Remember Cafe Royal? Our Homi and Soli's old Irani restaurant opposite the Regal Cinema, Museum? If you go to it these days, you won't recognise it. Instead of Suresh Mirajkar, B.R. Nayak, Faram Soonawalla and Dali Dastoor drinking tea at the marble-top tables, you will find Elvis Presley and James Dean having chicken pepper steak.
Actually, there are 13 late and lamented Hollywood stars like Christ and the 12 disciples at the Last Super on the wall of the renovated beyond recognition Cafe Royal. They are, larger than life and in glorious technicolor, Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel, Elvis Presley, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Charles Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Humphrey Bogard, Fred Astaire, Rock Hudson, Boris Karlof and Marlon Brando. Ms. Monroe is in the centre, in a white robe. And the painting is the high-mark of a particularly attractive restaurant. Colaba Causeway has never had it so good. Not since the time Leopold acquired Bombay's first juke-box.
The new look Cafe Royal, property of Farzad S. Jehani and Gustad Dehmiri, opened last month, after several months of renovating and redesigning. Granite and glass, waiters in long back aprons, beer in pitchers, chicken nuggets and quarter pounders, it has the looks and contents of a European brasserie. Open 11 a.m. to mid-night, do make it a point to try it out. You won't regret it.
For a few days, they tried to open it earlier, for breakfast service, but there were no takers. However, if you do not mind having your breakfast after 11 a.m., you are welcome. An American breakfast at Rs.125: Choice of juice or fresh fruit, cereal, eggs to order, with hash browns (I know people who would die for hash browns, though actually they are no more than the Parsi papeta-per-eidu), breakfast bread (croissant, muffins, toast, rolls, with butter and preserves, tea or coffee. Or you may pick your breakfast: cheese, mushroom, masala, chicken, plain omlette, with hash browns, at Rs.55. Or French toast, with cinnamon flavour, Rs.40, or baked beans on toast, Rs.55, or mushrooms on toast. You may also order waffles, served with honey and golden syrup. The kitchen has got a waffle machine. Some of his customers, Mr. Jehani tells me, have waffles for dessert.
But let us move to the lunch and dinner part. The menu is essentially sizzlers and a few Continental dishes, such as steaks and escalope. The sizzlers come in their iron hot-plates, through the kitchen and into the air-conditioned dining area, rudely interrupting the hushed conversations that are going around. They are not my favourite food, But I have to admit they are super sizzlers. You are offered stuffed fish (pomfret), prawns, lobster, chicken, a hamburger steak, tenderloin, and, for vegetarians, a brochette of cottage cheese, paneer shashlik veg cutlets with baked beans. The best, possibly, is what is listed in the menu as 'freshly netted seafood delights', at Rs.150, and including a combination of prawns, pomfret and lobster. With all the steaks, you have a choice of rice, noodles or spaghetti. I would choose the rice, the others get soggy as the plate stops hissing. You also get a choice of sauces: garlic, pepper, ginger, asparagus, mushroom, and you do not have to select one and sit quiet, you may sample all and pay nothing extra. The lobster is priced at Rs.300 and is the most expensive of the lot, prawns are Rs.250, the royal steak, named after the restaurant, is tenderloin in asparagus sauce, topped with a fried egg, and priced at Rs.150. All fare Colaba Causeway prices. One more point: the side garnish for the sizzler meats is, besides the usual carrots, peas, etc., there is baby corn. The baby corn comes out of imported corns, and is served in; lace of beans, which often you find in restaurants to have been unsatisfactorily threaded.
Outside the sizzlers, there is half a chicken, roasted, in a basket, a breast of chicken in tomato and basil sauce, and a seafood brochette, the fish either pomfret or 'gol', buttered rice, saffron sauce.
My advice is to go for the snacks, some of which are a meal in themselves. The quarter pounders, hot dogs, chicken rolls, submarines, the various sandwiches, plain, toasted, grilled. There are few better places for this in Bombay or Mumbai. One reason for this is the bread, which has to be soft and sort of moulded to the meat. The Americans specialise in this quality of bread, ours is too hard and bready, so that three quarters of the time, when you are having a sandwich or a roll, you are eating bread and not the meat. Cafe Royal has solved this problem, and it has done this by getting Zend M. Zend of Yazdani Bakery in Cowasji Patel Street to specially bake and supply all its bread.
My favourite is the hot dog. You get two large sausages in the roll, with lettuce and mustard, but no relish. Ask for extra mustard and apply it yourself. Along with the hot dog you get french fries and coleslaw. And as you bite into its soft and juicy centre, sitting among all the Hollywood greats, for a minute you feel you are in the U.S. of A.
Cafe Royal also specialises in some unusual cocktails, including something called the Shady Lady (tequila, melon liqueur and grapefruit juice), and Nuclear Ice Tea (gin, vodka, triple sec), and Flat On Your Nose (light rum, dark rum, gin), plus the Americano and Miami Vice. And, for dessert, forget the waffles and try the After Dinner Mint (Bailey's Irish Cream, Kahlua, creme de menthe and vanilla ice cream), and Jamaican Cream (Amaretto, Grand Marnier, coffee liqueur and ice cream).
And that's what happens when Irani restaurants go into 21st century.