Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Durbar

This starts when life was simpler and choices were fewer. In the late 1970s during my final years in school, as a treat we used to go to the canteen at Sahakari Bhandar at Regal for lunch. Nothing fancy, a Dosa and a vegetable cutlet is what I can remember. After passing out of school we used to save our pocket money and as a special treat, after a movie, go to eat at Delhi Darbar also at Regal. I remember loving every morsel of the Biryani and Butter Chicken that we ate. I had the privilege of eating with two of my closest friends both of whom are Bohri’s. They had the advantage of having eaten this kind of food far more frequently than me and they were always in raptures about the biryani. They always insisted that biryani has to be mutton biryani. Chicken was not acceptable. Vegetable biryani was impossibility, an imposter, a fake a make believe dish. With the passage of time, one friend is now in the US and the other is still here in Mumbai. And yes, we are still close friends.

A simple Dosa was a treat, a biryani has always remained a festive dish, but, who eats this kind of food anymore. We love our so called `conti’ restaurants – Indigo, Indigo Deli, Table and the newer European franchisees like Le Pain Quotidien. Greasy food is a no no.

Over the years I have been eating at Delhi Darbar at Regal of and on. Then the brothers who owned this fought. This resulted in a split and Delhi Durbar at Regal along with an outlet in Dubai went to one division of the family. The original Delhi Darbar at Dongri went to the other branch who rebranded it Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar. Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar now has many branches in Mumbai with a reasonable restaurant at Metro cinema.

In the last couple of weeks after a few drinks at Mumbai’s hallowed Bombay Gymkhana we have eaten at Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar. The food here is far far superior to the Delhi Durbar at Regal. Unfortunately, last night I did not carry the camera so there are no photos to show you from our latest visit.

First impressions are always important and Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar did not disappoint. The first time we went there, the Manager was extremely courteous and even though the restaurant was bursting at the seams, he promised us a table in 10 minutes. He came back cheerfully a few minutes later. Beamed at us and said ‘Only 6 minutes’. Extremely charming. He then went on to recommend their specialities and supervised the entire service. The next time we visited the restaurant, he recognised us immediately and promptly ushered us in with a huge smile. The rest of the staff too are cheerful and extremely attentive.

The restaurant is two levels and is air-conditioned. Fresh looking pink onions, limes and pickle are swiftly delivered. Then the order taker turns up and uses a PDA [Personal Digital Assistant] and electronically passes the order to the kitchen. No more use of papers and writing pads. Pretty impressive for such a small chain. Not seen it in any other restaurant in Mumbai. The food turns up promptly, is very hot and looks lively.

To start we had Mutton Cream Tikkas and Mutton Cutlets. Cream Tikka is a unique dish. Boneless lamb is marinated in cream, spices and then deep fried after an egg coating and served on a small skewer. The Mutton Cutlets are minced meat patty’s, once again coated in egg and fried. Absolutely top class. It’s a very good idea to buy a few Mutton Cutlets wrap them individually in foil and freeze them at home. You can then, when hunger strikes, whip them out, thaw them and make a delicious Indian burger with onion, pickle and green chutney. We also had what they call Mutton Plain Fried, which is Lamb covered with a masala and deep fried. This paragraph is being written a few weeks after the last visit. We went to the restaurant oce again and the very friendly and efficient young Restaurant Manager Sayed Faisal recomended two starters. One was Chicken Lazeez Boti which is a Tandoored Chicken Tikka. Very nice. The second starter recomended was a Mutton Chop called Dum Ka Chop. This was double mutton chops pan fried. Sensational! You must get these the next time you go.

For our main course we ordered a Mutton Nehari which is lamb shanks cooked in smooth gravy. This is typically something had for breakfast and has its origins in North India though it’s now vastly popular in Hyderabad. This is something we have very often at Dum Pukht at the ITC. I must say that the Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar comes quite close to the Dum Pukht version. The meat is falling off the bone and the sauce is delightfully clear and smooth. In the Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar version they thicken it slightly with Flour while at the Dum Pukht it’s thickened with collagen from bones. The Dum Pukht version is served with not only a Lamb Shank but has a portion of ribs/chops too. Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar Nehari is a fraction of the price of what you pay at Dum Pukht. It’s really quite wonderful.

Dabba Ghost is another of their signature dishes. Probably has its origins in our Mumbai. Lamb is cooked in mild gravy thickened with a roux, with Macaroni, yes Macaroni added, then at service time beaten egg is poured on top and hot oil added to cook the egg. The last process has some variations but the resulting dish is almost comfort food. Soft, mild, warm and damn tasty.

Next on was Butter Chicken, a nostalgic request. This was just the same as I remember from all those years ago. Real tandoori chicken cooked in a tomato cream sauce. Not boiled chicken added to a red gravy which is what you get most often.

We have also had Sali Boti which is Parsi in origin. Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar serves a bastardised version of it. Quite distinctly Mughalai and none of the Parsi sweet sour spicy flavours came thru. Not bad but not authentic.

All this food was mopped up with something called Reshmi Paratha. This is a deep fried Roomali Roti. Sinful, calorie laden, artery clogging and divine. Last but not the least we had a Mutton Biryani. The guests on the table murmured their dis-satisfaction at this. Too oily, not enough masala were some of the comments. They were right, it was a bit disappointing. But it was a Biryani, the rice and lamb was cooked in layers. This was not a stir fried mutton masala pulao which is what passes as Biryani most of the time.

All in all, do make a visit to Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar. You will not be disappointed. It’s not fine cuisine, its robust, masaledar, honest food and its cheap as chips. Its food from the past, no fancy garnish no fancy crockery. Your dining companions will generally be Muslims eating the food with gusto. What more could be a sign that the food is authentic?

Have a look at the photographs. I must say that with photographing Indian food the dominant colours are red, brown and combinations of red and brown. This is across the board. Have a look at any of the photos in my posts on Dakshin or Peshawari or Gaylord or Apoorva. They are all this boring colour. Sorry about this.

Mutton Cream Tikka

Mutton Plain Fried

Mutton Cutlet

Mutton Plain Fried

Lazeez Boti

Dum Ka Chop

Dum Ka Chop

Dabba Ghost

Butter Chicken

Mutton Nehari

Mutton Biryani

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