Anahita Dhondy, the chef in-charge at SodaBottleOpenerWala, is very unlike the chefs one encounters. For one, she has a floral print on her sleeve and flowers in her hair. Very often, in the world of professional kitchens—a decidedly male-dominated space—female chefs feel the need to fit in by eschewing all tells of femininity. Chef-training courses are rough and I recall many of my female colleagues being told time and again that they needed to be tougher than the boys to survive and earn the respect of the kitchen cadre. And this advice was not without merit.
Dhondy, however, brought a refreshing lightness to what was an expansive meal that she served up based on the lost recipes of Parsi cuisine. Another aspect of her cooking that I personally appreciated was the focus on health. Mindful that the food would get increasingly heavy, she introduced ingredients like ‘morenga’ (great for high blood pressure) and assorted greens to ensure that the food packed a nutritious punch as well. An Allahabadi Parsi, her colleague informed us that her evolvement as a chef was one at a distance from the Gujarat/Mumbai hub of Parsi cuisine and culture. It may have also fuelled her odyssey of seeking out these recipes, which are to be published as a cookbook later in the year. But not every one she met was forthcoming with their recipes. In fact, most would not give away family culinary heirlooms. However, they did serve up a meal, so Dhondy had to figure it out for herself through trial and error, which, I might add, she did a fine job of, serving up one lipsmacking course after another, including Chicken Mahiwala, which was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, and a delicious crepe, which she served with a gajar ka halwa stuffing, the vegetable of the season.
The private dining room of the restaurant is a delightful space for intimate dinners and a double door separates it from the kitchen, which tells you only staff and Angelina Jolie are permitted! The quirky humour of the restaurant—the type that led to the wrong name (‘Finding Feddy’) of a much loved cocktail (it was supposed to be Finding ‘Freddy’ as in Mercury)—makes this quirky little restaurant a charming and delicious experience.
Walking up three flights of stairs for food seems to be a Delhi experience, as most tony markets seem to like their restaurants vertical. I happened to have a winter brunch at the incongruously-named ‘Hyjack’—it does ‘hyjack’ your breath, as you wind your way through multiple flights of stairs (MCD should permit elevators in old DDA markets)—but the terrace was spectacular, with an unobtrusive view of Deer Park. This little gem of a restaurant transports you to another city and is worth the hike up. The winter sun is spectacular and the brunch diverse. From Mediterranean cuisine, cold cuts and a salad counter to good old Delhi staples like, you guessed it, butter chicken, this restaurant goes all out to not let you regret the walk up. White stucco walls and cabana furniture, with a DJ who doesn’t shy away from Boney M, Hyjack is an eclectic experience. It’s a place you go to hang and it endears itself in the most subtle way, so much so that even the Victorian lanterns in the middle of the terrace have you thinking that a sundowner would be a very pretty experience. So squirrels come by and nibble on leftovers and the bar tender is always busy during Sunday brunch, but it’s such a pleasant walk away from the standard brunch that it feels more like a party.
What it is missing is a live counter. The space is restricted, but a pasta counter or even one for crepes or waffles would up the brunch experience. Other than that, Hyjack is a fun, unpretentious party place that also serves brunch. On winter afternoons, it’s simply one of the most chilled out places to soak up the sun and mojitos in.
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad