This evening, I propose you drive from the Haji Ali Junction down the Tardeo Road. Switch off the air-conditioning, if your car has one, put the glass down, you will experience the aromatic pleasures of fragrant biryanis, moist kebabs on braziers and meats in tandoors. Almost immediately you enter the Tardeo Road, on the left, you will see Cafe Noorani. You can't miss it, it is as busy a restaurant as you may find in Mumbai. Right at the entrance, there is a tandoor grilling full pomfrets, chicken tikkas, kebabs on the spit, baida rotis frying, a man making Chinese fast food. A moving neon sign spells out the menu: Kheema Baida Roti, Chicken Noorani Special, Mutton Tomato Fry, Brain Egg Masala, Malai Kofta, Vegetable Makhanwala, like one of those old time waiters in a chilia restaurant broadcasting the day's specials. Park the car, the baharwallas will come to you, ready to take the orders and serve you in the car, no extra charge. But it is more fun to eat in the restaurant.
There are two Cafe Nooranis, side by side, two long restaurants running deep into the building. The food is the same, and the service, but one of the two is air-conditioned, the price difference, hardly five per cent. Apart from the cooking in the front, which Manager Nasirbhai admits is more for advertisement, there is a large kitchen in the rear of the two restaurants, one of the largest I have seen, also one of the cleanest, with two dozen cooks working.
I have been hearing about Cafe Noorani for some time now, outside Mohamedali Road, it is the best Mughlai restaurant in town. Its speciality is biryanis, and it has a large collection of these, made with fine-grained Delhi rice, meat on the bone, roast potatoes, a touch of fried onions. You have to decide which biryani to eat. I suggest the reshmi tikka biryani, partly because it is good, and partly because you would not get it anywhere else in Mumbai. At least, Faridbhai Abdul Latif Noorani, one of the proprietors, thinks so. "We experimented and made it here, but I do not know, others may have picked it up from here and may be making it, as we picked up some things from them," he says modestly.
It is a gentle biryani, delicate in taste, the masala is on the malai side, cream and caju gravy, crushed badam, a touch of saffron. The chicken pieces, boneless, since it is a tikka, are marinated in the white masala, then grilled, then cooked in the biryani. The rice is not put on dum and it does not stick to the meat, which makes it oily. It is not spicy, but not bland also. Mr. Noorani describes it as Bombay taste. It costs Rs.75 in the non-air-conditioned, Rs.80 in the air-conditioned. The chicken tangdi biryani, of course has the tangdi bone, and the chicken tikka biryani is spicy, with red masala (Kashmiri chillis, garam masalas). There is also a chicken biryani, Rs.30 for a half plate, and you cannot get it any cheaper, where all parts of the chicken are used and it is done in a brown masala. Then there are mutton biryanis, fish biryanis, egg biryanis, vegetable biryanis, various pulaos, a paneer tikka biryani, jeera fried rice, and an Arabian biryani, made for our Arab friends, very bland, Rafique, with cream and tomatoes.
One day, I will do an entire piece on Noorani's biryanis and pulaos only, but not today. There is more to eat.
Next to the biryani, my favourite food here are the baida rotis and meat rolls. The rolls are like Mr. Tibbs' Frankies, only they are closed at both ends, so the meat does not fall out and make things generally messy. What they do is make a sort of an omelette, with kheema, with chicken, even bheja, I like that best, spread it on atta, like a paratha, and roll it. They wrap it in silver foil and serve you, not plastic bags. A chicken or mutton egg roll costs Rs.25, a brain egg roll Rs.45. I prefer the baida roti to the roll, if sitting at the table, it is more comfortable to eat. And always make it a point to sit at the table and eat. You enjoy you food better, you digest it, you make conversation while eating, it is the civilised thing to do. So, sit at the table and order the chicken baida roti. Service is fast, remember that. And you may watch them making it. The preparation is same as at Bohari Mohalla, the atta is a maida and e gg batter, placed on the hot tawa, and chicken pieces, onions, masala put on it. It is fried in oil, and as it is cooking, it is made into square rotis. Eat it while it is hot, slicing through the egg and meat with a knife and fork. You taste roti, egg, chicken, onions, the maida holds the whole thing together. It is priced at Rs.30, the kheema baida roti the same. The brain egg roti, where the brain is cut into small pieces and cooked with masalas in egg like a bhurji, costs Rs.50. It is light and almost fluffy, better then having brain and roti separate. Though that also you may have, a brain egg fry, or a brain masala fry, with a spicy tomato gravy, both Rs.35.
Perhaps, I should give out the secret of Noorani. Mr Noorani also owns the famous Haji Ali Juice Centre, which is almost diagonally across the restaurant. (To give a more definite location of the restaurant, it is behind Heera Panna, on the Tardeo Road.) The fruit centre, as you would know, has a reputation for fast service, efficient baharwallas, exotic combinations, long hours, the same principles apply to the restaurant. There was a time when it was open till two and three in the night, a great boon to night birds, to young people returning home from the pubs. But the new and rather thoughtless dispensations have forced it to close down at 12.30 a.m. Still, it covers a long day, from 5 a.m. to 12.30 a.m. At 5 a.m., when the doors open, you get kheema, omelette, bhurji, dal fry, alu gobi, alu mutter. By 10 a.m., all the 100-odd items on the menu. And that goes on through the day.
Among the early morning customers apart from those on morning shift, are the people going to the Haji Ali dargah. In the dargah itself, as you must have noticed if you have visited it, there is a small restaurant. This is also run by Noorani, basic foods at rates comfortable to the people who visit the dargah.
To return to the food, the fish tandoori is a whole pomfret, Rs.50, and the fish tikka masala is square cut pieces of ravas, Rs.55. Mutton Bombay Dish comes with boiled eggs, and there are Chicken and Mutton Noorani Specials, which are on the same line as those excellent Metro Specials at the Metro Restaurant at Dhobi Talao. I haven't visited that for a long time.
You can't eat everything, but have the Dabba Gosht, Rs.50. This is the classic Bohra gosht, though Noorani may not be a Bohra restaurant. If I tell you how it is cooked, you will know how it tastes. The boneless mutton is cooked in a small steel dish, the kind you use to make your baked custards. As the meat, with a nice thick gravy gets ready, an egg is scrambled and put on top of the meat, evened out, and hot oil poured on it. What it does is glazes the egg and completely covers the meat and gravy. The customer is served the meat in the steel dish, he has to spoon through the egg, which is now an omelette, to reach the meat. You may take the Dabba Gosht home also, as a parcel. For this, it is cooked in aluminium silver.
And the Dal Gosht, I must mention. Parsis make dhanshak dal, Muslims make dal gosh, both have mutton cooked with the dal, thus allowing the juices of the mutton to spread in the dal, Paris put pumpkin and spinach in the dal, and mash it, Muslims put pieces of dudhi in the dal and do not mash it. Finally, Parsis use tur and masoor dal, Muslims use channa dal. I do not know which tastes better. You have Noorani's Dal Gosht, then have Ripon Club's Dhanshak Dal, then tell me.
There is a large Chinese section, Indian Chinese, and more to the point, Bombay Chinese, but I will not deal with it here. Instead, one important piece of information: Noorani provides home delivery of all orders, from Colaba Dadar. According to young Zahir Khan, who manages the restaurant, it is an absolutely free service, no charges for delivery, and you don't have to order in bulk, you may order just two rotis, and they will deliver. One hour for Colaba, 30 minutes for Napean Sea Road. Telephone Nos. 494 4753, 494 3054, 497 2619. Check it out.