Quirky name. Offbeat concept and décor bordering on the outré. With Irani/Parsi-style ghar-ka-khana. If Sodabottleopenerwala, the newest eatery in town with all of the above, has tickled your fancy then look no further than the man behind the concept, AD Singh, to understand why. AD, undoubtedly a shoo-in for the title of hippest restaurateur in India, is also known as the man with the magic F&B touch. Over his career of 25 years, he’s pioneered new bar and dining concepts which have remained imprinted in the mind.
So with Sodabottleopenerwala, his latest brainchild, opening this week in its third location – Bangalore’s Lavelle Road, AD seems to be unstoppable. He gently disagrees. “It’s not like we haven’t made mistakes. With Ai (now Guppy by Ai) and LikeThatOnly (now Fatty Bao) we have learnt from our mistakes and grown.” The key is to have the pulse of the young consumer, he adds. “They’re difficult to understand. So I’m adding young people to my team to get fresh perspectives at a strategic level. They balance our thinking.”
Envisaging an Irani-style café this time around isn’t just a nod to a huge world trend (UK’s award-winning Café Dishoom is gathering accolades and ecstatic fans everywhere), it’s picking up on a much-loved idea (Mumbai’s once-iconic Irani cafés, with bentwood chairs, bun maska et al) and building on it with learnings from their Monkey Bar success. “Monkey was India’s first gastropub. It connected hugely with people, showing the power of a strong food and beverage focus. Friends would constantly bemoan the dying Irani cafés of Mumbai. So when I was looking for my next F&B concept, it came to mind.”
The madness and potential quirkiness of the concept appealed to AD, who’s always favoured out-of-the-box thinking. Being free to draw on and capitalise on the original idiosyncrasies helped designers Clement and AD’s wife Sabina flesh ideas out. And the name? “One of my schoolmates was named Hathikhanawala; it stuck in my mind. So we decided to focus on those lines, though Soda… isn’t a classic Irani name, more Parsi.” The notion is a nod to the melting pot that is Mumbai, and food offerings are “a mix of Parsi and Bombaiyya,” he says. No butter chicken on the menu – a lamentable practice in some Irani cafés today.
While chef Sabyasachi Gorai did the first menu prototype, AD now has a team backing the concept: “Mohit Balachandran who heads cuisine and business development has built on Saby’s vision, and Anahita Dhondy maintains authenticity of the Parsi menu.” Drinks are a major focus of the restaurants with the bar menu loaded with funky drinks much beyond the sweet masala chais of the Irani cafés.
So Bangalore will be home to Soda #3, after Gurgaon and Delhi. Hyderabad is next. Step into Soda and you might well find AD lunching in a corner on his favourites: mutton berry pulao and Aloo Aunty’s cutlets with a giant cold coffee, dreaming up his next big idea.
So what’s the winning mantra for keeping restaurants a-buzz with happy customers? AD reels off three: “Ensure you’re unique; if you’re the 10th Italian eatery in a row, things are that much harder; focus on your core product – food and service. Finally, view things from the customer’s perspective. We’re trying to create a culture of warmth and friendliness so the customer feels at home.”