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Journal entry

Britannia Café – a vintage classic

A LOT HAS HAPPENED BETWEEN THESE WALLS.

Britannia Café is a lovely piece of vintage Bombay which is slowly disappearing. It was built in the early twenties by George Wittet, the architect who also built the Gateway of India to greet George V on his visit to Bombay. We were recently at Britannia, sipping Thums Up in its faded elegance.

Boman Kohinoor is the owner of the café. He ambles over to us and addresses us. “How old do you think I am?” he asks. We study him. He is wiry and lean and peers at us through his thick glasses. He gives us a clue. “I’m as old as this place.” Finally he tells us. “I was born in 1923. The same year as Britannia opened.” He says with a wide, wise smile. He shares his name with the famous diamond claimed by the British to crown Queen Victoria the Empress of India.

Next to us a pair of posh ladies take tea. They talk in the refined English of upper class Bombay. On our other side is a table of students taking a very late breakfast. They are eating hot buttered toast and drinking chai. They manage to devour their food hungrily and chatter loudly at the same time. On another table are a pair of earnest backpackers, who have probably read about Britannia in their dog-eared copy of the Lonely Planet Guide. They look excited to be here.

Britannia looks like it always did. Fans turn slowly under high ceilings. Bentwood chairs are reflected in stained mirrors, hung amongst ancestors’ faded sepia portraits. Exposed wiring droops across flaking blue walls. The image of a classic Bombay Café. It’s not that hot yet.  But as the temperature rises, Britannia will become a haven from the city heat. As it has been, for many years.

Mr. Kohinoor’s pride is tempered with sadness. “Fifty years ago there were hundreds of these cafés. Now there are only thirty. Our children just don’t care. They go abroad, to make money. When I’m gone, they tell me they’ll close Britannia.”

The berry pulao arrives – a dish still spoken of by many Bombayites. Mr. Kohinoor takes the plate from the waiter and places it on our table for us to share. “Enjoy your food” he says. He pauses, smiles again, and returns slowly to his rightful place in the chair by the front door.

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Monex

The fear among a number of Mumbaikers I ve spoken to is that the restaurant itself will end up as a distant metmory that Britannia may close. Then there s the sali boti and Britannia s squishy chapattis and Pallonji s ginger or cherry soda and the Bombay duck battered fish none of which would mean a thing were it not for Britannia s consistency.

RAVI CHOLERA

i was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to dine in this bombay cafe. i was treated by my lovely cousin (Grishma) who lives in Bombay. i was amazed how busy the place was and how great the ambiance was inside the restuarant. the roads outside were also busy as usual as we sat near to the front door where a dog was lying down near the entrance. we were greeted by the great man himself Boman Kohinoor who spoke wonderfully clear english. he even offered to show us pictures taken inside his cafe with the late Princess Diana. i must also mention the serviced office was second to none. my cousin insisted i try the berry pulao which i agreed to sample. to this date i have never tried a more mouth watering dish. the owner also suggested i compliment the meal with some fresh lemondade (nimu Pani) which went down as a treat. this was 1 of my best experiences in bombay of an indian cafe and i really hope this resturant exists for years to come and hope to visit it and the owner again very soon

Salil Patankar

I am so proud and feel privy to what you have done in London, I have my life long association with Parsi community as i was brought up in Godrej colony in Vikroli and often visited Irani restaurants in Bombay central after long cricket matches at Azad Maidan