Repast from the past: A meal from Kunal Vijayakar’s memory
One restaurant, serving Indian food in the city for generations, reintroduces its classics. And they taste just as good as they used to.Updated: Oct 11, 2019 21:37 IST
To me, in a life that hasn’t been lived that long, nostalgia food is always butter chicken. And I’ve often wondered how the story of butter chicken is always connected with the story of Partition Whether you delve into the history of Partition survivor Kundan Lal Gujral and Moti Mahal, who have a strong claim that butter chicken was their invention, or read about buddies Iqbal Singh Ghai and Purshottam Lal Lamba, who, soon after Partition started the Kwality chain of restaurants, and popularised their version of murg makhanwalla, from Kolkata to London. Or Gaylord, which further refined the taste of this smoky chicken with tomato and cream gravy at from 1946 to 1957, when there was a Gaylord Indian Restaurant in Delhi, Bombay, London, Japan, Chicago and New York. Or later on, in 1972, when yet another migrant from Pakistan, JK Kapur decided to invite superstar Dilip Kumar to inaugurate his new restaurant venture Copper Chimney at Worli, serving amongst other delicacies a real robust chicken makhanwala.
Back in the day, going to Copper Chimney was an occasion. Copper Chimney was a posh, carpeted eatery, with circular, brick-lined windows (an architectural feature of the Happy Home building, where it was housed) and old copper vessels hanging on the walls. The tables were clustered under a canopied ceiling, and covered in crisply starched tablecloths, German silver cutlery and huge metal goblets for water. I still get a sense memory of ice-cold water in those metal goblets, which got instantly chilled, the pickled onion and achaar on the table and, of course the taste of their butter chicken.
The restaurant had an iconic feature, the show window, through which you could watch the choreography of their chefs. Behind the glass, smoke rising as rumali rotis were tossed, naans were patted and kababs were fired on long skewers by tall-hatted Ustaads. The word copper was highlighted by the huge copper tandoors that were in plain sight behind the glass. Today so familiar is the show kitchen that no Copper Chimney outlet can be designed without it.
It wasn’t easy to get a table at Copper Chimney; even then, in the late ’70s and ’80s, there was always a queue outside of eager customers waiting for previous diners to relinquish their tables. You entered Copper Chimney and the aroma of tandoori food was unmistakable. The restaurant buzzed, conversations were loud, laughter resounded and the clink of metal and china was the sound of people having a jolly good time. Later on the ’90s, the restaurant shifted a couple of buildings away to a newly built property, iconic in its own right because the Lotus Cinema Theatre had once stood right by there. By now of course Copper Chimney had opened an outlet at Kala Ghoda and another one at Bandra, revised its menu, and kept up with life. But the Worli branch always remained special.
I dined there a few days ago. That place too has been renovated and the menu had been rejigged. But to my surprise, they had reprised some dishes from the past that only people from my vintage will remember. I plunged into ordering some of the food that I grew up eating at the original Copper Chimney in the late ’70s and ’80s. Starting with the Balochistan-influenced kalmi kababs. Drumsticks of chicken marinated for over six hours in cream and aromatic spices and then gently cooked in the tandoor. Along with that, a portion of the mutton burrah chop, three ribs of mutton, with a chunk of meat at the end, in a dark red/brown masala, well charred over coal. The earthy tasting, murg achaari tikka, soft and tender pieces of chicken marinated in Punjabi pickle spices and then placed in the tandoor. Lahore-influenced bagani bahar, chargrilled chicken legs in a mint and yogurt marinade. All this with an oversized Kabuli naan. As the word suggests, the naan comes sprinkled with every conceivable dry-fruit, maraschino and nut. It’s a sweet and smoky bread that goes so well with spicy gravies.
For mains, soft and silken paneer masala and Benaras malai kofta, balls of cottage cheese and cream with nuts cooked in an exquisite sauce. Chicken Patiala, a truly Anglo-Indian dish. Boneless chicken cooked in white smooth-silken gravy, subtly flavoured with spices and garnished with slices of boiled egg and cheese. Then we ordered some mushroom kheema. I don’t think anyone had put mushrooms, kheema, chopped vegetables and spices together before. Add to that ghost badami and Kabuli ghost, mild gravies, one cooked in almond paste and the other in Afghan spices. And finally the mutton chello kabab. Chunks of smoky meat, laid on a bed of the creamiest rice with yoghurt. A super hit item from the saga of Copper Chimney. But how could I not order the chicken makhanwala. A dish I have consumed gallons of over the last 30-odd years and whose taste remained steadfast till today.
First Published: Oct 11, 2019 21:37 IST