On any given day, in any season, Brittannia & Co. always remains full, or at least relatively during lunch time. It has to be, because it is open only four hours every day, for dinners on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. The owner of this restaurant Boman Kohinoor once told me that being closed on one particular Sunday had worried him a lot because the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on a visit to India and they wished to meet him.
It must have been 1915 when the construction of Ballard Pier began, around the same time when Brittania was established. Today, Mumbai is one of the largest business hubs on a global level, but it was not the same back then and everything was still evolving at a gradual pace. Kohinoor shares that Brittania was one of the oldest restaurants in the vicinity, and had a reputation that the Taj has today.
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You do not just visit Ballard Estate in Mumbai and not savor the signature mutton or chicken berry pulao here. This sweet and sour dish is made with fragrant pilaf rice that is layered with chunks of meat in a rich, spiced tomato sauce. This dish is topped with sour berries, crunchy cashews and sweet, sticky caramelised onions, is the most remarkable item on their menu.
It seems that this Parsi dish has been a part of this restaurant, it was actually introduced by Bachan Kohinoor, the late wife of 94-year-old Boman Kohinoor, the current owner of this legendary restaurant, and has its origin in Iran.
The Kohinoor family has a rich Iranian heritage. Bachan introduced Parsi specialties like dhansak and fish patra to the menu after their marriage. She was the one also the person who made the famous and berry rice pulav. Mrs Kohinoor was a posted as a legal adviser in Iran, and lived there for several years while her husband managed the restaurant in India. After she returned, she suggested that they needed to introduce the berry pulao and to this day, the barberry used in Britannia’s signature dish is imported from Iran.
His son Boman has been a part of Britannia since his teenage years. I remember that a couple of years ago, Boman explained that he wanted to even go ahead and work on something of his own, and not the restaurant. However, as fate would have it, his father died in 1939 in an accident and he had to step in.
Boman comes daily to the restaurant, his son Afshin looks into the running of the restaurant. Boman is happy taking orders, talking to his guests and amuse them with old stories and experiences of his life.
He loves the place so much, and it is evident when I sit there eating a berry pulao and he smiles his amazing, happy smile and asks if you wish to have a caramel custard. I cannot say no – to the custard or to Boman so I end up having one and chatting with Boman for more than an hour, as he shows his pictures with Kate and William and correspondence with the Queen’s office. He wants the family legacy to continue, that’s all and hopes his grandson Daanish, who is still quite young, will step in. However Boman is realistic as well and says that it is almost impossible for one person to manage Britannia, and that hopefully, his legacy will continue.