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.
This year, on Thursday 20th October, we will celebrate the festival of light at Studio Spaces in Wapping. A night-time affair filled with poetry, live music and bespoke dance performances curated in partnership with our good friend Sweety Kapoor.
Tuesday 12th April – 1973, BOMBAY. It is almost light outside. It must be about six. He’s been awake half the night trying to figure out what to do. Lying on his bed, he stares through the rotating blades of the ceiling fan which only serve to stir the close warm air of his room. He needs to think – he’s running out of time. But his eyes feel salted and his head throbs.
In August, we held a series of events to commemorate 75 Years of Indian Independence and the creation of Pakistan. Before the events took place, we were delighted to sit down with Soumik, a super-talented musician, composer and sarod player, who composed the musical score to accompany the 75 Years series. It was a real pleasure to discuss music, identity and inclusivity, amongst many other topics. We invite you to read on to learn more about how he created such a joyous atmosphere at our events.
With greatest delight, we are beyond excited to share that this November we’ll be opening the doors to the brand-new, most fine and gorgeous Dishoom Canary Wharf! Our newest home, nestled in a little corner of Wood Wharf, will bring to life the glittering-shimmering, big-business, metropolitan scene of ‘70s Bombay. When fortunes were made and lost, swindles plotted and uncovered, and dreams were dreamed and broken.