What I usually notice when I enter a restaurant is the whoosh of the AC as I walk in from the heat outside. At Sodabottleopenerwala that isn’t even an option; the fabulous décor is the first thing you notice, right from when you spot it on Lavelle Road. After seeing that almost every other establishment on the road includes ‘Lavelle’ in its name, SBOW was a bit of a shock. The bright red-checkered-table-cloth-type signboard is unmissable and as you walk under it into the restaurant, there are unique boards (including a family tree with George V and Mary) that you must crane your head painfully to read. Just at the entrance and I had already seen the giant bottle opener (unusable), the mini-blue scooter and a table with an old-tap feel.
I was not prepared for the level of energy I experienced as I walked into this new restaurant with the oldies theme. The music was just audible above the lunch time crowd. With a first come first served policy, the place was packed, and navigating through the tables to wait for one at the bar was a good chance to take in the food that everyone was having. Served in tiffins, dabbas and other dull aluminum dishes, the food looked very homey. Drinks of every kind and colour floated by on the trays that the efficient staff whisked around the large room.
The food presentation vied for attention as I stared at the walls, the tables, the bar and the train tracks that are suspended above the diners. The tracks and the tiny train on it were probably the most memorable part of my visit. There were a few quirky tables, covered with the distinctive bright red-checkered table cloths, like one which seemed to be based on part of an old bicycle. An abacus, innumerable mirrors and portrait photographs covered most of the walls. The wall dedicated to bottles with light shining above formed a beautiful backdrop to the train as it wound its way around the room and the songs changed from old Bollywood numbers to English ones seamlessly. The crowd at the restaurant reflects the kind of people it draws—from a few children to many older people, the place seems to be one that every visitor enjoys for one reason or another. A sports channel on TV, the range of the music, and the mixture of bakery, bar and restaurant draw most of the people who fill up the place.
On her second visit to SBOW, Radhika Rajagopal told me, “I love the décor, and the berry pulao which I had today.” It was my first visit to a restaurant that is all about Parsi and Iranian style food. I was excited to try the Chicken Farcha, which is Parsi style fried chicken, and the Mawa cake. The chicken came in something I can only describe as reminiscent of a bread tray, with a little bowl of the most amazing green chutney. The pudina was a great combination with the meat. With dishes like Eggs Kejriwal (which my friend ordered), Aloo Aunty’s Vegetable Cutlet, Tardeo AC Market Mamaji’s Grill Sandwich and Breach Candy Awesome Okra, the names were certainly interesting, and reading the menu thoroughly was a fun activity. Sadly the Mawa cake wasn’t available, so I chose the apple pie and custard. The custard did what the green chutney did with the chicken, it made the apple pie just right. The meal was not all I had expected it to be, considering the excitement with which people talked about it. My friend kept saying, “Maybe we ordered the wrong things,” but that isn’t what every person who eats in a restaurant should have to think of before ordering.
One person at a neighbouring table had brought his guests from Pakistan to check out SBOW, a place that many people associate with memories of their pasts. As a frequent customer, Anwar Ahmad said he really likes the place and the Parsi items on the menu, and was busy pointing out the different artistic things to his guests; things that one simply must see on a visit to SBOW. From the train, to the faded bakery advertisements on the walls, to the photographs on the bathroom door to indicate who should use them, they all add to the charm that is inherent in the place.
Once again the walls caught my interest. We realized the orange walls camouflage one of the ACs and in our minds greatly resembled a razor, with the silver slats contrasting against the orange. Staring at the bakery and the baking done behind the glass window was an interesting thing to do. It was an alternate focus to the cute counter with jars of sweets and other goodies right by the door. The things that really define the SBOW establishment, in Bengaluru and other cities are picked by the chain.
Jokes pop up at you from every part of the SBOW experience-from the menu to the posters and the cover that the bill came in. The one on the cover showed instructions for the bill with a person taking out their wallet and counting out some money, and then even more to pay the bill. A spot-on joke, with the food being ridiculously expensive for a college student budget. But this was belied by the number of young people and huge gangs who were adding to the bustle of the place during the time I was there. For Manveen Gill and Viji Sethu, SBOW brings back their own younger days in Bombay. Viji laughingly recalled the days when a cup of Iranian chai and vada pav together cost 40 paise. The meal she just finished consisting of chai and vada pav definitely cost more, but she remarked that for ambiance like SBOW’s, that’s what you would expect.
The nostalgia most people seem to feel is not for days in this city, but places like Bombay and Delhi, which is what the restaurant is centered on. Even I felt nostalgic with Aicha playing, the serving dishes like the baking trays we used when I was a kid, and slightly faded black and white portraits which remind me of the ones at my grandparents’ home. Somehow, they capture home at SBOW, while remaining sophisticated and interesting.