Last night, at the President Trattoria we sat on those old Irani restaurant hairs and complained how uncomfortable they were. Which they are.
The Iranis were shrewd though honest businessmen. They believed in a quick turnover a cup of tea, two slices of bread and butter, then you moved out making place for the next customer. Chairs that were not too comfortable discouraged the customers from lingering. And the round marble-topped tables were equally practical in the pre-Formica days, one swab of a cloth and they would be clean.
Not that you did not linger in Irani restaurant. I spent many comfortable hours in them, doing nothing or doing everything. They were our meeting places in the morning, the Fountain restaurant at Flora Fountain, later in the day the Ideal Restaurant at the mouth of Ghoga Street, for its tea and pudding, in the evening, another Irani on Colaba Causeway, near the turning to Arthur Bunder Road and in the night Kyani at Dhobi Talao. Everybody knew in which Irani restaurant everybody would be at any given time of the day.
I remember the Irani restaurants distinctly. Asiaticm now turned into a department store, where my late departed friend Bhagia, and Ramesh Verma, and another departed friend, Sanjiva Bangera, and I would have tea regularly every evenings, and on days when one of us had extra money mutton samosas. The samosas were genuine Bomaby samosas, stuffed with the day before's leftover minced meat, served with a green phudina chutney, and not the later imported Punjabi samosas, fat with potatoes and green peas.
And I remember Regal restaurant and Bakery at Byculla in the early morning bursting with the aroma of feshly baked bruns. People going to Dadar, or coming from there, would get off the tram at Byculla, have a brun-maska, appropriately dipped in the tea, then take next tram.
And ever since. I can remember, I remembers Kyani and Bastani at Dhobi Talao. As a child I was taken there, as an adult I took other there. Kyani made cream buns, you took a bite and the cream came bursting out, spilling all over the place. Bastani had a large cut out of a Chira Bazar Goan bridegroom and bride, tuxedo-ed and veiled, standing in front of their four-tiered wedding cake.
For many years, my whole life was concentrated around these two oldest Irani restaurants in Bombay. I would have my morning tea and evening raspberry (or pick-me-up) there, I would see movies at the Wellington Cinema (now turned into a public library) next door, and later, when it came up, the Metro Cinema ("every seat a cool retreat"), I would go to the Wellington Hair-dressing Saloon for my haircut, and, later, when I started going to school and college, I would buy my text books from the new and secondhand bookshop.
For a long time, I also patronissed an Irani restaurant outside Cusrow Baug, till it closed down. It was one of the first Irani restaurants in Bombay to have closed down, it was converted into an Italian restaurant-Falettis. But they kept the Irani restaurant's chirs. Maybe that is how Trattoria got the idea.