Saturday, 18 October 2014

Kejriwal Out, Sabina In: AD Singh's Second SBOW in 11 Months Launches Sandwich Sensation

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

AD and Sabina Singh at the
soft opening of the second
Soda Bottle Opener Wala
(SBOW) at Khan Market
on Wednesday.
A YEAR AGO, no one could have imagined that an Irani cafe would take the city by storm, but AD Singh's Soda Bottle Opener Wala (SBOW) at the Cyber Hub, Gurgaon, set a new gold standard for Delhi-NCR when it had a 20-to-30-minute waiting daily in the eight-odd months it was without a liquor licence. A queue at a restaurant without 'real' liquid nourishment? Nope, it doesn't happen in Delhi-NCR. Well, it did -- at SBOW.
At a time when the sons of the owner of Mumbai's most celebrated Irani/Parsi restaurant, Britannia at Ballard Estate, are debating whether they should shut it after their 90-year-old father, Boman Kohinoor, hangs up his boots, SBOW breathed new life into a Mumbai institution that was dying out. That too, of all places, in Gurgaon, in whose long history dating back to the time when it was given away to Guru Dronacharya as a token of respect by his most worthy students, the Pandavas, the Parsis or the Iranis have been conspicuous by their absence.
It was with great anticipation therefore that we attended the 'soft' opening of Delhi-NCR's second SBOW at Khan Market, where an old favourite of restaurant of mine, Ginger Moon, used to serve some really good Chinese food -- good enough to make me want to keep going back to it. The evening had all the elements of an AD Singh party -- after all, he's the Richard Branson of Indian restaurateurs.
It had the right celebrity quotient -- media baroness Kalli Purie, fashion designers Rohit Bal, Leena Singh and Ashish Soni, and the evergreen Chetan Seth and Manya Patil, to name a few of the notables -- and just the dose of oomph that the doctor would order to light up an evening: a sprinkling of gori chicks and Dwayne Bravo, who had come to unwind with some of his teammates on the eve of India-West Indies ODI. And they were being served well by the inimitable team of Mohit Balachandran (a.k.a. Chowder Singh of the blogging world), who kept plying me with his version of the LIIT (naughtily named Babaji Ka Thullu!), Nikhil Alung, and the light of the SBOW kitchen, 20-something Anahita Dhondy, who won the Best Newcomer of the Year title at the Delhi Gourmet Club's Top Chef Awards.
The show-stopper, though, was what I have named Sabina's Sandwich. A simple boiled egg sandwich has never tasted better. And this one's going to put the famous Kejriwal Sandwich of Mumbai's Willingdon Club out of business. As Vikram Doctor, the food chronicler of the Economic Times, informed us a couple of years ago, the Kejriwal Sandwich owes its existence to a colourful man named Devi Prasad Kejriwal, who was the brother of gaming entrepreneur Alok Kejriwal's grandfather.
The absolutely stunning decor of SBOW,
Khan Market. complements its
well-established culinary reputation.

Coming from a conservative Marwari family, the older Kejriwal was forbidden to eat eggs, but he loved them, and he ensured he got them made the way he wanted them at his three favourite haunts: Willingdon Club, Cricket Club of India, and Kobe's, the sizzlers restaurant. The original sandwich, now also served at Theobroma, Mumbai's celebrated cafe-patisserie, consisted of cheese on toast, topped with a fried egg and sprinkled with chopped green chillies.
What, then, is Sabina's Sandwich? It is an invention of the life of AD Singh's world, his designer wife Sabina, that can make for a Sunday treat your children will love. It consists of two slices of bread, not toasted but lightly fried in oil and butter so that they are crunchy outside and soft within, with a thin layer each of butter and cheese spread to hold together the slices of hard boiled eggs and diced green chillies, their seeds removed to reduce their pungency but retain their flavour. You can add raw onion rings for an added crunch and dust the sandwiches with red chilli powder for extra bite. You need such soul food after a night fuelled by Babaji Ka Thullu.
I don't know what they call the sandwich on the menu, but the next time I am at SBOW, I'll ask for a Sabina and not a Kejriwal!

Friday, 17 October 2014

One Gurgaon Restaurant Sells More Wine Than All of Millennnium City's Five-Star Hotels Put Together

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN Ashish Kapur launched Yo! China with his business partners Ajay Saini and Joydeep Singh in 2003, I trashed their maiden outlet at a Gurgaon mall in Hindustan Times. Eleven years, many successes and some failures later, Ashish is richer, leaner and his passport is thick with visas of all the countries he and his wife Meghana have travelled as his restaurant business keeps growing. And I am where I am, tapping away on my computer, but nothing I have said or written had prepared me for the success of The Wine Company at the Cyber Hub in Gurgaon.
Meghana and Ashish Kapur strike
a pose at The Wine Company
during the launch of the online food
Image: Courtesy of Ajay Gautam
I met Ashish at the launch of Meghana (she, by the way, is named after the Bangladesh river by her father, who received the Maha Vir Chakra for his bravery in the 1971 War) and her business partner Elisha's must-visit online food store,, and we had several pours of my favourite white, D'Arenberg's Broken Fishplate Chardonnay, followed by the incredibly smooth Oak Cask Malbec from the Mendoza Valley wine house Trapiche, and finally a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley (Rutherford) label, Frank Family Vineyards, which is owned by the Hollywood veteran and one-time Walt Disney Studio President, Richard Frank, whose son Darryl is now co-president of DreamWorks Television.
With such conversation-engine wines, plus the company of celebrated food critic Marryam Reshii, Ashish young wine diva, Kriti Malhotra, and food experience designer Chhavi Jatvani, and a couple of out-of-the-menu dishes prepared by The Wine Company's 27-year-old chef, Abhinav Sharma (I just loved his mushroom risotto and duck confit), it was not surprising that time just flew by. That gave me enough time to absorb the facts. The Wine Company, which I knew dishes out more pizzas daily than the California Pizza Kitchen, has sold more wine than all the five-star hotels of Gurgaon put together. And it has sold more bottles of Fratelli's Sette, my favourite Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, than any other restaurant in India. This is what industry sources I trust have told me.
This is the drinking culture that wine clubs and wine importers had set out to create, but were not able to do as successfully as The Wine Company. I asked Ashish how he managed to do it and he said he was able to successfully remove the "intimidation barrier" by first making wine affordable (The Wine Company, I am sure, sells more of the celebrated Super Tuscan, Tignanello, than any other restaurant in the country simply by pricing it, unlike five-star hotels, at sub-Rs 15,000) and then freeing the experience from the intellectual callisthenics associated with wine snobbery. And the beauty of it is that it's a replicable model.
Ironically, The Wine Company location went to Ashish after AD Singh, because of some vaastu considerations, turned it down for Soda Bottle Opener Wala. Not that SBOP has done badly, but the iffy vaastu seems to have served The Wine Company well. So, finally, we have a venue where young people can just enjoy wine without bothering about the aromas and the notes, and without burning a hole in the pocket. Unsurprisingly, it is teeming with guests even on Tuesdays, which are traditionally bad days for the restaurant business. Ashish says he works very hard for "prestige and profit" -- he has been able to get both in good measure from The Wine Company.