warm, crispy Pav (Rs 30 for two).

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Akuri at Cafe Irani Chaii. Image Credit: Cryselle Dsouza

Mutton Kheema Ghotala (Rs 120) – mutton mince and egg cooked in onion-based gravy was flavour-packed. Served with two pavs, the kheema was less greasy than most we’ve sampled. The speciality of the cafe, Chicken Biryani (Rs 150) was a spicy, flavourful biryani with minimum oil. The masala seeped into the juicy chicken and coated every grain of rice. Wash it down with the Irani classic, Pallonji’s Soda (Rs 25) available in all the flavours.

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Chicken Biryani at Cafe Irani Chaii. Image Credit: Cryselle Dsouza

For a complete Irani experience you can pick up Chicken Puff (Rs 25) – light on masala and tastes slightly cheesy, the Mutton Pattice (Rs 25) had more masala and we preferred the former. The Mawa Cake (Rs 20) was drier and had a strong cardamom flavour. Staying true to its roots, the cafe only stores Dinshaw’s ice-creams.

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Chicken Puff at Cafe Irani Chaii. Image Credit: Cryselle-Dsouza

Cafe Irani Chaii brings back strong memories of eating at Irani cafes. The warm vibe, coupled with authentic food is a plus. We hope Mumbaikars don’t disappoint in helping this Irani cafe stay alive.

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Mawa Cake at Cafe Irani Chaii. Image Credit: Cryselle-Dsouza

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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2015 10:35:46 IST