Allow me to begin on a blasphemous note. I find Britannia & Co in Ballard Estate overrated. Highly. Yes, their Berry Pulavs are delish, and #WillandKate made a detour during their recent Mumbai visit to meet the old man. But in Rs 550 – the price at which their pulavs start – I can buy a meal for two at Ideal Corner. Not Berry Pulav, no, they don’t have that on their menu, but a portion each of Mutton Dhansak with kababs and rice, Mutton Salli Boti with rotlis, a bread pudding, a lagan nu custard and some classic raspberry and ice-cream soda to wash it all down. All under Rs 550. Smack!
This 31-year-old eatery in Fort might not be as alluringly venerable as Britannia, which opened in 1923, but it has its regulars – those who pick value-for-money over brand and hype. And for such an audience, there is good news. Not only can the food be ordered in now but Ideal Corner, known as a day restaurant to most people all these years, is also open for dinner. Says Parvez Patel, who runs the Parsi restaurant, “We are located in Fort, which has been the city’s business district for decades. But a lot has changed over the last few years. At Take for instance, work hours. We were earlier catering to office-goers, and would shut at 4pm after lunch. But people no more finish work at 6pm and head back. Many stay till 8pm or even later across South Mumbai. We want to cater to this audience.”
Patel admits that his business has been hurt by South Mumbai’s fading allure as a business district. Both the move to stay open for dinner and deliver via tie-up with Scootsy and Zomato is aimed to cover up on this deficit. Ideal Corner enjoys a unique advantage in terms of its location. Housed in Hornby Building, it stands at the meeting point of two busy lanes in Fort, and offers an unobstructed view of the Khadi Bhandar on DN Road. It is a tiny restaurant – with a tinier mezzanine space – that offers seating for no more than 25 people. But regulars — Patel claims 60 per cent of their patrons are loyalists — will tell you the restaurant is full if you go between 1-2.30pm.
Ideal Corner started life as a snack bar in 1985, and the brisk business it did encouraged Patel to covert the space into a full-fledged restaurant serving Parsi cuisine. “We started with serving just one dish a day, that’s how the ‘specials’ came on the menu,” says Patel of the restaurant that has a daily rotating menu, with up to three ‘special’ dishes each day of the week. For instance, their Dhun Daar Patio – yellow daal and tomato gravy in fish, egg and vegetarian variants and served with rice – is available on Tuesdays, and Thursdays are for Chicken Biryani Daal (Parsi version of chicken biryani served with daal), and Masoor Gosh (mutton cooked in hand-pounded masala with full masoor). Dhansak-rice (chicken/ mutton cooked with lentils and vegetables), Salli Boti, Patra ni Machi (a Parsi specialty in which the fish is marinated and steamed in a banana leaf) and Chicken Farcha (marinated chicken, crumb-fried) are on the menu every day.
Patel, who is in his 60s, says that the menu hasn’t changed much over all these years. “We keep taking off an item or two based on ingredient pricing and popularity, then bring it back a few years later.” In the 1990s, Ideal Corner also introduced a Chinese menu with select and staple items, which has been recently discontinued. “But we are realising Chinese is also popular, we may bring it back soon,” Patel adds.
The declining business (and population) of Iranis has been an oft-told story, but, in an age of flashy marketing and slick QSR initiatives, it’s good to remind people that there are still places such as Ideal Corner that serve authentic Parsi cuisine without any affectation (read SodaBottleOpenerWala). It is perhaps this fact that drove the owners of Britannia to increase their prices and fight hard to find a place on the tourist map of Mumbai. In the same spirit, but without making itself inaccessible to its regular clientele, Ideal Corner, too, is trying.
Ideal Corner is at 12 F/G, Hornby View, Gunbow Street, Fort, Mumbai, open between 12 Noon to 3:30 pm, 5:30 pm to 10:45 pm, closed on Mondays. Phone: 022-22621930.