Before Indigo, before Olive, before eateries started by models who rarely eat, there was just one tony restaurant in town. Khyber.
Khyber was not located in a 5 star hotel, yet commanded 5 star prices. The world behind its ornate doors held a certain undefinable mystique. It was a restaurant for 'rich and famous' people. Not for you and me.
Those, of course were the days when 'let's eat out today' did not roll of the tongues of middle class moms and dads. In our family, going out for dinner was a ritual observed strictly as an annual ritual - on my parents' anniversary.
For years we went to the same restaurant (Delhi Durbar in Colaba), ordered the same items (nan, paneer, black dal) and came home satisfied. Of course, times changed. We changed. The restaurants changed. Blowing up good money on a nice meal ceased to be an issue.
But somehow I never went to Khyber. Until last night.
Did it feel special to dine at a restaurant which proclaims to be "known for its food and for its ambience, one that is known across India and is on the "must visit" list of foreign visitors".
Um, not really. Because this was not THE Khyber but its country cousin - Khyber at Khar.
Like many south Bombay restaurants, Khyber has realised that it can't afford to ignore the New Money in the suburbs. And so it has set up a 'branch'.
So far, so good. But this Khyber and that Khyber seem to share only the recipes. Khyber, Khar is about as classy as Mallika Sherawat's wardrobe at Cannes.
The tables are too close together, the noise level high. It could be Samrat in South Bombay except the Gujju families are replaced by middle-aged Punjabi and Sindhi businessmen. And there are chintzy red curtains.
OK, I exaggerate a bit. It's not ALL that bad. But certainly not a 'branch' of the original Khyber. This is a popular version of the premium brand. The important thing ie the food is excellent. But the overall experience is nothing to write home about.
I guess this was bound to happen because a large part of the mystique of the orginal Khyber lay in the people it attracted. Kings and consuls, CEOs and expats. You can't expect that kind of crowd here.
But I do think some of the basic principles should not have been abandoned. Where is the art and culture, the stamp of Parmeshwar Godrej and Hafeez Contractor that make the brand what it is? Nowhere, in the Khar outlet.
'Hero' by Enrique Iglesias played in an endless loop the entire time we were in the restaurant. While leaving I mentioned it to the manager who cheerfully replies, "Madam you should have told me earlier."
Like Enrique has a place in an upscale 'Indian' restaurant in the first place!
The Khyber website proudly proclaims: In 1988, when people walked through the doors again (the restaurant was rebuilt from scratch after it burnt down in 1985), it was an upscale establishment with menu and decor working with a synergy that was unparalleled in the city.
Even though the restaurant had expanded to an area of 6000 square feet, a conscious decision was taken to reduce the capacity of the restaurant to 175 people, so that the patrons could enjoy a sense of privacy and the attention of helpful staff.
Considering the suburban establishment is spread over 5 whole floors (two for the restaurant, one for a banquet hall and two for a night club - Squeeze), you would think 'space' would not be a problem.
But greed is.
I, for one, would not go back here again. But I do plan to check out the original Khyber once. And sincerely hope that there, I would not be disappointed!